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House of Commons Hansard #233 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.

Topics

The 1982 Repatriation of the ConstitutionPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, the National Assembly of Quebec has just passed a unanimous motion that I will read to you.

That the National Assembly ask the Government of Canada to provide access to all information contained in its archives and demand that light be shed on the events that led to the proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982.

As a result, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to propose the following motion: “That the House call on the government to respond favourably to the request made by the National Assembly of Quebec and make public all information contained in its archives and that the House demand that light be shed on the events that led to the proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982”.

The 1982 Repatriation of the ConstitutionPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

The 1982 Repatriation of the ConstitutionPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

The 1982 Repatriation of the ConstitutionPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There is no unanimous consent.

The hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale has informed the Chair that he is rising on the question of privilege that is currently before the Speaker.

S. O. 31PrivilegeOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the privilege raised prior to our break regarding Standing Order 31, known as members' statements.

Other members have already addressed a number of important points, which I will not dwell on in detail in my comments, including: one, that without the right of all members to speak freely, this institution simply cannot function properly; two, that the period of statements was originally intended to give members equal opportunities to raise issues; three, that other opportunities for debate in the House, such as debate on a bill, reflect the principle that all members have the right to speak, even if their name does not appear on the list submitted by a party; four, that the decision by Speaker Sauvé to ask parties for guidance or lists of members to speak was done solely as a matter of efficiency for the Speaker and was never intended to give the various parties a veto over who could speak; five, that conventions are not the same as rules and can be revised when needed to reflect current realities; six, that S. O. 31s were not intended to be used a partisan tool; and seven, that even if we view our parties as akin to hockey teams, the Commons is more like a House league than the NHL, and you, as the convener, Mr. Speaker, need to step in when some players are not getting equal time on the ice.

As I said, I will not examine these points in further detail, but instead I hope to add to your understanding of the issue, Mr. Speaker, by examining the history of Standing Order 31.

It is perhaps not surprising to learn that members have used various conduits to make statements since at least the time of Confederation. According to the Annotated Standing Orders of the House of Commons, second edition, the rules which guide the period for statements by members place the antecedents back to at least 1867.

For about 60 years following Confederation, a rule existed which permitted motions to be proposed without notice, provided unanimous consent had been granted by the House. In the early to mid-1920s, however, the use of such motions experienced a marked increase.

In 1927, the House agreed to a recommendation that the Standing Orders be amended so that unanimous consent would only be sought in cases of “urgent and pressing necessity previously explained by the mover”. The rule, as amended, was thereafter infrequently employed for decades, until around 1968, when MPs increasingly began to rise daily, choosing to do so in the time before question period to move motions that often demonstrated no urgent or pressing necessity.

In 1975, the House amended its Standing Orders to stipulate that such motions could only be moved by non-ministers during a restricted time period to be held before oral questions.

It is noted by O'Brien and Bosc that the moving of these motions prior to oral questions became, throughout the remainder of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, a common, although misused and often time consuming feature of the proceedings of the House.

In 1982, the House accepted the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedures recommendation that it abolish this rule, which was called Standing Order 43, and institute a new renumbered standing order, Standing Order 31, that would have as its purpose to allow MPs to make statements on current issues on a daily basis during the first 15 minutes of a sitting.

I believe the key point that history teaches us is that members need to be assured reasonable opportunities to speak in the House, and should they be denied fair access, they may feel forced to use other opportunities the Standing Orders provide to ensure that their constituents concerns are represented.

The House has wisely recognized this tendency and rather than allowing certain rules to be used in unintended ways, to better accommodate the needs of members, the House has instead set aside specific times for members to have their say. Thus we have Standing Order 31.

However, S. O. 31s are not unique to our House of Commons. The Australian House of Representatives has a practice that is broadly similar to the period our Parliament has and it too set aside time for statements by members. During the time designated for non-government business, a 15 minute period is set aside prior to its question time for members' 90 second statements. During this time, any member, other than a minister or a parliamentary secretary, may be called by the Speaker of the House to make a statement on any topic. In calling which member is to speak, the Speaker alternates between government and non-government members, with those who have not spoken given preference over those who have spoken already. Independent members are also called upon with the frequency appropriate to their relative representation in the House.

Likewise, the British House of Commons provides time for members' statements, as do the legislatures of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.

I will spare the House the details of each of these variations on the times allotted, the number of speakers each day and so on, but I will emphasize that there are two important points to be drawn generally from the various legislatures.

