In June, the federal government, at the urging and with the connivance of the unions, officially gutted the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
In so doing, they have effectively sounded the death knell for thousands of small businesses, particularly those in the restaurant, hotel and retail sectors, who will no longer be allowed to avail of the program.
Under the so-called “reforms,” which is the term politicians like to use when they want to get rid of something, employers in the food service and fish processing sectors will be barred from the program in areas of high unemployment — defined as six per cent or higher. This leaves much of Atlantic Canada, and all of Newfoundland and Labrador, including St. John’s, out in the cold.
Meanwhile, business leaders are accusing the federal government of having made a bad situation worse and are predicting that the new restrictions will result in closures and reduced levels of service throughout the region, long before the program is phased out completely by 2016.
As for any suggestions that federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney had to offer to business owners faced with this continuing crisis, the best he could come up with was, if you can’t find enough Canadian workers … don’t start the business.
Which leaves me wondering exactly how long I’m going to have to wait the next time I wander into a McDonald’s or Tim Hortons outlet in search of sustenance.
For a while there I was getting kind of used to being greeted by smiling Filipinos who seemed genuinely anxious to serve me my small senior’s coffee with two cream and a sweetener as promptly and courteously as possible.
I have never had to pound my shoe on the counter in the hopes of attracting their attention. I have never had to simulate a heart attack in order for them to take notice of my self-effacing presence. I have never even had to feign a coughing fit by way of making known to all and sundry my desire to place an appropriate order at some point in the not too distant future, like maybe sometime this week.
Unlike some of their Canadian colleagues, the Filipinos who have been brought here through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program have yet to master the art of totally ignoring the customer while simultaneously thinking about more important stuff, like what the girlfriend is doing, and with whom.
Filipinos don’t seem to have developed that strong sense of entitlement which characterizes many Canadian youth when making their first, tentative, half-hearted, disinterested, disdainful foray into the workplace.
These are the kids who figure their present job, whether it be slinging hash or flipping burgers, is beneath their dignity and consequently they don’t have to work at it very hard, if at all.
Because their minds are far, far away in some virtual reality of their own creation, they lack focus and any sense of urgency, which perhaps explains the long lineups and the seagulls having a field day with the garbage strewn around the parking lot.
As far as motivation goes, rest assured that it’s definitely gone, if it was ever there to begin with.
It’s also a fairly safe bet to assume that their get-up-and-go is never coming back, no matter how highly paid the jobs they eventually luck into because their employers had no other choice than to start scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Of course, now that the Filipinos and all the other foreign workers are being sent packing back to where they came from, true blue Canadian citizens, no matter how lousy their work ethic, will no longer have to worry about being replaced by a “bunch of damn foreigners,” those same archetypal “furriners,” by the way, who have always been a favoured target of demagogues and rabble-rousers the world over.
It’s certainly not surprising that the government and the union bosses would resort to such sleazy scare tactics by way of consolidating their individual power bases and distracting their respective constituencies away from matters of real import.
What I do find surprising, however, and not a little disappointing, is the muted response from my fellow senior citizens and retirees across the country, many of whom are going to find themselves at loose ends when their favourite gathering places are forced to shut down due to the lack of staff, be they foreign or local.
A lot of these seniors became quite well acquainted with many of the foreign workers they encountered on their daily visits to the coffee shops.
Often, they were on a first-name basis and could understand some of the hardships and loneliness these men and women faced while trying to support their families back home and adapt to a strange new land.
I would have expected, somehow, that they’d be a little more angry and outraged over what has been done to their former friends so that a few self-serving politicians and union bigwigs could continue to enjoy the many perks of high office.
And now, of course, it’s too late.
“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Tony Collins lives and writes in Gander.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com
His column returns July 19.