Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


October 8, 2015

Remarks on Bill 39, the Provincial Immigration Programs Act

S. Simpson: I’m happy to get a chance to speak to Bill 39, the Provincial Immigration Programs Act.

I’d like to start with the comments of the member for Prince George–Mackenzie and what I would suggest was a fairly cheap innuendo that the member for Vancouver-Kensington in some way was suggesting that race was an issue here.

I’d say to that member and every member here…. I’ve known the member for Vancouver-Kensington for decades. I don’t think there’s anybody in this House who has committed their worklife to the protection of vulnerable workers, and particularly vulnerable foreign workers who come here and are exploited…. That member for Vancouver-Kensington certainly has nothing to apologize for. Maybe the member for Prince George–Mackenzie might want to learn something before he spouts off.

This bill — Bill 39, the Provincial Immigration Programs Act — has a number of key components, and they are components that improve and add some value. It creates a director of immigration programs. It’s probably a good thing. We need somebody to be in charge of these programs.

It does strengthen timelines and processes for the application review. That’s important as well. There’s so much uncertainty from people who are applying.

It changes the roles around information collection. That generally can be a good thing, but we’re going to have to be careful about the protection of privacy here. Fraud protection is enhanced, including the ability to cancel applications if fraudulent information or activity has gone on. That, again, is a positive step. There are some improvements in compliance, and authority is set around collecting fees.

All of this, as has been said by members opposite in that, is linked to the provincial nominee program, which essentially was a program created to allow British Columbia to make choices on 5,500 or so people coming here, generally intended for high-skilled workers and people who can come in through that program who can make the case.

The problem with this…. Generally, as I said, the stuff the program does is good. The problem is that it does tweak those things and improve them, but we know that the problem that the PNP program has had in the last while relates directly to the temporary foreign worker question.

We’ll know that when the government found the need to suspend applications, that happened because of people who were in the TFW program, who were looking to make applications to be heard under PNP. We know that when that occurred, it created a chaotic situation, to say the least.

I would thank the Minister of Jobs for arranging a briefing from her senior staff for me, around that question, when the short-term suspension of the program was announced. So I had the opportunity to talk to some senior officials and better understand that and know that it was a significant issue that needs to be addressed.

What I’m not sure of is that this program, or this bill, addresses a number of other matters, but I don’t think it gets at that question. I think part of the challenge will be — as we know, it continues to be — whether, until the TFW program is amended, corrected…. Until there’s action there, we will continue to face the kinds of challenges that I think have been in front of us all along.

The problem, of course, that we’ve seen around the temporary foreign worker program, which is part of that, is that we’ve made significant use of that program. As has been pointed out, we’ve got about 70,000 workers or so under the program working in British Columbia now. They work across the country and in a whole array of areas. But in B.C., we have taken an inordinate number. Where we have 12 percent or 13 percent of the population, about 22 percent of the temporary foreign workers are here. That, obviously, is significantly higher than our average around population.

The other thing we know is that when you look back at who those jobs…. In the temporary foreign worker positions, I think, initially, you had workers who were working in the agricultural fields. They had historically come for harvest time. They have come primarily from Mexico, but from elsewhere. That’s been a long-standing program.

You’ve always had the issue about where there are skills shortages. We know that we’ve had skills shortages because of challenges in the skills training area that the government has been looking to address. But we know that problem continues to exist because of timing, if nothing else.

We also know that there has been a significant and dramatic increase in the number of workers who are being brought in, TFWs, for what are low-skilled jobs. In 2012, about 28,000 labour market opinions were approved. A labour market opinion is a matter, of course, where there’s an assessment of a need around the labour market, there’s an approval there, and that’s an important step in generating approvals around temporary foreign workers.

Of those labour market opinions in 2012, 25 percent of them were for low-skilled jobs. Now, to contrast that, in 2005, less than 3 percent of the approved labour market opinions were for low-skilled jobs. So we have seen a significant shift in who those temporary foreign workers are — a shift from what was less than 3 percent in low-skilled jobs to 25 percent in low-skilled jobs.

As we see that, we see a different dynamic. That’s why…. We’ve talked about this issue, and we’ve talked about the temporary foreign workers question, which I don’t think you can separate from this legislation entirely, by any means. It drives many of the challenges with PNP. We have not got a handle on that program.

