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Editor’s Note: Give immigrant workers a chance

While we shake our heads in disbelief at how the U.S. is so incompetent at immigration policy, we’re sitting on a missed opportunity of our own

Make time to read “The Job Ahead,” Country Guide field editor Shannon VanRaes’s examination of Canada’s shocking (at least, it should be shocking) farm labour nightmare.

Her story is a cure for the superiority we’d like to feel when we look across our southern border. It should also be a spur to action.

The numbers are clear. As you’ll read, farmers are already unable to find candidates for almost 10 per cent of the jobs they create, compared to 1.8 per cent for other sectors.

By 2025, which is just seven years away, it’s expected Canada’s farmers will have 138,000 jobs that they can’t fill.

That’s a triple shame. First, it’s a shame for the farmers who, if the rules didn’t prevent it, would be free to make the best possible decisions for their farms, instead of the best possible decisions within the context of their limited employee options.

Second, of course, it’s a shame for the country. When farmers create wealth, Canada becomes wealthier.

Third, it’s a shame for potential immigrants who would be more than happy to take those jobs.

Again, I’ll refer you to Shannon’s story for the specifics, but I’d caution you to be prepared to have your assumptions challenged.

For instance, yes, it’s true that sectors such as horticulture are at the bleeding edge of the debate because of their need for planting and harvest help.

But, as the research makes clear, none of our farms are as far behind as they’d like to think. Over the coming decade, in fact, our grain and oilseed sector will experience one of agriculture’s fastest growth rates for unfilled jobs.

Also, as evidence from the mushroom industry demonstrates, the old view that farm workers stay on the farm only long enough to earn a bus ticket to town is a fallacy. Today’s farm jobs pay better, provide better working conditions, create better security, and demand higher skills than ever before.

The picture isn’t perfect, but although there have been a small number of high-profile exceptions, what’s most impressive is how well farmers have worked within today’s labyrinth of sometimes reasonable and sometimes bureaucratic rules.

We can also build on the exemplary track record of farm leaders and their organizations on the issue.

Canada is justifiably proud of its skills-based approach to immigration. But surely the skills that are in such need on our farms deserve to be brought within this umbrella. Surely those immigrants too will be good for our economy.

Readers will already know that in the pages of this magazine, you’ll come across Belgian, Hungarian, Ukrainian and so many other names indicating a history of farm-work immigration. It’s how my great-great grandparents arrived too.

It would be an honour to welcome more. Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author


Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.


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