P.E.I. needs temporary foreign workers, says innovation minister

P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach is trying to set up a meeting with the federal government to discuss changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Allen Roach responds to changes to Temporary Foreign Worker Program

P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach says the federal government shouldn't have made sweeping changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (CBC)

P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach is trying to set up a meeting with the federal government to discuss changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

On Friday, federal Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney placed new restrictions on the program, including instituting a cap of 30 per cent on the number of low-wage foreign workers for companies with more than 10 employees.

Roach says he has heard from industry, businesses and individuals on P.E.I. since the changes were announced.

The federal government should have reached out to the provinces and investigated specific cases of suspected misuse of the program instead of making sweeping changes, he says.

"The concern is the level of impact it's going to have not only in Prince Edward Island, but right across the Atlantic provinces during these times when we need the workers."

Roach expects fish plants, which have been struggling in recent years with trying to attract people to the industry, will be hardest hit.

The P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association says about 300 temporary foreign workers will be employed by fish plants in the province this year. Processors wanted to double that number, but the federal government refused.

"The changes that were introduced on Friday, if they're allowed to stand, will, at best, change the way we do business and the amount of volume that we do, and, at worse, will close some operations," said Dennis King, executive director of the Processors Association.

"Jim Beale in North Lake is looking for 100 employees, I'd like to see somebody come there and round up 100 employees for him."

"You can't just simply say because there is an 11 per cent unemployment rate [on P.E.I.], that all of those people need to go the fish plants," said Roach.

On Monday, industries that use temporary foreign workers on P.E.I. met with Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay and Liberal Immigration Critic John McCallum.

"The reality is that Islanders just aren't coming to the table for those jobs. Why it is we just don't know," said Don Cudmore, executive director of the P.E.I. Tourism Industry Association.

Kathy Hambly, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce said, "We need temporary foreign workers. We do not have enough workers to sustain the industries."

McCallum says there were abuses to the program, but says the federal Conservatives have over-reacted.

"I think it's gotten out of hand. There's evidence of exploitation, evidence of Canadians not getting the jobs first, evidence of wages being held down, so there were clearly problems with Conservative management," said McCallum.

"We agree that the numbers have to be brought down but we don't agree with their sledgehammer approach."

Meanwhile, in a news release, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business calls the changes "a deeply troubling over-reaction by the federal government at a time when some sectors of the Atlantic economy are already suffering from crippling labour and skills shortages."

The CFIB says it's "shocking that a government that until now has been supportive of small business is oblivious to the damage this move will do to fish processors, hospitality providers, quick-service restaurants and other vulnerable businesses in the region."


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