Prime Minister Trudeau takes questions at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture's annual general meeting

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s annual general meeting in Ottawa on Monday, delivering a 10 minute speech before taking questions from the audience for approximately half an hour.

Trudeau was asked about a wide range of topics, including helping farmers cope with the increased production costs, grassland preservation, the fertilizer emissions reduction target, recognizing how innovative Canadian farmers are, public perception of agriculture, and how the CFIA has handled the potato wart disease in Prince Edward Island.

The government has said it plans to announce a program to compensate Eastern Canadian farmers for tariffs paid on fertilizer from Russia, but Trudeau did not announce any new initiatives in his speech.

He was accompanied and introduced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

While it’s normal for the agriculture minister to speak at the CFA meeting, it’s been many years since a sitting prime minister attended. (Editor’s note: If you know the last time, let us know. We haven’t been able to determine when it was.)

Related: Don’t just stop in Quebec, Prime Minister. It’s time to “see and hear” all farmers and ranchers

The leaders for the five federal parties represented in the House of Commons, including Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, were all on the agenda to speak at the CFA meeting on Monday.

Listen to Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech and Q&A session at the CFA meeting (see below for a transcript of the Q&A portion):

Transcript of Trudeau’s Q&A at the CFA AGM:

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. I’m a farmer and a certified crop advisor from the Ottawa Valley. Taking care of our land is central to growing a healthy crop and our livelihoods. We want to help Canada meet our environmental targets but we need to be able to access affordable fertilizer, innovations and working capital to do so. Essentially we can’t be green if we’re in the red. Are you and your team considering economic sustainability as part of your decision making?

Justin Trudeau responding to a question at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture's annual general meeting in Ottawa on March 6, 2023.
A screenshot of Justin Trudeau responding to a question at the CFA AGM.

Trudeau: Absolutely. Thank you for your question and your hard work. It’s one of those things that we’ve seen time and time again, how important it is to care for and sustain the land that has sustained you and sustained all of us for generations. We know things are changing, we know the way we do things needs to change. We also know all of us need to make sure you are supported through this time of change. Absolutely. We need to be working with you to create the innovations and the solutions that are not only going to protect your land, and this country and the environment for future generations are also going to protect your ability to continue to be successful in working land and pass it on to future generations. So yes, that’s why we’ve put forward the, for example, the strategy on agricultural partnerships, that is focused on sustainable agriculture — $3.5 billion with provinces and territories over the coming years to make sure that we’re looking at the right technologies, the best way of doing things. All of you know that being able to target your fertilizer use better is really important. Because it keeps costs down and it increases or maximizes yields. And that is absolutely something we need, we can’t have yields be going down. We have to be increasing that. We have to make sure we’re able to feed not just Canadians but the world. You need to be able to do that. That’s why whether it’s looking at how we’re bringing down the price of fertilizer or supporting you during this difficult time where the cost of Russian fertilizers have gone up because of their decisions to invade Ukraine, making sure we’re there to support you in various ways. Making sure we’re also there for the kinds of technological innovations that are going to be a key part of making sure the world can feed itself in a net zero economy in 2050. So yes, we will be there as we continue to support you doing the amazing and important work you continue to do.

Thank you, Prime Minister Trudeau. And thank you for all the work you’ve done through the pandemic and supporting the industry. It’s vital for us accessing markets domestically, but also internationally. You talk to supply chains and the challenges we faced, Transport Canada came up with some sound recommendations on supporting us moving forward. Where do you see and how do you see the government supporting us especially now as we look at our infrastructure across the country, but also the ongoing challenges of access to containers with costs still high coming into the country where we’re seeing the rest of the world start to drop? (Ron Lemaire, Canadian Produce Marketing Association)

