Overall, I have been impressed with the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has altered the lives of all Canadians in one way or another.
They have been rolling out funding programs over the past weeks and months for Canadians who have lost work, for students, for small- and medium-sized businesses, and more.
As far as agriculture, the prime minister announced on May 5 a $252 million funding package. Of this, $77 million will go to processors to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees and improve health and safety measures and $125 million will be dedicated to the AgriRecovery program for the beef and pork sectors. The final $50 million will be used to implement a food surplus program that will allow the government to purchase food at the risk of going bad and redistribute it to vulnerable people.
Prior to this recent announcement, the government had already increased loans available to farmers through Farm Credit Canada by $5 billion and provided funding for accommodations for temporary foreign workers (who are vital to the horticulture sector) during their quarantine period.
However, agriculture — as the foundation of our society and economy — needs further support. Regardless of anything else happening in the world, we still need to eat three times a day, making agriculture crucial to our daily lives.
The $252 million in emergency funds does not come close to the $2.6 billion suggested by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA). The CFA has been urging the government to implement measures for all farmers, who are dealing with increased costs and reduced certainty. This uncertainty is causing some farmers to forego this year’s planting season, which will affect their bottom lines.
Various other agricultural groups and sectors have put forth suggestions for programs that would help them during and after this emergency period. The government should listen to these ideas because they come from the people who most deeply understand the issues in the industry and the way that agriculture can be a leader following the crisis.
The government has implemented the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for individuals who have lost wages due to the pandemic, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit for students, wage subsidies for businesses, and several other emergency measures. A dedicated financial backstop for farmers would be a logical and fair additional step; farmers are facing lost income but cannot afford to stop working (nor can we afford for them to stop working).
While I am pleased that the government has tried to address the particular challenges of the beef and pork sectors, which are facing labour shortages and a processing bottleneck, they are not the only ones that are hurting. Others, including grain farmers and mushrooms and flower growers, are also calling for emergency government support. A suggestion that I have heard repeatedly from various agricultural players is an overhaul of the business risk management program, which was not addressed in the funding package.
If we properly support Canadian agriculture during this challenging time, I believe that agriculture can come out of this crisis as one of the economic drivers in our country. If agriculture doesn’t get the help it needs now and we lose farms, farmers, and other infrastructure, this won’t be the case.
Once we are out of the woods, our next focus needs to be a made in Canada approach for the entire industry that addresses all the pinch points that have been identified throughout this pandemic.
Senator Rob Black was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2018 after more than 35 years in the agricultural industry.