BY SHEILA PRATT, POSTMEDIA NEWS JULY 18, 2011
With another boom just around the corner, it's time to shift away from reliance on temporary foreign workers and concentrate on immigration, says Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's minister of immigration and employment.
Lukaszuk is ready to push the federal government to allow more immigrants from among the 30,000 temporary workers now in the province, offering them a chance to settle with their families.
Employers facing labour shortages would also be happy because they could keep workers they spent the past few years training, he said.
Lukaszuk's first priority is to make sure Canadians in under-employed groups, such as First Nations and the disabled, are "fully engaged" in the workforce.
"But at the end of the day, even if we naively think we will get 100 per cent employment in those groups, we will still be short of workers," he said.
Last year, Lukaszuk ordered a review of the temporary working program by parliamentary assistant Teresa Woo Paw. Her report, assessing the effectiveness of the program, will be released in a month.
Lukaszuk hopes to garner support on the issue from his provincial counterparts in preparation for a ministers' meeting this fall.
"The federal government took in 280,000 new immigrants this year, the highest number ever, and that's great. But that record intake didn't make a dent in the 360,000 temporary workers in the country."
Since that number has been steady in recent years, it's clear the demand for workers isn't just short-term, he said.
At the height of the boom in 2006, Alberta had more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers - the highest per capita of any province. Many worked on oilsands projects but a lot of them left when the economic downturn hit in December 2008.
Recent federal government legislation has made the temporary foreign worker program less attractive Lukaszuk said.
Under the new rules, temporary foreign workers can spend a maximum of four years in Canada, and then must leave for four years before re-applying for another four-year term. Previously, a permit issued for two years was renewable several times if the employer could prove the worker was needed.
The new four-year rule means well-trained workers will leave Alberta to go to other industrialized countries, not back home to the Philippines or Ukraine, Lukaszuk said.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
- Ottawa cracking down on citizen scofflaws (macleans.ca)