Evidence of meeting #27 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was meat.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marie-France MacKinnon  Vice-President, Public Affairs and Communications, Canadian Meat Council
Stéphanie Poitras  Executive Director, Aliments Asta Inc.
Édith Laplante  Director, Human Resources, Aliments Asta Inc.
Ryan Koeslag  Executive Vice-President, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association
Janet Krayden  Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association
Larry Law  Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Living Water Resorts
Stéphanie Jeanne Bouchard  Immigration Development Officer, Centre local de développement de la région de Rivière-du-Loup
Bérangère Furbacco  Immigration Development Officer, Centre local de développement de la région de Rivière-du-Loup
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Leif-Erik Aune
Alain Brebion  Reception and Integration Officer, Corporation de développement économique de la MRC de Montmagny, As an Individual
Donald Buckle  General Manager and Vice-President, Resort Operations, Living Water Resorts

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I'm sorry for interrupting, Ms. Kwan. Your time is up.

With this, our first panel comes to an end.

I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee. If there is something that you were not able to bring up because of the lack of time, you can always send in a written submission to the clerk of the committee, and we will take that into consideration as we draft our report.

With this, the panel comes to an end. I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes so that we can allow the witnesses for the second panel to log in.

Thank you.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I call this meeting to order.

We will resume our study on the labour market impact assessment under the temporary foreign worker program.

I will take this opportunity to welcome all of the witnesses for appearing before the committee. We will be hearing from the witnesses, and each witness will have five minutes.

Today I would like to welcome Mr. Alain Brebion. He's appearing as an individual. We will also be hearing from Living Water Resorts, represented by Larry Law, founder and chief executive officer, and Donald Buckle, general manager and vice-president, resort operations. We will also be hearing from Centre local développement de la région de Rivière-du-Loup, represented by Ms. Bouchard, immigration development officer, joined by Ms. Bérangère Furbacco, immigration development officer.

All witnesses will have five minutes for their opening remarks.

We will start with Mr. Larry Law, representing Living Water Resorts.

You can please proceed. You will have five minutes.

4:40 p.m.

Larry Law Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Living Water Resorts

Madam Chair, co-chairs, members of the standing committee, thank you for the invitation for us to share our concerns. Joining me is Don Buckle, our VP of resort operations.

I have owned the resort for 29 years. I have invested significantly to expand the resort and create employment for Canadians. Today we offer our guests 445 rooms in the two resort hotels, plus many amenities. Our labour force has grown from 20 to more than 500 in peak season today. We are Collingwood's largest employer.

In 2019, the resort received Tourism HR Canada’s Distinguished HR Service Award. Recently, I am humbled to receive the Order of Collingwood, reflecting the ongoing contributions to our community.

This brings me to the heart of the issue. My resort relies on temporary foreign workers. We have huge difficulty hiring local Canadian workers, despite our increased wages, benefits and other incentives. Canadians avoid working at entry-level jobs in the hospitality industry. We have no alternative but to hire temporary foreign workers to perform the job, even if it costs us an additional $68,000 just for 20 of them. The resort industry has the same reliance on the temporary foreign workers as the agricultural industry, which is exempt from LMIA restrictions.

LMIA instructions prevent hiring temporary foreign workers for low-paying positions in the accommodation and food services sectors when unemployment exceeds 6% in the region. Contrary to these expectations, when Collingwood has a 7.5% unemployment rate, Canadians do not want these jobs. We now have more difficulty hiring for these jobs.

For the committee's knowledge, at the same time, in early 2020, Employment and Social Development Canada introduced legislation prioritizing and waiving minimum recruitment requirements for farm workers and field labour, exempting them from LMIA restrictions.

For our busy 2021 summer season, we need to hire 20 new temporary foreign workers. Without these workers, we will be forced to close 80 rooms. It will cost over $5 million of our annual revenues with direct layoffs of over 100 of our resort team members, a loss of over $43 million of retail spending in the community and an increased dependence on government subsidization.

On a related note, we recently completed a $50 million, 86-suite addition to our waterfront hotel. We are in trouble.

We propose a simple amendment to the 2020 instruction for entry-level accommodation and food services sector jobs. The proposed solution would parallel the priority exemption the government provides to the agriculture industry. We propose getting exemptions in specific tourist regions, including Collingwood, Blue Mountain and Niagara, where we saw proof they are unable to hire local Canadians.

Our proposed solution is endorsed by the Resorts of Ontario and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association. This proposed amendment will reopen a window of opportunity for the temporary foreign worker, thereby ensuring the preservation of jobs for Canadians.

