Anna Mehler Paperny and Jacques Bourbeau, Global News
Todd Bender doesn’t seem like he’d be in the market for temporary foreign workers: He’s executive director of CityKidz, a faith-driven group working with young people in inner-city Hamilton. His focus is local.
But three years ago, while hiring a youth coordinator, the hiring team realized their preferred candidate – a young woman from the Bahamas who had been studying in Canada – didn’t have the right visa to work in the country.
“It wasn’t until near the end of the interview process the question came up, and by then we were committed,” Bender said. So they started filling out paperwork.
“It was quite a learning curve. … I remember feeling there were just a lot of hoops to jump through,” he said. Every year they wanted to keep the woman on, they had to re-post the position and go through an interview process again.
“She was here for three years. Did a phenomenal job. It worked out great,” he said. By the time she left, she was awaiting her Canadian citizenship.
Who’s hiring temporary foreign workers?
Lots of people: A range of companies and government agencies, according to a document posted online by the Alberta Federation of Labour, obtained through a freedom-of-information request. It lists 90 pages of employers, including the company name and province of each, but not whom they hired, when or for what work.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada told Global News it couldn’t give out those details because “the information requested is not public.”
The Bank of Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Maple Leaf Foods, the City of Vancouver, the Edmonton Police Service and eateries of various vintages are among the thousands of employers who’ve been approved for accelerated labour market opinions: Their need for foreign workers, they said (and the federal government agreed), was so urgent they required an expedited approval process.
Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program came under scrutiny this week over claims Royal Bank of Canada was replacing Canadian employees with workers contracted from overseas. The ensuing furor was enough to prompt a public apology from RBC Thursday.
Ostensibly designed for urgently needed skilled labour, statistics from Human Resources and Skills Development indicate the largest group is comprised of “intermediate and clerical” workers. The program “is intended as a last-resort, short-term solution so businesses can continue to grow,” HRSDC said in an e-mail. Its swift growth has prompted concerns not just for Canadian workers, but for the rights of often vulnerable temporary ones.
While the spectre of outsiders stealing Canadian jobs looms large, the reality isn’t quite so clear cut.
Global News contacted more than a dozen employers approved for accelerated labour market opinions to ask about their exceptional need for temporary foreign labour.
Many – including the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Maple Leaf Foods and Caterpillar Canada, whose closure of its Electro-Motive plant in London walloped the southwestern Ontario community – did not respond or refused to comment.
The Edmonton Police Service applied for expedited permission to hire temporary foreign workers when the people they wanted to hire – both already working in Canada – needed new visas.
“They were the most qualified,” said spokesman David Schneider.
One was in charge of identifying and analyzing risks in the police service’s environment; he moved on when his job was complete. The second is leading a review of the police service’s policy and procedures.
Schneider noted candidates for these positions are “not easy to find: We look for backgrounds in policing plus skills in that particular area.”
The city of Vancouver has hired three workers under the accelerated labour market opinion process, says spokeswoman Wendy Stewart. One is in planning and development, another was hired last year to provide specialized fire engineering services to the fire department, but has since returned to his home country; and one is joining the equipment services department.
“All of these individuals were hired following extensive recruitment processes which failed to identify interest on the part of equivalently qualified Canadian applicants,” Stewart said in an email.
McDonald’s Canada employs more than 2,000 “international recruits,” a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.
Tim Hortons has been hiring temporary foreign workers since 2005, spokeswoman Alexandra Cygal wrote in an e-mail.
“Without this employment program,” she added, “many Tim Hortons restaurants would not be able to operate full time or, in many cases, remain open at all.”
The Conservative government has said it plans to tighten the rules and ensure employers have no Canadian option before recruiting workers from abroad.
“We have to do our due diligence, and we recognize that,” MP Kellie Leitch said in an interview with Global News. “We have committed to reviewing this and fixing this program, because we realize there have been some discrepancies. … We need to pick up our socks.”