I’ll take ‘labour market distortions’ if it means saving our communities

If you want another reason why individual provinces need more flexibility around who they can bring in as temporary foreign workers (or immigrants) take a look at this Calgary Herald letter to the editor penned by Alexis Conrad, director general, Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Employment and Social Development Canada.

Conrad says the TFW program has led to a drag on wage growth in Alberta’s food services sector. This type of labour market ‘distortions’ is why the government had to make the changes to the program.

This proves my point to a tee.  In Alberta they are worried about low wage growth in the fast food sector. In New Brunswick I am worried about the very economic viability of many communities around the province.  If you design a program to address the former and it results in harming the latter – how’s that for good policy?

Now I know that all the think tanks are saying that if the government restricts TFWs in rural New Brunswick thousands of lazy, EI offenders will come out of the woodwork and rush into these manufacturing and processing jobs with gusto.  Or, like their counterparts in Alberta, the firms involved well jack up wages to attract them in.

It looks like many of them will downsize and may eventually close their NB operations – a fate that is unlikely in Lethbridge’s McDonald’s restaurant.

There is a lot of strange thinking around this file.  The only real solution, IMO, is to allow the provinces to determine what industries and workers are ‘strategic’ and allow them to bring in workers in support of their growth.  If the feds want to crack down on the burger flippers, fine.  But when they start to implement policies that hurt our export sectors such as manufacturing and tourism – that’s a problem.  I will remind the feds that immigrant workers are critical for manufacturing in places like Toronto, Vancouver and even Winnipeg – and I would wager the majority are earning below the median wage in these communities.  If you don’t want manufacturing workers coming to NB via the TFWP, then let them come in via PNP or some other stream.


2 thoughts on “I’ll take ‘labour market distortions’ if it means saving our communities

  1. The history of federal economic policy has been to support to bigger, often at the expense of the smaller. Until our region is willing to go to the wall on an issue we won’t be taken seriously by any party.

  2. Just a footnote as criticism for the TFW program…as an employer you have to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (formerly a Labour Market Opinion). While I fully support the necessity of giving Canadians first priority – there are a number of ways the LMIA inflates costs and makes Canadian companies less globally competitive which hinders growth prospects. Related to accepting “local market distortions” – I would agree there needs to be more flexibility here on the whole. For example, in the effort to recruit international engineering talent you will have to complete the LMIA and in the process have to set the salary at above-average rates. There are a number of problems with this; 1. The salary median based on the NOC code offers little practical mechanism to adjust for years of expertise. Where a mechanical engineer can expect to double her salary over her career this can be a significant consideration. This is particularly problematic if you are looking to recruit younger talent within competitive cost structure. 2. More directly on the topic of local market distortions, I would argue that in a small population groups such as New Brunswick, we are subject to greater distortion by a few large market players. For example, Pt. Lepreau and the utility are one of biggest employers of engineers in the region. They pay above market rates (IMHO). If you wish to debate this point, that’s fine, but I regularly hear of graduating mechanical engineers making six figures plus pension. (And good for them – they worked hard in school, do important work, sometimes in elevated-risk environments – and deserve the reward.) But this causes a significant distortion in my view and skews the average salary for an engineer in NB. This makes us less competitive. Moreover, once we get past $60K+/year, should we even be restricting the salaries in balancing the public policy interests at play here? I’m not talking about McDonald’s food service workers, fruit pickers or even manufacturing staff here – these are often under-advantaged segments of the labor pool that need greater protections. However, I find it obtuse that we are trying to shoehorn engineers and other high-end labor talent in the same policy. In my view if you have an engineering or a STEM-related degree from an internationally accredited post-secondary institute and you want to come to New Brunswick – our doors should be wide open! The innovation will flourish. These fields directly support the growth of export-oriented businesses and improve the talent pool we have to compete with in an increasingly knowledge-based economy where the gap between the winners and losers is widening.

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