Stephen Harper vows foreign workers will not become ‘permanent underclass’

posted on May 8, 2015

By Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star | Link to Article

By Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star | Link to Article

Canada will not allow the creation of a “permanent underclass” of foreign workers filling jobs here for long periods with no hope of citizenship, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.

Harper made the comments Friday during an appearance with Philippine President Benigno Aquino as he justified a clampdown on the temporary foreign worker program in Canada.

Because of a four-year limit imposed on how long temporary foreign workers can remain in Canada, thousands of workers are now being forced to return to their homelands.

But Harper defended the changes when asked by a Filipino journalist, saying that the government doesn’t want immigrants taking jobs that unemployed Canadians are available to do.

“But just as importantly, we are making sure that when people come to this country to work and to work long term, they have the ability to move towards being permanent citizens of this country,” Harper said.

“This country is not going to have a policy, as long as I’m prime minister, where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary, people who are so-called temporary, but here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility.

“That’s not the Canadian way we do immigration. So we’re going to make sure that that program does not drift in that direction.”

The low-skilled workers lost their work permits under a policy introduced on April 1, 2011 that requires any temporary foreign worker who has been here for four years to leave.

The government moved last July to even further restrict the use of foreign workers after a storm of criticism that an influx of foreign labour was driving down wages and leaving Canadian workers unable to find work.

Still, Harper said his Conservative government was “pro-immigration,” adding that the influx of newcomers from the Philippines “will remain strong and will continue to grow into the future.”
In 2013, 27,292 permanent residents were admitted to Canada from the Philippines, ranking third behind China and India.

The two leaders used their Ottawa meeting Friday to announce that Canada and the Philippines would begin “exploratory” about a potential free trade deal.

As well, Harper announced that Canada would provide just over $3 million for security initiatives in the Philippines, including port and maritime security and the deployment of Canadian police trainers.

Aquino praised the close ties between the two nations, a bond made closer by the estimated 700,000 people of Filipino background who live in Canada. He also thanked Canada for its humanitarian help in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed an estimated 6,000 people. Canada dispatched military personnel to assist citizens displaced by the devastation and pledged $90 million in aid.

“The work done has helped our local communities to get back on their feet,” Aquino said.

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