The federal government has careened around a little bit. They’ve made some changes. We know the federal government. When Minister Kenney decided to enforce the expiration dates for people’s time here, that’s what triggered a whole lot of the move to people making applications under PNP.

Part of the challenge we have, though, is that the government in British Columbia has not chosen the path — I think the correct path — that has been adopted by a number of other provincial governments.

That’s to have a more proactive role around the temporary foreign workers, whether it’s around registrations, whether it’s around making the case for some joint management of programs or whether it’s the case around ensuring that employment standards levels, as members have spoken of earlier, are enhanced so those workers who are here are protected and have the protections that they are not afforded under the conditions of a temporary foreign worker program.

That means that employment standards has to step up. While employment standards uses the self-help model for people in this province, a model that is flawed, to say the least, it’s particularly problematic for people who have no rights and who are basically at the whim of their employer and can be essentially exited from the country by their employer.

They are at more risk than a low-wage Canadian worker, who at least has some rights under employment standards that it’s hard to say exist much for temporary foreign workers. That’s part of the challenge here. That’s why I think that while this piece of legislation is going to take some important steps…. I think a director is a good idea. I think that the ability to deal with fraud makes sense. Everybody wants to deal with that, but it has to go further, as a legislative package or be seen as a legislative package. Maybe the minister will tell us when we get to committee stage that it’s part of an ongoing package, and there’ll be more to come. We’ll see what the minister has to say when we get to committee stage.

What we need to do at this point, without doubt, is make sure that nobody gets satisfied that what will be accomplished in Bill 39 is going to address the fundamental issues that we have about people who come to this country, under whatever circumstances, and want to work here — and we hope want to come here and live here and raise their families and make Canada and British Columbia their home. That should be our objective, to create that opportunity for people who are looking to come and build a life for themselves and their families.

How do we enhance that opportunity for that to happen? We know the temporary foreign worker program fails to create that opportunity for people. It brings people in. It does, in fact, bring them for their labour, and then they leave. That’s what the program is designed to do. It was originally designed, of course, to meet some shortages, particularly high-skill shortages and particular demands in areas like agriculture. But it has become something else, and we know that far too many of those 70,000-plus temporary foreign workers who are in British Columbia today do not fit that criteria, so we need to do more.

It would be my hope that we’ll have an opportunity to understand from the minister how this program, how Bill 39, is going to deal with the challenges now in front of the PNP, provincial nominee program, because of the demands that are being made that continue to put pressure on the program in ways that it doesn’t seem to be able to deal with effectively — just simply, I think, because of volumes, more than anything else — and how that’s to be addressed. It’s not entirely clear how that gets addressed. We’ll get to talk about that some, hopefully, when we get to committee stage. We’ll get to talk about the authorities of the director.

We’ll get to have some discussion about a couple of the areas where I think that there are some challenges — obviously, I’ve talked about the temporary foreign workers — and some questions about where the protections are in terms of the powers around inspection of immigration applications and how that works. There are authorities that will be given to the director. We’ll just have to see where those safeguards are, whether it is around their capacity to investigate, to audit, to deal with records — all things that may be quite appropriate to do. We’ll have a conversation about how privacy is protected and how the interests of people are protected.

I think what we have to do here is see the legislation for what it is — a piece that takes one bite out of this complicated pie, but does not address the more fundamental issues that we face in this province around foreign workers, particularly, wanting to come and either come to just work or come to make British Columbia their home, and how we accommodate that in ways that are better for those workers and for British Columbia.

Until we solve that problem, or at least get our heads around it…. It probably means strong advocacy with the federal government, who obviously has primary responsibility around immigration and will maintain that. But this is British Columbia. This is our province. This is our place. Other provinces have taken steps to take more control of the situation or partner in the control of the situation. I think that’s a good thing to do. It’s where we should be going as a province. While this legislation deals with some other matters that are certainly important, it does not get at that issue. That’s the issue that’s a more fundamental one, I think, for us in the long term and one that we need to deal with.

I look forward to committee stage and to hearing from the minister her views on how we begin to address a number of these issues that stand in front of us.

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