Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 37 - Evidence - Meeting of June 13, 2013


OTTAWA, Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 7:59 a.m. to examine and report on research and innovation efforts in the agricultural sector (topic: Innovation in the agriculture and agri-food sector from the producers' perspective and the contribution of agricultural innovation and research efforts in rural community development).

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, I declare this meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in session.

[English]

Honourable senators, before we move into the official agenda of the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, the chair would like to recognize Senator Plett. He would like to inform all senators about Kevin's father.

Senator Plett: Thank you, chair. I am sure most of you know that our regular clerk is not here today as he is home in Newfoundland attending the funeral for his father, who passed away a few days ago. Fortunately, Kevin was there already when his dad did pass away, so he got some time with him.

The chair, the deputy chair and I talked about it, and I sent some condolences, first, through the website that they had set up. I sent a short note on behalf of the committee. We also sent some flowers on behalf of the committee. Of course, this is something that the Senate typically does not pay for, so I paid for it. It was $131 and, if any of you want to contribute towards that, you are certainly welcome to do so. I do not know how you want to handle that, chair, but, indeed, we want to send our condolences to Kevin and the family and have done so.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Plett. We will deal with that item after the meeting. Thank you for doing that on behalf of the committee and thank you to the Deputy Chair also, on behalf of all the members of the committee.

I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. This morning, honourable senators, we will have two presentations. At the end of our regular hour, I will be asking that, at 10 minutes to 10:00, we take time to look at the table of contents that was distributed so that we can authorize the clerk and the researcher to move on the draft of our report.

That said, my name is Senator Percy Mockler. I am from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. I would now like to start by asking all senators to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair of the committee. Then we will officially introduce the witness.

Senator Mercer: Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia. I am the Deputy Chair.

Senator Callbeck: Catherine Callbeck, Prince Edward Island.

Senator Tardif: Good morning. I am Claudette Tardif from Alberta.

Senator Plett: Good morning. Welcome here. My name is Don Plett and I am from Manitoba.

Senator Buth: Good morning. I am JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.

Senator Oh: My name is Victor Oh from Ontario.

Senator Eaton: Good morning. Nicole Eaton, Ontario.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Good morning. I am Ghislain Maltais from Quebec.

Senator Rivard: Michel Rivard from Quebec.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you. The committee is continuing its study on research and innovation efforts in the agricultural sector. Today, we will hear from two panels. In the first panel, we will be focusing on innovation in the agriculture and agri-food sectors, from the producer's perspective.

[Translation]

The focus for the second panel will be the contribution of agricultural innovation and research efforts in rural community development.

[English]

Mr. Gilvesy, thank you very much for accepting our invitation. As you have been made aware, the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry was authorized by the Senate of Canada to examine research and development efforts in the context of developing new markets domestically and internationally, enhancing agricultural sustainability and improving food diversity and security, as we go forward with agriculture in Canada, to maintain and surpass its initiatives when it comes to innovation.

The first panel is Mr. George Gilvesy, General Manager, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers. Thank you for accepting our invitation and sharing your vision with us. At this time, I will ask you to make your presentation, which will be followed by questions from the senators.

George Gilvesy, General Manager, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers: Thank you, senators. It is my pleasure to be here today. I was pre-empted last night by Senator Oh. We introduced ourselves to each other in the hotel elevator last night, so I got an opportunity to meet a senator in real life prior to this meeting. Thank you for the opportunity to present before you today.

The Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector accounts for 63 per cent of the $1.1 billion in farm cash receipts attributed to the Canadian greenhouse vegetable sector. Ontario boasts one of the largest greenhouse regions in North America, with 224 growers and 2,272 acres of greenhouse tomato, pepper and cucumber production. Greenhouse vegetables are also produced on a significant scale in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and the Maritimes.

The Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector is also a significant part of the rural economy, accounting for in excess of 12,000 jobs annually.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, otherwise known as OGVG, is headquartered in Leamington, Ontario, and it is the grower organization for all tomato, pepper and cucumber greenhouse farmers in Ontario. Our mandate is ``to provide market access for producers and ensure the opportunity for economic success.''

Our sector is one of the fastest growing agriculture sectors in Canada. We believe we are one of Canada's best-kept secrets. The scope and growth of the Ontario greenhouse sector is relatively unknown outside of our growing region, as few people understand Ontario's market dominance position across North America. This market dominance extends from eastern Canada down through the southern United States, principally east of the Mississippi, and is maintained through the months of April to November, when we are most in season.

An example of the impact of the growth of our sector on the local economy is a recent report from the Conference Board of Canada. This report highlighted Leamington, Ontario, as having one of the highest increases in jobs, an astonishing 33.8 per cent between 2011 and 2012, of all the mid-sized cities in Canada studied. Leamington also experienced an increase in gross domestic product of 10.6 per cent during the same time period. Leamington's economic development manager attributed this growth in jobs and GDP primarily to the 205 acres of growth of the local greenhouse vegetable sector. In fact, since January 2011 to January 2013 — because that is how we measure our statistics — that level of growth is actually 350 acres, much higher than the 205 acknowledged in that study.

At close to $1 million per acre, this private investment in high-tech greenhouse production facilities has been a real boost to the economy and the growth of the sector is expected to continue. That is roughly $350 million that has been invested over a two-year period in greenhouse facilities in Ontario. When you start looking at the investments going into automobile factories, I think we are getting fairly close with those kinds of numbers.

The goal of the Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector is to exceed sales of $1 billion within 10 years. This goal will only be achieved by investing with government and other stakeholders in innovative R&D and policies to drive the production of year-round, environmentally sustainable greenhouse produce that is safe and fresh, at a quality that meets the needs of our growing customer base.

Greenhouse vegetable farming is one of the most sustainable and productive forms of agriculture in Canada. We are able to produce 10 times more food per square metre than field producers because of our nearly year-round production under controlled-environment conditions, which allows us to maximize production of high-quality tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

The controlled nature of our production system also allows us to efficiently utilize typical agriculture inputs, for example, water and nutrients, as well as other inputs that are not as easily used in field production, for example, bees for pollination, CO2 to increase photosynthesis, and good bugs to do the job of pesticides. That is where we have good bugs eating the bad bugs.

Greenhouses can also be built on a variety of soil types, which allows for opportunities for greenhouse production in non-traditional agriculture areas of the country. Overall, greenhouse vegetable production allows Canada to maximize production of healthy food, while minimizing the strain on Canada's natural resources.

Innovation is critical to our sector's global competitiveness and we are, therefore, committed to investing in innovative research and development initiatives for the sector. This includes investment in labour and energy efficiencies, which are our two largest production costs, as well as investment in crop protection, product improvement and differentiation, and environmental sustainability.

The Canadian greenhouse vegetable sector, in collaboration with the Canadian Horticultural Council's Greenhouse Production Committee, has applied for federal funding under a number of Growing Forward 1 and Growing Forward 2 initiatives. Over the last five years, we have received approximately $1.1 million in federal government funding for research and development initiatives for our sector, which equates less than .03 per cent of our total farm cash receipts. Although we are grateful for this support from the federal government, which has allowed us to leverage our grower dollars to fund some innovative R&D projects, the low level of investment has restricted our ability to invest in R&D that could have advanced our sector even further.

Given the nature of the production systems, our sector relies heavily on the use of experimental greenhouse facilities to conduct our innovative research, particularly the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow, Ontario, which is very close to Leamington. We are also looking forward to the new greenhouse facility opening in June 2013 at the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London, Ontario, as well as the pre-commercial scale research greenhouse proposed at Vineland Research and Innovations Centre. We greatly value the accessibility to these facilities and the world-class researchers within, and strongly request that the federal government ensures that all funding programs are designed with no limits to accessing these resources.

One of the most important components of food security is providing Canadians with reliable, safe food. Ontario greenhouse vegetable farmers are committed to food safety, with each farm being required to undergo an annual third- party food safety audit. Many of our growers have also implemented advanced traceability systems that allow produce to be tracked from the consumer back to the exact section of the greenhouse where the produce was harvested. Through our sector's food safety and traceability programs, we are well prepared for any potential food safety incident from a sector point of view.

However, we are deeply concerned about major potential food safety outbreaks and the potential fallout to our sector and specifically the Canadian government's level of preparedness in the event of such an outbreak.

In September 2012, the Canadian Horticultural Council's Greenhouse Production Committee wrote letters to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and the Minister of Health Canada to convey our concerns about the government's level of preparedness. These letters were in response to the highly publicized and devastating 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany from European sprouts. I do not think anyone went by without reading or being aware of that story. This event taught us many things, including the openness of the global food system, for example a Europe without borders; the importance of industry and government being prepared with spokespeople and a crisis management plan; and, most important, the value of a comprehensive traceability system.

Canada is recognized globally as having a world-class food safety system and it is this reputation that needs to be maintained through the development and implementation of an innovative crisis management plan that takes the needs of government, consumers and the agriculture sectors into account. We encourage our government to review Canada's planning so as to definitely avert a situation similar to what Europe experienced.

With regard to new markets and market access, greenhouse vegetable farmers operate in a fiercely competitive global marketplace. Greenhouse produce is freely traded across international borders with Mexico and the United States, with some Central and South American countries being the main competition in both domestic and export markets. In most cases, these competitors are lower-cost producers, primarily as a result of labour and regulatory compliance costs. More than 70 per cent of our produce is exported to the United States and, therefore, trade is very important to Ontario greenhouse vegetable farmers.

Given the importance of the United States market and the perishable nature of our products, even intermittent interruption to market access can cause devastating results for our farmers. In order to reach our goal of $1 billion in sales in 10 years, our sector must develop new markets while maintaining our current markets.

In order to lessen our dependency on our traditional Canadian and U.S. retail markets, our sector is currently investigating new market segments and exploring other global market opportunities. One of our primary areas of focus is the development of the food service market both domestically and in the United States. It is hard to believe that 60 per cent of all tomatoes are consumed in the food service sector in North America. That means only 40 per cent of the tomatoes were bought in a grocery store in the typical manner.

To accomplish this, the sector is investing in innovative market research to better understand this new market segment and how we can match our product offerings to the needs of the customers. Thanks to funding support from the federal government, the OGVG also recently completed a study through the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ontario, that evaluated the market potential for greenhouse vegetables in the Pacific Rim. OGVG will continue to investigate new markets and we ask that the federal government continue to provide financial and/or policy support for these endeavours.

Although the development of new markets is very important to the continued success of our sector, it is just as important that our current markets are maintained. This means investing in promotional activities, as well as ensuring that any market access issues are resolved.

OGVG currently undertakes numerous promotional initiatives to market our products to Canadian and U.S. retailers. As an example, OGVG, with support from the federal government, invested in a trade show booth to allow us to promote our produce at the Produce Marketing Association Show, the largest show for produce in North America and probably the largest in the world. These promotional activities are crucial to maintaining and growing our current market share and we request that the federal government provide more support for provincial- and regional-based promotional campaigns.

As previously stated, trade is crucial to our sector, particularly exports to the United States. Therefore, it is critical that any threats to market access be dealt with swiftly by the federal government. Two current examples of trade threats are the lack of an effective payment security mechanism and the lack of CFIA support for plant-related phytosanitary issues.

Greenhouse farmers face a serious threat to market access with the lack of an effective payment security mechanism. Perishable produce farmers and their marketers receive valuable protection within the United States market through various legislation and regulation controls enacted there. The failure of the Canadian government to enact similar provisions within Canada is becoming a significant trade irritant between the two countries and may result in the loss of protection provided to Canadian vegetable farmers.

Through the Regulatory Cooperation Council initiative set in motion by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama in late 2011, we have been given a significant opportunity to enact a fair and ethical licensing and payment protection system for perishable products in Canada. We look forward to and support our government departments in finally achieving a program that meets the needs of our domestic industry, as well as that of our most important trading partner. Since our produce is perishable, it cannot be recovered in the event of non-payment by a buyer. Enacting a suitable licensing and payment security system will provide North American payment protection to our farmers and our marketers.

Another current threat to market access is the reduced support from CFIA for assessment and enforcement of plant- related phytosanitary issues. The Canadian greenhouse vegetable sector is very vulnerable to the introduction of invasive species given our ideal growing conditions and close proximity to imported products, and we are also vulnerable to potential invasive species being found on our produce being exported into the United States. A phytosanitary issue at the border could result in closure of the U.S. border to Canadian greenhouse vegetables, and this would be devastating for our sector. It is very clear that the sector needs additional support from CFIA in order to ensure that it is protected from this threat.

Overall, it is crucial that the federal government and its agencies, for example, CFIA, work with the agriculture sector to find innovative ways to use the limited resources available to ensure that our current markets remain open and the potential options for future markets, such as in Asia, are explored.

In conclusion, the greenhouse vegetable sector is investing in innovative new processes, practices and products to ensure the sustainable production of safe products that meet the needs of our varied customers. We ask that the federal government and its agencies also invest their resources in innovative R&D and policy development in order to ensure Canadians continue to have a thriving agriculture and greenhouse sector. The magnitude of this federal investment should take into account the current size and growth potential of the Canadian greenhouse vegetable sector, an issue that we feel is poorly understood by federal officials.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Gilvesy, thank you very much for being here and for that very informative presentation.

You talked about a 33.8 per cent increase in the number of jobs in Leamington, Ontario, built around the greenhouse industry. How many of those workers are temporary foreign workers?

Mr. Gilvesy: Temporary foreign workers or SAWP? There is the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which is the Mexican and Caribbean program. That represents around 3,500 workers to the greenhouse vegetable sector and about another 500 people are utilized through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program of the 12,000.

