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Labour + Industry

Ottawa Delays Data on Foreign Workers

Counting numbers isn't 'rocket science,' says NDP critic.

Jeremy Nuttall 8 May

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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New Democrat MP Jinny Sims wants the government to release figures on Temporary Foreign Workers. Photo by David P. Ball.

Canadians will have to wait until the end of June or longer to find out the full effects of the Tories' changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, despite the government's promise to release information about it every three months.

The Harper government has said it would post data on the number of foreigner workers approved through the program on a quarterly basis, but still hasn't released information from the last quarter of 2014.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program was subject to public outcry that employers abuse the program by using it to pay lower wages by hiring foreign workers instead of Canadians.

In response, last June, the government said it tightened requirements for permits for these workers and brought in tougher penalties for those caught abusing the program.

In February, The Tyee asked for the figures showing how many work permits had been granted under the program from June 2014 until the end of the year. Those figures were thought to be relevant because they might reveal the effects of the changes.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada had released all of its data on Temporary Foreign Workers up to the end of September 2014 by mid- February of this year.

But in February, when The Tyee asked for the numbers through to the end of 2014, Citizen and Immigration Canada said the figures would be released in a couple of months.

The Tyee asked again Monday and CIC media relations staffer Remi Lariviere said the figures for 2014 might be released at the end of June.

That's seven months -- more than two financial quarters -- since they were last released, but Lariviere defended the government's position.

"Over the past five years, CIC has made an ever-increasing amount of statistical data readily available on," Lariviere said in an email.

Critics said the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from outside of Canada were brought in by employers and paid lower-than-market rates.

In 2013, a total of 118,000 TFW permits were granted under the numerous streams of the program including seasonal agricultural workers and live-in caregivers. As of September, the number of permits granted for 2014 was at 85,400.

The total number of foreign workers in Canada was estimated at more than 447,000 in 2011, the last census year.

But it's not just figures for the TFW program that haven't been released.

The information is routinely released in a quarterly administrative data page that also includes information on permanent residents and citizenship, two other areas for which the Conservative government has taken flak for its performance.

Delay criticized

University of Calgary journalism professor and press freedom advocate Sean Holman criticized the delay.

"This isn't information that we should have to ask for, this is information that should be provided as a matter of course on a regular basis," Holman said. "It should be made a mechanical process as opposed to something the government sometimes gives out and sometimes doesn't give out."

He said when the government has the ability to choose what information it will release as well as the timing, there are opportunities for manipulation leading to an uninformed electorate and less democratic society.

Meanwhile, as this year's election approaches, the New Democrat critic for employment and social development Canada, Jinny Sims, said she too has had a hard time obtaining numbers from about the Temporary Foreign Workers program.

Sims said early indications have shown the changes to the TFW program have done little to stem the inflow of foreign workers, which may not bode well for the Conservatives.

"I think if it was a good story the Conservatives would be touting it all over the place," she said. "I would say the numbers will reflect their changes haven't fixed the fundamental problems."

She said calculating the numbers isn't "rocket science" and they need to be released so the public knows what is going on with the program.  [Tyee]

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