Responding to Liberal motion
It’s been less than two weeks since Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett first set foot in the House of Assembly, but she’s already wrung a commitment for more provincial regulation over temporary foreign workers out of the Progressive Conservative government.
Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett has been sitting in the House for about a week and a half, but on Wednesday she introduced a resolution in the legislature calling for more regulation on the companies which bring temporary foreign workers into the province. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Bennett introduced a private member’s resolution Wednesday in the legislature calling for a registry of the companies that employ temporary foreign workers and a licensing requirement for the companies that recruit them.
Bennett, owner of several McDonald’s restaurants in St. John’s along with a raft of other businesses, has been heavily involved in this issue. She’s brought in people from other parts of the world to staff her fast-food restaurants. And in the House of Assembly, she wasn’t apologizing for it.
“I am proud that I am able to bring in temporary foreign workers in management roles that could not be filled, to train my staff so they could step into those higher paying positions,” Bennett said. “I have long been an advocate for the rights of everyone — particularly those who choose to work and live in our province — which is what this private member’s resolution aims to do: protect everyone.”
The issue of foreign workers has been a hot-button topic in recent months, with stories emerging from across the country of businesses allegedly exploiting workers, or using them to displace Canadians.
The situation got bad enough that federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney stepped in and placed a moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the food service industry.
That didn’t sit well with Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien, who is responsible for immigration in this province.
O’Brien said he’s got a call scheduled with Kenney because he believes the moratorium goes overboard dealing with a small number of cases.
“He’s actually killed an ant with a sledgehammer,” O’Brien said during debate in the legislature.
The Tory MHAs voted to support Bennett’s resolution after O’Brien made a small amendment to it. The Liberals were calling for a piece of legislation akin to what’s been passed in Nova Scotia and Manitoba. O’Brien’s amendment, which the Liberals went along with, removed any reference to other provinces, but kept the commitment to develop some sort of legislation.
The NDP voted against the whole thing.
In a news release, New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael called it “wishy washy” and not good enough.
“We have all heard the stories of employers who withhold pay, who do not pay overtime, who pay temporary foreign workers less than they tell government they are paying them,” Michael said in the release. “A vulnerable worker in a foreign country, who may not speak the language or be informed about the rights of employees, needs an extra level of protection.”
O’Brien said he supports the temporary foreign worker program generally, but he believes that immigration is a better way to deal with the province’s labour problems.
“My opinion is that if they come here and there is a need for those particular workers in our province, in Canada, well then, I want them to stay forever. I want them to become Canadians, the same as me,” he said.