Canadian Dairy Commission Act: Consideration in Committee of the Whole – Sen. Dalphond

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Senator Dalphond: Minister, thank you for coming to the Senate today. I have to say that I fully endorse the proposal before us today to increase the Canadian Dairy Commission’s borrowing capacity in order to help it deal with an abnormal fluctuation in the market. I understand that production is planned yearly based on anticipated needs. This year, the pandemic is skewing the system. I understand that we’ll be buying more products than we need temporarily and putting them on the market later, so that the market can continue to operate as usual.

As such, I don’t really have any questions to ask you about the bill. I understand it quite well, and your explanations were crystal clear. However, since you’re here, I do want to ask you two questions as a senator from Quebec.

The first is about the shortage of temporary workers on Quebec farms. Many of those workers come from abroad, but foreign labour will be reduced this year. The Quebec government set up a program to encourage students to fill in for the absent foreign workers. Then the federal government announced a program to help students who can’t find a job. That measure and other measures are having a perverse effect in that they provide no incentive for students to go work on farms. When the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion appeared before the Senate, I asked her whether it would be possible for the $100 a week offered by the Quebec government not to count towards the $1,000 revenue threshold, because that’s when you lose the entire benefit. Do you have any news on that front?

Ms. Bibeau: Temporary foreign workers are essential to the food industry. To make it easier to hire them despite COVID-19, we’re allowing them to enter the country and we’ve implemented exceptional measures to fast-track their documents. Some workers have faced challenges in their countries of origin, even if just in terms of local transportation to get the necessary visas and documents. We’re working as efficiently as we can at this time. In April, some 11,200 workers arrived in Canada, compared to 13,000 last year. We do still believe we’ll be able to welcome many more than the early, concerning scenarios we were shown at the beginning of the crisis had projected.

We’re also trying to bring in measures that will encourage Canadians to work in the food sector and on farms this year. We’ve implemented the Step up to the Plate platform to bring together employment resources in the agriculture sector all in one place to make things easier for people. You’ll notice that we’re trying to adapt the various measures being implemented to our current reality. We’re building the airplane in mid-flight. That is our current reality.

You mentioned the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, and that’s one example. We specified that students have to have looked for work, and they have to be able to prove it if we ask them. We’ll be following up in the months to come. That’s an important detail.

We transferred $3 billion to the provinces so they can pay essential workers and the health and food sectors higher wages. Quebec was among the first to introduce measures like the $100 benefit. It’s hard to make small adjustments right now. Whenever we change something, we try to make sure it helps everyone. At this point in time, we want to introduce programs that help as many people as possible, but we know those programs aren’t perfect. Our priority has been acting fast because we want to create the best possible social safety net under the circumstances. I don’t yet have an answer to your particular question. Thank you.

Senator Dalphond: I have a second question. The students who will be part of the temporary workforce this summer will hopefully be going back to school in late August or September, but the harvest won’t be finished by then. There will still be needs in September and even early October, in Quebec in particular. Has the department thought about establishing a program to encourage people in the restaurant industry, who apparently won’t be going back to work any time soon, to work on farms, learn more about them and find out what it takes to get the food they serve on the table? Many young people work in the restaurant industry, in the kitchen or as wait staff. These people aren’t working right now because restaurants are either closed or operating at minimum capacity. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to implement a program to encourage these workers to temporarily replace students or work with them this summer? They could learn about the food chain.

Ms. Bibeau: That’s a good idea. With regard to the $3-billion transfer to the provinces, we’re giving them the freedom and flexibility to use that money to create the programs that they feel are the most appropriate for their situation.

With regard to temporary foreign workers, I hope that, even if some of them arrive a bit late, we’ll have the number of workers we need in our fields by the fall.

Senator Dalphond: Thank you, minister.

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