Sunday, March 14, 2021

Rules for temporary foreign workers still lacking

There still are no clear rules for farmers and others who want to bring in temporary foreign workers this year.

But they’re coming soon, said federal Agriculture Minister Marie Claude Bibeau in testimony to a parliamentary committee meeting Friday.

Up to March 15, workers could quarantine on farms, but Conservative party agriculture critic Lianne Rood said farmers still don’t know what happens after March 15.

“I would like to reassure our producers that we’re working extremely hard to make sure all the temporary foreign workers we need arrive in Canada timely and safely,” Bibeau said,

She said the consultations with farm groups and provinces to find the best procedures are ongoing, but “we are finalizing the process with provinces and the producers.”

A program introduced last year that offered $1,500 for each international farm worker brought into Canada to cover additional expenses for producers has also been extended, and Bibeau said she wants to make sure additional mitigation measures don’t bring added costs to producers or employees.

“The labour shortage was there before COVID-19 and it will be there after COVID-19,” she said.

She said her government wants to make the temporary foreign worker program more efficient, while also investing in automation and encouraging more Canadians to become involved in the sector.

Critics also asked Bibeau what she’s doing to alleviate the lack of meat-packing capacity which became worse during the pandemic.

Bibeau said her government is committed to improving regional supply chains but didn’t say how, what or when.

“This is something that we have noted, that we depend on big, big processing facilities,” she said.

Bibeau also said she continues to work on changes to AgriStability that will satisfy the Prairie ministers of agriculture.

“I continue to hope that we will find a consensus that will make it possible for us to improve the AgriStability program,” she said, adding Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Atlantic provinces have already signed on.

Earlier this year, Bibeau proposed dropping AgriStability’s maximum reference margin and increasing the compensation rate from 70 to 80 percent retroactively this year and for calendar 2021 and 2022.