Temporary Foreign Worker program

Minister Kenney solving problems in Alberta by making things worse in Atlantic Canada

Published on June 27, 2014

Dear Editor: Last Friday, the federal government announced massive changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

These changes were unnecessary and largely driven by a cynical, union-led media campaign. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has worked in co-operation with the federal government on many files, but we regard this as a gross over-reaction to a few negative stories, many of which have been exaggerated heavily by big labour, seeking to organize small and medium-sized businesses, particularly quick service restaurants.

Federation members strongly support stiff penalties for those caught abusing the program or mistreating any employee, Canadians or TFWs. These changes, however, convict all employers and prevent those who have followed the rules from even attempting to use what has become a valuable tool to solve urgent and serious labour shortages.

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has singled out the restaurant, hotel and retail sectors, effectively barring them from even applying to use the program for most positions in most parts of Canada. For both high and low wage positions, employers will now be facing a $1,000 fee for each temporary worker position.

Oh, and if your application is rejected, don’t expect a refund. Massive amounts of red tape are being piled on including the requirement to report every interaction with every applicant, including why they weren’t hired.

What’s more, Minister Kenney made these changes while seemingly oblivious to the reality of the labour market in Atlantic Canada. During his media conference, the minister noted his inability to comprehend why employers can’t find Canadian workers in areas of high unemployment in places “like Cape Breton.”

For starters, our population is aging and declining and young people are moving in droves to his home province of Alberta.

He says employers should use “market mechanisms” such as higher wages to attract new workers. Well, the employers he is referring to are already operating on razor-thin margins because of those same market mechanisms and simply paying people higher wages is not an option.

You might pony up $25 an hour in Fort McMurray to serve coffee, in St. John’s ... not so much. The solution he offered on CTV’s Question Period was: if you can’t find enough Canadian workers ... don’t start the business. The logical extension of this, if you are struggling to find employees at your fish processing plant, shut it down.

As an economic growth strategy, this seems a little counter-intuitive.

In the same interview, Kenney noted he wants to return the program to its original objective to be the “last, limited and temporary resort for employers who absolutely cannot find qualified Canadians to take jobs at the Canadian wage rate.”

So now, in order to assist those who are at the end of their rope finding workers, he has made the program impossibly bureaucratic, financially out of reach and absolutely inaccessible to those who need it most. Again, a little counter-intuitive.

Perhaps the minister should take a walk in the shoes of those Newfoundland and Labrador entrepreneurs who want to contribute to their communities, create employment and build a business in Atlantic Canada while competing with the oil patch and the federal Employment Insurance system for workers.

He might just get a clearer comprehension of those market mechanisms.  Atlantic Canada is in need of sound immigration, productivity and employment policy, not punitive measures designed to solve problems in tight labour markets in Alberta.

Jordi Morgan, vice-president Atlantic of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business