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N.B. to ban foreign workers, premier says he 'won't apologize for protecting New Brunswickers'

The government of New Brunswick will now ban any new temporary foreign workers from their province in an attempt to minimize the risk of COVID-19.

Quinn Patrick Montreal, QC
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The provincial government of New Brunswick will now ban any new temporary foreign workers from their province in an attempt to minimize the risk of COVID-19, according to CBC.

The influx of workers poses a health risk, according to Premier Blaine Higgs, who is asking New Brunswickers and temporary foreign workers already there to fill whatever vacancies that currently exist in the seafood and agricultural processing sectors.

"Under normal circumstances we welcome temporary foreign workers in our province," said Higgs. "They play an important role in New Brunswick's continued economic growth." However, "right now the risk of allowing more people to enter the province is simply too great."

Murray Tweedie, owner of M & S Wild Blueberry Farms, based in Kouchibouguac, N.B., say this could mean closing the farm. Tweedie was expecting 24 workers to arrive from Jamaica on May 4. They would help him to prepare his fields for pollination. Some of those workers were expected to arrive sooner however their travel plans were delayed.

"We simply do not have the time to change our course," said Tweedie. "We need these workers and we need them now… That will leave me unable to continue our farming operation, point blank. We will be out of business."

New arrivals face a mandatory quarantine of 14 days once they enter the province, which would affect Tweedie's pollination timeline as it is.

Premier Higgs said his government will work to shift around the 1,500 temporary foreign workers already there to help Tweedie and others like him meet their production timelines. He believes between the 1,500 they have and local workers, there will be enough labour available.

"Let's find a solution together," said Higgs. "If there was ever was a time that people were needed to step up and be part of the solution … now is the time."

However Tweedie doesn't feel the Premier's plan is going to be effective enough.

"That does not fulfil our total need for workers," he said, explaining that the Jamaicans workers he was expecting have already been trained and have been coming to his farm for years. "They know the farm. They know the equipment, and without them we are going to struggle. … This is terrible, terrible news."

Tweedie said he has only been able to hire two local workers that will take the position, since his search began in November. In addition to the pollination, he also needs workers to mow his fields for next year as well. "I'm 73 years old," he said. "I can only do so much."

Prime Minister Trudeau has openly disagreed with the decision because his administration feels that provinces are facing enough economic trouble as it is, said Federal cabinet minister, Dominic LeBlanc. "A decision at the last minute to destabilize the labour force that's necessary in the fish-processing plants is of concern to us," said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc said that it's always challenging to find local workers who will take those positions as is, his riding includes several fish processing plants who depend on temporary foreign workers. "The idea that we can find local workers to replace these temporary foreign workers is not as easy as it seems."

According to LeBlanc, a chartered flight of temporary workers from Mexico was scheduled to land in Halifax and the workers would later travel to work at processing plants in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick but now they won't be able to leave Nova Scotia. This restriction gives plants in Nova Scotia an unfair advantage, said LeBlanc.

Temporary foreign workers were made exempt from the Canadian border closure last month after much persuasion from agricultural and seafood companies.

Higgs has been in contact with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to explain his decision as of Monday night and has asked her some "flexibility" with the workers currently there, as shifts will be made to fill in the gaps.

"I won't apologize for protecting New Brunswickers," said Higgs.

Kevin Arseneau, MLA for the Green Party has criticized the decision, saying that New Brunswick could have helped the foreign workers self-isolate by providing hotel rooms as opposed to leaving farmers high and dry.

"I don't think this is in any way a responsible decision," said Arseneau.

"This is a government decision, but in terms of highlighting risks, our borders right now are a risk." said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health.

Tweedie said that the Federal Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship had already cleared his workers for entry and that it wasn't a provincial matter.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked what authority the provinces had on such matters, however he seemed unable to answer the question directly.

"Provinces will have different approaches," said Trudeau. "The situation is very different across the country. The provinces will make decisions that prove to be the best within their jurisdictions."

There remains a chance that Higgs' decision was, in fact, unconstitutional, according to Joanna Baron, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. "It's quite clear that movement of individuals between provinces is clearly a federal power," she said. "It is not a provincial power."

Baron said that immigration lies strictly within federal jurisdiction.

"I don't see how the New Brunswick premier can do through the back door what he cannot clearly do by the front door, i.e. de facto control immigration on the ground, if the federal government has deemed their entry to be lawful."

LeBlanc said that the federal government may have been okay with the decision even if it was deemed to be unconstitutional because the province had already adopted emergency powers during the pandemic.

Tweedie remains frustrated over the decisions, saying that the 24 Jamaican workers expected to come had an incredible work ethic and returned to his farm year after year.

Already, Tweedie has invested a quarter of a million dollars into preparing for the 2020 season, now that may all be for nothing. "It's a matter of, 'when do I pull the plug?'" said Tweedie.

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