|| That the House recognize that the use of temporary foreign workers to replace Canadian workers in jobs Canadians are qualified and able to do is an abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and that it is the government's responsibility to ensure that this program is not abused in a way which threatens the wellbeing of Canadian workers and the Canadian economy; that a special committee be appointed, with a mandate to conduct hearings on this critical issue, to hear from Canadians affected by this practice, and to propose solutions to strengthen the rules around the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to prevent abuse; that the committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair is from the government party; that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the opposition parties; that the committee have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the committee no later than April 26, 2013; that the quorum of the special committee be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least a member of the opposition and of the government party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the committee report its recommendations to the House no later than June 19, 2013.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to bring forward this motion on behalf of the Liberal Party. I thank my colleague, the member for for seconding the motion.
Most Canadians, if they had never been aware of the temporary foreign worker program, have certainly become aware of it in recent months. It is important that the issues around the program are given a fair and open airing. Moving forward, many aspects of the program can be addressed and fixed.
It is important to note that the program was brought forward by a Liberal government decades ago to address a particular problem within the Canadian workforce. What the government at the time tried to do was to set out a careful balance between protecting the jobs and wages of Canadian workers and protecting Canadians' access to employment opportunities first and foremost. Also, the intent was to assist businesses and corporations that have legitimate difficulty in finding workers. The third part of that balance was protecting the dignity of temporary foreign workers by ensuring they are paid a fair wage and are treated as fairly as Canadian workers doing that same job.
What we have seen over the last number of years, and what I hope to bring forward in my comments today, is that balance has been knocked out of sync. It has been destroyed. The government has skewed the system to favour the employer only, removing important protections for Canadian workers and treating temporary foreign workers unfairly. That is what has raised the ire of many Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That is what has raised concerns around the program. Hopefully, through supporting and adopting the motion, a committee of this chamber will be able to look into those many issues and aspects and we can get this program back on the rails.
What we have seen happen over the last number of months, and even the last couple of years, is that Canadians are starting to lose confidence. It is not only in this particular program. We have seen interventions made by the government that have caused Canadians to lose confidence in some of these government programs, whether by design, if it is purposeful on the part of the government, bad management, or just a bad idea. However, once we lose that public confidence, once it is breached, Canadians get hurt. When the confidence is shaken in that particular program, Canadian employers, employees, and certainly those who wish to become Canadian employees, all lose.
How surprised would the public be to know almost one in every seven jobs created by the Conservative Party is filled by a temporary foreign worker? That is a fairly significant number. How can this be, when we have almost a million and a half Canadians who are unemployed in our country? That is the question everyone has been asking, but the government has not been able to answer.
If the RBC controversy last week was the straw that broke the camel's back on the Conservative government's temporary foreign worker program, then maybe that is a good thing that it brought it to light.
We have seen this play out before. Last fall we saw the debacle of the HD Mining situation in B.C. where Canadian miners were not allowed the opportunity to gain those mining jobs because they were not able to speak Mandarin. Therefore, we saw the approval of an influx of Chinese miners to take these particular jobs.
When that happens we know there is something wrong with the system and it has to be evaluated.
The alarm bells were ringing on this program far before that. In 2009, the Auditor General issued a damning report, in part about the temporary foreign worker program.
With each controversy, the government's response has consistently been that it is concerned. When the Conservatives knocked the wheels off the employment insurance program, the government was very concerned and was taking it seriously. When anything goes wrong it is very concerned. It does not motivate the government to do anything about it, but it is very concerned.
We are not getting any action. Rather, we are getting a bucketful of concern. It has gone past the concern stage.
I know Canadians are concerned. When they see that the program has exploded by over 200,000 temporary foreign workers in the last six years they should be concerned. When the current government took over, there were 140,000 temporary foreign workers. Currently, there are about 340,000.
Every time this controversy swirls around this program the other response is that it is under review. We have never seen a review or the results of a review, but it is under review because the government is concerned. The government's words have long since become hollow and meaningless.
The Liberal Party realizes that this issue is too important to Canadian workers, Canadian business, and the foreign workers who themselves have to rely on the government's empty promises of reviews and reforms.
This program once had a legitimate role in helping employers deal with acute labour shortages. However, through government mismanagement, the program has gone off the rails and now needs to be fixed. That is why I moved this motion today and why we are debating it.
It makes no sense to have foreign workers increasing while the ranks of the unemployed are growing. Seven years ago in Toronto there were 20,000 temporary foreign workers. The unemployment rate was 7.2%. Now there are over 60,000 temporary foreign workers and the unemployment rate is 8.8% or 8.9%. The math makes no sense. Only a committee of Parliament can conduct an open and transparent review of the program to restore confidence that it is working in the best interests of not only business but workers, temporary foreign workers, and society as a whole.
How did we get in this mess? The Conservatives have allowed the TFW program to go from helping employers with short-term labour needs to one that is quickly becoming a permanent pool of submissive, low-cost replacement workers. That is what they have developed for the country. In the process, they are creating employer dependency on the program and robbing Canadians of work opportunities, especially those Canadians who are underemployed, those sectors such as aboriginal people, young people, and persons with disabilities. These people are being further disadvantaged by the creation of this large pool of temporary foreign workers.
The government loves to brag about the number of net new jobs it has created since the end of the recession. However, the dirty little secret about who is filling those jobs has not yet been told. As I said at the start of my speech, one in seven jobs created by the party since it took office in 2006 has been filled by a temporary worker. The number is unbelievable. It has increased by almost a quarter of a million under the Conservative rule.
Last week the RBC controversy symbolized what is wrong with the program. The rules have become so loose that an outsourcing company received permission to bring in foreign workers to help a Canadian company outsource high-paying, high-skilled jobs to India and then have the Canadian workers train those individuals. For an application like that to get through, either the checks and balances are not there or they were disregarded. It is one or the other.
Over three years ago the Auditor General delivered a damning report on the TFW program, saying it was not run efficiently or effectively and that it was not only failing Canadians but failing foreign workers as well. The government paid lip service to the AG's report and implemented some changes that did nothing to solve the problems then or to solve the problems we are seeing today. The government has repeatedly failed to take responsibility for the problems within this program. Each time a controversy arises, it is review and concern, but whatever changes the government makes, the problems seem to get worse, not better.
The Conservatives say the program is only used as a measure of last resort to help employers with short-term needs, when all the facts show just the opposite.
According to the , as late as last fall, she said, “The program is working well.” She thought everything was rosy. She thought everything was going along as normal. Well, when a company is allowed to hire 200 Chinese miners in B.C. because they cannot find Canadian workers who speak Mandarin, there is something wrong with the program. When we have to allow the breadth of the program and the number of foreign workers to expand when the unemployment rate for Canadians has risen, the program is not working.
I will pose a few questions to try to understand the mess the government has created with this program.
How did this happen? That is the first one we should address. How do we go from 140,000 TFWs in 2006 when the unemployment rate was 6.3% to 340,000 temporary foreign workers when the unemployment rate is 7.6%?
The answer can be traced directly to the misguided policy changes the Conservatives have made through their mismanagement of the program. They increased the number of eligible low-skilled occupations in the program. They fast-tracked applications for certain regions and accelerated the approval process to 10 days for many employers. In addition, they allowed employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15% less than the prevailing Canadian wage rate. They did all this without putting in place the proper checks and balances to ensure the program would not be abused. That is a recipe for disaster.
It is quite telling about the government's priorities and beliefs when we compare how it reformed the temporary foreign worker program with how it reformed the EI insurance program. The contrast it stark. On one hand, the government based its EI reforms around the fundamental belief that EI recipients are lazy and looking for ways to cheat the system. There are new measures that are based on this belief, including forcing people to accept jobs outside their skill range and expertise at up to a 30% pay cut.
The Conservatives now think it is fair and reasonable to send fraud inspectors unannounced to people's homes to investigate them when there is no suspicion of wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, they are cutting EI processing staff, which has caused EI processing times to be the worst since the government took office. It is now routinely taking five and six weeks to get a cheque to an unemployed Canadian.
The contrast is stark. Let us compare this to the changes the Conservatives made in the TFW program. They have loosened the rules in this program, including fast-tracking applications and last year's change that accelerated processing to 10 days for employers. They have allowed employers to pay less, not more, and finally, assuming employers would not abuse the system, taking their word on many applications that they could not hire local employees, that they could not hire unemployed Canadians. They have taken their word on that. That is certainly in stark contrast to the changes they have made in the EI system.
My second question is this: why did this happen?
The government has defended allowing, even encouraging, the explosion of TFWs because of the skills and labour shortage. That is the Conservatives' usual refrain. They have expanded and broadened the temporary foreign worker program as a solution to the skills shortage at the expense of building a sustainable, long-term skills plan.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost. When we do not develop a plan that focuses on investments to benefit employers and workers, provides accurate labour market information to help people understand where the jobs of today and tomorrow will be, increases workplace training to help employees be more productive and facilitates worker mobility to allow people to go where the jobs are and to have their credentials recognized, we end up with the problem that we have here today. It is a shame that the government has wasted seven years using short-term fixes and failed policies to try to address the long-term skills and labour shortage.
I mentioned some of the underemployed groups that have felt the effects of failed Conservative programs and misguided priorities. One of the groups that has come out a loser under the current government is the young people of our country. The government has simply failed Canada's youth. The youth unemployment rate now stands two points higher than it did seven years ago. There is actually a net loss of 50,000 youth jobs over that same period.
The government trumpets its youth employment strategy, yet it supports almost 50,000 fewer student positions now than in the last year that the Liberal government was in power. That number alone tells the story of failed policies and wrong priorities. How can the government justify that, especially when it encourages the rise of foreign workers at the same time? Put simply, the Conservatives have placed a higher priority on outsourcing Canadian jobs to foreign workers than on training our youth for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
The final question I would like to ask is this: what role should temporary foreign workers have in our skills and labour plan?
First, the program was used primarily as a last resort for employers while they found qualified people through offering higher wages, investing in training, and increasing worker productivity.
Second, without doubt certain regions of the country and specific occupations are facing real skills and labour shortages. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We have a responsibility to fix this program for the employers who genuinely cannot find workers. We know that if it was not for temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector in many areas of the country, we would not have an agricultural industry. That could be said in a number of other sectors as well. Properly used, the temporary foreign worker program is an important and needed tool in helping companies deal with legitimate and critical skills and labour shortages.
