Federal budget reveals plans for migrant worker support, carbon backstop and COVID recovery
By Greta Chiu
By Greta Chiu
The federal government revealed its 2021 budget yesterday, the first in two years.
Plans address ongoing programs to manage COVID-19, working towards economic recovery and plans for growth. In addition to a proposed federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, several areas impact the Canadian horticultural sector in particular.
Changes to mandatory isolation support
Budget 2021 proposes to provide $57.6 million in 2021-22 to extend the Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program up until June 15, then reducing the amount provided and phasing out the program in August.
The budget proposes to provide employers with up to $1,500 per worker until June 15, 2021 to offset costs over the mandatory 14-day isolation period. “If workers are required to quarantine at a government approved facility, due to a lack of suitable facilities at their employers’ facilities, employers can receive up to $2,000 per worker for costs associated with mandatory isolation requirements.”
Following June 15, 2021, the budget proposes reducing this support to $750 per worker until August 31, 2021, when the government intends to phase out this program. According to the document, they “will consult with employers on the transition to ensure that migrant workers are similarly compensated through their quarantine period by their employers.”
Supporting temporary foreign workers
To support programs and services for migrant workers, including the new Migrant Worker Support Program, the federal government has proposed $49.5 million over three years, starting in 2021-22.
The budget also proposes $54.9 million over three years “to increase inspections of employers and ensure temporary foreign workers have appropriate working conditions and wages.” Another $6.3 million is proposed to support processing and delivery of open work permits for vulnerable workers “which helps migrant workers in situations of abuse to find a new job.”
According to the document, 57 per cent of temporary foreign workers in Canada worked in the agricultural sector in 2019, including “general farm workers, nursery and greenhouse workers and harvesting labourers.”
Carbon backstop returns proceeds
For provinces with the federal carbon backstop in place, Budget 2021 proposes to “return a portion of the proceeds” to farmers, as many use natural gas and propane to fuel their operations. “It is estimated farmers would receive $100 million in the first year.” This amount would change per fiscal year, based on collected amounts.
Current provinces affected by the federal carbon backstop are Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
Canadian agriculture reacts
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) says they were pleased with several key announcements.
“It is heartening to hear Minister Freeland identify agriculture as one of the foundational pillars of Canada’s ‘new, resilient and sustainable economy’. CFA will be working closely with the federal government to ensure that these words are followed with impactful actions that truly leverage the potential in our sector,” said Mary Robinson, CFA President in a press release today.
In the release, the CFA highlighted additional key items in the budget, including an additional $1 billion “to support a more rapid rollout of broadband projects across Canada,” “$1.9 billion over four years to recapitalize the National Trade Corridors Fund,” and “$200 million to launch immediate, on-farm climate action under the Agricultural Climate Solutions program.”
According to the budget, The National Trade Corridors Fund is to help attract investments to enhance roads, rail and shipping routes. “15 per cent would be dedicated to building and improving transportation networks in Canada’s North.”
“Although CFA was hoping to see targeted investments addressing the sector’s continued labour needs and leverage domestic market opportunities, the funding for National Trade Corridors should also help farmers meet the government’s goal of increasing food exports to $75 billion by 2025,” says the release.
Fresh produce industry weighs in
In a press release today, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association said they were elated to see a number of their recommended measures included in the federal budget. This included “the extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, additional supports for the Temporary Foreign Worker program, as well as investments in infrastructure and innovation initiatives.”
However CPMA said they were disappointed that” one of its major recommendations, the implementation of a financial protection mechanism for produce sellers, was not included in the federal budget.” The association says it’s “an opportunity to address gaps in market stability, financial protection, trade and food security, with no cost to the government.”
“While we appreciate the federal government’s focus on COVID-19 recovery, the failure to implement a financial protection mechanism in the form of improved bankruptcy protections remains a critical gap for Canadian fresh produce sellers,” said CPMA President Ron Lemaire. “Especially as we navigate the third wave of the pandemic and look to transition into economic recovery, it is crucial that the government provide all possible no-cost safeguards for our essential supply chain and ensure Canadians can continue to access fresh fruit and vegetable products for their families.”
The CPMA also highlighted other key areas in the budget, including:
- A new Canada Recovery Hiring Program for employers that continue to experience declines in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- $960 million for a new Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program;
- $140 million to top up the Emergency Food Security Fund and the Local Food Infrastructure Fund;
- A 50% reduction in general corporate and small business income tax rates for businesses manufacturing zero-emission technologies;
- Launch of the Canada Digital Adoption Program to support small and medium-sized businesses in adopting digital technologies; and
- More than $700 million for the Canada Border Services Agency to modernize borders.
Visit https://www.budget.gc.ca/ for the complete budget document.
With files from CFA and CPMA