MHA Cathy Bennett gave an indication this week of the kind of gall and arrogance the Newfoundland (and Labrador) electorate can expect from a Liberal government after it ascends to office.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball already sounds as if he thinks he is the premier-designate rather than Frank Coleman, but it was Bennett’s performance in the House of Assembly that proved the Liberals are ready to lord it over the peasantry as the next untouchable masters of all the Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians).
Despite the national controversy the past few weeks regarding the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program — not to be confused with indentured servitude of the 18th century — Bennett boasted about hiring temporary foreign workers at her McDonald’s franchises.
As quoted in a Telegram story, she told the House, “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 may be proud, and perhaps some of the people who elected her in the recent Virginia Waters byelection are proud of her for being proud, but she apparently hasn’t been paying attention to the supersized controversy about the temporary foreign workers program.
Bennett’s own parent company, McDonald’s, is embroiled in the debate.
According to a recent Canadian Press story, “Fast-food giant McDonald’s has announced it is freezing its participation in the program pending a third-party audit after it found itself in hot water for hiring temporary foreign workers in B.C.”
Residents of B.C. must see something objectionable about bringing in foreigners to flip burgers instead of hiring Canadians, even if a majority of voters in Virginia Waters see nothing wrong with it.
The basis for the program — that it fills jobs that Canadians don’t want — has always been preposterous, and is finally being debunked, disproven and downsized.
A recent report on the temporary foreign workers program by the C.D. Howe Institute stated “there was little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations,” and that the program “accelerated the rise in unemployment rates in Alberta and British Columbia.”
Trust economists to take a decade to figure out that if companies hire foreigners to do jobs that Canadians could do, the unemployment rate will go up.
If that was the result in Alberta and B.C., which have relatively strong economies, the same must be true for weaker economies such as Newfoundland’s (setting aside, for the moment, the exaggerated hype about oil, GDP growth, boom times and such).
This province still has the highest unemployment rate in the country, and yet fast-food franchisers expect the public to believe they can’t find workers. That’s harder to swallow than some of their menu items.
Of course, employers say they want staff to be reliable, stable and long-term. Again, the implication is that such a goal cannot be met merely by hanging a “Help wanted” sign in the window.
But as many people have said, maybe the problem isn’t so much with the applicants, or lack thereof, as with the wages and working conditions — or lack thereof — on offer.
The grease merchants should look inward, rather than outward to the Philippines or India.
Bennett is seemingly unbothered. She spoke on the issue in the House of Assembly because she introduced a private member’s resolution calling on the government to increase regulation over the temporary foreign workers program.
The Tories agreed. Henceforth, companies in Newfoundland will need a licence in order to bring in foreign workers rather than hire Newfoundlanders (or Labradorians or Canadians).
It seems overdone, when the same ends could likely be met with a simple sign: “Help wanted. Good pay. Decent benefits.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com.