Reflections on the development of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) – An interview with Karl Flecker
A RankandFile.ca series on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program
By Andrew Stevens
On July 24, RankandFile.ca spoke with Karl Flecker, who, until February, was the National Director of the Canadian Labour Congress’ Anti-Racism and Human Rights Department. Flecker authored a CLC report on Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program in April of 2011 titled, Model Program – Or Mistake? Although the report is nearly three years old, it contains a relevant analysis of the current shape of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
When attending an International Labour Organization conference in Turin, Flecker explained that a handful of policy makers in Europe heralded the TFWP as a “model” program governing the flow of temporary migrant workers into Canada’s economy. This characterization of the Program, Flecker argued, was shaped by the Liberal and Conservative governments on the international scene. Much of the CLC report is a response to such misleading depictions of the now scandal-plagued Program.
Then Minister of Immigration, Monte Solberg, made it clear in 2006, at the outset of the Conservative’s initial mandate, that fast-track reforms to the TFWP were meant to accommodate employer demands. Flecker reflects on a public statement by Solberg, who said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Camrose or Calgary, Edson or Edmonton, ‘Help Wanted’ signs are everywhere. When it starts to affect our ability to go to Tim Horton’s and get a double-double, it ceases to be a laughing matter.” While the current Minister in charge of the TFWP portfolio, Jason Kenney, tries to blame the previous Liberal government for introducing the low-skill and low-wage temporary foreign worker track, it was the Conservatives post-2006 that promoted and expanded access to this classification of TFW. Most importantly, it was the Conservatives’ repeated mismanagement of the Program that led the Auditor General in 2009 to condemn the government’s handling of the file, which was caused by poor oversight, improperly trained public servants, and an enforcement wing that lacked resources and authority. A set of structural problems, it seems, that the government has failed to rectify.
In the interview, Flecker also addresses a handful of meaningful interventions by the CLC under his Directorship. Saskatchewan’s 2013 Foreign Worker Recruitment and Immigration Services Act (FWRISA), for instance, was developed in consultation with Flecker and others. The FWRISA provides a modicum of protections for foreign workers against immigration recruiters and consultants, although there are evident flaws in the enforcement, as reported on RankandFile.ca.
Instead of scrapping the TFWP in its entirety, Flecker calls for an enhanced enforcement regime that protects current foreign workers and the mobility rights of all peoples, in Canada and abroad. Finally, the interview sheds light on the evolution of organized labour’s position on foreign workers and the TFWP generally since at least 2006.
Listen to the interview.
Download the transcript of our interview with Karl Flecker here.