Bungled Temporary Foreign Workers Program

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Hurts Employers, Employees Alike

By Ralph Goodale
Member of Parliament for Wascana

For more than 30 years -- before the arrival of the Harper government -- Canada's Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program functioned successfully, fulfilling the legitimate purpose for which it was intended.  It enabled qualified employers to bring small numbers of foreign workers into Canada on a limited basis to fill certain jobs when no Canadian employees could be found.

But in recent years, the program has ballooned out of all proportion -- from just over 140,000 workers in 2005 to nearly 340,000 in 2012, and the figure is no doubt higher today.

That rapid expansion is no accident.

After the Harper government took power in 2006, they mangled the program's rules.  More foreign workers at lower wages, putting downward pressure on Canadian wage rates and even displacing Canadian employees, would be consistent with their right-wing view of how a market economy should function.

The figures also expose a government bias in favour of temporary foreign labour, instead of more landed immigrants with a clear pathway to becoming citizens and taxpayers.  There were nearly as many TFWs admitted to Canada in 2012 as there were new permanent residents, and on that trend line, temporary entries would actually exceed permanent residents by 2015.

Program administration and oversight have been weak.  The government has no reliable data on labour market realities from one locality to another.  There is no clear system to monitor performance or check for abuses.  The application process and government decision-making are completely opaque.

So the Temporary Foreign Workers program has run amuck entirely on the Conservatives' watch.

The timing seems indefensible.  The recession in 2008-09 triggered huge job losses.  Recovery is painfully slow.  Overall economic growth through Mr. Harper's tenure is the worst on average since the 1930's.  Unemployment remains stubbornly high, especially among young Canadians.  And yet, the TFW program continues to expand.

The victims are not only Canadian workers who get displaced or have their wages depressed.  This broken program also puts foreign workers in a vulnerable position, at risk of exploitation.  Those employers who genuinely need such a program find themselves unfairly painted with the same brush as those who abuse it.  And our common Canadian commitment to diversity, inclusion and accommodation is put under severe pressure.

The government was warned about this growing mess long ago.  Last year, Liberals called for an urgent parliamentary investigation to fix what was so evidently wrong and getting worse.  More recently, we've urged a complete examination by the Auditor General.  Typically, the Conservatives just laughed it off.

But Canadians aren't laughing.  Our country needs an intelligently designed TFW program that is competently run and consistent with our values.

The program must be refocused onto its original purpose -- filling jobs on a limited basis when no Canadians can be found.  At the same time, we need to renew our commitment to seeking permanent immigrants who will join us as new citizens, taxpayers and nation-builders.

We need greater transparency and disclosure around how applications are made, what jobs are being offered and where, what real effort is going into the search for Canadian employees, and the basis upon which the government provides "Labour Market Opinions" to verify that TFWs are necessary.

Rather than mindless government spin, Canadian employers, and workers both Canadian and foreign, need honest and conscientious solutions to these critical issues.

JULY 2018

Vol. 12 - No. 12


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