However, right now we must all agree that the system is broken and that it needs fixing. The program as is cannot continue on the same path. Instead of investing in Canadian workers and companies to create a highly trained and productive workforce, the government has turned to temporary foreign workers as an easy fix, and that has failed. The list of examples of companies abusing the temporary foreign worker program to reduce long-term labour costs instead of using it to solve legitimate temporary labour shortages is growing.
It has come to light and it is at the forefront of discussion across the country now. For us to neglect it as lawmakers and parliamentarians is to do a great disservice to business and to workers in the country. We are doing our society a great disservice.
This is what Parliament is all about. I would hope that the parties here in the House support this motion so that we can get a full airing of the issue and have recommendations brought forward to fix this program.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Mr. Speaker, let me be clear. Canadians will have the first crack at all available jobs. The original intent of the program was to help employers find temporary help in cases where there was an absolute, acute labour shortage.
We are concerned about the recent issues that have come to light and have presented a proposal in budget 2013 to fix the problem.
The temporary foreign worker program should only be used to respond to urgent and acute needs for labour in the absence of Canadians to do the work required.
Our government's priority is jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Among the largest industrialized countries in the world, such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, Canada has the strongest record of growth and job creation during the economic recovery. Since the depth of the global economic recession, the Canadian economy has created over 900,000 net new jobs, overwhelmingly full-time, well-paid jobs in the private sector. The economic recovery has been largely driven by the ingenuity and determination of Canadians and Canadian businesses.
At the same time, we are facing a paradox. There are labour market shortages in some parts of the country, while high unemployment rates persist in others. Changing patterns of economic growth are resulting in declining demand for skilled workers in some industries and rapid growth in demand in others. This is resulting in mismatches between the skills in the local labour force in some regions and the skills needed for new jobs, leading to shortages in some occupations that are key to the economy and prosperity.
Canada's economic action plan 2013 outlines several ways our government is addressing these challenges by connecting Canadians with available jobs.
We are acting now to equip Canadians with the skills and training they need to obtain high-quality, well-paying jobs. Unfortunately, the opposition has voted against many of these measures that help Canadians.
We announced the creation of the Canada job grant, which will establish a more direct link between training and the skills sought by employers.
The Canada jobs grant would provide up to $15,000 or more per person to provide training to connect Canadians with jobs that are going unfilled today. We are creating opportunities for apprentices by making it easier for them to get the experience they need to become journeypersons. We are providing support to underrepresented groups, including persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal Canadians and newcomers to help them enter the labour force and find jobs.
As the pointed out on Friday of last week, there are businesses that have been unable to find the workers they need to function. The temporary foreign worker program is there for them only when there are absolute and acute labour shortages. The rules are very clear. The temporary foreign worker program should only be used if no Canadian worker is available to fill that job.
When employers apply to hire temporary foreign workers, they are required to advertise for set periods of time to ensure that they have exhausted all possible means to hire Canadians. Employers must first advertise in national newspapers. In addition, they are encouraged to recruit among populations facing barriers to employment, such as aboriginal Canadians, older workers, newcomers, persons with disabilities and youth.
With respect to wages, let us be clear. All employers are required to pay temporary foreign workers the same wage they are paying their Canadian workers for doing the same job at the same location.
Employers must ensure that foreign workers are covered by private or provincial or territorial health insurance. According to the employment contracts, they must register foreign workers with the appropriate provincial and territorial workers' safety and compensation boards.
In addition, we have introduced measures to strengthen the protection of temporary foreign workers and to improve the integrity of the program. Employers who misuse the program or mistreat temporary foreign workers would face stiff penalities and could even be banned from the use of the temporary foreign worker program.
While the opposition is calling for more committee study and talk, we are acting. The member for has been part of our large studies that have been undertaken by the human resources standing committee to look into the labour and skills shortages across the country. As part of that study, we travelled to all regions of the country, consulting with representatives, employers and workers. The message we heard was very clear: There are acute labour shortages in several regions of the country. It would be a significant waste of taxpayer dollars to repeat this work and hear similar testimony.
Because of a lack of workers and skilled workers, companies cannot grow and develop, which will slow down our economy at a time when it is beginning to show signs of recovery. And who will suffer? All of us.
That being said, we are concerned about the reports that the temporary foreign worker program has not been used for its intended purposes.
Let me focus for a moment on the actions our government has announced over the last several months. Last year, the government announced a review of the program. We also announced a stronger link between the employment insurance program and the temporary foreign worker program. This link is necessary, because many unemployed Canadians who are qualified to do these jobs sometimes do not even know they exist. Through the new job alerts program, EI claimants will be made aware of local employment opportunities on a daily basis. We also introduced legislative amendments to increase the ability of HRSDC to ensure compliance by employers.
In economic action plan 2013, we announced several reforms to ensure that Canadians will be given the first chance at all available jobs. We will increase recruitment efforts employers must make to hire Canadians before they are eligible to apply for temporary foreign workers, including increasing the length and reach of advertising. We will assist employers who legitimately rely on temporary foreign workers, due to a lack of qualified Canadian applicants, in finding ways to ensure that they have a plan to transition to a Canadian workforce over time. We will amend the immigration and refugee protection regulations to restrict the identification of non-official languages as job requirements when hiring through the temporary foreign worker program.
Finally, we are also proposing to introduce user fees from employers applying for temporary foreign workers through the labour market opinion process so that these costs are no longer absorbed by the taxpayers.
Our government remains focused on job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. The intent of this program is to create economic opportunities for Canadians by providing employers with access to individuals with the skills that Canadians do not currently have to grow their businesses. When this happens, it creates jobs for Canadians and does not reduce them. We have committed to reviewing this program to ensure that Canadians are not displaced and that the program is living up to its original purpose, that purpose being to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages.
This program was never meant to replace Canadian workers with foreign workers. Employers have to advertise before they can access temporary foreign workers. It is clear that all parties in the House recognize the need for this program, as witnessed by the letters from the NDP and Liberal MPs requesting additional temporary foreign workers in their ridings on behalf of employers, including ridings with higher-than-average unemployment rates.
By connecting Canadians with available jobs programs, we are ensuring that Canadians are aware of all available employment opportunities in their local communities.
We are concerned about the issues that have recently come to light and have presented several proposals in budget 2013 to fix this program. Unfortunately, the opposition has chosen to vote against these measures that would help Canadians. In fact, the opposition members have voted against our investments in skills training for Canadians, such as the Canada jobs grant, so that Canadians can fill in-demand jobs. Instead, they are proposing to spend more of taxpayers' dollars so that we can talk further about something the government has already committed to fix.
I would encourage the opposition to actually get behind the G8-leading economic leadership that has been shown by Canada and our , leadership that has resulted in over 900,000 net new jobs here in Canada since the downturn of the recession. I would encourage the opposition to join with us in voting against this motion and to support the actions proposed by our government to fix this program, as outlined in the budget and economic action plan 2013.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise today to respond to the opposition day motion on the temporary foreign worker program. The government takes the recent allegations against the program very seriously. HRSDC officials are looking into the specifics of these situations to complete an investigation.
The original intent of the temporary foreign worker program is to help employers find temporary help in cases where there is an absolute and acute labour shortage. That is an important issue. The program was never meant to allow companies to replace Canadians with foreign workers. The clear focus of our government is on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. As part of that, of course, Canadians must always have the first crack at any available job. Even now, after several years of the worst of the global recession, our economic recovery to date remains fragile. Yes, we are fortunate that Canada has the best economic performance in the G7, the strongest record of growth and job creation, but of course we cannot be complacent.
Our largest trading partner is struggling with a massive debt and modest economic growth. The euro area remains mired in a recession. At the same time, global competition from emerging markets is continuing to intensify, and these are challenges abroad.
However, there are also challenges right here at home. It is no secret that Canada is experiencing a mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills employers are seeking. The skills shortage is particularly severe in some trades and professional occupations, such as electricians, carpenters and engineers. In fact, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is one of many business organizations across the country that has identified the Canadian skills shortage as the number-one issue facing its membership. When all professions are considered, it is estimated that by 2015 there will be 1.5 million skilled-job vacancies and that number will rise to 2.6 million by 2021. Our long-term skills shortage is one of the most significant socio-economic challenges we face in Canada today, and addressing our labour shortages and skills mismatches needs to be a priority in this House for all parties.
I know that both the Liberal and NDP MPs recognize this, because they have written to the on many occasions to intervene on behalf of local businesses. What are they intervening for? They are intervening for more temporary foreign workers. This is even in ridings with higher than average or seasonal unemployment. That is why we need programs that are responsive and flexible to ensure Canada's labour market meets employers' needs and ensures that Canadians look to the Canadian labour market first.
A key part of our plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity is that the government is moving forward with a plan to address the skills challenge. We are working to ensure that Canadians have the opportunities to gain the skills employers are looking for, so they do not need to rely on foreign workers.
Budget 2013 just announced the creation of the Canada job grant, which would provide $15,000 or more per person to ensure Canadians are getting the skills that employers are seeking. I know from my pre-budget consultations with small-business people in my riding that this is a huge issue for them. They need funding to develop the skills they need for their local businesses, and of course business people are the best ones to determine what skills they need. When fully implemented, the job grant would benefit an estimated 130,000 Canadians and would shift training from government to job creators and available workers who are better placed to determine what skills are needed; again, exactly what Canadian business people are asking for. The job grant would do a better job of connecting Canadians to the available jobs by attaching training to an available and unfilled job. We would match that up, and it would be a great program.
We would also create opportunities for apprentices by making it easier for them to get the experience they need. This would include the purchasing power of the government when contributing to projects such as the creation of social housing. For far too long, there has been a reluctance of young men and women in this country to become apprentices. This is why our government would provide additional incentives to reduce barriers to entry for those who wish to enter into the specialized trades.
We would also provide support to under-represented groups, including persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal peoples and newcomers, to help them find good jobs.
There are about 800,000 Canadians with a disability who are not working but whose disability does not prevent them from working. Of those, more than 340,000 have obtained some form of post-secondary education. Our government believes that these individuals are a significantly untapped pool of talent with major contributions to make to Canadian society.
These improvements are part of our long-term plan that is focused on creating jobs, growth and prosperity.
Decisions in the private sector need to be made quickly. If a business opportunity arises in Canada and a Canadian business cannot capitalize on it quickly, then that business does not grow and new jobs and economic opportunities are not created for Canadians.
That is why we have the temporary foreign worker program for those absolute and acute labour shortages. When labour shortages are acute, the temporary foreign worker program is a short-term solution for businesses so they can continue to grow and create more economic opportunities for Canadians. The temporary foreign worker program is intended as a measure of last resort. It was designed to be a short-term solution for employers until a qualified Canadian can be found for that job.
