Patience required during evolving COVID-19 emergency

Governments of all stripes in Canada have generally done what they are elected and expected to do when an emergency strikes.

They’ve worked to ensure the safety and financial security of Canadians.

While it is hard to achieve perfection when managing in such unprecedented times, the federal government has performed admirably.

“Speed first, details later” has become a bit of a mantra for federal ministers during their daily updates of the COVID-19 situation, and it is a fitting one.

Consider the relative speed in which the Liberal minority government was able to respond to farmers’ immediate needs. As the significance of COVID-19 was realized in Canada, temporary foreign labour was listed as a major concern for the sector as governments moved to close the border.

The federal government acknowledged the issue with days, and within a week was able to confirm such labour would still be allowed into Canada with extra precautions in place.

There will still be grievances as details continue to be worked out over some issues, such as the protocol for workers once they arrive.

And there still remains the complicated challenge of figuring out how those workers from Caribbean countries and Mexico will be brought to Canada when planes are grounded and borders are closed.

Despite this, the federal government recognized the immediate issue and sought to fix it quickly.

A similar blueprint is being used to address concerns over access to crop inputs and trade. Federal officials have indicated the borders will remain open to trade, and have assured producers they will have access to everything they need to work towards a successful growing season.

Speed first, details later.

The same can be said for producer concerns over cash flow. With unparalleled challenges hitting producers over a short period of time, federal officials recognized farmers needed to be able to access money to keep their operations afloat and manage risk.

An announcement that Farm Credit Canada would have $5 billion in extra lending powers to ensure farmers could access money came early this week.

The government and FCC should be commended for getting it done quickly (especially considering the matter did not appear to be high on the government’s agenda pre-COVID-19).

While there is fair criticism this measure does nothing more than saddle producers with more debt, no one should discount the government’s quick move to inject cash flow into the sector and by doing so, giving producers more tolerance for ongoing risks in the near future.

Federal officials were also quick to allow for FCC loans to be deferred for six months (and the principal on those loans for one year). There was also a six-month extension granted for Advanced Payment Plan repayments coming due on or before April 30.

These announcements were part of a broader $75 billion stimulus plan outlined by the feds and a commitment from the country’s major banks to work with clients facing financial hardship.

What’s important now for producers to recognize is that the federal government is very likely not done responding to their needs or concerns.

There are strong signals indicating more is coming.

In speaking with folks in Ottawa, the sense is federal officials believe they rapidly addressed the immediate concerns of producers, but recognize more support is needed.

Details of changes to business risk management programs are expected to be announced this summer. Perhaps that timeline now moves forward.

Or, perhaps the government will look to simply inject money into some or all of those programs. Agri-Invest seems like a likely candidate.

Farmers should recognize a “nothing is off the table” approach is being taken here by federal officials.

And even if it feels counterintuitive, farmers must continue practising something they are already pretty good at: patience.

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