A pre-budget consultation report from the House of Commons finance committee recommends several measures directly tied to agriculture.
The multi-partisan committee heard testimony and received submissions from more than 800 groups and individuals. Mostly virtual meetings took place in December, and the consultation report was released Feb. 16.
Canadians don’t know when the next budget will be released. Generally, this happens in March, but COVID-19 has messed up the parliamentary calendar.
The 2020 budget was cancelled and replaced by an economic statement that focused almost entirely on pandemic spending.
For the 2021 budget, members of Parliament recommend the federal government restore AgriStability levels to previous levels, create a national labour strategy for agri-food and develop a new business risk management program focused exclusively on climate change.
The report recommends the 2021 budget improve business risk programs and AgriStability be reinstated at 85 percent of reference margins.
The governing Liberals have agreed, but it can’t be accomplished without more support from prairie provinces.
Late last year, federal Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau proposed dropping AgriStability’s maximum reference margin and increasing the compensation rate from 70 to 80 percent retroactively in 2020, and for 2021 and 2022.
That would mean the program offers producers a better chance of receiving support and more money when they do; but it would come at an added cost to provincial and federal governments that jointly pay for it.
The expected cost increases have made Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba hesitant to agree, despite pressure from producer groups, the federal government and, now, a multi-partisan committee report.
Another recommendation from the finance committee is to “work with industry to develop a labour action plan for Canada’s agri-food sector.”
It’s a recommendation that will be welcomed by many in the industry. Food and Beverage Canada offered testimony to the committee and called for the development of a labour action plan.
The organization represents 1,500 food and beverage manufacturing businesses in Canada, and has long been a vocal supporter of developing such a strategy.
It released its own pre-budget consultation in August, which lobbied for a rebalancing of relationships across the supply chain.
Food and Beverage Canada also contends a “Retailer Code of Practice” should be put in place by the end of 2021. The group says the federal government should also launch an investigation into the practices of Canada’s food retailers.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to at least consider the recommendations put forward by the finance committee as part of her budget deliberations.
Freeland and her Liberal colleagues continue to tout the merits of a green, post-pandemic economic recovery.
U.S. president Joe Biden is championing environmental stewardship in the early days of his administration, causing further speculation the Liberal budget will have a heavy focus on combatting climate change.
To that end, a finance committee recommendation to create and fund a new business risk management program focused on climate change is piquing interest.
Called AgriResilience, the program would be designed to, “to help farmers transition to lower-carbon agriculture practices, thereby reducing the growing climate risk in this sector. An AgriResilience program would reward innovation and the adoption of new, more resilient farming practices, thereby helping to reduce climate risk.”
It’s an idea that originated from Équiterre, a Quebec-based environmental organization with ties to the Liberal cabinet via one of its founders, Steven Guilbeault, who is currently Canada’s Minister of Heritage.
Équiterre also recommended the federal government “adopt and fund a national strategy with nature-based solutions in the agriculture sector to limit growing GHG emissions and protect soil health.”