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.
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 Vancouver Centre 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 Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, 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.