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'We need all hands on deck': Canadian farmers struggle with labour shortfall due to COVID-19 –



The tiny asparagus spears poking out of the soil did not survive the night. It was too cold. Yet, it is a sign that harvest time is getting closer. 

However, many Canadian farmers are worried that a delay in the arrival of temporary foreign workers because of COVID-19 could result in decreased production, possible food shortages and, in turn, increased prices. 

“On a good day we can harvest 20,000 pounds of asparagus,” says John Jaques of Sunshine Asparagus Farms in Thamesville, Ont. 

“If we don’t have labour and if we aren’t capable of getting it out of the field and getting it packed, you know, that could be $40,000 worth of product there.”

Asparagus is one the first fresh vegetables harvested in Ontario every spring. Jaques, like thousands of other farmers across Canada, relies on temporary foreign workers. He has been hiring workers to help with the harvest for the past 20 years.

He was expecting 30 workers to arrive by April 24 from Mexico, ready for harvest the first week of May. Now he is not sure when they will all arrive. 

“We need all hands on deck to get it out of the field,” says Jaques, whose farm has been in the family since 1850.

On John Jaques’ farm in Thamesville, Ont., the first asparagus spears of the season have started poking out of the ground in recent days. (CBC)

Every year,  the Canadian agricultural industry employs about 60,000 temporary foreign workers. When Canada closed its border on March 21 to non-essential travel, it initially included these workers. They have since been granted an exemption due to the labour-intensive nature of Canada’s agriculture industry, but even so, it’s unclear how many will come this season.

Jaques is hoping some of the workers he employs will arrive at his farm next week. But flight schedules to Canada have been erratic, and once workers do arrive in the country they must be quarantined for 14 days. All these factors could delay his harvest further. 

“One of the things that COVID is doing is it’s revealing to us a bunch of areas where our food system is vulnerable, and one of those areas is labour,” says Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph. 

“I think it’s going to [create] a whole bunch of disruptions. The fact that we aren’t able to get labour in the sort of seamless or frictionless way as we’re used to means that planting will be delayed, and that things like pruning apple orchards won’t happen with the same level of efficiency.”

Charles Keddy employs temporary foreign workers on his strawberry farm in Nova Scotia, but concerns around COVID-19 are causing labour shortages. (CBC)

It’s not just farmers who are dealing with COVID-19-related uncertainty.

Del-Leon Walker arrived in Nova Scotia from Jamaica earlier this week to work on Charles Keddy’s strawberry farm for his 14th season. He says it was hard to leave his wife and two children at an unpredictable time.

“They were feeling sad, but I sat with them and we talked about it, and they understand what we are going through and it’s a pandemic, it’s all around. It’s here and it’s in Jamaica,” says Walker. “So we just have to do what we have to do and just be safe.”

Del-Leon Walker travelled to Nova Scotia from Jamaica for his 14th season working on Keddy’s farm. (CBC)

Walker says he also knows of someone who decided not to come to Canada to work on the harvest this year for fear of contracting the virus.

 “We understand that there are a lot more cases here, but we still made the decision to be here …. This is work, and without work we will not survive.”

He is currently in quarantine in his own room on-site at the farm. Walker is being paid for his time in quarantine, but is anxious to get to work. 

“We understand this is a serious time,” he says. “And we are happy with the work we have done over the years.”

Back in Ontario, Jaques is renovating the bunkhouses for the workers in order to accommodate for physical distancing. He’s also retro-fitting farm equipment so they don’t sit so close together on harvest aids, as well as purchasing more to make up the shortfall.

Jaques rides an asparagus harvest aid. Five workers would usually sit side by side as the machine moves through the fields, but the physical-distancing requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19 mean only three will be able to ride each machine. (CBC)

“Some farmers are saying I don’t have the bunkhouses to house my workers, so I’m only bringing in half as much, we’re only going to pick half our crop. So there will be [production issues], I think that supplies will be tight.”

At his on-site processing facility, where asparagus is bundled as well as pickled and put in jars, fewer workers will be able to work the line in order to accommodate physical distancing, further slowing production.

All of which increases Jaques’ costs, and may cut into production.

And that could mean higher prices at the checkout aisle. 

“I hope the prices are higher, because in order to cover the extra costs I think we need to have a higher price. But we’ll see what happens … I don’t make those decisions,” says Jaques. 

