Mr. Speaker, before I speak to the bill, I have sad news to announce to the House.
During National Nursing Week in London, my hometown and a town that I represent, Brian Beattie, a registered nurse who worked in a retirement village, died of COVID-19. He was the first registered nurse in Ontario to die of COVID-19. Brian is remembered as a dedicated nurse who loved his job and considered the residents in his care like his other family. My thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Brian's family and friends.
I want to sincerely thank front-line health care workers, who literally put their lives on the line to take care of others and take care of our families.
It is often hard to switch gears in these circumstances, but today I am pleased to speak to Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act. The New Democrats are relieved to see this legislation finally come forward and are happy to support it.
I want to acknowledge the great work done by my colleague, the MP for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, the NDP's agricultural critic. He could not be here today, as he lives fairly far away, but his work on behalf of farmers across the country is greatly appreciated, despite his absence.
The New Democrats believe that increasing the buyback limit that dairy processors have with the Canadian Dairy Commission from $300 million to $500 million, allowing this Crown corporation to purchase more surplus butter and cheese and helping processors with cash flow issues until the market stabilizes again will provide some help to dairy farmers and processors so they can weather the COVID-19 pandemic. These actions are ones we have pushed for. We know they will start to help the sector at this unprecedented time of need.
Because of the losses in liquid milk sales to restaurants and other retail sectors due to COVID-19 shutdowns in the sector, producers and processors need assistance. Of course, this help is late. I have heard from a lot of farming families in the area that surrounds my riding who have been worried for months. The uncertainty and stress caused by this pandemic have had a detrimental impact on everyone, especially farmers, so I am glad that we are here today to support this plan.
Before I get into truly addressing some details regarding this legislation and the supports that are much needed for our agricultural sector and dairy sector, I will speak to some of the key issues that women working in the agricultural sector sometimes face, issues that have been long-standing but exacerbated by this pandemic.
According to the United Nations, “With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.” The Canadian Human Rights Commission has echoed this statement, saying, “These disproportionate impacts could have long-term and far reaching consequences.” As the Canadian Women's Foundation notes, “The pandemic circumstances intensify inequalities related to gender, and other factors, such as economic status, race, culture, language, and other intersecting elements of our identities.”
The lack of access to services is felt by women nationwide, but rural women or women living in smaller towns are especially hit hard by the issue of the provision of services, simply because of their location or gender. Rural women have to travel long distances to get the help they need. We know women have felt the impact of this pandemic at disproportionate rates, and when they work in the agricultural sector, they often live in rural and remote areas. Their access to services is therefore dramatically reduced.
This is why the announcement last week that Greyhound is suspending its bus service operations has raised many flags with women's organizations, as the ridership of these services is 60% women and Greyhound is used by many trying to get to work. I will continue to call on the government to help people in my riding of London—Fanshawe and others across southwestern Ontario who rely on the inner-city bus industry. Travel, of course, is a necessity of life in rural Canada, and every community in Canada should be able to count on reliable transit to connect people to their jobs, health care services, schools and family members.
Connectivity in person during this time is obviously limited, which for so many has put a great deal of emphasis on virtual connectivity. Again, this pandemic has exacerbated many of the failures within our infrastructure for farmers and people living in rural and remote areas across this country. There are issues that consecutive governments have ignored for far too long.
Women, and in particular women living in rural Canada, too often feel isolated, and this is compounded by their inability to access or afford a stable Internet connection or cellphone service. It is so important to physically distance right now, but social isolation must be avoided. I have heard from so many women who say they miss their families and their grandkids, the hugs and support they provide.
In particular, I want to address the needs of women who need access to supports from government programs for mental health support and domestic violence hotlines. Those are just some examples. If they do not have that connectivity to online supports, they are left in further, more devastating isolation.
The New Democrats' vision of Canada is one of equality, balance and fairness, a country where women's organizations have stable funding so that women can access the support and advocacy they need, and where women have the tools that they need to access those services in their communities, whether urban, suburban, rural or remote.
Shelters across Canada have faced large expenses trying to adapt themselves to meet public health physical distancing requirements and to alter programs to deal with the new reality of a COVID-impacted world. However, without the necessary core funding that many shelters and organizations need, these supports cannot exist. Core funding has not been provided by the federal government for too many years, and these organizations cannot use the project-based funding to deal with this crisis situation. Too many fundraising events have been cancelled due to COVID, so another source of income for community-based support services that women need has been cut.
