July 2, 2020 Transcript -Interview with Danielle Smith on Jason Kenney’s Proposed Changes to LMIA and the AINP

Danielle Smith:                  There was a, there’s a major announcements that the premier did on some Monday, Tuesday, sorry. Mondays are running together. Can’t even remember what day it is, but you’ve got a staff holiday in the middle of the week. … I think it was Tuesday a major announcement and he had a number of different aspects to the economic recovery plan. I admit I have, I’ve never been in sync with the premier on his approach to temporary foreign workers and the provincial nominee program. I at CFIB, we did lots of studies on the issue of immigration and temporary foreign workers and easing the pathway, because I know it’s hard to believe, but even in these hard times where people, where we have high unemployment rates, there are still certain jobs that will go unfilled unless we rely on temporary foreign workers to build and -look at the whole sector that we’re seeing in farming operations.

Danielle Smith:                  So now you’ve got the premier announcing this week, that that program is going to be curtailed – the other bar aspect that I’ve disagreed with the premier on is to me, the temporary foreign worker program is the perfect avenue for someone for permanent immigration. If you arrive here temporarily with a job, you build your network out over the time that you’re in that employment. And then if you decide, Hey, I want to make a life in Canada. It’s the perfect transition to becoming a permanent immigrant and having success. And so I’ve always looked at those two as being companion programs. The premier wants to curtail that one too. So maybe now is the time to do it. I don’t know, but I thought I’d, I check in with Raj Sharma to see if, if it’s going to have a major impact on those who are seeking to come to Canada and maybe at this time does it make some sense, Raj Sharma of course, is an immigration lawyer in Calgary and he joins us now to give us his perspective thanks so much for being with us today.

So did that surprise you that the premier singled that program out in particular, those two programs in particular?

Raj Sharma:                        You know, it, it did surprise me, but it shouldn’t have surprised me. We are talking about Jason Kenney, former minister, federal minister of immigration, former minister of human resources, skills, development Canada. Both of those portfolios he was very energetic in in terms of immigration and in terms of the temporary foreign worker program.

I, I don’t think he could have helped himself from tinkering with the program. It just knowing what he knows he’s, he’s, he’s done a couple of things. He’s conflated the both programs which you’ve pointed out, he’s conflated the temporary foreign worker program, which required businesses to provide a rationale for hiring foreign workers and he’s conflated that with the provincial nominee program, where the vast majority of individuals are already here working, paying taxes and already have employment.

Raj Sharma:                        He’s citing COVID as a rationale to curtail both and that was disingenuous. And, you know, I’ll note that by my account, this is the third time he’s suspended a program. The first time he suspended her program was suspending and canceling all federal skilled worker applications received before 2008, some few hundred thousand. And then he suspended the family class, the parents and grandparents class in 2011 or 2012 for two years. And now he’s now saying that he’s going to suspend the LMIA or that business rationale or that process for most employers and occupations in Alberta -and he wants to drop by almost a third of the total provincial nominee nomination certificate. So from the 6200 down to 4000.

Danielle Smith:                  So, so let’s then talk about some of the rationale you said. I mean, he does have deep understanding of how these programs work, and so there must be some rationale there, but from what I saw with the temporary foreign worker program my recollection of it, even small businesses were trying to access it for a service staff in hotels and remote communities or restaurant that cooks in remote places in Alberta or farm workers. There are some categories of jobs that are very, very hard to hire for, and it seems like the business doesn’t really have any other options other than looking abroad. And so it has something dramatically changed on that front of people, all of a sudden decided, yes, I’m going to move to Fort MacMurray and work as a chambermaid in a hotel, or, or are we going to see continued problems once that industry starts reopening?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, it’s, it’s that deep understanding that he has that gives rise to the feeling that some of the policy announcement is disingenuous. And so I have, I take no issue with curtailing or limiting employers access to foreign labor when we have high unemployment here in, in Alberta. [I’ll note] there’s certain occupations where we don’t allow Alberta businesses and employers to access that program. So I take no issue with that. And obviously things can be specific. I think Corona has revealed that there’s essential workers all over the place in terms of logistics and in terms of transportation the agricultural sector, healthcare, for example, I mean so again, this is a very odd sort of timing and I’m not sure, you know, I, again, I take no issue with him making it harder, but if you look at the history of, of premier Kenney while he was in charge of this program, pre 2012, and I’ve said this before an eight year old with a crayon could have filled out LMIA form and gotten permission to hire a foreign worker and that only got restricted in 2012.

