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Temporary Foreign Worker Program queries came mostly from Tory MPs

Documents released under the Access to Information Act show that Conservative MPs have been far more vocal in seeking assistance for employers wanting temporary foreign workers, and also flagged the most concerns about abuses in the program years before the issue hit the headlines.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program following stories by CBC News highlighting abuses of the program. Documents released under the Access to Information Act show that Conservative MPs have raised concerns about the program for years. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Jason Kenney says he expects to hear an earful from constituents and businesses in Alberta concerned about his changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

But a CBC News analysis of documents obtained from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration under the Access to Information Act, shows Kenney has been hearing from his own MPs from that province for years — mostly about the need for easier access to temporary foreign workers.

CBC News requested correspondence from MPs to the department regarding the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in April 2013, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to letters from NDP MPs supportive of the program in the House of Commons. Harper used the correspondence, which the Conservatives subsequently released to the media, to argue the NDP was hypocritical for criticizing a program that their own MPs were supporting.

But an analysis of the 171 pieces of correspondence from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration showed 149 came from the Conservatives, 11 from Liberals and 10 from the NDP.

Much of the Conservative correspondence has to do with complaints about paperwork and delays in getting temporary foreign workers. Some examples:

  • In 2006, 2010 and 2012, Rona Ambrose passed along complaints from constituents who felt the program needed to respond more quickly to their concerns for more workers.
  • In 2006, James Rajotte wrote that the criteria used to select temporary foreign workers should be left to the employers, not the immigration department, one of two departments responsible for the program.
  • In 2007, Mike Lake passed along a constituent's concern about the length of time it was taking for the department to process work permit applications.

Conservative MPs also flagged concerns about abuses years before the issue hit the headlines.

Jay Hill, who was government House leader at the time, passed along a message in 2009 from a constituent "concerned about recent information she has received regarding employers laying off Canadian/permanent residents and replacing them with foreign workers for less pay."

The complaint continued, "I respectfully ask that you look into (blanked out) concerns and investigate if employers may be abusing this program to hire foreign workers after laying off Canadian residents."

In 2007, Rajotte sent a letter about the protection of "live-in care givers and other temporary foreign workers from conditions of degradation, exploitation and abuse."

In 2008, Lake shared an email from a constituent regarding "concerns he has over the way those work permits are treated."

Those are the kinds of abuses Kenney now says he wants to stamp out.

Concerns about the program have been the loudest in Alberta, the province that uses the program the most, so it is no surprise Conservatives MPs are the ones raising those concerns given the party's domination in the province.

Alberta’s reaction to the proposed changes Kenney announced last Friday have been mainly negative. For instance, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says members from that province are warning the changes could put them out of business.

Candidates vying to become the next leader of the Alberta PCs told Evan Solomon of CBC News Network's Power & Politics that the temporary foreign worker issue will be an issue in the leadership race.

Jim Prentice, a former Harper cabinet minister now seeking to lead the PCs in Alberta, passed along his concerns about the program when he was an MP.

In 2008, his assistant sent an email outlining a constituent’s "serious concerns over the delays and obstacles in the immigration process encountered by his company (blanked out) ... in its attempts to assist employers in acquiring foreign workers to address labour shortages in Canada."

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