Canadians must always have first priority for job vacancies. If employers cannot demonstrate that they are making genuine efforts to recruit Canadians first, they are not allowed to hire temporary foreign workers. That is clear from the program. The temporary foreign worker program was never intended to bring in foreign workers when able-bodied Canadians are ready, willing and able to take those positions.
As the minister has publicly stated, there have been some issues raised that she is very concerned with, and the government is currently investigating those concerns.
Further to the review of the temporary foreign worker program announced last year, economic action plan 2013 committed to specific reforms to ensure that Canadians get the first chance at available jobs. These changes would include measures to increase the length and reach of advertising for open positions before authorizing foreign workers.
We are also proposing to introduce user fees so Canadian taxpayers do not always have to bear the costs. We would amend the immigration and refugee protection regulations to restrict the use of non-official languages, as a job requirement.
As I previously stated, Canadians should always have the first crack at an available job in Canada.
Let me briefly sum up.
Foreign workers have the same rights as Canadian workers, including the assurance of at least the same pay for the same work at the same location. Let me repeat that. All employers are required to pay temporary foreign workers the same wage they are paying Canadian workers doing the same job at the same location.
Today Canada is recognized throughout the developed world for the resilience of our economy, and I mentioned that earlier. Canada has the best economic performance in the G7. Our low-tax environment, our highly educated and skilled labour force and our natural resource potential combined with a strong financial sector make us the economic envy of the world. However we cannot lose focus. In a fast-changing, competitive global economy, Canadians must continually aim higher to avoid falling behind. The Government of Canada will continue to promote economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
Instead of spending more time studying this issue, I invite members of the opposition to support the actions that the government is proposing to fix this program. Instead of voting against new funding to help provide the skills Canadians need to find better paying employment, the opposition should support our economic plan. This is a plan that has created more than 900,000 net new jobs since the peak of the recession.
This is why the government will not be supporting the opposition's motion. We call on the opposition to support our efforts to reform the program in the interest of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am pleased to rise in the House to call the Conservative government to account for its complete mismanagement of the temporary foreign workers program. It has to stop and it has to stop now because Canadians are paying the price.
I do not think I need to remind anyone in the House of the scandals that rightfully have Canadians up in arms and demanding action. It was just a couple of weeks ago that reports revealed that 45 employees at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto were set to lose their jobs after the bank contracted technological services to iGate, an outsourcing firm that uses foreign workers. To add insult to injury, affected bank employees reported that they were asked to train the people taking their jobs. It is disgusting.
According to the rules, none of that should have been possible. Before they are able to hire temporary foreign workers, employers need to get a positive labour market opinion that demonstrates that bringing in foreign workers will not take jobs away from available and qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents. By the government's own admission, RBC did get such an LMO from HRSDC. Clearly, something went very wrong, but neither the government nor the bank are fully taking responsibility.
In the case of the bank, it was a full five days before it issued an apology to workers and offered assurances that comparable job opportunities would be made available to the 45 affected RBC employees. Although the government has acknowledged that the LMO issued to iGate must be reviewed, there is still no timeline for either the review or action.
To make matters worse, we know that RBC is not the only example. Members will of course remember the myriad of news reports last year about HD Mining. In that case, the government had also issued questionable LMOs, this time paving the way for a company in B. C. to hire Chinese workers. The LMOs were issued despite the fact that some 300 Canadians applied for the positions. The upshot in that case is that a judicial review is now under way in Federal Court that will decide the fate of 201 temporary foreign workers hired at HD Mining International's coal mining Murray River project in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. It should never have gone to that point.
The Conservatives keep feigning outrage, but they created the loopholes that allow companies to abuse the temporary foreign worker program and displace Canadian jobs. Clearly, the system is broken.
Let me just give one last set of examples, this time from Alberta.
In 2012, the Conservatives launched a new accelerated labour market opinion to create a fast track stream for higher-skilled workers, such as management, professional and technical occupations. Under the ALMO, employers do not need to provide evidence of considering Canadians for open positions. They simply need to show that they advertised the job on the federal job bank for seven days. Less than 20% of ALMO applications will be subject to a compliance review and very little documentation is required during the application process. Evidence from government documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour showed that nearly half of all ALMOs appeared to be improperly used to fill low-skill positions, such as at gas stations and fast food chains.
There are still 1.4 million unemployed Canadians. As the NDP leader asked in question period yesterday, which skills exactly are required to work at the Tim Hortons that the Conservatives do not think Canadians have?
It is not just happening in Alberta. Temporary foreign workers are replacing clerical workers in Ontario, fish plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador and miners in British Columbia. It has to stop.
The TFW program was never intended to take jobs away from hard-working Canadians. In fact, this may be a good time to review the program's intent. The purpose of the temporary foreign worker program is to enable employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill immediate skills and labour shortages when, and this is the critical part, Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available to do the job. Clearly, that is not how the program is being used now.
Exponential increases in the use of the program, combined with reports that the program is being used against its purpose, prove that the Conservatives have completely lost control. Let us look at the numbers. The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada grew significantly under the Liberals and exponentially under the Conservatives. From 2002 to 2012, the number of TFWs present in Canada more than tripled, from 101,098 to 338,189. The number of TFWs in Canada grew from 100,000 to 160,000 under the Liberals and then doubled again under the Prime Minister.
The problem is that these temporary foreign workers are coming in at a time of record unemployment in the country. As I just pointed out, nearly 1.4 million Canadians are currently out of work. In March alone, we saw the loss of 54,000 full-time jobs, the biggest drop in four years. There are six unemployed Canadians for every available job, and under the current Prime Minister's watch, unemployment has increased by 320,000.
The unemployment rate remains in double digits in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I., and the Conservatives continue to fail Canada's youth, as their unemployment rate has gone up to 14.2%. In my home province of Ontario, employment is down by 17,000. It declined by 15,000 in British Columbia, 11,000 in Alberta and 17,000 in Quebec. Canadians are clamouring for jobs, but the Conservatives are failing them when it comes to job creation, and the jobs that are available are now being given away to the lowest bidder. Let us make no mistake: that is what is really going on here. The government's handling of the temporary foreign worker program is part of its larger agenda to drive down wages in our country.
Let us look at the record. The Conservatives are attacking collective bargaining rights, forcing seniors to work an extra two years and kicking workers off EI unless they take a 30% pay cut. Now they are taking jobs away from Canadian workers and legislating lower pay for the foreign workers who replace them.
The 's message to Canadians is clear: work for less or be replaced. How else can we explain the long record of broken promises when it comes to the temporary foreign worker program? We were promised action in the fall of 2009, in budget 2012, again when the HD Mining story broke, in budget 2013 and again just this month, when the RBC controversy came to light.
We have seen lots of talk. What we have not yet seen from the Conservatives is any concrete action. I worry that the Liberal motion before the House today risks leading us to the same weak results. It is precisely because I agree that the use of temporary foreign workers to replace Canadian workers in jobs that Canadians are qualified to do is an abuse of the temporary foreign worker program that I want to see concrete action.
However, what the Liberals are proposing is to set up a Conservative-dominated committee. How does that change anything? It risks creating a platform for the Conservatives to make more hollow promises without any guarantee that businesses will find the workers they need and that Canadian workers will have the opportunities they deserve. That is the result we must achieve.
Instead of setting up a committee, why do we not just adopt the motion that stands in my name on the order paper? It resolves that in the opinion of the House, the temporary foreign worker program is seriously flawed and mismanaged and that the government should take a number of steps. First, it should stop permitting employers to misuse the program. Second, it should repeal the provision allowing temporary foreign workers to be paid 15% less than Canadian workers. Finally, it should announce a clear timeline for independent review of the temporary foreign worker program and its impact on Canadian employment and labour standards.
I would encourage all members to support this much stronger alternative because it calls for the kind of action and accountability that all Canadians deserve.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak on today's opposition motion.
For quite some time now the New Democrats have been keenly aware that the temporary foreign worker program is being grossly mismanaged by the Conservative government. Indeed, we have been quite vocal about it here in the House.
Over and over again there are cases in the news, and more closely in my parliamentary inbox, that remind me of the government's flawed execution of what ought to be a functional, important and complementary tool for employers and ultimately for all Canadians where genuine skill shortages exist in this country.
Unfortunately, it is all too clear that the program is not being administered with diligence by the Conservative government. Last year's HD Mining debacle in B.C. is one example. The growing backlog under the live-in caregiver program, which the immigration minister himself has admitted is problematic and needs fixing, is another example. Another example is that temporary foreign workers are currently being used to outsource jobs at RBC while their predecessors are training them. The list goes on.
Just over the last two weeks, several individuals have contacted my office to tell the same story. They were brought to Canada as skilled workers and they tell stories of abuse and living in fear. Now we are uncovering staggering abuses of the ALMO.
Let me be clear: I and all my New Democrat colleagues fully support the temporary foreign worker program and believe it should be part of a strategy to help businesses find the workers they need where real skill shortages exist. Our criticism is directed entirely towards the program's mismanagement or, more accurately, its obvious mismanagement under the current government. I want to make sure there is no question about precisely what we are taking aim at here.
The Conservative government keeps feigning outrage over revelations of inappropriate usage of the program, such as those exposed via the evidence out of RBC this month. However, it is the Conservatives who created the loopholes that are currently allowing companies to abuse the temporary foreign worker program to displace Canadian jobs. It is also the Conservative government that is issuing the visas required for the program.
The Conservatives continue to promise full reviews and investigation of this program, yet no substantial changes have arisen. Instead, all evidence suggests the problems with it are only multiplying.
From 2002 to 2012, the number of temporary foreign workers present in Canada more than tripled, from just over 100,000 to nearly 340,000. To break that down, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada grew under the Liberals from 100,000 to 160,000 and then doubled under the current government. Neither side is clean.
In fact, the current government admits the number of temporary foreign workers entering Canada has generally outpaced the number of economic immigrants. In 2012, the gap surpassed 60,000.
Quite frankly, that gap startles me. Knowing that the government allows employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15% less than it would pay a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen, I am compelled to think about the unemployment rates in this country. The government's priority ought to be Canadian jobs. When I look at the unemployment rate, I am deeply concerned. Nearly 1.4 million Canadians are out of work, and in March alone we saw the loss of 54,000 full-time jobs, the biggest drop in four years.
There are six unemployed Canadians for every available job. Unemployment has increased under the current government. The unemployment rate remains in double digits in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and P.E.I., yet the government chooses to focus its efforts on clawing away at EI benefits, conducting spot checks and setting quotas, and punishing Canadians at the time they need that program the most, a program that they paid into.
