House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employers.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the minister has already indicated, the Auditor General is welcome to review the program, as the Auditor General is welcome to review any program.

I can assure the member opposite that the program is there, the rules are robust and that those people who are breaking the rules must be held accountable.

In cases of law-breaking, I am not sure the Auditor General is the right agency to hold them accountable. It is important that people from CBSA and, if it needs to be, the RCMP, are called in if people are involved in breaking the rules, in displacing Canadians or in human trafficking.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeMinister of State (Social Development)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to talk to this motion, what the opposition has proposed and what we have already done as a government.

I very much appreciate the comments of my colleague from Peace River. The fact is the opposition is not only late to the game, but in some ways it is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. What we all recognize, and what the opposition clearly recognizes, is that there is some value in the temporary foreign worker program. If opposition members did not believe that, they would not have asked us many times over the last number of years for temporary foreign workers to come to their ridings. Therefore, they recognize the value in it.

They obviously recognize that there are flaws that need to be fixed, but we do not have the support from those members to fix those flaws and make it a better system. Instead, they do things like they are doing today. They stand to present motions that are somewhat redundant and empty because they do not have a lot of actual action in them. Instead of supporting real reforms, real changes, they bring forward these kinds of motions.

I appreciate the fact that we can talk about it today, but I want to talk about what we have done, review what has gone on in the last few weeks and then talk about the changes we made this past summer. Just after I was sworn in to my current position, I worked with Minister Kenney, and we brought forward some changes to the temporary foreign worker program in July—

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I would remind the minister not to use names of members or ministers, but only refer to their ridings or titles.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

I am sorry. Thank you for that, Mr. Speaker.

I want to remind all of us of what has gone on over the last little while. In recent weeks we all became aware of abuses within this program and the Minister of Employment and Social Development acted immediately and directed officials to urgently look into these cases. Labour market opinions were suspended and companies were blacklisted. That is not just a small repercussion. In some cases, they can be blacklisted and banned for up to two years. When we talk about a moratorium, for these specific employers, it is a two-year moratorium.

However, more action was needed and that is why last Thursday, the Minister of Employment and Social Development announced an immediate moratorium on the food services sector's access to the program. That means until further notice new or pending applications for temporary foreign workers related to the food services sector will not be processed. That is very severe and very swift action.

In addition, previous approvals for any unfilled positions will be suspended. This moratorium will stay in effect until the ongoing review of the temporary foreign worker program is completed. Why are we doing this? It is simple. Swift, strong action was needed to send a message that abuse would not be tolerated.

Once again, we recognize, and I think the opposition also recognizes, that there is value in the temporary foreign worker program. In my riding there has been a really positive response to a seasonal worker program, for example, and there have not been abuses within that part of the program. However, when we see abuses, our government takes swift and decisive action.

Despite the minister having repeatedly warned employers that the temporary foreign worker program could only be used as a last and limited resort when Canadians were not available, some employers were blatantly misusing the program. We must have a zero tolerance policy and Canadians must always be first in line for every available job. Employers must do more to fill jobs with Canadians.

If employers are found to have lied about their efforts to hire Canadians before asking to bring in a foreign worker, they will face criminal prosecution with sanctions that include fines and even jail time. Make no mistake, we are going to fix this program and our record shows how serious we take this.

This is where I want to talk a bit about what we have been doing, very concrete, common sense measures that also have a real ability to stop abusers. This is what we have done and unfortunately the opposition members have opposed all of these measures.

First is the authority to conduct on-site inspections to ensure that employers are meeting the conditions of the program. The opposition talks about the Auditor General, and certainly the Auditor General is welcome to come and look. He can do whatever he and his office choose to do. However, what I do not understand is that the members are calling for that when we are calling for inspectors to be on-site ensuring that the conditions are being met. Opposition members did not support that. In fact, they voted against that. When we are taking real action, and thank goodness we could pass that and it is in place, they opposed it. The next thing they could ask for is a royal commission or something like that.

We brought forward legislative authority to impose significant financial penalties for employers who broke the rules. Again, this is another a concrete measure. If an employer breaks the rules, it is going to cost that employer. One would think the opposition would support that. One would think members would say that this was a good idea, that it was something concrete, but they opposed it.

