Prime Minister Stephen Harper has delivered a scathing critique of the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker program, saying the government has been "assisting these companies to work around the marketplace in a way that disadvantaged Canadian workers only for the sake of the bottom line profit."
In an audio recording leaked Wednesday to a Vancouver newspaper of a recent roundtable discussion with local ethnic media, Harper's blunt analysis of the troubled program raises the question: will the Conservative government follow through to crack down on employers that abuse the TFW program — after facilitating its rapid expansion since 2006.
Most recently, new regulations governing the TFW program dropped a provision from an earlier draft that explicitly banned employers from accessing the TFW program if they were convicted of human trafficking, or of assaulting or uttering threats to an employee.
Meanwhile, Employment Minister Jason Kenney remains a defender of the program to tackle what he says is a skills shortage in Canada.
Listen to Harper for yourself. Is Harper blaming the bureaucracy and the previous government for the whole debacle?
Here's an extract of Harper's comments on Jan. 6 to Vancouver ethnic media:
Let me be very blunt about this. Several years ago, before we took office, [the TFW] programs were expanded, and before this government took office and since, those programs have grown in the last decade and a half very dramatically, and largely because I think they existed and the bureaucracy worked to really adapt to the needs of companies.
But what did we see? We saw numerous examples of abuse of this program, outright abuse. Companies importing workers for the sole purpose of paying less than the prevailing wage; companies importing workers for the purpose of permanently moving the jobs offshore to other countries; companies bringing in foreign workforces with the intention of never having them be permanent and moving the whole workforce back to another country at the end of a job...
We have seen very blatant examples of companies using this in ways that were not in the interest of Canadians.
That kind of abuse cannot go on.
There must be plans for companies to transition to a permanent workforce. What I say is if you really need temporary workers permanently, then that means we need permanent workers who become Canadian. And they have a right to stay here, and they have a right to bargain with their employer, and they have a right to be treated fairly, and they have a right not to be sent back to where they came from the first time they don't like something.
Photo: primeministergr. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.