Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie Claude Bibeau marked her first anniversary in the portfolio during a recent visit to the Island capital.
During a two day visit to the province, the Quebec MP took part in a funding announcement of a biomass boiler at Atlantic Grown Organics in Spring Valley, met with PEI Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson, as well as a number of industry officials and spoke to the Canadian Young Farmers Forum.
Bibeau, who was first elected in 2015 in the riding of Compton-Stanstead, replaced Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay, who held the portfolio from 2015 until the 2019 cabinet shuffle moved him to Veterans Affairs. Prior to assuming her current portfolio, Bibeau was Minister of International Development.
In a sit-down interview with the Island Farmer, Bibeau said PEI is one of the last provinces she has visited in person. She noted the cross-Canada tour she began last winter was interrupted by last fall's federal election. The minister said she also wanted to make sure she was able to take part in the forum, noting the involvement of youth in agriculture is one of her major priorities.
While Bibeau was not involved in the agricultural industry prior to entering the political arena, her riding is in the heart of Quebec farming country and she very quickly found herself as a voice supporting supply management at the cabinet table.
"My riding has a lot of dairy farms and I understand the importance of supply management," she said.
There has certainly been no shortage of issues to deal with during her first year in the post. Just days after assuming the office, China closed the border to Canadian canola shipments as part of an ongoing diplomatic dispute arising from the arrest of Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States. Beef and pork shipments to China were also stopped, although they have since resumed while Canadian canola remains largely shut out of the world's most populated country.
"This has resulted in a significant economic impact to producers, especially in the west," the minister said.
Bibeau said agriculture often becomes caught in the crossfire when it comes to issues like trade. She conceded the rail strike last year and the blockades in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs against construction of a pipeline in British Columbia had a significant impact.
Then there is the impact of climate change, noting several areas of the country experienced significant crop losses in 2019. She said revamping Business Risk Management programs remains a major priority for her and she is hopeful a final deal can be reached this year.
The latest item on the list is the impact of the coronavirus, adding "All too often agriculture becomes impacted by issues that are beyond its control and I realize that creates a high level of stress for producers."
The federal minister said she will be announcing the make-up shortly for the first-ever Canadian Agricultural Youth Council. She unveiled plans to create the council last year and had been hoping to announce the membership at the forum. However, over 800 applications were received to sit on the group and it is taking more time than expected.
"It is a good problem to have," she said. "I was really astounded at the level of interest."
The minister plans to meet with the council at least twice a year to garner their input on a variety of issues. She added "they are the future of this industry and it is vital they have a place at the table when we are discussing agriculture policy."
She is also hoping the council can help promote involvement of young people in the industry at all levels, saying "there are so many opportunities mot just on the farm and we certainly need workers there too but in engineering and sciences.
As for her impressions of Canada's smallest province, she said she was overwhelmed by the hospitality she received and the diversity of the province's agriculture sector. Like many people whose first visit to the Island comes during the winter months "I had lots of people tell me you have to come back in the summer and I hope to be able to do that."