Senator Mercer: That is 4,000 of the 12,000.

Mr. Gilvesy: There is a real distinction between the SAWP and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Senator Mercer: Please put the distinction on the record. I understand the Temporary Foreign Worker Program; I do not know that our viewers will understand the SAWP.

Mr. Gilvesy: I will explain as best I can. There are other experts in this field whom you may want to call upon for this. Ken Forth, the president of FARMS in Ontario, has 30 years of history on this file relating to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and I am sure he would be pleased to talk to you about the specifics.

From my understanding, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program started in the 1960s as a north-south dialogue between Canada and the Caribbean, and later developed to include Mexico. That program has stringent rules around it. The airfare to get those workers here is paid for mostly by the grower. There are changes in the program all the time, but the principal conditions are that airfare is paid for, and the workers are to be provided housing that meets a minimum standard and is inspected by authorities.

To my understanding, those conditions do not exist in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. That is a much looser environment, and I would hate to have any confusion between the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which is well controlled, managed and administered by the government and the private sector, as well as the participating foreign governments, and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Senator Mercer: That was enlightening. You said that 70 per cent of the produce is exported to the United States. What effect do the country-of-origin labelling laws that the United States continues to want to impose on imports have on your industry with regard to both cost and effect on sales?

Mr. Gilvesy: To my understanding, that has not been an impediment to our producers meeting the needs of COOL. I understand that that is more of an obstacle in the livestock sector, but for produce it has not been up to this time.

Senator Mercer: And ``Product of Canada'' on the label is not a deterrent to American purchasers?

Mr. Gilvesy: No. Some of them actually say that they look for it.

Senator Mercer: That is good.

We have heard from others in the greenhouse business about the shortage of bees. Is there a shortage of bees in the Ontario market? Do you have to import bees?

Mr. Gilvesy: We obviously use bees in the greenhouses for pollination of some of the crops. The bee issue is a large one. Some of my staff are involved in discussions regarding the technical aspects of it. At this time there is not a shortage, but there certainly is concern about the potential for problems developing in the future pertaining to bees.

Senator Plett: In your remarks you talked about how your life would be much easier if the federal government helped you a little more. You spoke of $1.1 million in federal government funding for research and development initiatives over the last five years. How much has your industry invested in research and development to offset that $1.1 million?

Mr. Gilvesy: I cannot answer that today; I do not have the numbers with me. However, we can certainly get that for you.

Senator Plett: I would very much appreciate if you would send that to us through the clerk.

Mr. Gilvesy: I think it would exceed the $1.1 million.

Senator Plett: You think it would, but you do not know.

Mr. Gilvesy: I know from our overall budget on research for the five years, but I would have to break it down specifically to what is matched for the federal initiatives.

Senator Plett: You also said that you would like all funding programs to be designed with no limits to accessing these resources. Could you explain what limits there are now to accessing resources?

Mr. Gilvesy: Yes. In the last round of Growing Forward 1, some of the programs had conditions that made us unable to use Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facilities and/or their human resources. I believe that was related to a Treasury Board directive pertaining to the optics of the use of some funding in that regard.

That programming was designed to eliminate any chance of that failing. That may have been applicable for other forms of agriculture that had access to the programs and to many other places to do their research. It became a major problem for greenhouse, because you need greenhouses to do greenhouse research in. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has greenhouses and not that many other facilities do. That put us in an awkward position.

As I said, that may not have applied to field agriculture, because they could do their research in a field. It was a problem for us. In fact, both the facilities and the researcher issue was a limiter in Growing Forward 1. We understand in Growing Forward 2 that that issue will be less of a problem. We only stated it here, because we felt that that program design was flawed from our perspective and we would hope that it would not provide a limiter moving forward.

Senator Plett: You are suggesting that maybe in Growing Forward 2 that has been dealt with?

Mr. Gilvesy: I am hopeful that it is dealt with. All the details around Growing Forward 2 pertaining to the federal- provincial cost-share program have not yet come out to us as far as the specific details. My understanding is that it will not be a limiter.

Senator Plett: Again, you said that your industry is prepared in the case of some safety outbreak, but you do not believe the government is. I would like you to explain that a bit. If the government is not prepared, in what way are they not prepared?

Mr. Gilvesy: I think I was pretty careful, senator, in the wording. I did not say the government was not prepared. What we asked was, will you do a review?

In Europe, 34 deaths occurred because of that outbreak. There was massive turmoil in the marketplace. First, they thought it was cucumbers; then they thought it was something else; and then it was organic sprouts. It was a mess for about three weeks. It created a total mess in the whole produce sector in Europe as far as supply chain. The growers went through a lot of problems. They were unable to sell their produce because everyone stopped eating produce.

The point we are making is the fundamental question of just asking the question: Are we ready, and are we ready to avert a situation as happened in Europe?

The other thing was from a commercial point of view. There was a spinach issue, I believe in 2006, out of California with regard to a food safety outbreak there. Six years later, the market has only recovered to 60 per cent of what it was prior to 2006. That is why we are asking the fundamental question. It has the impact at the moment, but it can have long-lasting impacts on the sector.

We are not criticizing with this statement. We are asking the fundamental question: Are we prepared? The German situation was quite unique because they had at least 30 different spokesmen from the government or agencies. In a food crisis like that, you need to have a point person. These are just simple questions that we are asking.

Senator Callbeck: You are the general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers. If you are going to grow vegetables in a greenhouse, do you have to belong to this association?

Mr. Gilvesy: Yes. We are actually a marketing board under the Farm Products Marketing Act in the province of Ontario. Therefore, by legislation, if you are growing these types of vegetables in a greenhouse, you must be a member of the OGVG.

Senator Callbeck: How much are the fees?

Mr. Gilvesy: The fees vary, but this year they represent 2.51 cents per square foot.

Senator Callbeck: What does the average producer pay for a fee?

Mr. Gilvesy: Our average producer is 11 acres. I would have to do the math: 11 times 43,560. Their fees would be about $7,000.

Senator Callbeck: You are involved in research, and you mentioned the federal government. I think you they gave you $1.1 million over five years. You were asked about the amount of money that you felt you put in and you do not have that figure. Do you get any money from the Ontario government?

Mr. Gilvesy: Yes, we do get limited amounts of money from the provincial government, as well.

Senator Callbeck: Do you know how much that is?

Mr. Gilvesy: Again, I do not have that on the tip of my tongue and available today. It is significant money. It would at least equal the federal contribution.

Senator Callbeck: What would be a rough figure as to the total amount that you spend on research, including from fees, the federal government and the Ontario government?

Mr. Gilvesy: Our research budget would have a range. From year to year, depending on the demand, we would probably spend anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million in research, depending on the programming that is available.

Senator Callbeck: Do you identify the areas for research, or does a researcher come to you and request funding? How does that work?

