It was bizarre this week to witness St. John’s city council enter the ring and start swinging in the fight over the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program.
The program has recently become one of the most controversial and important national issues.
It is far out of the realm of municipal jurisdiction, but that didn’t stop the governors on New Gower Street from getting involved.
City council voted to send a letter to the federal government asking it to end its moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant industry.
Specifically, Mayor Dennis O’Keefe will write to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and ask him to find a “more effective solution.”
Undoubtedly, Kenney will appreciate council’s wise counsel.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” he’ll say. “I must redouble my efforts to be more effective.”
It’s more of the bland banality we’ve come to expect from city hall. After all, these are people who for years have resisted the reasonable requests of its citizenry that city streets and sidewalks be cleared of snow in winter. If they can’t comprehend that basic concept, they really should stay away from an issue such as temporary foreign workers.
A “more effective solution” will not be found, and cannot be found, because the temporary foreign workers program is a repugnant abomination based on lies and propaganda.
At its core, the program is based on the assumption that Canadian workers are lazy. Thus the oft-heard justification that “foreigners are willing to take jobs that Canadians won’t,” or “we can’t find people to fill these positions.”
None of these statements are objective or factual. They are merely value judgments. You could just as easily, and more accurately, say, “foreigners are desperate enough to take lousy jobs that Canadians aren’t,” or “employers can’t find people who will stay in those low-paying positions.”
It is no accident that the main vocal supporters of the temporary foreign workers program are organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Business, Restaurants Canada, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and such.
It is also no accident that the dramatic rise in temporary foreign workers in Canada — from 100,000 in 2002 to 330,000 in 2013 — concisely corresponds to conservative governments holding office in Ottawa. (The Tories since 2006, and, from 2003-06, Paul Martin, who was a conservative masquerading as a Liberal.)
City councillors commonly comment without a clue. Coun. Art Puddister opined that temporary foreign workers should get wages equal to Canadians rather than a lesser amount, and “should be working for the acceptable standard wage.”
Except that … they are. They do. Minimum wage laws apply to temporary foreign workers. The program also requires that they be paid no less than the average wage paid to Canadians working in the same line of work in the same geographic region.
So, what is the rationale, then, for the program? The first clue comes from the current controversy, centred on the restaurant industry.
Hands up, anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant and been ripped off by your boss.
The restaurant business generally, and the fast-food industry specifically, is notorious for ill treatment of employees. Pitiful wages. Unpaid wages. Overtime work without overtime pay. Even worse, work without pay (managers punching out employees’ time-clock cards an hour before the end of their shifts). And so on.
And yet, the accusation gets twisted, and the finger of blame is pointed at allegedly lazy Canadian workers.
The program should be ended immediately. Foreign workers already here should be granted landed immigrant status, on their way to becoming citizens. And we should say, “Welcome to Canada, where we abhor indentured servitude.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.