Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to support this motion. The reason we brought it forward is evident. To say that we cannot do anything about this is not true. A standing committee would allow what has been kept underground and what we still do not have answers for to come to light. We would hear witnesses. There would be an ability to travel. There would be an ability to get information that so far has not been forthcoming from the government so that we could see whether the program is working well, whether it is being abused, where the abuses lie, and what can be done about it.
I do not know if the government will have the foresight to support the motion. If it passes I would suggest that this particular standing committee not act in the fashion that the rest of the standing committees are continuing to act, where witnesses are blocked if they are giving contradictory testimony, the testimony itself is not allowed in a report, or the recommendations the witnesses make are ignored. This would not only bring to light the issues and get the accountability and transparency needed on this particular foreign worker program that we think has been mismanaged, it would also allow for clear recommendations to go through rather than allowing the seven members on any parliamentary committee to do what they have been doing, which is to silence witnesses, pretend their recommendations did not get ignored, and have all political parties bring in dissenting reports, which used to be rare in this House and now seems to be done at every single hearing where nobody gets to have anything that the witnesses say come forward.
I want to support this because the temporary foreign worker program itself is a very important part of the Canadian labour market strategy. We know that it brings important economic and labour market benefits. For instance, it is necessary to maintain productivity in certain areas and to improve economic prosperity for Canada. It is an important program.
The program operates under two clear principles. One is that a temporary foreign worker would be brought in to do a job that a Canadian could not do because of lack of skills or knowledge. The other reason a temporary foreign worker would come in is to do the job that a Canadian would not do because of the pay structure or the nature of the job itself. We know there are Canadians who would not do some of these jobs. Therefore, the temporary foreign worker program serves as a benefit to those who “could not do” or “would not do” in terms of the Canadian labour market.
We know the program was established by a Liberal government. There was a careful balance the program was to find, which was to protect the jobs and wages of Canadian workers while bringing in temporary foreign workers, and to ensure that Canadian workers had access in the meantime to the employment and skills training opportunities they lacked, that allowed temporary foreign workers to come in. It was also meant to assist small and medium-sized businesses and corporations that had legitimate difficulties in finding workers. The program was also supposed to protect the dignity of temporary foreign workers by ensuring they were paid a fair wage, were treated as fairly as any Canadian worker doing the same job, and fell under the labour laws of the particular province in which they were working.
The Conservative government has destroyed this balance entirely. It has skewed the system in favour of employers only. It has turned a blind eye to the way this program has been carried out and to the rights of the temporary foreign workers. It has brought in workers not because there was a lack of skills in the Canadian economy but allowed companies, as we have seen with RBC, to bring them in to replace people who can and are trained to do the work thereby completely going against the concept of the temporary foreign worker program. To add insult to injury the Canadian workers who have the skills are training temporary foreign workers to do the work, thereby being deprived of the jobs themselves.
That is not how the system was supposed to work.
The Conservatives may say that, in fact, RBC and others are working under the aegis of the law and that what they are doing is legal. However, we know that by completely ignoring some of the regulations, the current government has not been doing any kind of evaluation or monitoring of what is going on. We have been asking for statistics that would tell us where the workers are working, what kind of jobs they are doing and what they are being paid. We have been asking for that for a long time and have not gotten answers. These questions have been asked since 2006 by the Canadian Labour Congress, and there have been no answers forthcoming from the current government.
The committee we are suggesting would make transparent some of the data we want. The important thing about any program is accountability. To have that there must be monitoring and there must be transparency. This is currently lacking in the temporary foreign worker program. All we get is the mumbling by the government that it is all being done the way it should be done. However, we see that with RBC, for example, it is not being done. We see, for instance, in B.C. that over 200 Chinese workers were brought in, and not because they were needed in B.C. It is a mining province. We have tons of people who are skilled in mining. Yet the Chinese temporary workers were brought in to fill the needs of the mine, and the government allowed this to happen.
The bottom line is that the Conservatives know what the rules are, but they are not enforcing them. They know what the rules are, and they are not monitoring them.
Here we also have the idea that when temporary foreign workers come, they are supposed to be treated under the current labour laws of the country. We saw in the building of the Canada Line in Vancouver going from Richmond to Vancouver that, in fact, two sets of foreign workers were brought in to build the line, because they had the skills. One set came from Europe and another came from Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans came because they were the only ones who knew how to operate the particular boring machinery that was supposed to go underground and create the line itself. They were being paid half the wage of the European temporary foreign workers. They were not given all of the particular benefits they were supposed to get. If it were not for the B.C. building trades, which took this to a human rights tribunal, we would not have known that this was happening. Finally the tribunal had them pay $2.5 million in back wages to equalize how these particular Costa Rican workers were treated in Canada as compared to the European workers.
The government is asleep on the job. The Conservatives should have picked up on that. That happened in 2008. Nothing was said by the government.
Again, no one here is opposed to the temporary foreign worker program. We are looking at what has happened since the government has come to power and what it has done to change the nature of the temporary foreign worker program. Not only that, we have seen a ballooning to about 338,000 temporary foreign workers as of 2012. Good grief. We are living in a time in Canada when so many people are looking for work. Last month, 54,000 Canadians were looking for work, and they are skilled. Yet temporary foreign workers are taking over the jobs Canadians are trained to do and can do. In some instances, temporary foreign workers who are coming in to do the jobs Canadians are not trained to do are being discriminated against. The government is allowing that to happen.
