Mr. Speaker, we have never heard “Infoman” mentioned in the House of Commons so much as in the last week. This is because of the Conservative Party's electoral “deform”.
I am very proud to rise in the House today to speak to the NDP motion moved by my colleague from concerning the use of the temporary foreign worker program. In my opinion, the motion is perfectly reasonable and very clearly represents the concerns of the unemployed workers of this country.
We should keep in mind that 1.4 million people are looking for work in Canada. That is a huge number. These people are shocked to see that, all too often, the hiring of temporary foreign workers prevents them from getting jobs. It is a very serious concern.
The Conservative Party has shown blatant inaction in this matter. For years, the Conservatives have let the numbers skyrocket and have closed their eyes to requests that were unjustified and unjustifiable, even to their own eyes, depriving Quebeckers and Canadians of good jobs.
This is why the NDP motion calls for a moratorium on the stream for lower-skilled occupations, but, above all, calls on the auditor general to conduct an urgent audit of the whole program. The whole program must be reviewed.
The may be surprised to hear me say this, and I can see him coming a mile away, but the temporary foreign worker program is necessary. We are not questioning the existence of the program, because it is part of what makes our economy tick.
I represent a Montreal riding, but I come from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. I remember summers in my youth when I spent many hours under a burning sun picking strawberries and raspberries so that I could afford to buy myself certain things.
Today, not enough people from the region are helping the farmers by doing jobs like that. We need people from outside to give us a hand during the summer. Clearly, farmers could not do without these workers. That is also true in other sectors.
Let us not forget that the purpose of this program is to fill gaps in our labour market, to address labour shortages or labour training needs. We must be careful to ensure that bringing in a temporary foreign worker will never prevent a Canadian or Quebecker from getting work.
The Conservatives' inaction has caused the dramatic situations we have seen in the media all because they quite simply washed their hands of the whole thing. Maybe they were just as happy to bring in cheap labour to put downward pressure on wages. They were so intent on getting cheap labour that budget 2012 provided for employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15% less for the same jobs and the same work. If that is not downward pressure on wages, then I do not know what is. This caused such an uproar that the Conservatives had to withdraw this measure, which fortunately was never applied.
The second point I want to make today has to do with how temporary foreign workers are treated. We have to understand the situation they are in. The NDP thinks that we should better protect temporary foreign workers. If we really need these people, then we should make them Canadian citizens. Then they would have rights. As things stand, far too often these people are exploited and forced to pay for room and board. Some even end up in substandard or dangerous working situations.
They almost never complain because that often causes them to be sent back to their country of origin and to lose their pay, which affects them and their families. We must ensure that these workers can organize, have rights and defend themselves. That is essential if we want to ensure respect for these people who deserve to work in safe conditions and receive a decent income, even though they are not yet Canadian citizens.
I am thinking about domestic workers who are hired as nannies or housekeepers and do not have the right to change employers during their time here. That leads to cases of serious abuse, harassment and molestation. The victim knows full well that she cannot change employers. If she decides to do so, her contract will be terminated and she will have to go home. I have often met with people from the Filipino domestic workers' association in Montreal. They have educated me about their reality. We need to keep this in mind when we are talking about the temporary foreign worker program.
Some of the numbers are quite revealing. The number of people who have come here through this program increased considerably while the Liberals were in power. However, it has risen exponentially under the Conservatives.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of temporary immigrant workers in Canada more than tripled, increasing from approximately 100,000 to nearly 340,000. I doubt that labour market needs tripled between 2002 and 2012.
It is really astounding. Since the Conservatives came to power, the number of immigrants who come as temporary workers has surpassed the number of economic immigrants who settle as permanent residents. We are bringing in more cheap labour, people who often take jobs away from Quebeckers and Canadians, instead of making people Canadian citizens when they apply as economic immigrants. The system is completely unbalanced.
Under the Conservatives' reign, we have far too often seen labour market opinions get rubber-stamped. Anything and everything is given the green light. No one checks to make sure that there really is a shortage in a given place or region or that there really is a need for foreign temporary workers, without whom the work would not get done.
I spoke about the agriculture sector earlier, but we are now seeing that the hotel and restaurant sector is starting to use the program, as is the banking sector. I was in British Columbia a few months ago. I met with people from a stage technicians union. They, too, had a problem because it was cheaper to hire the American stage technicians who were coming to work in Vancouver. Canadian workers were not being hired. This is a problem even in the arts and culture sector.