Another measure is the ability to ban non-compliant employers from the program for two years and immediately add their names to a public blacklist. The opposition members voted against that. There is no better way to stop abuse than to say to the abusers that they are blacklisted, that they will not be able to use this program for two years. Let us forget about politics. I understand opposition members have political points to try to score, but these are good, solid, common sense measures that actually have some teeth and ability to stop abuses. They did not support it.

Requiring employers who legitimately rely on temporary foreign workers to have a plan to transition to Canadian workforce over time is not penalizing abusers. This is working together with employers that are using the program legitimately. However, as the government, we are saying to those employers that we want them to transition into a Canadian workforce.

One would think the opposition members would say that is a good idea that makes sense. However, they did not support it. They voted against every positive idea we brought forward.

I remember this one in July very clearly. By removing the existing wage flexibility, we now require employers to pay temporary foreign workers at their prevailing wage. I remember the opposition members talking about this. We went ahead, made the change, and agreed that it was a good policy initiative. We did it. They voted against it.

We added questions to employer LMO applications to ensure that the temporary foreign worker program is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs. That was a loophole we needed to close. We did it. They voted against that.

We introduced fees for employers for LMO processing and increased the fees for work permits, so they are not being borne by the taxpayer. Again, I remember this clearly from July, when we brought this one forward. I remember some of my hon. colleagues across the way defending employers and saying they should not have to pay the fee, that the taxpayer should keep paying it, and asking why we were making employers pay the fee for LMOs. It is because employers should pay, at a minimum, the fee for LMOs.

They are looking puzzled across the way, but they voted against it. They did not support it. They spoke against our changes in the media. We did this nine months ago.

What they are talking about are changes we brought forward nine months ago, and instead of supporting them, they voted against them. Today, they are behind the eight ball. They are not up to date with what has been going on.

Another change we made was making English and French the only languages that could be used as job requirements when hiring through the temporary foreign worker process. We also suspended the accelerated labour market opinion process. These were changes that would help Canadians get jobs.

The other change we made that has been so important is ensuring employers advertise for longer periods of time and across the country. Certainly more reforms are needed, but our government does not want to throw the baby out with the bath water, and I do not think that is what the opposition would want either. We want to keep the program strong. We want it to be integral. We want it to work for employers that need it. However, we will not tolerate abuses.

That is the action we have taken. That has been our record. Canadians can count on us to continue to stand up for them, to make sure Canadians are always the first on the list and get first crack at every job available. We look forward to the opposition supporting other reforms as we deem them necessary.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to this. If we check the record, most likely any changes to the temporary foreign worker program were probably made in one of the multifarious omnibus budget bills. If the government would bring forward these kinds of amendments separately, we might give due consideration to them.

In every occasion that has come to light—for example, serious problems in the restaurant sector—it has been revealed by the Alberta Federation of Labour, after access to information, that it found hundreds upon hundreds of violations by the applicants for LMOs, where they are paying below the wage offered in that sector. We have not seen any action by the government to start better scrutinizing of these LMOs that it is issuing illegally.

There is the issue of the oil sands workers. Iron workers—and I am hearing from other sectors it includes welders and boiler makers—are being replaced by temporary foreign workers. We have repeatedly, as much as a month ago, brought this to the attention of the government. My questions to the minister are these. What can we see in the way of increased surveillance and actual enforcement by the government? How many enforcers does it have available and deployed full time? Are any of those inspectors, or enforcers, deployed to the oil sands?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to believe what my hon. colleague is saying, that the New Democrats would have supported these changes had they been stand-alone bills, except I vividly recall the NDP speaking out against our changes when we introduced a large number of them in July, including the fee changes and some of the other changes. The opposition members did speak against it, so it is a little rich for them to say that they would have supported it. The fact is that they did not. They did not support it in their voting record. They did not support it when they spoke publicly about the changes. They are coming to the table really late in terms of how we address these issues.

