That's a very good question, and I would invite members to look at the public comment boards. Whenever I see a story on immigration on one of these media websites, I'll often go and do an online consultation, looking at the comments that have been entered. It's always amazing to me how many people ask why we are maintaining such high levels of immigration when there are Canadians who are unemployed. Why are we giving jobs away to immigrants that Canadians could be taking?
I don't think we should be dismissive. I think we need to explain to those Canadians that in fact there are significant labour shortages in certain industries and regions, as Mr. Davies has pointed out, but we should also be mindful that they do have a reasonable concern in a period of economic uncertainty.
Now I would point out to them that our data indicate that the vast majority of newcomers to Canada, particularly primary economic immigrants, do find employment. In the past three or four years we've seen a very encouraging upward turn in employment and income levels for immigrants generally. The data we have is up to 2008. I'm very eager to see the 2009-10 data, because of changes that were made to the skilled worker points grid by the previous government, which I would like to give credit for, focusing on higher levels of language proficiency, for example, and because of our expansion of the provincial nominee program, which is often based on an arranged employment offer. We have seen things improving. We've gone from a two-decade slide in economic results for immigrants to a three- or four-year turnaround. I think we're really headed in the right direction.
What I find exciting is the new Canadian experience class, which is growing, the new PhD stream, the better results we're getting from skilled workers who are now being selected and admitted, the fast good results for provincial nominees, plus other changes we're planning on doing. All of that adds up, for me, to much better economic results, higher levels of employment, and higher levels of income for those who come here.
Finally, the concern that you underscore, Mr. Weston, is often expressed in relation to the temporary foreign worker program. It's important to underscore that this program operates on a Canadian first basis. In order to hire temporary foreign workers, an employer must first obtain a labour market opinion from Service Canada, which they can only get if they have demonstrated that they have offered the job to Canadian residents or citizens at the prevailing regional wage rate.
So here's the weird thing. We actually have parts of eastern Canada, as I mentioned, with double-digit unemployment. Fish processing plants, a chocolate factory, Christmas tree farm operators, and other businesses tell me that in those regions they put ads in the paper and online to recruit local Canadians to take those jobs, which are often very good paying jobs, but Canadians don't apply. The business owners then say to me, “Minister, if you don't allow us to access the temporary foreign worker program, we're going to have to shut our doors and close down the business.”
I met recently with executives from a global pipeline manufacturing company that has an operation in Alberta. They are looking desperately to hire people who merely are high school graduates and pay them, if I'm not mistaken, $26 an hour on average to help them manufacture pipes. They cannot find Canadians to apply for those jobs. So now they're looking at possibly moving operations to Mexico.
How does that make any sense when we have, what is it, 14% youth unemployment?