March 19, 2020
Hon. Ernie Hardeman
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
11th Flr, 77 Grenville St
Toronto ON M7A 1B3
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Dear Minister Hardeman:
As you know, our country is currently facing an unprecedented situation due to the COVID-19 virus. As we work together to ensure local residents and those across all communities are safe, I am writing you regarding an issue that is equally as serious and if not addressed, will have devastating and long-lasting impacts on our economy, the environment, and the very lives of the people we are working to protect. I am speaking about our agricultural industry and its need to access the essential Temporary Foreign Worker and Seasonal Agricultural Worker programs that provide the labour force needed to grow, harvest, and produce the food that feeds Canadians and the world.
Yesterday, we were encouraged to hear there would be temporary foreign workers allowed access to work in Canada. However, what was unclear is if workers from essential locations such as Mexico and Caribbean countries, would be allowed to work in Canada. These people are essential for a timely, knowledgeable, and skilled workforce.
Unlike other industries that are able to halt production and ramp up later, agriculture is regimented by a strict schedule based on the weather and seasonal patterns. At this time, farmers are making decisions about planting crops and choosing if they are able to fill their fields and greenhouses. They are also signing contracts with producers and distributors worth billions of dollars; in Chatham-Kent alone, we have a $3 billion+ agricultural sector. We do not have the luxury of weeks or even days, we need your support for bringing these programs online now.
I am not simply speaking about possible theoretical challenges; I have been engaged with our agricultural community for years and understand the dire consequences of an outright immediate ban on access to their workforce. Without action, we are facing local and global food instability, the loss of jobs in the agricultural industry and in spin-off industries across Canada, and the very real potential to see the loss of generational family farms. These farms, and the families that operate them, are stewards of the land and ensure that it remains healthy and capable of sustaining production for generations.
You may ask why farmers cannot simply replace the workers with those in the community, and while this sounds like a solution, the reality is it is not that easy. The foreign workers on the farms and in the production facilities have years of experience. Some of these people bring with them 15 to 20 years of invaluable knowledge. In addition to the knowledge factor is one of safety. Many of these roles can be physically demanding and require knowledge and skills associated to being on a farm. While there have been many safety advancements in the farming and production industries, bringing on a completely new workforce with no prior skills in the industry is problematic at best. Add to this the issue that should it even be possible to train thousands of people, there is simply not an available workforce to bring on-board. The facts are indisputable; the Temporary Foreign Worker and Seasonal Agricultural Worker programs must be allowed to continue to operate and bring in the people, skills, and knowledge to do the work.
This does not mean that we should proceed without appropriate caution. I support any reasonable measures that keep people safe and protect our communities. In order to allow temporary foreign workers into our community, I believe it would be prudent to ensure we take the following precautions:
- Pre-screening of workers based on travel history
- Limiting access to workforce supply from countries that are not on Canada’s COVID-19 travel ban list
- Having all workers who arrive complete a 14 day quarantine process
In addition, I would also refer to guidance from Public Health officials for their best advice on any other reasonable measures to take.
This letter of support for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), farmers across Chatham-Kent and all of Canada, and our food processing industry is a plea to you to help save lives. There is no doubt that losing an entire year of agricultural production would be a devastating blow to our food security. Together, we have the tools and the resources to protect Canadians in the short-term and in the long-term.
Should you require any further information regarding this letter of support, please contact me directly at Darrin.Canniff@chatham-kent.ca or 519-436-3219.
Darrin Canniff, Mayor/CEO2
Municipality of Chatham-Kent
C: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance
The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture & Agri-Food
The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health
The Honourable Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
The Honourable Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training & Skills Development
Rick Nicholls, Member of Provincial Parliament, Chatham-Kent-Leamington
Cathy Lennon, General Manager, Ontario Federation of Agriculture