Mr. Gilvesy: Actually, that is a very good question. That is a process that has changed over a number of years. Years ago, it was the researchers who would bring the thing and say, ``This is what I want to do.''

We now go through a serious process of consultation. We bring the growers and the whole value chain in to identify the priorities that we have in research. We send out the top five priorities that we want to work in, and then we have a process for calls for proposals. Our committee then evaluates those calls for proposals and determines which ones they want to fund and which they do not want to fund. The system has turned around to where it is driven by the sector.

Senator Callbeck: How do you make your 224 members aware of the results of the research?

Mr. Gilvesy: They are usually published for them. We have a newsletter where we publish at least the highlights of those things. We also utilize email. Since there are only 224 of them, we have a very tight communications system with them, either through email or our written newsletter.

Senator Callbeck: Do you find that the producers are eager to take up these new innovation ideas?

Mr. Gilvesy: The greenhouse sector is probably the most vicious on wanting to embrace new technology. That is the nature of the business. It is all about innovation, who can do it better, who can get the better yields and who can produce the better fruit. A great deal of the drive for these growers comes around innovation and the investment.

Senator Eaton: As an ex-gardener, someone who cannot garden anymore as much as I would like to, I would love to have your job.

I will ask you two different questions. There was an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal a couple of Saturdays ago talking about nutrition and taste being removed from food. We are engineering them. I am all for engineering, but we are doing so much of this that, in effect, we are removing taste. I think everyone knows to buy a tomato sometimes in the winter is to get something that often does not taste like a tomato. Is this something you see as a challenge?

Mr. Gilvesy: That is a great question. I think you maybe picked up on the word I used in my presentation relating to differentiation. That is the key aspect of differentiating we are putting our efforts into now. We are doing some of that work, but so are some of our individual members in the marketing that they are doing. You are probably seeing in the grocery store right now I think 44 different SKUs of tomatoes.

Senator Eaton: There are, and I always look for Ontario greenhouse tomatoes, because I remember the grape ones. I remember buying them in Florida and they were the only one that had taste.

Mr. Gilvesy: We very much believe that our future lies in offering a flavour profile to the consumer because that is what will differentiate you over the long run.

The field product or homegrown tomato is ultimately a great product. It has a great flavour profile, and people like growing their own and eating their own. The reality is that we only have that product available to us for a couple of weeks or a month of the year. What we are doing here, though, is looking at producing a flavour profile that is there for nine months.

Senator Eaton: With all the nutrition?

Mr. Gilvesy: With the same type of plant or product that is grown on that same vine for that period of time. The greenhouse production is one where it is like Jack and the beanstalk. The stalk just keeps growing. It is not that you are re-planting the plant all the time. Cucumbers are different. They plant cucumbers at four different times of the year. For the tomato and the pepper, it is a continuous vine, and it is producing. You have the same varieties that, under the same conditions, are supposed to provide you with the same type of fruit quality and flavour profile through the course of the year.

To go back to your fundamental question, flavour profile is one of the areas in which we are aiming at differentiating ourselves from our competition in the future.

Senator Eaton: Talking about flavour profile is a very good segue to free trade, export and competition.

If we manage to get a free trade deal with the EU and later with Japan, India, parts of the Pacific and South America, do you see this as being your tool? Is this a good tool for you in trade? How do you see all of those deals affecting you?

Mr. Gilvesy: Those are good tools. You have to balance that with the fact that we are dealing with a perishable. The cumber will only have a life of 10 or 11 days after it is bought at the grocery store and before it goes soft. Probably, if we are looking at products that could have that type of export potential and support, the tomato would obviously be in there, but the pepper probably has the longest shelf life and the best ability to be exported those types of distances.

Senator Eaton: Do you see a market there?

Mr. Gilvesy: We do. According to the analysis that the George Morris Centre did and to other information we have garnered from there, the market worldwide is segmenting. You have people who only want low cost food; that is all they can afford. However, you also have a very rich part of the market that can pay a premium and want the novelty of product coming from exotic Canada, in this example.

Senator Eaton: Especially if it has taste.

Mr. Gilvesy: Especially if it has taste. If they perceive it to have added value, we think it is a very good value proposition.

Senator Tardif: You mentioned, in your brief, that greenhouse farmers face serious threats to market access in the United States because of the lack of an effective payment security mechanism. Could you elaborate on that point? What do you mean by it? How does it promote trade, and how could that be created?

Mr. Gilvesy: Good question; thank you very much for that.

The United States has a legislative instrument called the PACA Trust. PACA is the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. That tool was developed in, I believe, the 1950s. It means that if you are selling a perishable, as in produce, from the point of view of creditors, then you, as the producer, are first in line to get your money. You will get paid. With a perishable product, there is no inventory. In 10 days or two weeks, the inventory has disappeared because it will rot. You either eat it or smell it. From that principle, the U.S. enacted the PACA Trust to protect produce producers. We do not have that same type of tool here in Canada.

When our members are shipping into the United States, just because of the way the PACA is carried through, we are also provided that protection if you are following the proper protocols. Therefore, Canadian shippers into the United States have the protection. We have a situation in Canada, however, where we, as growers shipping into our own market, do not have that protection, and the U.S. or global shippers shipping into Canada do not have that.

This has become an agenda item, between the President and our Prime Minister, through the Regulatory Cooperation Council. The U.S. has raised the fact that they would like to see Canada deal with this issue, as well as a number of others. We are viewing this as an opportunity to have this situation addressed. It has been a long-standing issue in the horticulture sector in Canada that we do not have that protection, and we are looking forward to having some level of resolution of it.

There are rumblings, because there is pressure coming from other trading partners with the United States, as to why Canada gets this preferential treatment into the U.S. We are fearful that the United States might say, ``In light of Canada not having equal protection for our shippers, we will not provide that same protection for yours.'' From Ontario's perspective, we have $500 million worth of product going to the United States. It adds a significant amount of risk.

Senator Tardif: Thank you for the explanation of the risk factor.

Do you have a sense that the Canadian government will move on this fairly quickly or that they will support this?

Mr. Gilvesy: In fact, we have been having meetings for the last year and a half on this, through the Regulatory Cooperation Council, the RCC. In fact, tomorrow, we are having another meeting in Canada. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. At the end of the day, in my opinion, what it will take is some political will to ensure that this gets done.

Our belief is that, when our Prime Minister and the President of the United States say that there is an issue, we think that that should determine some level of political will. We think that there also has to be a lot of political will to support that actually happening, and we are hopeful that the House and the Senate can be supportive of efforts to make this actually happen.

Senator Tardif: I will leave it at that in respect of the time for others.

Senator Buth: Can you tell me what is needed? Would it be legislation or regulation?

Mr. Gilvesy: It is not money, which is the beauty of it. Sometimes, when you go to ask for money to solve some of these problems, we know what the thing is.

