The All-Candidates Forum held on Monday, September 28th was a success. The candidates took the opportunity to detail their party platforms on issues such as the national debt, the national health accord and local issues such as watercraft restrictions on the Columbia River wetlands.
One of the most contentious local issues is that of access to temporary foreign workers. Since Minister Jason Kenney made significant changes to the program in 2014 against the wishes of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, local employers have felt the pinch. Changes included increasing the application fee from $275 to $1,000 and shortening the length of the work visa to one year.
As a result, we have seen some local businesses cut their operating hours, business owners working months without a day off during our peak season, and managers at some large resorts cleaning rooms due to lack of staff. All of this results in burnout for employees and business owners, and less money in the coffers of the Canada Revenue Agency.
The first abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program began in Toronto in December 2013 when the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) brought in dozens of workers from India, then had the Canadian workers train the Indians before the Canadians were laid off. RBC cited cost savings and efficiency as the reasons for the move.
At the same time, a restaurant franchise owner in Fernie was cheating his temporary foreign workers out of their overtime pay. The list of abusers continued to grow.
So what did our candidates have to say about our dire employment situation? The solutions proposed fall into two categories. Incumbent MP David Wilks is proposing a two-year closed visa with foreign workers heading home after their visa expires. The other three parties view the program as a path to citizenship with the Greens proposing a Guaranteed Liveable Income, which would encourage more Canadians to accept service jobs. What was lacking in the discussion was any reference to creating better access for local business owners and solutions to deal with the six per cent unemployment cap that makes our community ineligible for the program.
Temporary foreign workers should never be allowed to displace Canadians. They should be paid the same as Canadian workers with stiff penalties for employers who abuse the program or the workers. These abusive employers should then be blacklisted and unable to access the program at any point in the future. That said, our local employers need access to the program and they need it quickly. Let’s hope the candidates step up quickly with a detailed solution to the problem.