We need permanent workers, not temporary ones

It seems everyone has a problem with Canada’s temporary foreign worker program. It’s the most visible federal employment program that satisfies almost nobody — even government itself.

It seems everyone has a problem with Canada’s temporary foreign worker program. It’s the most visible federal employment program that satisfies almost nobody — even government itself.

Well, besides the Canada Jobs Grant program, I guess.

The rubber meets the road for most Canadians through the temporary foreign worker program. That’s where government involvement in job placement becomes visible to most of us, whatever side of the labour market we live on.

I’m no expert in national employment planning, but like many Canadians, I do have direct contact with the issue.

A few years ago, the house next door to ours was purchased by a chap from London, England. He’d gotten his construction work experience under water, on the huge crews building the famous Channel Tunnel.

He arrived with good credentials, lots of money and a willingness to work. He could not get permanent residence in Canada and without that, no permanent job offers. So he sold the house and moved home.

Another contact is a friend we made while touring in Europe. This friend is an experienced agrologist in Switzerland working with the Swiss government. She came to Canada to visit and immediately saw what almost all visitors to Canada see: opportunity.

Opportunity but no permission to come here to build a career.

Earlier this year, I joined a labour recruitment trip to Nepal, where almost all of the males I met were desperate to get into Canada. That included the manager of a basement “dance club” (who had a university degree in the hospitality trade), and the owner/operator of our four-star hotel’s gift shop.

Unfortunately for them, we were looking for skilled trades for the Alberta oilpatch. Perhaps, instead of recruiting females to dance on a stage, and order drinks and food on the visitors’ tabs, if they could send their wives, sisters and daughters to Canada to work as live-in nannies, the path to Canada would be easier.

The weakness of the temporary foreign worker program is that Canada doesn’t need temporary workers at all; we need permanent ones.

Dating back as far as 10 years and clear back to the Wilfred Laurier era, I have been able to find reports from government consultants and public think tanks suggesting our population is far too small and far to spread over far too much space for Canada to achieve its potential as a nation.

Our talent pool is too small, our top thinkers separated by too much geography, our business leaders too thinly spaced, for the innovation needed for the future economy to be achieved.

That’s why we still make our fortunes as hewers of trees and miners of natural resources.

The vast majority of Canadians live within a three- or four-hour drive of the U.S. border. Even so, if we were to achieve half the population density of England, say, just on that narrow populated strip, Canada would be home to about 200 million people.

Were that the case, the vast rest of Canada would still be largely unpeopled, compared with the rest of the industrialized world.

The thinkers who wrote all those reports suggest Canada needs a population of 100 million to achieve the critical mass of thinkers, leaders and workers to make it possible for the social programs of a modern nation — including employment — to be able to work.

I’m no expert on that, either, but it seems obvious that rotating skilled/semi-skilled people in and out of Canada will not achieve our national goals.

Of all governments, Alberta seems to understand that best. In Alberta (at least for skilled trades), the way can be paved for a foreign worker to gain permanent residence with 24 months of full-time employment.

Families can then be brought into Canada, increasing the supply of labour of all types and creating consumer demand for everything else available. These are newcomers who go where the jobs are available, and for whom our minimum wage matches the median wage of many countries.

Canada simply needs more people and the temporary indentured labourers that must leave within months of arriving do not provide the answer.

The hoops for skilled workers to gain permanent resident status are too high. Semi- and unskilled jobs go begging, because unemployed Canadians won’t move 100 km for a job that pays $13 an hour. But immigrants will — and be grateful for the chance, for generations.

A program of closely-monitored job sponsorship, with a guarantee that workers can move to another job (and not be bound like indentured servants), seems preferable to what we have now.

I don’t understand why most governments don’t get that.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.