It will probably involve — and that is part of the detail we are into now in these meetings — changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. That is part of it.

As for the licensing part of it, through the CFIA current licensing, we think there is an option on the table that will deal with the licensing and move to a single-licensing regime. Right now, you can operate in the produce business with two types of licences. If you are a bad player, you go from one licence and open up the next day with a different licence. There are problems with the licensing, but we think that side of this thing is dealt with.

It is having the equivalency of the trust. The challenge right now has been determining the equivalency. We might not find a tool that matches exactly what the U.S. has because of our different systems, but it is the outcome that is important. That is what we have to try to keep our eye on the ball with.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: Senators Tardif and Buth asked questions about the payment security program. Has your agency already assessed the cost of this kind of program or do you know what it cost for the American program to set up this kind of payment security program?

[English]

Mr. Gilvesy: The cost of the U.S. program is zero, because it is done through their bankruptcy legislation, where you have been put in a better position as a creditor. It is not a cost issue. In fact, most of the costs of PACA in other matters are paid for by industry. The beauty of this program is that it has no cost. It is just legislation.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: Do you think there are other export areas that have this kind of security program, even though the products are not perishable? For example, lumber producers, pork producers, beef producers who export, do they have this kind of payment security program, to your knowledge?

[English]

Mr. Gilvesy: One I am familiar with is the grain producers. They do have the Grain Financial Protection Program, so grain certainly has protection. Other forms of agriculture throughout Canada have different aspects to provide financial protection. One is that the marketing boards are putting up bonding requirements for the buyers, and that is built into the system. If people are bonded before they get a licence, then obviously they are paying. For example, if they do not pay, it comes out of their bond. Different tools are used by different mechanisms. The answer is, yes.

Senator Mercer: I have a comment on something that we might want to do. This is the first time we have heard of this issue; and I would not want us to go chasing it. Perhaps an inquiry is required to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada about where this stands in their planning process, because it will come down the road at some time in the future.

The Chair: Is there a consensus, senators, to ask the department?

Senator Mercer: We could ask the department if they have something planned.

Mr. Gilvesy: I might also add, for the benefit of the committee, that the RCC Secretariat is constantly putting out information on the website. They keep stakeholders up-to-date with where the processes are at. A number of initiatives within that affect agriculture. One is in the North American Security Perimeter Strategy; a second one relates to pesticide harmonization; and a third one is food safety.

The Chair: We will do a follow up.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Good morning, Mr. Gilvesy. I am going to come back to the very essence of our mandate.

There are an impressive number of greenhouse growers in Canada, and the work you are doing is excellent. We have had the opportunity to visit a number of them. I wish there were as many aquaculturists as there are greenhouse growers; our fish would be better quality.

Having said that, energy is at the root of your greenhouse farming. How has energy changed over the years to end up with the quality products you harvest? Energy is still a very important aspect of your type of greenhouse farming.

[English]

Mr. Gilvesy: Typically, energy and labour represent two thirds of the cost of production in greenhouse farming. Energy is a major component. When we were seeing energy costs that were a bit higher not that long ago, it represented one third of the cost of production on its own. We have had some level of reprieve recently with natural gas, but greenhouse growers constantly see that element as a major cost, so they give it a lot of attention.

We, as a board, pay it a lot of attention in our research activities pertaining to energy. A lot of work is done with different types of curtains, how to grow under curtains and different types of glass and plastics. Obviously, anything that can be saved with regard to energy is one aspect.

The other aspect is the different types of fuels that we would be allowed to use. A lot of work has been done in the past on the availability of biomass fuels to be utilized in greenhouse production. That is one example of the work done on alternate types of fuels for greenhouse production.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: I would like to come back to biomass. You are undoubtedly familiar with the Savoura greenhouses in Quebec. A very large part of their energy comes from biomass recovery, and the remainder comes from natural gas. Do other parts of the country use this method or is it unique to Savoura?

[English]

Mr. Gilvesy: I am afraid that I am unaware of that and unable to answer your question. I am not exactly sure what Savoura is using. I could talk to my research people to see where anything comparable is being used by our growers.

The Chair: It was said to the committee they are the leaders in their type of energy.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: I understand that the company is a leader, but if they are the leader, there must be people behind them.

The Chair: That would be a good question to ask them.

Senator Maltais: Last question. We have seen that there is an exchange between Ontario and Quebec. I will use the example of Savoura again. Every week in the winter, Savoura sends containers of small tomatoes — I am not exactly sure how many — to Ontario and, in return, Ontario sends Quebec cucumbers because there are not a lot of greenhouse growers that grow cucumbers in Quebec. Do other provinces do that as well, or is it only Ontario and Quebec that exchange products?

[English]

Mr. Gilvesy: That exchange phenomenon is pretty well limited to Quebec and Ontario. We have times in the season when, for example, British Columbia, a large producer, has excess production or what they call a ``flush.'' Sometimes they have more product than their markets can bear in the north-south corridor from B.C. to California, so they end up shipping some loads east as well. Likewise, if they are short and we are in a flush, you will see product going over the Rockies, but that does not happen often. I think it is just because of the proximity.

Savoura and some of the other Quebec growers have had some level of success with production under lights. Therefore, they are producing tomatoes over 12 months. We are also looking at moving toward the 12-month supply with the full gambit of products in Ontario. That is some of the work we are doing in our research going forward.

Senator Buth: Most of my questions have been answered, but I am curious about the cost of development of greenhouse growing and whether there are issues with trying to attract new people or young people to the industry.

Mr. Gilvesy: One of the problems with agriculture across Canada is the age of the grower. I would say that in the greenhouse sector, that is not the case. Our growers are board members. If you were to survey our board members' ages, you would see that they are significantly below the average age of growers in the rest of agriculture.

As far as attracting investment, that has not been a challenge. You see the type of growth patterns that we have. In excess of $350 million has been invested in greenhouse facilities. That would have to indicate that there is credit available for this type of opportunity and that people who are investing in it are seeing opportunity for growth and return on their investment. We have not seen anything to the negative at this time.

Senator Buth: On the food service side, you made the comment that 60 per cent of tomatoes go into food service. That would be primarily restaurants or fast food.

Mr. Gilvesy: Yes, as well as the broader public sector, universities and other schools.

Senator Buth: What types of things are you doing to get into that sector on a larger basis?

Mr. Gilvesy: One interesting thing is that the food service sector needs a different tomato. Some tomatoes grown for retail tend to be juicy but the gel falls out. The food service people want tomatoes with good slicing ability so that the gel does not fall out. That is an example of why we need to have varieties developed for greenhouse production that are more suited for food service.

I have another example of food service. We all know Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons' tomato consumption in a year is 17 million pounds. We are growing 400 million pounds in the greenhouse vegetable sector, so all that Tim Hortons sells would only be a flutter for us to deal with. It is about 5 per cent of our production. If we can get the right tomato and service Tim Hortons, McDonald's or any sandwich maker, what an impact that would have.

