Opinion: We must keep supporting our agri-food sector through this time of crisis

Apr 03, 2020
By Senator Rob Black

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In these past weeks, life has changed dramatically for all Canadians because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are staying home, limiting social interactions, and unfortunately, many have lost money, jobs, and even loved ones.

While some sectors are experiencing a slower or suspended period, agriculture is not. Regardless of anything else going on, we still need to eat and, therefore, the agricultural industry still needs to function – and function well!

So far, our agricultural industry has done a phenomenal job of keeping up even in this time of crisis. The grocery store shelves are still being filled, which means that all components of the food supply chain in Canada are currently working – farmers, processors, trucking, and distribution functions to name but a few.

I am truly grateful for the agricultural and food supply chain that we have come to depend upon and for the sacrifices of many who ensure that our food supply is possible and bountiful.

It isn’t easy. Workers throughout the value chain continue to work at great personal risk. Their continued dedication to getting food on grocery store shelves and ultimately to our tables means that they are unable to practice self-isolation (and for some, even physical distancing) and are therefore more vulnerable to catching the virus each and every day.

Thankfully, the Canadian government values the agricultural sector and recognizes their need for support. With last week’s passage of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act (Bill C-13) and other recent announcements by the government, producers have some further opportunities for support and assistance. This in turn will hopefully be able to blunt the financial impact of this pandemic on the livelihoods of Canada’s agricultural providers and suppliers.

In addition to the increased access to credit through Farm Credit Canada, the government has also confirmed the continuation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) despite the pandemic. Workers will, of course, still be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry into Canada. Many in the horticultural sector and other areas of agriculture depend on these temporary and seasonal workers and would have been severely affected by their absence.

There are also new supports available for farm and agricultural sector businesses. This assistance includes wage subsidies and the creation of a Business Credit Availability Program. Assistance is also available to individuals who have been hurt by the crisis, through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (for those who have lost jobs), mortgage support, and a moratorium on student loan repayment, all of which may be of value to the agri-food sector.

New programs are being announced daily by all levels of government. I would encourage anyone who has questions about support or is worried about their own situation or is confused about how to request assistance to visit the federal finance department’s website for information about all support. For further help, I would also suggest you contact your senators, local Member of Parliament (MPs), Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) or Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), as well as local municipal representatives. With programs and support coming from all levels of government, it will be important to understand and access all the assistance available during these difficult times.

Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sector is strong and resilient. This I do not doubt! We are experiencing something we have never seen before, but by working together and helping each other, I am confident that we will survive this pandemic. I am also confident that our food supply will remain secure and the sector vibrant and healthy. We must continue to support and appreciate all involved in the agri-food supply chain as we weather this crisis together. And, in the end, we are sure to be stronger on the other side.

Thank you to all in the agricultural industry, as well as the brave frontline healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and others who are risking their own health to keep working for Canadians. It is appreciated by all of us!

The Honourable Robert Black is a Canadian senator representing Ontario. He has a strong interest in agriculture and vibrant rural communities. Senator Black is a member of, and Interim Chair for, the Canadian Senators Group (CSG).

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