In the wake of recent stories about Canadian workers being laid off and their jobs replaced with temporary foreign workers, Canada's Employment Minister Jason Kenney has warned that employers who abuse the program could face fraud charges and jail time.
"Obviously, in some small numbers, there are cases of abuse, and we don't tolerate those; we intend to crack down on them severely," Kenney recently stated.
"The more important thing is that we prevent abuse in the first place and that's why we've tightened up the rules, and we'll continue to do so."
He made good on his word when on April 24th, Employment Minister Jason Kenney took action by banning restaurants from accessing it. Minister Kenney issued the moratorium mere hours after the C.D. Howe Institute released a study into the Temporary Foreign Worker program that concluded it had spurred joblessness in B.C. and Alberta, two valuable Conservative strongholds.
On the day previously, McDonald's of Canada had announced it was putting on hold its participation in the program pending a third party audit. The fast-food giant has been in hot water for hiring so many temporary foreign workers at some of its Canadian franchises most notably here in Victoria, B.C.
There has been a significant increase in the number of hotels and restaurants accessing the program even though the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program was originally designed to address shortages of skilled workers, not low skilled and entry level labour.
Don Drummond, an economist who wrote a report for the government five years ago on labour markets, said there's no hard data to back up Ottawa's insistence that a persistent skills shortage justifies the use of such workers.
"They keep saying we don't have any trades people, but in the latest data for every available construction job in Canada, there's eight unemployed construction workers. Even when you look at the data over the summer — a busy time in construction — overwhelmingly, there are unemployed people in construction as opposed to job vacancies."
Kenney, who met with Drummond last fall has acknowledged the government needs to do a better job compiling meaningful labour market data. The minister has also hinted that he's mulling over restrictions that would make it more difficult for fast-food restaurants in urban areas to apply for temporary foreign workers amid a spate of alleged abuses of the program by restaurant owners.
Employers need to keep in mind that 2015 will be a federal election year and as such those that most egregiously abuse the TFW Program may find themselves being made an example of given a government that is eager to be seen as protecting Canada's middle class.
The political importance of the middle class here in Canada cannot be over stated. In Canada, where there are strict campaign spending limits and both union and corporate donations have been made verbotten, politicians of all political stripes chase middle class votes and donations.
Contrast that with the United States where the absence of campaign spending limits has led to a situation in which a recent Princeton University Study concluded that the United States has become an oligarchy where government represents the interests of the wealthy rather than those of the majority.
Naturally when you have policies that favour the wealthy over those of the poor and middle class it will eventually have a real impact on a nation's income distribution. That is why on April 22nd, the New York Times reported that America's middle class is no longer the most affluent. That distinction now goes to Canada.
Minister Jason Kenney was quick to tweet this fact out, not only out of a sense of national pride, but in response from political attacks from both the NDP and Liberals that have called into question how Canada's middle class have been doing under the Conservatives.
The answer it would seem is, pretty good. From 2000 until 2010 median income in the United States stagnated while in Canada it increased by 20 per cent. The data also suggests these trends have only continued since then putting Canada's middle class solidly ahead of America's.
It is for this reason that the Harper Conservatives, while wanting to be responsive to the needs of the business community, do not want to be seen as the government that killed off your kid's chances to land an entry level job in high school or a mortgage paying job in the construction and resource sectors.
Thus any company making use of the TFW will likely be subjected to much greater scrutiny and if abuse has been found, it is more than likely they will be made an example of.
Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria BC you can follow him on twitter @BCLobbyist