Foreign worker program changes prompt letter

Recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program sparked discussion at the most recent Invermere council meeting.

Recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program sparked discussion at the most recent Invermere council meeting, with council resolving to send letters to both the federal and the provincial government on the matter.

Changes in federal program announced on Friday, June 20th and reported on in last week’s Pioneer mean food service industry employers in areas with above-average unemployment (which includes the Upper Columbia Valley) will no longer be able to use the program to fill below-average-wage jobs. Those currently here working on such programs will not be able to renew their contracts once they expire.

“The way they’ve (the federal government) set it (the temporary foreign workers program) now, it’s like a mass deportation order for a lot of the Filipino residents who have been here in the valley for several years,” said councillor Justin Atterbury at the June 24th council meeting. “We’re basically shipping people home who live here, have had babies here, go to church here, want to live here and who we need here in the Upper Columbia Valley. I think that’s wrong.”

Many of the people here in the valley on the program having been working on becoming permanent Canadian residents, in some cases for quite some time, but the new changes mean the timelines for that process are now so constricted that most will no longer be able to qualify, said Mr. Atterbury.

Invermere mayor Gerry Taft suggested council send letters to the federal and provincial governments.

“I do feel for these people, but they did sign up for a temporary foreign worker program contract, with the key word being temporary,” said Mr. Denchuk, adding that since the changes have already been made sending letters might not do any practical good.

“Although it is called the temporary foreign workers program, most people using it do so because it has, until these changes, been a path to permanent residency. It’s effectively impossible to come from the Philippines to Canada as permanent resident by any other means,” replied Mr. Taft.

“That road (to permanent residency) was there and now they’ve closed it and totally disrupted many lives and that’s just not right,” said Mr. Atterbury, adding that although the changes are already made, council has never been afraid in the past to send letters to various levels of government on decisions already made, referencing the letter council sent to the provincial government several months ago expressing disappointment with funding to Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality through a provincial grant.

“It’s true, work is one way for people from other countries to permanently move here, and there are few others,” said Mr. Denchuk.

Council agreed that Mr. Taft and Mr. Atterbury would draft a letter to the federal government (expressing concern about the changes to the temporary foreign workers program and encouraging the federal government to examine potential immigration options for foreign workers still in Canada on the program) and to the provincial government (asking the provincial government to make sure wait times for the provincial nominee program are not too long and encouraging the provincial government to be prepared to handle the flood of applications it is getting for that program). The other councillors will check the letters before they are sent.

Restoration plants mowed over

An incident in which an employee of the contractor the district of Invermere hires to do lawn maintenance accidentally mowed down some native plants species planted by the Lake Windermere Ambassadors also came up for discussion. The plants were part of the Ambassadors ongoing restoration at Kinsmen Beach.

Lake Windermere Ambassadors program co-ordinator Kirsten Harma attended the meeting, to ask about the incident and to ask for more watering support for the plants in the area.

Councillor Greg Anderson said  that the district has tried putting up some kind of fencing in the area in the past, but it always seems to ultimately get knocked over. He also asked if there was any chance the plants would grow back.

Ms. Harma replied that unfortunately the plants were somewhat fragile, having just been planted last year, and were already struggling.

“Our condolences,” said Mr. Taft. “Internally we’ll try to figure out something about barriers and watering.”

Kind gardeners given a break

Council also voted to give the family that owns the vegetable garden used by Eileen Madson Primary school a break on its water bill.  Ed and Sue Steel have let the students of the school use their garden to learn how to grow vegetables for the past five years and had written a letter asking for a reduction on their bill.

“I think it’s (the garden) a good opportunity for agricultural education,” said Mr. Denchuk, suggesting the district split the cost of the Steels’ water bill.

Mr. Atterbury asked about the possibility of measuring just the water going through the sprinkler to the garden, but Mr. Taft said that would probably be more effort than it’s worth and instead suggested the district simply provide the Steels $200 through some sort of rebate.

The other councillors unanimously agreed with Mr. Taft’s suggestion.