During the first year under the Conservative watch, in 2006, the number of temporary foreign workers in lower-skilled job categories, at places like Tim Hortons and McDonald's, doubled over 2005. The following year, between 2006 and 2007, that number went up by 419%. In just one year, there was a jump of 419% in all lower-skilled occupations. Is there really no one in Canada, in Hamilton or Rimouski, who can serve coffee and doughnuts or sell fries and Big Macs at McDonald's?
That is the question we have to ask ourselves. That is the question my colleague from British Columbia is asking us and the House through this motion. The Conservatives keep saying that they are going to take action and that this is unacceptable, but the cases are multiplying. There are more and more cases.
Of all Canadian industries, the hotel and restaurant sector is the one with the highest number of labour market opinions. That is the authorization employers have to request from the department. In 2012, there were 44,740 positive labour market opinions, which is an increase of 926% over 2006. The consequences are very real.
Let me just give the example of Sandy Nelson. She worked in a restaurant in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. She was a waitress for 28 years in that restaurant. She provided her services to the employer without ever being reprimanded or disciplined. She was a model worker who dedicated her entire career to the clients of the restaurant. Last week, we found out that she was replaced by a temporary foreign worker, even though she was there and doing her job.
We have seen several examples in the mining sector, in British Columbia and Alberta. According to a study by the C.D. Howe Institute, if the temporary foreign worker program were not abused to such an extent in Alberta and British Columbia, the unemployment rate would drop by 4%. That is unbelievable.
I congratulate my colleague for this motion. I hope that all parliamentarians will stand up in the House to support Quebec and Canadian workers.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
Let me begin by defining terms because I find that there is fairly widespread confusion about what actually constitutes what we call the temporary foreign worker program. To be honest, I think it is a misnomer. When most people hear the words “temporary foreign worker program”, they tend, immediately and quite logically, to associate it with efforts by employers to apply to bring in workers from abroad at various skill levels. They particularly tend to associate it with low-skilled positions. However, we need to understand that, in fact, only 38% of the so-called temporary foreign workers who are admitted to Canada each year are attached to a labour market opinion.
Let me explain for folks who may not understand what a labour market opinion, or LMO, is. This is the process that the government has long established, administered by Service Canada, to ensure that employers inviting someone to work from abroad have first made every reasonable effort to hire and recruit Canadians to do the work and that the employers have demonstrated to Service Canada that no Canadians are available or willing to do the work at what is called the prevailing regional wage rate. They have to satisfy various requirements with respect to advertising that have actually been lengthened due to one of our reforms last year. They have to advertise the position for eight weeks in various media at the prevailing regional wage rate.
Let me be clear about that point, too. There is an urban legend that the temporary foreign worker program actually constitutes a systematic undercutting of Canadian wage rates when that is not true. In fact, employers cannot get permission through LMOs to invite workers from abroad unless, for eight weeks, they have advertised that position at the median wage for that occupational category in their regions. The median wage, by definition, means being paid more than about half the people in that particular occupation in that community because when an employer goes to hire, say, Canadians at a restaurant or any other business, they are typically starting at a starting wage and they will work up the pay grade with the passage of time. We do not allow employers applying for foreign workers to pay the starting wage or the minimum wage, per se, but, rather, the median wage in that occupational category, which is typically more than what many Canadians are getting paid even in the same workplace. Those are some of the safeguards that currently exist.
If an employer can demonstrate that it advertised a position at that wage rate for eight weeks and made every reasonable effort to recruit Canadians, but did not receive any applications from qualified people willing to work, then Service Canada will, in principle, approve a labour market opinion and permit that employer to recruit someone from abroad to fill what apparently is a skills shortage in that occupation in that community.
As I said, we have tightened up the rules around, for example, acquiring a longer period of employment. We ask more questions of the employers now to ensure that they really have made an effort to recruit from within Canada. We now charge employers a cost recovery fee of $275 for that labour market opinion application and starting shortly, we are going to initiate the obligation for applicants for labour market opinions to file what we are calling a transition plan to demonstrate to us how they plan to increase the percentage of workers on their site who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents and reduce their dependence or reliance on the temporary foreign worker program.
As a result of those reforms that we have already implemented, we have seen a 30% reduction in the number of applications for LMOs in the low-skilled stream and a 20% reduction overall. We also, of course, suspended the accelerated labour market opinion process, which means the processing times are much longer. Many immigration practitioners, lawyers, and employers will complain bitterly about the length of time it takes to approve an LMO, which is evidence of the kind of rigour that I believe Service Canada is applying to these applications.
