Temporary foreign workers program faces federal review

Not unexpected to see political pressure from Atlantic Canada.

Will be interesting to watch the political debate, given that former Minister Kenney sees one of his legacies threatened (after reversing earlier Conservative policies than made it easier for businesses to hire Temporary Foreign Workers) and the degree to which the Government responds:

While the Liberals criticized the Conservative government’s handling of the program, the party did not propose reforms in its 2015 election platform.

All seats in Atlantic Canada went to Liberals, and MPs from the region are pressing hard for changes, saying the restrictions hurt seasonal businesses and the service sector.

Nova Scotia Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner, who is also Ms. Mihychuk’s parliamentary secretary, said the program needs to be overhauled to take into account the demands of seasonal businesses.

“Changes over the last couple of years have impacted seasonal industries. We still generate over 50 per cent of the regional GDP through seasonal industries. The work force is getting older. The out-migration is significant,” he said.

Yvonne Jones, the Liberal MP from Labrador, said the changes to the TFW program hurt her province’s tourism and fish processing industries, making it difficult to get seasonal labour.

“Because of the fact we are unable to recruit under the temporary foreign worker program, we have seen a lot of businesses having to close or scale back their hours and days of operations. This is really affecting services to communities that need that service,” Ms. Jones said.

Conservative MP Jason Kenney, the former minister who overhauled the program, said it would be dumb economic policy to exempt fish plant workers from the terms of the temporary workers program when so many Atlantic Canadians are unemployed and many jobless oil workers are returning from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“This is classic Liberal position. Make it easy for local fish plant workers to go on unemployment insurance and make it easier for the employers to bring in fish plant workers from overseas,” he said.

Mr. Kenney said one of the reasons his government tightened the rules for employment insurance and temporary foreign workers was that communities in Atlantic Canada had local fish plant workers collecting employment insurance while foreigners were doing their jobs.

Ms. Mihychuk said the review by the Commons employment committee needs to encompass every sector of the economy, including the impact of the collapse in oil prices.

“You look at the massive layoffs in Alberta, it’s really changing the labour market,” she said. “A lot of indigenous people are strongly opposed to [TFW], saying it’s time for indigenous people to be given a chance. So there are a lot of different angles to the whole program.”

Unemployment among aboriginal people is more than twice the rate for non-aboriginals, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

The Liberals also believe a credible pathway to citizenship for foreign workers is needed.

“It’s a situation that is complicated. These are people – excellent people – and a lot of them want to stay in the country,” Ms. Mihychuk added.

The Liberals say the Conservatives mismanaged the 2014 reforms and based many of their regional employment assumptions on inaccurate labour market data.

“Under the temporary workers program, basically, they connected it to data around employment statistics, but those employment statistics were not completely accurate,” Ms. Jones said. “They looked at large regions as opposed to individual areas where the problem was most sensitive. And because they didn’t go with the [mandatory] long-form census, a lot of the data was incomplete,” she added.

Mr. Kenney said the review is unnecessary, saying the reforms he brought in were balanced and well thought-out.

“I think our changes have turned out to be prescient given the downturn in the western economy, in particular where the most skilled part [of TFW] was being overused. With over 100,000 Albertans having lost their jobs in the past few months, and if more people were pouring into the Alberta labour market from abroad as de facto indentured workers while many Canadians are facing unemployment, that would be totally unacceptable,” he said.

Source: Temporary foreign workers program faces federal review – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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