Trudeau: Thank you, Ron. Yeah, first of all, it is a good thing that Canada has such strong agricultural production across the country. We do not have the population to be able to not export. And it’s a good thing that we export, we need to continue to export around the world because the world needs good Canadian products. The world needs to be able to be reliable, to have reliable sources of grain and high quality food that is produced increasingly in uncertain ways around the world. But people can and should know that when there is a maple leaf on that box, that’s a guarantee of quality, not just in terms of quality of the product, but quality of how it was grown, how it was processed, how people are paid throughout it. I mean, that is something that is increasingly more and more important to companies and clients and consumers around the world. But the challenge of getting our goods to markets overseas is huge, not just about piercing it, it’s about actually getting getting the shipping down too. So whether it’s rail infrastructure, road infrastructure, or ports, we’ve made significant investments in trade corridors and are going to continue to. We all remember the challenges that have happened over the previous years around rail bottlenecks, around increase in oil by rail that has reduced the amount of grain by rail, for example. Those are things that led us to, among other things, purchase the TMX pipeline to make sure that there are proper alternatives to be able to export our fossil fuels to more markets than just the United States. But we need to do more in ensuring that you have reliable shipping facilities, reliable processing facilities that you can count on, and access to those markets in a way that isn’t going to be interrupted to make people turn to a different supplier because there is a bottleneck in the Canadian rail system. We’ve seen it time and time again, where we work really, really hard to develop new markets and then a year or two in, there’s a jam in the system, and they turn away for another market, and they’ll never come back to Canadian produce. We have to make sure we are continuing to be extraordinarily active not just on signing trade deals, and we’re a country, a government, over the past eight years or so, has signed massive amounts of trade deals, including renegotiating NAFTA, including CPTPP, including CETA with Europe. We now are the only G7 country that has a free trade deal with every other G7 country — huge access to vast swaths of the global economy. But that does us no good to have access on paper if we’re not getting it in practice. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in in transportation infrastructure and on making sure that your shippers can be a reliable as we all know that you are for producing.

Hi. I’m Keisha Rose Topic, the president of the PEI Federation of Agriculture, and also a farmer. In the agriculture industry, we faced many challenges to be sustainable and resilient as you’d have said, and we appreciate the government’s commitment to helping us face these challenges for our industry. One challenge that has come to the forefront in recent years is the relationship with CFIA and the agricultural community has started to affect our resiliency. CFIA has always been a highly respected regulatory agency and to continue that reputation and credibility and to have the trust of Canadians and internationally, we are dependent on CFIA to adhere to their values of making science-based decisions and meeting international standards. Will the federal government stand behind Canadian farmers, listen to international scientific experts, and allow Canadian products to receive fair market access?

Trudeau: The answer is yes, we will always ground ourselves in science and in data. Because as you say, it’s extraordinarily important that people in Canada across the country and around the world continue to have confidence in products from Canada if if there are stories or examples of genuine challenges with Canadian products that can not only affect one product, but the entire reputation of a sector. That’s a very, very bad thing for all of us. So grounding ourselves in science. And communicating that establishing that trust with consumers around the world is going to be essential. And the way to do that is to ground it in science to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can. Now there are always going to be situations, whether it’s around pesticides, whether it’s around gene editing, whether it’s around potato warts, where they’re going to be very strongly held views on either side of a very thin line that science tries to provide. And what we’re going to be doing every step of the way, is working with producers, working with customers, working with the scientific community at home and around the world, and making sure that the decisions we’re taking are the best ones in the moment, but also for the long term. Sometimes it means making difficult decisions, but every step of the way, CFIA is focused on and what it needs to remain focused on and your inputs and your participation in that is going to be really important. It has to be on making sure of the long term viability of Canadian agriculture and our export of agricultural products to the world. Thank you for your question, Keisha.

Editor’s note: The next question was in French from a dairy farmer in Quebec. Listen to the audio above to hear the question, and Trudeau’s response.

