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The opposition Conservatives have called on the Trudeau government to put in place a temporary program to match students looking for work with jobs in Canada’s food supply chains.

“Canada’s food supply chains are facing a critical shortage of workers, due to COVID-19,” said John Barlow, the shadow minister for Agriculture and Agri-Food. “These vacancies have the potential to disrupt production and could translate into higher costs at the grocery store for Canadians."

The British Columbia MP said farmers and ranchers have indicated to him how they need more support and could benefit from this type of program. For Canadian youth, he said the program would offer an introduction to careers in agriculture.

Conservatives are proposing that the government create a new program to match students and youth employees with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector, including fish and seafood. Like the Canada Summer Jobs program, this program would cover the minimum wage of a new student or youth employee. This wage could then be supplemented by an additional stipend paid for by the employer. Businesses looking to augment their existing workforce this year would have an opportunity to apply immediately. Employers would also be required to ensure that proper workplace safety measures were in place to protect all employees.

“This new program is just one of the ways that the government could support essential service industries like fish and seafood,” said Mel Arnold, the shadow minister for Fisheries and Oceans. “While workplace safety must be a top priority, I believe that together we can find innovative solutions to support communities, students, businesses and the Canadian economy as a whole.”

Many agriculture, fish and seafood businesses rely on the Temporary Foreign Workers or Seasonal Agricultural Workers programs. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year these vital sectors are facing significant labour shortages. While local labour can fill some of the gaps, without support Canadian producers and processors from coast to coast will struggle to maintain essential food supply chains.

“Conservatives continue to put forward constructive solutions to help Canadians affected by COVID-19,” said Dan Albas, shadow minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.“I hope the government will implement this common-sense policy to support essential businesses and help students and youth gain meaningful work experience.”

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