07/31/2014 08:34 EDT | Updated 09/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Think Long Term on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Mayor Naheed Nenshi should be applauded for his recent comments about Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program. He not only pointed out that the federal Conservative government's recent changes to the program will not work for our city, but that it is profoundly un-Canadian "[t]o treat people like commodities that come here for two years and serve us our coffee in the mornings."

The government created major problems for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program when it began to loosen the rules in 2006; it created an approval process with little oversight that largely amounted to rubber stamping applications, which has directly led to Canadians losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers.

But the government's most recent attempt to fix the very problems it created is a sledgehammer approach that will not work everywhere; the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has now become one of the federal government's most anti-Alberta policies in decades. The new rules appear to be based on the assumption that every region and industry in Canada faces identical labour challenges.

Even in our respective ridings of Calgary Confederation and Calgary Skyview, which we hope to represent, have vastly different needs and characteristics. The lack of nuance in this government's hap-hazard decision-making does not recognize the varying economic challenges in our communities.

More important than fixing the short term labour problem, however, is planning for the long term; not only because it is the right thing to do, but because as Mayor Nenshi correctly stated: "We need immigration in order for our system to work."

Consider that in 1991 the Calgary Herald ran an editorial entitled, "Baby Boomers: Old age will force changes on society," which pointed out that by 2030, one-fifth of our population will be over the age of 65. It concluded by stating: "There is no reversing the aging process, but with proper care Canada can grow old gracefully." Twenty three years later, Statistics Canada now estimates that by 2030 almost one-quarter of our population will be over the age of 65.

Canada must seize the moment and meet the coming economic challenges head-on. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program brings people to Canada, most of who have proven that they can successfully integrate into Canadian society and our labour market. Unfortunately, it is also a system that brings people here for a limited time, only to send them back where they came from. If their employer cannot find a Canadian to fill their vacated position, they then hire a new Temporary Foreign Worker who has likely never been to Canada before.

Of course, not every temporary foreign worker aspires to become a Canadian citizen. But by creating new pathways to citizenship, we can give those who do, and who have a proven track record of economic success in this country, a fair chance to stay and continue to contribute to Canadian society. If Canada is prepared to welcome these individuals as temporary foreign workers, they deserve a fair and reasonable opportunity to become citizens.

This blog is co-written by Darshan Kang, MLA for Calgary-McCall, Liberal Candidate for Calgary Skyview


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