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Trudeau urges people to ‘buy Canadian’ food, produce amid COVID-19

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WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged people to "buy Canadian" to support domestic food producers hit by the pandemic – May 14, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging people to “buy Canadian” as domestic food producers feel the strain of global restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

He made the comments in a daily press briefing with journalists outside Rideau Cottage on Thursday while announcing new supports for fish harvesters facing lost income from the pandemic.

READ MORE: Ottawa getting ready to launch multimillion-dollar ‘Buy Canadian’ food campaign

“To everyone who wants to show their support, buy Canadian. Pick up some Canadian cheese to help a local dairy farmer, have a fish fry or buy Canadian lobster,” said Trudeau.

“Not only will it taste great, it will help the people who keep food on our plates.”

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan also made the call for Canadians to buy domestic in a briefing shortly afterwards with journalists, specifically urging people to buy domestic fish and seafood.

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“Canadian harvesters are resilient and determined, and today, I am urging Canadians to show their support by purchasing more of our high-quality, sustainably sourced products at your local grocer,” she said.

“There’s never been a better time to buy a Canadian fish and seafood product.”

READ MORE: Buying Canadian — How to do it right – and why there will be drawbacks

As Global News reported earlier this year, federal officials have been exploring how best to launch a “buy Canadian” food campaign for months, with plans to launch that initiative this summer.

It’s not clear whether that is still poised to go ahead.

Global News has requested clarification from the government on that project.

The concept of “buy Canadian” gained traction back in 2018 after U.S. President Donald Trump slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum as part of a trade war to gain leverage in renewed NAFTA negotiations.

That move prompted the Canadian government to roll out $1 billion worth of reciprocal tariffs targeting everything from U.S.-made condiments, packaged foodstuffs and home appliances.

Canadians are the main buyers of U.S. goods and the patriotic sentiment Trump’s tariffs sparked quickly led to dozens of articles and how-to guides for consumers looking to spend their dollars support Canadian businesses and producers.

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Those tariffs were finally removed in May 2019.

READ MORE: Boycotting U.S. products? Here’s how to buy Canadian during a trade war

Agriculture Canada issued a notice in January that it wanted to hire a marketing firm for what it called the “Buy Canadian Promotion Campaign,” which would aim to “better connect Canadians with, and instill pride in, Canada’s food system and its agriculture, food and seafood products.”

Over the course of the campaign, the government planned to spend between $1.5 million and $4 million each year to do things like refresh the branding of Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and find ways to put Product of Canada stickers on more Canadian food items.

Jennifer Clapp, a professor with the University of Waterloo who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability, said in an interview when Global News first reported on the  campaign that shifting the focus onto domestic producers makes sense amid global uncertainty.

“In the current context of heightened uncertainty in global markets, it is rational for governments that rely on imported foods to strengthen domestic agricultural markets,” she told Global News in an email.

Clapp said it could be a “matter of national pride” to buy Canadian food products.

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But several months later, the economic landscape in the country is dramatically changed.

Some three million jobs have been lost over the last two months because of the economic shutdown from the pandemic and consumer purchasing has shifted towards items with stable shelf-life and essentials.

It remains to be seen whether a pitch to “buy Canadian” can gain the support it did during a trade war with Canadians pinching pennies and uncertain of when they will be financially secure again.

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