The first is that such statement periods are reserved for legislators who are not members of the cabinet. As ministers, they generally have a separate set of speaking privileges and opportunities assigned to them in each legislature. Fundamentally, the widespread and codified existence of a period for statements in so many different legislative bodies recognizes the need of legislators everywhere to have an outlet to briefly express their various needs or concerns.

A second lesson that we can draw from Westminster and the provinces is that in many instances, it is the codified practice that the Speaker alone decides on the rotation of the speakers and not the various parties. This is to say that the Speaker can be aided by a list, but is not bound by one. The Speaker is rightfully seen in these many legislatures as an impartial referee who will determine that the right to speak is apportioned equally to all members, regardless of party affiliation.

I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to consider that if members in this place are to be accorded equal speaking rights under S. O. 31, then you and you alone can guarantee that these rights are respected.

Indeed, our own House recognizes this very principle of equal time already when it comes to private members' business. Under private members' business, every member who is not a member of the cabinet has an equal opportunity to participate. The schedule of who gets to participate in introducing private legislation is arranged in a rotation, regardless of party affiliation, as we all know. The same principle should apply to S. O. 31s. A rotating schedule would allow every MP an equal opportunity to participate in this critically important speaking opportunity.

I am aware of members who have suggested that if we want to speak freely in this place, we should become an independent. I know we all agree that free speech is fundamental to the proper working of this institution. The idea that someone should have to leave his or her party just to be able to make a one minute statement in the House is simply not justified or reasonable. Nor is there any precedent for this drastic step in other parliaments.

Considering all the points that have been made, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to consider this. There will always exist in our parliamentary system a tension between the demands of a party and the direction an individual member might want to take in representing his or her constituents. It is clear to me that under our system of government, sometimes the demands of the party will need to take to precedence if the government is to govern effectively, such as when it comes to support for a budget or other key government legislation.

However, there are also times when the rights of a member to speak freely should be paramount. Standing Order 31 speaking slots are one of those times. After all, these statements are merely words, no matter how contentious some of the subjects raised might be. There is no vote or any other action that can be taken during a one minute statement that is going to topple a government or cause an election. There is nothing to fear on the part of any party from ensuring members' rights to speak freely in the House are guaranteed.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you certify that the true spirit and intent of S. O. 31s are upheld by accepting the arguments in favour of the member for Langley's question of privilege and ensuring that members' statements be assigned equally on a rotating basis to all qualifying members of the House.

S. O. 31PrivilegeOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for his further points of this question.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, during the course of question period, the Minister of Heritage clearly held in his hand what appeared to be copies of correspondence from MPs to the government, but not likely to himself.

It is the custom of the House for ministers who reference documents and quote from them to table those documents. Clearly, the minister and backbenchers have been provided access to correspondence from members and individuals, information to which they were not entitled.

Were all obligations met under the Access to Information Act? Furthermore, will the government table the documentation related to both the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act that allows them to circulate correspondence from members to individuals who did not give authority to allow them to provide that information to members?

There is a serious matter here, but related to question period, the minister clearly held in his hand documentation, which was referenced not to his department but to HRSD, relating to the temporary foreign workers program. I ask that the minister table those letters in the House.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I imagine that there is a possibility that we will hear back from the minister on this point, but at this time, since I do not want to point out the presence or absence of a member, perhaps we will wait and see if the minister does come back to the House to address this point.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are still four minutes left for questions and comments for the hon. member for Malpeque.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member why he might want to reinvent the wheel, when it is already there. I understand from the motion that he would like a committee composed of six government members, four members from the opposition and one member from his party.

I might advise him that a committee such as that already exists exactly in those numbers, with the member for Cape Breton—Canso being the vice-chair. This committee travelled throughout Canada and heard about the issue of skilled and lower-skilled trades, including the temporary foreign workers.

I would ask the member two questions. First, did the member submit witnesses or potential people to that committee through the member for Cape Breton—Canso? Second, the motion asks for a study or an examination through a committee, a committee that already exists. Another study will not answer the problems or the questions.

Pages 84 and 85 of the budget specifically talk about reforms to the temporary foreign worker program to ensure that Canadians are given the first chance for available jobs and that Canadians who are seeking jobs are first in line for those opportunities. It sets out point by point the number of reforms that would be made.

My question is whether the member submitted witnesses to the committee. As well, has he read the budget and looked at the reforms?

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member asked why we would reinvent the wheel. The reason is that half the spokes are out of the wheel under the Conservative government leadership. That is why the points in the budget are not solving this problem of temporary foreign workers.

Did he listen to all of our speeches? Maybe the member was reading all of his PMO talking points. The fact of the matter is that the temporary foreign worker program is working in some cases, such as in the agricultural community. However, we know from the RBC experience and others that there are areas where it is not working.

I would say to the hon. member that if there are problems out there, this House of Commons and its members, including backbenchers from the government party, have a responsibility to go out there, hold hearings, find the problems and recommend solutions. The solutions coming forward from HRSDC through the minister are just not good enough, and the member should recognize that.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, what is really disturbing to Canadians is the fact that the government has known how the temporary foreign worker program was being abused and used to drive down wages and make it simple for companies to not have to invest in training and apprenticeships. They could just bring in wholesale workers.

We saw this example with respect to bringing in workers from China to run a mine in B.C. The Conservatives knew it, but they ignored it, because they are supporting the outsourcing. They are supporting the downgrading of jobs in Canada to fit their rip-and-ship agenda of trying to get at resources as quickly as possible.

I would ask my hon. colleague how he thinks it is even possible to talk about a job plan for the economy when the government is undermining basic job training and apprenticeships.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, in response to my colleague's question, we know that although the government talks about job training in its budget, it clearly is not there.

With respect to the temporary foreign worker program, the use of foreign workers has gone up in areas where unemployment is the highest. That tells me two things. There is an abuse of the program, and as the member suggested, the government is quietly letting that abuse pass. That is causing two problems. First, it is forcing wages down by 15%, as was talked about in question period. Second, labour rights are being undermined.

Clearly, the government has not provided funding for adequate skills training for workers to be able to participate in those jobs.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member from Brampton.

I noticed that the member for Malpeque failed to answer both questions and referred instead to broken spokes in the wheel, but I would have liked a direct answer to both those questions.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the motion from the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso. The motion is quite timely, as it relates to one of the most significant challenges ahead of us as Canada emerges from the recession and the growing skills mismatch.

Our government's top priority remains job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians. These goals will be more difficult to meet if we do not have a plan to deal with the skills shortages facing the country. It is a real concern right across the nation. That is why I was very pleased to be part of the human resources committee and the study we undertook last year on skills and labour shortages. The study involved the committee travelling to all regions of Canada to directly hear from Canadians about the challenges posed by these skills and labour shortages. In fact, the member for Cape Breton—Canso was part of the committee during that study and heard, as I did, directly from business owners across Canada about the challenges they are facing in finding Canadians to fill available job positions, both in skilled and unskilled positions.

I would like to quote one of the business owners the committee heard from during the study, who was quite clear on this point. The person from the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association stated:

If it weren't for the temporary foreign worker program, some operators would have to close their doors. The [TFW] program has helped our members to stabilize their businesses and retain their domestic employees and has reduced the chaos that resulted from understaffed restaurants.

We heard time and time again statements with respect to why the program is important and why it is particularly needed in Western Canada, in my home province, in my home riding of Souris—Moose Mountain.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in its report on the top 10 barriers to competitiveness, has identified the skills shortage as the number one obstacle to the success of its members. It says that labour shortages and skills mismatches have become a dominant policy concern among political, business, labour and academic groups over the past six months within Canada and internationally.

We have employers who are looking to offshore resources to hire temporary foreign workers, because they cannot find, for one reason or another, Canadians to do the jobs they need filled, particularly in the high-demand occupations.

Indeed, we have been quite clear. The original intent of the program was to help employers find temporary help in cases where there were absolute and acute labour shortages. I would invite the member who put forward the motion, and other members, to visit my riding and ridings in Saskatchewan, Alberta and other parts of the country where there is a very acute labour shortage. I know that members from the NDP and Liberals understand the importance of this program to businesses in their ridings. In fact, the member alluded earlier to the fact that letters have been sent to the Minister of Human Resources requesting more temporary foreign workers for businesses in their ridings, even ridings with higher than average unemployment.

That is why Canada's economic action plan 2013 moves forward with key initiatives to address the skills challenge. This includes the creation of the Canada job grant, which would provide $15,000 or more dollars per person to ensure that Canadians are getting the skills employers are seeking. When fully implemented, the Canada job grant would benefit an estimated 130,000 Canadians.

Budget 2013 would also create more opportunities for apprentices by making it easier for them to get the experience they need to succeed in their chosen professions. It would also provide additional support to under-represented groups, including persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginals and newcomers, to help them find good jobs. These are actions and improvements that must be taken. They are part of our long-term plan to create jobs, growth and prosperity.

However, many Canadian businesses need workers now, and they cannot find workers, no matter how widely they advertise for them. That is why we have the temporary foreign worker program. Canada's temporary foreign worker program is designed to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages. That underscores the problem.

Indeed, employers must show that they have made all reasonable efforts to fill the positions locally, and this is the most critical aspect. They need to demonstrate that employing a temporary foreign worker will not adversely affect the Canadian labour market. When jobs are available, Canadians, of course, must have the first crack at these opportunities. We must do what we can to ensure that. To underscore this point, we have announced important changes to the temporary foreign worker program.

As members will recall, last month, the Minister of Finance announced that our government is taking action to reform Canada's temporary worker program to further ensure that Canadians are always given the first crack at job openings. In budget 2013, we have pledged to work with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers are relied upon only when Canadians cannot fill those jobs. We are committed to increasing the recruitment efforts employers must make to hire Canadians before they are eligible to apply for temporary foreign workers, including increasing the length and reach of their advertising. When they have done that, they must be able to rely upon those workers.

If I heard anything in the hearings across the country, from coast to coast, it was the fact that for Canadian businesses to grow, for our economy to prosper and to ensure jobs, they need to have the people both in the skilled and unskilled areas to ensure that they can expand their businesses and contribute to our economy.

We will also find ways to ensure that employers have a plan to transition to an all-Canadian workforce over time. We will amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to restrict the identification of non-official languages as job requirements when employers hire through the temporary foreign worker program. We are proposing to introduce user fees for employers applying for labour market opinions to hire temporary foreign workers so that these costs are no longer borne by taxpayers. These are all reforms our government has already mentioned in the budget speech here in this House.

Our government has already introduced a stronger link between the employment insurance program and the temporary foreign worker program to ensure that Canadians who are looking for work know about local jobs. In fact, the opposition has made a lot of to-do about that fact. It is another means to ensure that Canadians know about jobs and have the first opportunities.

I can assure members that we are concerned and are taking seriously recent reports of the misuse of the temporary foreign worker program. Of course, any misuse should not be tolerated and should be dealt with. HRSDC officials are investigating these allegations, as integrity, fairness and a safe, healthy workplace are the hallmarks of working in Canada. These values do not apply just to Canadian citizens. Foreign workers have the same rights as Canadian workers, including the assurance of at least the same pay for the same work at the same location. That is how the system is meant to work.

Every employer is required to pay temporary foreign workers the same wage paid to Canadian workers doing the same job in the same location, despite anything the opposition would try to say to the contrary. Contrary to some incorrect reports, employers cannot pay temporary foreign workers less than a Canadian would earn in the same job. By upholding these high standards, we will ensure that Canada's economy continues thrive.

Canada is recognized today for its resilience during the global recession and recovery, its low-tax environment, its highly educated and skilled labour force, its natural resource endowments and a financial sector that is the envy of the world. With the initiatives of Canada's economic action plan, we are building on Canada's success in reinforcing the fundamental strengths of the Canadian economy.

I urge all members of this House to support moving forward with tangible actions by voting against this opposition motion, which tries to create a problem and to do something different, when we have already gone through the process. We have heard from the people. We have taken steps in the budget with respect to reform, which is something they should support. If they would support that, they would see that their concerns have been adequately addressed.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with fascination to my colleague. I am not sure that he is even aware of the fundamental issue here, which is that the foreign worker program was used by RBC such that Canadians were having to train temporary foreign workers, and then RBC was going to outsource them.

The government should have seen the writing on the wall. There are 300,000 positions being used across Canada. When we have high unemployment right across the country, the program is not being used temporarily.

We have a situation with HD Mining, where over 300 Canadians applied for work, and every one of them was turned down, because they did not speak Mandarin. It was going to bring in Chinese miners to mine in British Columbia. I come from a mining region. Canadian miners have a reputation as the best experts in the world. They travel all over the world.

If there is a shortage, there should be job training and apprenticeships. This is completely lacking from the Conservative government.

I would ask the member why the government has completely dropped the ball on HD Mining. Why did it not see this coming? Why are the Conservatives giving us such pitiful excuses now?

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, a number of initiatives have taken to ensure for those from underrepresented groups that I mentioned earlier, for those who need to have their skills upgraded in training and for those who need more education. All of these kinds of investments have been undertaken in the budget so that Canadians in Canada first have an opportunity for those jobs that exist. Will the member undertake to support those measures, as opposed to opposing this measure and opposing the budget from time to time?

With respect to any abuses of the system, of course we do not want any abuses. To the extent there are, they will be dealt with. The minister has clearly indicated that an investigation will take place and that those who are abusing the system will be dealt with.

Furthermore, the finance minister has indicated a number of improvements in the budget, a number of reforms that would make it better. I wonder if the member would support them.

Second, I would ask the member to go to western Canada, to go to my riding, to go to Fort McMurray, to go to places where people have difficulty finding people to do the work that needs to be done after they have advertised all they can advertise. The member can speak to them. He can speak to the owners who spend late nights trying to cover a number of shifts because they do not have the employees to do it, whether they are temporary foreign workers or whether or they are workers from Canada. They cannot find them. They cannot fill those positions.

Perhaps the member should go out there and find out on the ground why the program is so important to western Canadians and to other Canadians, including members of his party who are requesting more temporary foreign workers in their particular ridings.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, the problem we have here today is the NDP members do not want to bring in any temporary workers and the Conservatives want to bring anybody in.

The reality is that we need temporary workers. Spring is upon us now. Farmers need these workers. They cannot get enough workers. The question is the criteria.

My question for the hon. member is this: should workers be brought in and other workers fired? That is the question. I think that is what the review is asking. It is asking that we look at the whole system. There are industries that depend upon temporary workers; they should be brought in for those companies, but other companies should not be firing people and using temporary workers in their place.

Why should we not have the review? As well, would the member agree that people should be fired when temporary workers are brought in?

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, it was the member's party, the Liberal Party, that brought anyone in. We do have criteria for those who need to come in, and those criteria need to be followed.

With respect to reforms that may be taken to ensure that those who actually need temporary foreign workers can have them, there have been specific reforms outlined in the budget, and I will read some of them. It is basically to increase the recruitment efforts that employers must make to hire Canadians before they would be eligible to apply for temporary foreign workers, including increasing the length and reach of advertising. It is all steps to say that first they must ensure that they cannot get a Canadian or someone in Canada to fill the particular position and that they have done that. When they have demonstrated that, then they ought to be able to get that application.

For those who want to replace Canadians who would be there to be work, to answer the question more directly, they first have to establish that as a fact. The program was never intended to have temporary foreign workers displace Canadian workers. It was to have those workers fill positions that cannot be filled so that that businesses could grow and expand.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the opposition motion regarding the temporary foreign worker program. The original intent of this program was to help employers find temporary help in cases where there are absolute and acute labour shortages. Some issues of concern have been raised with the program recently, and as my colleagues and the minister have said, HRSDC is looking into these matters. As a government, we committed in the budget to fixing the program to ensure that Canadians have the first crack at available jobs.

Let me say a few words about our economic outlook and how we are responding to it in our economic action plan 2013.

In March economists met with the Minister of Finance to discuss the economic outlook as well as the risks associated with it.

One of the variables in business planning is the supply of talent available to meet the demand for skilled labour, and there are currently gaps in that supply in various regions of the country. This is why economic action plan 2013 made strong investments in the skills of Canadians. Since the depth of the recession, Canada has seen over 900,000 net new jobs created. These are predominantly full-time, high-paying private sector jobs. We are acting now to equip Canadians with the skills and training they need to obtain high-quality, well-paying jobs. Unfortunately, the opposition voted against these measures to help Canadians.

The Canada jobs grant will provide up to $15,000 or more per person to provide training to connect Canadians with a job that is going unfilled.

We are creating opportunities for apprentices by making it easier to get the experience needed to make the leap to journeyperson status, and we are providing support to under-represented groups, including persons with disabilities, youth, aboriginal people and newcomers, to help them find good jobs in the labour force.

While there are still too many Canadians looking for work, there are regions of this country where employers are unable to find the skills or labour they require to keep their businesses growing. If there is an acute labour shortage, the temporary foreign worker program can assist employers in meeting temporary demands for labour. The reason behind this program is to address the shortages confronted by many regions across Canada.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business stated in its Business Barometer report that 34% of small and medium-sized companies identified skills shortages as a constraint on growth.

CIBC World Markets reported in December 2012 that 30% of businesses in this country are facing a skilled labour shortage.

It is our responsibility to ensure that employers put Canadians first in line for those job opportunities. Foreign workers can be hired when and only when Canadians or permanent residents are not available or qualified to do the job, but that does not mean the program will help companies make more money by hiring foreign workers at lower wages. This would not be in line with the core principles of the program or with the way it operates.

What are these principles? Canadians must have first priority for job vacancies. While in Canada, temporary foreign workers have the same rights and protections as Canadian workers under the applicable federal or provincial employment standards and labour laws. Foreign workers have to be paid at the same wage as a Canadian worker for the same job in the same location. Let me repeat that, as there appears to be a misunderstanding on this point: employers must prove they pay a temporary foreign worker the same wage they pay a Canadian working for them in that region of the country. They cannot pay less than what they are paying their Canadian employees.

How does the temporary foreign worker program operate? The program is jointly managed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, or HRSDC, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, or CIC.

The first step for an employer who wants to use the program is to send an application form to HRSDC requesting permission to hire temporary foreign workers. HRSDC will then issue a labour market opinion to the employer to inform them of the likely impact these foreign workers would have on the Canadian job market. If the labour opinion is favourable and the application is accepted, then CIC will issue a temporary work permit to a foreign worker.

As for the provinces and territories, they are responsible for overseeing working conditions for all workers, including temporary foreign workers.

The temporary foreign worker program answers a real need. The program is driven by the demands of the labour market and the demographics of our changing workforce. As part of their responsibilities, employers are required to advertise and to recruit Canadians whenever and wherever possible.

Finally, we implemented a new wage structure that guarantees that foreign workers and Canadians performing the same job in the same location will be paid identical wages. Using temporary foreign workers to replace already employed Canadian workers is, as has been stated, totally unacceptable. This is not what the program was designed to do, and it will not be tolerated by this government.

Economic action plan 2013 is committed to reform Canada's temporary foreign worker program. We will ensure that there is no confusion about the rules. In the coming months, we will work with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers are relied upon only when Canadians cannot fill those jobs. We will ensure that employers make intensive recruitment efforts to hire Canadians before they apply for temporary foreign workers. We will require employers to present a plan to transition to an all-Canadian workforce over time and we will propose the introduction of a user fee for employers applying to use temporary foreign workers through the labour market opinion process.

However, it is our government's goal to ensure employers can find qualified workers here in Canada and fill these jobs. This is why the investments in training were key to budget 2013. Unfortunately, the opposition voted against these investments in Canadian skills. While I can appreciate the concerns of the members across the way, as the government shares many of those same concerns, I cannot support this motion.

The human resources committee has studied the labour market and travelled to all parts of the nation. I was part of and I am a member of the HRSDC committee on human resources. We did travel across the country, as my colleague said in his speech earlier. We did talk to employers. We did talk to people involved in various industries across this country, including small business operators, medium-size and large business operators, and they all, to a person, said the biggest problem they will be facing now and in the future, depending on the part of the country they were in, will be to fill the jobs that would be available in their businesses for both unskilled and skilled labour.

The work has been done, as has been mentioned, and therefore we proposed the reforms in our budget. Our government is proposing concrete actions to improve this program to ensure Canadians come first. The time to act is now; therefore, I urge all members to vote against the motion and instead to support our proposed changes to the program.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend my hon. colleague for his speech, but I have to point out that his logic is fundamentally flawed, because he says the government is going to take certain actions to fix the situation as if Conservatives only just discovered there was a problem.

The problem is that since the government was elected in 2006, the number of temporary foreign workers has gone up steadily from 140,000 to 340,000, so the Conservatives have known about this problem for at least seven years, or at least four years if we take the date of the Auditor General's report in 2009.

It is not “Whoops, we have a problem”; we have a deliberately created situation of a massive increase of temporary foreign workers, deliberately created by the rules and lack of implementation of the rules by the Conservative government over many years. The idea that Conservatives have suddenly discovered the problem and are going to fix it makes zero sense at all.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2013 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, but he is absolutely incorrect in saying that this is a situation created by government. This is a situation created by the need of companies, especially in certain regions of the country. I can say from having been on the committee and travelling across the country, particularly in western Canada where there are acute shortages, that businesses would actually have to close their doors if temporary foreign workers were not available to them.

I might say that, if anything, the increases the member mentioned are driven by members of his caucus, like the members for Sydney—Victoria, Winnipeg North, Random—Burin—St. George's, Mount Royal and Cape Breton—Canso, who ask the minister for permission to bring in temporary foreign workers. That is what has driven it. It is driven by the need in this country and by persons from your side of the House.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I would again remind members that comments are to be directed to the Chair, not individual members. It is not my side of the House or that of the person standing in this position in the alternative.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the finance committee, I travelled the country and heard some of the same things you are referring to, that there were some high-skilled jobs—

Opposition Motion--Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

This has been happening over the last three hours. I would ask all members to be conscious of the fact that they need to direct their comments to the Chair, not other members.