Ottawa is right to ensure temporary foreign workers will be able to arrive in Canada despite stricter travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
However, it must do a better job of getting all the provinces on board.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Jan. 29 flights to and from sunny destinations will be suspended, but federal officials maintain they are working to make sure the move won’t impact the arrival of temporary foreign workers.
Those sunny locales, like Mexico and the Caribbean nations, are a main feeder of labour to Canadian agricultural producers, so initial fears over the policy were understandable.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau made clear once again farm workers are considered essential. She said on social media such workers will continue to need pre-flight, negative COVID-19 tests and quarantine upon arrival.
All international flights into Canada must now arrive in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver. Federal officials say they plan to permit chartered flights carrying foreign workers to land elsewhere.
Allowing chartered flights with temporary workers to land at any airport they are welcomed, and making exceptions to allow those workers to continue arriving in Canada, is good policy helping to ensure producers will be successful.
Despite those measures from the federal government, producers in some provinces are still worried the new travel restrictions will limit their ability to access foreign labour.
That’s understandable too.
Measures put in place last year by Ottawa to stop the spread of the virus, like mandatory quarantines, were challenging for producers. Farmers suffered through delays and added costs, but were largely successful in bringing in temporary foreign workers.
These added complications will make it harder.
Farmers and seafood processors in the Maritimes, for example, complain there is still confusion over how temporary foreign workers will be able to arrive when the protocols are in place.
On Feb. 3, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil added confusion to the matter when he said that temporary foreign workers should quarantine where they land in Canada, rather than in his province.
“That quarantine should be taking place at the airport where they land or very near that airport where they land,” McNeil said. “It is our position that quarantine should begin at the point of entry.”
We’ll see where this all goes in the coming weeks, but already it is clear the federal government should have done a better job of consulting the provinces before introducing these measures.
To safeguard its policy of keeping Canadians safe while ensuring essential work can continue, Ottawa should have communicated its plans better with the provinces and the public.
In the hours after Trudeau’s announcement, some provinces and producer groups appear to have been scrambling to find the correct information.
“Official” information about how this would impact temporary foreign workers was difficult to come by in the immediate aftermath, and it’s clear that at least in some parts of the country, the federal plan is still not being adequately explained.
Ottawa should work with McNeil and other premiers to ensure everyone involved is confident temporary foreign workers can safely arrive in communities across the country.