To address the member's question, this is exactly why we brought forward changes like being able to go in and inspect. Today the opposition members are again talking about the Auditor General coming in. We are talking about real inspectors going to the sites and ensuring compliance. We are including stiff penalties if employers are lying or not being honest on their LMOs, which include not only fines but jail terms, being blacklisted, and being banned from using the program for two years. These are real and substantial consequences.

We are looking at the program and will continue to make changes as needed, because at the end of the day we want Canadians to get first crack at every job that is available across the country. We want employers to know that, if it means they need to be paying Canadians more to get Canadians to come and work at that job, maybe that is what they need to do.

We want Canadians to get the jobs. At the same time, we do not want to throw out the whole program, for example, for agricultural seasonal workers.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the temporary foreign worker program has tripled since the current government took over. Nothing much happened until it became visible. The first big incident that occurred was the story about RBC hiring many employees from India to help it with its accounting. The government said it would do something about it. It always likes to come out and say it will take swift and decisive action. My hon. colleague has used those words several times today to say the government would fix the problem.

The next incident that occurred was dealing with a coal mine in British Columbia. When it became apparent that temporary foreign workers were being used instead of Canadians in this coal mine in British Columbia, the government again said it would take swift and decisive action.

Then there was the incident that occurred with McDonald's recently. Again, we are hearing that the government will take swift and decisive action to fix the problem.

Apart from that, the Conservatives attack the opposition members for anything they have ever said before.

I ask my hon. colleague this. When is she going to come up with a plan so that we do not have to resort to swift and decisive action again and again in the future?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we have done. I know the Liberals did absolutely nothing. When temporary foreign workers came to Canada under the Liberals, there were no programs in place to change those temporary foreign workers into permanent—

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Just attack us.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Then they had no ideas, Mr. Speaker. They did nothing to change the integrity of the program.

We have a moratorium on the program for restaurant workers. Ask the restaurant workers if that is not swift and decisive action. Maybe it is time the member got back into his riding and, instead of asking for more temporary foreign workers, talk to them and see what is happening in those restaurants.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely misinformed.

This is the problem with the government. It does not want to take responsibility. It is like a foreign word that originates in the Prime Minister's office. It does not like to take responsibility.

The member, as well as the previous member, talked about the Conservative government fixing the problem. Who does the member think created the problem? It was the Conservative government that created the problem.

The member for Portage—Lisgar asked what the Liberals did to cure the problem. When we were in government, there was no problem with the temporary foreign worker program. That is the issue.

If it does its job as government, and it puts the checks in place, it can prevent the type of things that have taken place since the government has been in office. There has been massive abuse of the temporary foreign worker program. The responsibility lies with the government. It has not done its job. It has dropped the ball. As a result, tens of thousands of Canadians are losing their jobs.

I should have said at the outset that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso.

We need to recognize the reality of the program. It was brought back in the 1970s. Former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau recognized the need for it, in order to allow Canada's economy to continue to grow and develop, in certain industries where there was a need for a high level of expertise. It was felt that we could not meet those needs at the time. It was important to have a program that would allow us the opportunity to bring people in to further develop certain industries, on a temporary basis.

That was the intent of the program. Over the years, the program has provided literally hundreds of thousands of opportunities for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It has added tremendous value to our economy.

Jean Chrétien made some positive changes to the program during the 1990s, which really empowered a great deal of growth, in particular out west, through some of the refinements to the program.

Let us be very clear. Even though we might find an isolated case, overall, during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and all the way up to 2005-06, that program was a huge success. It added tremendous value to our economy.

Now we have a government that is using that program for other means, to accomplish things Canadians would not be very happy with. We are starting to see that more and more. In particular, we have Canadians who are losing opportunities. The government has failed to ensure that the process is in fact being properly adhered to.

What is the process? One member made reference to the LMOs. They are a critical element of the process. If employers want to be able to hire temporary foreign workers, they have to advertise and be able to demonstrate to the Government of Canada, through human resources, that they have gone out of their way to try to hire someone locally.

Then, when they are unable to hire someone locally, which the employers have to be able to prove and demonstrate very clearly, then human resources would give them an LMO. With that LMO, employers now have the authority to hire people outside of Canada.

