Bibeau finds cabinet meetings ‘difficult’ in COVID-19

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau might be wearing her pajamas.

And she might need some more fresh air.

The way in which the Quebec MP goes about her daily life in a COVID-19 world is drastically different than a few weeks ago.

Like many around the world, she is often working from her home in Sherbrooke, Que., spending hours a day on video chats and phone calls with various stakeholders.

Also like many around the world, she is doing that work in the comfiest clothes possible.

“I would stay in pajama pants all day, but I will have my hair done and my makeup done as well, but I might be in pajamas,” she said, laughing. “I don’t know what is going to happen when I have to put my real pants on.”

Bibeau says her days are filled with “a lot of conversations with stakeholders.”

Each day she is on the phone with processors and producers, while also keeping in regular contact with her provincial counterparts and colleagues in government.

“It’s really trying to get a sense of what’s going on in the field and trying to put the best measures in place to support our farmers and to make sure that we are using all the tools we already have at our end,” she said.

In speaking with Bibeau, it’s clear her job is more intense now than it was before the pandemic threatened the nation’s food chain.

“It’s very, very intense, because since we’re working from home, we never have these little two minutes, just walking one block from the office to the Parliament to get some fresh air,” she said. “It’s a luxury right now trying to put a walk in my agenda so I can breathe some fresh air.”

She wasn’t kidding about putting walks in her agenda. After not getting a chance to take a breather between calls too many times, Bibeau says she asked her staff to factor a walking break into her scheduling.

“It worked only three days this week,” she says.

Each morning she is involved with either a constituency meeting or a cabinet team meeting. She also has five weekly meetings with different sectors of her own constituency, which includes producers, seniors and leaders of the 36 community leaders found in her riding.

“There are different channels, so we can reach out to our colleagues, respond to their questions, get their input from the field, which is very important,” she says.

Three afternoons a week, she is in either a full cabinet meeting or taking part in COVID-19 committee meetings.

“These would be your formal conversations with cabinet colleagues, but we also have a lot of discussion every night,” she said.

Bibeau also made a point of stating how difficult it is to manage the long cabinet meetings when she is attending them over the phone and unable to see her colleagues.

“It’s very difficult to make your points when the line and communication is not like being in the room with your colleagues, seeing the faces of everyone and being able to jump in the conversation,” she said.

Meanwhile, like everyone else, she is missing family and friends. She returned to Ottawa to take part in G20 meetings — the travel to the capital was required in order to attend the meetings and attend to the reopening of Parliament. The trip also allowed her a visit with her 21-year-old son who continues to live at their house across the Ottawa River, in Gatineau.

“We are still members of a family, and we all care for our family and it’s hard not to see them,” she said.

Bibeau is now attending digital Parliamentary sessions as the work of MPs continues.

The standing committee on agriculture and agri-food is also expected to resume its meetings, with plans to hold eight sessions through video conference – but no schedule for when those will take place has been set yet.

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