The federal Liberals are proposing changes to Canada's troubled Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including regular probes by the auditor general.

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum says the program needs immediate reforms after Employment Minister Jason Kenney suspended its use by the fast-food industry amid allegations the program is being abused.

"The result [of the program] has been fewer jobs for Canadian workers, the suppression of Canadian wages and in some cases the exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers," McCallum says.

The government slammed on the brakes after a "political crisis broke out," he said.

McCallum says the Liberals want:

  • A full review of the program by the auditor general.
  • Public disclosure of information about what jobs are being offered to temporary foreign workers and in what communities.
  • A requirement for employers to demonstrate that every effort has been made to fill positions with Canadian workers and young Canadian workers in particular.
  • A tightened Labour Market Opinion approval process. LMO approvals are required before an employer can hire temporary foreign workers.

More reported problems

The Liberals had called last month for a review by the auditor general. The changes recommended Monday came as the CBC's Geoff Leo reported one company was advised to remind temporary foreign workers that they could be sent home if they became too "Canadianized" in their demands of their employer.

In another case reported Monday, Anton Soloviov, a temporary foreign worker in British Columbia said he wasn't paid and was threatened.

NDP employment critic Jinny Sims asked why Kenney hasn't ordered an independent review of the program.

Kenney said the RCMP is investigating and the case has been referred to the Canada Border Services Agency.

"The employer in question has been blacklisted, is unable to access labour market opinions. It does point to the need for better information sharing between law enforcement agencies so that when one investigation is opened in the police force, for example, that administrative agencies are made informed. But Mr. Speaker, we take such allegations very seriously and criminal sanctions are potential in this case," he said.

How to calculate labour needs?

Confusion over job vacancy rates isn't helping the debate, with Employment and Social Development Canada using different metrics than Statistics Canada and the Department of Finance. New Democrat MPs have also called on the government to stop using data from online job postings on websites like Kijiji.

"There's a lot of statistical argument over the reality of job vacancy numbers, with Statistics Canada giving different numbers from what the Finance Department gives," McCallum said.

Addressing the confusion over job vacancy numbers, Kenney told MPs in question period there is no general labour shortage in Canada.

"Mr. Speaker do you know who said there was no labour shortage? It was me. Myself. There is no general labour shortage in Canada. But at the same time it's clear that there are some industries in some regions where there is a shortage of certain skills. And so that's the reality and that's why the government is acting to improve the training system to better prepare young Canadians for the jobs of the future," Kenney said.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver told MPs that it's clear unemployment is getting better in Canada.

"Nevertheless there are sectoral problems, particularly in the natural resource area where there are hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be needed over the next decades. There are regions in the country where there are skilled labour forces that companies need to fill and therefore it's critically important that we bridge the gap between the labour needs and the unemployment," he said.

Speaking to reporters outside the House, Oliver suggested his department is looking at how exactly to calculate job numbers.

The different needs of various regions and sectors have to be considered, he said.

"So that has to be put in the mix and in the Department of Finance, we're looking at that issue and we're trying to determine the best source of reliable job data."