PEI

COVID-19 border closure a problem for agriculture, temporary foreign workers

Canada’s agriculture industry is trying to find a way to get temporary foreign workers onto the country’s farms after the border was closed to foreign nationals Monday to slow the spread of COVID-19, says the executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

‘We rely on them’

Temporary foreign workers help plant, grow and harvest produce on P.E.I. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Canada's agriculture industry is trying to find a way to get temporary foreign workers onto the country's farms after the border was closed to foreign nationals Monday to slow the spread of COVID-19, says the executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

Robert Godfrey said the federation is already in discussions with officials at Employment and Social Development Canada, and they have created an emergency committee to resolve the problem.

"We rely on them to help plant, grow and harvest produce on P.E.I. The border closures and the disallowance of non-residents coming to Canada really has us concerned," said Godfrey.

"A great deal of workers come in the spring, they come from Mexico and the Caribbean primarily, to P.E.I. for the summer."

International supply chains also need to be kept open, said P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture executive director Robert Godfrey. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Godfrey said the idea being floated is to bring the workers in and quarantine them for a time before they enter the community to go to work.

The agriculture industry in Canada is closely integrated with the U.S., and Godfrey was pleased to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledge that. He said it's vital to keep supply lines for seed, pesticides and fertilizer open to ensure Canada can continue to grow the food it needs.

"We're trying to make sure that once the snow does melt that we're in a position to go plant crops," said Godfrey.

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter is hopeful that temporary foreign workers in agriculture can be designated essential.

"It's not just P.E.I., there's actually 140,000 temporary foreign workers in the agriculture sector in this country," he said.

Easter noted greenhouse workers in Ontario should be starting work soon, and added that that doesn't count temporary foreign workers in food processing.

Easter said he brought up the issue in a conference call Monday, and hopes for an answer today.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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