Raj Sharma:                        And after 2012, when media reports suggested that foreign workers were being preferred over local staff. So again, this is how much of this is deep, deep policy and how much of this is politics. And I think perhaps for premier Kenney, those two things are one and the same.

Danielle Smith:                  Well, let’s talk about Alberta in particular, in the, any impact it might have, because I’m, I’m quite concerned about our food supply and harvest and some of our greenhouse operations and whether they’re going to be able to get enough workers. I mean, we’ve done several shows about, for instance, the student support programs. It was like, maybe those students shouldn’t get support in the less they went and worked on that mushroom farm, but you can’t order people to work in jobs that they don’t want to work in those jobs.

Raj Sharma:                        Well, these people who suggest that clearly have never been within 200 meters of a mushroom farm.

Danielle Smith:                  Right, right. I mean, it’s hard work. There’s no question. And it probably smelly work as well. Now that you mentioned that because we know what it grows in, but that I guess is the, is the fundamental disconnect that we have is that we, we’re not a command economy. People do have the right to choose the type of how they’re going to spend their time and the type of work that they’re going to have. It, it’s not just an easy matter of saying let’s chop up the supply of workers. And then all of a sudden people are going to flood into those opportunities. So what am I missing? Like there seems to be a big disconnect there.

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t know what I’m missing either, because if you’re talking 6,200 down to 4,000, let’s say you’re losing 2000. So who are these 2000 people in terms of the nomination stream? Number one are our own graduates, international graduates that take double or more tuition that subsidize education, postsecondary education for the other students, local students, they’ve been here for two years minimum, let’s say one to two years, they’ve gotten a postgrad work permit. They’re working in a job in their field for six months and they’re allowed to use this program. So I don’t see how that individual is displacing a job really, and why we would then curtail the ability of that individual. They are going to make a fantastic Albertan/Canadian from accessing permanent residency. These are very, very young people, you know, as well as I do the demographics and the numbers, they’re the ideal immigrant.

Raj Sharma:                        And I completely agree with you instead of sourcing, you know, federal skilled workers… let’s say they’re skilled, highly educated- instead of get getting some botanical, you know, teaching intern or whatever from Pune, India, why not grab a 22 year old or 23 year old graduate of state or a graduate of Bow Valley College even if he or she is driving a truck or in logistics- that individual over the next 40 years is going to be a much greater contributor than almost any federal skilled worker source from outside Canada, that will be older, in their thirties or mid thirties

Danielle Smith:                  You have the hit on.

I think what, what bothers me about the Premier’s approach is that we have this point system for who makes the ideal immigrant and it’s based on do you know, English or French and what is your degrees and whatever else. But then when we recruit these highly qualified individuals, because they don’t have the immediate connection with the job here, oftentimes they end up underemployed and aren’t able to get into their profession. What I like about the temporary foreign worker program is you identify individuals with a job right off the bat, and then you can cultivate and improve their skills over time. And then ultimately they might want to become Canadian at the end of it. And so it seems like it’s a, it seems like it’s straight, there seems to be a mismatch because I like the, the, the, the local decentralized private sector nature of these two programs that the Premier’s identified.

Raj Sharma:                        Those are the ones he’s curtailing, or, you know, and again, this is very odd because I thought given her sort of political ideology, he would have preferred decentralization rather than centralization. I thought that from an ideological standpoint he would be among the forefront of saying that provinces should have, and municipalities should have greater control over their immigration. That they have greater insight in terms of their labor market and their post secondary institutions and employers, et cetera. But you know, again, he seems to shy away from that provincial program. So again, when we talked about 6,200 to 4,000, we’ve eliminated 2000 potential permanent residents. What does that mean in a province of over four and a half million people? And then to suggest that that has something to do with looking out for the economic welfare of these, of these immigrants, that they won’t be able to get on, on their two feet here.

Raj Sharma:                        It belies the notion that these individuals are already here. So, you know, there’s a international graduate that’s working that connected the program. There’s the working holiday guides from Australia and Ireland that are working and they can apply for a permanent residency after 12 months of working here. There’s the meat cutter, the meat processing and agricultural sector, they can access that program. Alberta itself can pick from the express entry pool of, of, of immigrants that want to settle here. So that seems to be extremely shortsighted and has absolutely no connection in terms of, the ill effects of the immigrants, or whether there’d be any negative impact on permanent residents or Canadian citizens in Alberta today. So that makes zero sense to me. I will say that arguably and it’s defensible that he can add to some refuse to process occupation code, and I’m sure there’s going to be lots of exceptions again for transportation and essential services and perhaps for retail and, and, and accommodation, perhaps there’s going to be additional challenges for these employers. They’re already going through a great deal of grief. And I think Jason, Kenney’s added uncertainty, unnecessary uncertainty, and, and really something that’s not really justifiable no matter the current situation in Alberta.

