Stephen Harper won't allow 'permanent underclass' of temporary foreign workers

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that as long as he is prime minister, Canada will not have an immigration system where foreign workers are in Canada over the long term without having the same rights as Canadians.

Standing beside Philippine President Benigno Aquino, PM defends changes that hurt Filipino nannies

At a joint press conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Stephen Harper vows Canada won't have a 'permanent underclass' of foreign workers as long as he's prime minister. 2:23

Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed Friday that Canada will not have an immigration system where foreign workers are in Canada over the long term without having the same rights as Canadians.

During a joint press conference Friday on Parliament Hill with visiting Philippine President Benigno Aquino, a Filipino journalist asked about recent changes to the temporary foreign worker program, which have hurt nannies and other caregivers from that country in particular.

Thousands have had to to leave jobs with Canadian families and return home after their visas expired. The new rules impose a four-year limit on temporary foreign workers and there is a backlog of permanent residency applications that makes it difficult for caregivers to stay longer.

Harper said his government wants to make sure that immigrants were not filling jobs that Canadians could do.

"Just as importantly, we're making sure that when people come to this country to work and to work long-term, they have the ability to move towards being permanent citizens of this country," he said.

"This country is not going to have a policy, as long as I'm prime minister, where we will have a permanent underclass of ... people who are so-called temporary, but here forever, with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility.

"That is not the Canadian way we do immigration. So we're going to make sure that program does not drift in that direction," he said.

No comment on NDP win

Canadian reporters at the same news conference asked for Harper's reaction to both Tuesday's election results in Alberta and the release of former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr.

Stewart Beck of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada explains the significance of a visit by the country's President Benigno Aquino 6:29

​Harper declined to comment in detail on the Alberta NDP's win. On Khadr, he maintained his party's position that he is a terrorist. Harper said his thoughts are with the families of the American soldier killed in the incident for which Khadr served time.

Harper and Aquino are meeting with members of Canada's 800,000-strong Filipino community and have a public event planned in Toronto later Friday. From there, Aquino travels on to Vancouver for the final stop on his three-day state visit.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Benigno Aquino III, president of the Philippines, make their way to a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday May 8, 2015. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Thursday, Aquino planted a tree at Rideau Hall, just a few metres away from a tree planted by his mother — former president Corazon Aquino — during her state visit in 1989.

He even used the same silver spade his mother wielded 26 years ago.

Aquino's red spruce may eventually tower over his mother's sugar maple.

With files from The Canadian Press


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