New Brunswick

Farm and seafood groups fight ban on bringing in foreign workers

Farming and seafood processing groups in the Maritimes say they will be devastated by the federal government's decision to close the border to non-citizens.

Farmers argue temporary workers can easily self-isolate for two weeks

Bob Bates grows fruit, produce and sweet corn at his Belleisle farm. (Graham Thompson, CBC)

Farming and seafood processing groups in the Maritimes say they will be devastated by the federal government's decision to close the border to non-citizens.

On Monday, Trudeau announced a series of extraordinary measures to contain the spread of the virus, including barring entry to all travellers who are not Canadians or permanent residents, with the exception of Americans, crew members and diplomats.  

Industry organizations across the country are now pushing the federal cabinet to relax the new rule in the case of 140,000 temporary foreign workers who travel to Canada to assist with the harvest and processing every year.

"I strongly believe that the government should allow these workers to come in and self-isolate for two weeks," said blueberry farmer Murray Tweedie of M & S Wild Blueberry Farms in Kouchibouguac.

Tweedie said the farm brings in about 24 workers from Jamaica every year and the business would be in "serious financial straits without them."

"We'll have severe consequences on our farm," he said. "It will not only have consequences for us for this  year, but for the next two years."

Tweedie said blueberries are grown on a two-year cycle, with approximately half the crop "sprouting" while the remainder is being harvested.

Both sides of the cycle require care.

Blueberry farmer Murray Tweedie predicts a serious financial trouble if he can't hire temporary foreign workers. (Youtube)

Tweedie said the farm already houses the workers and could supply groceries and other essentials during the two-week period, with the workers being checked medically before the isolation period is lifted.

It is a similar story at Bates Farm in Belleisle. 

Bob Bates said he's suddenly in uncharted territory, unsure how he can plant, weed and harvest strawberries, produce, and sweet corn without the help of the five or six Jamaican workers he brings in annually.

"It's been a cloud on the horizon for a while, we've been sitting on pins and needles," said Bates. "Certainly it will be devastating if this happens."

The stakes are even higher for Madeleine Céré and Jean-Louis Bourgeois at Les Petits Fruits in Memramcook.

The couple had been expecting 40 workers to show up over the spring and summer.
Céré now wonders if the crops will rot in the fields. 

"It's been very stressful. It's been two weeks of worry," she said. "It's impossible to get workers for the farms right now in Canada. It's impossible. There's nobody."

Belleisle farmer Bob Bates normally employs five or six temporary foreign workers from Jamaica. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Maritime seafood processors have also been hit by the border ban.

Jerry Amirault is with the Lobster processors Association of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

He said the aging demographic in the Maritimes and the out-migration of young people have left seasonal industries in the agri-food sector dependent on foreign workers.

He said seafood processors and agricultural groups are trying to "establish a dialogue" with the federal cabinet around the topic of food security.

"We're hoping that we'll get some lenience in this exemption since feeding the people is a fairly critical issue," said Amirault.

There was no response Tuesday for a request for an interview with federal Minister for Agriculture and Agri-food Marie-Claude Bibeau.  

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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