Temporary foreign workers needed to grow processed-foods sector, says Senate report

Canada should make it easier for some temporary foreign workers to get to and stay in the country, says a Senate report released Friday morning.

Report makes specific recommendations for improving highway network

The Senate committee tours Cows in Charlottetown, a cheese and ice cream manufacturer that exports to China. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Canada should make it easier for some temporary foreign workers to get into the country and stay, says a Senate report.

The recommendation is part of Made in Canada: Growing Canada's Value-Added Food Sector, a report of the Senate committee on agriculture and forestry. It was released Monday morning in Charlottetown.

The report says there is potential for growth in the value-added food sector — where basic foods such as grains and milk are turned into products such as bread and ice cream — but Canada doesn't have enough people to do the work.

"A significant barrier to growth in the value-added food sector is the absence of an adequate workforce," the report says.

In 2017, the job vacancy rate — defined by Statistics Canada as unmet demand for labour — in agriculture was between 4.5 and 6.3 per cent, compared with an average of 2.8 per cent across all sectors.

The senators lay out three recommendations that they believe will allow temporary foreign workers to fill some of those vacancies.

  • Make the application process easier for returning temporary foreign workers who have consistently followed the rules.
  • Review the processing fees for businesses with an eye to making them more affordable.
  • Prioritize access to permanent residence in agriculture and agri-foods sectors that are affected by labour shortages.

The government should also promote awareness of opportunities in the sector, particularly among students, the report says.

Sen. Terry Mercer said he would like to make Canadians more aware of jobs available in the agricultural sector, but he said if there aren't people locally who want to take on those jobs, it makes sense to look elsewhere. And, he noted, there is precedence. 

"Go back years and years ago after the war, how many Dutch farmers moved from Holland to Canada and helped build the agriculture we have all across this country. This is what we do. People come here and they bring their dreams and build our dreams with them." 

Better highways

Canada needs to improve its transportation network to make it easier to get products to market, the senators say.

It highlights two highways in particular that should be twinned.

  • Alberta Highway 40.
  • Quebec High 185, which will improve the connection to Atlantic Canada.

The report also says provincial and territorial trucking regulations need to be harmonized, and systems at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency need to be improved to reduce processing times.

P.E.I. Sen. Diane Griffin offered island-grown blueberries and potatoes as examples of products that can be exported, but there are barriers to doing so.

"In order to send these fruits and vegetables just 150 km from here, over to our neighbours in Moncton, an inspection and certificate are required. These take time and money to achieve, and they get in the way of opportunity," Griffin said. 

It also recommends upgrades to ports to allow new services such as logistics, and operating grain elevators or processing facilities.

Research and development

Food processing companies are relatively small, which can make it difficult for them to raise the capital required for innovation, the report says. More than 90 per cent of companies in the sector have fewer than 100 employees.

"It is imperative that the government expand and improve upon the existing mechanisms it uses to support research, development, and innovation," the report says.

Innovation can come in many forms, the report notes, from new products, new marketing approaches, and more efficient production methods.

With files from Sarah MacMillan


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