Mario Canseco: British Columbians oppose foreign worker program, but don’t want it scrapped

posted on May 18, 2014

By Mario Canseco, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Mario Canseco, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

VANCOUVER — British Columbians have in recent weeks started to question the rationale behind the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program, following a series of stories related to the fast-food industry.

Federal Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney has carefully described the problems as “serious allegations of abuse”, and ordered a review of the entire program.

British Columbians are definitely following the story — an expected finding since Victoria was essentially Ground Zero in this scandal, after three McDonald’s restaurants were suspended from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. An Insights West survey conducted last week found that 68 per cent of B.C. residents are “very familiar” or “somewhat familiar” with the program.

The general view of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is negative. Across the province, a majority of British Columbians (53 per cent) voice opposition to the program, while just one third (34 per cent) support it. People aged 55 and over hold decidedly more unfavourable views, with opposition climbing to 61 per cent in this demographic.

Faced with this high proportion of negative reviews, one would assume that abolition of the program would be the desired course of action. But only 22 per cent of British Columbians say they want to get rid of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, while three-in-five (60 per cent) would like to see it continue, but with better oversight.

There are four categories under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program: agricultural workers, live-in caregivers, lower-skilled occupations, and higher-skilled occupations. In all of these, there is a condition that must be met: Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs.

When I travel to Mexico in the fall, I am usually on a plane that is loaded with agricultural workers. Their stories are similar. They have a family in Mexico, and spend a few months every year working the fields in the Fraser Valley and southern Interior.

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