Hi. I’m Tyler Fulton with Canadian Cattle Association. When I heard that there was an opportunity maybe that we would have a chance to ask you a question, I went to my consultants, which are my teenage kids and my wife. And so this is what they came up with. Farmers and ranchers love the land and work hard to protect it and consider it our legacy for future generations. Grasslands capture carbon, increase biodiversity and add resiliency to the landscape. But we need help. Grasslands in Canada and around the world are shrinking. Due to market forces more and more cattle producers, cattle and all livestock producers are moving to more lucrative uses of the land. So will the government of Canada lead the world by providing incentives for livestock producers to continue protecting grasslands?

Trudeau: That’s a great question Tyler. And and I’ll admit that it’s not something that I spent a lot of time reflecting on. Actually, can you give the mic back to Tyler? So I can I can follow up a little bit? What are some of the things that you think as, as a cattle rancher would be most helpful? I absolutely agree protecting grasslands is really important? What is the best way of doing it that would be most efficient that would really help cattle ranchers like yourself to not switch away from that?

(Fulton): I think it comes down to really the recognition of the value that those grasslands brings. So in particular, the biodiversity outcomes that come from having those natural landscapes. It’s, it’s a question, I guess, back to, you know, society at large whether or not we value that. Because if we do, I can’t think of another mechanism that’s going to maintain those grasslands, if we don’t figure out a way to put an incentive in place to maintain them, because there’s so many strong incentives to take them out.

Trudeau: Well, listen, one of the things that I think of directly, that’s really helpful, Tyler, you know, we just signed on, or we just actually led as a country at COP 15 on protecting biodiversity, protecting nature. Everyone knows about the climate change COPs, last one was in Egypt. But in Montreal, we had COP 15 on protecting nature, protecting biodiversity. And the goal we set for ourselves 25% protected lands, and of our ocean and coastal areas by 2025. 30% by 2030. And that’s a target that the world shares. I’ll be honest, in the first few years, we were able to make a huge leap forward, we came came into office in 2015, with about 1% of our coastal areas, and and oceans protected, and we bumped it up to close to 15%, we’re on our way to 25% and, and 30%. On land, it’s a little more challenging, partially because federal government has more direct control over oceans than it does over land, which is all provincial areas. But getting to that 25% protected land areas by 2025 and 30% by 2030, is going to require, as you say, Tyler, that we put a real value on the ecosystem services, on the biodiversity, on the healthy ecosystems and diverse ecosystems that we actually have in those areas. And looking at how we can actually create mechanisms and support that, recognize that we can’t make make 30% of our country, national parks, for example, we have to make sure that we’re looking at mixed use that there are some areas where you do certain things and others where you don’t. And the kinds of grasslands we have across this country are worthy of protecting and the more we actually do put value intrinsic in them. And not just say the value of a land is only what you can then aggressively extract from it. That’s a shift in thinking that doesn’t surprise me to see your kids that nudging you along that way. Because it’s it’s part of what a lot of that next generation is challenging us to do, to think, well to think as society in a way that all of you do naturally, which is thinking a little more long term about things, thinking about one generation to the next and not trying to maximize profits for the next six months or the next quarter or the next the next five years. That reflection is something that we can and must fold in a lot more, and I look forward to more of your ideas and working with with all of you on how we do that. Thank you, Tyler.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. I’m Sukhpaul Bal, cherry grower from Kelowna, BC. The name Chanchal may ring a bell from many years ago.

Trudeau: Yeah, the best spinach…

(Bal): We enjoyed a nice saag, which is a spinach…

Trudeau: That’s a great story. I’ll tell it, but you give me your question and then I’ll go off on my tangents.

