The federal Liberal candidate for Saanich Gulf-Islands disagrees with Green candidate Elizabeth May’s call to scrap a federal program that helps local businesses help fill labour shortages.
Ryan Windsor said the temporary foreign worker program benefits local industries. “We have a low unemployment rate in Victoria, especially,” he said. “You look at the agricultural sector where workers are seasonal, the tech sector, where we are getting access to skilled labour that we actually need to meet the demand of a growing sector.”
May had said last week that her party would scrap the program. “You may not like this answer, but we want to abolish the temporary foreign worker program,” said May last Thursday, responding to a question from Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, which hosted an all-candidates event. “Our position is if you are good enough to work in Canada, you are good enough to live here.”
While generally beneficial to both employers and employees, the program has been the subject of various controversies that have cast it in a negative light. Windsor said his party has already made reforms in the past in promising to work with all parties to avoid future controversies. He added later that his party has committed to ensure that Canadians are first in line for jobs in Canada.
Kathleen Burton, communications coordinator for the campaign of Tory David Busch, said the Conservative Party believes Canadians should have first access to jobs in Canada. This said, the program helps fill labour shortages, when Canadians are not available.
Burton said Conservatives recognize that programs need to be flexible and take into account the realities on the ground while at the same time looking for ways to encourage people to be able to be matched with available work.
“The Green party has not taken into account the business needs that the current policy compliments,” she said. “Only by electing a Conservative government nationally and locally here in Saanich-Gulf Islands will the rights of Canadian workers be respected.”
Ron Broda, who is running for the People’s Party of Canada, agrees with the general need for the program. “Most of these [temporary] workers take low paying, low skill, hard labour positions that most Canadians will not because they are low paying, low skill, hard labour such as field workers in agriculture,” he said.
This said, Broda also raised several notes of caution. “Are we taking advantage of these workers? It may seem so,” he said. “However, the wages that they earn here, while considered extremely low by our standards, are far higher than what they would earn in their home country, if they could even find paying work. Their wages are generally sent to their home country to support their families.”
Broda acknowledged that this situation is not ideal. “It does need to be reviewed and there does need to be better coordination with provincial officials to enforce proper work and living standards,” he said.
The Peninsula News Review reached out to New Democrat Sabina Singh, but did not receive a reply.