Red Deer city council got it right with their extraordinary resolution calling to place foreign worker issues onto the agenda of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association annual convention.
The federal government passed quick-fix legislation on its Temporary Foreign Worker program, and our new premier promises to consult earnestly with the feds on how those quick fixes are creating new problems. But the brunt of the decisions made by higher-ups is borne locally.
Therefore, it is entirely right for cities to intervene, and get themselves at the table where national decisions are made on who can get a job here and who can’t.
I happen to do some part-time work for a local company whose job it is to bring skilled foreign workers and employers together. This company helps workers certify their skills, meet certified Canadian safety standards, and assist with the paperwork needed to get a new arrival into becoming part of the local economy.
That means getting them through the process of registration for a social insurance number, a bank account, health care, a driver’s licence transfer, housing and local contacts for social support.
The hardest part? From my limited involvement, it’s finding affordable housing.
A group of welders and carpenters has just arrived in Red Deer, and most are expected to be out and on the job by the end of the week, on job sites across the province and into Saskatchewan.
Company representatives are currently abroad with about a dozen employers setting up a job fair where workers and employers can meet face-to-face. So we expect the next group of workers to arrive soon.
From my feedback, the employers involved can’t get their guys onto their worksites fast enough. The pay incentives for good results are pretty impressive (starting out at a much better annual salary than the best I ever earned in almost 40 years the news business).
My involvement in all this — helping to fill out forms, find housing and locate supports for new arrivals in the communities where these workers are going — leads me to agree with Red Deer city council’s concern with the human equation of the temporary foreign worker program.
The biggest problem with the TFW program is not that foreigners are taking jobs away from Canadians.
Do you want to work in heavy construction in Neilburg, Sask.? Find it on a map, drive out and if you’re qualified to work, you’re in. The pay is great and the people there are likewise.
Good luck finding a place to live in a Northern Saskatchewan town, population 500, far away from city amenities.
Not that interested? Didn’t think so.
That’s only one example of the challenges many Alberta and Saskatchewan companies are facing while trying to sustain our employment boom.
Rather, the biggest problem with the TFW program is the constant boom-and-bust cycle of our resource-based economy. I can only surmise, but I believe the people higher up don’t really believe in immigration and don’t want outsiders to share in our prosperity, long-term.
My perspective tells me that when this boom is over, the government wants most of these skilled workers to be gone. Either that or they can join the army of foreign-trained doctors and surgeons driving cab or serving pizza in our major cities.
In all my contacts with these workers, the overwhelming consensus is that they want to become Canadians. They want to come to stay and to bring their families with them.
The talk around the table when they gather to talk among themselves and with us often drifts toward entrepreneurship. These are trained, motivated people who want to learn the rules and be able to use their skills to build a good life for their families.
These are the kind of positive, forward-thinking people we want in Canada.
No matter how much politicians cry about the current labour shortage in Alberta or Canada, I don’t see much goodwill or desire to get these new arrivals onto the citizenship stream. That makes the TFW program cynically duplicitous.
There is an avenue whereby workers with the most-prized skills can achieve landed immigrant status and bring their families in. In fact, I find that to be the prime motivator among the groups I have met.
Sure, the money is great — far better than anything they could earn at home. But good money isn’t motivating enough Canadians into the jobs we’re talking about here, either.
The motivator is the opportunity to build a good life. Opportunity is Canada’s greatest selling point to people abroad.
I don’t see a lot of eagerness in Ottawa for Canada to actually sell that. Hence the “temporary” part of this flawed program.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.