OTTAWA – The Conservatives are set to introduce legislation today to implement their 2013 budget.
The bill will include changes to the temporary foreign workers program already outlined in the budget, which was unveiled last month.
The Tories have been musing about overhauling the program for over a year, but their work has taken on greater urgency amid growing concerns the system is being abused.
Most recently, the Royal Bank of Canada came under fire for using a supplier whose foreign workers allowed the bank to cut Canadian jobs.
Last year, a mining company was able to bring in Chinese labour for a B.C. project after insisting that the ability to speak Mandarin was an essential part of the job.
In 2012, some 213,516 people entered Canada via the temporary foreign worker program, more than three times the number admitted a decade ago.
Put another way, the private sector brought in 25 per cent more foreign labourers last year than the number of economic immigrants accepted by the government, which has long insisted caps on its own programs are needed to prevent flooding the Canadian labour market.
The changes to the temporary foreign worker program outlined in the budget include increasing the lengths to which employers must go to find Canadians before they’ll be able to bring in foreign labour.
The government also wants reliance on temporary labour to be temporary in and of itself, looking for employers to have a plan to how they’ll eventually transition to a more Canadian workforce.
“While the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was created to fill temporary shortages, an increasing number of employers appear to be using TFWs to address long-term, structural labour gaps,” the government observed in a briefing paper on the issue earlier this year.
The government is also looking to charge employers a fee to bring in foreign labour rather than have the government absorb the cost of the program.
The government spends approximately $35.5 million per year processing applications, at a cost of approximately $342 per application, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada told a pre-budget briefing earlier this year.
Opposition politicians have argued that the growth and alleged abuse of the program pokes holes in the Conservative government’s claim to have created thousands of jobs in Canada since the 2008 recession.
Much of the government’s latest budget, released in March, focused on job creation, with millions being allocated by training and job creation programs.
The 2013 budget says total spending, including debt-servicing charges, will rise to $282.6 billion this year.
Meanwhile, direct program expenses — which exclude major transfers to other levels of government — are projected to plunge almost $4 billion this year and another $2.5 billion in 2014-15.
But the financial plan was light on what’s exactly getting cut and how the new programs will be structured, stoking fears that the pending budget implementation legislation will be another omnibus budget bill.
The last two budget bills passed by the Conservative government created controversy by including dozens of measures not explicitly contained within the budget, including major changes to environmental regulation in Canada.
Both prompted marathon voting sessions in the Commons after opposition parties introduced hundreds of amendments to the bills in a bid to remove some of the more contentious elements.