Senator Oh: Mr. Gilvesy, welcome to the Senate. I am very impressed with your industry. You have set a high global standard with a world-class food safety system for Canada. That is key for Canadian products overseas.

You mentioned $1 billion of sales in 10 years. Is there a master plan? Which markets are you looking at to export to?

Mr. Gilvesy: I believe that we will see most of the enhanced growth come out of food service. To go beyond the North American shores will be more difficult for us. To haul the product by airplane is definitely not as efficient as using trucks to service the 120 million people who live within a 10-hour drive of most of our growers. I think that our big break will come from food service.

Senator Oh: I saw in your report that you will be looking into the Pacific Rim.

Mr. Gilvesy: Yes.

Senator Oh: I think that is a big potential market for you.

Mr. Gilvesy: As I said, the George Morris Centre did their report for us on the Pacific Rim. I did a fair bit of travelling in that part of the world in my previous life. Places like Hong Kong and Singapore have no production capacity whatsoever and they have a large population, so we think that area would hold opportunity.

Senator Oh: There are now many direct flights between Toronto and Beijing and the Pacific Rim. I have travelled on one of the big private Chinese airlines to Toronto.

We are now shipping live lobsters to China. I was in China last month promoting freshwater fish from here. I saw that you have a tracking system. Similarly, the fish can now be tracked back to the lake they were caught in. That is a fabulous system that you are using.

I would like to help your sector if you want to explore the Asia Pacific Rim for new markets.

Mr. Gilvesy: Thank you. We would relish that opportunity.

The Chair: Mr. Gilvesy, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and opinions with us.

[Translation]

We will hear from Claire Bolduc, the president of Solidarité rurale du Québec, in the second half of our meeting.

Honourable senators, in the second hour of this meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, we have the pleasure of hearing from Claire Bolduc, the president of Solidarité rurale du Québec.

Ms. Bolduc, thank you for accepting our invitation. You are our last witness before we start to prepare our final report.

[English]

Will senators give the chair permission to distribute the presentation although it is only in French? When the translation is completed, it will be redistributed to senators.

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

[Translation]

The Chair: Having said that, Ms. Bolduc, you may make your presentation. We will follow with questions.

Claire Bolduc, President, Solidarité rurale du Québec: Honourable senators, I would like to thank you for inviting Solidarité rurale du Québec to discuss innovation and research in Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector. I will try to keep to the text submitted as much as possible to make sure I do not go over my time.

I will talk about two things this morning. The first is a possible federal policy on rural issues. The second is research on agri-food and agriculture in Canada.

Solidarité rurale du Québec is a coalition of large Quebec organizations that has been promoting and advocating for the revitalization and development of rural areas, communities and villages for the past 22 years. We champion two vital principles: the right of rural communities to be different and their right to prosper.

We support a development model based on Quebec's declaration on rural life, adopted in 1991 and issued at the conclusion of the province's Estates General on Rural Issues. The declaration focuses on the unique character of rural areas, as regards their natural environment and social and cultural structure. But more than that, it recognizes that rural areas are not exclusively agricultural areas; they have many functions and are highly diversified. In Quebec, rural life has achieved unique recognition and developed its own pillars of strength.

We have existed since 1991, but in 1997, the Government of Quebec recognized the work of Solidarité rurale du Québec and made us a rural advisory body for all of Quebec. In this capacity, we have made representations to more than 10 departments whose activities affect rural areas.

That is why Solidarité rurale du Québec took public positions on a provincial rural policy. Quebec adopted the first of these policies in 2001, and it applied from 2002 to 2007. The second applied from 2007 to 2014, and the Government of Quebec is now preparing to renew it.

Quebec remains the only province with a provincial rural development policy, although other provinces have sectoral policies. It has also made a government department responsible for rural issues and appointed the advisory board here before you.

We have always argued that rural development cannot depend solely on sectoral policies—say forestry or agriculture policies. It requires a policy that takes into account all aspects of rural life. It is important to note that 95 per cent of Canada is rural, as is 85 per cent of Quebec, but that only 6 per cent of Quebec's rural population earn their living through agriculture. Therefore, 94 per cent of rural dwellers are involved in other sectors. Rural life is multifunctional.

This is not the first time that Solidarité rurale du Québec has urged the federal government to adopt a comprehensive Canadian rural policy to address the issues facing Canada's rural communities. Although we have been politely listened to, we now hope we can get some answers.

Today, we are again urging action because we believe that you cannot talk about innovation and research in agriculture and agri-food without at the same time discussing comprehensive rural development, which is also vital to Canada's overall development.

Furthermore, you cannot talk about developing natural resources, education, new technologies, the environment, manufacturing jobs or culture without a broad vision for all rural areas. Rural areas serve many functions. People live in them, travel to them and produce goods and deliver services in them. They help keep the natural and social environment in balance. Moreover, all these aspects vary from one rural area to another, from one village to another. Therefore, the government's decisions must take this variety into account and be based on a genuine understanding of rural areas. However, for this approach to the broad development of rural areas to be efficient and yield results, it cannot be too restricted. Rural areas are open to their neighbours — other villages and cities.

To be effective, a Canadian rural policy must focus on the benefits of the relationships rural areas have with other rural areas and with urban areas. Every region in Canada can benefit from capitalizing on their strengths, developing them and working together.

I would like to quote a study done by the Conference Board of Canada in 2009, which confirmed what Solidarité rurale du Québec has been saying for some time. Quebec's rural communities, despite being home to only 25 per cent of the province's population, contributed to 30 per cent of its GDP. In addition 370,000 jobs in cities depended directly on economic activity spurred by rural communities. Far from being dependent on society, rural areas contribute to the entire province's prosperity. It is fair to say that the same goes for the rest of Canada.

We believe that Canada needs to establish a framework for study and action that truly accounts for the differences across the entire country. Communities must also have effective means of influencing their development and mobilizing their resources to take charge of their future.

I would now like to discuss a second essential requirement for rural prosperity and effective support of the agriculture sector, which needs a rural environment.

The government recently announced the elimination of 350 jobs at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The affected employees work at the Science and Technology Branch and the Marketing Industry Services Branch. Scientists, engineers, biologists, research directors and procurement officers are losing their jobs. This comes after last year's cuts to research centres and cuts to the Rural Secretariat that have effectively shuttered it. The loss of these jobs, often located in rural areas, is very bad news for rural regions of Canada, but worse still, it signals a decline in their capacity to develop innovative agricultural processes, support agri-food innovations and compete internationally.