This, of course, is a serious financial crisis for the not-for-profit and charitable sectors. This crisis began long before COVID-19, and if things do not change it is one that will continue well past this pandemic.
I want to specifically highlight some of the stresses that are put on rural women and women who work in Canada's agricultural industry. Women are leaders in this sector, but I do not believe the government has done a good enough job of closing the pay equity gap and ensuring that women have access to affordable child care and to education. I know that although the number of women is slowly growing in the agricultural sector, many barriers still exist. A significant barrier to most people farming, especially to women, is the large costs associated: the cost of farmland, the cost of equipment, the labour challenges. This pandemic, again, has only exacerbated the difficulties that farmers in the dairy industry face.
Before I became an MP, I was a parliamentary staffer and had the great honour of working with the past international trade critic, Tracey Ramsey. Because of this incredible work, I was able to meet and work with amazing people in our agricultural sector, including in the dairy sector. Many people know that in the renegotiated NAFTA, Canada threw our dairy farmers under the bus to appease the U.S. The U.S. has now gained 3.59% access to our dairy market on top of the concessions that were in the other two Conservative-negotiated, Liberal-signed trade deals, the CPTPP and CETA, that bring the total loss to 8.4% of market share. That translates into 800 million litres of milk that will be permanently removed from our farms. I cannot imagine any other sector from which any government would dare cut almost 10% of our market share.
These are hard-working families across the country who take so much pride in producing top-quality milk for our communities. I do not know how much more dairy farmers can bear. Once again, I come to the point that because of decisions by consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments that have hurt our supply-managed dairy industry, this sector has been weakened. It is less resilient from the effects of this pandemic. Like so many other systems that I mentioned before that women, farmers and all Canadians rely upon, we need to reinforce social programs and these market protections, which protect people and protect Canadians.
Canadian farmers have benefited from the supply-managed system since the early 1970s. The system sets the prices and creates stability for dairy, egg and poultry producers. Supply management has proven to be an effective model that equalizes the benefits of dairy production across consumers, farmers and processors, and it stabilizes the industry against price shocks or over supply. During the negotiations of CUSMA, the Liberal government, every day, repeated its rhetoric that it would preserve and protect our supply-managed sectors, but protecting it meant not allowing pieces of it to be negotiated away.
There are three pillars of supply management: import control, pricing mechanisms, and production. In production, we have the quota system in Canada. We make sure that we are only making as much as the market demands. What is being thrown away in every single trade agreement signed by the current government is the pillar of import control.
Another key concern in allowing American milk into the Canadian market is that this product contains bovine growth hormone, created by Monsanto and used by American dairy farmers to increase milk production. There are no studies on the effect of this hormone on human health. I am so relieved when I buy milk and I see the little blue cow on the package, knowing that I am supporting Canadian dairy farmers and knowing that my milk is healthy and safe. I know what is in it, and therein lies the extraordinary value of our dairy sector and why we need to fight to protect it.
To add even more insult to injury, after selling out our dairy farmers in CUSMA, the government still has not provided the financial compensation it promised to support those same farmers. Ironically, this would not be necessary if the Liberals had actually protected supply management like they said they would, and we would not have had a surplus of American milk flooding Canadian borders, leading to the current Canadian supply glut, necessitating the recent dumping of 30 million litres of liquid milk.
Also causing harm to dairy farmers is the Canada Day start for the new NAFTA, which is only a few more weeks away, when those market concessions will hit our sector hard. This is another reason it was so vital that the NDP and my colleague, the MP for Elmwood—Transcona, negotiated with this government on future trade deals being negotiated in a far more consultative and transparent way. We pushed for Parliament to be able, for the first time ever, to view future trade deals in advance of ratification, instead of merely voting yea or nay after the deal is done. That is needed to preserve our food sovereignty and systems like supply management. It is to protect our farmers for future generations and to ensure that should we have these crises or emergencies in the future, we would be able and stable enough to withstand it.
Overall, the other measures announced for farmers by this government are not enough to offset the losses Canadian farmers collectively have suffered, nor will they ensure a strong food security system for Canadians. No one in Canada should be worried about where their next meal will come from. Canada's national food policy needs to improve food security by linking producers to the communities worried about having enough affordable food.
