Feds ponder more self-reliant food production

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is exploring how to make Canada’s food more autonomous.

In a Sept. 24 interview, Bibeau pointed to her minority Liberal government’s pledge in the Throne Speech to further support the food value chain.

That could mean a review of food infrastructure across the country, according to Bibeau.

“I don’t want to be too specific because we are at the early steps of this, but this is emoting that we have kind of realized even more during the crisis, and I want to have this discussion even more with the sector across the country to see what we can do to depend less, in some cases, on exports, but let’s be clear, Canada will remain a big producer and a big exporter of food,” she said.

“But I think there’s space for a bit more food autonomy and to be a bit more resilient, even if we are already in a good position, we can always do better,” she said, adding she looks forward to discussing the issue with industry. “We’ll see how it goes and what form of support it can take, but this is something that we do acknowledge and want to see how we can support it.”

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) has previously shown the sector had turned a $1.1 billion trade deficit into a $2.7 billion trade surplus between 2015 and 2018, while highlighting how accelerating regulatory approvals, simplifying and modernizing the tax changes while also addressing labour shortages could further unlock the potential of the industry.

Given the chaotic nature of global trade and several countries abandoning rules-based trade, as well as frustrations over recent trade deals, it makes sense Bibeau’s government is exploring how to make Canadian food more self-reliant.

Bibeau also continues to focus on making the industry more inclusive for women.

While she regularly hosts meetings with women when she travels, COVID-19 has prevented her from doing so. On Sept. 18, she hosted her first digital roundtable of women involved in agriculture.

“It was really interesting. We had women from across the country, representing different sectors and generations so it was interesting to see the different challenges that they raised,” she said. “Many of them mentioned the importance of mentorship and networking.

She said too often, women stay at home looking after the kids while their husband or father attends networking opportunities.

“They miss opportunities to network and to meet with other people or other women, to find a mentor who will be able to support, to give advice. This is something they miss a lot, and it’s a reality not only in the ag sector,” she said. “That’s why I was so impressed with the success of our initiative with Farm Credit Canada.”

Launched in March 2019, the FCC Women Entrepreneur Program was designed to offer financing and resources to women in the sector.

Originally given $500 million over three years, the program has since approved loans for 1,391 women at a cost of $994.5 million. Additional loaning capacity given to FCC this spring will be used to keep the program open.

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