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Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney

Minister Kenney solving Temporary Foreign Worker problems in Alberta by making things worse in the Atlantic Canada

Last Friday the federal government announced massive changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.  These changes were unnecessary and largely driven by a cynical union-led campaign. CFIB has worked in cooperation with the federal government on many files but this a gross over-reaction to a few negative stories, many of which exaggerated heavily by unions looking to organize small- and medium-sized businesses, particularly quick service restaurants.

CFIB members strongly support the enhancement of efforts to penalize or fine any firm that is abusing the program or mistreating any employee, Canadians or TFWs. These changes however convict all employers and prevent those who have followed all of the rules from even attempting to use what has become a valuable tool to solve urgent and serious labour shortages.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney has singled out the restaurant, hotel and retail sector, effectively barring them from even applying to use the TFW program. For both high- and low-wage employers, they’ll now be facing a $1,000 fee just to apply for each TFW position. Oh, and if your application is rejected, don’t expect a refund. Massive amounts of red tape are being piled on including the requirement to report every interaction with every applicant, including why they weren’t hired.

What’s more, Minister Kenney made these changes seemingly oblivious to the reality of Atlantic Canada’s labour market.

During his media conference, the minister noted his inability to comprehend why employers can’t find Canadian workers in areas of high unemployment in places “like Cape Breton.” Well, for starters, our population is

aging and declining and young people are moving to his home province of Alberta in droves.

He says employers should use “market mechanisms” such as higher wages to attract new workers. The employers he is referring to are already operating on razor thin margins because of those same market mechanisms and simply paying people higher wages is not really an option.

You might pony up $25 an hour in Fort McMurray to serve coffee, in Glace Bay . . . not so much. The other solution he offered on CTV’s Question Period was if you can’t find enough Canadian workers, don’t start the business. The logical extension of this, if you are struggling to find employees, shut down. As an economic growth strategy, this seems a little counter-intuitive.

In the same interview Mr. Kenney noted he wants to return the TFWP to its original objective to be the “last, limited and temporary resort for employers who absolutely cannot find qualified Canadians to take jobs at the Canadian wage rate.” So now, in order to assist those who are basically at the end of their rope finding workers, he has made the program impossibly bureaucratic, financially out of reach and/or absolutely inaccessible to those who need it most, again, a little counter-intuitive.

Perhaps the Minister of Employment could take a week or two and walk in the shoes of those entrepreneurs who want to contribute to their communities, create employment and build a business in Atlantic Canada while competing with the oil patch and the federal EI system for workers. He might just get a clearer comprehension of those incomprehensible market mechanisms. Atlantic Canada is in need of sound immigration and employment policy, not punitive measures designed to solve problems in tight labour markets in Alberta.

By Jordi Morgan (guest opinion)

Jordi Morgan is vice-president, Atlantic of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Jordi.morgan@cfib.ca

Organizations: Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Alberta, Cape Breton Fort McMurray Glace Bay

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