The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is going to be pushing the federal government this year for stability and useability of the temporary foreign workers program, which has been in flux since it landed on the front pages of newspapers across the nation following abuses by companies using the program.
Stettler-area resident Terry Crisp represents Alberta as one of the CFIB’s governors and said the government has made it hard for businesses to use and rely on the temporary foreign workers program.
“There’s so much uncertainty,” he said. “The government is yes, no, yes, no, yes, no with it.”
The CFIB governor said the organization regrets that the program has been abused, but notes that when properly used the program is of great assistance to small- and medium-sized businesses Canada-wide, but especially in Alberta where it’s hard to find labour to work on farms.
“Farming comes with the misconception that it doesn’t pay well,” Crisp said. While wages may be lower than working in a field such as oil, farmers often provide lodging, meals, and some equipment for their farmhands, and once that is factored into wages, the wages are relatively comparable, he said.
“It’s the CFIB’s job to come up with common sense solutions and then lobby the government,” Crisp said.
Crisp said his two sons, who have taken over the farm as he’s mostly retired, have had difficulty finding help. One son has hired an Irish immigrant, who is in the process of gaining his Canadian citizenship.
“We’re fortunate,” he said. “There are others out there that can’t find workers.”
Crisp said that when properly used, the program brings in people to work in communities where there are labour shortages. When there’s no one available to take the job, the program is a bonus.
It’s when companies use the program to replace Canadian employees is when it becomes a problem, and the program earns a negative reputation, Crisp noted.
The program drew national attention more than a year ago after a whistleblower in the Royal Bank revealed a number of IT technicians in the company were being laid off and people were being brought in to replace them through the program. Since then, the program has never been far from the front-page headlines, most recently when it was discovered a B.C. McDonalds was hiring people using the program.
That news led to a ban on restaurants using the program.
The federal government announced changes earlier this month which would see the program usable in communities where a certain low unemployment rate is present. In locations where unemployment is higher, the program would not be an option.
Proud of first year’s accomplishments
Crisp noted that in the past year, the CFIB has helped its members with matters surrounding the increase to the pension plan, mandated by the federal government, which would require businesses to pay more into the retirement plan.
“We made sure the numbers were right and that our members had a full understanding of the process,” Crisp said.
Another focus of the CFIB last year was helping its members increase capital gains, which in turn will help with cost of living improvements – something Crisp said was generally a success.
Crisp has been a member of the CFIB for 15 years and said he was honoured to be chosen to represent the organization, which at one point went to bat for him when he ran into trouble exporting and importing his Alberta cattle into Saskatchewan, and vice versa.
“The CFIB was there, negotiating with the provincial governments for me.”
Crisp is now entering his second year of a three year term. Governors can run two terms.