By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is in sync with its counterparts around the country, as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting amplified a call for the federal government to review the recent changes made to the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program.

Were very pleased because this is a big issue for the country, but in particular, its a very big issue for us, said Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Clovechok. The feds are going to have to do something.

The national assembly of chambers recognized the concern after it was brought to the forefront of the meeting by the B.C. provincial chamber.

I cant emphasize enough how damaging these program changes have been to employers in B.C. and across Canada, said B.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Winter. In B.C., resort communities such as Whistler are now fighting tooth and nail to fill hospitality jobs that Canadians simply dont want.

A motion on the issue was presented to the Canadian chamber by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the resolution was accepted.

Chamber delegates from across Canada backed the made-in-B.C. policy calling for a review of changes to the TFW program, which impact both the low-wage hospitality sector in resort destinations such as Whistler, as well as high-wage industries such as liquid natural gas, reads the concluding press release from the meeting, which was issued on Monday, September 29th.

But at a think tank conference in Ottawa on Thursday, October 2nd, Employment Minister Jason Kenney the Member of Parliament who implemented the TFW program changes said that he wont be reversing the changes he made last spring.

In my view, this is very clear evidence of a labour market distortion, he said, adding that the mandate of employing Canadians first had not been achieved.

The programs overhaul was implemented last June following several reports of abuse throughout the country.

Comprehensive and balanced reforms restore the TFW program to its original purposeas a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs, Minister Kenney said after announcing the reforms. Employers will be compelled to redouble their efforts to recruit and train Canadians.

The TFW program has become much less attractive for employers after reforms added significant costs and red tape, as a result of the changes.

Canadian employers will now have to apply for temporary foreign workers directly through a federal program; the application fee has risen from $275 to $1,000; the frequency of that $1,000 fee will now have to be paid every year for renewal, up from every two years; theres now a cap on the number of low-skilled workers each company can employ; scrutiny has been intensified; and employers that are still enticed to use the program may only do so if theyre operating in a jurisdiction with a level of unemployment beneath the national average.