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MLA-Minute

Helping farmers with the backlog in foreign worker approvals

Need for farm workers

If you have been to the grocery store lately, you know how expensive food has become.

Part of that, is outside of government’s control. But part is a result of legislation and bureaucracy.

My role as an MLA includes my participation on the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. That role requires a public consultation process on the budget around the province.

Last spring and summer, during those consultations, I was shocked by how many farmers and farming associations we heard from. Their costs are out of control. They're struggling under the weight of those costs, and rather than relief, they have been responded to with more bureaucratic process.

Their stories were emotional, multi-generational, and compelling. They need relief and help, rather than the layering effect of costs and complexity.

Last month, we saw another hit to farmers. Under legislation passed in 2018, the province requires employers hiring foreign workers to register with the province within 30 days of hiring workers. Registration became mandatory in December 2020.

With regulators now bureaucratically adding another layer to hiring protocols, farm employers in B.C. found themselves barred from filing applications to source workers from overseas last fall until they had valid certificates from the B.C. government.

Although this registration needs to be renewed regularly, there is no acknowledgement that the registration is expired, no report on why applications were being returned and the farmers trying to apply for their foreign workers panicked.

Without the certificate, employers couldn’t obtain federal approval to hire workers, let alone arrange travel for them. Since the fall, a flood of applications went into the B.C. Ministry of Labour and there is a backlog in processing.

Did the government know how many applications were going to come in? For sure. Why were they not properly staffed? I have no idea. On the surface, this slow bureaucratic process hurts farmers.

But ultimately, it hurts all of us. Farming is difficult work. Our farmers should be rewarded for the extraordinary contributions to our community and society, but instead, the government is making it more difficult to do their jobs.

Currently, the notice on the website says, “We are currently experiencing an increased volume of applications. Applications are processed in the order they are received and we are unable to expedite applications at this time.”

The farming community was not getting answers, it wasn’t able to have direct contact to the agency nor was it given any queue information. It was a nightmare for farmers. Emails from farmers starting coming into my office, and my team sprang into action.

We were able to contact the Labour Minister’s office, and echo what other offices were saying around the province. My colleagues across B.C. started to press the government for answers, and for it to be expeditious with approvals.

Liberal Agriculture critic Ian Paton started sounding the alarm publicly, and described the nightmare.

The great news is all this advocacy worked. The minster added staff to get through the backlog and admitted the approvals were taking too much time. The government also expressed openness to sending renewal reminders to employers to ensure a more even flow of applications in future.

Why the panic? Trees and fields wait for no-one. They grow and they need to be managed. Farmers need workers when the trees and fields need to be worked, not when government gets around to getting through its backlog in a system it created.

While our advocacy worked for now, it shouldn’t have to be this way. Our food security depends on government getting out of the way.

My question to you is:

How much should government be involved in regulating food production?

I love hearing from you and I read every email you send, and listen to every message. Please email me at [email protected] or call 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Closure of children's development centre in Kelowna points to bigger problem

Provincial autism funding

Starbright Children’s Development Centre in Kelowna announced it was closing this past week, sending shock waves through the autism community.

This non-profit centre has operated since 1966, and has served thousands of families with children with autism.

Why is it closing? It’s funding agreement with the province was not renewed.

The provincial funding system is a mess. Last year, the province announced “family connection centres” as a hub model for all autism care. Then, after an outcry from families traumatized by the decision, Premier David Eby announced in the fall the government reversed the decision, and was going back to individualized funding for families.

Good news, right? Not so fast.

The province kept four hub model pilot projects, and one of those is in the Okanagan. So now we have Okanagan families once again going through the trauma of not knowing where their providers are going to come from.

We also have a non-profit organization, namely, Starbright, which no longer has a contract and may not be able to serve the thousands of families it currently serves.

So, which way is the government going? Is it going back to individualized funding with supports for organizations that offer care and treatment for those with autism? Or is the government trying shutter the current care providers and create a hub model, while promising not to?

If the government wants to run the pilot program, it should do so, while keeping all the other methodologies in place. That would allow a constant care model for those with current providers, while getting the other model up and running.

Alternatively, if the government is going back to individualized funding, there is no need for the pilot project, nor is there a need for the hub model in general.

Why are we paying $72 million for something that is unnecessary under the individualized funding model?

Needless to say, parents in the Okanagan feel heartbroken, confused and unsure of all of that this means. This is yet another example of how government programs need to be better managed. The people who rely on these systems of care and programming can’t be left stressed by disorganization and inefficiency.

Governments need to be clear, and communicate programs and policy in a way that people understand. Saying one thing and doing another does not increase trust in our democratic institutions. In this case, the government appears disingenuous.

Meanwhile, this inefficient and disorganized hub system pilot is going to cost the Okanagan one of its most utilized supports. Starbright, and all of the families that it served, deserved better.

My question to you is this:

Should there be a hub model in the Okanagan after Premier David Eby said we would be going back to individualized funding?

I love hearing from you and I read every email that comes in. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



MLA lays out her priorities for 2023

Working on the issues

The beginning of the year provides such a great opportunity to refresh goals, reset priorities, and renew focus on what’s important.