Jaques holds a jar of his farm’s asparagus. (CBC)

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a program offering $1,500 per temporary foreign worker to each farmer to help recoup things like extra housing and equipment costs. But that does nothing to offset the delay in getting people to start work. 

“Our system is really struggling right now to figure out what to do in the absence of this labour or having this labour come in at a much smaller, slower rate,” says Fraser.

“Perhaps some items that we used to get from Ontario farms may not be as plentiful this year, and they may be more expensive.” 

But Fraser also says consumers should not worry. 

“I’m seeing heroic, Herculean efforts by our farmers, our food processors and by government to try to keep the system moving along as effectively as possible.”

The issues with migrant workers could also be an opportunity for Canadians looking for work. An Instagram account @HelpCanadaGrow and a Facebook page were  launched last week to connect local people with farmers to help fill the labour gap. 

Canadian farmers are saying the lack of temporary foreign workers due to COVID-19 is putting a strain on food supply. 2:30

Quebec, expecting a shortfall of 3,000 workers, has also announced a program to recruit 8,500 Quebec workers for the agricultural sector. 

Jaques has started looking at training local help to fill the gap at his farm, and some nearby families have also offered to help out in those crucial first few weeks of harvest. But he still expects a tough season ahead. 

“It’s still a long road ahead. I think it’s going to be a challenge training new workers.”

He also hopes for a few more cold nights to delay harvest until his workforce is ready.

“I’m sure Mother Nature will co-operate. She always does.”

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COVID-19 has Canada’s banks worried about sickly loans



If Canada’s big banks are the canary in the coal mine for the economy as a whole, then there was some good news this week, and some less good news.

While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Canadian society, Canada’s five biggest lenders — Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal, Scotiabank, CIBC and TD — remained profitable even as they set aside billions of dollars to offset possible losses from loans that might go bad in the coming months.

It was expected that measures to contain the pandemic, such as school and business closures, border shutdowns and travel restrictions, would grind economic activity to a halt, but the banks’ quarterly financial results for the three-month period up to April 30 were hotly anticipated because they are a deep dive into just how bad the economy was really doing.

If businesses like manufacturers, oil and gas companies, retailers and tech startups are having trouble paying their bills, that tends to show up at the big banks, which lend them money.

Analysts say one of the best ways of gauging how companies are doing is by paying attention to a banking metric known as loan loss provisions. That’s a complicated-sounding term for a fundamentally simple concept: how much banks set aside to pay for loans on their books they think might not get paid back.

Not all those loans will turn into losses. But paying attention to how much the banks are setting aside just in case is an excellent proxy for how worried they are.

Combined, Canada’s big five lenders set aside almost $11 billion last quarter to cover loans that aren’t currently being paid off as planned. That’s almost five times as much as they had set aside for bad loans in the same three-month period last year.

That’s the bad news. The good news? “They were bad, but not as bad as feared,” said Jim Shanahan, an analyst with investment firm Edward Jones who covers Canada’s big banks.

Considering the massive number of layoffs, business closures and the glacial pace of trade flows across the Canada-U.S. border due to COVID-19, there were fears that loan losses could have been “at levels that we would never have contemplated,” Shanahan said.

But that didn’t happen.

It’s equally important to note that even in all this, the banks are still making money. Collectively, the banks raked in nearly $5 billion in profits over the three months. That’s well below their usual pace, but Shanahan said there was “almost a collective sigh of relief” that the banks were still profitable.

Art Johnson, the founder of Calgary-based SmartBe Wealth, is one of the few money managers in Canada who doesn’t think shares in Canadian bank stocks are always worth buying, but even he admits their week went a lot better than it could have gone.


Canada’s big banks are proxies for the economy: when the people and businesses they lend to have financial problems, that tends to show up on the banks’ books. (David Donnelly/CBC)


“When I look at the numbers, they’re bad,” he said in an interview. “There’s no two ways around it, these numbers are bad, [but] markets don’t look at bad or good, they look at better or worse.”

That explains what the banks’ stock prices did this week. Typically lower profits would have sent bank shares tumbling, but shares in all five were sharply up as investors breathed that sigh of relief that Shanahan was talking about.

