Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to the opposition day motion.
First, the temporary foreign worker program was established by a Liberal government, and that government achieved a careful balance of three equally important objectives: protecting the jobs and wages of Canadian workers and protecting Canadians' access to employment opportunities; assisting small businesses and companies having legitimate difficulties finding workers; and protecting the dignity of temporary foreign workers by ensuring that they are paid a fair wage and are treated as fairly as Canadian workers doing the same jobs.
The Conservatives, we believe, have reduced, or perhaps even destroyed, balance in this program. They have skewed the system in favour of the employer alone, have removed important protections for Canadian workers, and, in some cases, may have exposed foreign workers to unfair practices.
I want to speak to some of the positive aspects of the temporary foreign worker program when it is carried out and executed properly.
John Eisses is the president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, a very important organization to horticulture in Nova Scotia. He is very concerned about the potential negative effect the proposed changes to the EI Act and associated regulations could have or will have on the Canadian seasonal agricultural workforce.
For decades, it has been demonstrated that very few EI recipients, or Canadians in general, are...capable of meeting seasonal agricultural workforce requirements.
He goes further. He says:
...the temporary foreign worker program...currently provides the industry with a consistent, reliable and trainable workforce that positively impacts the ongoing economic viability of the sector and its supporting value chain. If foreign workers are displaced...farms will go out of business or become less competitive, putting employed Canadians out of work.
This is a key point. As we study the temporary foreign worker program, it is important to understand that for some industries, in some cases, it is working quite well. We want to have the study to understand where the failings are and address those.
In ridings like mine, where the temporary foreign worker program is actively used by the horticulture industry, as an example, it creates a lot of value-added jobs further up the value chain. For instance, when temporary foreign workers are engaged in picking apples or berries, Canadians are involved in processing those foods, driving the trucks to get the fruits to market, and making pies. There are all kinds of opportunities. In the grape industry, as an example, people pick the grapes, and people make the wine, so there is an opportunity. It is very important to recognize that some of these value-added jobs further up the food chain actually require temporary foreign workers to create that opportunity.
He goes further. He says:
Contrary to public opinion, seasonal agricultural foreign workers support a viable horticultural farm community. Foreign workers are paid minimum wage or more; their employers provide housing that meets code, partial funding for international transportation, local transportation, workers' compensation and additional health care insurance in some cases. Foreign workers pay income tax.
In fact, they also contribute to CPP and EI, but they are ineligible to collect either. They contribute to the local economy as well.
He also tells us that farming:
requires trained managers, use of current technology and equipment, skilled and unskilled workers; this means that a dedicated, reliable and trainable workforce is required which is not available using sporadic EI recipients.
The message is truthful. First, be very careful in the changes being made to EI. It is a warning to the government that some of the changes could be deleterious to the important horticulture industry, but also that when run properly, when there is a balanced temporary foreign worker program, there are industries that depend on it, and it can operate well.
I also have in a recent article in the Chronicle Herald the St. Mary's River Smokehouses saying that if their access to the temporary foreign worker program is reduced, it would be very detrimental to this small business.
We also heard from Lee Cohen, a Halifax immigration lawyer, who said that the temporary foreign worker program is a good idea if it achieves two objectives, as follows:
One is that it helps fill labour shortages...with skilled and sometimes not so skilled workers from abroad. This meets a market need and it helps employers in Canada get production done and get work done that wouldn’t otherwise be done in the absence of having domestic workers.
He also stated:
it gives foreign workers an opportunity to experience Canada and that group of foreign workers could, if they wish, form a body of people that will…eventually become permanent residents and help build the (country) and add to the Canadian economy.
He does say that he wants to see the program rules fixed to ensure that these are the objectives being met. He says that the program has “lots of shortfalls” and that there is a need for clarity on what is allowed. That is what greater study in the House can help facilitate.
Immigration strategy can be incredibly important to economic growth and opportunity. I live in and represent a riding in Atlantic Canada. In Atlantic Canada, there is a declining and aging population. The demographic trend is very bad. It is a demographic time bomb. Rural communities in Atlantic Canada face even more challenges in terms of an aging and declining population. I want to propose to the House and to members an example of an idea related to immigration and economic growth and opportunity that combines federal and provincial government leadership. It is actually focused on drawing people to rural Nova Scotia. It is focused on a very specific industry, and that is the grape and wine industry.
In 1997, when I was first elected, there were two wineries in Nova Scotia. Today there are over 15, and more are on the way. To put this in perspective, in 1995 there were 19 wineries in the Niagara region of Ontario, and today there are over 130. The Canadian government could work with the Nova Scotia government to turbocharge the Nova Scotia grape and wine industry and create jobs throughout rural Nova Scotia.
My colleague from Sydney—Victoria is here today. His family came to Nova Scotia as part of the most successful wave of immigration to rural Nova Scotia in our history. That was the wave of immigration from Holland post World War II and in the 1950s. I believe that his family came to Cape Breton in 1952, in fact. At that time, families like the van Oostrums and van Dykes came to Nova Scotia and found opportunity.
There was a deliberate strategy. The provincial department of agriculture in Nova Scotia advertised, along with the federal department of immigration, in Dutch newspapers saying come to Nova Scotia, and we will help identify farmland, help finance your acquisition of that farmland through the farm loans board. We will help bring you to Nova Scotia, where you can find opportunities. They had a very targeted, economically focused immigration strategy.
Fast forward to today. There is tremendous growth in the wine industry and tremendous demand for Nova Scotia wines. In fact, I met with Carl Sparkes and Pete Luckett recently, two of the entrepreneurs involved in our wine industry. They told me that they could sell thousands and thousands of cases of Nova Scotia wine. They sell out every year. There is Chinese demand. The global demand for Nova Scotia wines is growing. The quality has developed very positively. There are gold medal winning wines being produced in Nova Scotia. The biggest challenge is grapes. Nova Scotia does not currently grow enough grapes to meet the demand for Nova Scotia wines. Yet there is farmland across the province that is underutilized, prime farmland, which could be incredible for vineyards.
Fast forward from the Dutch example to today's example. The hardest hit European economies, countries such as Portugal, Italy, Spain and even France, are also countries with a disproportionate amount of expertise in the areas of grape production and wine production.
There are also countries with, in some cases, up to 40% or 50% youth unemployment and a lack of opportunities. There are also countries that, because of their fiscal situations, are increasing taxes significantly and taxing the heck out of people with capital. There are countries where vineyard land is not affordable; it is some of the highest-cost vineyard land. In Nova Scotia we have high-quality land for potential vineyards, but it is also affordable.
Furthermore, there is even a climate change dynamic to this. Some of the traditional wine production regions, including the Champagne region, some experts are saying, will be rendered less ideal for grape and wine production in the future because of climate change, while Nova Scotia will actually become a better place to produce wine.
Therefore, if we consider the success of that Dutch immigration example and then apply a model requiring federal and provincial leadership working together to today's issue and opportunity around the grape and wine industry in Nova Scotia, it would provide us with an example of an idea—and politics ought to be a business of ideas and leadership around ideas and developing ideas and engaging people on them—that could actually work and could transform rural Nova Scotia's economy.
Carl Sparkes recently bought Jost Winery. He placed an ad recently on the Internet for a viticulturist. He had 60 applications. About 50 of them were from Europe. This bears out the point that there is an opportunity to have a very targeted immigration strategy. It would not be just temporary foreign workers, but on a permanent basis, drawing those people to opportunities to invest in, work in and develop businesses in rural Nova Scotia.
We need to map the land resource. We need to identify land that may be available. We need to target those European countries, perhaps even economies like South Africa, where there is a lot of expertise in grapes and wine and where there are some challenges.
We could attract investors from these countries. We could attract workers from these countries. We could matchmake land in Nova Scotia with the investors and the workers to develop that land into what could be a very highly successful value-added industry in rural Nova Scotia: the grapes and wine industry. We could utilize the farm loans board and other vehicles to help finance some of this. We could engage the Nova Scotia Community College and Acadia University and the federal government's research station in Kentville, which is another reason decentralized agricultural research is so essential. We have seen an atrophy of that research in recent years under the current government. We need to actually restore and increase funding for decentralized research. Certainly the research done for wine in the Annapolis Valley might be quite different from that in the Okanagan Valley or the Niagara region, as an example. We should be helping train Nova Scotians increasingly on viticulture and winemaking.
The opportunity here is not only to reverse the demographic decline of our rural communities and attract a new generation of new Canadians who would bring their families to rural Nova Scotia and help build their wineries, their vineyards and their families as citizens and nation builders in our province, but to create jobs and opportunities for other rural Nova Scotians.
In Canada, one of the most innovative immigration programs in the country is in Manitoba, which has been successful for some time. In fact, Manitoba last year attracted 16,000 new Canadians; Nova Scotia attracted around 2,000. Manitoba's focus has been to engage communities, to engage businesses and to target immigration around economic opportunities. This is the kind of approach that I think would commend itself to the pioneers in this policy in Manitoba: a targeted approach.
However, it is very important when we are having debates on this kind of issue that we do not demonize immigration, that we do not demonize people who come to Canada to create opportunities for themselves and that we recognize the importance of a well-run temporary foreign worker program and an innovative economic strategy around a targeted and long-term immigration strategy, and it is twofold.
While we are very concerned about the flaws that exist within the temporary foreign worker program, it is really important in the course of these debates that we do not choose language that puts out some sort of xenophobic tone that stigmatizes people who come to our country to work, either on a temporary basis or on a permanent basis as immigrants.
I was speaking recently to John Bragg, who is one of Nova Scotia's greatest entrepreneurs, about this issue. He expressed the importance of temporary foreign workers in the horticulture industries that he has been a pioneer in, but he also reminded me of the time in the 1950s when the Dutch were coming over to rural Nova Scotia. He said he remembered people in our rural communities, up in places like Collingwood where John lived, saying, “Why do we need those Dutch coming in? They are going to take our jobs.”
That is what people used to say. The reality is those hard-working Dutch immigrants not only built futures for their families but also built jobs for all Nova Scotians who lived in those communities in what was the most successful wave of immigration to rural Nova Scotia.
It is important to realize that the first question we have to ask ourselves is, “Do we want them?” Sometimes there are concerns in the public about this. People feel it is a zero sum thing, that someone coming in is going to take a job from a Canadian worker. In most cases, that is not the case. In fact, these workers create jobs for Canadians higher up the value chain.
About a year ago I read an online survey in The Chronicle Herald in Nova Scotia. It asked online readers the question, “Would you support programs to attract more new Canadians to rural Nova Scotia?” Some 65% said “no”, and the commentary was along that line. Nova Scotians were afraid they would take jobs from us.
The best kind of politics is changing people's minds. One of the things we have a responsibility for at all levels of government is to make sure Canadians understand that immigration does not take Canadian jobs; rather, it creates Canadian jobs and opportunities. Canada has been built by people who chose to come here, and we need more workers choosing to come here. We need leadership from the federal government, working with the provinces, for targeted immigration strategies to attract a new generation of nation builders in this fabulous multicultural masterpiece we call Canada.