By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 1, 2020.
Across the country, farmers and food processors are working hard to ensure our shelves are stocked with food so that even in the midst of a pandemic, Canadians have the luxury of going to the grocery store, putting choice foods in their cart and taking them home to enjoy. We are incredibly fortunate!
Imagine for a moment how things would be if farmers stopped producing food.
There would be no more chicken, beef, pork or eggs available for purchase. We would see empty bread shelves, limited vegetables, no flour, lentils, beans or vegetable oil, and the list goes on.
In a time when there is so much uncertainty, we have been able to rely on those within the agricultural industry to keep the nation fed. We should be celebrating and championing Canada’s farmers and food processors, while doing everything in our power to ensure stability within the sector.
It is perplexing, dare I say alarming, that Prime Minister Trudeau has put such little emphasis on the agricultural industry and ensuring Canada’s producers are supported during this crisis. Most would agree that our country’s food supply is essential, yet the Minister for Agriculture has been silent! Meanwhile, in the Liberals’ Economic Response Plan, $30 million is allotted for the media, and only $20 million is earmarked specifically for agriculture. >Why are farmers being ignored, while the media is being bought off?
I have talked with many farmers and food processors within southern Alberta area over the last several weeks, and their situations are dire. Several meat-packing plants have been forced to shut down because of COVID-19 and as a result, farmers have to hold stock longer than expected. Many cattle producers will spend $60,000 per day or more to feed their herd while they wait for the processing plants to reopen. This is a cost they will likely never recuperate. Meanwhile, hog farmers are euthanizing or giving away their pigs because there isn’t a market for them, and dairy farmers are dumping milk because their supply surpasses the demand.
Restaurants have been told to close their doors, which has had a major ripple effect on Canada’s food supply chain. Potato producers have $320-million worth of last year’s crop that no one wants to buy.
These losses are significant – not only for Canada’s farm community – but for all Canadians. If farmers go under, we all lose! Without farmers we don’t eat.
Revenue streams are continuing to dwindle and there has been little to no support from the prime minister despite these farmers’ pleas for help.
To add insult to injury, Trudeau just announced a $9-billion Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which has built-in disincentives for students to work and fill some of the tens of thousands of job vacancies in the agricultural sector this season. My Conservative colleagues and I are hearing that students don’t want to work on farms or in food processing plants because they either make more money with a government-aid program, or they won’t qualify for assistance if they earn more than $1,000 per month. This is shameful.
When speaking to the nation in his daily addresses, the prime minister oftentimes uses wartime language when characterizing the country’s condition. He makes statements like, we are “in this together,” or we need to “serve our country” in order to defeat this pandemic. In the past, when that language was utilized by former prime ministers, Canadians went to work where there was an essential need. Instead of the government connecting those who need work with jobs that need filling, people are being told to stay home and survive on the public dime.
On April 23, Dan Albas, Shadow Minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, and John Barlow, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Agri-Food, called on the government to create a new program to match students and youth employees with jobs in the agricultural and agri-food sector, including fish and seafood. Like the Canada Summer Jobs program, this program would cover the minimum wage of a new student or youth employee. This wage could then be supplemented by an additional stipend paid for by the employer. Businesses looking to augment their existing workforce would have an opportunity to apply immediately.
Something else the Liberals could do to provide relief for our food producers in the immediate, and another measure Conservatives have been calling for, is to reverse the 50 per cent carbon tax hike that was implemented on April 1. Farmers and food processors are struggling to get by. They are facing extreme challenges with diminished revenue, and yet they still need to move their crops and get food products to market. In the middle of this pandemic, the prime minister decided to go ahead with a carbon tax increase, adding to their mounting financial burdens.
There is no doubt we are living in unprecedented times. The whole country is feeling it. We are experiencing loss and discomfort. Our normal routines are being disrupted and we are being asked to give up an inordinate amount of freedom in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is also a time like no other, where we have the opportunity to support our Canadian industries that are continuing to work for us. One way we can do this is by advocating to the government on their behalf.
Now, more than ever, we need to unite in support of Canada’s agricultural producers and food processors and show our solidarity. Join me in writing to the Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau, at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know how important our farmers, ranchers and food processors are. Let her know they need to be prioritized, not in a few weeks or months, but today!