It is important, however, to recognize that what I just referred to alludes to the labour market opinion stream, which is really what most of us call the temporary foreign worker program. Just as a matter of interest, about 35% of the foreign nationals coming in through labour market opinion work permits are higher skilled; 26% are general lower-skilled workers and that would tend to include most of the people we are talking about, for example, in the service, restaurant, and accommodation industries; 8% come into the live-in caregiver program, so-called nannies; and 31% come through the seasonal agricultural worker program. I should point that some of the 26% of LMO linked foreign workers who are in the general low-skilled stream are going to farms as well in what we call the general agricultural stream.
It is important to break these down because among the higher-skilled stream there are a lot of people in professions, scientific occupations, and technical positions and trades. It is quite shocking for most people to learn that four of the five source countries for the so-called temporary foreign worker program are the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and France, all highly developed and wealthy countries. The plurality of occupations in this element of the program are high skilled.
I know that does not accord with most people's common understanding of the program. They tend to think it is primarily people from the developing world coming into low-skilled positions, and there is a lot of that, but in fact, the lion's share of so-called temporary foreign workers who are basically foreign nationals coming here on work permits are people coming from developed countries. Germany is in the top 10 as well. In the top 10 source countries, I believe 6 or 7 are highly developed G20 or G7 countries.
For example, a university professor, let us say a scientist, who is on an exchange with a Canadian university is a temporary foreign worker. A lawyer from New York who is moving to Toronto for six months to work on a complex deal is a temporary foreign worker. This is entirely normal. I do not think it is terribly contentious. This kind of labour mobility we have facilitated has always existed, so that is just to put some context here.
Now what about the other 62%? That is nearly two-thirds of what we call the flow or population of temporary foreign workers, do not come in with a labour market opinion. They come in typically through reciprocal agreements that we have to facilitate normal conventional mobility of people around the world. Let us not get trapped in a kind of parochialism or unintentional xenophobia in this debate. Let us remember we are a trading country and exporting country. We do not just export goods. We also export services and that means exporting Canadians who work around the world.
There are something like 2.3 million Canadian citizens living more or less long-term abroad and hundreds of thousands of them are living on work permits in foreign countries, typically making very good incomes. For every Canadian who is a professor at Oxford, or a financial manager in Hong Kong, or who is perhaps an executive at a high tech company in the Silicon Valley, every one of those Canadians, unless they have obtained citizenship in that country, is working on a work permit. All of that would shut down, all of those hundreds of thousands of Canadians working around the world making typically very good incomes and helping in the export of Canadian services, they would all have to come home if we were to shut down the reciprocal agreements we have that facilitate labour mobility around the world.
In that 62% of this program, we are talking about 133,000 entries in 2012, 29,000 were coming in under free trade agreements and agreements we have with provinces and territories that can exempt certain categories of foreign workers.
When we signed NAFTA in 1993, it included a labour mobility provision. Various occupations were given a certain quota of trilateral visas, so a Canadian lawyer who does a lot of work in Mexico and the States or an American physician who for some reason has a practice in all three countries can get a trilateral NAFTA visa to go to Mexico, to the United States, and to Canada. To be honest, I have never heard a complaint about this arrangement. This a normal, conventional part of facilitating high-skilled labour mobility.
However, the single biggest chunk of this is actually in what we call International Experience Canada, a program based on a number of bilateral reciprocal agreements we have with other jurisdictions, primarily visa-exempt countries that we consider low risk from an immigration integrity point of view. About 59,000 people, or basically a quarter of the total population of the so-called temporary foreign workers, came into Canada under that stream.
I hear some people—not many, but some—saying, “What are you doing by allowing these foreigners to come in and take jobs from our young people?” The point is that these are reciprocal programs, so right now there are thousands of young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 working in Australia. Tens of thousands altogether are working in countries like Australia, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, and around the world. If we were to freeze or suspend or shut down this International Experience Canada program, all of those nice young Canadians' reciprocal agreements would be shut down and they would have to get on a plane and come back here to Canada. I really do not think that in 2014, with a global economy that is increasingly sophisticated, we would want that to happen.
By the way, I would argue that there is an advantage to us as a country in having a limited, reasonable number of bright young people from around the world coming here and getting to know Canada, working here for a few months and becoming interested in and attached to this country. A small number of them might go on to become permanent residents, and that is great. All of them probably will have a future connection to Canada, which would likely be to our commercial and economic advantage. That is a quarter of the whole population of temporary foreign workers.
I make this point and set this context because the entire debate, perhaps understandably, has a tendency to focus just on a relatively small number of problematic cases. I will turn my attention to that aspect, because we do not want to ignore the problematic issues that may exist in the program. That is why we have been working on tightening up the program and reforming it. It is why we reduced the number of LMO applications. It is why we have been working on a package that I intend to announce in the next few weeks as a further tightening of the program. It is because we want to ensure that on the one hand we facilitate legitimate conventional global labour mobility and address real skills gaps that may exist in certain regions in Canada, but that on the other hand we prevent any distortions of the Canadian labour market and any abuse of the program.
