Ottawa needs to better communicate foreign worker strategy

Ottawa did right to ensure temporary foreign workers will be able to arrive in Canada despite stricter travel restrictions, but it needs to do a better job to make sure all provinces are on board.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Jan. 29 that flights to and from sunny destinations are suspended, but federal officials maintain they are working to make sure the move won’t impact the arrival of temporary foreign workers.

Those sunny locales, like Mexico and the Caribbean nations, are a main feeder of labour to Canadian agricultural producers.

Agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau made clear once again that farm workers are considered essential, saying on social media such workers will continue to need pre-flight, negative COVID-19 tests and quarantine upon arrival.

All international flights into Canada must now arrive in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver, but federal officials had said they were planning to find a way to ensure chartered flights carrying foreign workers can continue to land elsewhere.

Allowing chartered flights with temporary workers to land at any airport they are welcomed, and making exceptions to allow those workers to continue to arrive in Canada, is good policy, helping to ensure producers will be successful.

Despite those measures from the federal government, producers in some provinces are still worried the new travel restrictions will limit their ability to access foreign labour.

That’s understandable.

Measures put in place last year by Ottawa to stop the spread of the virus, like mandatory quarantines, were challenging for producers. Farmers suffered through delays and added costs, but were largely successful in bringing in temporary foreign workers.

These added complications will make it harder.

Farmers and seafood processors in the Maritimes, for example, complain there is still confusion on how temporary foreign workers will be able to arrive when the protocols are in place.

On Feb. 3, Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil added confusion to the matter when he told reporters that temporary foreign workers should quarantine where they land in Canada, rather than doing so in his province.

“That quarantine should be taking place at the airport where they land or very near that airport where they land,” McNeil said. “It is our position that quarantine should begin at the point of entry.”

We’ll see where this all goes in the coming weeks, but already it is clear the federal government should have communicated its plans better with the provinces and the public.

In the hours after Trudeau’s announcement, some provinces and producer groups appear to have been scrambling for the correct information.

“Official” information about how this would impact temporary foreign workers was difficult to come by in the immediate aftermath, and it’s clear that at least in some parts of the country, the federal plan is not being adequately explained.

Ottawa should work with McNeil and other premiers to ensure everyone involved is confident temporary foreign workers can safely arrive in communities across the country.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing

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