As well, the Conservatives continue to fail young people. The youth unemployment rate in this country has increased to 14.2%.
When I look at these numbers, I cannot help but suggest that the Conservative government has a responsibility, an obligation, to unemployed Canadians first. That responsibility must extend to ensuring diligent and accurate labour market opinions. There has been a lot of suggestion in cases of late that the LMOs under the current government are not accurately reflecting the market. The skills are already available here in Canada, and those workers are training the migrant workers.
However, it does not seem that the Conservatives agree that they have a responsibility to Canadians first. In 2012, they launched a new ALMO to create a fast-track stream for higher skilled workers such as those in management, professional, and technical occupations. Already, just a year later, investigations imply that ALMOs are being misused to seek foreign labourers for lower skilled occupations. The investigation of the Alberta Federation of Labour revealed that nearly 50% of all ALMOs are being improperly used. This is unacceptable.
Under the ALMO employers do not have to provide evidence that Canadians have been considered for open positions. They need only to show that the job was advertised through the federal job bank for seven days. Perhaps most alarming, fewer than 20% of ALMO applications will be subject to a compliance review. That means over 80% of ALMO applications are granted without any compliance checks.
The government is interested in investigating and reviewing the problem. Might I suggest that its own frivolous issuing of ALMOs is an excellent place to begin? It does not need reviewing, it needs action.
Workers' rights groups continue to raise concerns about rights violations and poor working conditions for these temporary foreign workers in Canada. It is a worry that plagues me deeply as well. Documented incidents include workers being forced to: work in different jobs than the ones they were contracted for, work under dangerous or illegal conditions, keep silent about injuries or illnesses for fear of reprisal from the employer, live in housing provided by the employer that is substandard and overcrowded, and be isolated by their reliance on employer transportation. The Conservatives have not done enough work with the provinces on monitoring conditions for temporary foreign workers.
On November 9, 2012, the indicated that she was not satisfied with how the permits were granted for HD Mining in B.C. Several workers were sent home and the Conservative government announced that it was reviewing the program. The minister made that comment five long months ago. However, the latest stories out of RBC, which have prompted employees from other big businesses to come forward with comparable stories, do not suggest that her review has, thus far, been effective in the least.
The Auditor General told the government in 2009 that HRSDC does not ensure quality and consistency of decisions when issuing labour market opinions. Therefore, last year's HD Mining evidence was not the Conservatives' first indication that the program was broken under their administration.
Finally, I want to point out that it is only after months of New Democrats leading the charge of criticism on the government's mismanagement of the temporary foreign worker program that my Liberal colleagues took note of it. Canadians are tired of empty promises and unaccountable reviews that go nowhere. It seems the Liberals are content with setting up a committee controlled and dominated by the Conservatives.
Canadians want action. New Democrats want action. We are calling for real changes. There have been ample reviews and studies. We know what is wrong with this program. The Conservatives know what is wrong with this program. Therefore, New Democrats are calling on the Conservatives to fix the program now.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to support this motion. The reason we brought it forward is evident. To say that we cannot do anything about this is not true. A standing committee would allow what has been kept underground and what we still do not have answers for to come to light. We would hear witnesses. There would be an ability to travel. There would be an ability to get information that so far has not been forthcoming from the government so that we could see whether the program is working well, whether it is being abused, where the abuses lie, and what can be done about it.
I do not know if the government will have the foresight to support the motion. If it passes I would suggest that this particular standing committee not act in the fashion that the rest of the standing committees are continuing to act, where witnesses are blocked if they are giving contradictory testimony, the testimony itself is not allowed in a report, or the recommendations the witnesses make are ignored. This would not only bring to light the issues and get the accountability and transparency needed on this particular foreign worker program that we think has been mismanaged, it would also allow for clear recommendations to go through rather than allowing the seven members on any parliamentary committee to do what they have been doing, which is to silence witnesses, pretend their recommendations did not get ignored, and have all political parties bring in dissenting reports, which used to be rare in this House and now seems to be done at every single hearing where nobody gets to have anything that the witnesses say come forward.
I want to support this because the temporary foreign worker program itself is a very important part of the Canadian labour market strategy. We know that it brings important economic and labour market benefits. For instance, it is necessary to maintain productivity in certain areas and to improve economic prosperity for Canada. It is an important program.
The program operates under two clear principles. One is that a temporary foreign worker would be brought in to do a job that a Canadian could not do because of lack of skills or knowledge. The other reason a temporary foreign worker would come in is to do the job that a Canadian would not do because of the pay structure or the nature of the job itself. We know there are Canadians who would not do some of these jobs. Therefore, the temporary foreign worker program serves as a benefit to those who “could not do” or “would not do” in terms of the Canadian labour market.
We know the program was established by a Liberal government. There was a careful balance the program was to find, which was to protect the jobs and wages of Canadian workers while bringing in temporary foreign workers, and to ensure that Canadian workers had access in the meantime to the employment and skills training opportunities they lacked, that allowed temporary foreign workers to come in. It was also meant to assist small and medium-sized businesses and corporations that had legitimate difficulties in finding workers. The program was also supposed to protect the dignity of temporary foreign workers by ensuring they were paid a fair wage, were treated as fairly as any Canadian worker doing the same job, and fell under the labour laws of the particular province in which they were working.
The Conservative government has destroyed this balance entirely. It has skewed the system in favour of employers only. It has turned a blind eye to the way this program has been carried out and to the rights of the temporary foreign workers. It has brought in workers not because there was a lack of skills in the Canadian economy but allowed companies, as we have seen with RBC, to bring them in to replace people who can and are trained to do the work thereby completely going against the concept of the temporary foreign worker program. To add insult to injury the Canadian workers who have the skills are training temporary foreign workers to do the work, thereby being deprived of the jobs themselves.
That is not how the system was supposed to work.
The Conservatives may say that, in fact, RBC and others are working under the aegis of the law and that what they are doing is legal. However, we know that by completely ignoring some of the regulations, the current government has not been doing any kind of evaluation or monitoring of what is going on. We have been asking for statistics that would tell us where the workers are working, what kind of jobs they are doing and what they are being paid. We have been asking for that for a long time and have not gotten answers. These questions have been asked since 2006 by the Canadian Labour Congress, and there have been no answers forthcoming from the current government.
The committee we are suggesting would make transparent some of the data we want. The important thing about any program is accountability. To have that there must be monitoring and there must be transparency. This is currently lacking in the temporary foreign worker program. All we get is the mumbling by the government that it is all being done the way it should be done. However, we see that with RBC, for example, it is not being done. We see, for instance, in B.C. that over 200 Chinese workers were brought in, and not because they were needed in B.C. It is a mining province. We have tons of people who are skilled in mining. Yet the Chinese temporary workers were brought in to fill the needs of the mine, and the government allowed this to happen.
The bottom line is that the Conservatives know what the rules are, but they are not enforcing them. They know what the rules are, and they are not monitoring them.
Here we also have the idea that when temporary foreign workers come, they are supposed to be treated under the current labour laws of the country. We saw in the building of the Canada Line in Vancouver going from Richmond to Vancouver that, in fact, two sets of foreign workers were brought in to build the line, because they had the skills. One set came from Europe and another came from Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans came because they were the only ones who knew how to operate the particular boring machinery that was supposed to go underground and create the line itself. They were being paid half the wage of the European temporary foreign workers. They were not given all of the particular benefits they were supposed to get. If it were not for the B.C. building trades, which took this to a human rights tribunal, we would not have known that this was happening. Finally the tribunal had them pay $2.5 million in back wages to equalize how these particular Costa Rican workers were treated in Canada as compared to the European workers.
The government is asleep on the job. The Conservatives should have picked up on that. That happened in 2008. Nothing was said by the government.
Again, no one here is opposed to the temporary foreign worker program. We are looking at what has happened since the government has come to power and what it has done to change the nature of the temporary foreign worker program. Not only that, we have seen a ballooning to about 338,000 temporary foreign workers as of 2012. Good grief. We are living in a time in Canada when so many people are looking for work. Last month, 54,000 Canadians were looking for work, and they are skilled. Yet temporary foreign workers are taking over the jobs Canadians are trained to do and can do. In some instances, temporary foreign workers who are coming in to do the jobs Canadians are not trained to do are being discriminated against. The government is allowing that to happen.
This is not just about the Costa Ricans and the Chinese miners. I have a lot of pilots in my riding. They have written to me and said that the government is allowing temporary seasonal pilots to come into Canada to fly Canadian planes within Canada, and that is interfering with the junior pilot program. Trained pilots in Canada have to do a certain number of hours and get experience flying so that they can move up the ladder and become permanent pilots and get the pilot jobs. This seasonal worker program has completely destroyed the junior pilot program.
We see workers being brought in to do jobs that Canadians are trained to do. This is mishandling, misuse and complete bungling. I hope that this is just because of incompetence and it is not being done because the government wants to facilitate employers actually discriminating against Canadian workers. This is causing people to rise up and be concerned. Yet we cannot get answers. Again, the committee we are talking about would get us the answers.
We need to restore confidence in the program. We need to find out which employers are benefiting from the $35.5 million being paid to process ALMOs. We do not know which employers are benefiting. The government did a consultation and heard from employers that they wanted to be able to bypass the ALMO process and fast-forward it. Not only did they want to fast-forward it, but certain employers and certain companies wanted to be exempt from that kind of second look and transparency. They wanted to be able to just bring in whomever they wanted. This is how RBC did what it did. The government heard that and allowed it to happen. However, what it did not say is that there were three other things the consultation revealed. It revealed that the employers also asked for a minimum two-year contract for temporary foreign workers. We saw that with RBC it was a six-month contract. That alone contravened the concept of a minimum two-year contract.
The employers also asked for that contract to be expanded to four years if no Canadians were trained or able to perform those jobs in the interim. They asked for one further thing, which is not happening and which the government has been very careful to make sure will not happen. It was that temporary foreign workers would be allowed to apply for permanent residence in Canada and therefore become citizens.
Think about it. People are working for two to four years as temporary foreign workers. They now know how to speak English and French. They understand the Canadian workplace. They understand the rules and ethics of the Canadian workplace. They would make excellent ongoing permanent workers.
The temporary foreign worker program was there not only to deal with labour market strategies but to help nation-build. When people came here and learned and were able to work and become fluent in English and French and were able to contribute, they wanted to bring their families. We wanted them to bring their families, at least Liberals did when we brought in the program. We wanted them to put roots down, to build a nation, to have a stake in this country and to know that what is good for the country is good for them and what is good for them is good for the country. We wanted them to become strong Canadian citizens. That is how this country was built. In the most recent years of the last 20 years or so, this country has benefited from the temporary foreign worker program. This is not an exploitation of people who come here, work and then are sent back and told that they cannot apply for residency status. This is what we see the current doing.
