Evidence of meeting #62 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Karen Swol  Director, Program Management, Rail Safety, Department of Transport
Dean Beyea  Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance
Olivier Nicoloff  Director, Democracy, Commonwealth and Francophonie Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Colleen Barnes  Executive Director, Domestic Policy Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Nancy Leigh  Manager, Governance Secretariat, Canada School of Public Service
Jane Pearse  Director, Financial Institutions Division, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Suzanne Brisebois  Director General, Policy and Operations, Parole Board of Canada, Public Safety Canada
Louise Laflamme  Chief, Marine Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Department of Transport
Lenore Duff  Senior Director, Strategic Policy and Legislative Reform, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
Lawrence Hanson  Director General, Strategic Policy Directorate, Department of the Environment
Pamela Miller  Director General, Telecommunications Policy Branch, Department of Industry
Allan MacGillivray  Special Advisor to the Director General, Telecommunications Policy, Department of Industry
Alwyn Child  Director General, Program Development and Guidance Directorate, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
Mireille Laroche  Director General, Employment Insurance Policy, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
Mark Hodgson  Senior Policy Analyst, Labour Markets, Employment and Learning, Department of Finance
Patrick Halley  Chief, Tariffs and Market Acess, International Trade and Finance, Department of Finance
Vivian Krause  As an Individual
Mark Blumberg  Lawyer and Partner, Blumberg Segal LLP
Dan Kelly  Senior Vice-President, Legislative Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Dennis Howlett  Coordinator, Canadians for Tax Fairness
Jamie Ellerton  Executive Director, EthicalOil.org
Blair Rutter  Grain Growers of Canada
Marcel Lauzière  President and Chief Executive Officer, Imagine Canada
Tom King  Co-Chair, Finance and Taxation Committee, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada
Sandra Harder  Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Cam Carruthers  Director, Program Integrity Division, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
David Manicom  Immigration Program Manager (New Delhi), Area Director (South Asia), Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:10 p.m.

Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Sandra Harder

That's really not related to these provisions at all. The temporary foreign worker program is a very large program. It includes temporary foreign workers. It can include students. It can include visitors. So it's quite a large program, but none of the provisions that are outlined here are directly related to that program.

9:10 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Okay. So it doesn't affect the quality of the applicants.

Have we looked at what the consequences are overseas in terms of how people will see Canada when, for instance, we eliminate a backlog for people who have been waiting? We are talking about families waiting for such a long time. What would the consequences be? Have we had a reaction from other countries or from other individuals on that issue?

9:10 p.m.

Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Sandra Harder

Well, as you know, because these are provisions in the budget act, they've only been made public since the introduction of Bill C-38. I guess there is an expectation that some people who have been in the federal skilled worker backlog for some time could be disappointed, and we certainly understand that, but by moving in this kind of very direct manner, and being very clear about what the provisions are and what the cut-offs are and allowing people the opportunity to reapply under the current program...I think that's the approach that has been taken.

9:10 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Peggy Nash

Thank you, Mr. Mai.

Mr. Brison.

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I think that at a time when we have an aging population in Canada, and when the positive impacts of immigration in a province like Manitoba are palpable—compared to provinces, including my own, that are not doing such a robust job—there's a real concern about what it would do to our international brand and capacity to attract immigrants. Effectively, with the stroke of a pen, tearing up 100,000 applications for 280,000 people.... I think you'd have to say that there's a legitimate concern about the impact on our capacity. That's on that issue.

But I have some questions on potential changes to the temporary foreign worker policy or program. My riding is a very strong horticultural riding, as it is for agriculture in general. Farmers—and in some cases, some very large-scale horticultural farmers—expressed to me that without temporary foreign workers their operations will be closed, and in fact, that any impediment to the hiring of temporary foreign workers will potentially endanger or imperil their operations.

Temporary foreign workers are a fact of life and a part of the global value chain in food production, so any impediment to the hiring of temporary foreign workers in Canada is going to provide our producers with a competitive disadvantage compared to, say, producers in California.

The government has been promoting this idea that a temporary foreign worker takes a job from a Canadian, but what I'm being told is that in fact it creates a job for a Canadian at a different level. So at the labour level in picking strawberries, there is a temporary foreign worker, but then there's a Canadian who is packing the strawberries or making the food, the pies, the confection, or whatever is after that.

I'd like to hear from you some reassurances to the farmers in my riding who are petrified about any changes to or limitations on their access to temporary foreign workers.

9:10 p.m.

Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Sandra Harder

Do you want to take that, David?

9:15 p.m.

David Manicom Immigration Program Manager (New Delhi), Area Director (South Asia), Department of Citizenship and Immigration

There are no changes envisaged at this time with regard to agriculture or temporary foreign labour. There are no provisions in the budget or other policy plans to make any changes to that at this time.

May 28th, 2012 / 9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Will the impact of the changes in EI potentially limit access to temporary foreign workers insofar as farmers will be told, “You have to use these local Canadians first. You have to use them. Even if they're not inclined to do that work, you have to use them”?

