Clampdown on foreign workers puts Banff in a bind

posted on November 17, 2014

By Renata D’Aliesio, the Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Renata D’Aliesio, the Globe and Mail | Link to Article

A cool stillness had settled in on the sidewalks of Banff. The crush of camera-carrying tourists was gone, in hibernation until ski season. In the shops, sales clerks hovered with time to chat, and a library-like serenity lingered in hotel lobbies – a welcome recess for staff after a flat-out summer.

But for employers in one of Canada’s premier tourist destinations, the annual autumn respite is tinged this year with frustration and anxiety over the federal government’s new, unexpected restrictions on hiring foreigners to clean hotel rooms, press laundry, serve coffee, sandwiches and fries.

The opening of the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program to low-skilled positions in 2002 brought labour stability to this world-renowned Alberta jewel, stitched into Canada’s first national park. Despite its natural splendour, the Rocky Mountain town has long struggled to attract Canadians to live and work in Banff because housing options are minimal and the cost of living is high.

Now, many business owners are scrambling to figure out how to fill jobs before the horde of tourists returns. Few, if any, believe they’ll be able to attract more Canadian workers – one impetus for Ottawa’s reforms to the temporary foreign worker program.

While Banff business owners and municipal politicians are pressuring Ottawa to give resort communities more flexibility to hire overseas, an old reality is also slowly sinking in: Hotel service may soon suffer, lineups for fast food could grow, retail shop hours may be cut, and more jobs will likely go unfilled, placing pressure on existing staff to toil longer hours and extra days.

“The fear has been revived that there just won’t be enough employees,” says Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen. “Prior to the temporary foreign worker program, we were in staff chaos, staff shortages all the time,” Ms. Sorensen adds. “Our level of service here is fundamental to our success.”

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