During Liberal administrations, I do not think we ever exceeded 160,000. Now we are well over 300,000. It is because there is a different agenda.

Within the Conservative government, there is a hidden agenda to suppress levels of income and to prevent individuals within Canada from having some of those critically important jobs.

We have university, post-secondary, and high school students looking for jobs, and they are looking to industries such as our hospitality industries. One gets a sense of frustration when one's son or daughter comes home saying they cannot find a job, that there is nothing out there, and then watches the 10 o'clock news to find out that the Conservative government has allowed an excessive amount of abuse within the temporary foreign worker program which is thereby denying their son, daughter, and other Canadians employment opportunities.

Government members would say that they are acting tough on this issue. However, they have not been acting tough. They talk tough, but they definitely do not take action unless they are forced to take action. That is what we have seen from the current Conservative government. It does not take action unless it is forced into it, and this is an excellent example of that.

This is not the first time that the issue has been raised inside the House of Commons. I, for one, and members of the Liberal Party, have raised this issue on many occasions. However, the former minister of immigration would say that, well, the member for Winnipeg North had a request for a temporary foreign worker.

In Winnipeg, we had a million-dollar factory that was being established and the capital equipment was coming from a foreign country. The company asked if I would be able to assist in getting two individuals who took apart the machine to come to Winnipeg to establish the machine and train some of the employees so that it would be operational. They wanted to come for a couple of months. This is what the program is for. By getting that machine operational, we created more wealth here in Canada. We are providing more jobs here in Canada. That is why the program is in existence, and that is why I wrote that letter. I thought of the value to my constituents, to Canada, by allowing that to take place. Of course, the minister responsible talks about it as some weird thing, as if we support abuse of the program. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We want accountability. We want the current government to be responsible, and we are concerned about the program. We recognize the importance of the program and we want it to survive. Unlike the New Democrats, we see the value of the program, which is why the deputy leader of the Liberal Party stood in his place yesterday and challenged the government to get the Auditor General's office involved in this.

There is a lack of confidence that Canadians have regarding the temporary foreign worker program, and it comes from the government's inability to administer what should be a good, solid program. Because of the government's inability to administer the program properly, we now have Canadians highly suspicious of it. They want action, and who can blame them? Day after day, the leader of the Liberal Party has been talking about the importance of the middle class, and many of these jobs are being taken away from the middle class.

We want action. We want to see this program reviewed thoroughly, and the best person to do that is the Auditor General of Canada. It is through the Auditor General of Canada that we believe we will ultimately re-establish confidence in the program. That is what we are fighting for. Yes, we know the Auditor General can take it upon himself to investigate the program. We trust and hope, and we have taken action to encourage that to take place.

However, it would go a long way toward taking responsibility if the Conservatives recognized that they have messed up, and they joined with us and all members of the House to say that they want the provincial auditor to get involved on this file because it is the integrity of the program that we should all be concerned with, because it is the prosperity of Canada that we are fighting for today.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, some of the things my colleague said are certainly accurate. The Conservatives did in fact completely lose control of the program a long time ago. In addition, there is no doubt that it is the minister's responsibility to provide real solutions to address the various breaches of the program. It is also important to remember that the minister did respond when the issue made the headlines in the media.

I have a very specific question for my colleague. The Liberal leader downplayed the magnitude of the flaws in the temporary foreign worker program. Does the Liberal member agree with his leader that the government has lost control only to a certain extent?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the member gets her information. The leader of the Liberal Party has never downplayed the importance of what is taking place and the impact that this is having here in Canada. Never has that taken place. The leader of the Liberal Party has been a very strong advocate for Canada's middle class, and this particular program is causing a great deal of concern and losing jobs for many members of Canada's middle class. I do not know where the member gets this whole idea that the leader of the Liberal Party seems to be offside.

At the end of the day, if I want to contrast representation from leaders' offices and in particular on the Prairie file, I will take my leader over the leader of the New Democratic Party who has talked about western Canada and the Prairies being a Dutch elm disease and targeted western Canada as not necessarily the best environment for economic growth and that he wants to see it shift into other regions or base things on division.

