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Apparently, serious complaints have been surfacing about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for some time now. The earliest complaint, as we can understand it, came from Conservative MP Rob Merrifield, who claimed that some of his constituents had been laid off only to be replaced by participants in the program. He wrote this in July of 2006, but the program had been around for a few years before that.  Jean Chretien actually introduced the current incarnation of this program, which allows low-skill jobs to employ temporary foreign workers. 


Sorry,22 Minutes

Sorry, did you think the Liberals and the NDP were completely guilt-free in all this?
22 Minutes


Complaints have also been raised about not having enough “foreign” workers to fill the available positions. Available records indicate that these complaints also began in July 2006, two months after Prime Minister Harper formed his first government. Although the program has increased gradually over the years, a much steeper increase began in 2006. Aside from a Conservative, Western oriented administration taking root in Ottawa, what else was going on? Well, that was it. Early in their mandate, Prime Minister Harper and his ministers changed the rules to make it easier for companies to hire foreigners.  One notable change is the reduction of the length of time a job must be advertised locally. So there have been jobs available for Canadians.  The Conservative government just made it easier for companies to not hire Canadians if they didn’t want to. This must have been the case, given the steeper climb in the program over the past few years. Between 2002 and 2006 the numbers of foreign workers rose by about 50%. Between 2006 and 2010, that number nearly doubled, and, as of 2012, was well on its way to tripling.

The Western provinces—ironically where this story broke—have the lowest levels of unemployment, while Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec have among the highest. Alberta has also approved the highest number of foreign workers, but uses about 20,000 fewer than the approved number of Approved Labour Market Positions. All other provinces and territories, save little PEI, use noticeably more TFW’s then they had projected too. Ontario uses the most by far, with about 120,000. A huge percentage of these workers are low skilled foreign students who have no intention of staying in Canada, but arrive to take advantage of this program.

In theory, this allows Canadian students to do the same in other countries, but studies show that we don’t take that option. Instead, Canadian students are left without jobs while foreigners can get them more easily. This is of great importance in Eastern Canada, but it is worth noting that the story broke due to recent complaints made in the Conservative heartland. Usually, the West is only dissatisfied with Ottawa when they are affected by an act of legislation, such as the National Energy Program. Could this be a sign that the Conservative base is cracking?

Hmm, I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So let us use our power of deduction:

  • The Temporary Foreign Worker Program widens to include low skilled workers in 2002, but the program doesn’t start growing until 2006.
  • The Conservative government gains power in 2006. Western Oriented and Big Business friendly, the Conservatives’ rise to power corresponds with the moment that the number of participants begins to rise.  New rules for hiring practices make it easier to hire low skilled foreign workers.
  • Complaints about the logistical application of the program and its affect on the Canadian population begin in 2006, once the new measures are in place, but little is done about these complaints until we suffer a recession and a rising rate of unemployment.  The crisis is made more unbearable by the broadcasting of ads assuring Canadians that their Conservative government is combating joblessness and unemployment.
  • Conservatives remove ads from circulation when they do no more than irritate Canadians.  The story of the foreign workers breaks and becomes an international scandal.
  • Most prominent complaints are tied to the province with the lowest rate of unemployment—the province theoretically in favour of the program, least affected by it, and a Conservative bastion.


While I can’t tell the future, it’s my guess that despite the reforms to the program, Ontario, Quebec, BC, and the Maritimes will remember the actions of their government, and the Conservatives will likely lose seats in ridings with high unemployment due to angst.  This may lead to perhaps one or two spots of red beyond Winnipeg for the first time in forty years, and may even make the current majority a temporary program.