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Whistler’s housing challenges dampen welcome for new professional legislation

New provincial legislation will make it easier for workers with foreign credentials to work in the area of their expertise
New provincial legislation aims to remove barriers to foreign credential certification in 29 professions, including for veterinarians.

New provincial legislation designed to smooth the path for professionals trained outside of Canada is a welcome step in the right direction, according to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce—but housing remains at the core of the resort’s labour challenges.

“We’re pleased to see changes that will facilitate the recognition of credentials of professionals who were educated outside of Canada,” said Louise Walker, executive director of the chamber.

“While Whistler’s economy is largely tourism-based, there are many professions [in the legislation] that are important for the health of the community.”

The legislation introduced at the end of October is promoted by B.C. Premier David Eby as a step towards making British Columbia a more attractive destination for workers considering moving to Canada, and as a way to allow those already in B.C. to work in the profession they’re formally trained in.

“Skilled professionals from around the world move to B.C. hoping to put their skills to good use, but instead face huge obstacles and an often-confusing process to get their credentials recognized,” Eby said in an Oct. 23 release.

“With the skills shortage we have in this province, we cannot afford to leave anyone on the sidelines.”

The legislation would require regulatory bodies remove barriers to certification of foreign training in 29 professions, which according to the release would “eliminate the catch-22 of requiring Canadian work experience prior to being accredited in Canada.”

Among the professions included are early childhood educators and assistants, social workers, veterinarians, lawyers, paramedics and more.

Walker said in Whistler, despite its tourism-heavy economy, the local market is diversified and is facing labour challenges across the board.

“When we surveyed our membership last winter, we discovered that around 70 per cent were not fully staffed. This compares to winter 2018-19 when about 70 per cent were fully staffed,” she said.

Coast Mountain Veterinary Services is one such business affected by the legislation. While the legislation helps the industry overall, Whistler’s vet sector is hurting for support staff, rather than vets themselves, said managing veterinarian Blythe Sola.

“For us, what would be more beneficial would be if this legislation was also extended to include veterinary technicians and nurses … I have many members of my team who were trained in places like Australia who have the training and the qualifications, and they can’t get that recognized here,” she said.

Vet technicians perform duties like blood tests and carrying out X-rays, while nurses serve the same role as in human hospitals.

“In veterinary medicine, you always need another set of hands—the patients are maybe not as compliant as humans,” Sola said.

“Look at human health-care too—humans get nowhere without nurses, and a perennial problem that we have here is attracting and retaining enough competent, qualified technical support staff.”

As with all labour issues in Whistler, Sola said it comes back to housing—so even if licensing and accreditation changes were exactly what the sector wanted, it would still be a challenge.

“As long as it’s so hard for these people to find a place to live and stay in our community, we’re going to continue to have this issue, but one barrier would be the licensing challenges,” she said.

The legislation would have the effect of opening up the hiring pool for Sola’s team, however, who noted that of all the vets on staff, only she was trained in Canada, and none were from countries that didn’t have reciprocal accreditation schemes in place.

“I do employ people in technician roles who are licenced as veterinarians in other countries … but the process was too difficult and time-consuming, so they’re currently working in a technician role—in some cases because they’ve decided that’s a better path for them long term, and in some cases because they’ve decided to get industry experience in order to complete some of those checkboxes to eventually become licenced here.”

Pique enquired with the B.C. government about whether the legislation will be extended, but received no response.

According to Whistler Chamber data, the sectors hardest to recruit for in Whistler during the 2022-23 winter season were retail, culinary, housekeeping, trades, management and business development.

But again, Walker said it always comes back to housing.

“[Housing and labour shortages] are one and the same. Labour is the problem, but housing is the root of the challenge, and we absolutely need more affordable housing for more employees in Whistler,” said Walker.

“The more we allow people to work in the occupation in which they’re trained, the better it is for our community and our economy. Anything will help. [The new legislation] is a step forward, but it’s not the solution for the entire labour challenge.”