The Liberal leader has been consistent. No matter whether it is in Quebec, the Prairies, Ontario, the Atlantic, or the Pacific, we have consistently fought for the middle class and will continue to do so.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my Liberal colleague's speech and I agree with him on some points. The Conservative government never backs off, unless it is pressured to do so. I would like to remind my Liberal colleague that we were the first ones to denounce the problems with the program.

I would also like to remind the Liberal member, as my colleague mentioned, that their response was half-hearted at best.

The question I would like to ask my Liberal colleague is the following: why have the Liberals refused to say whether they are taking the side of the Canadians losing their jobs or of the employers misusing the programs?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting, as viewers will no doubt be watching, that the New Democrats seem to be focused strictly on the fact that they want to be perceived as the first party to deal with this issue. The record will demonstrate that the member is wrong. If the New Democrats want to assert proper credit to where credit is due, I would suggest that all they need to do is go over the years of Hansard discussions and they will find that theirs is not the party that not only first talked about the issue but whose members have consistently talked about it through the years.

It is important that we recognize that in the last five or six years we have seen excessive abuse of the program and that is the reason the Liberal Party has specifically requested that we have the Auditor General engaged on the issue. On that particular point, I do believe our party might have actually been the first. However, again, it does not really matter. We are just glad to be able to bring this issue in this fashion to the House and continue to lobby for the government members to recognize that if they really want to establish or reinforce the importance of the program and get to the bottom of it, that we do need to get Canada's Auditor General engaged on it, thereby, hopefully, saving the program and providing and ensuring that Canadians are not losing jobs.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 29th, 2014 / 11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for his well thought out and impassioned speech. He brought a lot to the debate today and hopefully I will be able to contribute a bit more myself.

I was able to dust off notes from the debate we entered into a year and two weeks ago when I presented a motion in the House calling for the government to embark on a full review of the temporary foreign worker program. Since that time we have seen another glaring example of the current government's ineptitude. We have seen the government's ineptitude time and time again, whether it is with respect to the fair elections act or something else. Any legislation that has gone well for the Conservatives would be on an incredibly short list.

The approach that the Conservatives have taken toward developing legislation is often in error, seldom in doubt. They are adverse to seeking the opinion of the people who know the issues. They are reluctant to study specific issues, or take any kind of recommendations or amendments from the opposition parties because they know it all. That attitude has placed the Conservative Party in trouble many times. Canadians are catching on. Canadians understand that full well, and nowhere is it more obvious than on this particular issue of temporary foreign workers.

One of my colleagues mentioned the letter we sent to the Auditor General. The Auditor General was aware of this issue back in 2009. It was the Auditor General who triggered great concern about the explosion in the number of temporary foreign workers in this country. As my colleague from Winnipeg North identified, in 2006 the number of temporary foreign workers in this country was 160,000. That number is about 360,000 now.

Two and a half years ago the former Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development took the shackles off this program, let the program run wild thereby accelerating the LMO process for businesses that wanted to bring in temporary foreign workers, and provided employers with the opportunity to pay 15% below market rates for their temporary foreign workers. This program was identified at that time as a great concern because it would put downward pressure on wages and impact the unemployment rate. That is what we are seeing now. We knew that was going to happen.

The government has said that this is an isolated case and that the minister has taken action. Make no mistake, this is not an isolated case. We have seen it many times. We have seen it in the mining sector, the banking sector, the service sector, and now we are seeing it in the fast-food industry.

The temporary foreign worker program is an important program in this country. At one time Canadians had a great deal of confidence in it. Many parts of this country do not have an agricultural sector. Nova Scotia would not have an agricultural sector if it were not for this program. The temporary foreign workers who work in these industries provide support to Canadians. They provide an opportunity for Canadians to maintain their jobs and continue to raise their families.

The government's mismanagement of the program has brought it into disrepute. Canadians think the program is like the Senate: we should just get rid of it. That does a great disservice to the program because it deserves to be saved.