This is not just about the Costa Ricans and the Chinese miners. I have a lot of pilots in my riding. They have written to me and said that the government is allowing temporary seasonal pilots to come into Canada to fly Canadian planes within Canada, and that is interfering with the junior pilot program. Trained pilots in Canada have to do a certain number of hours and get experience flying so that they can move up the ladder and become permanent pilots and get the pilot jobs. This seasonal worker program has completely destroyed the junior pilot program.
We see workers being brought in to do jobs that Canadians are trained to do. This is mishandling, misuse and complete bungling. I hope that this is just because of incompetence and it is not being done because the government wants to facilitate employers actually discriminating against Canadian workers. This is causing people to rise up and be concerned. Yet we cannot get answers. Again, the committee we are talking about would get us the answers.
We need to restore confidence in the program. We need to find out which employers are benefiting from the $35.5 million being paid to process ALMOs. We do not know which employers are benefiting. The government did a consultation and heard from employers that they wanted to be able to bypass the ALMO process and fast-forward it. Not only did they want to fast-forward it, but certain employers and certain companies wanted to be exempt from that kind of second look and transparency. They wanted to be able to just bring in whomever they wanted. This is how RBC did what it did. The government heard that and allowed it to happen. However, what it did not say is that there were three other things the consultation revealed. It revealed that the employers also asked for a minimum two-year contract for temporary foreign workers. We saw that with RBC it was a six-month contract. That alone contravened the concept of a minimum two-year contract.
The employers also asked for that contract to be expanded to four years if no Canadians were trained or able to perform those jobs in the interim. They asked for one further thing, which is not happening and which the government has been very careful to make sure will not happen. It was that temporary foreign workers would be allowed to apply for permanent residence in Canada and therefore become citizens.
Think about it. People are working for two to four years as temporary foreign workers. They now know how to speak English and French. They understand the Canadian workplace. They understand the rules and ethics of the Canadian workplace. They would make excellent ongoing permanent workers.
The temporary foreign worker program was there not only to deal with labour market strategies but to help nation-build. When people came here and learned and were able to work and become fluent in English and French and were able to contribute, they wanted to bring their families. We wanted them to bring their families, at least Liberals did when we brought in the program. We wanted them to put roots down, to build a nation, to have a stake in this country and to know that what is good for the country is good for them and what is good for them is good for the country. We wanted them to become strong Canadian citizens. That is how this country was built. In the most recent years of the last 20 years or so, this country has benefited from the temporary foreign worker program. This is not an exploitation of people who come here, work and then are sent back and told that they cannot apply for residency status. This is what we see the current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism doing.
We have employers who may argue that the ability to get the information we seek should not be asked of them, because they are private. However, the government has to make very clear that the information it requires from private employers is about accountability to taxpayers, whose money is funding the program. This is the ability to have transparency and accountability that is so lacking in the government.
We have seen in the temporary foreign worker program that provincial laws have not been respected, as in the case of the Costa Ricans who were building the Canada Line. We have seen it with seasonal pilots who were not Canadian pilots who were not getting to move up the ladder when they were well trained to do the job. We have heard this from people in my riding over and over. The mining workers are another example. There are areas where bona fide temporary foreign workers are coming in and are still facing problems and the government is not ensuring that the rules and regulations are being followed.
It is beautiful to read on the website. There are clear rules, regulations and penalties. Yet it was only by happenstance that we found that these rules and regulations have been contravened. The government has not been monitoring and evaluating the program and is not going after the people who are breaking the rules and penalizing them.
It is so important that we get this out in the open. It is so important that the committee be set up and that the NDP and everyone decides that it is an important part of what the government likes to talk about, but never does, which is transparency and accountability to the taxpayer. It is accountability to Canadian workers who are losing their jobs so rapidly and having their jobs and skills taken away in this particular economic climate. There has to be some loyalty to our own citizens.
The minister has announced an annual review. She said that she would do an internal review. Here is a good example. Six months ago, when the Chinese worker problem occurred with the miners in British Columbia, the minister said that she would do a review. There has been no review. We do not know what is going on with it. In the interim, in that six months, RBC has broken the rules.
We cannot trust the Conservative government when it says that it will do an internal review. It has not done it. We need the open process of consultation and hearing witnesses and travelling. We need to find out the reality of what has been happening on the ground.
I hope that the House will vote for the motion. I hope that when the quasi-parliamentary committee starts up, it will function the way parliamentary committees are supposed to function. I hope that it will be open and transparent and that the recommendations that come from witnesses will be brought forward in good faith. I hope that the seven members of the committee will not block it, as they have a tendency to do.
The government must take responsibility for what has happened with the temporary foreign worker program. It must take responsibility for all of the problems it is facing and for the anger of Canadian workers and Canadian taxpayers about the mismanagement of this program. The Conservatives must take responsibility for their ability to be accountable and transparent. If they really take those things seriously, I hope members across the way will vote for transparency and accountability.