(Bal): Mine is actually more just a comment for just general discussion for people to take back when they go home and to their respective areas. What crosses my mind is how how our public views agriculture at the current state. Many years ago, everybody had a connection to agriculture. My uncle had a farm or we have a farm. But what I’ve seen is that that connection is going away. So the grocery store is that main point for a lot of people. I’m just a few years removed from the technical young farmer category, so I’ve now moved into the regular farmer age bracket, but we have young farmers that are here today, s I would like to hear some comment from yourself — how do we get back to that value of agriculture being a priority. I watched your speeches daily when we went through this unprecedented COVID time. And it took several days, I can’t remember exactly, but then the word ‘farmer’ came out of your mouth. And I would say, ‘listen, he’s now talking about farming, which is essential.’ And I think that discussion needs to continue forward. So I’d be happy to just hear your thoughts on how we get the next generation involved.

Trudeau: Well, one of the one of the running gags about Quebec is all Quebecers are like two or three generations removed from the farm, which is why agriculture matters, is such a political driver of things in Quebec in ways that it isn’t always in every other place of the country. My grandfather grew up on my great-grandfather’s farm. And that’s, you know, that’s something that is in within generational memory for many, many Canadians. But at the same time, we have to remember that Canada is one of the most urbanized countries in the world. 150 years ago, when we started as a country, we were 20% urban, and 80% rural. That is now completely flipped, that we are 80% urban, and 20% rural. However, the mindset that we’re beginning to see now, as Canadians are thinking about how to stay healthy, how to be conscious about how we’re raising our kids, how we’re feeding them the best possible things, how we’re taking care of our own bodies, how we’re aware of provenance, we’re aware of organic, we’re aware of local, we’re going to more farmers markets, I think there is a swing back towards an appreciation for the unbelievably important role that agriculture and rural communities provide in the daily life of every single Canadian. One of the things we saw through the pandemic, and we’re increasingly seeing as telecommunications and broadband is increasingly accessible everywhere across the country — lots more work to do in rural areas, as I heard when I was out in Langley from a number of people with big questions on that — but there is a desire for the kind of quality of life that you get when you step away from the cities. We are seeing a shift of the things that are actually valued in our lives and the things we want for our kids, and the way we want to raise our families, that is actually shifting and doing that shift away so it’s not about looking back to a few generations before when we all had connections to the land in that way. It’s about actually looking few generations forward to how do we make sure we are continuing to be connected to the land, connected to how we are integrated into our environment, and not a separate piece from the environment. And that’s part of a shift in attitude that we see when young people are deciding not to get their driver’s license, not to go out and buy a car. They want to a great bike instead, and they want to save up money to travel instead of saving up to buy a car as so many kids in cities are able to do now. You can’t do that in rural areas at this point — transportation is still not there, but there is a shift in priorities that I think bodes well for the connection people will have and the value people will see for your industry for agricultural families what they do. The story around the spinach and the saag actually was that there was a kind of, of I guess it was spinach seed that was brought over from from India 100 years ago by one of the early settlers from into the Okanagan from the Punjab that got bred out and lost in India. And the kind of spinach that was grown here in Canada was true to the authentic stuff that you couldn’t find any more in India. So we actually were a bit of a seed bank for some of the original settlers and I thought it was always a lovely story that in Kelowna was a place where the diversity of Canada actually managed to protect something that was otherwise lost. And I think that’s something that we all can think of applications in our lives.

Thank you so much for coming to speak to address Canadian farmers. We really appreciate your time. My name is Erin Gowriluk and I’m the executive director with the Grain Growers of Canada. And I think when I think about the climate crisis and the challenges that the sector is faced with, and that we’re faced with around the world, I think that there are two things that Canada can contribute globally, and you’ve touched on one of them. And that is, and I can’t claim that this is my own quote, but the world needs more Canada, when you consider that in this room, you have some of the most sustainable farmers in the entire world, here in this room and across this country, the more that we can grow, and the more that we can export to other countries around the world. That’s a great contribution that we can make to addressing the climate change crisis. One of the questions I have for you around this, I think the other contribution we can make is how are we leveraging international forums that you and the agriculture minister are participating in to promote the innovative and sustainable tools and practices that Canadian farmers are employing here across the country, promote those practices to other jurisdictions, that’s another great contribution we could make. I’d love your take on that.