That is the objective. I hope that in this debate we can identify some common principles. I would advocate that the principle be that we are an open, confident trading country, not one characterized by xenophobia and parochialism. We want to facilitate legitimate movement of people; obviously we do not want to do it in a way that ends up distorting our labour market or displacing Canadians, but we do want to open up those opportunities for Canadians to work around the world. That is exactly what we are trying to do.
One of the issues that has come up here in the debate was a suggestion that we increase pathways to permanent residency for foreign nationals who are here on work permits. I have happy news for the House: we have already done exactly that. In fact, we have increased by several hundred per cent the number of so-called temporary foreign workers who are now obtaining permanent residency in Canada.
We did this as a government primarily by massively expanding, by about eightfold, something called the provincial nominee programs. These are programs we have with nine provinces. Quebec, of course, has its own immigration selection process. The nine provinces outside of Quebec collectively get to select about 45,000 permanent residents. The vast majority of those 45,000 permanent residents are actually already in Canada on a work permit, so they have demonstrated that they are good workers and they are filling the skills gap. If they want to stay in Canada and the employer likes them and wants to carry them on, they apply for permanent residency.
We also created something called the Canadian experience class, which should have been done a long time ago. We opened this program in 2008, and now we get about 12,000 or 15,000 permanent residents a year through that program. These are higher-skilled foreign workers and foreign students who have done at least 12 years of work in Canada, and they can now get permanent residency.
In addition to that, the live-in caregiver program is a pathway to permanent residency. As well, a growing number of foreign nationals on work permits in Canada apply for other immigration programs, so altogether about 60,000 people who are here on work permits become permanent residents.
This is perhaps a bit of a news flash to some people, because the number used to be about 5,000 a decade ago. There has been a huge growth. That is a positive thing. People can come to see if they like Canada and see if they can get through the winter. If they are working gainfully and enjoy the country and then want to stay and settle and maybe even invite their families over, if they qualify for one of these streams, they can do so.
The point is, however, that not every temporary resident on a work permit wants to stay permanently. The biggest stream is the youth mobility program, which is made up mostly of those Aussies and Kiwis who come and work at our ski hills in Whistler and whatnot. They work part time. They may coach skiing or they may work in the service industry at one of our ski resorts. They are on a walkabout in their gap year, and most of them really do not want to stay permanently in a cold country like Canada. They want to get back to the Gold Coast. Let us not be so presumptuous as to assume that every one of these particularly higher-skilled people from developed countries who constitute the plurality of participants in the program actually wants to stay.
Finally, let me address the very legitimate concern that the NDP raises today about abuse and distortions in the labour market.
First, this is a complex issue. The aggregate labour market information is very clear. We are not facing and do not have a general labour shortage in Canada, but there is enormous data to suggest that there are skills gaps in certain sectors and regions. If we live in Toronto or Montreal, maybe that just does not have the ring of truth to it, but I would invite those people to go and talk to employers in, for example, the fast-growing communities of much of western Canada, which are at full employment and where young people can find high-paying jobs without any difficulty at all, leaving a lot of the essentially lower-paying positions in the service industry without adequate staff. That is also true in the agricultural sector.
I get this everywhere I go. I get it from the St. John's Board of Trade. I get it from the employers in Labrador. I get it from parts of northern Quebec where the mining is. I get it from the computer programming industry in Montreal. I get it from the information technology industry in the Kitchener-Waterloo corridor. I get it from the food processing industry in many parts of the country, and not just for the food service industry but also for skilled trades in certain areas, such as northern Alberta. Every major business group in the country says this is an issue. We cannot ignore it. We do not want to go into denial.
That said, if and when we see abuses, we are taking and will take serious action. The blacklist is now up and running. We have added employers to it that cannot use that program in the future. I have put those really abusive employers on notice that I intend to refer evidence of fraud in their LMO applications to the CBSA for criminal investigations.
We were concerned with the growing number of reports of abuse, particularly in the food services sector. I think the vast majority of employers there are honest people who want to abide by the rules, but I do think there has been some slippage. It is hard to put a precise figure on it, but it is enough to be very concerning, which is why I announced a moratorium last week on the temporary foreign worker program in the food services sector pending the outcome of our review.
This demonstrates how serious we are, and again I would invite constructive ideas from all members as to how we can strike the right balance to be an open country, benefit from the talents of others from around the world, and ensure reciprocal movement of Canadians, yet also avoid distortion of our labour market, displacement of Canadians, or abuse of the program.