The federal government says a temporary ban on the fast-food sector's access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will not be lifted until a review of the program is complete, which should take a few weeks.
"We have put in place a moratorium on the food services sector’s access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program until we finalize our reforms in a few weeks," Employment Minister Jason Kenney said during question period in Ottawa on Monday.
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The Quebec government called on Ottawa earlier Monday to lift the ban in la belle province, where no instance of alleged abuse of the program has been found to date.
But Kenney said employers should make a greater effort to hire Canadians first, noting that youth unemployment in Quebec is at 14 per cent and that the unemployment rate for immigrants in Quebec is at 20 per cent.
"It seems to me that employers could find workers among young unemployed Quebecers and new Quebecers," Kenney said during question period on Monday.
The government has recently revoked or suspended labour marker opinions – which are required to prove the need to hire a temporary foreign worker over a Canadian – for companies in B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador.
Review and reforms coming 'soon'
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander emerged from a meeting with his Quebec counterpart, Kathleen Weil, on Monday afternoon saying the moratorium would not be lifted until the government was absolutely certain that the program was "no longer subject to abuse."
While Ottawa announced the moratorium last month, after CBC News reported on a string of alleged abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the program has actually been under review for the past year.
Alexander told Radio-Canada the government wants to complete its review and reforms of the program "as quickly as possible."
"It has to be done quickly and we hope to have something to announce for you soon," Alexander told reporters in Montreal on Monday.
"There was abuse and we’re absolutely committed to completing the review and the reform that we have underway and I can assure you and her and Canadians across the country that when this program is relaunched, it will not be subject to abuse," Alexander said.
Dave McMahon, a spokesman for Weil, said that Quebec was worried the freeze on hiring temporary foreign workers will hurt the province's restaurant industry, especially during the busy summer months.
The decision has been widely criticized by industry groups.
Quebec's restaurant association called it "exaggerated and unreasonable."