An updated version of this story will appear in Saturday’s edition of the St. Albert Gazette.
A local business owner says the current discussion surrounding temporary foreign workers lacks focus on solving the province’s real issue: its acute labour shortage.
Rob Chiasson, owner of St. Albert’s four McDonald’s restaurants, gave a speech to the St. Albert & District Chamber of Commerce during its monthly luncheon meeting on Wednesday.
He received a standing ovation for his remarks that the government needs to support business owners and work with them in finding a solution to the province’s labour shortage.
The solution is not eliminating the temporary foreign worker program but reforming it, he said.
“The real solution I know is complex,” he said. “I think it involves a reform to employment insurance, I think it involves a reform to immigration, nominee programs need to be reviewed and I think ultimately it needs to be solved through immigration.”
Chiasson spoke with the Gazette following his speech.
He said the government first created the temporary foreign worker program to relieve Canada’s labour shortage.
Following news regarding the exploitation of some foreign workers, the government has now decided to cap the percentage of low-wage workers an employer can apply for – 10 per cent by 2016 – and the hours that can be allotted to them per business location.
That means more than 100,000 foreign workers will be forced to leave the country by 2016.
Chiasson said business owners are now expected to attract Canadian workers by raising wages.
Yet unemployment numbers in some other provinces such as in the Maritimes are already 10 per cent and more, he said.
Still people will not move to Alberta to work lower skilled jobs, especially if they can get a higher income flying in and out of the oil sands, he said.
“Today, Canadians are better educated than they have ever been and there are more people going to university,” he said. “And so jobs like working in landscaping, shoveling gravel, washing dishes or working on a farm, Canadians don’t want to do that anymore.”
Even if employers raised their pay, the result would be wage inflation and even higher turnover rates among smaller businesses, he said.
Customer service will suffer but so will the economy, he said.
“If Alberta does not attract enough people with the knowledge and skills to fill our labour shortages, many projects will have to be delayed or abandoned,” he said.
Chiasson added that the government invests a lot of time, energy and money in attracting high-skilled workers from other countries.
He suggested it could now create a similar system for low-skilled workers.
“I’m not really sure what that looks like, perhaps some form of graduated system where you come to the country and demonstrate you are a great candidate,” he said. “And then you can become part of the community.”