April 1, 2015: a good day for fools,
By Michael Scott
The April 1st deadline has passed and temporary foreign workers are still at the mercy of the government’s decision to send home thousands of TFWs in low-skilled jobs. The controversial decision which affects over 10,000 workers in Alberta alone is yet another example of shortsighted immigration reforms on the part of the Harper government. To paraphrase NDP immigration critic Jenny Sims, they make it up as they go along. The outcome is not only a mess but also perhaps calls attention to the motivation of the parties involved.
The NDP and Liberal opposition are right to question the wisdom of the temporary foreign worker program and the way it is being operated, or as they would protest, mismanaged. That is why they are on the opposition side of parliament and represent a viable option to the Conservatives’ approach – and a federal election is coming. But what is more fascinating is the criticism from both business and labour in the country. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has called for an easier path to permanent residence and eventually citizenship for the thousands of temporary foreign workers, especially those employed in provinces with labour shortages. The business leaders warn about shortages in the hospitality industry in Banff. The decision to send low skilled workers home affects not only the unfortunate TFWs but also local business and the local economy.
The hundreds who came out to public rallies in favour of rescinding the federal action in Edmonton, have called attention to the human tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes. Perhaps we in Manitoba have missed this news because the numbers of affected workers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is much lower than that in Alberta. In the local press, the Winnipeg Free Press published an article about the horse racing industry and the severe impact the federal change will have on retaining exercise riders, grooms etc. at Assiniboia Downs. No, it is not easy to replace the kind of skill and experience that the foreign workers bring to the province.
And, it is too simplistic to say that Canadians should be hired first. Sounds good but are their suitable Canadians available to do the jobs? It does not appear that the federal government has researched the issue in depth or is even listening. In days past New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson made the following comment at a conference in Ottawa, saying it makes no sense to pay “whites” to stay home while companies “bring in brown people.” A few isolated Conservative members of parliament joined in the general condemnation of the remarks and Williamson later apologized for his “offensive and inappropriate language.” But the damage was done and it only adds to the suspicion that the blame for the failings of the overseas worker program is being put on the backs of the overseas workers.
Where are we in the process? – with temper and political rhetoric rising and panic in the lives of all overseas foreign workers, even those not directly affected. We should be more aware of the issues, and more aware of the plight of the unfortunate workers who are facing an uncertain future of going home or resorting to “tago nang tago” (TNT). This is the dire warning of Jenny Sims. But I would like to add some balance to the public comments. First the federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Alexander, who explained that the actions of his department are consistent with “putting Canadians first,” assured us that there will be no labour shortage because “permanent residents have never been more numerous.”
In sharp contrast we have the words of the Alberta Federation of Labour head Gil McGowan, who spoke not only about the shortcomings of the temporary foreign worker program but also about the basic compassion we hold as Canadians: “It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual Temporary Foreign Workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong.” He does not take the short-sighted approach of Minister Alexander who says he is “putting Canadians first” or that of his Conservative colleague John Williamson who may or may not have “misspoke” first, to “shut down the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) or, at the very least, scale it back to what is was before they made the decision to expand it a decade ago.
McGowan points out that the expansion and abuse of the TFWP have all occurred as a result of the Harper government’s approach to the problem of a shortage of skilled workers inside Canada. The Conservatives have caused the problems and created a “two-tier labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.” The second part of his statement has to do with protecting the foreign workers who are now inside the country, have broken no laws, and contributed to the economy. He recommends that we “let the TFWs who are already in Canada stay. Most important, we believe these workers should be granted permanent residency and eventually citizenship.”
Gil McGowan should be praised for reminding all of us, especially the Conservative government, that compassion is one of the long-standing characteristics of Canadians.
Is it enough for persons in Manitoba to act like the plight of temporary foreign workers in low skilled occupations means nothing to them? I, for one, was disgusted by the comments of the Conservative MP listed above, but encouraged by those of the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. There is a chance for the Harper government to get this thing right but will they do it? They changed the rules for the quarterback of the Ottawa football team but what about the tens of thousands of workers who have given their honest hardworking labour to build our economy? Why blame the victims? If this sounds like a reminder to the Conservatives that immigrants have paid, and continue to pay, the price to build Canada: it is.
Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: email@example.com