A majority of workers at a new Microsoft Canada training centre in Vancouver would be drawn from the ranks of foreigners, according to draft plans obtained under British Columbia's freedom of information laws.

Both the federal and provincial governments have praised the Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre as a project that will boost the B.C. economy and create 400 jobs, mainly in software and services engineering. 

The freedom of information documents, given to CBC News by a third party who works in the industry, reveal Microsoft Canada initially promised that only 20 of those 400 new jobs — or five per cent — would go to Canadians. The documents also suggest that, through a variety of programs including the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker program (TFWP), the majority of the new workers would come from abroad.

The documents date from 2013 and 2014, and include letters and briefing notes from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and British Columbia's Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. They show:

  • 150 positions would be open to both Canadians and foreigners as "rotational employees" who would be brought in under the TFWP program with "no guaranteed number of Canadians." 
  • 200 "core employees" would be brought in at the "executive [level], management or those with specialized knowledge," but the company only committed that 10 per cent of those 200 core employees would be Canadian. The document states the number of Canadians "is likely to grow over time."
  • 50 positions would go to "foundry employees" — paid student interns from Canadian universities. But the document stipulates that some of those students could be international students, and do not have to be Canadians.

The documents also show that, in the planning stages, most of the 200 "core" employees at the Microsoft Centre of Excellence were expected to be foreign workers from three categories: intra-company transfers (people who have worked at least one year for Microsoft abroad); those brought in under the TFWP; and contract workers hired abroad who qualify to work in Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Documents out of date?

This week, CIC spokeswoman Nancy Caron told CBC News in an email that the documents are out of date.

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Former federal employment minister Jason Kenney promised last June that provinces would not longer get exemptions under the temporary foreign worker program. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"The documents referenced date back to 2013 and early 2014, and describe the early planning stages and preliminary discussions around the Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre, which occurred during that time period. We stand by the information that we provided to you in December," she wrote.

In December, CIC told CBC News "most" of the 400 jobs would be held by Canadians.

However, in a written statement yesterday, Microsoft Canada made no such promise. Instead, the company said a majority of its current workforce in Vancouver is Canadian, but that may not last for long.

"[As] we hire staff for our new excellence centre, we will be recruiting talent from around the world (in addition to Canada), which may result in that balance shifting," officials with the company wrote.

No updated numbers

Despite requests from CBC News, neither Microsoft Canada nor B.C.'s jobs ministry provided any updated ratios of foreign to Canadian workers.

In an email, a spokesman for B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said the training centre will provide a "net benefit" by bringing in "at least $90 million annually for up to 10 years." 

Bond's spokesman said no Canadians would be displaced from their jobs by the creation of the centre — although he would not say what proportion of the new positions would go to Canadians, calling that "proprietary information" belonging to Microsoft.

Canadians have already been hired in "jobs that would not be here without the training centre," he said, giving workers "exposure to one of the world’s biggest tech companies."

As CBC News previously reported, the government is allowing Microsoft to bring in temporary foreign workers through a federal-provincial annex agreement that exempts the company from performing a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) to find Canadians who can fill the jobs.

Changes promised

That's despite a promise last June from Jason Kenney, who at the time was federal employment minister, that the provinces would no longer get such exemptions. Kenney announced changes to the foreign worker program following allegations it was being abused.

​At the time, his department said annex agreements were "being changed so that employers that used to bring temporary foreign workers to Canada through these agreements will now be subject to an LMIA."

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said the draft plans call into question the government's stated rationale of economic benefit.

"One wonders what's the actual economic benefit to Canada of creating 400 jobs if the majority of those jobs are going to foreign workers and not to Canadians, and especially given that a lot of these foreign workers are going to be rotating through Canada with the ultimate object possibly being to get jobs in the United States or other jurisdictions," he said.

The documents show the province pursued the plan through its so-called major project exemption process, which requires the project not displace British Columbians from the job market, create job opportunities for British Columbians, and result in a "sizeable multi-year investment."

In an interview last year with Bloomberg Businessweek, Karen Jones, Microsoft's deputy general counsel, said the deal  with the Canadian and B.C. governments will allow Microsoft to bypass stricter U.S. rules on visas for foreign workers.

Waldman argues even the rotational positions should be going to qualified Canadians only. He says the case sets a precedent that will anger smaller tech companies that have protested changes to the TFWP in order to maintain an even playing field.

If you have more information on this or another story, contact Louise Elliott at louise.elliott@cbc.ca.

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