By Erin Knutson
Special to The Pioneer
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks and Costas Menegakis, Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, hosted a roundtable discussion on changes to the temporary foreign worker program at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, August 21st.
Members of chamber, local business operators and concerned citizens voiced their opinions during the heated discussion concerning recent changes to the federal employment program. Changes to the program have created bureaucratic red tape resulting in the Columbia Valleys exclusion from the program (as a high unemployment area), which poses a real threat for local businesses.
We had to close our doors for three days thats $15,000 worth in business, because we were understaffed, said Justin Atterbury, Rocky River Grill owner.Without a solid incoming foreign worker populace, business owners have been forced to close their doors and face severe staffing shortages. A recent roundtable discussion in Kimberley on July 11th brought the temporary foreign worker program issue to light and resulted in the request for Premier Christy Clark to consider providing resources to the Provincial Nominee Program to expedite the processing of applications, which have stalled to a five- to six-month window processing time from its original 12-week timeframe. Concerns about the continuing health of the local economy and the success of the valley as a heavy tourism sector were raised as Mr. Menegakis addressed issues concerning the displacement of the original temporary foreign worker agreement.
Foreign workers are being sent home before the province has the opportunity to approve applications for permanent residency, which is the aim of many foreign workers. Without extensions being granted from the federal government, the ability of this relevant labour force to put down roots in the valley and expand the fiscal structure is bleak. The inability to procure foreign workers was discussed as a detriment to the healthy progression of a skilled workforce. Potentially this bodes ill for enhancing a culturally diverse environment in rural communities, which would potentially secure further foreign investment, essentially creating a pronounced need for the government to look at ways to provide training for these types of jobs to the existing Canadian workforce.
Mr. Menegakis carefully mediated the discussion and rebutted concerns that foreign workers werent being given the opportunity to seek permanent residency.
We are seeing the highest level of immigration in the history of Canada at 262,000 which is about as high a number as Canadian infrastructure can handle on an annual basis, he said.