Danielle Smith:                  And that’s what I’m trying to figure out. What is the problem trying to fix? Because you mentioned it at the beginning healthcare aides as well. We know that we have a large and diverse group of individuals and that health care aid profession as well. And so what does that mean to you?

Raj Sharma:                        80% of frontline healthcare workers in Toronto are immigrants.

Danielle Smith:                  I wonder what it is here. It must be pretty high too. Oh, did we lose ya? No, I’m yeah. Oh yeah. It must be. It must be very high too. I don’t know if we know what the percentage would be here

Raj Sharma:                        That number really jumped out at me. And I, and again, when we look at the current Corona or the pandemic, it’s just sort of revealed how interconnected we are in terms of Canada, migrant workers, agricultural workers are at risk, for example, concerns by Mexico. So again, you know, these workers are putting a lot on the line as well, and some of them have, have died and they are contributing to the supply chain, very, very essential supply chain.

Danielle Smith:                  The only thing I can consider is that there are individuals who came here on a temporary permit who got preferential retainment over other workers. And is there, is that a potential, is it, is it because that is the way the temporary foreign worker permit written up would, if you had ended up having to lay off with the temporary foreign worker, keep the job and the other workers not, is that, is that we’re part of the tension is, or one thing I can imagine if the con

Raj Sharma:                        There was some reforms brought in after 2012 and some of the forms require the employer to cut hours of temporary foreign workers prior to cutting hours or from a permanent resident or citizen.

Danielle Smith:                  So that wouldn’t be a, what if it’s about, we know that we have a number of students coming in from Saudi Arabia and China, would there be big geopolitical decisions be made that perhaps that he’s attempting to close that avenue?

Raj Sharma:                        No, I don’t think so. I think Saudi is Saudi might be pulling out that might’ve been more bluster than, than reality. China is making some noises about pulling the tens of thousands of students out of the US or Australia, for example, but you know, international students contribute probably $9 billion or more to the economy of Canada. I don’t think that program is going anywhere. If China does pull out, I know of another very large country with a large educated population that could certainly make up for that drop.. So I don’t think that’s the issue. I do believe that there should be a concerted effort to retain a pathway for permanent residency for international students. The UK tried, you know, stopping, and I think ultimately the data shows that they shot themselves in the foot with it. And now they’re trying to bring that back..

Danielle Smith:                  I agree with you, what can be, so that’s the provincial nominee program. What about the temporary foreign worker program? What, what should be done there? What is, I mean, it strikes me that there will still be a need for it just based on some of the professions that we talked about, but is there a way to identify some of the problems that are there and to fix them?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, I think Alberta, again, Alberta has already a few occupations on the list on that refusal to process that I’m sure that they’ll add more to it and I’m sure that the essential and supply chain and logistics and transportation will be left untouched. That’s, that’s my impression. So, but it does create, I mean, if the whole concept is I’m going to drop corporate tax rates up to 8%, I’m going to lure large employers to Alberta. Well, part of the reason that employers like a certain jurisdiction is certainty and a lot of these large employers, for example, there’s oil and gas president that needs to access the provincial nominee program because they’re 50 years old, they’ve got a PhD, but they’re too old for the federal program. So they have to use the Alberta immigrant nominee program.

Raj Sharma:                        So, if you’re wanting to create a welcoming climate part of that has got to be some degree of certainty that allows employee relocation, high level corporate relocation, intra-company transferees, all that, you gotta have that piece of the puzzle there too, because of the oil and gas company might say, let’s move over. But wait a second. The president that makes over a million dollars a year and really wants to settle down in Canada but our lawyers are telling us that we may not be able to access a route to permanent residency

Danielle Smith:                  Well, and when I’m going to be talking with Terry rock a little bit later, see you on cochair of Alberta innovation, that, that also applies to all the tech attraction that we’re trying to do as well. So thanks for raising that. That is another angle. Raj Sharma. I appreciate your insights. Thanks so much for your time today. I don’t know, guys, maybe you have to tell me because I’m not seeing it. I, these are the two programs that you can modify, I suppose, maybe identify certain occupations that no longer qualify for temporary foreign workers, but the provincial nominee program. That’s a way if we’re talking about repatriating or taking more control over our own immigration system, that’s the mechanism to do it. So why would he curtail that? It seems to be at odds with what came out of the fair deal panel. So I’m scratching my head here today.