Quebec’s provincial government has warned that the province stands to suffer labour shortages and face business closures unless Ottawa reverses the recent changes made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The program was initially introduced to allow Canadian employers to hire foreign workers if suitably qualified workers were unavailable locally.
The latest changes – which came into effect in April – were drafted last June following reports of widespread abuse of the TFW program. As a result of the changes, businesses in certain job sectors are now prohibited from hiring TFWs in regions with an unemployment rate higher than six per cent.
Montreal, Laval, Sherbrooke and other regions in Quebec had a jobless rate of more than six per cent last year.
Quebec’s Immigration Minister, Kathleen Weil, has claimed that many Quebec businesses have complained that the new restrictions will make it difficult to fill job vacancies and could lead them to move their business elsewhere.
“Some of these businesses are telling us they will have to manufacture, transform, do what they do elsewhere,” she said.
Weil says that Quebec’s local workforce is in decline, and that immigrant workers are a necessity.
“The reality of the job market — and I don’t think they’re sensitive to this — we have an ageing, working-age population that’s on the decline. It’s not the case in other provinces and overall in Canada, but it is the case in Quebec,” Weil said.
“Our situation is that the shortage is going to get worse. Immigration, whether it’s temporary or permanent, is how we can solve that problem,” she added.
Quebec is pushing the federal government for a reprieve from some of the new rules.
“This is not the end of this exchange (with Ottawa). It can’t be,” she said. “It’s just so irrational that we would somehow hamper the development of our businesses, certain sectors, our regions and our economy.”
But federal Employment Minister, Pierre Poilievre, defended the changes, saying the reform was carried out to ensure that Quebecers are hired before foreign workers.
“Where there are a significant number of unemployed workers in Quebec, the Government believes that employers must do more to attract them,” he said.
According to the CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Michel LeBlanc, the city’s IT sector will suffer because of the changes. Many IT companies rely on TFWs to fill short-term labour shortages and under the new rules, they will find it increasingly difficult to hire the workers they require.
“The risk is that we will probably eventually have to correct what the government is putting in place now. Meanwhile, companies are going to have more difficulty,” says LeBlanc. “And, in some cases, local workers are going to be deprived of a job because activities will be moved outside the country.”
The Manufacturers and Exporters of Quebec (MEQ) have also criticized the changes to the TFW program.
“Although the first sectors to be affected will probably be those of food-processing, retail and restoration, all manufacturers and exporting companies of Quebec will feel the effects,” the MEQ said in a statement.