Minister Qualtrough wrote to me saying the department will consider policy adjustments if the situation evolved and evidence warranted. This is the time to do so. Urgent—

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I'm sorry for interrupting, Mr. Law.

Your time is up. You will get an opportunity to talk further when we go into our rounds of questioning.

We will now proceed to Madam Bouchard and Madam Furbacco.

Both of you together will have five minutes for your opening remarks. Please proceed.

4:45 p.m.

Stéphanie Jeanne Bouchard Immigration Development Officer, Centre local de développement de la région de Rivière-du-Loup

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I thank the committee for inviting us today.

Our socioeconomic development organization is mandated by the Rivière-du-Loup RCM. The development of immigration services has been our priority for nearly 20 years. We support businesses in the development of their openness to immigration strategies and their workforce recruitment activities. The various agreements we have with the Quebec department of immigration, francization and integration enable us to enhance the support we provide directly to recruited immigrants by acting as a host and integration organization, among other things.

Our region's economic pool consists of about 1,800 businesses. Most of them are SMEs, but there are also international businesses with several hundred employees. The economic dynamism of our businesses, their job growth over the past few years and the growth predicted for the coming years demonstrates the adequacy of using immigration-based recruitment programs such as the temporary foreign worker program, or TFWP, discussed today. We applaud the efforts teams have been able to make concerning those programs since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Based on our experience and that of the businesses we support, we have a few recommendations on this program for you today.

Our first recommendation is to make it easier to recruit temporary foreign workers, more specifically in four ways.

First, the number of professions targeted under LMIAs should be increased for simplified processing for Quebec or, better yet, the province of Quebec should be given back certain responsibilities in terms of LMIA analyses.

Second, a facilitated extension system for LMIAs and work permits should be proposed, especially when it comes to steps to submit a second, third, even a fourth LMIA application, so that the company can renew a foreign worker's authorization to remain in their current position.

Third, we suggest that red tape be reduced, so that all kinds of staff—be they people in charge of human resources or SME directors—can better understand the steps to undertake.

Finally, criteria related to job postings should be loosened. Some companies have had postings for weeks, months, even years, but they must redo a posting to meet the specific criteria requested and wait four additional weeks to be able to submit an LMIA.

Our second recommendation is about reducing wait times, especially for immigrants who are still abroad. Work permit processing and issuing time frames affect renewals. Sometimes, this leads to precarious conditions and increases those people's vulnerability.

Third, we recommend that the proportion of temporary foreign workers for low paying jobs be brought to a minimum threshold of 20%.

For the rest, I yield the floor to my colleague Bérangère Furbacco.

4:45 p.m.

Bérangère Furbacco Immigration Development Officer, Centre local de développement de la région de Rivière-du-Loup

Thank you.

Our fourth recommendation is along the same lines as the one put forward by Larry Law. We believe workers employed by businesses in seasonal sectors, such as accommodation and food services, should receive the same treatment afforded to seasonal farm workers.

Our fifth recommendation is to provide temporary foreign workers with work permits that are valid for at least 24 months, if not 36. Twelve-month work permits, especially for low-wage jobs, often make renewals problematic.

Our sixth recommendation is to provide organizations like ours with better tools, namely priority access to representatives from the three federal players: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Service Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada. Even though we do not fill out the forms for people or provide such advice, we are often the only place people have to turn for help. In particular, they come to us when the telephone wait times for a customer service representative are seemingly endless and when they receive conflicting advice from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada officers, as happens regularly. Not only does that undermine the institution's credibility, but it also forces us, in many cases, to reach out to our member of Parliament. Right now, 70% of the cases being dealt with by the riding office of the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup are immigration-related.

Our last recommendation concerns the pathway to permanent residence as a means of retaining workers under the temporary foreign worker program. The labour shortage is an endemic problem, so the answer lies in programs that support long-term retention, in other words, improved access to permanent residence in Quebec and Canada.

The occupations that permanent residence programs prioritize do not necessarily correspond to the occupations of workers recruited under the temporary foreign worker program in our regions.

Furthermore, the level of English or French proficiency required to become a permanent resident is much higher than what allophone agricultural workers can acquire in the circumstances; they are low-paid workers recruited for 12 to 24 months. Employees often end up staying for years without being able to obtain stable status or make plans to reunite with their families.

