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Temporary foreign workers a hot topic at Kelowna all-candidates forum

All candidates forum held in Kelowna
Ten federal candidates presented their policies to voters on Saturday in Kelowna. Jules Knox reports.

Ten federal candidates presented their policies to voters Saturday afternoon during an all-candidates forum.

Conservative candidate Dan Albas, incumbent for the Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola riding, said he will work to improve language training for new immigrants and to streamline the immigration process.

“There are too many people that are waiting for their spouse, for their family members because of the long wait that happens,” Albas said.

Former city councillor Tracy Gray said a Conservative government will focus government sponsorship to prioritize people facing persecution.

“And also safeguard and emphasize economic immigration and improve credential recognition of immigrants who have existing skills that they’re bringing to Canada,” she added.

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Liberal candidate and incumbent for Kelowna-Lake Country Stephen Fuhr said Canada needs to grow its workforce.

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“We don’t have enough skilled, we don’t have enough unskilled workers. We need to get people here because it helps them, it helps us, and it’s mutually beneficial for everyone,” Fuhr said.

Liberal candidate Mary Ann Murphy said temporary foreign workers are important, especially in the Okanagan where they’re needed as fruit pickers.

“We also know that these temporary foreign workers are filling jobs that Canadians don’t want. With an aging population, a shortage of workers, and so many farmers telling us ‘You can hire a Canadian, but after a day or two, they are gone’,” Murphy said.

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But NDP candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country Justin Kulik called the temporary foreign worker program broken.

“What we’re proposing, is allowing these people that are coming to Canada to work a pathway to become Canadian citizens. We want to be able to offer them permanent residency. We want them to be able to call Canada home if they so choose,” he said.

Joan Phillip, also running for the NDP, said temporary foreign workers should have the ability to change jobs. She also agrees they should have the opportunity to stay in the country if they choose to.

“We want to ensure those workers, when they come here, they’re treated fairly, they’re being paid the same,” Phillip said.

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Green Party candidate Robert Mellalieu said he would abolish the temporary foreign worker program and replace it with a path to citizenship.

“We’re bringing in temporary foreign workers because we don’t feel like paying fruit pickers the proper wages and giving them the proper conditions,” Mellalieu said. “And they say we can’t find workers. Yeah, we can’t find workers that will work at that wage.”

Green Party candidate Travis Ashley promised to strengthen prosecutions and policies against human trafficking and also to help skilled immigrants.

“The Green Party will make sure we streamline credentials to make it easier for people that have high skills and high technical training to come into this country and be a part of this economy,” Ashley said.

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Allan Duncan, running for the People’s Party of Canada, wants to accept a larger proportion of economic immigrants and limit the number of temporary foreign workers.

“I would say that the temporary foreign workers’ program can be seen as a form of corporate welfare that exploits foreign labour and keeps wages inordinately low,” Duncan said.

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Peter Neville showed up for John Barr, the People’s Party of Canada candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country. He said more refugees should be sponsored privately instead of by the state.

“We want to limit the sponsorship to people who are in the immediate family immigrating to Canada. That being said, parents, grandparents have to come in on their own merits,” Neville said.

The federal election will be held Oct. 21.