Dear Minister Bibeau:
When your government made an announcement to support Canada’s farmers, food businesses, and food supply on May 5, 2020, the Prime Minister stated that “this is an initial investment and if we need to add more, we will.” We hope that it has now become clear that more is needed immediately and that some of the announced programs are not meeting the needs of farmers and food processors during these difficult times.
At your appearance before the Standing Committee of Agriculture and Agri-Food on June 10, 2020, and in comments attributed to you in the media, you alluded to the fact farmers had to draw down their AgriInvest accounts before you would consider providing more support to producers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’d like to point out no other group of people or sector of the Canadian economy has been asked to go to such lengths during this pandemic before receiving adequate assistance from your government, only farmers.
Additionally, it’s been revealed by your own depart-ment that most AgriInvest accounts have less than $10,000 and more than 10,000 accounts have a balance of zero. Grain Growers of Canada Chair, Jeff Nielsen, rightly described the situation as your government asking more than 73,000 farmers to draw down on money they don’t have and that will hardly make a difference in any size of farming operation. We implore you to not predicate further support for the agriculture sector on arbitrary AgriInvest account balances.
Another matter of concern for farmers is their inability to access the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) due to the use of personal accounts on family farms and the lack of qualifying expenses under the program. Recent changes to the CEBA were encouraging, however, we ask that further improvements be made to the eligibility criteria to ensure that all farm businesses have access to the program.
Lastly, the Emergency Processing Fund was something agri-food processors saw as vital to aid in their response to COVID-19. However, access to those funds is still months away and processors continue to face immediate and unprecedented challenges. Increased costs including PPE and other uncertainties such as access to labour are jeopardizing the industry’s long-term viability. To ensure our food supply chain is unbroken, it is imperative you continue to work with agri-food processors to identify and address their concerns and ensure they remain competitive as our country emerges from this pandemic.
We look forward to your response.
John Barlow, MP Shadow Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Member of Parliament for Foothills
Richard Lehoux, MP Associate Shadow Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Member of Parliament for Beauce