The Conservative government has mismanaged the Temporary Foreign Worker Program so badly they have more than doubled its intake of temporary foreign workers (TFWs), admitting almost as many temporary workers to Canada as new permanent residents in 2012.
The end result has been fewer jobs for Canadian workers, the suppression of Canadian wages, and, in some cases, the exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers.
More fundamentally, the Conservatives undermined Canada’s longstanding nation-building immigration system — where we welcome permanent immigrants and their families and encouraged them to become citizens and full participants in our communities. The Tories sought to replace that system with guest workers who come here for a few years and are then shipped out.
This has been intentional. In 2007, Minister Diane Finley was clear, saying “we’ve expanded the temporary foreign workers program very significantly and very deliberately.” The Conservatives loosened all the rules in the book. They shortened the time an employer had to actively search for Canadian workers before accessing the foreign worker program. They extended the length of time a temporary foreign worker can work in Canada. Yet they failed to create safeguards to ensure employers were telling the truth on those applications.
Then, like a reckless driver, after years of pushing the accelerator to the floor on TFWs, a political crisis broke out, and the government slammed on the brakes, imposing a moratorium on the whole food services sector. Had they managed the file competently to begin with, such a moratorium would not have been necessary.
The Liberal Party has proposed a reasonable five-point plan to fix this mess. Scale the program back and focus on its original purpose — to fill labour shortages when there is a legitimate need. Tighten the rules to ensure employers genuinely seek Canadians first. Enforce those rules and impose severe penalties on violators. Increase the transparency of the program so that Canadians can know the number of jobs in each occupation and community that are being offered to TFWs. And finally, re-focus on bringing in immigrants for whom a path to permanent residence is available.
We cannot allow Canada to become a country that exploits large numbers of guest workers who have no realistic prospect of citizenship. We must restore our core Canadian value of fairness: fairness for Canadians who need work, and fairness for vulnerable people who travel to Canada from abroad in search of a real opportunity to succeed.
Rodger Cuzner, MP
Liberal Party of Canada Employment and Social Development Critic