Ag groups are calling for the federal government to maintain financial support as long as the Quarantine Act is in effect
By Jackie Clark
Farmers and industry groups are calling for the Canadian government to extend funding that was put in place in April 2020 to help producers cover the cost of the two-week quarantine period for essential temporary foreign workers.
“We have to pay workers when they’re in isolation, we have to pay for food, we have to pay for hotels if we have to take them there,” Ken Forth told Farms.com. He’s president of Foreign Agricultural Resources Management Service and labour section chair on the board of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Grower’s Association (OFVGA).
OFVGA officials determined that the cost of the isolation period ranges from $1,750-$3,125 per worker.
“If you happen to have a house of your own … the cost is about $1700 to isolate your people for two weeks. Now, if you take them to a hotel like I do, that two weeks costs $3200 per worker,” Forth explained.
Agriculture and agri-food minister Marie-Claude Bibeau committed $50 million to helping agricultural employers comply with the mandatory two-week quarantine on April 13, 2020. The government committed $1500 per worker, retroactive to the day the Quarantine Act was enforced.
The funding will be available for as long as the Quarantine Act is enforced, Bibeau said at the April 13 press conference. Click here to read Farms.com’s original coverage from that day.
“Nobody knew how long this thing was going to last,” Forth said.
“When the budget came out, the government cut that $1500 down to $750 as of June 15, 2021,” he explained. “So, if you receive workers on June 14, you can qualify for $1500. If you got them on June 16, you only get $750, and by the end of August you get no money.”
Some apple growers bring workers to Canada in the fall to help with harvest season, he added. If the Quarantine Act is still in place, those farmers will have to cover the full cost of isolation themselves.
“We are price takers in this business, the margins are very slim. And every time there’s another cost” that margin is eroded even more, Forth said.
Pandemic precautions are necessary, but have been incurring huge costs to farmers, he explained. Support from the government helped some, and sent a message that the feds were supporting farmers.
So, the announcement that support was being cut in half and then taken away was disheartening, he added.
Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, voiced her support for OFVGA’s call for continued funding.
“While Canada seems to be through the worst of the pandemic, the Quarantine Act is still in effect, requiring farmers to isolate and quarantine these workers upon arrival,” she said in a June 21 release.
“Unprecedented costs due to the pandemic have already caused some farmers to exit the industry altogether, and taking this promised support away in what is supposed to be a period of recovery puts many farmers in a precarious position,” she explained. “This funding does not cover the entire costs of isolation. It amounts to a shared investment, between the government and the farmers, which helps maintain worker safety, food security and public health.
“The CFA supports OFVGA's call to extend this funding for quarantine and isolation as long as the Quarantine Act is in effect," she added.