Tackling the agricultural labor shortage, “everything related to climate transition” and preparing for a future meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts, these are the top three priorities mentioned by Marie-Claude Bibeau when ‘she is asked about her to-do list as she returns as Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
After a third consecutive victory in her riding of Cantons-de-l’Est in Quebec, the Premier has again chosen Bibeau to represent agriculture in the federal cabinet of 39 members.
Ministerial staff have yet to be formally hired (or rehired), and we have yet to see the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to ministers, but Bibeau should get back to work quickly, as she knows the role as well. as people and files, having served as Minister of Agriculture since March 2019.
We had the chance to discuss with the Minister her priorities, as well as the controversial appointment of Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the government’s fertilizer emissions target, the role of Ottawa to meet supply chain challenges, and more. You can listen to the interview here and read a summary below:
Interview with Marie-Claude Bibeau (recorded October 29):
What are your main priorities in the coming weeks?
Minister Bibeau: Well the list goes on. But I would say the labor shortage is basically a big, big problem. Anything to do with climate transition – we’ve seen how hard hit our farmers have been this summer, and it’s important that we work on it. And prepare for the FPT, the federal-provincial-territorial meeting of agriculture ministers in ten days.
So to break down each of these, let’s start with the labor one – what do you see as your role in terms of solving the problems producers face on the labor front?
Well, an important part is the temporary foreign workers, who make sure that these workers can come to Canada safely and in a timely manner, and I’m working closely with Minister Qualtrough on this. Obviously, we are looking for different ways to encourage Canadians to come into the agricultural sector, whether it is working on the farm – of course, it is very interesting – but there are also a number of careers, which you can join in the agricultural sector. Investing in child care is also another way to ensure that parents can get back to work sooner. We will be making changes to some tax incentives to keep seniors working a little longer. And obviously invest in innovation. Automation is another way to meet this work challenge.
The appointment of Steven Guilbeault as Minister of the Environment certainly raised eyebrows given his militant past. As Minister of Agriculture and spokesperson for the agricultural sector in Cabinet, how do you plan to work with Minister Guilbeault while defending and defending the interests of our agriculture and agri-food sector?
Minister Guilbeault is definitely passionate about the environment, and he is also a reasonable man. And in fact, in the agricultural sector, we know that farmers are the first to feel the impact of climate change. So it is very important that we invest in our agriculture, so that it is sustainable to ensure that our soil and our water are healthy for the next generation.
This is why we have already put in place a number of programs to support our farmers – putting in place incentives for them to adopt the best practices we know more quickly such as cover crops, rotational grazing, better nutrient management. We have put in place a huge program to help them afford more energy efficient technologies, such as grain dryers, barn heating, so we are doing a lot to support our farmers in this transition and to ensure that our agriculture is sustainable.
It’s important, you know, in terms of resources, and it’s also important because consumers here in Canada and in the countries we export to are also wondering how their food is produced. They want to make sure it’s been produced in a sustainable way. So it is very important that we do our best to be leaders in sustainable agriculture.
The proposed goal of reducing fertilizer emissions by 30%. There has been a lot of talk about this since we last had the chance to speak with you. During the election campaign, a new report was released highlighting the cost this policy could have on farmers across Canada. Can this 30 percent target, in your opinion, be achieved without forcing farmers to use less fertilizer? Can we achieve this without putting a cap on fertilizer use?
Well, I am not a scientist. We will continue to invest in research and innovation and to work with industry to find the best way. It’s not just a question of quantity, it’s a question of quality. The 4R approach is a good approach, and it goes in the right direction. The question is also: can we afford not to? We really, really have to be ambitious. But you know, we recognize it’s a challenge. And we want to be there with the industry, with the farmers to find the best practices, to find all the ways that are betterâ¦ As I said, I am not a scientist, but I know that there are so much research going on in practices and products. We will therefore continue to support those who know the business in a more scientific way than I do.
You mentioned 4R nutrient management practices. At present, they are not currently factored into the way emissions are measured. Is this a conversation that you are going to have with Minister Guilbeault, or that your department is going to have with Environment and Climate Change so that things like the 4Rs and the things that farmers do on the farm are recognized, in terms of what do they reduce emissions?
Yes. It is a challenge to measure all the efforts that our farmers are making. And it is somewhere, there too, where we invest, because it is a new scope of work or new knowledge that we must develop, how to measure the results of our various efforts. And I think, you know, 4R is a good approach. So how can we now measure and recognize how far this is getting us?
In the days leading up to the start of the election campaign, a pause was announced for the revision of the MRL for glyphosate. And it raised questions as to whether it was politics interfering with the scientific process. What is your response to people who are concerned about the possibility of the policy entering the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) process?
First, my partner on this trip will be Minister Duclos, the Minister of Health. And in fact, it is precisely because we do not want politics to interfere that we did not want to make a precise decision. We said, âOkay, going in the direction suggested during the consultation seemed surprising, so let’s take a look. Pause and take a look at the framework in which the PMRA works. Is this still relevant for our reality in 2021? Does it meet the expectations of our Canadian consumers? Does the PMRA have the resources to do its job at the level that we expect? So, with Minister Duclos, we are going to review the framework and probably the law, which dates from 2002â¦ and then let the scientists carry out their analysis.
There is a lot of talk about inflation and rising food prices, as well as the backlog in the supply chain that takes into account the rising costs of a lot of the things Canadians buy. Industry groups launched a container crunch campaign this week. Do you think your government has a role to play? And do you plan to work with Alghabra’s transport minister on this?
Of course, we always work together. There might be some limit to government intervention, but we were following this very closely and trying to support different sectors to facilitate the processes where we can, and at the same time we were supporting the people in the need in Canada in different ways through different benefits. So it’s very difficult at the moment. The labor shortage, again, is one of the reasons why so many prices are going up – this is another example. This is another challenge that we are working on and that you know, if it can be solved it will help for more general issues that we face like inflation.
You mentioned in your opening remarks, Madam Minister, the importance of your relationship and your work at the FPT table with the provinces and territories. There was a meeting scheduled for September which was postponed due to the election. Do you plan to meet with your provincial and territorial counterparts in the coming weeks?
Yes in fact. November 8 and 9 or 9 and 10. Well, in a week or so, we’ll meet in Guelph. Some of us will be there in person, others will join virtually, but we will spend two days together to take stock of all our priorities, and also work on the next Canadian partnership agreement, which will be for the 2023 cycle. to 2028.
(Listen to the interview above for Minister Bibeau’s full comments.)