By Dean Midyette
In 1973, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was established to allow employers to hire highly skilled workers. By all accounts, it was highly successful and represented a path to citizenship for those immigrating. In 2002, a low skilled workers category was added. This category of workers now makes up most of the foreign workforce. It was revised again in 2013, with the governing Conservatives making it more difficult and expensive ($1,000 per employee, up from $275) for companies to hire foreigners. The accelerated application process was scrapped. In addition, an unemployment ceiling of 6 per cent was set for regions, thus making the program unavailable for communities like ours (currently the East Kootenay region has an unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent).
Former Employment Minister Jason Kenney had it right when he stated definitively that Canadian workers should get the first crack at available jobs. What was never addressed were communities like ours that go through huge seasonal shifts in employment and the fact that there are not enough Canadians to fill every position that opens up during our peak seasons.
It was heartening to hear MaryAnn Mihychuk, the Minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, say that she will be asking a parliamentary committee to review the program and provide proposals to fix it. Liberal MPs have weighed in, saying the current restrictions hurt seasonal businesses and the service sector. They are also on record stating that the program is a credible pathway to citizenship.
So what can be done locally to help drive the changes that are needed? For starters, we need to let MP Wayne Stetski know that he must champion changes to the TFW program and work with members of the governing Liberals to facilitate these changes. He must meet with local business owners and members of the local Chambers and work on their behalf by taking their suggestions back to Ottawa for consideration. Changes to the program will benefit many local businesses and will allow our MP to put one in his personal win column come election time.