09/22/2014 01:50 EDT | Updated 11/22/2014 05:59 EST

Prentice Says TFWs Top List In First Meeting With Harper


CALGARY - Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says labour policy, including temporary foreign workers, will top his agenda when he gets a chance to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Prentice served for years in Harper's cabinet and wants to meet with the prime minister after dealing with provincial issues, including a byelection to get himself a seat in the Alberta legislature.

The federal government introduced new rules in June to limit the number of foreign workers that large- and medium-sized companies are permitted to hire. The changes are aimed at ensuring Canadians are first in line for jobs.

Prentice said the new rules are making it very difficult for some businesses to fill jobs and hopes to work with Harper on a solution.

"With the population pressure we're under, with the job creation pressure that we're under in this province, I've heard loud and clear over the summer from business people that the changes on temporary foreign workers are going to be very, very difficult," Prentice said Monday.

Prentice said Alberta has accounted for almost all of Canada's job growth yet receives only two per cent of the immigration nominees.

"That clearly can't continue," he said.

He said the answer might involve increasing the number of immigration nominees that are available or some sort of program to lure other Canadians to Alberta to fill the vacancies.

Other changes to the program announced by Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney in June included tougher penalties for companies that violate the new rules and inspections to uncover abuses.

Kenney told The Canadian Press Monday that he won't compromise on ensuring that employers don't use the temporary foreign worker program as a cheap source of labour.

He downplayed how the program is affecting Alberta.

"When fully implemented in 2016, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program reforms will bar the admission of about 8,000 low-paid TFWs in Alberta, relative to last year's admissions," Kenney wrote in an email.

Kenney said that's the equivalent of 0.3 per cent of Alberta's labour force, which is growing by 100,000 per year.

He said there are too many people capable of working who are still not in the work force and that Alberta's food services sector has become too dependent on temporary foreign workers.

"In the Alberta food services sector, wages have gone up by only one per cent a year over the past 8 years, versus two per cent for inflation and three per cent for all jobs in Alberta," he said.

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