We have employers who may argue that the ability to get the information we seek should not be asked of them, because they are private. However, the government has to make very clear that the information it requires from private employers is about accountability to taxpayers, whose money is funding the program. This is the ability to have transparency and accountability that is so lacking in the government.
We have seen in the temporary foreign worker program that provincial laws have not been respected, as in the case of the Costa Ricans who were building the Canada Line. We have seen it with seasonal pilots who were not Canadian pilots who were not getting to move up the ladder when they were well trained to do the job. We have heard this from people in my riding over and over. The mining workers are another example. There are areas where bona fide temporary foreign workers are coming in and are still facing problems and the government is not ensuring that the rules and regulations are being followed.
It is beautiful to read on the website. There are clear rules, regulations and penalties. Yet it was only by happenstance that we found that these rules and regulations have been contravened. The government has not been monitoring and evaluating the program and is not going after the people who are breaking the rules and penalizing them.
It is so important that we get this out in the open. It is so important that the committee be set up and that the NDP and everyone decides that it is an important part of what the government likes to talk about, but never does, which is transparency and accountability to the taxpayer. It is accountability to Canadian workers who are losing their jobs so rapidly and having their jobs and skills taken away in this particular economic climate. There has to be some loyalty to our own citizens.
The minister has announced an annual review. She said that she would do an internal review. Here is a good example. Six months ago, when the Chinese worker problem occurred with the miners in British Columbia, the minister said that she would do a review. There has been no review. We do not know what is going on with it. In the interim, in that six months, RBC has broken the rules.
We cannot trust the Conservative government when it says that it will do an internal review. It has not done it. We need the open process of consultation and hearing witnesses and travelling. We need to find out the reality of what has been happening on the ground.
I hope that the House will vote for the motion. I hope that when the quasi-parliamentary committee starts up, it will function the way parliamentary committees are supposed to function. I hope that it will be open and transparent and that the recommendations that come from witnesses will be brought forward in good faith. I hope that the seven members of the committee will not block it, as they have a tendency to do.
The government must take responsibility for what has happened with the temporary foreign worker program. It must take responsibility for all of the problems it is facing and for the anger of Canadian workers and Canadian taxpayers about the mismanagement of this program. The Conservatives must take responsibility for their ability to be accountable and transparent. If they really take those things seriously, I hope members across the way will vote for transparency and accountability.
Mr. Speaker, I will advise you at the start of my remarks that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for , who does an excellent job with this file as parliamentary secretary.
I am pleased to take this opportunity to address the motion put forward by the member for regarding the temporary foreign worker program. First, let me very clear. The original intent of this program was to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages. As a member of Parliament from Alberta, I know all too well about labour shortages.
The media reports regarding the program of late are concerning, and we are investigating to ensure that the program is working to fulfill its original purpose. We have committed in the budget to fixing the program to ensure that Canadians always have the first crack at available jobs. On the subject of the budget, I would like to speak to the current state of our economy because this has always been and continues to be, of course, this party's top priority.
Canada has fared well despite the current global economic challenges. We have the strongest job creation record in the G7. Thanks to the strong leadership of our and the , Canada has seen the creation of more than 900,000 net new jobs since the darkest days of the recession, most of which are full time private-sector jobs.
As the economy continues to grow, the demand for workers whose skills are in demand will also increase. In some regions, the demand for certain skills has skyrocketed, which results in labour shortages in key occupations that are important to our economy and to our future prosperity. This mismatch oftentimes presents a challenge for employers, workers and, of course, government. That is why I was very pleased to read the human resource committee's report on skill and labour shortages. This work has already been concluded. The report that involved the committee travelling across the country to engage directly with Canadian businesses contained some excellent testimony on the challenges these employers face.
In fact, the member for was a member of the committee during the study and participated in the hearings, where businesses communicated precisely the ways in which the temporary foreign worker program is helping them address these challenges. I raise this because the motion today proposes to set up a special committee to examine an issue that the human resources committee is already empowered to study and has already heard the concerns of Canadian businesses and workers alike about the growing skills mismatch. This study, as well as other pre-budget consultations, was part of the reason we focused so heavily on skills and training in the recent budget. Through economic action plan 2013, we are taking a multifaceted approach to addressing labour market shortages and mismatches.
To start with, economic action plan 2013 invests significantly in skills and training to ensure that all Canadian workers, especially those currently sitting on the sidelines, are qualified to play an active part in Canada's economic growth. We are also increasing support to groups that are currently under-represented in the job market. These include youth, Canadians with disabilities, aboriginals and newcomers to Canada. We want to ensure that every Canadian can find a place in the job market, because Canadian employers need every last one of them.
Most notably, budget 2013 includes a new Canada jobs grant that would provide up to 130,000 Canadians a year with $15,000 to retrain, $5,000 of which would come from the federal government. Provinces and employers would also be expected to match that contribution. As the said, for the first time the Canada job grant would take the skills training choices out of the hands of government and put them where they belong: in the hands of job creators and Canadians who want to work. Most importantly, the new grant should lead to one essential thing for unemployed or underemployed Canadians: a new or better job.
We are continuing to invest in reducing barriers to accreditation for apprentices. We will also reform procurement practices to encourage contractors to employ apprentices on federal construction and maintenance projects. Lastly, to make maximum use of the education and talents of recent graduates, we will invest $70 million over three years to support 5,000 more paid internships for recent post-secondary graduates.
However, we recognize that in some parts of the country there are skills and labour that are needed and cannot be found by local businesses. This is very true in my riding and this is why temporary foreign worker programs exist: to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages.
Indeed, the member for himself acknowledges the importance of this program as he has previously penned letters in support of bringing in temporary foreign workers. The member is joined by members of the Liberal Party, such as his colleagues from , , and . Even the NDP, despite its rhetoric, has had an impressive number of members write in support of this program, including their House leader and even one of their deputy leaders.
It is quite clear that this is a program that has broad support from across party lines. This program allows employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill immediate skills and labour shortages when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available to do the job.
The program plays a critical role in meeting the short-term needs of business in dire need of workers, and I would like to emphasize the notion of dire need. The temporary foreign worker program was designed and should only be used by employers as a last resort.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the media reports concerning the program of late have been very concerning and the government is investigating to ensure it is running as it should.
Our government has committed to ensuring that Canadians always have the first crack at available jobs. Canada's economic action plan 2013 has emphasized that going forward we will work with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers are only called on when Canadians genuinely cannot fill those jobs.
We will expect companies to increase their recruitment efforts to hire Canadian workers before they will be eligible to apply for temporary foreign workers. For instance, they will need to increase the length and reach of advertising about job openings, and we will restrict the identification of non-official languages as job requirements for hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.
I would like the House to take note that CIBC World Markets reported in December 2012 that 30% of businesses in this country are facing a skilled labour shortage. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business stated in its business barometer report that 34% of small and medium-sized companies identified skills shortages as a constraint on their growth.
To meet these demands and to further our economic recovery, our government is increasing support for skills training and apprentices. At the same time we are focusing on creating job opportunities for those facing greater barriers to the labour force, such as youth, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities.
We recognize the need to make sure every Canadian has the opportunity to fully contribute to the Canadian economy. Our economic action plan is continuing to improve Canada's economic growth and long-term prosperity.
Throughout this time of economic growth, we will ensure Canadians get the first crack at all available jobs here at home. Instead of voting against investing in skills for Canadians, the opposition should support our economic action plan. I would encourage all members of this House to recognize that the time for talk is done, and to support concrete actions to improve the temporary foreign worker program.
For these reasons, I will not be voting in favour of this motion. The work has already begun. I thank the House for taking this time to hear me. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this debate regarding the temporary foreign worker program. However, I would argue that this debate would benefit from less rhetoric and more facts.
The fact is that our Conservative government remains focused on job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Canadians have seen concrete results thanks to the actions that we have taken. Our job growth remains the best among all G7 countries. We created over 900,000 net new jobs. Over 90% of these jobs are full-time and close to 80% of them are in the private sector. Both the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have said that Canada is at the head of the pack for economic growth in the years ahead.
The Liberals and the NDP can keep putting motions like this forward, which completely ignore the facts and completely ignore the actions our government has taken, but Canadians see and they know better.
Our government is committed to helping even more Canadians secure employment, which is why we have made significant investments in skills training. For example, in economic action plan 2013 we introduced the new Canada job grant, which was praised by a wide variety of organizations and stakeholders from across the country. Matching the needs of employers with the training Canadians are getting is key to our future economic growth. The Canada job grant will transform the way Canadians receive training.
For the first time, the Canada job grant will take skills training choices out of the hands of government and put them where they belong: in the hands of employers and Canadians who want to work. Job seekers will train at community colleges, career colleges, polytechnic institutes, union training halls, among others. The Canada job grant will benefit hundreds of thousands of Canadians from one side of the country to the other.
Our government is also investing to expand and extend the temporary hiring credit for small business for one year in recognition of the important role that small businesses play as job creators in the Canadian economy.
I will acknowledge that the opposition parties talk a good game, but we know that actions speak louder than words. Both the Liberals and NDP have voted against every one of the policies we put in place to help Canadians across the country get work. The fact that they are ignoring Canadians and experts by voting against the Canada job grant speaks louder than any of the MP rhetoric we are hearing today.
By opposing economic action plan 2013, the opposition is ignoring the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters that said our plan “is very good news for companies creating jobs in Canada”.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce stated that the budget is “a significant step forward in the federal government’s attack on Canada’s skills challenge”.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said, “it will spur growth and job creation while laying the foundation for a more competitive economy”.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association said, “CRFA welcomes action to bring more accountability to skills training programs and to help employers recruit and train Canadians that are under-represented in the labour force”.
That is just a small sample of highly regarded organizations that agree that economic action plan 2013 will help grow the economy, create jobs and improve skills training to get more Canadians into the labour force. Unfortunately, if it were up to the opposition, none of these investments, ideas or concepts would actually move forward.
If the Liberals and NDP had even sat down to read to the budget before deciding to vote against it, they would have noticed that it also included several improvements to the temporary foreign worker program.
Mr. Rick Dykstra: Perhaps the member across the way could quote to me the two pages where we talk about the temporary foreign worker program in the budget. If he has read the budget, I am sure he can stand up in opposition and tell me on which two pages we refer to it.
