André Lamontagne is Quebec’s Agriculture Minister and he does it brilliantly. By comparing the performance of Quebec’s agri-food sector with that of other Canadian provinces, we see that Quebec is ahead.
Posted at 6.30am
This Thursday the third major annual meeting of biofood partners will be held in Drummondville. It is the agri-food high mass that brings together the most important leaders of the sector to take stock of the state of the industry. The meeting will, of course, be chaired by Quebec’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, André Lamontagne.
It is not easy to assume the role of Minister of Agriculture, especially in Quebec. Consensus is difficult to obtain in the province of La Belle due to the diversity of interests and opinions. The passion that has driven the province for years has no equal within the federation.
Since his beginnings as Minister of Agriculture, André Lamontagne has been able to do what his many predecessors have not been able to do.
First, the minister could equip himself with a board that enabled him to do his homework within the industry. Few provinces boast that their ministry of agriculture is part of a government’s group of major ministries; yet this is the case in Quebec. The influence that MAPAQ gains through a new bio-food economic team ensures a coherent, multidisciplinary and coordinated approach within the government, while the agri-food sector remains central.
Her federal counterpart, Marie-Claude Bibeau, often seems overwhelmed by the events, as she surrounds herself with people who all think the same way. She always meets the same people and definitely chooses the less daring option. She agrees to everyone’s requests, without really knowing why. Many other provinces are doing the same. Lamontagne has understood that in order to master its agri-food dossiers, it must pay particular attention to diverse voices as often as possible. Ottawa’s ministerial representation in agriculture, as well as those of the other provinces, never intended to do this; the task would be too difficult, too demanding.
MAPAQ’s greatest contribution under the leadership of its minister is reflected in its work on food self-sufficiency, which promotes local purchases within an open economy, prioritizes greenhouse farming and increases productivity while being ecological. It’s not easy to align all these goals, but certain performance metrics clearly show that Quebec stands out.
Institutional local procurement is progressing. According to MAPAQ data, just over 47% of targeted institutions in the education, higher education, and health and social services networks have goals for purchasing food from Quebec. The 100% target is likely to be reached by 2025.
The greenhouse production for a reliable supply in the winter is progressing well. Within a few years, the province will have 61 hectares of new fruit and vegetable greenhouses. Quebec still has a long way to go, but the target of reaching 246 hectares in a few years is well within reach.
According to Statistics Canada, only in Quebec, the number of farms has fallen by just 1% since 2006. The Canadian average has been -17% since 2006. But in the past four years, the number of agri-food companies has also increased by almost 2%, while all provinces have seen a decline.
Farmland used in Canada has declined by 8% since 2006, but not in Quebec. Since 2016, the area of agricultural land has increased by 0.2%. Another achievement.
In other words, Quebec is going against the grain of a national trend that is undermining the agri-food sector. All this is certainly not the result of chance. While Canada is still searching for itself, Quebec is exercising a coherent vision backed by impressive sector leadership.
The industry leaders gathered in Drummondville deserve to celebrate the great achievements of the past few years. Lamontagne has only mapped out a strategic path that makes Quebec an exceptional case and a model to follow for all of Canada.
The minister also chairs the federal code of conduct committee together with his federal counterpart. His footprint is all the more impressive as he is quite simply the best agriculture minister in the country. He intervenes and knows how to recognize the moment when it is necessary to leave all the space to the industry to be able to do its work. For Quebec, you have to go back to Jean Garon to find a minister who has exercised so much influence within his own government.
Dare to believe that one day the other provinces and the federal government will have the same ambitions.