N.B. farmers happy ban on temporary foreign workers has been lifted

news-update

New Brunswick announced Friday that it is lifting its ban on temporary foreign workers, allowing them entry back into the province starting next week.

Although it's a glimmer of good news for the industries that rely on them -- like farms and fish plants --- the delay has also created some complications.

It's peak planting season at the Strawberry Hill Farm near Woodstock, N.B., where 10 new workers have been hired to replace the temporary foreign workers -- and the training process is taking a toll.

"We've had workers since 2015," said Tim Livingstone, the farm's co-owner."I hadn't remembered what an intense job (it was) and how much it took to train brand new people on a diversified farm like ours."

Late last month, the province announced temporary foreign workers would be banned from entering the province in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

It was a blow to the farms and fish processors that rely on them, but on Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs said that ban would soon be lifted.

"After much consideration and discussion with the all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19, we have made the decision to allow temporary foreign workers to re-enter the province as of May 29."

Higgs says the risk to New Brunswickers is low as long as the safety measures stay in place. That includes the workers self-isolating for two weeks before they start work.

But the timing could create issues.

"There are certain things we can't turn back the clock and do later, in terms of the seasonality of agriculture," said Lisa Ashworth of the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick. "We don't live in a climate where if we simply plant a few weeks later, we can harvest a few weeks later."

Bouctouche farmer Christian Michaud said the move doesn't come as a surprise.

"We were kind of planning in case he did change his mind, so we already had some places and plans, some plans for quarantining, so now it's just a matter of putting those plans in progress again," Michaud said.

For Livingstone, getting the green light comes with complications.

He says his workers from Mexico had their permits cancelled because of the delay.

"We're still in limbo," he said. "It's great that they can come, but we don't know when."

(With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Lyall)