Protecting Canada’s Food System

Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Protecting Canada’s Food System

(Report 12—2021 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

1 March 2022

Andrew Hayes
Deputy Auditor General

Thank you, Mr. Chair. We are happy to appear before the committee today to discuss our report on protecting Canada’s food system, which was tabled in the House of Commons on 9 December 2021. I want to start by acknowledging that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg. Joining me today are Kimberley Leach, the principal who was responsible for the audit, and James Reinhart, the director who led the audit team.

When the COVID‑19 pandemic emerged in Canada in early 2020, not only did it directly threaten the health of Canadians, but it also disrupted Canada’s food system. For example, outbreaks in food production and processing facilities reduced or stopped production. Unemployment and loss of wages during the crisis also increased the risk of food insecurity, especially among vulnerable populations.

As part of its broad response to the pandemic, the Government of Canada announced a wide range of new programs and additional funding to existing programs. We examined 3 initiatives aimed at reducing food insecurity for Canadians: the Emergency Food Security Fund, the Surplus Food Rescue Program, and the Nutrition North Canada subsidy program. We also examined 2 initiatives meant to support the resilience of food processors in the agriculture and agri-food sector and the fish and seafood sector.

Overall, we found that these emergency programs helped mitigate some of the pandemic’s effects on elements of Canada’s food system. For example, we found that the additional $25 million that the Nutrition North Canada program received in COVID‑19-related support enabled the program to increase the amount of subsidized food that it shipped to remote and isolated communities during the pandemic.

However, problems with data and performance measurement prevented the departments and agencies from knowing whether the initiatives achieved all outcomes for reducing food insecurity or supporting the resilience of food processors in the agriculture and agri‑food and the fish and seafood sectors. They also could not always measure these programs’ contributions to gender and diversity outcomes or to sustainable development commitments.

While we concluded that the responsible departments and agencies implemented many oversight controls for the delivery of the emergency food programs, we noted that there were some inconsistencies in program design across 3 of the initiatives. This led to unfairness for applicants and recipients across regions.

We also found that the government had not developed a national emergency preparedness and response plan that considered a crisis affecting the entire food system and Canadians’ food security. This is despite the government having identified food as a critical infrastructure sector since 2009.

The departments agreed with all 5 of the recommendations we made in our report and have prepared action plans to address them.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.