Employment Minister Jason Kenney says the Conservative government will not rethink its controversial changes to the temporary foreign worker program, and instead called on employers who are “freeloading” on the public system to start training workers to fill the skills gap.
The new rules include barring employers from hiring low-wage temporary foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate is above six per cent, and will require employers to cap the number of foreign workers they hire at 10 per cent by 2016.
Kenney, who is the MP for Calgary Southeast, said the program has been “overused” in his home province of Alberta, where wages in the fast-food services sector have not kept up with the rate of inflation.
“In my view, this is very clear evidence of a labour market distortion,” he told the conference.
Kenney’s answer came in response to a question from Randy Boissonnault, the Liberal candidate for Edmonton Centre, who was in attendance at the conference.
Boissonnault said businesses in Alberta and Saskatchewan have been particularly hit hard because of the government’s “blanket approach” to the new rules.
Following Kenney’s answer, Boissonnault posted a message on Twitter accusing Stephen Harper’s Conservatives of hurting Alberta’s economy. “Harper Govt continues to penalize Alberta,” Boissonnault said.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, Kenney’s former cabinet colleague, has said the new temporary foreign worker rules are making it difficult for employers to fill jobs.
Prentice has said he hopes to work with the prime minister on a solution during his first meeting with him.
Kenney’s speech was followed by a panel on labour skills with Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Monte Solberg, a former Conservative cabinet minister who now works for a public affairs firm, Sean McGarvey and Rosemary Sparks who represented the trades.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also addressed the conference earlier Thursday.