Jason Kenney faces onslaught of criticism for temporary foreign worker moratorium

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

If you see Jason Kenney, you might want to give him a hug.

It doesn't seem like Canada's employment minister has too many friends these days.

On Thursday, he imposed a moratorium on any new Temporary Foreign Worker applications by the food services sector.

Kenney made the decision after weeks of media reports, studies and public complaints suggesting that fast-food restaurants were misusing the program to detriment of Canadians and Canadian jobs. The suspension will stay in place pending a full government review of the program.

[ Related: Fast-food industry’s use of Temporary Foreign Worker Program suspended following damning report ]

On Friday, Restaurants Canada — which represents 30,000 members across the country — released this statement.

Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association) is disappointed with Minister Kenney’s decision to suspend the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for the food services sector, and is committed to working with the federal government to correct any abuses, restore the integrity of the program and expedite our sector’s access to it in regions of severe labour shortages.

The restaurant industry employs 1.1 million Canadians and is the number one source of first-time jobs for young people. About 2 per cent of the industry’s employees are temporary foreign workers. In areas of the country with severe labour shortages, the TFW program is vital, allowing restaurants to remain in business, and to continue to provide jobs for their Canadian employees.

The majority of restaurant operators using the program operate in complete compliance and it is unfortunate that their businesses and employees will be hurt by this broad-stroke approach. Albertans in particular will remember what it was like a few years ago to find restaurants closed because of a shortage of workers.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which claims to represent 109,000 small businesses from coast to coast, also put forward this rather harsh rebuke.

"For a government that has been very supportive of Canada's small business community, this decision is a slap in the face to entrepreneurs in the food services sector," CFIB President Dan Kelly said in a statement.

The former immigration minister is also taking some heat from the immigration community.

"Here is another example of the government acting in a knee jerk fashion," immigration attorney Michael Niren told Yahoo Canada News.

"Penalizing a whole industry because of a few alleged violations is irresponsible and harms not only potential foreign workers, local business but undermines the TWF program.

"If the government can, on a whim, cancel full streams of employment, both employers and employees loose confidence in the system. This is an example of an abuse of power. Industry leaders and the general public should protest. Our economy relies on a steady and reliable flow TFWs. Sadly, the media and government focus on a few unfortunate cases instead of the enormous benefits from the program."

And of course – for different reasons – the opposition parties are opposing Kenney.

NDP employment critic Jinny Sims says that while she supports the moratorium, it means nothing without a full independent review of the program.

"The Minister has now acknowledged the problem but – as usual – only took action after the issue made headlines. Now that Jason Kenney has finally taken some action, after months of refusing to do anything, he must follow it up with a commitment to launch an independent review of the unending problems with this program," Simms said in a statement.

"More and more companies – not only fast food chains – have been taking advantage of loopholes in this program to reduce workers’ hours, wages and even to fire Canadian employees. The government needs to act urgently to finally clean up the mess they created."

The NDP intend to introduce a motion in the House of Commons, on Tuesday, which would impose a moratorium on all low-skill foreign workers, in all industries, and request that the Auditor General review the program.

[ Related: Should Temporary Foreign Worker program suspension go beyond restaurant industry? ]

As immigration minister, Kenney has had to stick-handle his way through difficult files before — immigration backlogs, family reunification and refugee reform to name a few.

Temporary foreign workers, however, might be his most difficult assignment yet.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!