The foreign workers program is going to ensure Canadians have first crack at available jobs and ensure employers are doing more to recruit and train Canadians for jobs. In short, changes are being made to ensure the temporary worker program is being used only as it is intended: to fill clear and acute labour shortages on a temporary basis across our country.
I cannot understand how the Liberals, and as the member who spoke earlier indicated, can put forward a motion like this, yet at the same time vote against the very changes that will actually improve the program.
The government is conducting a thorough review of it and the economic action plan outlines some of the changes that would be made, for example, working with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers would be relied upon only when Canadians genuinely could not fill these jobs. Economic action plan 2013 requires employers to increase their recruitment efforts to hire Canadians before they will be eligible to even apply for temporary foreign workers. The government will also help employers who legitimately need to make use of the program to formulate plans to transition to a Canadian workforce over time. There is not a company in the country that does not want to hire Canadians. Companies want to hire Canadians, but Canadians are just not there to fill those jobs. This is in addition to other improvements that were announced in previous budgets, which, coincidentally, the opposition also voted against.
We are introducing robust monitoring and compliance measures to ensure that employers are living up to their commitments with respect to wages, working conditions and investments in training for Canadians. The measures will allow for inspections of employers, including site visits, to verify their compliance with program requirements.
In addition to the economic action plan commitments, there will be more changes coming to the temporary foreign worker program, as we continue to consult with workers, employers, unions, migrant rights workers and Canadians across the country.
The opposition's hypocrisy on this issue is not just found in its shameful voting record. It can also be found in the fact that while it stands here today to debate the motion, several of the members of Parliament in the opposition from both parties have written to us asking us to expedite temporary foreign worker visas. Those members come from every region across the country, even some locations with high unemployment rates. Opposition members have also asked that we reverse negative decisions from the department, even when the department finds that Canadians should be able to do the work, or to give expedited processing to temporary foreign workers. The opposition members still come to the government, to the minister and to me to ask, verbally and in writing, if we can assist in reversing a decision that would bring a temporary foreign worker to their very riding.
I cannot stress enough that the government is focused on ensuring, whenever possible, that Canadians are getting first crack at any available jobs and that employers are given the tools they need to match Canadians up with labour market needs in their respective industries. We are also making investments in skills training to help unemployed and underemployed Canadians get back into the workforce.
If the Liberal Party and the NDP actually cared about the issue and were serious about the motion that they presented and that we are debating today, they would not be voting against new investments in job training. They would not be voting against the major reforms to the temporary foreign worker program that would ensure Canadians would get access to jobs first.
It is clear. We have laid out a strategy. We have been working on the temporary foreign worker program since we became the government. We have gone across the country. I have been in every province to discuss and listen to and hear from workers and those involved in the industry, from small to large businesses, from agriculture to manufacturing to technology. Indeed, there are times when Canadians are not able to fill the positions, but these businesses, whether they are small or large, require assistance to bridge that gap. That is exactly what the temporary foreign worker program is.
For the most part, it is not a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency. It is simply an economic tool that has enabled companies across the country to fulfill their mandate in terms of jobs and production and to keep them aggressive on the international front and within their own communities.
I will end by reading from page 84 of the budget:
|| The Government will take action to reform Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program to ensure that Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with pleasure to support a motion that should receive the support of all members of the House.
I must say I am a little discouraged by comments coming from both the New Democrats and the Conservatives. Hopefully after listening, they might readjust their thinking on the issue.
The parliamentary secretary put forward a question about the bigger picture of Canada and whether we want to see Canada do well. Let there be no doubt that the Liberal Party has demonstrated over years of governance that immigration, as a policy, plays a very important role in Canada's future economic prosperity, not to mention the potential goal of enhancing the social fabric in which we all live.
I want to draw a comparison between a Liberal government and a Conservative government. The numbers are very telling: 338,000. This is a number I have repeated three or four times today. Is it really necessary for Canada to have 338,000 temporary foreign workers? I would argue that the answer is no, that there is no need for Canada to have 338,000 temporary foreign workers.
What we need to do is develop immigration programs that will be effective, that will work. Let me give a specific example. I would argue that one of the most successful immigration programs in the last 15 years was the provincial nominee program. It was an economic program for all provinces that allowed them to identify anyone in the world they would like to come to Canada and fill an economic need.
Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signed it off, and former Premier Gary Filmon from Manitoba came to the table relatively quickly. Manitoba saw a good thing at the time, back in 1998, and it signed up very quickly. Not only did we sign up, we made a commitment to grow with that program, because Manitoba saw the benefits of economic immigrants coming to our province. Because of that particular program, the nominee program, our immigration numbers skyrocketed. They went from an average of 3,500 or 4,000 to 12,000 to 14,000.
We can take a look at the economic benefits that the province of Manitoba has generated over the years of this hugely successful program and compare it to the temporary worker program. I have.
The says to show him some facts. Let me give him some facts: in 2008 Manitoba had 5,294 individuals on temporary work permits, and today it has 5,572. It has actually gone down or been consistent. Why has it been consistent? It is because we have taken advantage of a great national program called the nominee program.
Now we see other provinces trying to duplicate what Jean Chrétien and Gary Filmon came to an agreement on back in the late nineties and trying to take advantage of that economic program. Today Manitoba's fear is that Ottawa will not give us the certificates we require to continue to have the success we have had in the past.
That is why I say it is time for the government to look at this resolution. We need to go to different communities, listen to what the stakeholders are saying and hear what not only the government but the business communities or the labour unions in Manitoba have to say about it. It has been a huge success.
We did not need to dramatically increase the number of temporary foreign workers; we were able to provide individuals who were prepared to come to work in Manitoba the opportunity to immigrate to Manitoba. That provided economic prosperity to our province. It played a critical role in family reunification and enhanced the multicultural fabric of our communities.
It is the same principle, and it is not just Manitoba. Other provinces are acting on the nominee program. More than ever before, the demand for certificates continues to grow.
The government's response to that growth: no. Sure, the government has increased it over the years, but it has to realize that the drive for the growth of the program has to come from the provinces.
When Jean Chrétien and the minister of immigration created the program, we anticipated that it would grow, and we were right. The government refuses to recognize the valuable contributions that the program could continue to make to all provinces in Canada. If we had acted on that, the need to have 338,000 foreign temporary workers in Canada today would not be there.
Through the decades we have recognized the role of immigration in our country. Pierre Trudeau brought in the live-in caregiver program. We have the temporary program we are talking about today, which was brought in through the Liberal administration. I just made reference to the nominee program. These are all programs that make a difference and allow us to meet the needs of our labour force while at the same time contributing in other ways.
What about the policy of the government? This minister has been a disaster. The minister of immigration has not done a good job, contrary to what he might like to say.
The government says that the Liberals created a huge backlog in the waiting list. Should I remind the minister of immigration that he created the largest bulk in the shortest time period in the skilled worker class when he introduced MI1? I believe it was well over 150,000 in just a few months.
What was the minister's solution with respect to the 500,000 skilled workers who were hoping to immigrate to Canada at some point and had been waiting for years? It was to hit the delete button and to continue to issue more temporary work permits.
We recognize that temporary work permits do have a role to play in Canada. That is why we support the program's coming into being and its expansion, but we do not support the use of the program to the degree that it could hurt the Canadian economy. We have to offer people living in Canada, Canadians and permanent residents, the first opportunity to gain employment. The way to do that is to put into place a process that allows that to take place.
If employers at McDonald's wanted to hire foreign workers, they would typically go to the human resources office and say that they have been trying hard to hire someone in Canada but have been unsuccessful, and they would request an LMO. The answer should be “no”, because before asking for one, they have to demonstrate that they have met certain criteria, such as advertisements, in attempting to fill those jobs at the restaurant. If, among other things, they were able to demonstrate that they have advertised and no one showed up to fill those jobs, then they would be issued an LMO, which would then give them the authority to go abroad and have someone brought into Canada.
Many would argue that in terms of the skill set for McDonald's restaurants, there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of students or individuals aged 55 and over who are looking for that type of part-time job. It would be tough to convince my constituents that McDonald's really requires temporary foreign workers.
Staying with the restaurant industry, what about a specialty cook? I remember years ago the efforts I had to go through to assist a restaurant to acquire a foreign worker. The restaurant is somewhat unique, because the cooks have to know how to make Indo-Canadian sweets. They have to know how to cook cuisine that is quite foreign to 99% of the population. It can be very difficult to acquire a specialty cook in certain situations. How the economy is performing will often have an impact. There could be a restaurant where there is a justified need, and if the restaurant does not get the cook, it ends up closing down.
That is just one industry. We have industries from coast to coast to coast that need to have temporary foreign workers. That is why the Liberal Party supports the program. Take a look at our agriculture industry. You can talk about the Atlantic region and the fishing industry, strawberries and other industries and go west all the way to B.C. There is a huge demand. If we did not have access to temporary foreign workers, those jobs would go unfilled, and many of those jobs would then be lost forever. Those jobs contribute to our GDP. If we do not value those jobs, our lifestyle today will go down, because we are not talking about two, three or four jobs, we are talking about tens of thousands of jobs.
When the Liberal Party was in government, we had 160,000 of those jobs, but we balanced that with other programs that allowed for immigration, such as the provincial nominee program, which allowed provinces to get into the picture. I was shocked yesterday when I heard the leader of the official opposition stand up in his angry way and say that 340,000 of those foreign workers are taking 40% of the 900,000 jobs that were created. That is wrong. The needs to get more research done on this issue. This is too important. I would assume that the critic for immigration will talk to him and explain the valuable role this program plays for all Canadians. Not only is there a benefit for the foreign worker coming to Canada, but there is equal or greater benefit for Canada.
That is why today we are trying to appeal to all sides of the House to recognize that the best thing we can do to improve the program is to not come to the table with too many predetermined ideas. I can have an open mind and come to the table and go to the province of Manitoba and find out why its need for temporary workers has not increased at all. Yet the province has done exceptionally well economically. Compared to other provinces, it has always been in the top three in terms of low levels of unemployment.
Immigration has played a critical role in that, but so has the temporary foreign worker program. That has been constant. Even when the Liberal Party was in government during times of the highest economic prosperity, we never exceeded 160,000, from what I understand. We believed in a balanced approach. We want Canadians who are unemployed to get first crack at filling these jobs.
We also recognize how important it is to our economy and to our social fabric that we do not lose jobs because we cannot get those jobs filled. That is the reason we have the temporary workers. They continue to contribute in a tangible way.
