Canada Improving Foreign Worker Living Conditions
The Canadian agricultural economy relies heavily on foreign and migrant workers for its continued prosperity. While there has been a call to take action and overhaul the foreign worker program for years now, the pandemic has pushed those priorities even further. Living conditions have long been in need of change, but the government is now looking to seriously improve the conditions for these workers — primarily from a public health perspective.
While some actions have already been put in place — such as consultations with industry leaders, provinces and territories as well as foreign workers themselves — we’re still in the beginning stages of the consistent change that needs to happen in order to thoroughly improve living conditions.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept all around the world, it specifically highlighted some of the shortcomings of the current system for Canadian foreign workers in terms of health and safety. By June 2020, hundreds of Canadian agricultural workers were infected on the job, causing two fatalities.
Since many of Canada’s foreign agricultural workers rely on consistent income from their often labor-intensive jobs maintaining farms and equipment, they can’t afford to miss work, even if they’re sick. Staying home may not be much better. Housing for foreign workers keeps everyone in close quarters. Housing standards are often inconsistent, leaving many workers in cheap communal units that work as a perfect breeding ground for the virus.
Even many workers who needed to quarantine described being kept in conditions that didn’t allow for social distancing and didn’t provide adequate supplies for the required length of the quarantine. Since reports vary and standards tend to be inconsistent, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the government’s vision and the reality of the living conditions these workers are facing.
The government understands that things are in need of change. Although there has been a push for improvements in the past, the pandemic has made clear just how unsightly the living conditions are. As a start, the Government of Canada is seeking input until 22 December 2020 on proposed requirements for foreign worker living conditions.
While this is a move in the right direction, requirements only make a difference if they are upheld, and that will be the key to ensuring conditions are actually maintained and improved. It’s about consistency on a municipal and local level, not just federal regulations.
Mexico Halting Foreign Workers To Canada
For now, Mexico has halted their foreign workers from coming to Canada — specifically as a result of the deaths associated with foreign worker COVID-19 outbreaks. While this doesn’t change the conditions for those already living in Canada, it did stop over 5,000 new workers from entering the country over the summer. Mexico’s ambassador to Canada maintains that this is an action of solidarity with Canada.
What Needs To Change?
While policy changes and new requirements are important to the equation, those requirements and policies need more regulation in order to uphold them on a local level. There also needs to be a push towards better working and living conditions for foreign workers on the whole — not just in terms of residencies.
Reducing the number of hours these workers spend on the job, paying them better wages and providing them with universal health care are all changes that would benefit the health and safety of foreign workers — and incentivize workers to stay home if they’re sick. They are an integral part of the Canadian economy, and they deserve better rights and conditions.
Making Steady Improvements
Although the Canadian government is just now beginning to make strides towards improving conditions for their foreign workers, they’re definitely heading in the right direction. From here, things will look up as long as they remain committed and make sure they keep human rights a priority.
Sask. premier accuses Trudeau of risking trade with India, hiding status of talks
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe listens during a news conference, in Whistler, B.C., on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Moe’s government is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of damaging relations with India and keeping the provinces in the dark about trade talks.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
By Dylan Robertson
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s government is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of damaging relations with India and keeping the provinces in the dark about trade talks.
In a letter Moe released Monday, Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison argued Trudeau is picking a fight with India for domestic political gain and risking access to one of his province’s most important export markets.
“It is very difficult to come to any other conclusion that your government has once again put its own domestic political interests ahead of the national economic interest — particularly as it relates to exports and trade of western Canadian-produced commodities,” Harrison wrote.
Last month, Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma told The Canadian Press in an interview that Ottawa sought a pause “within the last month” to ongoing talks for an Early Progress Trade Agreement.
The news stunned business leaders, and Harrison wrote that his peers have had a “complete lack of updates” on the negotiations since at least late July.
“It is unacceptable to our government that we first heard of a pause in the EPTA negotiations through the media one week ago, and have received no explanation from (the) Government of Canada subsequent to that,” reads Harrison’s letter, dated Sept. 8.
“Clearly, what your government has done has put the already strained Canada-India relationship in even further peril after some improvement following the prime minister’s disastrous trip to India in 2018,” he wrote, a reference to Trudeau being mocked for wearing traditional outfits and for inviting a convicted terrorist to a reception he hosted in India.
Harrison added that provinces and territories ought to be present in the negotiations, saying this has been done in talks for past trade deals. Harrison also claimed that Trade Minister Mary Ng had not replied to a late July letter seeking an update on the negotiations.
The Liberals have given no clear reason why they ordered a pause in the trade talks, and Ng’s office said she would be providing a statement in the late afternoon in response to Harrison’s letter.
“We know the negotiations around free trade are long and complex, and I won’t say any more,” Trudeau told reporters last Friday in Singapore.
Saskatchewan makes up roughly a third of Canada’s exports to India, amounting to more than $1 billion per year. The trade includes commodities such as lentils, which India has occasionally blocked or delayed as it tinkers with pest-control policies.
Trudeau briefly met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi this weekend, and India’s external affairs ministry said Modi expressed strong concerns to Trudeau about “anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada,” particularly Sikh separatists who want to carve out a state they call Khalistan from India.
The Indian readout made no mention of themes Ottawa included in its summary of the meeting, such as economic growth, support for lower-income countries and reforming global financial institutions.