I presented a motion this morning. The opposition parties, certainly the Liberal Party, with regard to this program, want to mend it, not end it, but that cannot be done in isolation. We have seen the government make one-off changes to this program, and every time it made a change, it created an unintended consequence and an even greater degree of mess.

Just to pick up on a comment from my colleague from Winnipeg North, whenever there is a question asked, the minister dismisses it. He has been particularly hard on the NDP this week, saying the NDP has asked for more temporary foreign worker support.

He threw that at me one time. In fact, six years ago, I wrote a letter of support for a company in my riding. ExxonMobil needed, for a short period of time, a very specific type of engineering that was within the realm of the company. I wrote a letter of support once for that company for the particular work that it needed done. That is the intent of the program. That is what that was all about. Then the minister gets up, beats his chest, and says, “The member for Cape Breton—Canso supports this program. He wrote a letter of support”, and all the backbenchers gloat.

That is what is wrong with it. That is what is wrong with the government. Rather than trying to get to what works for Canadians and supports Canadian enterprise and business, it tries to score these cheap-shot, sucker-punch little answers to stuff like that rather than trying to find some real answers. It is a huge disservice to our country and the people who are trying to do business in this country.

One of the problems—and I am sure I can get support for this not just on the opposition benches but from most Canadians as they realize this now—is that rather than trying to seek out the best evidence and information on which to base some kind of logical decision and way forward on whatever the issue might be, the government will take whatever is in the paper and anecdotally say that this is what the government should be doing. It does this rather than researching the issue and trying to get facts. Everything around job skills development has been based on that type of information rather than on actual labour market data.

We heard the Prime Minister talk about the skills shortage crisis and say that Canadians have to be seized by this crisis, but we know that opinions from some of the most respected people in this country, such as Don Drummond with TD Economics and most recently the PBO, have all provided actual evidence that debunks the government's approach to the temporary foreign worker program.

In his labour market assessment, the PBO said that Canada is not experiencing a skills and labour shortage but that a higher portion of temporary foreign workers in the private sector could also be putting downward pressure on private sector job vacancies. We see that the C.D. Howe Institute is attributing an increase in unemployment by four percentage points in western Canada right now to the temporary foreign worker programs.

If we were to actually investigate this particular program, as has been requested by the House on a number of occasions over the last number of years, and if recommendations were brought forward to the government and a full debate took place, then we would be serving Canadians. We would provide temporary foreign workers to companies that need them, but we would not be putting downward pressure on wages or putting Canadians out of work. It is shameful what the government has done with this program and the disrepute it has brought upon it.

Liberals will be supporting this particular motion today.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my Liberal colleague that the Conservatives have opened the floodgates to abuses of the temporary foreign worker program. Largely because of the Conservatives' incompetence, many Canadians have lost their jobs and the wages of temporary workers are being driven down.

This is what I wanted to ask my colleague: why has his party abstained from supporting the NDP's previous requests for a review of the program?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, she has caught me off guard here. I know that the government takes all votes in committee. I sit on the standing committee on human resources and skills development. The member might want to have a chat with her colleague, the official critic, on that, because the official critic knows where I stand on the issue of temporary foreign workers.

Again, the proof is in the pudding. We have put this motion before the House before. We have brought motions before the committee before and challenged the government to do what is right and what is best for the businesses in this country that need access to workers and workers who need access to jobs. I will stand today, as I have been, to ask the government to take this issue seriously so that it works for all Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the member's remarks. The reality is that this is a good program gone astray as a result of the actions of the Conservative government. I can give the member an example, and maybe he could give me some.

I have constituents who do Anne of Green Gables tours for Japanese tourists. They cannot get enough Japanese-speaking tour guides. They use the labour market opinion to advertise. No one applies, so they have to bring in three tour guides, plus the odd local one that they have.

That exemplifies the purpose of the program. It allows employers, where the skills do not exist in Canada, to be able to attract foreign workers. It actually enhances the economic opportunity of that particular industry, in this case through tour guides for Japanese people visiting the Anne of Green Gables site, one of our highlights on Prince Edward Island.

