Freezing the Foreign Worker Program For Restaurants: An Overreaction?

By Andy Semotiuk | April 25, 2014

Toronto immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk: Hot on the heels of my last post about Temporary Foreign Worker Program’s bad press, here comes more news:

Amid a roar of criticism, Employment Minister Jason Kenney took action Thursday against the government’s scandal-ridden temporary foreign worker program by banning restaurants from accessing it.

Kenney issued the surprise moratorium hours after the C.D. Howe Institute released a scathing study into the program that concluded it had spurred joblessness in B.C. and Alberta, two treasured Tory strongholds.

The smackdown to Canadian restaurants came despite Kenney’s insistence in recent weeks that only a small number of companies were abusing the program and his repeated vows to deal with those bad actors harshly, including with fraud charges if necessary.

“I am announcing an immediate moratorium on the food services sector’s access to the temporary foreign worker program,” Kenney said in a statement.

The key to good policy making is measured responses to society’s ills.

In military conflicts, the concern is to pursue battlefield objectives without causing ‘collateral damage’ to innocent bystanders.

The question here is whether Jason Kenney’s response to an identified problem is measured, or whether he has sludge-hammered a flea.
Neither I, nor Jason Kenney for that matter, have all the facts related to some restaurateurs’ abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. All I know is that when I, as a consumer, go to Tim Horton’s and order a coffee and bagel, I am grateful that there is someone there ready to give me what I want so I can get to work. I am grateful to the owner of that restaurant that he or she has had the foresight to have a competent worker ready to serve me, no matter where they are from.
As an immigration lawyer who has worked in the area, I know that the reason restaurant owners are turning to foreign workers is because they sometimes cannot find a ready supply of Canadians who want those jobs, and – equally importantly, though a very touchy subject – act at work as if they want those jobs. I’ve said it before: most employers would hire local talent if they could, if only because hiring a foreign worker through the TFW program is a huge headache.
Let us not fall into hysteria for the sake of addressing sporadic abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. As someone working in the area, my perspective is that the problem is not systemic and does not deserve the magnitude of outcry it is receiving.
Whether Jason Kenney’s response is appropriate to the moment will be judged in the months ahead, as we stand in line at Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s waiting for our coffees.