Last month, The Free Press reported on a worker shortage in Fernie.
At that time, Mayor Mary Giuliano said that changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program hit local businesses hard, and because of Fernie’s small population, businesses relied on such programs to meet employee demands.
In the past, employers would pay an application fee of $250 per foreign worker employed at the company, which was good for two years. Now, with changes to the federal program, that fee has increased to $1,000 per application and is only good for one year, she said prior to an Aug. 24 council meeting.
“But reapplying doesn’t necessarily mean they will allow you to remain [in the program],” she said. “It’s pretty onerous right now for the employers.”
Giuliano said she hoped the issue of worker shortages and the TFW program would be on the candidates’ radars.
Black Press newspaper editors emailed the candidates the following question about this issue, and their responses are below: “What, if any, changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program will you advocate for in order to help support tourism in the region? Or, what is alternative solutions to businesses in our region that cannot find the staff they need to operate at full capacity?”
Conservative incumbent MP David Wilks said in 2014, new measures under the low skilled worker program were implemented after abuses within the system were identified.
“These new rules are meant to ensure that Canadians have jobs first,” Wilks said via an emailed response.
“These changes did however have a significant effect on communities in Kootenay-Columbia [that] are tourism-based and cannot find enough local workers to fill the jobs. I will continue to work with the Minister [of Labour] to express the concerns of local businesses and work toward a solution.”
NDP candidate Wayne Stetski was critical to what he called Stephen Harper’s “fix” to the problem with the TFW program, saying it “did little to address the real issue”.
“While we experienced serious issues with abuse of some foreign workers right here in the Kootenays, overall, the ‘solution’ to the problem has made it very difficult for businesses in the area to get the workers they need, and didn’t actually protect the foreign workers that are here.”
Stetski said he spoke with a number of small business owners who are struggling to get enough workers to keep their businesses open.
“We clearly need a new approach that meets the needs of both those seeking employment in Canada, and the businesses that want to hire them.”
Liberal candidate Don Johnston said both staffing season industries and ensuring younger workers secure dependable employment are nation-wide concerns.
“We need to address both,” he said. “Conservative mismanagement led to the TFW [program] entrants increasing from 141,000 in 2005 to 338,000 in 2012 and abuses of this program drives down wages and displaces Canadian workers.”
Johnston said Liberals believe those who want to work in Canada should have a pathway to citizenship.
“Combining TFW [program] benefits with other employment strategies has longer term value.”
Green Party candidate Bill Green said the TFW program was established to address short-term problems, but said there’s “no quick fix” to most of the labour shortages.
Green said his party’s labour strategy focuses on long-term solutions, including education and skill training; a guaranteed livable income to provide everyone with an income above the poverty line; and bringing in foreign workers as future Canadians, not as temporary, vulnerable employees.
“We will remove financial barriers to education, apprenticeships and skill training by eliminating tuition fees and capping student debt. A guaranteed income will allow people to live and work in their home communities, even on minimum-wage jobs, which will ease staff shortages in tourism and service sectors.”
Finally, he said, Canada needs immigrants and their families who become permanent, valued contributors to Canadian society.
“The immigration process must be tailored to meet our labour needs.”
Libertarian Party candidate Christina Yahn said she would like to see a streamlined process so that foreign workers can take part in programs like the TFW program.
“It’s a common issue for employers to access reliable workers and I think we should be doing whatever we can to aid in allowing the process of applicants to be as simple as possible.”