April 21, 2015 5:43 pm

Quebec braces for fight with Ottawa over new temporary foreign worker rules

Quebec's Immigration Minister, Kathleen Weil, said she believes new federal rules for foreign workers will hurt the province's economy.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

QUEBEC CITY — Quebec’s Immigration Minister said she believes new federal rules for foreign workers will hurt the province’s economy.

Kathleen Weil said Ottawa is making it more difficult for Quebec businesses to fill an urgent labour shortage.

Thousands of Quebec businesses, in industries such as welding and machining, depend on temporary foreign workers to improve their bottom line.

Ottawa has decided that starting April 30, Quebec must give job priority to Quebecers.

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“The reality of the job market — and I don’t think they’re sensitive to this — we have an ageing, working-age population that’s on the decline,” Weil argued.

“It’s not the case in other provinces and overall in Canada, but it is the case in Quebec.”

There are about 20,000 foreign workers currently in Quebec.

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The federal government has introduced measures that shorten the length of temporary foreign work permits and is asking companies to put a 10 per cent cap on hiring.

It’s also asking companies to have a transition plan to replace those workers with Quebecers.

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The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is mystified.

“Our members told us the temporary foreign worker program helps them maintain and create jobs for Canadians,” said spokesperson François Vincent.

“It’s not only affecting the jobs of temporary foreign workers, it’s affecting the jobs of Canadians and Quebecers.”

Weil has asked for an emergency meeting with Federal Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre.

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“What we’re asking for is that they hold off on the application of this reform until we’ve been able to sit together and have serious exchanges on its impact,” Weil told reporters.

But Quebec’s opposition, the Parti Québécois, said this is too little, too late.

“Everyone thought they’d have come to an agreement by now,” the PQ’s André Villeneuve said.

Not only does Quebec need the extra help, critics argued, it needs foreign qualified labour to apply for permanent immigration.

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“Right now, we need those foreign workers,” said Coalition Avenir Quebec leader François Legault.

But time is running out.

Poilievre confirmed in a statement that Quebecers must come first for Quebec jobs, and the changes would come into effect, as planned, on April 30.

Weil suggested the Conservatives are rushing for electoral reasons.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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