When I ran for office I promised to be accountable. To that I end I am posting this overview on some of my actions taken while representing you during this historic pandemic. You will find below a chronological overview of actions to date, as well as links to documents I have undertaken on your behalf.
COVID-19 has been a tremendous challenge to all of us. As a Member of Parliament of for only a few months, my staff and I continue to work tirelessly to try to assist with the range of challenges many of you have been facing, including:
- Announcements by the Prime Minister days or weeks before he provides details,
- An overwhelmed civil service, confusing information, endless hours on hold (the record we are aware of in our office is 5 hrs and 4 minutes before they got through),
- Money going to those who don’t qualify and not enough or any for those who are not being accounted for,
- A refusal to allow Parliament to meet as a Parliament and not a Committee with no real power of accountability,
- … and the list unfortunately goes on.
As your new MP, my approach is not that of a typical politician of ‘hey look at me’, preferring rather to just go about helping behind the scenes to make things work better. Of course, this can create a temptation for some to challenge my actions or in their mind a perceived lack thereof. Fair enough, people should always question their government, keep them accountable and challenge them when appropriate. Absolutely.
To assist with that discussion, I am providing a public accountability of the approach I have taken to date on your behalf. I hope you will take the time to review this information and share your thoughts about the job I am doing and what you would like to see going forward.
Your views do matter to me. In addition to this action log, in the coming days you will soon be receiving a questionnaire from me which solicits your views on a number of issues, and I hope you will take a moment to help me be an informed and up-to-date MP working to represent the interests of over 100,000 people here in Chatham-Kent--Leamington.
Thank you for caring enough as a Canadian to visit my website.
Please stay safe, practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands and join us in thanking the tremendous front line and essential workers who are helping to serve and protect us.
Dave Epp, MP
COVID-19 Chatham-Kent—Leamington Synopsis
13th – WHO declares global pandemic
17th – Letter to Prime Minister from MPs Epp, Kusmierczyk, Lewis and Masse requesting action to ensure Canada's food security.
26th - The Federal Government reversed its decision to allow TFWP/SAWP to continue, provided that a 14-day isolation period was observed.
27th – Letter to Prime Minister regarding border crossings and essential workers
17th - Social Distancing letter to George Gilvesy, Chairman of OGVG (Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers)
- Employers were compensated $1,500 for costs incurred and to pay workers for this period
- All public indications show all TFWP/SAWP were asymptomatic (free from symptoms of COVID 19) after the 14-day quarantine process
- COVID-19 in this workforce comes through community transmission
- Due to the Federal Government’s initial cancellation of the program, severe uncertainty was introduced for employers as to whether they would have a workforce to harvest their crops, since nature waits for no one.
- The subsequent reversal by the Federal Government also included delays as agreements were negotiated with host countries which included screening and quarantine protocols.
- Because of these delays and shortfalls in arrivals of TFWP, employers relied more heavily than usual on recruiting agencies to backfill labour shortages
- While there are some recruiters that operate legally, too many do not, as they source workers, which include:
- people who have crossed the border on tourist visas and gone underground
- a few TFW’s who did not fly home, and have gone underground
- people lured here by labour traffickers from various countries
- people that have crossed the border via Roxham Road (and other points of access), etc. to claim asylum and have gone underground
- Often substandard housing conditions are used by labour recruiters, who are not subject to the same rules, standards and oversight which are required in the TFWP and SAWP.
- Because too much of this recruited labour source is operating illegally, they are obviously not subjecting themselves to quarantine procedures. Once infected with COVID, and due to movement from farm to farm for short term work contracts, they become a vector of transmission into the regular TFWP/SAWP community. Because of communal living in bunkhouses, COVID then spreads rapidly within that environment (sharing some communal living dynamics with our long-term care situation).
- Another area of concern regarding community transmission are “individual extra-curricular activities” privately undertaken under the radar.
- The agreed upon response to the COVID-19 Virus is TEST, TRACE, ISOLATE and TREAT which I continue to actively support.
The industry’s response to addressing the COVID 19 Pandemic has ranged from in-house testing/monitoring, to voluntary participation in off-site testing, to outright non-participation.
Some of the commonly cited reasons for industry’s reluctance to embrace testing include:
1) Lack of clarity from Public Health on the isolation processes for COVID symptomatic positive, COVID asymptomatic positive and COVID negative workers who have co-habited with a positive.
2) Original “protocols" demanded complete 14-day isolation and quarantine of all close contacts – negative and positive, which made no allowance for contact with asymptomatic workers who could represent a significant portion of the workforce.
3) The concern stated by growers included that this loss of workforce would lead to losing the crop and bankrupting many operations.
4) Those operations used recruiting agencies and who were aware of potential illegal practices by these recruiters were afraid of being found out.
Overall response to the crisis has been hampered by:
Lack of a single authority to direct the pandemic response. All three levels of government share jurisdiction, which is complicated by the semi-independence of public health authorities.
Five Federal and Provincial Ministries, including Health (F & P), Agriculture (F & P), Employment (F), Labour (P) and Immigration (F) have some ownership with this issue.
MP EPP Actions
Daily discussions with Mayors, health officials, cooperative employers, Member of Parliament, senior OMAFRA officials, community and industry leaders and others.
- Regular communication with industry leadership (Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Ontario Federation of Agriculture)
- Documenting correspondence to Industry and Federal government (see website for copies):
- Question in the House on border crossing security to track and to monitor COVID-19
- March 12 Questions to Minister Champagne during Foreign Affairs Committee Meeting on border crossing security to track and monitor COVID-19 and regarding TFWP
- March 17 Letter Prime Minister and Employment Minister advocating for a responsible Temporary Foreign Worker Program
- March 27 Letter to Prime Minister regarding the Canadian/United States border crisis
- April 17 Letter to Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Chairman George Gilvesy regarding TFW’s not following social distancing measures
- April 23 Letter to Minister of Canadian Heritage in support of local media
- May 6 Question in COVID Committee of the Whole advocating for greater response to COVID-19 to ensure the security of our ag industry
- May 15 Letter to Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Chairman George Gilvesy regarding in the presence of undocumented TFW, and the resulting inconsistency of COVID-19 testing
- June 1 Question in COVID Committee of the Whole on border security budget.
- June 19 Letter to Health Minister Hajdu requesting support for increased testing, tracing, and isolation of affected workers, to help address Windsor Essex being left behind the rest of Ontario.
- June 24 Letter to Minister Hajdu, re additional support for hosting isolation facilities
- June 29 Letter to Prime Minister & Minister Morneau regarding Leamington & Kingsville remaining in Phase One of reopening
- July 2 Statement Regarding Undocumented Workers and Opening Localy Economy
- Communications with non-greenhouse operators who use temporary labour.
- Attendance of multi-stakeholder meetings attended by all 3 layers of government locally with health care officials
- Received and resolved over 700 calls from constituents
- Received and resolved over 5,000 emails from constituents
- Mailed a COVID-19 contact information flyer to every household in the riding
Like many of us, I share the concerns and frustration of Windsor Essex citizens in being left behind the rest of the province, and with continued coordination with Provincial and Federal governments in the multi-streamed efforts and processes identified above, we can get past this immediate crisis and focus on long term solutions to the issues that the COVID -19 Pandemic has identified.