“People were expecting a lot worse, and they were better than worse in all facets,” Johnson said.

Not out of the woods yet

While he understands why the bank stocks rallied with relief, Johnson thinks that exhale may be premature as the real pain in the economy may not show up on the banks’ books for another few months, once mortgage payment deferrals run out, and massive government progams supplementing income to laid-off workers expire.

“We’ll start to see the real impact of this three [or] four months down the road, and that’ll be where … it’ll be interesting for markets,” he said.

One of the best ways of gauging how optimistic the banks are about their future is to look at their dividend payments.

Canada’s big banks are known as reliable dividend-paying machines, slowly and methodically nudging up their payments to shareholders every few quarters for more than a century. Those big bank dividends are so rock-solid that TD and Scotiabank somehow managed to hike theirs even in the middle of the financial crisis in 2009.

The banks love to hike their dividends because investors love that extra income. But banks won’t do it unless they are confident they’ll be able to sustain the higher level in perpetuity  — a harsh lesson that Quebec-focused bank Laurentian learned this week when it cut its payout, the first dividend slash by a Canadian lender that big in almost 30 years.

If dividend payouts are the best barometer of the financial health of Canada’s big banks — and, by extension, the economy — then the fact that none of them saw the need to cut this time around is an encouraging sign.

Those quarterly payouts look as rock-solid as ever, but even the banks admit the future still looks uncertain.

The CEO of National Bank, a distant sixth in the five-horse race atop Canadian banking, phrased it in a, well, enterprising fashion.

“This is Star Trek finance,” Louis Vachon said on a conference call with analysts to discuss the bank’s quarter, in which it booked one-third less profit and set aside five times more money for bad loans.

“We would describe the current environment as going where no one has gone before.”

Canada’s economy has managed to live long and prosper for decades on the backs of its biggest lenders, but Vachon makes it clear that those same banks are still keeping their shields up for now.

“We’re still watching for the Klingons [because] we’re not out of this crisis yet.”


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Edited BY Harry Miller

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Planning a Canadian vacation? Some provinces may be off limits. Here's what you need to know –



This summer, many Canadians may choose to explore their own country due to closed borders and concerns about contracting COVID-19 while travelling abroad. 

“People will be sticking closer to home, going out in the cars because they [have] control. It’s their bubble,” said Allison Wallace, spokesperson for travel agency Flight Centre. 

Despite the pandemic, Canadians will still be able to visit national and provincial parks and stay in hotels.

But before hitting the road or booking a flight, it’s important to first check the rules of the province you want to visit.

Currently, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the territories are banning visitors from other provinces.

Provinces in the rest of Canada are advising against non-essential travel, but their borders are still open to Canadian travellers. 

Visitors to Manitoba and Nova Scotia, however, will first have to self-isolate for 14-days — a rule that’s likely to keep many people away. 

Many Canadians may hit the road this summer and travel close to home to play it safe during the pandemic. (iStock/Getty Images)

Staying close to home safest bet 

Provinces may ease — or tighten — their travel rules this summer, depending on their COVID-19 numbers, so it’s also important to stay up-to-date on your desired destination. 

“Everybody is navigating this differently based on the situation they have locally, so we may see some provinces move at a different pace than others,” said Elliott Silverstein with CAA Insurance. The CAA — the Canadian Automobile Association — provides both auto and travel services. 

And if the current restrictions and advisories remain, your safest bet this summer may be to stay close to home. 

“If these barriers — if they’re not removed — it will effectively lead people … to travel within your own province,” said Silverstein. 

The current travel rules for each province are listed below. Note that Canadians entering any province from another country must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. 

N.B., N.L. and P.E.I.

Until further notice, New BrunswickNewfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have closed their borders to out-of-province visitors to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

In New Brunswick and P.E.I., peace officers stationed at land border crossings are authorized to turn travellers away if they attempt to enter. 

“It goes against Islanders’ nature to not welcome visitors to the province, but it is what is needed at this time,” said P.E.I. government spokesperson Vickie Tse in an email.

However, the island is set to make an exception for some out-of-towners: Canadians with seasonal properties on P.E.I. can request entry by submitting an application on June 1. Those who get approval will be allowed to drive through New Brunswick to get to P.E.I.

New Brunswick may also let in cottage owners from other provinces sometime this summer. 

