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Are higher food prices and fewer food choices for Canadians on the horizon?


The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it harder for temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to travel to Canada to work in food production, as they normally would, at the same time that there are large numbers of unemployed Canadians due to the economic lockdown.

Some people, including policy-makers, might be tempted into believing that perhaps the two problems can solve each other, by deploying Canadian workers to the farms, ranches and food-processing plants to fill the jobs that would normally go to TFWs. It is simply not the case.

The University of Calgary School of Public Policy with author, Robert Falconer, has released the second report in a series that examines the role of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in the Canadian agriculture sector. The report provides solid policy options for securing Canada’s agricultural sector, while improving labour conditions and outcomes for migrant workers.

According to Falconer, “History suggests that any attempt to manage our food supply system without a heavy reliance on foreign workers could easily result in higher food prices and poorer food choices for Canadian consumers at the supermarket. For decades, food producers have tried to utilize more domestic labour through various means, including higher wages. However, Canadian workers have, for various reasons, largely been reluctant to work on farms or in other parts of the food-processing system and food producers have been forced instead to resort to a combination of technological solutions and an imported, temporary labour force.”

The report can be found online at www.policyschool.ca/publications/


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2 Comments » for Are higher food prices and fewer food choices for Canadians on the horizon?
  1. Mark Hutchinson says:

    RE: Are higher food prices and fewer food choices for Canadians on the horizon?
    There are several points of your article and Mr. Falconer which I disagree with –
    “any attempt to manage our food supply system without a heavy reliance on foreign workers could easily result in higher food prices and poorer food choices for Canadian consumers at the supermarket”
    – That is not accurate: (1) Canada imports a large portion of the groceries we see at the major chain grocery stores, and the TFW input into the food cost is the TFW those exporting countries use for their products shipped to Canada; (2) For domestic food products under marketing boards (eggs, poultry, dairy), the majority of the labour input is from the unionized domestic labour force, and price management have been in place for decades; (3) the major use of TFW in Canada is for food production which will be exported.

    “Canadian workers have, for various reasons, largely been reluctant to work on farms or in other parts of the food-processing system”
    – I’ve worked in the food industry for decades, my experience has been the opposite. Canadian workers are not reluctant to work. However many are discouraged, either from low wages in many operations (as attested by the numbers who chose to stay home when the CERB payout was better than working minimum wage), or poor working conditions.

    “Food producers have been forced instead to resort to a combination of technological solutions and an imported, temporary labour force.”
    – Since the major use of TFW in Canada is for food production which will be exported; the producers are working at minimizing cost — including use of non union TFW working for low wages — to better compete in the global marketing of food commodities. My experience is that throughout the world (North America, Europe, Asia), exporting food producers use TFW working for low wages, to help manage their costs, to compete on pricing on the global trading of food products.

    “The report provides solid policy options for securing Canada’s agricultural sector, while improving labour conditions and outcomes for migrant workers.”
    – Reports of TFW putting up with poor labour conditions, have routinely run in the news media for decades, and are largely ignored.
    – With the ongoing COVID-19 health issue, we in the food industry all know that “social distancing” is an on-going issue on the processing line, and an issue with operations with bunkhouse accommodations for the crew.
    – The government and the Canadian public lack of interest in the welfare of TFW, and the lack of organization within the TFW (such as some form of union), will continue to make health and safety issues ongoing and unresolved.
    – The Reports’ recommendation for improving labour conditions are solid. However action is long due. So long as the economic incentive is with the food producers, there is unlikely to be improved outcomes for migrant workers.

    According to Falconer, “History suggests …”
    – My own anecdotal history includes a seasonal berry picker who was able to pay her way through nursing school picking berries (when labour rates were higher relative to living costs, compared to now a days), and a seasonal fish plant worker who invested each season’s wages into the stock market and did just fine.
    – My own history suggests that heavy reliance on TWF is recent in Canadian history, and a build-up of decades of management decisions to manage labour and keep labour costs as low as possible, mostly for the need for competitive pricing for food commodities exported into the global market.
    – The impression of TFW is that they come from low employment regions, and have decided to leave home with the promise of better wages; the TFW program is exploitation of individual poverty. Historically, the business model of exploiting poor workers to manage production labour cost can continue for a long time, but is not sustainable in the long term.

    • Food in Canada Staff says:

      Thank you so much for your comments Mark. We appreciate your perspective and this further information.
      Food in Canada Staff

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