EDMONTON — Canadian’s are getting used to officially apologizing for wrongs committed by the Government of Canada. I sense another apology coming in the deeply flawed and morally wrong Foreign Temporary Worker program.
In 1988 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of Canadians for the forcible evacuation of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), forced evacuation of Japanese Canadians was presented as a perfectly reasonable thing to do; after all, many Canadian’s of German origin had been detained and denied their rights in both World Wars.
Later in the changed circumstances of peace, it all seemed very wrong to deny blameless Canadians of Japanese origin their rights and privileges, so a formal apology was announced and reparations were paid.
In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a ‘full’ apology to Canadians of Chinese origin for the ‘Head Tax’ and the deliberate government policy of excluding Chinese immigrants from 1923 to 1947. Describing the Head Tax as a ‘grave’ injustice and morally wrong, he acknowledged the government of Canada’s wrongdoing and offered ex-gratia payments to the descendants of those Chinese Canadians effected.
In 2008, Harper apologized once again, this time for the Indian Residential Schools program. Calling Residential Schools a ‘sad chapter’ in our history, the Government, on behalf of Canadians, apologized for the systematic abuse of over 150,000 Aboriginal children, their families and communities.
Which brings us to the present, and Canada’s controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Claiming that Canada was experiencing a ‘significant’ skills shortage, the Conservative Government introduced the Temporary Foreign Worker program a few years ago to “help fill genuine and acute labour needs so that business can continue to grow and create more opportunities for Canadians”.
What could be more pragmatic, more sensible that that?
Today Temporary Foreign Workers (TWFs) dominate many industries in Canada, particularly in Information Technology (IT) and the Hotel and Food Services industries. To meet the growing market need for temporary foreign workers, a vast new recruitment industry has emerged.
According to recruitment industry advertising, TFWs offer employers real advantages. Temporary foreign workers are more ‘loyal’ and harder working. The recruitment industry claims that these workers often ‘exceed the qualifications’ required and are more willing than Canadians to fulfill employers’ ‘expectations’.
Not surprisingly, behind this pragmatism lies another dark, morally questionable, logic.
First, is there really a significant shortage of workers in Canada? According to Statistics Canada (2012) there are roughly 24 million Canadians between the ages of 16 and 65 and, according to government’s own figures, 61.8 per cent of these citizens have regular employment. That leaves approximately nine million Canadians of employable age who are NOT in the workforce. Given the government’s commitment to skills training and education, there does not appear to be a significant shortage of available Canadian workers.
Perhaps, instead, there is simply a shortage of low paid, ‘loyal’ workers with qualifications that exceed requirements?
The reality is the Temporary Foreign Worker program is a blunt and rather crude means of improving what economists call the ‘productivity’ of the Canadian workforce.
Unfortunately, as Canadians, we cannot escape the sad reality that this ‘productivity’ is purchased at the expense of common decency. Let’s fact facts, the ‘loyalty’ and ‘willingness to serve’ is a function of TFW’s vulnerability. These workers are powerless and often abused by their employers. This denial of basic human rights is shameful; indeed it is another national disgrace.
The Temporary Foreign Worker program is a gross violation of foreign workers and a betrayal of many thousands of employable Canadians. Expect this fatally flawed program to blow up in our faces, and more to the point, expect to hear another humiliating apology on behalf of Canadians.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and co-founder of the Genuine Wealth Institute, an Alberta-based think tank dedicated to helping businesses, communities and nations built communities of wellbeing.