Liberals Would Reduce Foreign Worker Program, Add More Controls

Critic John McCallum said more avenues should be open to citizenship

Submitted. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) should be significantly scaled back to its original intent to fill labour gaps, have rules that are enforced vigorously, and open more avenues for foreign labourers to become permanent Canadian citizens, Liberal immigration critic John McCallum said when he was in Abbotsford on June 5.

Photo: Veteran MP and federal Liberal critic for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism John McCallum spoke to students and farmers at UFV in Abbotsford on June 5 on ways to improve the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Photo by Bas Stevens, Monopod Photography.

“The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is a mess. I don’t think we’d have a moratorium today (on restaurant workers) if it wasn’t a mess,” he said during an open dialogue session at the University of the Fraser Valley. “It’s hurting Canadian jobs and Canadian wages … and there is clearly exploitation of some temporary foreign workers.”

The Liberal Critic for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, McCallum is on a national fact-finding tour to hear from business operators and workers about the impacts of the TFWP. The Liberals are using the information they gather to fine tune a five-point program they’re developing to repair what they call is a broken system.

The university, along with the UFV Student Union Society, CiVL Radio and UFV’s Cascade newspaper, hosted the open dialogue event held to look at the issue. McCallum spoke to an audience of about 50 people, students, academics, farmers and others, and then took their questions and comments.

McCallum was critical of the Conservatives’ management of the TFWP program for several reasons, including a shortened approval process that took just five days for some businesses to be approved to bring in foreign workers, down from a previous five-month labour market assessment process.

A recent report by C.D. Howe Institute, which examines Canada’s economic policies, found the accelerated program led to increased unemployment in western Canada.

“It’s hurting Canadian jobs and Canadian wages,” said McCallum.

The Liberal critic also blasted the government for not having an effective enforcement strategy to punish abusers. He wants the government to go after employers who misuse the program, but said that currently there are only four companies on a ‘black list,’ even though there are many known cases where employers replaced their Canadian employees with foreign workers.

The TFWP was created in 1972 to fill labour gaps for skilled workers such as engineers and academics. In 2002 the federal government, led then by Liberals, expanded the program to include low-skilled farm labour. In the Fraser Valley, berry and other farmers have benefited from seasonal and temporary migrant labour to keep their farms viable.

In 2006, the Conservative government expanded the program to several other sectors such as construction, mining and fast food outlets. It also allowed fast-track approval programs in B.C. and Alberta, and let employers pay up to 15 per cent less to foreign workers than to Canadians. The number of TFWs more than doubled in the past decade to 340,000 TFWs in 2012, and grew significantly even in regions that had high unemployment.

Due to criticism, the government dropped the wage differential and the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion, then with ongoing complaints that Canadians were displaced by foreign workers, it then suspended access to the TFW program to the fast food restaurant sector.

McCallum said Liberals asked the Auditor-General to review the program “to see what went wrong.”
The federal Liberals’ five-point plan includes scaling the TFWP back down closer to its original purpose, to fill proven worker shortages, said McCallum, and not to let it be a “generalized recourse for employers” to find labour.

The Liberals would also open avenues to permanent landed immigrate status for some foreign workers.

As well, their plan would require public disclosure on what jobs are being offered to foreign workers and where; a requirement for employers to show they’ve made every effort to find local workers, particularly youth; and tighter requirements for the Labour Market Opinion process.

However, while the program needs fixing, McCallum stressed the migrant farm worker sector and the live-in care program should remain “more or less” untouched.

“A well-managed TFWP is important, especially in some sectors like agriculture,” he told the audience.

The discussion also turned to the Conservatives’ new citizenship act, Bill C-24, which McCallum disparaged because he said it sets up a “whole list of barriers” that are counterproductive to meeting Canada’s need for immigration.

Among his criticisms of the bill were that it increases the application process to 31 months, up from 15 months, eliminate credits for international students for time spent in Canada, expand the language proficiency tests to include people aged 64 (up from 54 years), require longer residency in Canada, and it will give the immigration minister authority to deport individuals.

“We think it’s really awful, terrible. It’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We have an aging population, we need more immigrants. It reflects a big philosophical difference between us and the Conservatives – we welcome more people to become Canadian citizens.”

“The Conservatives think if you set up barriers, then citizenship will become more valuable. But … barriers make people go elsewhere, to Australia, to the United States.”


Editor’s Note: The government passed their Bill C-24, amendments to the Citizenship Act Thursday.

Submitted by the Abbotsford Liberal Party of Canada riding association

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