Fruit pickers were the hot-topic of discussion Friday (June 26) morning at Keremeos’ monthly mayor’s meeting.
Keremeos mayor, Manfred Bauer and local MLA, Linda Larsen were both in attendance as well as a handful of residents as they discussed some of the most pressing issues in the village.
Larsen became quite emotional as she denounced the xenophobia she said she has seen directed towards Quebecois workers by locals.
Larsen said many people in the South Okanagan have always shown disdain for the seasonal, French-Canadian workers that flock to the region in the summer; but, this year, the problem has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Larsen and Bauer both said they have had their email inboxes and phone lines flooded with angry requests that the “transient workers” not be allowed entry into the province. Bauer mentioned one particular email of which the sender was fuming because they saw a group of four people they assumed to be French-Canadian walking together.
Migrant workers from Quebec were allowed into the province to pick fruit because they are essential workers and the country’s food supply depends on them, explained Larsen. However, there are fewer of them this year in the Okanagan and that has put a strain on local farms.
Larsen was also quick to note that no French-Canadian seasonal workers have tested positive for coronavirus in B.C.
The Regional District of the South Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) has put many precautions in place and workers are tested for the virus upon arrival.
The question of creating a space for seasonal workers to live in Keremeos or the surrounding area was also raised.
Bauer said he believes that Keremeos is not the right space for such a facility because the village “simply just doesn’t have the space.” However, he suggested that a campground for seasonal workers may work better in Cawston.
Larsen had some advice for the Village of Keremeos if they are looking to create a designated campsite for seasonal workers.
Hearkening back to her days as the mayor of Oliver in the 1990s when she created the Seacrest Campground in Oliver for seasonal workers, Larsen suggested that Keremeos find a piece of provincially owned land and offer to buy it.
Back then, she was able to purchase the land that is currently home to the Seacrest Campground for $1 a year.
“If this community wants that then they do the same thing. You find yourself a piece of Crown land and you petition the province for it for a buck a year lease and say it’s for agriculture,” said Larsen.
Over the course of the two-hour meeting, the group also discussed the incoming high-speed Internet upgrade, how to support local businesses, the fate of the museum and how the unusually rainy summer thus far has impacted fruit crops.
The monthly mayor’s meetings are held on the last Friday of every month behind the tourist info centre and all residents are invited to participate.