By Connor Lynch
OSGOODE — When the Canadian government announced on March 16 that the border was closing to non-Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak, it was bad news for many farmers.
Temporary foreign workers have been the backbone of the veggie and horticultural sectors in Ontario for years, and losing access to them could’ve been disastrous. Some 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario every year to work on farms, mostly from Mexico, Jamaica and the Caribbean. The federal government ultimately decided it would allow the workers in, but require them to first isolate for 14 days.
But with flights grounded, they still have to get here. Foreign Agricultural Resources Management Services president Ken Forth said the organization was chartering flights to Jamaica to get workers in, with farmers paying out of pocket. The first flight was to arrive the night of April 1 at Toronto’s Pearson airport. The 14-day delay to start work was unquestionably going to cause the industry grief, he said, with farmers having to pay employees with no work getting done. Forth said however that: “I would encourage farmers to do exactly what’s asked, follow all the rules. Rules are made for everybody.”
Crop farmer Mel Foster at Osgoode, south of urban Ottawa, brings in about 15 migrant workers every year, starting in April but with the bulk of them arriving in June. He planted about 18,000 onions in his fields on March 16, and for the moment his other planting plans are going ahead on the assumption all of his workers would be coming. But the 14-day isolation period is going to cost him as much as $17,000, he said, if his workers even make it. For bigger farms, it’ll be even worse.
EASTERN ONTARIO: Farmers relying on migrant workers spooked by news of border closure
By Connor Lynch