Harper government says it believes Canadians must always have first crack at job opportunities
By Peter O'Neil
OTTAWA — The federal government moved Thursday to distance itself from its own increasingly controversial decision to grant permits to 201 Chinese nationals to work in a northeast B.C. coal project.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the government isn’t satisfied with the process that led to the granting of the permits, and said it has put the Temporary Foreign Workers program under review.
Criticism has continued to mount over plans, first reported by The Vancouver Sun last month, by a consortium of mostly Chinese companies to eventually hire 1,600 to close to 2,000 Chinese nationals under the TFW program to work in four B.C. underground mines.
Just over a dozen of the 201 workers have already arrived at the Murray River project near Tumbler Ridge to begin work on a 100,000-tonne bulk sampling of a coal seam. The project is still under provincial environmental review.
The companies insist they tried and failed to find Canadians with the skills and experience to do the job, a position the government accepted when it granted the initial 201 permits.
“Our government believes that Canadians must always have first crack at job opportunities in Canada,” Finley said in a statement Thursday.
“We are not satisfied with what we have learned about the process that led to permission for hundreds of foreign workers to gain jobs at the Dehua Mines subsidiary in B.C.”
She said the government isn’t satisfied that “sufficient efforts” were made to recruit Canadians for the jobs.
Finley also noted concern about an advertisement that indicated a Chinese language requirement, though the employer said the ads mentioning Mandarin in the job description weren’t used in Canada when the company sought Canadian workers.
“It is clear to our government that there are some problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. We take these very seriously, and are currently reviewing the program.”
Finley also made reference to a lawsuit filed last week by two B.C. unions — the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 — seeking a Federal Court of Canada injunction to block the hiring of the 201 workers pending judicial review.
The United Steelworkers is also planning a court action.