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New Brunswick farmers warn of consequences of ban on foreign workers


May 21, 2020
By Kevin Bissett/The Canadian Press

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Photo: Hobo018/Getty Images

A coalition of agriculture groups say New Brunswick’s ban on temporary foreign workers is putting an already strained food system on the verge of collapse.

The National Farmers Union in New Brunswick along with the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick and a group called Really Local Harvest say the province already relies heavily on food from outside New Brunswick.

They say the ban on the temporary foreign workers may be the difference between make or break for many farms, which have been forced to reduce planting.

“I will be scaling back production by eliminating low margin and high labour crops,” Ken Coates, owner of Nature’s Route Farm, wrote in a letter to Premier Blaine Higgs.

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Higgs imposed the ban on the temporary foreign workers last month as part of border restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The province has had just 120 cases of COVID-19 and all have recovered. The government has begun easing many restrictions and is moving to the next phase of reopening on Friday.

On Wednesday, Higgs said he’ll make a decision within days to ensure farmers and fish processors are able to fill their need for workers.

“I said I wouldn’t let them go without employees and I meant that — I won’t,” Higgs said.

“If we don’t fill the roster in the next few days of what’s needed right now, then there will be decisions made to ensure that we can meet the needs,” he said.

Last week, the spring lobster season opened for much of the Maritimes, but fish processors in New Brunswick said they would have to turn away some of the business because of a shortage of staff caused by the ban on temporary foreign workers.

Higgs has said it was disappointing that 70,000 people are unemployed in the province and yet so few have applied for the posted jobs.