Third reading of Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act – Sen. Dalphond

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Again today, before speaking to Bill C-16 before us, I must say a few words about the situation in the long-term care facilities in the Montreal area, where I’m from. I want to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to Senator Saint-Germain, who lost her father to COVID-19, like hundreds of other people every day.

The pandemic has highlighted not only the importance of Canada’s public health care system, which allows us to fight COVID-19 much more efficiently than our neighbours to the south, but also the weaknesses of the intervention models used for seniors, people suffering from serious cognitive issues and people with reduced mobility.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Pauline Marois, former premier of Quebec, said:

I think we’re off-track. When I say we’re off-track I’m not only talking about the current government. All the successive governments were off-track and today we are paying the price. Our parents and grandparents [are paying].

She adds:

Is grouping [seniors together], even in private residences where people often pay for very expensive apartments, a good idea? Aren’t we creating ghettos? Living with our children, with our grandchildren, with people of different ages, it perfectly natural.

These are very pertinent questions that Quebec society and, to a lesser extent, Ontarian society will have to grapple with in the months and years to come. I hope that the federal government will be paying attention to and collaborate on this issue by providing various measures such as tax incentives to encourage multi-generational housing and enhanced health care funding for home care.

The importance of Bill C-16 is not reflected in its length. In fact, it has but one small clause of four lines, a single and short clause that increases the borrowing capacity of the Canadian Dairy Commission by $200 million to $500 million. This increase in the commission’s borrowing power will allow it to purchase and temporarily store more dairy products in order to provide stability to the Canadian milk market, which really needs it right now.

As a Quebec senator, I have to mention the importance of the dairy industry because I grew up in the country surrounded by dairy farms.

I would now like to go back to some of the ideas that Senator Miville-Dechêne explored. As you undoubtedly know, Quebec is the largest producer of milk in Canada as Quebec cows produce on average 40% of Canada’s milk. In other words, Quebec produces 40% of the 92 million hectolitres of Canadian milk. That’s a lot of quarts of milk, as we used to say.

Of the 18,805 Canadian jobs related to the production of milk and cream, 9,425 are located in Quebec’s 5,050 dairy farms. Quebec is also home to the biggest milk processors in the country, like Saputo and the Agropur co-op, two companies that are Canadian owned.

Quebec is renowned for the quality of its industrial cheeses and especially for its artisanal cheeses. It’s a real joy to travel around Quebec and discover all the local cheeses. But this important sector of Quebec’s economy needs to adapt to a new context, given that the Canadian market is being opened up to dairy products from other parts of the world, including Europe, the trans-Pacific region and, soon, the United States. All in all, nearly 10% of the Canadian market will no longer be protected. In addition, the United States’ market access will grow by 1% a year for the next 13 years.

Meanwhile, Canadian exports are seeing fairly sluggish growth. In 2019, Canadian imports rose by just over 20%, while exports fell by about 6% compared with 2018. In a nutshell, dairy imports totalled almost $1 billion in 2019, whereas our exports didn’t even hit $500 million. The gap seems to have been widening for several years.

With the coming into force of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, which limits Canadian exports of skim milk powder and infant formula, we may not be able to narrow that gap. Following the signature of the most recent trade agreements, the Canadian government committed to compensate the industry for its market share losses and to provide it with financial assistance so that it can become more competitive and do better when it comes to exporting. From what I understand, the first forms of financial aid or compensation have begun to be paid. There’s still a lot to do, however.

The industry was already facing significant challenges when the pandemic hit. Then, schools shut down and breakfasts, including milk, were no longer being provided for underprivileged children. Restaurants and hotels closed their doors, putting an end to their use of various dairy products for meals, desserts and, of course, cheese platters. In other words, the pandemic came at a very bad time. Dairy farmers are being forced to throw millions of litres of milk into manure pits. Nearly 30 million litres were reportedly thrown out between the end of March and mid-April. No farmer wants to waste milk like that. Many of them, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, started donating more dairy products to food banks. However, that wasn’t enough to get rid of the surplus of milk and especially milk products.

Today, we should be glad the Canadian Dairy Commission will be able to buy more dairy products and store them temporarily as a way to stabilize the market and, ultimately, the price paid to producers for milk and milk fat. This guards dairy producers against sharp drops in revenue and potential bankruptcy.

Dairy production isn’t easy. It requires significant investment. Farms with 40 or so cows like the ones I used to know don’t exist anymore. Farms nowadays have hundreds of cows.

We can’t scare off the next generation by opening ourselves up to foreign competition and deregulation. Quebec’s dairy producers are happy with this change to the Canadian Dairy Commission’s borrowing capacity. Nevertheless, they’ve pointed out that this measure alone, like other measures introduced for the agricultural sector as a whole, isn’t enough for the dairy sector. It’s a step in the right direction, but that’s all. The government must do more.

Canada’s dairy farmers also welcome the measure we’re passing here today, as well as the additional funding provided under the AgriRecovery program to create a set-aside program that will include cull dairy cows. This project allows cows that are no longer producing milk to be pulled from the market and processed for meat. Since the current market is so low, those cows must be kept longer on the farm, and so we need to subsidize the farmers. The program will compensate farmers for the costs involved in keeping less productive cows in the herd over a longer period. However, I repeat, this is not enough.

In closing, I urge the government to go further in adaptation support for dairy farmers. I also urge my fellow Canadians from coast to coast to consume Canadian dairy products, which are second to none are produced in conditions that are superior to those of many other countries. These products are of the highest quality and are good for you. I drink a litre of milk almost every day, and I’m doing great.

Thank you, meegwetch.

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