CFA wants continued support in next budget

On Jan. 25, deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland launched pre-budget consultations with stakeholders. | Screencap via letstalkbudget2021.ca

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture focuses on AgriStability, the processing sector and funding for a ‘buy Canadian’ campaign

Federal budget consultations are underway, with agricultural groups lobbying the government to support the industry in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Jan. 25, deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland launched pre-budget consultations with stakeholders.

“We want to hear ideas from Canadians, from all walks of life, on how to restore strong growth, forge a more resilient middle class and build back better. This is your budget; tell us what matters most to you,” she said.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture released its wish list for the budget in August and plans to continue on those issues during consultations with the federal government.

The CFA list offers three broad recommendations, each highlighted by specific measures that can be taken.

To kick-start the economic recovery, the CFA recommends the government restore the AgriStability payment trigger to 85 percent and eliminate the cap to reference margins.

Ottawa is prepared to do that, but the plan is being held up by the prairie provinces, which are reluctant to sign a new AgriStability deal because they are responsible for covering 40 percent of the total tab.

The CFA has also focused on the processing sector, citing a $77 million investment from the federal government to help food processors combat COVID-19. The CFA says additional support is needed.

“To secure these critical food infrastructure links in advance of a second wave and the peak harvest season for many Canadian commodities, CFA recommends the next federal budget increase financial support to the food processing sector,” the document says. “In addition to this support for existing food processors, CFA also recommends that the next federal budget invest in programming to support the development of more food processing facilities across Canada.”

CFA is also asking Agriculture Canada “to reallocate underused AgriMarketing program dollars to implement a buy Canadian campaign for Canadian retail channels, and engage exporters to identify and address key export opportunities.”

The 2020-21 spending estimates from the federal government show $20.3 million was transferred to partners through AgriMarketing programs, while talk of an Ottawa-led “buy Canadian” campaign has floated around since at least 2019.

That year, the Liberals committed $25 million over five years to “develop a national approach to better connect Canadians with and instill pride in Canada’s food system and its agriculture, food and seafood products.”

In January 2020, Agriculture Canada issued a tender seeking a marketing firm to launch a “social marketing campaign to better connect Canadians with, and instil pride in, Canada’s food system and its agriculture, food and seafood products.”

The tender said an annual media budget between an estimated $1.5 million and $4 million would be available.

By June, Bibeau said the promotional campaign would “have to wait a bit longer” before being launched. At the time, concerns were being raised within her department over the timing of that program and what commodities it would focus on.

On Jan. 15, the federal government awarded a $113,000 contract to Markham-based Feast Interactive Inc. for the Buy Canadian campaign, but three years after being announced, a timeline for its launch remains unclear.

CFA’s budget wish list also includes a call for better leveraging of agriculture’s environmental contributions. It asks the government to create programs allowing “producers to generate credits for agricultural activities under both the Federal Greenhouse Gas Offset System and Clean Fuel Standard.”

Building resilience into Canada’s food system through a $3 million investment is another CFA request. It proposes the dollars be used to reduce job vacancies “through career promotion, improve skills-training opportunities for workers, support human resource management training/certification, and support commercialization of labour-saving technologies.”

The CFA also requests the federal government reinforce a $50 million fund targeted at reducing food waste.

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