Federal budget consultations are underway, with agricultural groups lobbying the government to support the industry further in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Jan. 25 launched pre-budget consultations and since then, her schedule has involved several meetings with stakeholders.
“We want to hear ideas from Canadians, from all walks of life, on how to restore strong growth, forge a more resilient middle class, and build back better. This is your budget; tell us what matters most to you,” she said at the time.
A hard date hasn’t yet been set for the next budget, but Freeland’s consultation period is scheduled to close on Feb. 19. An online questionnaire for the public is available until that date.
In August, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture released its wish list for the 2021 budget. In these budget consultations, the organization plans to continue to refer back to that document, which offers three broad recommendations, each highlighted by specific measures that can be taken.
To kickstart the economic recovery, the CFA recommends the government restore the AgriStability program’s payment trigger to 85 per cent and eliminate the cap to reference margins.
Ottawa is prepared to remove the reference margin limit and boost the program’s compensation rate, but releasing extra dollars to farmers qualifying for payments is being held up by Prairie provinces reluctant to sign onto the deal. The provinces are responsible for covering 40 per cent of the government tab on AgriStability payouts.
CFA is also putting a particular focus is put on the processing sector. Citing a $77 million investment from the federal government to help food processors combat COVID-19, the organization says additional support is needed.
“To secure these critical food infrastructure links in advance of a second wave and the peak harvest season for many Canadian commodities, CFA recommends the next federal budget increase financial support to the food processing sector,” the document says.
“In addition to this support for existing food processors, CFA also recommends that the next federal budget invest in programming to support the development of more food processing facilities across Canada.”
CFA is also asking Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) “to reallocate underutilized AgriMarketing program dollars to implement a Buy Canadian campaign for Canadian retail channels, and engage exporters to identify and address key export opportunities.”
The 2020-21 spending estimates from the federal government show $20.3 million was transferred to partners through AgriMarketing programs, while talk of an Ottawa-led “Buy Canadian” campaign has floated around since at least 2019.
That year, the Liberals committed $25 million over five years to “develop a national approach to better connect Canadians with and instill pride in Canada’s food system and its agriculture, food and seafood products.”
In January 2020, AAFC put out a tender seeking a marketing firm to launch a “social marketing campaign to better connect Canadians with, and instil pride in, Canada’s food system and its agriculture, food and seafood products.”
The tender said an annual media buy budget between an estimated $1.5 million and $4 million would be available.
By June, Bibeau was saying the promotional campaign would “have to wait a bit longer” before being launched. At the time, concerns were being raised within her department over the timing of that program, and on which commodities it would focus.
On Jan. 15, the federal government awarded a $113,000 contract to Markham, Ont.-based digital ad agency Feast Interactive for the Buy Canadian campaign, but a timeline for its launch remains unclear.
CFA’s budget wish list also includes a call for better leveraging of agriculture’s environmental contributions. It asks the government to create programs allowing “producers to generate credits for agricultural activities under both the federal Greenhouse Gas Offset System and Clean Fuel Standard.”
Building resilience into Canada’s food system through a $3 million investment is another ask of CFA. They propose the dollars be used to reduce job vacancies “through career promotion, improve skills training opportunities for workers, support human resource management training/certification, and support commercialization of labour-saving technologies.”
The CFA is also requesting the federal government reinforce a $50 million fund targeted at reducing food waste.
— D.C. Fraser reports for Glacier FarmMedia from Ottawa.