rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Canada's shame

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Canadians are often at a loss to define and determine the essential nature of the national identity. But this very ambiguity is the source of our special strength. We see ourselves, for good reason, as a nation of nations. We’ve willingly and approvingly become a place where migrants can live and work and become as much a part of the community as anyone else.

But this has been gradually and quietly changing. In 2007, for the first time in Canadian history, temporary resident applications outnumbered permanent.

In that same year, before the recession, there were about 200,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. In 2011, despite tough economic times, that number swelled to over 300,000. Canadian businesses, enabled by the Harper government, have been happy to import cheap labourers. These numbers may come as a surprise to Canadians, who have seen persistently high unemployment, particularly among youth.

These temporary foreign workers are tied to their employer during their stay, their terms limited by their contracts and by the default legal limit of four years. And only a few of these workers can be nominated by the provinces for permanent residency. The vast majority will have to leave the country at the end of their contracts.

Recently the Harper government announced changes to the program. According to the new policy, foreign workers will be brought into Canada in as few as 10 days, rather than three months, if an employer can convince the government that no one else is suitable for the position. The number of temporary workers, many predict, will only increase.

But those numbers alone do not tell the full story. Temporary foreign workers have been -- and with Harper’s 2012 federal budget, will increasingly become -- subject to unfair practices. In an unprecedented move, employers will be able to pay 15 percent below the typical wage in the same field in that region. No doubt this change will be good for Canadian businesses, but it will not be good for workers, temporary or not. There will be an incentive to lower wages across the board in order to compete with the cheap labour offered by temporary workers. The government has kicked off a race to the bottom.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently told reporters that “[T]here is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job.” But with new positions increasingly going to temporary workers, businesses no longer have an incentive to invest in Canadian workers and communities. Instead, employers can hire temporary workers -- people with less economic freedom, mobility, and independence -- at below-market rates. This is unfair to them and undermines Canada’s deepest commitments. We will no longer be a nation built in large part by immigrants who will remain invested in the country. We will be a country with two classes of workers.

Workers who are essential to the Canadian economy should not be barred from permanent residency, nor should employers be allowed to subvert market wages through immigration policy. The new policy advanced by the Harper government amounts to short-term thinking. Rather than investing in the development of workers, we are becoming a country that exploits an underclass of disposable labourers.

This article was originally co-written with David Penner for the Georgia Straight.

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/VanFalseCreek

Donate to the campaign here: https://greenpartybc.nationbuilder.com/donate_to_daniel_tseghays_campaign

Website: http://danieltseghay.wordpress.com/


Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.