VANCOUVER – A lawyer for the federal government says Ottawa will not voluntarily share the labour market information sought by two unions that want a judicial review of the decision to grant hundreds of temporary work permits for a northern B.C. coal mine.
Lorne Lachance, lawyer for the federal Citizenship and Immigration and Human Resources and Development Canada, told a Federal Court judge Tuesday that unions could access those documents using federal Access to Information laws.
The refusal to share the information — even confidentially — means the judge will have to rule Thursday on whether the unions have standing to pursue the judicial review.
“I’m not trying to attribute blame but it’s almost as if the way the government feels is, look, with the passage of time this will all become irrelevant,” Judge Douglas Campbell noted after suggesting to no avail that the two parties come to some agreement.
Temporary work permits have been granted for between 200 and 300 Chinese workers to conduct preliminary work at the Murray River mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C. HD Mining International Ltd. has said it was not able to find workers in Canada with the necessary specialized skills for an underground coal mine.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 have filed a lawsuit in Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision to grant the permits.
The company wants the application for a judicial review dismissed.
A lawyer for HD Mining told the judge the company followed the legal process and offered fair wages set by the government. Contrary to belief, the company offered full benefits and did not require that workers speak Mandarin, court heard.
“What the applicant unions really raise are issues of policy of temporary foreign workers, and that is a policy of political matter that the courts should not try to second-guess,” Alex Stojicevic said in court in Vancouver.
Stojicevic said the only ad that made reference to speaking the Chinese language was an old ad placed by one of the mine partners unrelated to the temporary worker process.
Michael Xiao, the overseas department manager for Huiyong Holdings Group Ltd., the parent company of HD Mining International Ltd., said in an affidavit that HD posted ads over a period of three months.
Xiao said dozens of positions were advertised on the company website, with the National Job Bank operated by Service Canada, on the Infomine website, the Aboriginal Canada job portal, with the Mining Association of B.C., in the Vancouver Sun and Province, the Tumbler Ridge News and on the employment centre job board in Tumbler Ridge.
HD’s advertising campaign included the Coffee Talk Express, a free weekly newsletter distributed to area cafes and restaurants.
“Not one of these ads makes mention of Mandarin,” Stojicevic told the court.
Twenty different positions were advertised in the National Job Bank database from Jan. 27 to Feb. 25 — double the 14 calendar days required under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program.
HD advertised for everything from mining engineers, to an office manager, industrial electricians and underground coal miners.
Advertised salaries ranged from $90,000 to $130,000 annually for a mine foreman/forewoman to $28 to $40 an hour for 65 coal miner positions, with dental and medical benefits, and group insurance.
The coal miner positions — all advertised as permanent, full-time jobs — required “three years to less than five years” of experience.
The unions say the jobs were offered at $10 to $17 less than the prevailing rate at similar mines in the area, and without benefits.
An estimated 17 temporary workers have already arrived, court has heard, and another 60 are slated to arrive in mid-December.
Campbell noted that an estimated 200 visas have been issued “and there’s a potential for a number in the thousands” based on what appears to be “failures” in the labour market opinions that the federal government refuses to release.
HD Mining Ltd. is a partnership between China-based Huiyong Holding Group, which owns a 55 per cent stake, and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc.
An HD official has written to Finley demanding the minister clarify the statements that “has cast a cloud” over the process.
“As I am sure you are aware, we have very considerable business, financial and other interests at stake in these matters,” said the letter signed by Penggui Yan, chairman of the HD Mining International.
The letter asked for a response no later than 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Finley had not responded.
A decision is expected Thursday afternoon on whether the unions have standing to pursue a judicial review.