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May 23, 2014

Harper's temporary foreign workers' destructive

Scott Stockdale

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The Harper government has given employers the right to hire temporary foreign workers even in regions of the country struggling with joblessness, including the Maritimes and southwestern Ontario, and in sectors where there is no appparent lack of domestic candidates.

A recent report by the C.D. Howe Institute, a non-partisan public policy think-tank, suggested the temporary foreign workers program (TFWP) has also spurred joblessness in Alberta and B.C.  where temporary foreign workers are getting jobs despite an abundance of domestic job-seekers, government data indicates. 

An April 2014 report released by the C. D. Howe Institute, said changes made to the TFWP in the last decade - mostly by the Conservative government which came to power in 2006 - have led to a rise of 3% in unemployment in Alberta and British Columbia.

The report, written by Professor Dominique Gross says that the changes to the TFWP had been introduced “even though there was little empirical evidence of shortages [of available workers] in many occupations.”

Data compiled by Employment Minister Jason Kenney's department shows that numerous companies and government departments, federal and provincial alike, have hired foreign help in recent years.

The TFWP was established in the 1970s to allow foreign specialists to work in Canada on a temporary basis where there were no Canadians with the required skills. Since then, the scale of the program has grown enormously.

But more and more, the programme has been used to bring low-paid workers who work in the hospitality sector. Supporters of the TFWP say that Canadians do not want to take these jobs.

Opponents of the scheme say that the TFWP allows employers to employ foreign workers at rates that Canadians would not accept.

The temporary foreign worker program has ballooned from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country. In 2013 alone, Ottawa approved approximately 240,000 temporary foreign workers.

There have been several scandals involving the TFWP in recent years. In 2013, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) was accused of laying off Canadian staff and replacing them with temporary workers from India. The firm was forced to issue a public apology. The RBC case led the Canadian federal government to announce a series of changes intended to make it harder for firms to use the TFWP and to make it easier to remove licences from firms that abuse the system.

At least two Conservative MPs have privately expressed concern about the besieged federal program.

In an April 2012 letter to Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Conservative MP Kellie Leitch said an Air Canada pilot in her riding “expressed concern regarding the hiring of foreign crews and pilots who are driving down the salaries of Canadian pilots as well as contributing to the unemployment of Canadian pilots.”

Recently, the CBC announce that two waitresses had been laid off and replaced by foreigners with TFWP work permits. One of the redundant waitresses had worked at the restaurant for 28 years.

Subsequently, three McDonald's franchises in Victoria, British Columbia were accused of abusing the system in a similar way, granting more hours to TFWP staff during favoured shifts.

McDonald's Canada said that it would suspend its TFWP program and carry out an investigation into the allegations.

Subsequently, many people were upset with McDonald's Canada and Mr. Kenney after a recording emerged in which the CEO of McDonald's Canada, John Betts, described stories about abuse of the system as “bullshit” and claiming that Mr. Kenney had indicated that he supports the chain.

The federal government is tightening rules to prevent employers from abusing cheaper foreign help under the TFWP.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley moved to plug gaping loopholes critics say are costing unemployed Canadians jobs and driving down wages for others.

The Accelerated Labour Market Opinion — which permits employers to pay foreigners up to 15% less than Canadians — will be temporarily suspended. Employers will also have to prove the TFWP is not used to outsource jobs.

The Royal Bank of Canada was accused of doing just that several weeks ago until it apologized and reversed its policy.

The issue of outsourcing has become a political hot potato for the Conservatives after other reports surfaced that some employers were using the program to fatten their bottom lines by recruiting foreigners.

Both major opposition parties, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party are calling for an investigation into the running of the system. The NDP immigration critic  told journalists: “There are people living here in Canada who are being laid off or having their hours cut to facilitate the use of foreign workers; this needs to end immediately.”

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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