Canada’s immigration minister in the hot seat
By QMI AGENCY
Posted 22 hours ago
Laurie CallsenCamrose Canadian
CAMROSE — Canada's head of immigration and employment was put in the hot seat during a recent stop.
At a Sept. 14 meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, federal citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism minister Jason Kenny spoke about how Canada's immigration and employment sector has adapted since the recession and plans down the road to streamline the immigration process.
"Canada can be very proud of how blessed we are as a country, how we got through (the recession) stronger than pretty much any other major economy in the world.
And we're the only major economy that has replaced all the jobs that were lost in that period of time.
Now we have the strongest growth, the soundest financial institutions, the best fiscal position and the best job creation record," Kenny said.
"This is where immigration comes in. ... For a couple of generations, Canadians have been deciding to have fewer kids than we need to grow or maintain our population, which means ultimately fewer workers and fewer tax payers to pay for benefits, health care and pensions for our growing number of retired folk."
Kenny said the Canadian immigration program is needed to help Canada's economy, because foreign workers are qualified and can help fill the gaps in the labour market. The Temporary Foreign Worker program looks at bringing in qualified individuals to Canada to work jobs that Canadians aren't applying for. The process is initiated by the employer, who has to prove that no Canadian has applied for the position before looking outside Canada's borders for employees.
"We have to move Canadians who are unemployed or underemployed into getting jobs. It doesn't make any sense to me, but we all know it's true, that there are parts of this country with double-digit unemployment and yet here in Alberta and in Saskatchewan, we have ... virtual full employment," he said.
Russians working in Atlantic Canada
"Believe it or not, I'm actually bringing in temporary foreign workers from Russia to work in fish processing plants in parts of Atlantic Canada with double-digit unemployment. Tell me how that makes any sense. Why would somebody want to be sitting at home collecting an EI cheque when there's decent work down the road?"But some present at the meeting pointed out the flaws in the program. One man who drove from Peace River because he knew the minister would be in Camrose, said the red tape and bureaucracy he has to go through to bring in temporary foreign workers is enormous, but without the program he would have to live on welfare.
"In 2009 when we had the recession, because unemployment was going up and a significant number of Canadian were being laid off, the government wanted to be sure that we weren't extending foreign workers into an economy where Canadians were going to need those jobs.
"That's why they tightened up to the one-year Labour Market Option (LMO). Now that things are moving and now that unemployment is going down and the labour market is getting tighter, we recognize that there's a need to relax these rules," Kenny said, adding that he was working with the Human Resources ministry to streamline the application process.
Another problem one employer was having was his foreign employees wouldn't honour the contract. He has had several foreign workers skip town on him to get higher-paying jobs in Edmonton, he told Kenny.
Kenny said that the ministry is looking to streamline its application process for all immigration departments, so files are electronic and accessible to all ministry employees, so when someone calls to get an update on their file, they can actually get results instead of being handed off from desk to desk. Currently, there are one million applications in the system, with hundreds more trying to apply for immigration.
"We don't get any more money to deal with all that volume. We have to deal with the same budget that we had years and years ago. We're trying to fix this. It doesn't happen overnight. We're bringing in technology to move it all to an electronic system.
Fixing communication problem
"Secondly, we're going to contract out our telephone information line. We're going to make it much more efficient so people actually get someone on the line, we give them information but were going to charge them a couple of bucks to make the call so we can actually pay to hire more people," he said.
"We're also putting limits on the new applications coming in so the wait times aren't as long.
"These are some of the things we're trying to do to fix these huge bureaucratic problems that we have. I want my ministry to operate more like a businesses. You want to go faster? Fine. You pay us more, so we can connect the revenue that we get with the service we provide," Kenny said, pointing to Passport Canada's policy of processing passport applications faster for an extra fee.
Kenny was on a tour of Alberta to speak about immigration and employment issues, with additional stops in Red Deer, Stettler and Edmonton.