The federal minister of employment is, once again, defending recent reforms to the temporary foreign worker program.

Jason Kenney was the keynote speaker at the opening breakfast of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's annual general meeting in Charlottetown this weekend.

He says the reforms are positive in every region "because they ensure that Canadians come first to access available jobs."

The minister spent several minutes on the topic and took questions from delegates, many of whom voiced concern.

Temporary foreign workers

Kenney says his department has collected data that shows their were more people on EI in 2013 than there were temporary foreign workers brought in to work on P.E.I. (Source: Employment and Social Development Canada)

Kathy Hambly, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, says hearing the status quo from Kenney isn't encouraging and that industry needs more time to transition.

"It has really left our employers in a very dire situation particularly in seafood processing, where many don’t know how they’re going to be able to open next year,” she says.

It's a concern also highlighted by the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association who have criticized the changes, saying they're already dealing with labour shortages.

But Kenney says data indicates there is no labour shortage, that there are Islanders to do the work.

"Our data very clearly indicates that, in every month of the year here in Prince Edward Island, there are more unemployed fish processing plant workers receiving unemployment insurance than there are folks coming in as temporary foreign workers — which indicates that there is not a shortage of fish processing workers," he says.

Kenney says the government is trying to encourage islanders using the Employment Insurance program to seek and accept available work at their skill level in their area.

He says employers should also be appealing to those workers by doing things like increasing wages, providing better benefits and more flexible shifts.