Whistler and Squamish businesses state their case for foreign workers 

Chambers discuss TFWP with employment minister Kenney

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - WORKING THE FILE Whistler Chamber CEO Val Litwin looks on as employment minister jason Kenney (foreground) discusses the TFWP at a Squamish and Whistler Chamber hosted lunch Aug.6.
  • Photo By Braden Dupuis
  • WORKING THE FILE Whistler Chamber CEO Val Litwin looks on as employment minister jason Kenney (foreground) discusses the TFWP at a Squamish and Whistler Chamber hosted lunch Aug.6.

It was a "good, constructive exchange of opinions," said minister of employment and social development Jason Kenney, after a meeting of the minds today between himself and the Whistler and Squamish chambers.

The roundtable discussion, spearheaded by the Whistler and Squamish chambers, focused on the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and how recent changes to its structure affect businesses in the corridor.

While the chambers had an opportunity to make their cases, Kenney told reporters there were no immediate changes coming to the program as a result of the discussion.

"The TFWP should only be a last and limited resort. I think virtually every Canadian agrees with that, and that's what our changes are designed to do," Kenney said.

"I had a good conversation today with folks from the region. I reminded them as well that there are about 60,000 youth from around the world on open work permits in Canada... those are not included in the changes that we made to the program, so there's a lot of options for employers here if they can't find Canadians."

Kenney also noted that there are still more than 100,000 British Columbians who are unemployed.

"We have a whole lot of aboriginal folks who are not in the work force, (and) we have high youth unemployment in British Columbia," Kenney said.

"The challenge for employers is to recruit those folks first before they go abroad."

The message to employers, Kenney said, is that they need to "redouble their efforts" to recruit and hire Canadians by offering better wages and salaries, better working and living conditions and offering other incentives.

"Those are all things that employers should be doing," he said.

For the Whistler Chamber, the concerns arise in how Whistler's unemployment rate is calculated - using a 2013 average of 6.7 per cent for the mainland southwest region, which includes Metro Vancouver.

During his speech to chamber members following the roundtable discussion, Kenney said there may be room for exceptions to the general rule.

"We realize there are places... where there is a really hot labour market surrounded by high unemployment, so we are prepared on a case-by-case basis to look at situations like that," he said.

For the Whistler and Squamish chambers, the advocacy is far from over, said Whistler Chamber CEO Val Litwin.

"I think the specific call to action is in 30 days we'll loop around again with some more directed data, and I hope some very specific policy considerations for the minister to weigh," Litwin said.

"Now that we have heard from the minister there might be consideration and there might be some wiggle room for regional consideration, we will now follow up with more data," he said.

"We will keep in touch with our letters to make sure that there will be considerations for labour markets like the corridor."

For the complete story, including reaction, pick up Pique next week.

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