The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, was the guest of honour at a special Leduc Chamber of Commerce luncheon held on July 16th. Speaking to a packed house at the Executive Royal Inn, and given a glowing introduction by none other than our own MP James Rajotte, it was immediately obvious that Mr. Kenney was very comfortable with, and well informed about his chosen topic; how his arm of the government is working to help attract well trained, qualified, and productive workers from other countries to choose Canada, and specifically Alberta, as their new home and place of employment.
Minister Kenney began his talk by saying on behalf of the rest of Canada, "thank you" to the entrepreneurs and business leaders of the Leduc/Nisku area for leading Canada's economy.
He stated that while Canada stands out as an island of stability in an uncertain world, there are still things we must do to ensure continued success and growth here. He spoke of how there are some people in the world that believe we could be embarrassed to be the inheritors of our great, natural resources. And how, if we want to avoid virtual bankruptcy and economic disaster, pay our health care bills and pension plans as our population gets older and the workforce shrinks, then we must, in an environmentally responsible way, use the advantages of our natural resources. He promised that the Canadian government would not allow unnecessary red tape or redundant bureaucracy to to get in the way of environmentally responsible export of our resources, but in order to achieve that we need the people to do the work.
Minister Kenney pointed out that due to our aging population and less than replacement birth rate, there is going to be an expected shortage of 140,000 workers in the coming years. He stated that right now, we are allowing other countries to "eat our lunch" when it comes to attracting the best and brightest to Canada.
His statement, that if Alberta was to shut down the Temporary Foreign Worker Program we would be shutting down businesses, drew a big round of spontaneous applause and agreement from the audience.
Minister Kenney then shared a few of the ways that the government was working to get these educated and qualified workers into Canada faster. He emphasized how this is not just an issue within Alberta's energy industry, but spans right across Canada and into the big eastern cities as well, where downtown Toronto's high tech industries are also experiencing a shortage of trained, skilled workers. Another avenue being explored by the government is focusing on certain areas of our own population, such as more skills training for young aboriginal people, but the Minister stated unequivocally that immigration has to be part of the equation.
He said that Canada has too many engineers and doctors that are driving cabs because their certification and training are not recognized here. In other parts of the world they are, but not in Canada. So he posed the question as to why a highly trained individual, (many times receiving that training at a Canadian University), would want to live here when they cannot find jobs in their chosen field in Canada.
This is why the government has created the Canadian Experience Program. So instead of setting foreign workers up for success by training them in Canada, giving them valuable work experience here, improving their english language skills and then expecting them to go and stand at the back of the line of an eight year long waiting list for entry into this country, we can now say that we're going facilitate that. "Isn't that just common sense?" asked Minister Kenney.
One of the major changes taking place, due to discussions specifically with Alberta employers, is to assist in fast tracking workers from Visa exempt countries in certain trades into Canada. Effective immediately, in Alberta, temporary foreign workers in seven labour market categories would be exempt from the LMO requirements in a pilot project that will run for the next year. As well as steamfitters and pipefitters, Alberta will also now be exempting welders, heavy duty equipment mechanics, iron workers, millwrights, industrial mechanics, carpenters and estimators. Minister Kenney stated that this program will make a formerly six month process into a thirty minute process, which drew another loud round of applause from the audience. He also informed everyone that if this pilot project works well, it would be extended and additional trades could be entered into the program at a later date.
At the end of his presentation, Minister Kenney assured everyone that if the economy starts to go in the other direction, and Canadians start finding themselves unemployed, that the government would tighten the requirements back up again. But as long as the labour market remained this "hot" the government was here to help.