Conservatives handling of foreign worker issue lacks compassion

They came seeking the Canadian dream.

For years, foreign workers have worked in jobs Canadians didn’t want: on farms and in processing plants, hotels and restaurant kitchens. They helped keep both rural communities and the national economy afloat.

These workers send every extra penny back home to their families, where those hard earned dollars mean an education for their children, clothes on their families’ backs, food in their relatives’ bellies and a sturdy roof over their loved ones’ heads.

Their employers, especially Canadian farmers, can’t pile on the praise fast enough.

The foreign workers are hard-working, genuine, dedicated and dependable, their employers say, which is high praise from folks who aren’t known to mince their words.

More than one farmer has said they wish the workers could stay and become a permanent part of their farm family.

Many have spent thousands of dollars on attempts to keep their workers, while others express frustration over the lack of available avenues to permanent residency.

The workers who are leaving are their operations’ best and often most experienced employees, farmers and processors lament. They are an integral part of local communities, which were once built by immigrants.

The problem is the Canadian government doesn’t want these “low-skilled” workers to stay.

As of April 1, “low-skilled” temporary foreign workers who have been in Canada for four years or more must leave Canada for at least four years before they can return to work. The rule is said to affect tens of thousands of foreign workers, an estimated 16,000 in Alberta alone.

The federal Conservatives insist the rule, which was part of a series of changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in 2011, is designed to ensure “Canadian workers have access to Canadian jobs.”

The government insists that em-ployers had four years to prepare for the impending exodus of foreign workers. Employers who are short workers should “raise wages and hire Canadians” to fill the void, employment minister Pierre Poilievre told reporters April 1.

Companies wanting to keep their foreign workers should have applied for permanent residency, ministers and government media hacks insist, even though there is no federal pathway for low-skilled workers.

As for provincial pathways, only Alberta allows applications for all low-skilled workers, while Sask-atchewan recently streamlined its program to make it easier for farmers to keep agriculture workers.

Poilievre and immigration minister Chris Alexander have repeatedly issued statements warning that foreign workers who “go underground” will be found and prosecuted under Canadian law.

It’s worth noting that the warning was first issued in response to an investigative report by iPolitics that found unscrupulous immigration consultants were preying on vulnerable foreign workers who are about to be sent home, charging them thousands of dollars for the false promise of permanent residency.

The federal Conservatives promised to crack down on fraudulent immigration consultants in 2012.

The political rhetoric is clearly an attempt by the government to save face after it took a sledgehammer to the program.

The changes were a response to a handful of scandals that triggered much public anger about the way the program was being run.

What the Conservatives didn’t realize was those changes would have disastrous consequences for Canada’s billion-dollar agriculture industry, where labour continues to be in tight supply across the value chain.

This shortage severely affects the party’s political base in an election year.

The federal Conservatives’ campaign message is that they are the party that best protects “Canadian values.”

The party’s handling of the foreign worker file tells a different story: one where those Canadian principles have been trampled upon for short-term political gains at the expense of an extremely vulnerable population that wants nothing more than a chance at the Canadian dream.

The Conservatives pride themselves on being guardians of Canada’s moral code. Isn’t compassion an integral part of it?

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  • Raquel Levine

    what about the compassion for Canadians NEEDING those jobs???? TFW workers have jobs while millions of Canadians don’t!

    • Matthew Hillmer

      Before foreign workers took these jobs there were many companies that were in dire need of employees. Mean while the same amount of Canadians were still unemployed. Do you want to work for minimum wage? Didn’t think so

      • John Smith

        “B.C. mine to hire only Chinese temporary workers for years”

        “Two unions are in court challenging more than 200 temporary foreign worker permits obtained by HD Mining for its Murray River underground coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.”

        “Tumbler Ridge Residents Fear for Town’s Future”

        “The federal government, the provincial government are not going to help this town,” Knowles said. “They haven’t yet, have they?”

        “A local newspaper recently quoted Tumbler Ridge’s deputy mayor as estimating that the unemployment rate in the town of 2,700 was as high as 70 per cent. And some local residents told The Tyee that people are leaving their homes behind as they flee the desperate economic circumstances of the town.”

        “Right up until the day before they closed the doors they were telling us ‘Way to go guys’ and patting us on the back,” Knowles said in a phone interview from Tumbler Ridge. “You don’t expect when they tell you that everything’s good… you don’t expect that they’re lying. But that’s what they did.”

        “Fort McMurray airport laying off workers in favour of TFWs, union says”

        “TFWs shut out local ironworkers at downtown arena, union says”

        • bornincanada

          Read what was written, they come here knowing it is TEMPORARY and send most of their incomeOUT of Canada. They are just like the multinational corporations, everyone is screwing Canada and taking their earnings out of the country. Wake up people.

      • kelly

        I think it could be easily argued that restricting access to low-skill, low-paid foreign workers might force some of these employers to reassess their business practices. They could for instance reduce their need for labour by cutting back on some less-productive shifts (a Tim Horton’s open at 3am) and then use the money saved to raise wages for their remaining employees. This would address the “labour shortage” issue without requiring everyone to go out and work for minimum wage. The TFWP only provides a disincentive to making these needed increases in productivity and compensation levels. And what does minimum wage have to do with the TFWP? You think the foreign workers don’t deserve the same pay as the rest of us?

  • kelly

    It’s time for people to accept that we are not going to go back to the old TFWP. If you oppose these reforms, give reasons, rather than emotional appeals.
    You can not say that the TFW send “every extra penny back home”, and then say this is beneficial to our economy. You just can’t defend this contradiction.
    You can not use their supposed work ethic as a justification for the use of a program which was only intended to fill jobs for which Canadians are not available. This is a program meant to address labour shortages, not character issues.
    You can not complain about spending thousands on TFW, paying for their flights, housing and medical care, while offering only minimum wage employment to Canadians, with none of these benefits, and then expect sympathy from these same Canadians..
    You can not bring people over using a temporary program with the expectation that they will get to stay permanently, and then complain when the government finally enforces the rules.
    Honestly this is not about a “handful” of scandals. This is something which has been building up for years. Thousands of people like myself who saw this program being abused, first hand. People who didn’t go to the media, and didn’t complain out of respect for their employers. With articles like this always praising the TFWP, honestly that respect is starting to wear thin.


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