Thomas Lukaszuk’s biggest complaint about Canada’s temporary foreign worker program is that it is temporary.
Alberta’s minister of jobs, skills, training and labour said it makes no sense to cycle workers in and out of the country, because they never become vested in the communities they live in, much of their income goes to their home countries instead of supporting the local economy, and Canadian employers must train new staff repeatedly.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve been rotating about 80,000 workers every four years,” said Lukaszuk, who was in Red Deer to attend CAREERexpo at Red Deer College.
“We would be much better served to identify the workers that we need, let them stay here, and allow them to become permanent residents and become Canadians and members of our communities.”
Lukaszuk said he raised the issue with his ministerial counterparts from the other provinces during a teleconference on Wednesday, and they agreed to make it a priority item when they meet with federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney in September.
The temporary foreign worker program has become a hot topic in recent weeks after it was alleged that some fast-food restaurants have given temporary foreign workers preferred treatment to Canadian employees.
Last Thursday, Kenney announced a moratorium on the food services industry’s access to temporary foreign workers under the program.
Lukaszuk responded at the time by agreeing that the rules of the program must be followed and violators dealt with harshly.
But he added that it’s unfair to penalize an entire sector for the inappropriate actions of a few.
He reiterated this viewpoint on Thursday.
“I sent him (Kenney) a letter, and my department is in continuous communication with the federal department trying to find out actually what the decision encompasses.
“What I strongly feel is that this program was simply poorly designed to begin with. It never had any accountability measures vis-a-vis employers, it never had any enforcement measures and it definitely didn’t have any punitive measures to deal severely with those who choose to abuse the program.”
Lukaszuk said most food services businesses want to do the right thing when it comes to hiring Canadians first, and it’s also in their financial best interest to utilize local labour before bringing in temporary workers from other countries.
But by depriving them of this source of employees, the federal government runs the risk of hurting small businesses and the broader economy.
“Killing that industry sector would now only impact other industries negatively and it would affect our, Canadian’s, quality of life.”
Asked if he’s thinking about joining the race for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, Lukaszuk was non-committal.
“I’m thinking about it every day,” he said.
“I have a job to do and I will continue doing my job until the house recesses, and then I’ll make a decision.”