'Farmers just aren’t cooperating': Ontario Premier calls out farms holding Windsor-Essex back from reopening

The Windsor-Essex region of Ontario will remain the only area of the province still in Stage 1 of the reopening phase. Premier Doug Ford and provincial health officials have indicated the reason this area will be left behind, at the point, is largely due to recent outbreaks among temporary foreign workers at farms.

Ford said the province is doing “everything in [its] power” to move the region into the next stage of reopening but the farmers need to do their part to prevent the spread.

“Farmers just aren’t cooperating, they aren’t sending out the people to get tested,” the premier said. “We got to bang our heads off the wall and figure out why, it’s good for the farmers, good for your workers, good for your food supply chain on safety.”

“I guess when my plea was happening last week too, it was just kind of brushed off...it’s not fair to the people of Windsor, it’s not fair to other people doing what you’re doing to people.”

Late Sunday, Mexico said it would continue to send temporary foreign workers to Canada. The country previous send it would suspend sending workers to over after outbreaks were discovered among migrant workers, leading to three deaths from COVID-19 in Ontario.

“Every single person who works in Canada deserves to do so in a safe environment,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference on Monday. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t always happened.”

Trudeau admitted some of the public health rules were not followed by employers in Canada and the government “will ensure there are consequences.”

What additional measures will Ontario put in place?

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, has drafted a document recommending local medical officers of health to use their authority under section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act to issue orders to farms to decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

These actions will require farms to keep a record of workers, including temporary foreign workers, domestic workers and individuals from temp agencies. Dr. Williams indicated there were instances where domestic workers were not scanned or screened effectively for COVID-19.

Domestic workers will have to report a history of no infection and a negative COVID test 48 hours before commencing work. Temporary foreign workers will continue to isolate for 14-day upon arrival.

The province has also implemented a number of additional screening and protective measures for farms in Ontario. This includes providing $15 million through the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection program, which can be used to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), put up physical barriers, make housing modifications, or provide alternate housing.

Additional assistance promised by the province includes:

  • Continuing with proactive targeted testing for agri-food workers, including enhanced on-farm testing

  • Conducting more than 200 Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development on-farm inspections and investigations

  • Starting new joint inspections of farms with federal authorities to review current working and living conditions of temporary foreign workers with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and local public health officials

  • Translating COVID-19 health and safety guidance documents into Spanish and posting them on Ontario.ca/covidsafety

  • Providing specific funding to Workplace Safety and Prevention Services to deliver resources and consulting services to help farmers and other agri-food businesses provide safe workplaces

“Our government is committed to protecting our agri-food workers who continue to produce the safe and healthy foods Ontarians rely on,” Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement.