Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise in support of the motion by my colleague. It is a very sensible motion, and given the nature of the issues that have been arising over the last couple of months, I think it is well overdue.
I am pleased as well to be sharing my time with the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
It is very clear that there is a need for an audit by the Auditor General. The government speaks in terms of its enforcement regime, but its surveillance of the temporary foreign workers program consists of spot audits commissioned by the companies themselves. It is not that there are any credibility questions related to independent auditors it might hire, but I think there has been enough public attention to this issue for it to be time for the Auditor General to come in and do, as per usual, a fabulous job in auditing federal programs.
What are the issues that we have before us? The first issue, I would suggest, is this: do we even know if we have a labour shortage? Do we have a labour shortage for skilled workers, for the service sector? Do we even have reliable data? The response to that by some independent bodies, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the C.D. Howe Institute, is that we do not.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported that Canada has continued excess capacity in the Canadian labour market. He also reported that there was only modest growth in real average wages. He also reported that there is little evidence of a national labour shortage in Canada and that there is no evidence supporting an acute national skills mismatch, except in some specific areas. He singled out some of the sectors in Saskatchewan.
He has also reported that there are lower job vacancy rates and higher unemployment, obviously raising some serious issues about how the temporary foreign worker program is addressing the supply of labour and addressing unemployment in Canada.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported that there is a skilled labour shortage of just 32% and an unskilled or semi-skilled labour shortage of 16%. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has suggested the higher proportion of temporary foreign workers in the private sector could be putting downward pressure on private sector job vacancy rates and reducing the number of job vacancies; in other words, it could actually be imperilling the creation of jobs for Canadians, not filling them.
Provincial data also suggests that no provinces are experiencing acute labour shortages or skills mismatches related to the period before the 2008-2009 recession. The C.D. Howe report concurs with the findings of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It has found little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations and that the relaxations of conditions for hiring temporary workers resulted in rising unemployment in Alberta and British Columbia.
They suggest that the minimal uniform application fee paid by employers to hire temporary foreign workers offers minimal incentives to seek Canadian workers to fill vacancies. They also found that other countries imposed substantially higher fees, pro-rated per sector.
In other words, they have identified two problems. One is that there is an across-the-board fee, and if dealing with a big sector like the fossil fuel sector, it is probably not a high enough fee to deter the hiring of temporary foreign workers instead of investing in training or investing in searching for a Canadian employee.
To quote Professor Dominique Gross, the author of the C.D. Howe report:
A successful program would encourage employers to attract and train domestic workers for jobs that are permanent and that ensure stability of their business activity in the short-term. The current Canadian program falls short of these goals.
Do we have reliable labour and skills data? The Parliamentary Budget Officer and the C.D. Howe Institute say no. Statistics Canada has also now said no. Why? It is because apparently the government, in its wisdom, provided dollars sufficient only to survey employers on work demographics, skills shortages, hiring of temporary foreign workers, and which positions are hard to fill and why. It provided no money to analyze the data and thereby inform the Canadian economy of where there might be gaps, where we might need to be directing our training dollars, whether we needed to give support for mobility, or whether there might be space for temporary foreign workers. Even the minister has been quoted as saying that we must do a better job of collecting detailed labour market information.
The budget was shrunk. For such analyses, it was cut by almost $30 million, and staff at Statistics Canada was cut by over 18%, so we are not going to immediately address the problem.
What information have we gleaned? Has the temporary foreign worker program impacted wages? According to the information obtained through access to information, the answer to that is, yes, in Alberta. Across the board, it has been revealed that for the service sector, labourers, restaurants, nurseries, farm workers, hotels, casinos, and gas stations, hundreds of unlawful temporary foreign worker permits were issued by the current government at wages below the prevailing wage rate for each of those occupations. That indicates a pattern of using temporary foreign workers to drive down Canadian wages.
This evidence merits broader independent review by the Auditor General.
The minister said that he encourages employers to raise wages. I think perhaps the minister has additional powers. He should be going beyond encouraging Canadian employers to employ Canadians or train them. This evidence suggests that his temporary foreign worker program is having the direct opposite effect.
Third, what has been the effect of the temporary foreign worker program on employment for Canadians in the major employment sector, which the government likes to speak of all the time, the oil sands sector?
The first accelerated program, for which there was no LMO required to hire temporary foreign workers in Alberta, was finally ended, but it was replaced with a pilot program, in other words, no LMO required, and has been recently extended. What has that caused?
As I raised in this place, on behalf of Canadian workers, particularly the ironworkers at two major oil sands projects, Husky Energy and Imperial Oil, 65 Canadian ironworkers were laid off and replaced by Croatian temporary foreign workers, in the case of Imperial Oil. In the case of Husky Energy, 300 Canadian workers were replaced by temporary foreign workers.
In the case of Imperial Oil, I have actually been approached by a number of the workers who have been laid off, who have come to meet with me. One of them is a single mother apprentice.
The current government talks all the time about how it is working hand-in-glove with major industry to encourage the support of apprenticeships, yet here we have a scenario in which a single mother, who has gone back to school and is apprenticing, was laid off and replaced by a temporary foreign worker.
Why is that serious? It is because apprentices need that work experience to get their tickets.
I also was approached by an aboriginal apprentice who was laid off. He has a young family and is very seriously concerned about the lack of enforcement of this program in the oil sands sector.
I have also been approached by steamfitters apprenticing in the Esso heavy oil sector in Cold Lake, where apparently eight of 11 of the crew are temporary foreign workers, despite the fact that there are many workers, including Albertans, who would like those jobs. The problem is that the sector is moving so fast that rental rates are skyrocketing and there is simply not a place for people to stay, whereas we are enabling temporary foreign workers to come. We pay their travel and in some places subsidize their housing.
I have heard from welders who cannot get work. They have been waiting for a year where jobs are posted, and they have not been taken up.
I have heard from an insulator where 200 jobs were posted and then removed. That person was then told by the company that it was applying for an LMO to fill those jobs.
Where is the oversight? Where is the inspection? Where is the enforcement? Where is the enforcement and compliance strategy?
I have raised this issue repeatedly with the government. An efficacious regulatory program includes good regulations and rules, fully trained inspectors who ensure that those rules are enforced, and an enforcement and compliance strategy that sets forth how exactly they are going to ensure that this program is complied with.
We are told that there is no on-the-ground surveillance program for this sector, so the obvious question is raised. There is a lot of talk about increased penalties. How on earth are they going to assert these penalties, when the only time violations are raised is when workers who are displaced either come to the official opposition or other opposition members or to the media?