I had dinner at a popular chain restaurant the other night and the hostess, an attractive young Asian woman, greeted us by apologizing for her lack of ability in English. She is obviously a recent arrival, like thousands of others in the hospitality industry. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, were it not for the stories that are coming to light almost daily about problems and abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada.
Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza in Weyburn grabbed the spotlight when it was revealed that a female employee with 28 years of experience had been let go and replaced by a temporary import. The real stories are a bit more complicated than the teary faces that show up on the National news, but the damage has been done. It’s now left to Employment Minister Jason Kenney to huff and puff about Ottawa’s policy of ‘zero tolerance’ if investigations reveal that employers are guilty of fraud under the program. It will be a huge surprise if any charges are ever laid.
There are more than 300,000 foreign workers holding jobs in Canada. A tiny percentage of those people work in food and hospitality, but they are very noticeable. The prairies in particular are short of experienced workers in many sectors. It has been repeatedly identified as one of the major factors limiting economic growth in the region.
This should have been a tremendous opportunity for an ambitious politician like Jason Kenney. Historically, most of the poor and huddled masses who have come to Canada since the dawn of 20th century have ended up voting Liberal. Indeed the Temporary Foreign Worker program began under the Liberals. Stephen Harper challenged his young Alberta colleague to make the Conservatives a different kind of political umbrella for new Canadians.
There is work to be done to change the optics Jason.
I’m Roger Currie