Bear in mind that permanent resident applications for skilled workers take four times longer to process in Quebec than they do in other provinces. The lack of swift access to permanent immigration in Quebec exposes workers to extensive collateral harm and vulnerability. Consider the financial implications and mental burden associated with permit renewal, the pressure that comes from having to keep a job with a closed permit, the inability to access health care at times—

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I'm sorry for interrupting, Ms. Furbacco. You will get an opportunity to talk further in our round of questions.

With that, we will go to our last witness, Mr. Alain Brebion.

Mr. Brebion, you will have five minutes for your opening remarks. Please proceed.

4:50 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Leif-Erik Aune

Madam Chair, I believe Mr. Brebion disconnected to try to correct a camera issue. He's not on the Zoom meeting at this time.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Is he coming back?

4:50 p.m.

The Clerk

Yes, he just connected.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Mr. Brebion, you may start. You will have five minutes for your opening remarks. Then we will go to a round of questions.

Please proceed. The floor is yours.

4:50 p.m.

Alain Brebion Reception and Integration Officer, Corporation de développement économique de la MRC de Montmagny, As an Individual

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I am in the regional county municipality of Montmagny, Quebec, right next to where my fellow witnesses are. My job is to help with the settlement and integration of temporary foreign workers, and other newcomers, in the region. The bulk of that population is employed in industrial businesses and plants. Not many of them work in agriculture. We are also in contact with the workers, the companies who hire them and community organizations.

Allow me to paint you the employment picture. The region is made up mostly of small and medium-sized businesses. We are not home to big corporations. As is the case in the greater Chaudière-Appalaches area, we have the lowest unemployment rate in all of Quebec. I haven't done any comparisons with the rest of Canada, but our unemployment rate is very low. Many of the businesses still rely on manual labour. They have a long way to go in terms of integrating automated and robotic systems.

Now, I'll paint you the recruitment picture. After looking for workers in the Canadian workforce, businesses came up against the challenges of being in a region, known as regionalization. Notably, the immigrant population is concentrated in the greater Montreal area, Quebec's largest city. For a long time, we tried offering those individuals jobs to draw them to the region, about a three-hour drive east of Montreal. A pandemic, of course, compounds those challenges and makes inter-regional travel complicated, but it is not the only factor.

The reality is we face a greater labour shortage now than we did before the pandemic, and the impacts are being felt by more businesses across many sectors, ranging from stores and service providers to restaurants. These are businesses that did not have the problem pre-pandemic and did not necessarily rely on foreign workers. Consider this: well-known restaurant chain Tim Hortons has been forced to bring in workers from abroad, Madagascar, in particular.

The pandemic resulted in longer processing times across the board, including for renewing permits, obtaining Quebec selection certificates, applying for permanent residence and requesting labour market impact assessments. Those increased wait times created problems. The workers and businesses we deal with regularly share that view.

The region was fortunate in that sectors were not affected by closures, aside from a few production lines. Some workers were, however, laid off, and they had a lot of trouble finding other jobs under the circumstances. Technically, it is possible for them to find work elsewhere, but in actuality, the process is extremely complicated. Even when another employer wants to hire them, without an active LMIA, the worker cannot afford to wait until the LMIA process is complete.

Money was a problem during the pandemic. Of course, we provided as much help as we could to workers, who often struggle with English or French, not to mention administrative jargon. It was hard for them to access financial help, but with our assistance, the system worked fairly well.

In addition, the border closures during the pandemic were especially hard on temporary workers who were supposed to arrive in Canada.

I want to stress, however, that challenges existed before the pandemic. In our view, the temporary foreign worker program is not flexible enough for businesses or workers, at least not the vast majority.

For example, the program makes it virtually impossible for a worker with a closed work permit to change jobs, even though that option might suit both the employer's and the worker's needs. Of course, it is possible to request an open work permit for vulnerable workers, but the circumstances do not always present as difficult and critical. In some cases, the employer may just—

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I'm sorry for interrupting, Mr. Brebion. Your time is up.

We will now proceed to our round of questioning, and you can talk further.

We will now start with our first rounds of questioning, which will be of six minutes each. We will start with Mr. Dowdall.

You will have six minutes for your round of questioning. You can please proceed.

May 3rd, 2021 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to take an opportunity to thank all the witnesses today for their testimony, not just their testimony but their suggestions that would hopefully come to light.

I'm very fortunate that Living Waters is in my riding. I'm fortunate to sit in here today. I just want to say to anyone who gets an opportunity to go up there, it's a world-class resort. As you heard in the testimony, certainly Mr. Law and his organization have won many awards. I just want to quickly highlight another one and congratulate him. I know that Mr. Law on the weekend got the Association of Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs Lifetime Achievement Award, so congratulations on behalf of everyone in Canada. That's a huge achievement. Congratulations.