Trudeau: Great question, Erin. Yes, Canadian expertise, really stepped up in grain shipping, for example, as Russia was blockading Ukrainian grain. The expertise we have, some of which we learned from the original Ukrainian immigrants to Canada hundreds of years ago, on how to how to do well, Ukraine still leads on that, but it wasn’t able to get those out, we played a significant role in the Black Sea grain initiative, working with the UN, working with Turkey, working with others, to make sure that we were solving for problems. But also directly Canada, exporting grain and other agricultural products, whether it’s cherries or lobsters, or potatoes, or what have you to the world is a really, really important piece of support for the world that we know people are going to need. And the solutions that come with it around advances in technology are going to be key as well. I remember a few years ago, visiting a vineyard that was using newfangled drone technology to map out you know where the dry areas on the on the field were on the vines were and how to best optimize what it is they wanted. I sort of said, Okay, it’s great that you in this fancy venue you have can use this, but I know it’s just a matter of years before this technology becomes more available and more utilizable and more accessible, not just to Canadians across the country, and all sorts of different agricultural areas, but to the world as well driven by Canadian innovation. And just last year, I was at the University of Saskatchewan, watching drone technology used to monitor soil quality and saturation levels in a really, really impactful way. So Canada can contribute both with actual produce to the world, we can also very much contribute to the solutions and the technologies that are going to encourage and enable people to be self-sufficient around the world, in terms of conversations we’re having with the world. We’ve done a lot of negotiating free trade deals, more than than most other countries over the past years. One of the reasons why is Canada’s always had more bounty, more resources than we’ve had a population to be able to benefit from all those resources maximally. So we’ve always been reliant on trade around the world. And that meant that while the world was going protectionist a little bit over the past year, as Canada continued to lean in on signing trade deals and signing trade deals, that would be beneficial to everyone, not just beneficial to the multinationals who are busy trading, and have the big infrastructure for that. And that’s where the conversations that we’ve had with countries around ‘what are non tariff barriers, what are fair, what are responsible?’ How do we move to a world that can properly support itself and feed everyone around the world is going to continue to be a big part of it as Canada continues to step up in Africa, as we continue to work with Asian partners that are facing crises of poverty, as we’re seeing more extreme weather events coming at us around the world as well with the disruptions caused by climate change. Canada will continue to be a place that will develop solutions and share those solutions with the world and one big advantage. Whenever you show up. It’s like Canadian NGO or a Canadian researcher, Canadian humanitarian worker or what have you. Nobody thinks Canada’s there to tell you what to do or to conquer you, we’re always there to help. And that role that Canadians can play in shaping the world for the better and leaning in and saying, Okay, well actually, if you take on this drip technology, if you do this soil management approach, if you try on these more resilient crops, you’re going to be able to become self sufficient. And that’s what we want. We’re not looking for our own narrow interests, we’re looking for the well being of anyone. That’s something that Canada has both as values, but also as a reputation increasingly around the world. So how we think about what we’re doing well, here in Canada, and how we can share with the world is going to be increasingly important, not just for the well-being of the world, but for our own well-being as well. More stability, more prosperity, less hunger, less misery, less disasters around the world, ultimately, will always be good for Canada and Canadians as well.

My last word today is really just ‘thank you.’ Thank you for everything you do. I know it’s not easy. There’s no line of work that’s easy these days. But day in, day out, rising with the sun, working as hard as you do, making sure you’re building a strong future for yourselves, your community, your family, but also all Canadians, we don’t recognize that enough. We don’t thank you enough for everything that you choose to do because you love it. But we’re so lucky you choose to do it because Canadians need it so much. And I will continue to be an ally and a supporter and encourage everyone to understand how important everything you do is and thank you deeply for it. Merci beaucoup.

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