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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco , Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Richard Mahoney:

The question we are asked to discuss and debate today is whether or not the Conservative government can fix this problem. Early signs don't look good. Rather than taking action, the Conservatives continue to demonstrate their incompetence on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP.)  New evidence suggests that the federal government has approved thousands of temporary foreign workers at pay rates well below what the program allows, driving down Canadian wages, and providing yet another example of the troubling mismanagement by the Conservatives.

As necessary as this program has been and remains to Canada, it rests on a fundamental bargain with Canadians. That bargain is and should be that government actions will help our economy, and not hurt Canadians. In the Conservative zeal to approve this, they have helped drive down wages and have been complicit in the loss of Canadian jobs. That is a violation of that bargain and it does not appear to date that they are capable of fixing it.

John Capobianco:

The inconsistency from the Liberals on this issue should be surprising, but because they have so often taken two sides on any issue, I am not. This program has been in existence for decades - in fact, the TFWP started in 1973. I do agree with Richard that this program is necessary, and does help businesses when they need or are in short supply of workers, as long as Canadians get first crack at the jobs.

The program has been in operation for this long without a mere mention through a number of Liberal and Conservative governments, so for Richard to blame the Conservatives for all that ails this program is partisan opportunism. Yes, this issue became front-page news because of a CBC report on the abuse of the program in BC by a McDonald's franchise - and when it was exposed, this government acted on it. The Liberals would still be debating internally on what to do.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney called for an immediate moratorium on the food services sector's access to the program, and called for a thorough review of it - responsible, decisive action.

Marit Stiles:

I don't think we really know the extent to which some of these problems may have existed prior to the current government. What we do know is that the Conservatives have grown the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to outrageous proportions - pushing down wages, which resulted in Canadian workers being fired and replaced with foreign workers.

Now we've learned that they had issued thousands of LMOs - that's approval needed hiring a temporary foreign worker - for jobs that paid minimum wage, and most of them didn't comply with the rules about wage levels.

We also know that while the Minister's been talking for weeks and weeks about new rules, his own department routinely breaks the existing rules. How can this government be trusted to make the changes that are necessary to protect Canadian jobs and to do away with what is becoming a second class wage category for other workers?

Richard Mahoney:

John's retort is a valid try. He is right to say the program has operated successfully in the past under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

However he fails to take into account the changes this government has made in the program, and the approvals of wages below those allowed by the program. They have also increased the numbers allowed and happily expanded the program.

John also points out the Minister has acted quickly in response to the bad publicity. That is something the Conservatives always do and they take pride in that, as John's comments indicate.

But, as is so often the case, their "cure" makes matters worse, and that is why I am not confident this government will fix the problem.

John is right, as soon as these issues arose, the Liberals met with workers and employers, consulting on how best to fix these problems created by the Conservatives. The Minister announced a quick fix that made matters worse.

That is not leadership. It is incompetence.

John Capobianco:

Richard confuses action for incompetence if it doesn't fit with the Liberals' 'solution'.

Minister Kenney is reviewing the program and I know Richard and Marit will both agree, as I do, that this program has gone on long enough that it needs a thorough review. The changes that may come about take into account a number of key factors and close some loopholes.

Some that have been talked about include increasing fees for imported labour certificates, increase the monitoring of the program so incidents like the one with McDonald's in B.C. don't happen again, and even suggesting adjusting wages to ensure companies try and recruit Canadian workers first and foremost.

Marit Stiles:

I don't disagree that a review is needed. In fact, a review is essential. But that review needs to independent, and in the meantime there should be a full-on moratorium until there's a real plan to fix the program. Last week we were talking about job numbers and statistics. We know that Conservatives have essentially been using made-up statistics to justify the program, and as a result we're seeing great numbers of unemployed Canadian workers. That needs to be addressed.

We are creating a class of vulnerable employees that employers can use to pit worker against worker, as the head of the PEI Federation of Labour so aptly put it. Tinkering with the problem will not fix it. If these workers are necessary, shouldn't they be offered residency? There are many questions that need to be answered and this government has proven they don't know how to deal with the situation.

It's time to call for a truly independent review, maybe even an inquiry, to get to the bottom of the issues with the program and to come up with solutions that protect both Canadian and foreign workers.


About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : May 28, 2014

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