11/30/2016 11:41 EST

Sen. Percy Downe: Canada Is Taking In Too Many Young Temporary Workers

Liberals also flagged concerns in 2014.

OTTAWA — Canada is accepting too many young temporary workers, shortchanging home-grown talent, and contributing to the high youth unemployment rate, says an independent Liberal senator.

With the youth unemployment rate almost double the national average, P.E.I. Sen. Percy Downe told The Huffington Post Canada he is concerned the federal government is admitting too many foreign youth through the International Experience Canada (IEC) program and suppressing wages and opportunities at home.

Last year, approximately 31,000 more foreign young workers arrived in Canada to work than the number of Canadian youth who went abroad for employment opportunities with the program. Despite this, Statistics Canada reports 13 per cent of young people or 365,000 young Canadians — aged 15 to 24 — can’t find a job.

“Are we too much of a boy scout?” Downe asked rhetorically. IEC would be a “wonderful program” if Canada had low youth unemployment, the senator told HuffPost.

“But I’m concerned that we are at an unacceptably high rate of unemployment among young people, too many people living in their parents’ basements can’t find the opportunities at all and we are offering 30,000 additional jobs to people from around the world… That’s a problem for me.”

"Too many people living in their parents’ basements can’t find the opportunities at all and we are offering 30,000 additional jobs to people from around the world."

Downe’s concerns are echoed by opposition MPs who also feel the Liberal government should be cracking down on the program.

Documents tabled in the Senate this fall, showed 47,340 young people entered Canada in 2015, down slightly from 49,995 in 2014 and 53,575 in 2013. Comparatively, 15,978 young Canadians went to work abroad in 2015, though the number may increase as figures from six of the 32 countries who participate in the program were unavailable. In 2014, 18,890 young Canadians left and in 2013, the number was 17,122.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which administers the program, said quotas are negotiated yearly and are reciprocal, meaning that if there are 14,000 spots open for French citizens to come work and live in Canada for a year, there are 14,000 spots open for Canadians to work in France for a year.

France, which has a youth unemployment rate of more than 24 per cent, saw 10,310 of its citizens come to Canada last year, while only 1,548 Canadians went to France.

Sen. Percy Downe speaks at the General Assembly of the Council of Europe in spring, 2011. (Photo: File)

Nearly every partner country — with the noticeable exception of the United Kingdom and Australia — saw more foreigners use the program. In 2015, 3,800 South Korean youth came to Canada while only 24 young Canadians went to South Korea. Four Canadians went to work in Poland while 560 Polish youth came to Canada. Only 382 Canadians went to work in Japan, while 5,385 Japanese youth sought work experience in Canada.

NDP employment critic Niki Ashton calls the numbers “troubling.”

“There has been concern for some time about the way in which more and more people are coming to Canada through avenues that do not require a labour market opinion,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost.

A labour market opinion helps employers justify to government officials why they are placing a foreigner on the payroll by stating few if any Canadians could be found to do the job.

Liberals flagged same concerns

These concerns were, ironically, first raised by the Liberals two years ago when they were in opposition.

Back in 2014, the Liberals argued the IEC, whose original purpose was to be a cultural exchange with a “neutral effect” on the Canadian labour market, had shifted to become a temporary foreign worker program for those 18 to 35 years of age.

The IEC had expanded to allow young workers to stay in Canada for two years rather than one and young foreign workers were given the ability to reapply after their holiday visas had expired, the Grits complained.

They also noted how the then-Conservative government was promoting the program to employers as a way of hiring young people from abroad without having to prove that no Canadians could be be found to do the job.

Tory youth critic sounds off

Ashton said that while the program is supposed to benefit young people, “but it’s clear that young Canadians aren’t seeing much from it.”

Conservative youth critic Rachael Harder said the IEC could be a backdoor for foreign workers to come in and “unintentionally” be a contributing factor to the high youth unemployment rate in Canada.

“We know that employers don't have to go through the hoop of conducting a labour market analysis before hiring from the pool of eager young applicants. This means the likelihood of young people from other countries being given jobs that could (and should) be granted to Canadian residents is high,” she wrote in an email.

The federal government should put the well-being of Canadian young people as a priority, she added.

Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 15. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

“Bottom line — Canadian young people need jobs,” she said, and the Liberals should follow through on their promise to create more employment opportunities for the youth of our nation.

Immigration Minister John McCallum’s office chose not to respond to a request for a comment. Questions were punted to the department, which confirmed in an email that the majority of IEC participants have open work permits.

“Their employers have no contact with the Government of Canada and the employer compliance process does not apply to them,” wrote Immigration spokesperson Lisa Filipps.

Filipps provided a powerpoint presentation that trumpeted the benefit of the exchange for young Canadians.

Major student groups not worried

The mandate of the program is to “support the internationalization of Canadian youth” and to further bilateral relationships with now 32 partner countries, the deck of slides stated.

“Anecdotal evidence that the internationalization of Canadian youth has a positive impact on their labour market outcomes,” another slide noted, specifying that young people benefit from having international market experience and a global network of contacts that provide them with a competitive advantage.

Two student groups told HuffPost they are unconcerned by the possible effects of IEC program.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Association's’ executive director Michael McDonald said his group strongly favours exchanges. The Association is focused on making tuition more affordable, not on limiting the access of young people from abroad to the Canadian job market, he said.

The Canadian Federation of Students’ national chairperson Bilan Arte said her group is more concerned about the explosion of short-term contracts and unpaid internships.

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