I live in an incredible area rich in agricultural land. However, farmers are facing significant challenges in southwestern Ontario. As the farm belt gears up for the growing season, the landscape has been radically changed by the COVID-19 virus and the lockdowns and security precautions that it has brought. The closure of the food service industries, with dine-in restaurant doors shut, has forced food producers and processors to adjust to a high demand for retail and direct-to-consumer products. The processing of food is incredibly different for home consumption than from food service, which is causing some significant challenges in our system. Again, although they have been delayed, I am glad we are passing these supports today.
With businesses and restaurants closed during the pandemic, the government has finally accepted the NDP's call for the government to buy surplus food to support food producers and help local organizations enhance food security for people in our communities. Canada is a privileged country because of its agricultural diversity, but it still faces many challenges concerning food. In 1976, Canada signed onto the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes a right to food. Yet, more than 40 years later, too many Canadians are still having difficulty putting food on their tables. It is well past time for the federal government to live up to its obligations and ensure access to safe, affordable and healthy food.
Farmers have been waiting for weeks for this emergency support, and while New Democrats welcome the bill in front us today that would increase the Dairy Commission's credit line, this should have been done weeks ago, and there is still a great amount to do. Instead of investing more to help our agricultural producers during this crisis, the government again has let farmers fall through the cracks. So many are not eligible for support programs. After everything this government has done to dairy farmers, this is the least it can do to support them during this pandemic. Instead of investing more to help our agricultural producers during this crisis, the government is letting them down. Many are still not eligible for support programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many failings in our systems and social programs. Cracks have been created over many years, and people are falling through those cracks because of the government's consistent cutting and gutting. The undermining of the supports provided by these programs has cost us a great deal now.
The question remains, will we continue down a road where we are shortsighted? Will we look only to what will benefit a small group in a short term, or will we now repair the damage done by the cutbacks and decide to further build and strengthen the programs we have? Will we ensure fairness, balance and equality within sectors, including our agricultural sector? Will we value the work of farmers in every sector? Will we value the sourcing of local food? Will we fall back from the belief that globalization and a neoliberal agenda are inevitable or supreme and realize that it is actually through social stability, the strengthening of people and the foundations they stand upon, that will make us thrive?
Now is a good time to start to ask these hard questions and to talk about our lives post-COVID. I know what my answer is, and I am willing to do the work involved to achieve something better for everyone.
Before I officially conclude, I want to briefly take this opportunity to recognize a very important anniversary.
Fifty years ago, almost to the day, members of the Vancouver Women's Caucus travelled to Ottawa with the Abortion Caravan. In 1970, members of the Abortion Caravan marched on Parliament Hill in opposition to the 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code. However, this women's organization knew then that a lack of fair and equal access to proper reproductive rights was putting women's health in danger.
The Abortion Caravan arrived in Ottawa on Mother's Day weekend in 1970, a convoy of Canadian women, over 500 strong, arrived here with coat hangers and a black coffin in tow to demand the legalization of unrestricted access to abortion services for all Canadian women.
On May 11, 1970, approximately three dozen women entered the House of Commons, taking their seats in the various galleries circling the chamber. Once seated, the women quietly chained themselves to their seats, listening intently as NDP MP Andrew Brewin asked Minister of Justice John Turner if he would consider reviewing the abortion law. Turner tried to dismiss the matter, but just before 3 p.m., one of the women rose from her seat in the gallery and began reciting the Abortion Caravan's prepared speech, interrupting debate on the floor of the House of Commons. As parliamentary guards approached the woman, a second woman stood up in another area of the gallery and continued to give the speech. One by one, the women rose from their seats, adding their voices to the call for safe and equal access to reproductive rights.
The Abortion Caravan brought national attention to this issue. Sadly, women today are still forced to fight for access to health care options. Specifically on this 50th anniversary, I think about those brave women who were part of that caravan and built that movement to ensure that women of my generation have the freedom of choice.
I also think of the women in Fredericton today and the fact that the so-called feminist federal government still has done nothing to ensure that the women's clinic in Fredericton is properly and fairly funded to do what is needed to protect the rights women are supposed to have under the Canada Health Act.
Like those women 50 years ago, and like MP Brewin, New Democrats will continue to fight for safe and fair reproductive rights. In recognition of this 50th anniversary, I believe that if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: “That the House recognize this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Caravan, commemorates the caravan's important contribution to modernizing Canada's reproductive rights laws and calls upon the government to take further action to increase access to abortion services, including by enforcing the Canada Health Act and ensuring that Clinic 554 in Fredericton is properly and fairly funded.”