Is that not the purpose of the program? I agree that abuse in the program needs to be challenged if some industries are trying to use and abuse the workers and lower the cost of labour; I can tell members, though, that in this particular instance, it works well. Is that not what the program was designed to be, an assistance to industry in that regard?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, that pretty much frames the situation. That is exactly how the program should work. Those temporary foreign workers brought in for that short period of time help to support the entire tourism sector in Prince Edward Island. Anne of Green Gables is Prince Edward Island. It puts heads in beds. It puts bums in seats at theatres and restaurants. People are buying gas. They are staying in accommodations. That is what it is all about.

I remember the government taking a shot at our leader because he had supported an application by a high-end Japanese restaurant in his riding that needed somebody to come in for a short period of time to pull together the menu and specifically train the kitchen staff. The government said the leader of the Liberal Party was looking for a temporary foreign worker. Yes, he was, and that is how the program is supposed to work.

We need less rhetoric and more study. The government should bring forward some quality recommendations and fix this program for Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

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?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened to this member, and she started her comments by asking if we know if we have a labour shortage. I think the implication is that the program should either be discontinued or not there at all.

I would ask the member what she might have to say to the chambers of commerce and the various members of the chambers of commerce in areas like Souris—Moose Mountain, where they are not able to fill positions. One city has over 400 unfilled positions. Estevan has over 1,000-some unfilled positions. Places such as Moosomin, Saskatchewan, cannot attract people to fill many of the food and service industry positions.They are in dire need of people and would hire anyone who might want a job in that industry. They have used them and still cannot fill the positions. There are facilities that have not opened or that cannot remain open to the degree that people would like simply because they cannot fill those jobs.

Do we know if we have a labour shortage? In certain areas of the country, in particular in Souris—Moose Mountain, this is a very important program, and there are significant shortages. What would the member say to that?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member had listened closely, he would have heard not just once but twice that I mentioned that there may be some exceptions where we need to be emphasizing that there may be a need for temporary foreign workers. I mentioned the province of Saskatchewan twice.

The bigger question is whether the government is basing its decision to issue an LMO simply on a company saying, “this is the going rate and this is what we are going to pay our service workers or our oil and gas workers”.

In the case of Alberta, it has been discovered that, in fact, employers have been undercutting salaries. The government has been inappropriately issuing LMOs and driving down salaries.

There can be many reasons for a labour shortage. Maybe the salaries are not appropriate. Maybe there is no appropriate housing or people do not want to relocate. There are a lot of issues. Of course, we have raised the issue of a shortage of affordable housing in this country.

The issues the member raised are exactly what we would like the Auditor General to take a look at. Where exactly are the labour shortages? Do we have enough data on that? Do we need to be supporting Statistics Canada actually starting to analyze the data? Where are the problems with this temporary foreign worker program?

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on the member's reference to the Auditor General. In terms of the abuse that has taken place within the program over the last number of years, especially given the heightened attention the issue has been given in recent months, there is a general lack of confidence among many Canadians in terms of the temporary foreign worker program.

One way to deal with that issue is to turn to a body Canadians have a deep amount of respect for, that being the Auditor General's office. I would ask the member if she would agree that having the Auditor General directly involved in reviewing the program and coming up with recommendations as to how the program can be fixed would be the best way to try to fix this problem.

Opposition Motion—Temporary Foreign Worker ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, clearly I agree, because that is precisely what our motion is. It is to call on the Auditor General to do a program audit of the entire temporary foreign worker program.

However, there is more the government can do in tandem, in parallel, with the work of the Auditor General. For example, it could genuinely step up an enforcement regime. There is actually no on-the-ground surveillance regime for this temporary foreign worker program. The government simply sits back and waits for complaints.

I am informed that the government actually brought the border guards in to deal with McDonald's, which is pretty incredible.

While there is a lot of talk about the penalties, what we do not have is an inspectorate under this program, under labour or immigration or wherever the government wants to have it. They would be people who were fully trained and deployed full time to the regions where there are major numbers of temporary foreign workers.

There is a lot that could be done. We fully support an audit by the Auditor General. There is a lot the government could do. It is the government's responsibility to deliver a credible program that does not prejudice Canadian workers.