Bell says no flip on temporary workers
Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, says he was misquoted in a news release from the B.C. Federation of Labour, which accused him of flip-flopping by saying he supports a review into the Temporary Foreign Worker program, adding the Minister did so only after a court case into HD Mining’s use of the program showcased what seems to be questionable practices.
Bell said he’s supported a review of the program for some time, and in fact newspaper interviews with Bell in the fall of 2012 support his statement.
He added a review of the program and the HD Mining court case are two separate issues, though the case has caused many Canadians to question the program itself. Bobby Deepak, NDP candidate for the same riding as Bell’s, said it’s still a reversal of position.
“It’s still a flip-flop. Now he’s taking the heat off himself by saying it’s a federal matter but when he was defending HD Mining it wasn’t a federal matter, it was him speaking on behalf of the provincial government.”
Deepak said he doesn’t like the Temporary Foreign Worker program, which he says sets up an environment making the exploitation of the foreign workers easier.
“The issue is a federal matter, but the Temporary Foreign Worker program? I personally don’t like it. I think if we are bringing in people from foreign countries they should be here on a permanent basis.”
He said the benefits mean money earned in Canada stays in Canada, and the population base grows.
“This program sets the stage to exploit workers. Employees are allowed to pay workers 15 per cent less than the going wage, and they’re very vulnerable, less likely to speak out if there are any issues surrounding their employment.”
He added it is a very exploitative program for workers, and though it is beyond provincial jurisdiction, he’d like to see it done away with.
However Bell said supporting a review of the program itself is an issue separate from the current court case with HD Mining.
“What I said last night (in an interview with CKNW that sparked the release from the B.C. Federation of Labour) and what I continue to believe and what has caused this flurry of activity is British Columbians have lost faith in the Temporary Foreign Worker program and the process required to acquire the permits, and on that basis federal minister for human resources, Diane Finley, called a review of the program, and I think that’s worthwhile. We need to revise the process and make sure people have confidence in it.
“But they are trying to spin it somehow and are trying to say it’s because HD has not fulfilled its responsibilities. I did not say that. What I said concerned the program itself. People lost confidence and that confidence needs to be regained. The HD Mining issue will be resolved in the courts. I’m not going to make judgments on what was done. They, the courts, will make the decision not me. All kinds of things are said in court cases, some accurate, some not. Defendants have the opportunity to defend their position. None of that has transpired yet and it’s not appropriate for a cabinet minister to enter into that discussion - nor did I. The comments were strictly referring to the temporary foreign worker program and that I welcome a review. My position has been very consistent on that.”
He said the release does not accurately reflect his comments, and his office has a transcript to show as much, if need be.
Though delving into federal jurisdiction, Deepak said reviewing the program may not be enough.
“When you make a review you’re tinkering with it. Looking at the substance of the program, it’s probably better to get rid of it and bring in people on a more permanent basis.”
With HD Mining, Deepak said he knows the final decision is before the courts, nevertheless he said the Liberals knew well in advance about the jobs that would open and should have done something about it to ensure they’d be filled with Canadians.
“At the end of the day the resources we have in B.C. are owned by British Columbians. If there are any jobs created with these resources, British Columbians should have first dibs on them, then Canadians. and as a last resort they should go to foreign workers.
“I think the courts will come up with a decision (on HD Mining) based on whatever evidence is presented to them, but I think this goes more to the core of the problem in B.C.,” Deepak said. “We do have a skills shortage, but it’s being used as a guise to abuse this situation to bring in foreign workers for work when they don’t want to train or upscale British Columbians for the jobs.”