What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate

Why don’t government departments talk to each other?

It’s a reoccurring question; one that seems to creep up particularly whenever agriculture mixes with other policy areas.

For Ottawa outsiders, the apparent lack of communication and co-ordination between departments can be frustrating, especially if you are one of those Canadians who spends a lot of time filling out the same forms over and over.

Federal officials will insist they talk to each other (and in fairness sometimes they do). But too often a policy emerges from one department that leaves others scratching their heads.

The latest policy to raise questions about interdepartmental co-operation involves Service Canada.

As part of its new unannounced compliance inspections, Service Canada sent an email, obtained by iPolitics, to all employers of the temporary Foreign Worker Program in February to remind them of their responsibilities. Historically, audits have been paper-based.

Those responsibilities, the email reads, includes allowing Service Canada officers to “examine anything on the premises” and “provide any document located on premises to officers for examination.”

Employers are also obliged to allow officers to “use any computer or other electronic device on the premises to examine any relevant document(s) stored on the device or available to it, such as in a cloud” and allow officers to be “accompanied or assisted on the premises by any person required by the officers.”

The inspections, which can take place any time within six years of the first day a foreign worker starts working, is causing serious concern within the agriculture industry.

Farmers say the policy contravenes Canadian food safety rules, including new regulations and requirements under the pending Safe Foods for Canadians Act as outlined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and CanadaGAP standard. Those rules require any visitor on farm to sign in or out.

Producers also have biosecurity concerns.

Disease poses a real risk to an operation. Canadian pork producers, for example, are still working to protect their barns from the virulent porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), a virus so deadly to baby pigs a thimbleful of it can wipe out a full barn of animals. Dozens of barns have been devastated by the virus in Ontario and Manitoba in recent years.

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s office has said officers will ask farmers or their staff about the farm’s biosecurity upon arrival, a response that comes only after Service Canada officials said they weren’t sure whether officers would receive any biosecurity training ahead of time during a teleconference with industry at the end of February.

But that response doesn’t cover situations where officers, who may have visited another farm earlier in the day, arrive on site and no one is home, for example. Who will instruct the officers on the proper tire- or boot-washing procedures then?

Nor has anyone been able to answer safety questions, such as what happens if an officer arrives and no one is home and they wander into an area of the property that was recently sprayed as they look for someone to talk to?

There are also legitimate privacy concerns. Farms are both businesses and people’s homes. The farm computer is often also a family’s personal computer. It’s unclear whether Canada’s Privacy Commissioner was consulted when the policy was being developed.

Many farmers suggest the policy as it stands now is far reaching and too broad.

Answers to farmer questions might have been more forthcoming if other departments and the industry had been consulted ahead of time. Based on the response thus far, that doesn’t appear to have happened.

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