Election stalled progress on labour shortage

On Wednesday, Ottawa helped Alberta and British Columbia tackle their labour shortages by streamlining the temporary foreign worker recruitment…

On Wednesday, Ottawa helped Alberta and British Columbia tackle their labour shortages by streamlining the temporary foreign worker recruitment process.

The Yukon wasn’t so lucky.

The Yukon government was left out of the deal after failing to submit a list of industries in need of immigrant workers to Ottawa, charge critics.

Without that list, Ottawa couldn’t extend the sweetheart deal to the labour-strapped Yukon, said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

“The Yukon government has been working with the federal government to come up with the list, but it was put on a hiatus because of the election,” said Bagnell.

“The federal government said we can expect an announcement for the Yukon as soon as they get the list of occupations that are in shortage,” he said.

“They said that progress got slowed down by the election.”

Following discussions with concerned Yukon business owners, Bagnell has been speaking with Citizenship and Immigration minister Monte Solberg about the Yukon’s labour shortage, he said.

“All of the (businesses) were looking to improve immigration here,” said Bagnell.

Solberg was understanding about the Yukon’s predicament, he said.

However, the government’s failure to provide the needed list has led to criticism the Yukon Party dropped the ball.

And all the while, Yukon employers are desperate for workers.

Now, following the rule change, BC and Alberta employers can recruit foreign workers faster.

“Canada’s new government has been listening to employers in Alberta and British Columbia, and they are truly having a hard time finding enough workers,” said Solberg in a news release.

“The improvements we are announcing today are making it easier, faster and less costly for employers to hire temporary foreign workers.”

Jobs in 135 occupations in BC and 180 in Alberta now require fewer steps to be taken before an employer can hire a temporary foreign employee through Canada’s program.

The project brought about 100,000 workers into Canada in 2005.

Before the changes, the rules in BC and Alberta were the same as elsewhere in Canada.

They demanded that employers prove a job has been advertised in newspapers and on websites across Canada for several weeks, and that the job cannot be filled.

That process could take more than 20 weeks, said Bagnell,

The new rules in BC and Alberta reduce that process to about 14 weeks, he said.

Bringing foreign workers into the territory is a definite priority, said David Borud, president of Whitehorse-based Northerm Windows.

“As far as I can see, (recruiting foreign employees) is the only solution” to the Yukon’s labour shortage, said Borud.

Since July, Borud has jumped through the required hoops in the foreign worker recruitment program in a bid to bring four employees into Canada.

Northerm struggled to keep up with orders over the summer because of labour shortages, he said.

Borud applied for immigrant workers after job advertisements across Canada and queries at several industry trade fairs produced no applicants, he said.

“We got nothing,” he said of the hiring campaign. “The Yukon is a beautiful place, but it’s not necessarily the best place to try and attract someone from the south.”

Efforts to recruit four temporary immigrant workers have ended.

The next step is up to the workers themselves. They must try to get to Canada and find work, said Borud.

“We’re waiting for workers.”

The Yukon can probably get in on the changes to the temporary foreign workers program.

Similar agreements are being negotiated with other provinces and territories, said Moby Chaudhari, spokesperson with Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Chaudhari — as well as officials with Citizenship and Immigration Canada — refused to confirm whether the Yukon’s deal is waiting on the territorial government to provide a list.

Allowing the election to stop the Yukon from keeping pace with BC and Alberta in the hunt for workers — wherever they’re from — doesn’t wash with Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

“During an election period, officials continue to work,” said Mitchell. “So it’s only a question of whether direction was provided prior to the dropping of a writ saying ‘carry forward.’”

“We have to do our job to ensure we’re on a level playing field with our neighbours,” he said, noting the labour shortage is affecting all of Western Canada, including the Yukon.

“It’s a poor grade to say we were busy running for office and forgot to submit the paperwork.”

Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon is “out of the loop” on the  immigration file, said Mitchell in a news release issued Thursday.

“It is clear that ministers in Alberta and BC have been doing their job and getting the government of Canada to address their concerns,” said Mitchell in the release.

“The Yukon’s minister has dropped the ball.”

Premier Dennis Fentie should take the reigns and get the Yukon a foreign worker deal with Ottawa quickly, said New Democrat Steve Cardiff.

“We’re more than a month past the election. If this was an important issue, the premier should have taken this on himself and ensured the appropriate work was done so that we weren’t missed on this program,” Cardiff said.

“My hope is that the premier will take this as a serious issue and do the work necessary to make it right.”

But advanced education, which deals with immigration in the Yukon, doesn’t know much about the infamous list.

“This whole business about the labour market crisis came into prominence in September,” said Brent Slobodin, assistant deputy minister for the department of Education.

“No lists were being worked on prior to September.”

But while others allege the election blocked the completion of that list, Slobodin had little knowledge about that holdup, he said.

Pressed further, he said the allegations were “misinformation.

“If it was asked for of another department, that’s possible; it certainly hasn’t been asked of Education,” he said.

Immigration has been low profile in the Yukon for the past five years, said Slobodin.

In 2005, the Yukon had only 63 immigrants arrive, he said.

“We’re not a destination. Most immigrants who do come to Canada, until the vortex of Alberta started sucking everybody in, all wanted to go to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto or Vancouver,” he said.

The Yukon has negotiated a program with Ottawa to fast track certain types of immigrants, said Slobodin.

 “We have been focusing on business, and more recently skilled labour — the doctor that came in this summer, we’re working on an engineer, and while we’re still working on other categories, we’re working on a case-by-case basis, because we recognize there are labour market pressures,” he said.

He added that the temporary foreign worker program originated in BC and Alberta.

Bagnell said he feels changes to the foreign worker application rules would be among several needed fixes for the current labour shortage.

The others involve getting more aboriginal and retired workers into the workforce, he said.

But Bagnell noted recent federal cuts of more than $1 billion have impacted aboriginal training programs.

“There’s a whole bunch of things you could do, each would contribute towards a solution,” said Bagnell.

Kenyon, who oversees the labour file, did not return several phone calls before press time.