Trudeau told reporters that he had concerns about foreign interference from any state, including India, and that Canadians of any origin have a right to free speech.
India has long accused Canada of harbouring extremists, while Ottawa has continually maintained that freedom of speech means groups can voice political opinions if they don’t use violence.
Tensions escalated this spring over a series of incidents, including with posters referring to India’s diplomats in Canada as “killers” and seeking their home addresses.
Ng is set to lead a trade mission to India next month with Canadian businesses.
Human Rights Watch says the Modi government has overseen a “serious regression in human rights and constitutional protections,” with attacks on Muslims and other minorities met with impunity and restrictions on journalists.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2023.
Canadian innovation beats EU precaution in agriculture sustainability
From the MacDonald Laurier Institute
By Stuart Smyth
Canada should learn from, not follow, the EU’s agriculture policy errors
The world needs a lot of food to feed eight billion hungry mouths. Even though global production for the most important crops – rice, wheat and maize – reached all-time highs last year, inflation, geopolitical interruptions and misguided policy have disrupted our ability to make food abundant and affordable for everyone.
Crop breeding, more efficient fertilizer and chemical use, and investments in farming equipment and technology offer tried and true strategies for increasing production while enhancing sustainability and reducing GHG emissions.
The European Union is rejecting these proven strategies through policies that dramatically reduce fertilizer and chemical use and ban modern crop breeding technologies. Regrettably, Canada’s federal government is looking at the European approach as a model for its emissions reduction plans. Canadians must reject the ideologically driven, counterproductive policies pursued in the European Union and must insist on science and outcome-driven policies to promote a strong, sustainable agricultural sector that can help satisfy the world’s growing needs.
Innovation is fundamental to modern societies and economies. Governments constantly encourage innovation and enact policies to incentivize investment into the research and development required to bring new products and processes to market. In recent years, environmental sustainability has been a primary concern and Canadian agriculture has been at the forefront of sustainable innovation. Fundamentally, sustainability in agriculture means maximizing efficiency: producing more pounds of crop per acre of land for each pound of input (seed, fertilizer, pesticides, labour) applied.
Prior to the widespread adoption of modern crop technologies, all crop and food production was done through what are now known as organic production practices. With organic production the only way to produce more food is to use more land. However, beginning in 1960, food production became decoupled from increased land use, increasing by 390% while using only 10% more land. Innovations in crop breeding technologies such as GM crops (genetically modified), fertilizer and chemical use, and farm industrialization have all contributed to this increasingly sustainable food production.
This increase in productivity has allowed the world’s population to flourish from just 3 billion people in 1960 to 8 billion today. Although the global agricultural sector is a significant source of greenhouse gases, total emissions have remained flat since 2000 even as production increased, and the sector’s share of global emissions has declined.
Despite this incredible success story, modern agriculture is often viewed with suspicion, particularly in the European Union. They have incorporated precaution-based regulations which dramatically reduce fertilizer and chemical use and ban modern crop breeding technologies. Presently they are proposing to triple organic production, from 8% of current land to 25%, by 2030, as part of what’s known as their “Farm to Fork” strategy to reduce agricultural GHG emissions.
Inevitably, the strategy will not necessarily reduce emissions but will certainly reduce production. Declines are expected: -26% in cereals, -27% in oilseeds, -10% for fruits and vegetables, -14% of beef and -9% of dairy. All of these production decreases will contribute to even higher food prices in the EU, which has been experiencing double digit inflation increases for most of the past year.
By contrast, Canada allows all plant breeding technologies to be used in the development of new varieties, and fertilizer and chemical use is based upon risk appropriate, science-based regulations. The benefits of this approach are unambiguous.
In Saskatchewan, only 3% of crop land requires tillage – mechanical turning of the soil to control for weeds and pests and prepare for seeding. In the European Union, 74% of crop land requires it. Removing tillage from land management practices not only reduces soil erosion and increases moisture conservation; it also reduces the amount of carbon released and increases the sequestration of carbon through continuous crop production. 90% of Saskatchewan farmers indicate that efficient weed control provided by the use of glyphosate increased sustainability in their practices, and 73% said production of herbicide tolerant canola, which is predominantly GM, did.
An assessment of EU agricultural GHG emissions concluded that had genetically modified crops been adopted there in a timely fashion, total EU agricultural GHG emissions would have been reduced by 7.5%. This amounts to 33 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. At any rate, their reduced yields have left them heavily dependent on imports of GM livestock feed from Brazil and Argentina.
Comparing sustainable agricultural production between the EU and Canada reveals two very different situations. The EU has rejected GM crops due to politics and precaution and as a result still heavily relies on tillage. Canadian farmers have enthusiastically adopted GM crops, virtually eliminating tillage. The EU is proposing additional precaution-based regulations that will further reduce crop and food production. Canadian farmers have demonstrated the ability to produce more food with fewer inputs, while the EU is poised to produce less, with more land requirements.
Opposing paths have been selected in the EU and Canada. The evidence to date confirms that it is Canadian agricultural production that is increasingly sustainable. The government must learn the right lessons from Europe’s mistakes when adopting strategies for reducing emissions from our agricultural sector. Canada should continue to improve sustainability through innovation. Canada should not follow Europe’s failed attempts to reduce emissions by producing less food.
Stuart J. Smyth is Professor & Agri-Food Innovation & Sustainability Enhancement Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.
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