Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday the federal government will implement new measures for farmers and agri-food businesses, including $5-billion designed to extend the lending capacity for farmers facing cash flow issues due to the coronavirus crisis.
Farm Credit Canada (FCC), a major agriculture and food lender, will receive the financial support as part of an effort to provide more flexibility to farmers and processors who are affected by the loss of sales.
“For farmers and people across the agrifood business, I know these are hard times too,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canada’s largest farmers’ organization, representing approximately 200,000 farmers and their families, welcomed Mr. Trudeau’s announcement while its president acknowledged the industry is facing “incredibly uncertain times.”
“Considering how difficult it has been for a lot of the sectors in agriculture, it is wonderful to see this $5-billion announced for FCC to help alleviate some of the cash crunch," Mary Robinson said.
Concerns continue, however, about acquiring more debt and loans, she said, adding that additional offerings, such as business risk management programs for primary producers, could be made available to help alleviate the financial burden.
Conservative agriculture critic John Barlow said Monday his party is pleased to see the lending capacity for Farm Credit Canada boosted, and that the federal government recognizes agriculture as an important part of its stimulus plan.
But he noted that the Liberal Party campaign platform promised to extend the lending capacity up to $5-billion per year.
“This isn’t extraordinary measures for what is an unprecedented financial crisis,” he said, adding that Conservatives would like to see food identified as a critical infrastructure in Canada.
NDP agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor said that while the government’s announcement will be welcomed by anxious farmers, growing farm debt in Canada remains a concern.
Canadian farmers owe a record-high $106-billion, according to Statistics Canada.
“In being constructive, I’d like to say that loans are great but we have to keep in mind the fact that there already is such a debt load and loans do have to be repaid,” Mr. MacGregor said. “So if it does get significantly worse, maybe they want to look at the option of doing grants.”
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Monday the government is working “around the clock” to deal with the crisis.
Over the weekend, she announced that Ottawa would allow foreign workers to enter Canada provided they observe a 14-day period of “supervised isolation."
“It will be the responsibility of the employer to make sure that they comply. Otherwise they could lose their privilege to have new temporary foreign workers in the coming years."
Ms. Robinson said the Canadian Federation of Agriculture was pleased to see the government shed more light on its plan for temporary foreign workers, adding it will be watching for details on the logistics.
During a briefing on Monday, Ms. Bibeau confirmed the government is working with countries to negotiate access for commercial and chartered planes to transport temporary foreign workers to Canada.
The costs of the flights will be covered by industry, not the government, she said.