In the short run, the public service will be on a slimming diet. But in the medium run, our agriculture and agricultural areas will become less competitive and lose their capacity to renew themselves and to meet the ever- growing challenges of creating and maintaining attractive places to live. The issues for agricultural research are incredibly numerous and enormous. Think about GMOs, the overuse of pesticides, groundwater and drinking water pollution, carbon capture, climate change and the growing population that needs to be fed both here in Canada and around the world. These are of capital importance—for us, for our children and for our grandchildren. As Canadians, do we really want to let private, often foreign, interests decide for us the future of our agriculture, our environment and our society? Currently, research will rest exclusively on the shoulders of companies that are authorized to do it. Do we want to become dependent on foreign products, while compromising our ethics and values such as respect for people and the environment? When we look at what is being done in the private agricultural sector, we have every reason to be concerned.

The government must fulfill its primary obligation to ensure its people can feed themselves, its role as the guardian of the country's land and natural resources and its responsibility to represent all its citizens. It must stop the erosion of our public applied and basic research capacity in agriculture and agri-food. It must also ensure that research respects the soil, air and water, the rural communities where most agricultural activities occur and all its citizens, in both cities and the countryside, who consume the products.

That is what Solidarité rurale du Québec is asking of the government today. The issues are too important and the need for ethics in applied and basic research too great to leave the right to create our future to anyone else but us, the citizens of Canada, represented by our government.

In conclusion, we have never stopped urging the federal government to create a comprehensive framework for rural issues. Without a broad rural policy, we will continue to make strictly budgetary decisions that weaken rural areas through ill-suited sectoral programs, deregulation that reduces access to services and one-size-fits-all standards. That is why we are again calling for a comprehensive rural policy that is not just about money but, above all, about a multifaceted approach that provides for more coherence and more synergies between sectors, between departments and between levels of government. That is why we are also advocating that the government fulfill all its obligations regarding the future of the agriculture and agri-food sector by effectively supporting research and innovation efforts.

Thank you for your attention. I will be pleased to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Bolduc. That was an excellent presentation. The first senator to ask questions will be the deputy chair, Senator Mercer. He will be followed by senators Maltais, Eaton, Rivard and Buth.

[English]

Senator Mercer: Thank you very much for your presentation. I noticed your headquarters are in Nicolet. This committee, in a previous incarnation, visited Nicolet. We had a meeting in the Hôtel de Ville, so we know from where you come.

It was an interesting presentation. The importance of rural Canada is magnified a number of times when we look at rural Quebec because of the size and the magnitude of rural Quebec. If you could only pick one thing that the federal government could do to continue the development of rural Quebec and the well-being of rural Quebec, could you pick one specific thing?

[Translation]

Ms. Bolduc: Thank you for your question. I spoke a little earlier about an overall vision. If there is one thing the Canadian government could do for all rural communities, both in Quebec and elsewhere in the country, it would be to have this overall vision of the various ways the Canadian government can take action, of the ways of intervening in the communities and of how to require departments and agencies to think about rural issues.

Solidarité rurale du Québec is based in Quebec, but other Canadian provinces — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and even Alberta — often ask for our help in developing similar frameworks for their rural communities. The Canadian government is involved on several levels. It makes decisions on aspects that directly affect life in rural areas across Canada.

I would give the example of the Canada Post Corporation, which makes decisions that are mostly related to accounting, but if it were to adopt a clear vision of the Canadian rural life, it would consider the impacts and decisions more specifically. When services are cut off in rural communities, which already have so few services and are deprived of other types of services — such as high-speed Internet — and people who live there do not have access to effective transportation mechanisms, rural areas lose their vitality. The obligation to think cross-sectionally about the impact of decisions made in a specific sector transposes that impact to all communities regarding their inherent differences and makes it necessary to consider the situation in a broader sense than just in terms of accounting. We could talk about the CRTC's decisions or other types of decisions, but a cross-sectional approach contributes a very different view of issues and ways to address sectoral issues, but in a cross-disciplinary manner.

[English]

Senator Mercer: It seems to me that governments, over the years, have been asked to look at things through a filter on gender issues to ensure that decisions take gender and linguistic issues into account. This committee has constantly asked government to put things through a rural filter.

The question that needs to be asked is, not what will happen in downtown Montreal or downtown Quebec City, but what it will do to Nicolet or Rimouski, smaller rural parts of the country. I think we are on the same wavelength there.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Welcome, Ms. Bolduc. I am going to go back in time for a moment. In the 1990s, I was a member of another Parliament where, for the first time, we asked Solidarité rurale du Québec to coordinate various departments on ``vacant'' territories — as we called them — following the disastrous BAIQ in the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspésie, which led to the closing of dozens of villages in a way I would refer to as ``barbaric.''

You were created somewhat in response to that — and in other regions of Quebec. I would like to congratulate you on your work because what you do has helped stop much of the youth exodus to major cities. Rural areas are now no longer populated by people of my age, but rather by people of your age, who have taken charge of their future thanks to your organization and other civil society services and state corporations, which make it possible for young people stay put. The intelligence and research of those young people and of organizations like yours have led to the creation of small companies in the area of sheep and lamb farming, the manufacturing of high-quality small cheeses — Senator Eaton's favourites — and other activities. They have breathed new life into the villages. As you so aptly pointed out, they are not all farmers, but their way of life is based on agriculture.

It is important for our land to be populated by families, by people who will live there and whose main area of activity is agriculture. Forestry could be added, but it no longer has the same mission as it did some 10 or 15 years ago.

What I am getting at is that, in 2000, the Government of Canada commissioned a report on rural life that was submitted in 2001. The report was produced in Quebec in collaboration with ENAP. I do not think successive governments have followed up on that report. It was drafted by researchers — including those from your group. I think it is sitting on a shelf somewhere. It was an innovative idea to look for new ways to settle the regions properly and get the most out of them in terms of agriculture. That would make it possible for a community and cultural life to develop around those microbusinesses.

What kind of tools should the communities have to allow you to continue, accelerate or stabilize, and expand your organization's work?

Ms. Bolduc: My answer to your question is twofold. I talked about rural areas as multifunctional areas. Rural communities will continue to be involved in agriculture — which will pervade not only the territory and activities, but also the landscape. However, it should be pointed out that agriculture is one of many activities in rural areas. Forestry does account for almost 30 per cent of rural villages' activity — in some regions — and that is 18 per cent of the manufacturing activity spread throughout rural communities, such as tourism and cultural activities. That is what we mean when we talk about multifunctional areas.

In some regions, mining activities account for up to 40 per cent of rural communities' economic activity, but that figure is about 5 per cent across Quebec. Of course, those are the figures Solidarité rurale du Québec works with, but it seems reasonable to assume that the situation is not too different across Canada. The proportions would probably be similar. In 2010, we issued a notice on land occupation and vitality, where we stated that our lands need to be populated and provided with services — not only public services, but also private ones. Rural regions must be developed, so investments have to be made in the assets and resources of all those areas. People need to take ownership of rural communities — especially in terms of culture and heritage — and they need to live there.

With its 2001 report, Solidarité rurale du Québec proposed the first federal rural policy.

