In Alberta, the shortage of workers is so critical that experts estimate the province will be 96,000 persons short by 2023.
With unemployment at 4.7 per cent (and well under four per cent per cent in some regions), the situation is warrants attention. At that rate Alberta dips into a demographic that should not be working and we need immigrant workers.
That being said, the change to the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program mid-stream by the federal government has cast out many of our trained, enthusiastic, and much-needed foreign workers. Their hopes are, of course, to become Canadian citizens. Ric McIver, the provincial minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, has long advocated for an increase of Alberta’s yearly immigrant quota (by last fall thousands had already been delayed because of the processing time, and the wait time is now up to two years). The quota of 5,500 for Alberta’s Immigrant Nominee Program was full last November and the 10,000 applications for persons nominated by employers for permanent residency are sitting on the desk. That puts the squeeze on temporary workers nominated by their employers.
For a consolation prize, Jason Kenney, the former minister of employment and social development, offered to send along $1 million to train Albertans via the new Canada Job Grant initiative.
My question is — who is there to train?
There are 100,000 persons working in Alberta from other provinces, a statistically brutal unemployment rate and a major loss of potential new Canadians. Alberta accounts for 26 per cent of the nation’s full time employment growth.
Under the new regulations ,TFW employers now must cut their total foreign worker staff hours to 10 per cent. In Alberta, there are thousands of shocked employers and employees who had the game change on them in mid-stream. The result is the loss of terrific, committed workers and closed businesses. What it did was set 15,000 persons afloat to deportation after a committed employment record. If you are “highly skilled” then of course that is different. A person in food service for example is considered unskilled, although foreign workers account for less than two per cent of the national food service workforce.
Alberta has published a list of trades that they are desperately short in and right along with engineers and crane operators is food service chefs. Take the true example of a small eatery in rural Alberta. The entire cooking staff who were trained and highly skilled chefs from overseas were forced to leave with their families because the employer could no longer meet the requirements under the new federal changes. They made application through the Express Immigration Program announced by federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander (a program that came with a price tag of $14 million over the next two years) and were denied. The backlog in the Alberta system meant that even though the foreign workers and their employer had fulfilled all the requirements, they were forced to leave Canada. The one-year bridging program recently reported is for “some” temporary foreign workers, and the indications are that this will be for professionals only.
Getting back to the little restaurant which is now closed, the economic spin–off to the rural community of that business was $336,000. The apartments these families rented are empty and every business in town is short the sale of food, clothing, gas, school supplies, toiletries, insurance and so on that were a result of the families being here. If that is mirrored in other communities the economic loss of the 15,000 persons who will be denied immigration may be $89 million to rural Canada and Canadian businesses.
The social-economic cost is huge for the stress born by both employee and employer. It is degrading for both parties. The Globe and Mail aptly called the changes a solution waiting for a problem. And a problem it is as both employer and employee report that they cannot get the answers they need. Employers that do not play by the rules face a $100,000 fine.
The shortage of workers and the treatment of our potential new Canadians is not just an economic issue. This is a human rights issue. By changing the rules we upset both business and life. Our potential new Canadians came here because employers needed them and were willing to foot the bill. They came here as victims of government and they have sadly, become victims of government again. All the patchwork programs in the world won’t make the fabric new again. It is torn, along with the hope of many families who were happy to take the risk to start anew, many in rural communities.
These are people’s lives we are talking about. Let us be fair in the process and give them have a chance to immigrate as we reflect that we are a country built on just that. We are the second nation. It was our ancestors that came as both skilled and unskilled workers to urban and rural Canada and west to Alberta, collectively building one of the most desirable countries in the world in which to live. Let us stand by that.