That is why what we are suggesting is not that much to ask for. It is a pretty straightforward motion. I will be very disappointed and quite surprised if the New Democrats do not vote for the opposition day motion. I will wait and see. Hopefully I am misinterpreting what is being said. I will be disappointed, not surprised but disappointed, if the Conservative government does not recognize the importance of this program.
The Conservatives talk about the economic action plan. Every time one of them stands up and says the word, he or she gets a gold star. The economic action plan is not going to resolve this problem. The economic action plan is a dud. At the end of the day, the only thing that plan is doing is generating a lot of jobs in the advertising industry as the government spends millions of dollars to continuously advertise something that is going to have a negative impact. This is only one component of it.
If the government wants to approach immigration and labour in a holistic fashion, why would it oppose having committee meetings where we could talk about some of these programs? Whether it is the Pierre Trudeau live-in caregiver program, which needs to have some modifications, or the Jean Chrétien provincial nominee program, or even some changes we made to the temporary foreign worker program when we were government, we need to recognize that changes have to be made periodically to improve programs.
I asked the what he envisions in terms of numbers. Today we have 338,000. Where would he like to see that number in five years? Is he happy with that number? Is there another way to change the formula so that Canada benefits?
I am going to suggest that there are many ways we could improve the system so that all Canadians and permanent residents would benefit, not only today but for generations to come.
We can talk about the expanded skilled worker program. If people are good enough to work in Canada for an extended period of time, why are we not allowing them, under certain criteria, to land in Canada? What about those industries that are in constant need? How do we ensure that those industries are going to be there providing continual economic benefit for our country?
I thank the House for the opportunity to say a few words.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for today.
I am pleased to be here to speak to the motion on temporary foreign workers.
First, let me echo the comments of my colleagues that we are concerned about some of the recent matters highlighted in the media as of late. It is unequivocally unacceptable for Canadian companies to be laying off Canadians to replace them with foreign workers. I think that is something with which all members of the House would agree. As the minister has made clear in her statement on this matter, HRSDC officials are reviewing the matter.
In budget 2013, we committed as a government to make several changes to strengthen the temporary foreign worker program. Canadians must always have the first crack at any available job. We have been consistent on that position with the program.
Our government's focus from day one of this mandate has been on jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Connecting Canadians with available jobs has been our mission. Through the expanded job alerts program, unprecedented funding for work sharing and skills training during the recession and targeting supports for older workers through the targeted initiative for older workers, our government has consistently put Canadians first.
Among the largest industrialized countries in the world, such as the U.S., Germany and Japan, Canada has the strongest record of growth and job creation throughout this economic recovery. Since the depth of the global economic recession, the Canadian economy has created over 900,000 net new jobs. Overwhelmingly, these are full-time, well-paying jobs in the private sector. We are doing well, but we cannot afford to become complacent.
The global economy remains fragile and the United States, our largest trading partner, continues to struggle with massive debt and modest economic growth.
Canadians may legitimately ask how, in a country with 7% unemployment, there could be a shortage of qualified applicants in any job. Yet, skills and labour shortages are a reality and they are affecting the ability of Canadian businesses to grow and compete. We have a mismatch on our hands between the skills that workers have and what employers need to hire to keep their businesses running smoothly and successfully.
The , the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and many others have called it one of the most difficult challenges Canada faces today.
Here are some more sobering statistics. When all professions are considered, it is estimated that by 2016 there will be 1.5 million skilled job vacancies in Canada. By 2021, that number will increase to 2.6 million skilled job vacancies. If we cannot find ways to fill our skills and labour gaps, we will lose ground significantly and all Canadians will suffer.
As someone from the Maritimes, I am all too familiar with those facts. In the Maritimes we now have the shipbuilding contracts coming to Halifax. We have the lower Muskrat Falls hydro project almost under way. There are going to be unprecedented opportunities for the skilled trades in my region. However, there will not be enough workers in the region to support this demand that will be there over the next decades. We need to invest now in training our workforce so people across the region can take advantage of this economic opportunity.
Our government is working hard to make this happen. We have made skills and training a central pillar of economic action plan 2013. With 18 years as a professional educator, it is the first budget in my memory that has education as its centrepiece. We are ramping up our efforts to give Canadians better labour market information so they can be better prepared for the jobs that are out there. We are encouraging employers to tap into demographic groups that they may have overlooked before, such as young people, aboriginal people, people with disabilities and workers over 55. We want as many Canadians as possible working.
Recent news stories about the use of the temporary foreign workers program have once again led to confusion and concern among Canadians. These stories have revived the persistent myth that our government's temporary foreign worker program is designed to undercut Canadian workers by giving employers access to cheap foreign labour.
There is a lot at stake here, so I want to tackle the myth of cheap labour head on.
The temporary foreign worker program has never been intended to save money for businesses by allowing them to ignore qualified Canadian applicants for jobs in favour of foreigners who would work for less money. The program has always been about filling vacancies where there are no qualified Canadian applicants. This is the most basic principle of the program. That is why we are reviewing and reforming the program to make it work better to ensure that Canadians always have first opportunity at available jobs.
As we have said many times, employers are required to do everything reasonable to find Canadian candidates for their job openings. Only when they cannot find a qualified Canadian are they allowed to hire from outside the country.
When companies are able to get foreign workers, it actually benefits Canadian workers, because when businesses expand, there is a ripple effect and more jobs are created.
The moment temporary foreign workers arrive in Canada, they have the same rights on the job as Canadians, including the right to be paid a fair wage. It is unfortunate that there is so much information out there, with big unions telling Canadians that temporary foreign workers are paid less than Canadians. Every employer must pay a temporary foreign worker the same wage it is paying its Canadian workers for doing the same job in the same location.
As I have said before, our government is aware of the concerns Canadians have with the temporary foreign worker program. The review we have undertaken would address these concerns.
Budget 2013 announced several initiatives we are pursuing in the coming months. We will require employers to increase the intensity of their efforts to hire Canadians before we judge them eligible to get temporary foreign workers imported into the country. We will, for example, expect them to advertise over a longer period, to a wider audience, when they have jobs available.
We will help employers which currently rely on temporary foreign workers to plan for transition to an all-Canadian workforce. We are proposing to introduce a fee for employers requesting temporary foreign workers so the Canadian taxpayer will not have to pay for these processing costs.
Our government will never stray from our commitment to strengthen the economy for all Canadians. We are going to do what it takes to ensure Canadians always have first opportunity at any available job. However, we do not need several more months of talking on the subject.
Budget 2013 has laid out concrete proposals for fixing the program. For that reason, I am asking the opposition to quit playing politics and work with us on positive solutions.
Therefore, I will not be voting for the motion. I urge all members of the House to join me in standing up for real action by voting against the motion.
Mr. Speaker, our government's priority is jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. That is why Canadians elected a strong, stable, Conservative majority government. Canadians understood that the economic leadership of the was key to navigating the difficult economic times we faced.
That trust paid off, and we have seen the creation of more than 900,000 net new jobs. Most are full-time jobs in the private sector, with over two-thirds being in high wage industries. This reflects the strength of Canada's economy amidst global economic uncertainty.
As good as these results are, however, our focus is still on getting Canadians back to work. While there are currently thousands of jobs across Canada going unfilled, there are still too many Canadians looking for work. We are confronted with mismatches in some regions between the existing skills of the local labour force and the skills that are required by employers for new jobs. This is leading to shortages in some occupations that are key to our competitiveness and continued economic growth.
As a member of the human resources committee, I have heard many employer and employee groups appear before the committee to discuss how we can address this growing skills gap. I have also heard this from employers and employees in the great riding of .
Our committee has travelled across Canada to gather testimony. We focused on apprentices, persons with disabilities and those in rural and remote parts of the country. In every one of these studies, in every corner of the country, we have heard of the growing skills mismatch and how this is a pressing issue facing our economy.
Canada's economic action plan 2013 details the government's strategy to connect Canadians with these jobs. Through our EAP, we will equip Canadians with the skills and training they need to be hired in these quality, well-paying jobs.
We announced, as an example, the creation of the Canada jobs grant, which could provide $15,000 or more per person. This grant would shift the planning and delivery of training from government to job creators. This would directly connect Canadians who are unemployed or those looking to advance within their workplace with a job that is currently going unfilled.
We would create opportunities for apprentices by making it easier for them to get the experience they need to get to journeyperson status. We would also provide funding for 5,000 more internships for those who have recently graduated from college or university, and we would provide unprecedented support to groups that have faced barriers in the past to full labour market participation, including persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal peoples and newcomers, so that they too can find meaningful work.
I mention these examples because I believe there is a misperception as to the intentions of the government when it comes to this program. Our government is doing everything in its power to ensure Canadians have the first crack at available jobs. We are investing in the skills of Canadians in unprecedented ways to ensure they have the qualifications to find better-paying employment.
Employers need to prove there are no Canadians available to fill a job before they can turn to foreign workers through the temporary foreign worker program. In areas of absolute and acute labour shortages, the temporary foreign worker program exists to help businesses get short-term workers to grow their businesses.
I know the opposition members appreciate the need for this program. How do I know that? At least eight NDP MPs lobbied for more TFWs in their ridings, and at least five Liberal MPs have done the same.
While we can all agree that temporary foreign workers should not displace Canadian workers, it is a little hypocritical to have the opposition members across the way vilify a program in public when in private they are demanding more from it.
On one hand, the member for —
Mr. Speaker, for a member who has been here a long time, one would think he would know the difference between a point of privilege and a point of order.
The member for was quoted as saying:
|| Temporary foreign workers are an important part of our economy....
||...some of the best workers are temporary foreign workers.
On the other hand, the exact same member said:
||...the temporary foreign worker program has been consistently abused as a vehicle to replace Canadian workers with foreign workers.
Which is it? Are TFWs an important part of our economy and some of the best workers, or is the program abused and a vehicle to replace Canadian workers with foreign workers?
Those of us on this side of the House believe that Canadians must always have the first opportunity at available jobs. It has never been the intent of the program to exist as an alternative to hiring Canadians.
Budget 2013 committed the government to fixing some of the problems that are in the program. We have committed to doing such things as increasing recruiting efforts, as well as the length and reach of advertising. We will also work with employers, when there are no qualified Canadians, to develop a plan to transition Canadian workers over time. We will restrict the language requirements for temporary foreign workers to official languages only.
Let me be clear. Hiring temporary foreign workers does not mean creating a pool of second-class labour. Employers cannot exploit or neglect their temporary foreign workers. They have to follow the rules, provide a safe work environment and ensure their well-being.
If not, they will find themselves banned from the temporary foreign worker program. These workers have the same rights and protections as all Canadian workers under applicable federal and provincial employment standards and laws. Foreign workers are registered with the workers compensation board, and they also receive private or public health care coverage, as any Canadian would receive.
A further reflection of our commitment to fairness and equity in the program is the fact that foreign workers must be paid the same wage as Canadian workers for doing the same work they do for an employer. Let me be clear on this point, as union leadership and opposition MPs have been intentionally misleading on it. Temporary foreign workers cannot be paid less than a Canadian. Employers must provide documentation to demonstrate that the wage being paid to a temporary foreign worker is exactly the same as that being paid to Canadian employees doing the same work in that region for the employer.
In conclusion, let me say that the government's focus is on helping Canadians find meaningful work. We are investing in Canadians so they can find better-paying jobs today. However, there are parts of the country where employers cannot find the labour or skills they need to grow their businesses.
I will not be supporting this motion today. The government is at it; our hard-working is on the file. We will be bringing forward changes to strengthen the program and make sure the program works for the workers, for the employers and for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand to speak on this motion by my colleague from . It is important, after this long a debate, to remind the House what the motion really is. It states, “That the House recognize that the use of temporary foreign workers to replace Canadian workers in jobs Canadians are qualified and able to do is an abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program...” It goes on to state that a special committee “have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada...”
This is a serious issue. The need to consult Canadians on the temporary foreign worker program is critical and one that the government should support if it has been honest about how the program has been working. There have been a lot of answers from the government claiming it is concerned, we heard the word “concerned” used about 20 times by Conservatives, that there will be an internal review, it is going to fix any problems, and so on. Why not show some openness and transparency? Why not allow Parliament to do its function? Why not allow MPs to do their jobs without the strings of the PMO attached to the shoulders of the backbench members on the government side?
If the government has been truthful in its remarks thus far that it has not allowed deliberate abuse of the program, then it should be the first to support this motion. We now know, though, sadly, that the government, by the remarks of the parliamentary secretary, will not support the motion. The parliamentary secretary speaks for the government. Conservative MPs stand time after time and talk about “our government”. They still do not seem to realize that they are not members of the government but members of the governing party. They are members of the House of Commons. They can speak in their own right. They could support this motion.
I hear the member for squeaking a bit over there. He can stand in his own right. That would be wonderful to see. I have listened to quite a number of backbenchers and I suspect this summer there will be a cabinet shuffle. Maybe the backbenchers are vying to get into cabinet and they do not want to cross any lines. However, for the backbenchers on the Conservative side who have been speaking out there is a real opportunity here.
There is a real opportunity for us to show Canadians that this place can work and that members of Parliament from all parties can do their jobs, hold hearings and, yes, have differences of opinion, but come back with recommendations for the government. If backbenchers in the Conservative Party support a recommendation in a committee, that does not mean they are undermining the government. They are making a recommendation as part a committee based on what they heard across the country for the government to do something better and the executive branch of government can reject or accept that recommendation. That is how this place is supposed to work.
What backbenchers in the Conservative Party seem to fall back on, and it obviously comes from the , is the following:
|| [The] Minister...has launched a review of the temporary foreign worker program in the wake of allegations that the Royal Bank of Canada is laying off Canadian citizens for immigrant labour.
That is what they are falling back on: an internal review.
Mr. Brad Butt: Good. Great.
Hon. Wayne Easter: The member for says yes.
Well is that not wonderful? Not only is the PMO pulling his puppet strings, but now the bureaucrats at HRSDC are telling him what to do. That is who he is going to listen to, not the people of Canada. Come on, folks in this House. We are MPs. We have a responsibility. There is a problem with a program out there. We need a special committee to go out and hold hearings and to meet business people across the country and do our job. For heaven's sake, through you, Mr. Speaker, allow the PMO to allow members of Parliament to do their job. That would be a wonderful change in this place because we have not seen it happen in all of the six years since the current took his seat as Prime Minister. So I am saying that this so-called review by the minister is not enough.
A lot will be said in this discussion today, for and against temporary foreign workers and why the situation is as it is. However, I want to spell out that, at least from my perspective, it is a very important program. I see the and he knows full well how important the program is to many in the agriculture sector. Many in my province use it. It is necessary, but it needs to be balanced with the rules so that Canadians' jobs are not taken away.
I will come to another point that is important to me, and that is what has been happening in this place as I have sat here and listened to this discussion today. What is wrong with holding a committee hearing? What is wrong with us doing our job? There was a time in this place when the government members would go out and do a green paper. They would consult and get basically an initial discovery view, and there would be white papers and special committees that would go out and hear all the views from business people and so on. That is really what we need to do here. We need to hear from the people in big business and small business, some of the companies that are using temporary foreign workers, some that are rightly doing so and perhaps some that are not. We need to hear from members of the various industries, be it agriculture, fish plants, or whatever it may be, and see what they think needs to be done.
I raised with you, Mr. Speaker, a moment ago and I raised it this morning, two separate points of order on the same issue related to what I have seen in this discussion today. Quite honestly, I find it very disgusting, what three members on the government side have said.
The member for , got up and accused the NDP of writing somewhere around a dozen letters asking for temporary foreign workers. The got up and accused the MP for of writing a letter for a temporary worker. Just a moment ago, the member for got up and said that at least eight New Democrats and at least four Liberals have written letters asking for temporary foreign workers. He says it is all true. How do we know that? Is it the Conservative spy and attack machine that is providing that information? Does every member over there on the Conservative side of the House know to whom I have written a letter in terms of the ministry? Do the Conservatives know the people who have asked me to make those requests? We know the tactics on the other side. They are divide and attack. That is what their tactics are, and the whole purpose of their even saying that the New Democrats or Liberals wrote letters is because they are trying to undermine the argument on this side. They are talking in half-truths and half-information.
This is a serious matter. It undermines the right of my constituents to have me write a letter to a minister requesting anything, and if I follow through on that letter I can expect to be attacked by the Conservative attack machine, by a backbench member who should not have the information from HRSDC or any other ministry in this country. What is happening to this Parliament?
Mr. Speaker, we know the kind of games; we know what access to information is there for. We know the directions come from the centre to find any means to undermine, to attack and to discredit. That is not what Parliament is supposed to be about.
Why I am so strongly in favour of this motion of a special committee is to try to show Canadians that this place can work. We can work together as MPs. We do not have to take direction from the Prime Minister's Office. The backbench members over there do not have to take direction from the Prime Minister's Office. We could do our job, hold the proper hearings and come back with recommendations, and the cabinet could accept or reject those recommendations. That would be doing our job.
Let us understand what we are really speaking about. I may have got a little off track, but the fact of the matter is that I believe in my country. I believe in democracy and I want to see this democracy work. It is being severely undermined in this very place.
The program was initially proposed, designed and established by a previous Liberal government, but it worked then. It was not undermined. The program was established by a previous Liberal government and was initially designed to achieve a careful balance of three equally important objectives. The first was to protect the jobs and wages of Canadian workers and Canadian access to employment opportunities. The second was to assist small businesses and corporations that have legitimate—and I underline that fact—difficulties finding workers. The third objective was to protect the dignity of temporary foreign workers by ensuring they are paid a fair wage and are treated as fairly as Canadians workers doing the same work. That is what the program was really about in the beginning.
A recent article on the issue of temporary foreign workers provides a summary of why the House should support the motion here today. It was by Erin Weir, in the online Globe and Mail. It said:
|| Reports of RBC outsourcing jobs to temporary foreign workers to replace existing Canadian employees should prompt a broader debate about the massive expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in recent years. Is this program addressing genuine “labour shortages” or undermining job opportunities and wages in Canada?
A number of speakers have spoken along those lines. The article went on:
|| The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has more than doubled since the Harper government took office. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration reports the presence of 338,000 temporary foreign workers at the end of 2012.
Since 2006, that is a 140% increase in temporary foreign workers in the country, from 140,000 to 338,000. It is a serious matter. Certainly, some of them are needed in some sectors, but some of it is certainly an abuse of the program, and that is the reason we should be holding hearings.
The scale of the issue should be placed in a context that is both understandable and shocking at the same time, given the current reality of unemployment and underemployment in Canada. Since 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased by 24,000, or 60%, in Toronto; 18,000, or 70%, in Quebec; and 5,000, or 80%, in the Atlantic provinces. Together, these regions of high unemployment account for most of the post-recession increase in Canada's temporary foreign workforce. With the exception of Toronto, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, wages in these regions are below the national average.
To put it into perspective, the temporary workforce is now almost as large as New Brunswick's entire employed labour force and far exceeds that of Newfoundland and Labrador, not to mention Prince Edward Island. With remarkably little evidence or public consultation, the temporary foreign worker program has added the equivalent of a small province to Canada's labour market. That is how serious this issue is. It needs to be balanced in where to find and use temporary foreign workers, which is fine. However, what are the rules around those particular temporary foreign workers?
I do not want to talk about my own province because we do utilize temporary foreign workers.
In its report, the Cooper Institute stated this about how temporary foreign workers are treated:
|| In 2012 the federal government announced changes to the TFWP that will come into effect in 2013. One of these changes allows the TFWs to be paid up to 15% less than their Canadian co-workers, but not less than the minimum wage. Before this TFWs had to be paid the same wage as Canadians. TFWs are vulnerable in ways that most Canadian workers are not. If they issue a complaint, even to the authorities, they can be fired and sent back to their home countries.
Then there is the whole issue of housing. There is the whole issue of maybe having to pay money to a recruitment agent. As well, there is the whole issue of insecurity. These people are certainly under some pressure.
Specifically in my own province, are temporary foreign workers taking jobs from islanders? The Cooper Institute claims:
|| No. Before hiring TFWs, employers need to go through a process that shows they have advertised for Canadian workers, and that they didn't receive enough applications. Also, most employers of TFWs report that they still have job vacancies for any Canadians who may want to apply for work.
I have had experience with that myself, where I have had to work strenuously with the labour market opinion to allow a film crew that was working on a fairly major film to come to Prince Edward Island. They did not have the skills on the island to do it. We were able to do that.
However, it is important that there is the right balance in terms of temporary foreign workers coming in.
We all know that there are serious problems with the temporary foreign worker program. This recommendation is requesting not an absolute solution right now but rather making a recommendation that a committee go out there, do its job, meet with the business community, whether big or small, the hospitality industry, the tourism industry and the farming industry to hear what people have to say, find the problems, look at the solutions and meet with HRSDC. It would give us the opportunity to show Canadians that there is a role for MPs and that the backbench Conservatives do not have to take their direction from the PMO. Rather, they could actually work as a team of parliamentarians and go out there and work together, do the hearings, find the solutions and make recommendations.