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Fields and trees wait for no-one


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 of that is inside of their control.


My role as an MLA is 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.


I was shocked by how many farmers and farming associations we heard from last summer.


The costs have gotten out of control. They're struggling under the weight of them, 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.


This last month we saw another hit to these farmers.


Under legislation passed in 2018, the province requires that employers hiring foreign workers 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 BC found themselves barred from filing applications to source workers from overseas last fall until they had valid certificates from the BC 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 at the BC Ministry of Labour went in and there was a backlog in processing.


Did the government know how many applications were going to come in? For sure! Why were they not properly staffed? 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 get rewarded for all of the contribution to our community and society, but instead of the relief that they need, the government is making it more difficult to do their job.


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


The farming community wasn’t getting answers, they weren’t able to have direct contact to the agency nor were they given any queue information. It was a nightmare for farmers.


Emails from starting coming into our office, and our 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 from around the province started to press government for answers, and for expediency in approvals.


The Shadow Minister for Agriculture, MLA Ian Paton, started sounding the alarm bell publicly, and describing the nightmare.


The great news is that this advocacy worked. The Minster added staff capacity to get through the backlog and admitted that the approvals were backlogged and taking too much time.


Government has 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 their backlog of a system that they 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 this:


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 Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call 250-712-3620.

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