9:15 p.m.

Immigration Program Manager (New Delhi), Area Director (South Asia), Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

For many years it has been the policy with regard to temporary foreign workers that Canadian employers must attempt to employ Canadians first. When they are unable to locate Canadian workers, then they make an application for labour market opinion at HRSDC, who makes the decision as to whether or not the employer has made reasonable efforts to hire a Canadian first. There are no changes to those provisions envisaged.

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

There are no changes in policy, in terms of qualitative factors, evaluating when those efforts have been exhausted at a reasonable level prior to going to temporary foreign workers?

9:15 p.m.

Immigration Program Manager (New Delhi), Area Director (South Asia), Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

That would be reassuring to the producers if that's the case.

What about the messaging coming from the government, that when a foreign person takes a job or comes to Canada to work that they're taking a job from a Canadian? It strikes me that's not only xenophobic, but it's also economically incorrect.

9:15 p.m.

Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Sandra Harder

One of the things I would respond to on that is that there is a view that temporary foreign workers should be a complement to the Canadian labour market, not a substitute. It's that notion of where temporary foreign workers are required and under conditions where they're required. As you've mentioned, the agriculture area is certainly one of those places.

9:15 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Peggy Nash

You have 10 seconds.

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you very much.

9:15 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Peggy Nash

Thank you.

Mr. Van Kesteren.

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Like Mr. Brison, I come from an agricultural area as well. We have 5,000 foreign workers. I agree they serve a valuable service to the agriculture community. They also were able to export, I think, some of our Canadian values. It's good for the folks back home. It's a good program, I don't disagree with that. What I do take issue with—and I think this is what most Canadians take issue with—in my riding, in Chatham-Kent-—Essex, the unemployment is right around 12% and we have 5,000 foreign workers. We want to make sure that Canadians, and especially those that aren't employed, know that there are some.... And it's not just those jobs. It's the spin-off jobs, too. I always say that just because I think we need a little bit clarification.

When I speak to the foreign workers, by and large they are very satisfied. Most of these people have been coming for 20 years, some longer. There are generations. It's a great program. But there is a group that seems to be coming out of countries like, I think it was Laos, or Thailand, Thai workers, who get work visas, and we've heard some complaints about that. For the most part, what happens is that these workers are contract. A picker has to get his stuff picked, so he'll call a contractor and say, “Listen, I need 10 workers right now”, and they'll provide them.

Are you monitoring that? Have you heard of some problems in that group? Are we seeing some improvement there that can alleviate some of those concerns?

9:20 p.m.

Immigration Program Manager (New Delhi), Area Director (South Asia), Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

We need to make a distinction between provincial responsibilities for enforcing labour code violations; that's a provincial responsibility.

With regard to employers respecting their undertakings, when they hire an employee under the temporary foreign workers program, the commitments they make with regard to salaries and so forth—Cam may wish to also comment—the provisions that he spoke to will give the government clearer authority to monitor and audit employers to ensure that they are complying with the obligations they made.

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Sorry to interrupt, I don't think it's so much with the employer. I think it is the person that does the contracting. What seems to happen is that they make a deal with them back in Thailand, then they just can't seem to get a fair shake when they get here. Do you have a handle on that? Have you heard about that? Are you doing something about that?

9:20 p.m.

Immigration Program Manager (New Delhi), Area Director (South Asia), Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

The ability of the immigration department is really with regard to our regulation of consultants. We've recently strengthened our legislative provisions with regard to unscrupulous consultants. Also, many provinces have provincial law with regard to whether or not employers can charge fees—transportation fees and so forth—to the employees coming to Canada. That's not directly related to any of these budget provisions, but we have recently strengthened legislation in an attempt to combat unscrupulous consultants, and we have established a new agency with stronger compliance mechanisms.

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Maybe I can get some information from you.

If I have a few more minutes, Mr. Chair, Mr. Jean would like to ask a question.

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Actually, I'd just like to make a comment. I'm from Fort McMurray and I can't tell you how important the changes that you've made are to my community. I've lived there for 45 years and owned and operated 12 businesses, retail businesses. I had the busiest Quiznos in the world, and I had to shut it down because of problems with workers. I can assure you that the complement suggestion that you made, the complement to the Canadian workforce, is true.

The average household income in Fort McMurray is $180,000 a year—more than I make doing this job—and I will tell you that without temporary foreign workers and without workers generally, we would have nobody serving Tim Hortons coffee. We'd have nobody making sandwiches or a McDonald's. You can't believe what a difference it would make to our economy, and what it did five or six years ago before some of these changes came in. So thank you very much for that, and please keep up the good work.

9:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

I have Mr. Marston and then Ms. Nash.

9:20 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

One of the questions I would have is, in the last Parliament—I think it was Bill C-4, if I remember correctly—there was an all-party agreement relative to immigration. Am I correct with that? Is there anyone who can answer me?

9:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Are you posing the question to anyone?