We have started to question the rationale behind the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program
BY MARIO CANSECO
British Columbians have in recent weeks started to question the rationale behind the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program, following a series of stories related to the fast-food industry.
Federal Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney has carefully described the problems as “serious allegations of abuse”, and ordered a review of the entire program.
British Columbians are definitely following the story — an expected finding since Victoria was essentially Ground Zero in this scandal, after three McDonald’s restaurants were suspended from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. An Insights West survey conducted last week found that 68 per cent of B.C. residents are “very familiar” or “somewhat familiar” with the program.
The general view of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is negative. Across the province, a majority of British Columbians (53 per cent) voice opposition to the program, while just one third (34 per cent) support it. People aged 55 and over hold decidedly more unfavourable views, with opposition climbing to 61 per cent in this demographic.
Faced with this high proportion of negative reviews, one would assume that abolition of the program would be the desired course of action. But only 22 per cent of British Columbians say they want to get rid of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, while three-in-five (60 per cent) would like to see it continue, but with better oversight.
There are four categories under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program: agricultural workers, live-in caregivers, lower-skilled occupations, and higher-skilled occupations. In all of these, there is a condition that must be met: Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs.
When I travel to Mexico in the fall, I am usually on a plane that is loaded with agricultural workers. Their stories are similar. They have a family in Mexico, and spend a few months every year working the fields in the Fraser Valley and southern Interior.
Two years ago, Juan, from the state of Guerrero, shared his experience with me during a flight. He has been working for two decades, first in Mexico and later in North America. His experience in the United States was terrifying. He reached the country illegally, had no access to health care, and was paid a lower wage than most labourers. He first picked strawberries in California and later tobacco in North Carolina, grinning and bearing it and with no access to medical attention if things went wrong.
When he came to Canada, legally, as a temporary foreign agricultural worker, the situation was radically different. When Juan twisted his ankle, he saw a doctor within hours. He was paid on time, had a good place to rest and sleep, and enjoyed mandatory breaks for meals. His goal, personally, is not a “path to citizenship.” He was happy to alternate between Canada and Mexico to do what he loves.
Juan’s story, and others like it, may be unknown to many British Columbians. However, his experience shows that, when handled correctly, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program can be successful. Juan thrived, his employers filled their needs, the government welcomed his presence in the country, and no job-seeking Canadians were negatively affected in the process.
British Columbians have told us that they do not want to get rid of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The onus now is on the federal government to ensure that employers follow proper guidelines before enabling foreign workers to come to Canada.
The lack of transparency that has been observed in recent weeks hurts everybody: Canadians who want to work but watch their opportunities disappear, and foreign workers who are placed in limbo although they have done nothing wrong.
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