Nova Scotia

Arrival of temporary foreign workers in limbo after federal travel restrictions

One week after imposing air travel restrictions, the Trudeau government is still working on protocols to allow several thousand temporary foreign workers into Atlantic Canada where all airports have been closed to international flights.

Atlantic Canadian farms, fish plants have an 'extremely valid concern' over workers, says minister

Every year, thousands of temporary foreign workers come to Nova Scotia to spend weeks working in the seafood and agriculture sectors. (CBC News)

One week after imposing air travel restrictions, the Trudeau government is still working on protocols to allow several thousand temporary foreign workers into Atlantic Canada where all airports have been closed to international flights.

The border measures were taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, but have left Nova Scotia farmers and fish plant owners that rely on temporary foreign workers wondering how their new staff will get here.

The province's representative in the federal cabinet said it's a work in progress.

"I'm working across departments, with the minister of agriculture, the minister of transport, the minister of public safety, to make sure that we're able to address this extremely valid concern that we're hearing," said Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan.

"We want to work with the provinces, with the sectors, with the whole of government to make sure that we get this right."

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says farms and fish plants have an 'extremely valid concern' over temporary foreign workers. (CBC)

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada made it clear in a statement to CBC News that nothing is decided.

"The government of Canada is looking at how to integrate these measures for specific essential groups, like temporary foreign workers, as the implementation plan is developed. This will help ensure we are supporting both workers and Canada's food supply. We will share more information when it becomes available," said Marie-Eve Sigouin-Campeau.

Will last year's workaround work this year?

This week, Nova Scotia farm groups said they had been assured by federal agriculture officials that protocols put in place last year would roll over in 2021.

Those rules allowed workers coming in on charter flights at Toronto, for example, to directly board a flight for Halifax and quarantine at farms or at the former military base at Cornwallis.

"There was no virus transmitted between the individual or indeed to the industry or vice versa. It worked very well," said Keith Colwell, Nova Scotia's minister of agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Wednesday that it was Nova Scotia's "position that ... quarantine should begin at the point of entry."

International flights into Canada are only landing in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver due to COVID restrictions.

On Thursday, McNeil said it was a federal requirement that temporary foreign workers quarantine for 72 hours before coming to the province.

"In this case, they'll have to do a number when they land at an airport in wherever they land in Canada, and then they can finish it here," he said.

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Paul Withers

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Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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