Kim Taylor said the recent provincial government decision denying her entry into the province following her mother’s death has exasperated her grief. (CBC)

Provinces shutting their borders to fellow Canadians has raised concerns from both legal experts and some travellers.

Kim Taylor of Halifax was devastated when Newfoundland and Labrador refused her request earlier this month to attend her mother’s funeral in the province. She was allowed in 11 days later — after speaking publicly about her case. 

Last week, Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge against Newfoundland and Labrador, alleging its border ban is unconstitutional.  

The Newfoundland and Labrador government told CBC News it couldn’t comment on a case before the courts.

WATCH | Travel bubbles considered for regions with low COVID-19 cases:

Some regions with low COVID-19 cases, including some Canadian provinces, are considering creating so-called travel bubbles to allow people to move freely within those areas, but experts say the concept has many flaws. 1:59

Residents in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. can visit other parts of Canada, but must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return — a high price to pay for an out-of-province vacation. 

Residents may also pay a high price if they break the rules. A New Brunswick doctor recently travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, didn’t self-isolate when he returned and wound up infecting at least eight other New Brunswickers with COVID-19. He has since been suspended from practising in the province.

Man. and N.S.

Manitoba and Nova Scotia haven’t shut their borders, but they aren’t putting out the welcome mat, either. 

Anyone visiting Manitoba or Nova Scotia — or returning from a trip to another province — must self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers driving through Manitoba are asked to stop only when necessary to access essential services. 

Manitoba has also banned non-essential travel to its northern and remote regions to help prevent the COVID-19 spread in the province. 

Alta., B.C., Ont., Que. and Sask.

Alberta, British ColumbiaOntario, Quebec and Saskatchewan aren’t banning travellers from other provinces or mandating that they self-isolate for 14 days. However, they all advise against non-essential travel at this time. 

Don’t cross the border. We love our Quebec neighbours, but just wait until this is all over.– Ontario Premier Doug Ford

“Don’t cross the border. We love our Quebec neighbours, but just wait until this is all over,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated earlier this month when asked about Quebecers visiting Ontario.

If you do decide to visit AlbertaB.C. or Saskatchewan, don’t plan on pitching a tent at a provincially run campground; until further notice, their campsites will only be available to residents in their province. 

Until further notice, provincial campsites in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan will only be available to residents in their respective provinces. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC)

Quebec and Saskatchewan have also restricted non-essential travel to certain remote northern regions in their province as a precautionary measure during the pandemic. 

Anyone entering Saskatchewan from another part of Canada is advised to self-monitor their health for 14 days and to self-isolate at the first sign of any COVID-19 symptoms. 

What about the territories?

Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon prohibit non-essential travel to their regions, and returning travellers must self-isolate for 14 days.

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Canada surpasses 7,000 coronavirus deaths – CKNW News Talk 980



The coronavirus pandemic has now claimed more than 7,000 lives in Canada.

The number of fatalities reached 7,073 on Saturday, after Quebec released its latest figures.

The province announced 76 deaths, along with 419 new cases of the virus.

How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has infected more than 90,000 people in Canada, with a little more than half of the cases diagnosed in Quebec. Nearly 1.7 million Canadians have been tested for the virus.

Public health officials have said that most of Canada’s deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities.

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The Canadian Forces deployed members to Ontario and Quebec in order to help care for residents last month. The soldiers recently sounded the alarm over poor conditions in some homes.

Despite increasing death tolls and case counts, the rate of infection appears to be slowing in most provinces, and many have taken gradual steps toward reopening in recent weeks.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

The new coronavirus was formally identified in January after Wuhan, China, saw a cluster of pneumonia cases that were not associated with any known virus. The illness caused by the virus was later dubbed COVID-19.

Operation LASER — A timeline of the Canadian Forces deployment to seniors homes

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11.

The disease has wrought havoc on economies around the world and prompted widespread shutdowns of non-essential businesses, schools and workplaces.

Coronavirus outbreak: United States officially passes 100,000 COVID-19 deaths

Coronavirus outbreak: United States officially passes 100,000 COVID-19 deaths

Earlier this week, the U.S. exceeded 100,000 deaths due to the pandemic. And overall, more than 5.9 million people around the world have been diagnosed, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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The global death toll stands at more than 365,000.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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