However, Downe, who was grilled about the issue of outsourcing Canadian jobs to foreign workers during the bank's annual meeting, said the bank is abiding by the rules set out under the federal program.
"(We) have used it for the filling of short-term skills gaps where they exist, but (have) also put in place a framework to ensure that we're complying both with the letter and spirit of the federal program," he told shareholders Wednesday.
Shareholders called for clarity from BMO following the outrage surrounding Royal Bank (TSX:RY) and its decision to outsource the work of 45 employees to a company that used the temporary foreign worker program.
iGate brought its own employees into Canada under the program so they could be trained at RBC branches for the services they'll be providing to the bank.
The program is supposed enable companies to bring workers from overseas when they can't find enough Canadians to fill those positions. But it has been criticized for allowing businesses to use cheap foreign labour at the expense of Canadian jobs.
One BMO shareholder said she wanted to feel proud to invest in an ethical bank that does not "hollow out" the Canadian middle class.
"I think this bank could lead the way and reduce outsourcing and keep our employees in Canada," she told the meeting.
Downe replied that the "vast majority" of the jobs BMO creates are in Canada and the United States, where it has doubled its footprint through its $4.1-billion acquisition of Marshall and Ilsley Corp. in 2011.
The CEO of Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) was also asked about his company's outsourcing practices on Tuesday, when the bank held its AGM in Halifax.
Rick Waugh said Scotiabank is not planning to outsource jobs to temporary foreign workers, but it will expand the use of international call centres.
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