Question Period: Food Industry – 14 December 2016

Here is the video and transcript of oral questions, recorded in the language in which it was spoken.

Mr. Coon: Two years ago, I tabled a local food security bill that had the support of both the National Farmers Union and the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick as well as many, many New Brunswickers. It was intended to create the conditions for growth in the local food sector, but it was defeated at second reading. Since then, the government has implemented a local food strategy of its own that is failing to serve the local food market and grow the local food market. In fact, it is doing just the opposite. One way of growing that market is to set targets for the procurement of local food in our hospitals. Will the government require our hospitals to use locally sourced food, which would also vastly improve the quality of meals served to the patients?

Hon. Mr. Doucet: I thank the member opposite for bringing that forward. Yes, we have had a lot of discussions on local food. I know that the member opposite was involved and many stakeholders in the province have been involved in that process. There has been a lot of dialogue, a lot of discussion, and a lot of dialogue on how we move it forward. The whole theme of this is: How do we change the culture? How do we make people feel good about buying local? That is what this is all about. It is very important to note that 5% of our footprint in the province is in the agriculture sector. Eleven thousand people work in that industry, and it is very good. As a matter of fact, agriculture, fisheries, and forestry are how we got here, so it is very important that we build a culture. How do we build a demand? How do we foster that culture so that people will be searching out local foods?

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.

Mr. Coon: New Brunswick’s Local Food and Beverages Strategy was launched two months ago, yet we see local food retailers and suppliers such as Real Food Connections in Fredericton and Kredl’s Corner Market in Hampton shutting down, leading to more capital flood out of New Brunswick. Many New Brunswickers believe that we should have the capacity to feed ourselves, but we seem to be going in the opposite direction. Will the minister convene an emergency meeting of local food suppliers, retailers, and distributors to advise him on how the local food strategy can be strengthened to reverse this trend?

Mr. Speaker: Please stop the clock. We cannot have participation in any way from the gallery. During debate, it is reserved for the people who have won the honour of representing the people of New Brunswick. The people in the gallery are here to witness the debate, and that is it.

Hon. Mr. Doucet: Imagine—$2.6 billion is spent yearly by New Brunswickers, and we are
producing about $1.5 billion in food. Imagine if even half of that was spent on local food, supporting our local producers and creating jobs and economic activity. I think that is what is really key and really important here. Many people were involved in the strategy that we brought about. We have had the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick involved, we have had the National Farmers Union involved, we have had the Community College of New Brunswick involved, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Education, and the Department of Tourism. This strategy is not a drop in the bucket, and it is not a silver bullet to cure all and make it happen right away. There has been a tremendous amount of consultation, and a tremendous amount of discussion has taken place with the education sector and the health sector as to how we can develop programs to work out the logistics so that we can get local food into our operations without . . .

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.

Mr. Coon: The minister does not seem to understand. We are losing jobs in the local food sector because of an inadequate and poorly thought-out local food strategy. We are losing jobs from Kredl’s Corner Market. We are losing jobs from Real Food Connections. In fact, combined, those two companies employed almost two thirds of the permanent jobs that the Energy East Pipeline project would create to distribute bitumen to international markets. This government has been relentless in its efforts to facilitate the distribution of Alberta bitumen through New Brunswick to overseas markets, but it does not seem interested in facilitating the distribution of local food to New Brunswick consumers. Will the Premier meet with the owner of Kredl’s Corner Market to save the 70 jobs that serve local families and distribute local food to New Brunswickers?

Hon. Mr. Doucet: I really appreciate the questions this morning, but the fact of the matter is that we just released the strategy. We just started the process, released the strategy, and released the framework as to which direction we are going in. I just want to point out that the strategy includes three major objectives that we are all working on very diligently. I mentioned the departments that are involved in this. They are the Department of Health, the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, the Department of Social Development, and the Department of Tourism. There are a lot of pieces to this. It is about a culture. It is about making people feel good about what they have in their backyards and how we can direct people to local foods and to purchasing local foods. That is very important. However, the strategy is to improve customer awareness. That is number one. That is the starting point. Next is to improve availability. On the availability side is how to work out logistics to get that product from the farm to the retailer. It is to improve support . . .

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.