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Foreign worker softening offers little local help, MP says

Comments by Jason Kenney spark hope for changes to new policy

By: Viola Pruss

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014 06:00 am

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Following recent comments made by Employment Minister Jason Kenney, local MP Brent Rathgeber said he’s “a little more optimistic” regarding the minister’s stance on Canada’s foreign worker policy.

But he did not hear anything that could help his constituents in St. Albert, he said.

On Friday Kenney said he is willing to consider regional exemptions to his recent overhaul of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Kenney said he will consider changes in areas with very low levels of unemployment found within regions of higher unemployment.

“The reason that I am not jumping up and down is the comments were very guarded,” said Rathgeber. “He said he would consider, not that he would do it.”

He added that Kenney was speaking on location in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where the local fishing industry struggles to attract seasonal workers, “although the overall provincial unemployment rate could be in the double digits.”

Rathgeber said Kenney may consider an exemption for regions struggling under similar circumstances.

He could not see how Alberta would fit in with that condition as unemployment in the province is hovering around five per cent.

“I don’t see anything in there that is going to help my constituents in northwest Edmonton and St. Albert who are reliant on temporary foreign workers for restaurants and for higher skilled workers in industrial construction,” he said.

“But I see some cracking in his resolve in that he is getting the message that the announced changes three or four weeks ago now have not been received well.”

In June Kenney announced reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada. Under the new rules, by 2016 companies will not be allowed to have more than 10 per cent of their work force comprised of temporary foreign workers.

In places where the unemployment rate is six per cent or higher, applications to hire temporary foreign workers for food service, accommodation and retail industries will be denied.

The cumulative time workers can stay in Canada will also be reduced. Labour market data will be enhanced.

Local business owners have since expressed concerns that they may not be able to staff their stores properly or operate on a 24/7 basis if these changes remain in effect, said Rathgeber.

They may also have to turn down opportunities for expansion, he said.

Business owners met with the MP at a private roundtable held by the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce in late June.

The chamber is now looking to hold another roundtable, this time inviting local MLAs Stephen Khan and Doug Horner.

The meeting is expected to give local business owners an opportunity to discuss the province’s role in attracting and retaining foreign workers, said Lynda Moffat, CEO and president of the local chamber.

“It’s important that the province gets the chance to hear from our business community and also it’s good for the business community to be able to hear from the province and their direction,” she said.

Moffat said that the federal government regulates immigration policy but there are some immigration programs looked after by the provinces.

The chamber would like to know more about these programs and whether they could prove useful in Alberta, she said.

“I am not an expert on that but I do know that there are different programs in Manitoba that seem to be working well,” she said.

A date for the roundtable meeting has not been set.


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