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.

More MLA Minute articles

About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education 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

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

Previous Stories