Mr. Law, in your opening remarks, you referenced the priority status the government enacted allowing the agriculture industry to hire temporary foreign workers without the LMIA review. I'm just wondering if you or Mr. Buckle could explain if that similar priority status exemption would provide the relief that you and certainly members of the Canadian resort industry as well would need. Would that exemption enable you to open all your rooms this summer? We know this is going to affect Canadian jobs as well. We need to make sure that you're open.

4:55 p.m.

Donald Buckle General Manager and Vice-President, Resort Operations, Living Water Resorts

You're absolutely right, and thank you for the question.

This is a very urgent and crucial matter for the resorts as we gear up for our summertime. If we had the same exemption that's allowed to agriculture...and it should be considered the same as agriculture.

We understand that it's difficult to find workers in the agriculture industry because the job is tough. There are a lot of people who just don't want to do it. Unfortunately, we're the same in some of the classifications within the hospitality industry. Being a cleaner for our guest rooms is tough work and people just don't apply for that, but foreign workers are happy to do that work for us and allow us to operate, which, again, as I mentioned, is urgent because summertime is our crucial time economic-wise to recover any funds for all the time we've been closed.

It's the busiest time of the year for us, July and August and September through October. It's our busiest time. It's when we're able to really earn the most dollars to be able to continue our operations successfully throughout the year. With the length of time it takes to get through the LMIA.... Again, it's very urgent, so that would be a quick resolution.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

I think it's imperative probably as an organization. Often some of these decisions are made by us as politicians and we need to hear from the ground. It's even in our offices that these will come up.

Can you just give me a quick overview of what it's really like to try to find employees in our Collingwood area? We need maybe a regional approach.

5 p.m.

General Manager and Vice-President, Resort Operations, Living Water Resorts

Donald Buckle

We've tried every-which-way, out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to trying to recruit for our team. We start off with the LinkedIn, Indeed, the ads and job fairs. We work with the colleges, and we work with Service Ontario. We do referral programs. I've reached out to areas outside of Collingwood. We're willing to bus people into the resort to try to get employees. I've had people busing in from Barrie, which is an hour away from the resort.

As I say, we're full of progress. We've worked with agencies. We've done everything we can to find employees. If I do a job fair, I'm lucky if 10 people show up. Out of the 10 people, I'm lucky if two people come for an interview. Again, when they discover what the role is.... It's a tough role, and that is what has put us into the crisis we're in today.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Buckle, I have another question. I know new policies roll out and how that affects these businesses. I'm just wondering, in your role as general manager and vice-president of resort operations, I would assume that probably Employment and Social Development Canada has reached out and conducted some thorough consultations before enacting this policy change to the 6% employment cap in regions, and certainly in ours. I know it's everywhere in our region. It's a key problem. I'm just wondering where these temporary foreign workers would be hired.

Can you outline what kind of consultation you had from the government?

5 p.m.

General Manager and Vice-President, Resort Operations, Living Water Resorts

Donald Buckle

As the largest employer in this area, I had no consultation. Nobody approached me to see how the unemployment rate and the 6% cap would affect our business. There were no discussions. I'm also a member of ORHMA, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, and through that, where I sat on the board, there were no consultations directly with me in this area.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

I don't have a whole lot of time left, but I just want to know what this decision does.

I know we had an outline from Mr. Law in the beginning. For the actual town of Collingwood to not have the ability to bring in these temporary foreign workers, what does that mean on the ground for all of the people who are living here now who either work near a resort or live here in Collingwood?

5 p.m.

General Manager and Vice-President, Resort Operations, Living Water Resorts

Donald Buckle

Collingwood is a destination. We're dependent on the visitors who come into this area. It supports the local businesses and the tax base here in Collingwood as well as our outlying sister areas like Blue Mountain Resorts, which is right next to us.

Last summer Blue Mountain, for example, could only open 50% of their rooms, which is a huge loss to tourism in this area. Because we can't accommodate people, they're not able to spend all that money in the local economy. Those local mom-and-pop shops are very dependent. Again, their main earnings are in June, July, August, September and October. That's when they make the monies that help them survive.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

I'm sorry for interrupting, Mr. Buckle. The time is up.

5 p.m.

General Manager and Vice-President, Resort Operations, Living Water Resorts

Donald Buckle

You have my apologies.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you very much.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

It's no problem.

We will now proceed to Ms. Dhillon.

Ms. Dhillon, you will have six minutes for your round of questioning. You can please proceed.