Ottawa has heard Alberta’s concerns about labour shortages and the need to hold on to productive foreign workers, says Alberta Jobs Minister Ric McIver.
“I do believe we have their attention,” McIver told an Agriculture Labour Summit audience at the Black Knight Inn. “I believe that they really understand that (the issue) is real, it’s serious and that we need to look for solutions together.”
McIver, who holds the Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour portfolio, was in Ottawa last week pressing the province’s case with federal Labour Minister Jason Kenney and Citizen and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. Premier Jim Prentice has also raised the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The federal government has announced it plans to launch an Express Entry immigration program aimed at luring skilled workers in 2015.
Details have yet to be provided and the Alberta government is working hard to ensure its concerns are addressed by the new rules.
A key federal concern is the number of temporary foreign workers who are now filling permanent jobs.
At the end of last year in Alberta, 85,000 temporary foreign workers — a large number in the food industry — were drawing a pay cheque.
“If we don’t make some changes to the announced regulations … there will be thousands and thousands of them going home in 2015,” said McIver.
“And if you’re anything like me you don’t know yet how we’re going to fill that gap.”
Many temporary foreign workers are due to leave in 2015 when their four-year contracts expire.
That’s why the province is so keen to ensure that new foreign worker policies don’t hamstring Alberta’s strong economy.
“In my view, we need to find paths to bridge the people that are here working, to either stay longer or to find methods to bridge into permanent residency, or citizens for goodness sakes.
“Essentially, they’re doing what we Canadians are doing: working, paying taxes, staying out of trouble and contributing to society.”
McIver said Alberta wants to see an existing provincial nominee program opened up to more applicants or to find a way to allow them to stay through the Express Entry program.
The nominee program is currently capped at 5,500 workers per year and two years worth of applications are already in the chute.
Alberta has made it clear that it will be better for all concerned if new federal regulations are announced with the support of this province, rather than try to fix shortcomings later.
“It’s communication that gives us the very best chance of success,” said McIver.