Speech to NDP Bill C-539 Promotion of Local Foods Act

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise to speak in strong support of Bill C-539, an act to promote local foods. I will begin by paying tribute to the energetic and thoughtful work undertaken by my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry.

I will first set the stage with some local context. My riding, Victoria, sits at the tip of an island that is home to nearly 3,000 farms and has a strong tourism sector. Almost one in five service sector jobs on Vancouver Island is connected directly or indirectly to food. However, over the last half century, the balance between locally grown and imported food has tilted dramatically. Once we grew 90% of our food locally; now, we import 90%. Partly for that reason, Victoria is at the leading edge of a trend that we are seeing in communities across the country, and indeed across the world, a growing interest in buying foods that are produced locally.

The majority of Canadians who choose to buy local do it to support farmers as well as their community economy, but they do it for other reasons too. Canadians know that by reducing the distance that our food travels means fresher produce in our kitchens, cleaner air in our communities, and fewer climate-changing emissions across Canada.

Late last year, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Victoria public market. The market is the fruit of years of work by community activists like my friend Philippe Lucas, who wanted a downtown space to connect local farms with urban residents. It has been enormously successful.

My riding is also home to an innovative community organization called LifeCycles, headed up by the indefatigable and imaginative Jeanette Sheehy. LifeCycles partners with municipal governments and public institutions to give residents the tools and skills they need to grow, prepare, and preserve local foods.

In backyards across our city, hundreds of volunteers harvest up to 40,000 pounds of fruit each year, for example. That food is distributed through a network of some 40 agencies, such as food banks and community centres. They also have relationships with businesses supporting their work through social enterprise initiatives, such as selling apples to a local cidery, for example.

LifeCycles also works with eight elementary schools to integrate schoolyard vegetable gardens into their curriculum. Through these programs, more than 750 elementary school students each year learn how to grow their own nutritious food, right in their backyard. LifeCycles is a perfect example of the diverse range of benefits we can see in our economy and our communities when we support local agriculture.

Elsewhere in British Columbia, I would like to acknowledge the work of initiatives like Farm to Cafeteria, a not-for-profit agency, with a ten-year track record of creating and supporting local food projects in public and private institutions. A provincial program called “buy B.C.” works with industry to highlight local food products.

This past weekend, I visited Moss Street Market, one of the remarkable urban neighbourhood markets in Victoria. Like the amazing James Bay market, it is thriving. These neighbourhood markets not only provide an important outlet for local farmers, they serve to create something perhaps even more important: community. They create community. They bring neighbours and families together in an outdoor space to mingle and enjoy each other's company.

In Victoria, across British Columbia, and across Canada, the trend line is clear: the numbers of farmers markets have doubled over the past two decades. Even though we still buy the majority of our food from grocery chains, collaborative efforts by provinces and industries are promoting local foods that people want.

In response, other levels of government have taken action. Municipalities have introduced local procurement programs, and just last year, Ontario and Quebec introduced policies and legislation on local food. Yet, the federal government has no policy to encourage this positive trend. That is why Bill C-539 is so essential.

I am proud to support the bill, as a member of the only party in this House to demonstrate its commitment to supporting Canadian farmers by promoting local foods.

I would like to acknowledge the work of my colleagues, the member for London—Fanshawe and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who tabled bills in the last Parliament to give preference to Canadian products in government procurement and provincial transfers.

Canadians are making their preference for local foods known in the marketplace. Businesses are adapting. Community organizations, like those I mentioned in Victoria, are spreading the social and economic benefits of local agriculture around our communities. Governments at the municipal and provincial levels are waking up and noticing. The federal government must, too, and show some leadership. This bill would provide a road map for doing so.

What would the bill do exactly? First, very thoughtfully, it would enable federal and provincial ministers of agriculture to develop a pan-Canadian strategy to define “local food”, something that is not that easy to get our heads around.

In some cases it is easy, such as on Vancouver Island, where we have set definitions by geography. In other cases it is not so easy, such as in Ottawa and Gatineau. How do we define “local” when products cross provincial borders? How far should the distance be from the marketplace? Those are the sorts of things that need to be addressed as job one, and the bill would do just that.

Secondly, the bill would provide for the development of a local foods procurement policy for government institutions. It would task the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to develop such a policy and to implement it no later than one year after this legislation would come into force.

I also want to emphasize that the bill has shown great sensitivity to the division of powers in the Canadian federation. It would ask the federal government to first consult the provinces and stakeholders, such as producers, before it introduced this pan-Canadian local food strategy, and to develop a policy to encourage government institutions to purchase this food. In other words, the primary goal is to promote locally grown food and support Canadian producers, but always looking out for the division of powers in the Canadian federation so that we can work together, not at cross purposes.

Great care has been taken to confirm that such a local food procurement strategy would be consistent with both our internal trade and international trade obligations. That is very important.

Farmers in Canada are often facing a crisis. In my part of the world, the price of land is absolutely enormous, and it is very difficult to encourage young people to go into farming as a result. Not only that, there is a government at the provincial level that has introduced Bill 24, which appears to be trying to take away the preservation of the agricultural land reserve that was introduced by a former NDP administration to preserve the space and land on which agriculture can take place. That is something which is so vital. I would like to salute the efforts of my colleague, MLA Lana Popham, in trying to address this apparently wrong-headed initiative.

Creating a market for this product, even when agricultural land is so expensive, and when we have issues such as climate change that address what can be grown and where it can be grown, is very difficult. We need to provide as much support to our local farmers as we can. That is what this bill would be all about.

The bill reflects the NDP commitment to sustainable development. When we buy local foods, we reduce transportation distances and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the climate crisis we are facing in Canada today.

By way of conclusion, this bill is sensitive to federal and provincial concerns. It would take into account consultations with the producers, the provinces, and the territories. It would develop a local procurement strategy that would be consistent with our trade agreements. Most of all, it would help sustain something that is so vital, which is local agriculture creating community in our country and giving consumers and farmers what we need as we face the future together.

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For more information on the bill,  go to Anne Quach’s website: http://anneminhthuquach.ndp.ca/eatlocal

Sign the petition here:

https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/support-a-local-food-strategy?utm_campaign=mailto_link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition