National Local Food Day Bill

Second Reading--Debate Continued

April 4, 2019


Hon. Robert Black [ + ]

Colleagues, this item was previously adjourned in the name of Senator Plett. With his agreement, I will adjourn the item in Senator Plett’s name at the conclusion of my remarks.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is it agreed, honourable senators?

Hon. Robert Black [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-281, An Act to establish a National Local Food Day.

The bill, introduced by Member of Parliament Wayne Stetski in the House of Commons, aims to establish a national local food day on the Friday before Thanksgiving each year.

You will not be surprised to hear me reiterate the importance of food in the daily lives of all Canadians. The agriculture and agri-food sector contributes $110 billion per year to the country’s GDP. More than that, we eat every single day and we should be thankful for that.

I completely agree with the points made in the preamble to the bill, which state that:

Canada’s national sovereignty is dependent on the safety and security of our food supply . . . strengthening the connection between consumers and producers of Canadian food contributes to our nation’s social, environmental and economic well-being . . . supporting local farmers contributes to a sustainable Canadian agricultural industry . . .

I appreciate Mr. Stetski’s intentions when introducing this bill, and, of course, I support the idea of celebrating food and our local farmers.

However, do I have a few issues with it that I would like to address.

My main reservation comes from the fact that we already have Food Day Canada, or Journée des terroirs du Canada. It takes place on the Saturday of the August long weekend, and 2019 will be its sixteenth year. This day promotes eating, cooking and shopping for local food. The initiative to establish Food Day Canada was spearheaded by Dr. Anita Stewart, who has spent her life promoting local food and has even received the Order of Canada for her work.

Food Day Canada started as Canada’s longest barbecue in 2003 in support of Canada’s beef industry, which had been hit by U.S. sanctions. It has continued to grow ever since. Last year, Food Day Canada trended number one across Canada on Twitter. The CN Tower was even lit up last year for Food Day Canada.

Upon the introduction of this bill in the other place, Dr. Stewart reached out to Mr. Stetski to inform him of the conflicting days. She suggested they join forces to promote the existing Food Day Canada. However, he did not accept this invitation. At the same time, Michael Chong, Member of Parliament for Wellington—Halton Hills, also wrote Mr. Stetski, suggesting he get in touch with Dr. Stewart. Again, I know of nothing that came of this interaction.

Food Day Canada is widely recognized across Canada. Its partners include the University of Guelph, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Canada Beef, the Culinary Tourism Alliance, the Ontario Craft Brewers, Arrell Food Institute, the Centre for Hospitality and the Culinary Arts at George Brown College, Ontario Agricultural College, Restaurants Canada, KitchenAid, Taste&Travel Magazine, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, Taste of Nova Scotia, Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan, and Farm and Food Care Prince Edward Island.

Food Day Canada is also supported by farmers, chefs, restaurateurs and producers from coast to coast to coast.

Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the sponsor, Senator Cormier, as he delivered a passionate and very eloquent second-reading speech on the bill recently. He mentioned Food Day Canada and said that it is “proof that Canadians all over the country are ready for an annual pan-Canadian celebration of our abundant local food.” I absolutely agree; however, I would argue that Canadians were ready 16 years ago, and Food Day Canada has been filling that need ever since.

Former Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay, and Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, have both published letters of support for Food Day Canada, which are posted on the FDC website. In his letter to Dr. Stewart, Minister Hardeman wrote:

The initiatives and projects you have led and been part of have contributed significantly to a renewed and sustained interest in local food across the country.

All honourable senators will have recently received several letters from chefs and others who are opposed to Bill C-281 and who support Food Day Canada. Chef Michael Smith, who is one of Canada’s most renowned chefs, said:

For more than 15 years we’ve celebrated Food Day Canada coast-to-coast-to-coast in August. We’ve built a community around this event.

He also suggests that many would be supportive of the bill with a date change, noting that “aligning the dates will allow all existing momentum for Food Day Canada to continue flourishing.”

Another letter was received from Alison Bell, a British Columbia chef with a Masters in Gastronomy. She stated her support of Food Day Canada. Apparently, Ms. Bell also reached out to Mr. Stetski last year, suggesting he work with the existing Food Day date. In her letter, she said:

There are so many great reasons to do this, most notably, that Food Day Canada has already created a template and has the support of industry and culinary professionals across Canada.

Does it not make sense to avoid reinventing the proverbial wheel?

Should we not work collaboratively whenever we have the opportunity, especially when the purpose of an initiative is to break bread together?

I believe that the answer to all her questions is “yes.”

In addition to the conflict with the existing Food Day Canada, October is not an ideal time. The average date for first frost is in October for much of this country, September in some parts and even mid to late August in some of the colder parts of the country. The early August date was chosen specifically as it is during peak harvest time. Our entire country is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, making it a perfect time to celebrate local food.

I look forward to this bill going to committee so we can examine it at the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. My hope is that, during the committee study, we will be able to amend the bill to match the date of the existing Food Day Canada, which has been created by industry. This change would avoid redundancy and the creation of an entirely new day.

Regardless, I do plan to continue to celebrate local and Canadian food on Food Day Canada, which will take place this year on August 3. Thank you.

Hon. René Cormier [ + ]

Would Senator Black take a question?

Senator R. Black [ + ]

Absolutely.

Senator Cormier [ + ]

Thank you, senator, for your plea for keeping Food Day Canada in July. I would first like to say that, like you, I fully support Food Day Canada. It is a wonderful initiative that we have been celebrating for many years now.

That being said, in October, when the summer has come to an end, as people settle back into their regular routines and tourists start to leave our regions, if we can’t find a way to convince them to stay, our rural regions are particularly focused on tourism and activities like the oyster festivals in Maisonnette or St. Andrews or the wine festival in late September in Ontario. Don’t you think that establishing a national local food day on the Friday before Thanksgiving would contribute to the economic development of our regions, particularly our rural communities, and serve as a great promotional tool for restaurateurs and festivals? Don’t you think this would be good for the local economy, Senator Black?

Senator R. Black [ + ]

Thank you for that question, Senator Cormier. I will say again that the frost-free time is in August, and that is the time when the bounty of our harvest in Canada is available. So I do think that time in August is the better time, personally. Certainly, extending the shoulder seasons of the tourist sector and things like that for that Friday before Thanksgiving — I think we have enough to do on the Friday before Thanksgiving, to be frank.

Senator Cormier [ + ]

Do you at least recognize that local products consist of more than just garden produce and vegetables? They include oysters, wine, fish products and so on. Do you think that those products could also be showcased in October, since that is a good time to do it?

Senator R. Black [ + ]

I agree that those things are available at that time, and it’s likely worth promoting them at that time as well.

Hon. Michael Duffy [ + ]

Senator Black, as Chef Michael Smith, whom you quoted in your speech, is fond of saying, are you aware that in P.E.I. we have a thing called Fall Flavours, which does exactly what Senator Cormier is suggesting? That base is already covered in Prince Edward Island. Are you aware of that?

Senator R. Black [ + ]

Thank you for that. I was not aware of that.

Has the sponsor of the bill given reasons why he doesn’t want to collaborate with something that already has the partnerships in place and traction around a national day?

Senator R. Black [ + ]

Thank you for the question. I have not heard his reasoning.

Hon. Ratna Omidvar [ + ]

I have a question. Did this come up in committee in the House of Commons?

Senator R. Black [ + ]

I’m not aware that it did. I do not know.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

As previously agreed, honourable senators, this matter stands adjourned in the name of Senator Plett.

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