As an MLA, I am excited to serve my constituents’ priorities, and make sure that Kelowna’s voice is heard in the provincial Legislative Assembly. Their responses to these columns, as well as all the communication I have received while home since November has been so helpful in understanding where to focus.

Additionally, I am starting my second year as the environment and climate change strategy critic, and gender equality and inclusion critic. These critic roles serve as my second charge in how I focus my time and efforts and provide opportunity to understand and solidify how British Columbia moves forward in these specific areas.

I have written about what I am working on as critic, so I am going to focus today on how I am going to serve the priorities of Kelowna specifically, in this coming year.

As I move into 2023, here are the issues I have heard about from you.

Health care

So many people in Kelowna don’t have family doctors, and thus, are getting sicker before getting help. Our health care system is imploding and doctors are sounding the alarm. Kelowna General Hospital is, on average, at 120-130% capacity. That is not sustainable. I will continue to advocate for more general practice physicians, more capacity in our acute care system and better health outcomes for you.

Cancer care

We need more capacity in our cancer treatment. People are waiting far too long for diagnosis and treatment, which adversely affects their outcomes. In meeting with many in Kelowna, the cancer story told is one of a system of great doctors and nurses who are stretched too thin trying to provide care for so many. I will advocate for a fully funded, 10-year cancer strategic plan, focused on increase capacity, an upgraded cancer care clinic here in Kelowna and lower wait times for better outcomes.

Cost of living

People are struggling. Gas, food, utilities, clothes – it doesn’t matter which essential service or good, things are expensive. People are striving to make ends meet and the government isn’t helping. Increased taxes and bureaucracy are adding to this burden. I will advocate for lower and fewer taxes, as well as relief for British Columbians on the costs they bear.

Housing

The cost of housing, despite the Bank of Canada’s drastic escalation in interest rates, is still the highest in history. I will continue to focus on bringing more supply to the market, and supporting measures that will accomplish that for Kelowna.

Mental health

Our mental health system is chaotic and not focused on healing, wholeness, and rehabilitation. We see it in our families, workplaces and see the despair on our streets. Recently, I was asked by some graduate researchers at UBC where to find B.C.’s comprehensive mental health plan. I had to sadly tell them there isn’t one. I will stand up for those struggling with mental health issues. I will advocate for psychologists to be added to MSP and for the complex care facility in Kelowna that was announced twice.

Crime

I have heard how fearful people are walking around, or using Kelowna’s beautiful natural amenities. I will continue to work to make Kelowna’s streets safer, and work to lower the number of prolific offenders and crime. I will advocate for greater measures asked for by the B.C. Prosecution Services and for serious resources to help it prosecute crimes.

These priorities are what I have heard from you.

My question this week is this:

Have I missed anything important to you?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Kelowna-area MLA doesn't expect much change by government in 2023

MLA's pessimistic outlook

2022 was a big year.

The year started with us thinking about COVID and the new Omicron variant but ended on a much different note, with concerns about inflation, the high cost of living and housing, all while our health care system is crumbling.

So what does 2023 hold for us in the Okanagan?

First off, expect minimal to no improvement in our health care system. With Health Minister Adrian Dix remaining in his role, expect more of the same. There will be more difficult stories about health outcomes that could have been different. Cancer care will continue to have long waits and delayed procedures.

None of the changes made to date will result in any monumental improvement to health care outcomes. Small tweaks to a system that is imploding is not acceptable. Radical change is needed to fix health care and we are not going to get it in 2023.

Is there more general stability coming? This past year was very volatile. Interest rates that weren't supposed to go up, did. The cost of living continued to skyrocket, inflation continued to escalate and housing prices seemed completely out of reach.

Unfortunately, I think that there is more to come in 2023.

Interest rates don't look like they are going to stabilize anytime soon and that means rental rates will go up to accommodate, and the cost of living and housing will continue to rise.

But what about affordable housing? BC Housing is in complete chaos. The board was fired, more than 100 executives left (including the CEO) and the organization is now in a full audit.

There have been two other audits performed recently, so I'm not sure what more they need to find. Suffice to say, the now David Eby-led NDP government have not been successful at delivering less expensive housing with BC Housing, or running an efficient organization. I don't expect that to change in 2023.

Will there be any relief from the government? Perhaps in ICBC rates, (with its two-year rate freeze) but gird yourself for the ricochet in year three, as this lever comes off and ICBC needs to make up for its losses.

Sadly, Eby and his government don’t plan out their decisions, preferring instead to flip-flop when it’s clear they messed up.

The flip flop on autism funding is an example of a reversed decision made by the government.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it listened to the Opposition and to parents, but the (original) decision to abandon the current system of funding was not consulted on or well thought out and should not have been made in the first place.

So can we expect any real change in that approach in 2023? Probably not.

There is hope because, as I mentioned previously, the role of Liberal Opposition is to continue to draw attention to where policy and government action could be better, and the path to get there.

So in 2023, I will continue to work on those things that are important to you those next year and my colleagues and I will be your voice in Victoria.

My question to you is this:

What would you like to me to focus on in 2023?

I love to hear from you. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



More MLA Minute articles



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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC Liberal MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for the Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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