As far as tools go, I will talk about the experience we have had with the Quebec rural policy. It focusses on three main aspects.

The first aspect is a vision of the importance of rural areas and their contribution to Quebec's prosperity. That vision stems from the development of rural activities that take regional particularities and differences into account.

The second aspect is more concrete. Rural development practitioners stimulate communities and generate will, mobilization and energy that can be used by the communities for their own development. We think that communities have a duty to develop and that the state can provide them with guidance, support and tools. However, the main tool is a budget envelope, which represents a rural pact. So we are talking about funding provided to rural areas without any instructions or restrictions on how to use that money. They have the freedom to identify their main needs and to decide how to best utilize those funds. The rural pact is special because it calls on people to participate. So this is a way to help communities when it comes to the future, development, and the use of resources from their own environment. We want them to participate in the development of their own environment.

The last aspect has to do with supporting innovative activities, studies and research that support rural initiatives and community-based modulation of the state's involvement. Modulation of standards implies adapting standards based on the areas where the Quebec government's programs or policies will be applied. That is a concrete example of what a rural policy can do.

Senator Maltais: Thank you, Ms. Bolduc. I will give other senators an opportunity to ask questions.

[English]

Senator Eaton: You talked about several provinces being interested in what Quebec is doing in terms of developing Solidarité rurale du Québec. I believe you said Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario.

The Chair: Manitoba, as well.

Senator Eaton: And Manitoba. Have you formed alliances? Do you have things in common?

For instance, I sit on another committee where I have learned about difficulties in accessing good health care and education opportunities. Have you formed alliances with other provinces to lobby the federal government, whether about taxation issues that might encourage people to stay in a smaller environment? Have you looked at what health care facilities you can adapt rather than build a big hospital? What have you done together, if anything?

[Translation]

Ms. Bolduc: These are not official alliances. The alliance we have created is not comprehensive, as we are rather talking about collaborations among provinces. Those collaborations help facilitate the analysis of rural issues. However, we have not agreed to lobby on behalf of other provinces because, on the one hand, we are not there yet in the discussions and, on the other hand, we think it is important for those who reach out to us to develop a framework that helps them highlight their own rural life — including the differences and characteristics.

For instance, we are working closely with Nova Scotia to help the province implement a framework that reflects its own identity, but that is based on values similar to those Solidarité rurale du Québec promotes. We are exchanging information and collaborating with Ontario and New Brunswick. For instance, we are exchanging documents or information, and we are participating in congresses and seminars, where we discuss, present and promote different ways of doing things.

We went to Alberta to demonstrate what an organization like Solidarité rurale can do. While we were there, people contacted us — especially since the spring — to complain about the employment insurance reform and to tell us how much people feel isolated. In Quebec, Solidarité rurale is a coalition force — a force that has brought together people facing various challenges and issues.

So the collaborations vary greatly from one community to another, but we are very open. We agree to work with people whenever we are asked to do so. We think rural life is essential to a nation, and we think that rural communities are unique. They are important, they are all different and they must invest in those differences.

However, we have not agreed to lobby for the whole country, as not everyone has asked Solidarité rurale to do so and, consequently, we would not feel justified in speaking on behalf of all Canadian rural communities at this time.

Senator Rivard: As a Quebecker, I am proud to hear your wonderful presentation. I believe that Solidarité rurale du Québec is in good hands, and I hope you can continue with your good work.

In your industry, beyond the funding issues, the erratic climate conditions from year to year and the ever-growing competition from foreign markets — be it from other provinces or other countries — how do you handle the pressure exerted by urban developers, who are always looking to expand urban areas to the detriment of the rural environment? Do you think that the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole du Québec is still just as objective, or do you think it has too much of a tendency to give in to pressure? That pressure often comes from municipal mayors who think it is better to for their communities to have urban residential — sometimes industrial — development, to the detriment of agricultural land.

Ms. Bolduc: That is a particularly interesting question. We may sometimes criticize the actions of the Commission de protection du territoire et des activités agricoles, but I think that we must nevertheless recognize that, without that organization, we would have lost much more rural and agricultural lands than we have lost over the past few years.

That being said, we encourage the organization to make its actions stronger and tougher. If some of Quebec's agricultural areas were used for urban development, they would not be replaced anywhere in Quebec — and sometimes in Canada. We would not find their equivalent in terms of soil quality for agriculture and in terms of climate needed for agricultural activity. We want that commission to be much tougher in certain sectors and to have some modulation. So we want it to be open to different ways of doing things — different agricultural models — in other areas of Quebec.

In any case, an organization like the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole is not only very legitimate in its existence and action, but — despite the criticisms we may direct at it — it has turned out to be very effective over the years. Could its performance be improved? I think so. Is this tool still relevant? I think so, as well.

Senator Rivard: To your knowledge, do any other Canadian provinces have organizations like the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole? If not, do you think they would benefit from creating a similar regulatory organization?

Ms. Bolduc: I have no information on what is happening in other Canadian provinces. However, southern Ontario has created what is referred to as the ``green belt'' in the area of urban development. That initiative's purpose is to protect agricultural production areas with a very high potential — especially in grape growing and fruit production. They have also implemented mechanisms to protect those areas — not only from urban sprawl, but also from highways and other structures — and to maintain a healthy environment.

British Columbia has implemented similar measures — though I cannot describe them in detail — that supports agricultural land protection methods.

I am sorry I cannot give you any other examples. These initiatives are not backed by any legislation such as the official law the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole benefits from. However, there are some very noteworthy initiatives out there, such as the ``green belt'' in Ontario. That initiative is very interesting.

[English]

Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here today and for your presentation.

I was interested in your comment about funding to communities without any strings attached, especially for them to develop what they need to do in the community. Is Quebec, as a province, involved in the partnership with the federal government on the community investment fund?

[Translation]

Ms. Bolduc: I could not provide an overly direct answer to that question. However, I can tell you that the federal government — through community business development corporations, which are set up in rural areas — does contribute to the effort. A comprehensive collaborative effort is being made by Quebec and the federal government in community development services. On a strictly local level, services in each community are highly interrelated. In some regions of Quebec — such as the Témiscamingue, where the Société du développement du Témiscamingue has been created, where both the federal and provincial governments are involved, and where local development centers, CLDs, are set up in a single infrastructure — the same point of service is used for both government levels.

I think that Quebec and Ottawa do collaborate on a general level when it comes to that type of support. However, the collaboration on the ground, in rural communities, areas and regions, is very important between the two levels. Rural areas, CLDs and development organizations — including community development corporations — should make an effort to collaborate.

In addition, the Quebec English-language counterparts of community development corporations, CDECs, work very closely with Solidarité rurale to provide support to rural communities and help advance rural issues.

The Chair: Ms. Bolduc, thank you for your presentation. Should you wish to share any additional information, feel free to submit it to the clerk.

(The committee continued in camera.)