The Impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on Alberta

Meurrens LawLabour Market Impact Assessments, Work Permits

In August 2011 Teresa Woo-Paw, the Alberta Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Employment and Immigration released a report titled Impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program on the Labour Market in Alberta. The main thrust of the report was that Alberta’s workforce is projected to be 77,000 workers short between 2002 and 2012, with overall demand outpacing supply from 2015, and that Alberta should implement, and the Government of Canada should facilitate, Alberta implementing a program to attract labour through immigration to address the labour shortage.  The report contained numerous recommendations, some of which were accepted by the Alberta government.

The Political Back and Forth Between Jason Kenney and the Government of Alberta

In response to the report, Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta’s Minister of Employment and Immigration, recently urged the federal government to remove the annual caps on the number of provincial nominees.

The Brooks Bulletin recently reported on Jason Kenney’s, the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, response.  According to the Brooks Bulletin, he stated:

It would almost result in doubling national immigration levels to Canada when 80 per cent of Canadians are saying immigration levels are already high enough or are too high.

I think they are totally disconnected from reality on that.

To be honest with you there’s a tension between the need to keep this a Canada-first program and the need to facilitate filling positions in an efficient way.  We can’t just open up the rules willy-nilly. There has to be some reasonable rules in the program that ensures Canadians are getting the first crack [at jobs].

Although Jason Kenney is probably correct in noting that removing the provincial nomination quotas would result in a dramatic increase in immigration levels, the report contains a fact that should at least cause him to consider reallocating the quota.  The report noted that Alberta and Manitoba are allocated the same number of provincial nominees annually (2010 allocations were 5,000 for each province), despite Alberta receiving almost eight times the number of temporary foreign workers as Manitoba, and its economy being significantly greater.

Complaints About Labour Market Opinions

The report also noted the frustration of Alberta employers with the process for obtaining Labour Market Opinions, and pointed out the following interesting suggestions and criticisms.

  • Employers in the hospitality industry suggested that an employer who owns a number of hotels (for example) could apply for just one LMO to cover several properties.
  • Employers voiced concerns that the current calculation of the prevailing wage rate is problematic for those with employees under collective agreements. When the prevailing wage rate calculation includes unionized workplaces, the perception is that wages may be artificially inflated.
  • Employers expressed concerns that temporary foreign workers who have less experience receive the same wage as a Canadian worker. As a result, this can become a source of friction with Canadian workers, especially when the prevailing wage rates are printed in job ads in small communities and other employers in the same industry are not able to offer the same salary.

I would add to that last comment that the prevailing wage rate also presents difficulties for employers looking to retain people on post-graduate work permits, because they are required to dramatically increase salary from an entry-level wage to the prevailing wage rate, which is often simply out of whack with the employer’s pay scale system.