Cold Lake was on the last leg of a series of consultations the province is conducting with communities that are in need of foreign workers to keep their local economies going.
On Nov. 25 and 26, Theresa Woo-Paw, MLA for Calgary-Mackay and parliamentary secretary to Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, held consultation sessions in Cold Lake with employers, foreign workers and English as a second language providers in the city.
“Essentially, they are echoing what I’m hearing from other parts of the province…that we are a developing, growing province and we need long-term solutions –not a temporary program,” Woo-Paw said. “That’s a very strong consensus across the province.”
Tim Bishop, a Tim Horton’s franchise owner and operator, and Phil Stewart, who owns and operates the A&W franchise n Cold Lake, both said the need for foreign workers at their operations is permanent.
During the 2007-2008 boom in Cold Lake both restaurants began the process of hiring foreign workers to deal with a massive labour shortage that had both businessmen working 100 hours a week to keep their operations running.
The businesses have to prove to the Federal Government that they have looked for labour locally and need to look abroad to fill positions. Only then can the paperwork to bring a foreign worker in begin.
And since April this year, the federal government cut the working visas down to a one year term from a two-year visa. That’s kept businesses who rely on foreign workers dealing with a constant stream of paper work to keep their operations staffed.
“People are doing paperwork continuously,” Woo-Paw said. “Employers are spending a lot of money and time to bring people over and provide training and then they lose all of that and they have to start all over again.”
The Federal Government provides each province with a maximum number of temporary foreign worker visas and sets a limit as to how many of those workers can become permanent residents. Alberta is allotted 2,500 semi skilled temporary working positions and 2,500 positions for skilled workers. The number allowed to become permanent residents after three years of working in Canada is even smaller.
Many businesses in Cold Lake in need of foreign workers can only nominate one worker a year for permanent residency. That means a large part of their workforce needs to be continuously regranted temporary visas if they are to continue.
Woo-Paw said that the province works to help steamline the process by pre-screening the paperwork before passing it on to the federal government.
Once she has completed her consulations she will prepare a report for Labour Minister Lukaszuk, who could then take it to his federal counterparts to show them the need for foreign workers as it exists in Alberta.
“Some employers are telling us that we need to speak strongly for the province,” Woo-Paw said. “The level of economic growth and the demand for fopreign workers (in Alberta) is so different and yet our regional need doesn’t seem to have been taken into consideration. We are growing and we need workers.”
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