By Thomas Lukaszuk
Special to the Advocate
The federal government has stopped foreign workers coming to Canada to work in the food service sector while it conducts a review. I believe that this decision, particularly if the review stretches into months, will have a negative impact on our communities and our province.
The government of Alberta agrees with the government of Canada on a number of important points. Canadians and Albertans must have first access to all jobs here, and those who work must be given every opportunity to do so.
The federal Temporary Foreign Worker program has rules, and it is important that they be followed. There have been some recent incidents in the food services sector, and those situations should be dealt with.
However, we have concerns about the federal moratorium.
First, it is unfair to freeze an entire sector because there are problems with a few players.
Second, Alberta’s economy is strong. Unemployment here is below five per cent, which is significantly lower than in other parts of the country. There are employers who cannot find people, and there are people who cannot find jobs. Alberta has job fairs, websites and programs for both groups. Food services companies, unions, and workers participate in them, yet positions remain open. When jobs remain unfilled, workers are recruited from other sectors, customer service declines, or Canadians already on staff lose shifts or jobs when restaurants close or reduce their hours. None of these results are good for the quality of life in rural communities.
There are ways for the federal government to deal with compliance problems in its TFW program. There are also ways to improve Canada’s immigration program, so that we can ensure TFWs are “permanent foreign workers” who become a permanent part of our workforce and our neighbourhoods.
I came to Canada as a child when my parents emigrated from then-communist Poland. When I arrived here, I thought we had landed in paradise because there seemed to be so many opportunities for our family.
Many of the temporary foreign workers here today have that same sense of optimism about the communities where they are working. They know that this province rewards those who work hard, and they are proud to be part of one of the world’s most exciting regions.
Albertans know that our province is a busy, growing, dynamic place. It is unfortunate that the federal government is choosing to compromise the people who are helping make that growth possible.
Thomas Lukaszuk is the minister of Alberta Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour.