December 16th, 2014 Economic Action Plan 2014 Bill, No. 2
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I'm going to speak on Bill C-43, but specifically on two sections that were examined by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. That is Divisions 5 and 24 of Part 4 of Bill C-43, which is the government's latest omnibus budget implementation legislation.
As you know, honourable senators, seven different committees were needed to examine this legislation. I'd like to thank the members of the Social Affairs Committee for their excellent work in studying their sections of the bill. As I said yesterday, the committee's report is fair and recognizes the different opinions of the members.
Honourable senators, Division 5 of Bill C-43 introduces amendments to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to modify the national standard for the Canada Social Transfer so that it applies only to certain groups of people. Senator Day spoke about this earlier when he was speaking about the bill.
According to the national standard as currently defined in the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, no residency requirement may be imposed by a provincial or territorial government on social assistance recipients without the possibility of incurring a penalty in the form of a reduction in the Canada Social Transfer from the federal government. The proposed amendment in Division 5 essentially removes any penalty imposed by the federal government for not following the national standard, and it opens the doors to giving provinces and territories free range to impose residency requirements in order to qualify for social assistance programs without reprisals from the federal government in the form of withheld Canadian Social Transfer funds. This policy change is directed at refugee claimants who come to Canada to seek a safe haven. They have no money, no resources and many have no contacts or family in Canada.
Honourable senators, refugee claimants cannot receive a work permit until they have been in Canada for at least six months. The majority of refugees do not have any money. These are people in dire need of assistance with housing and food until they can get a job and get established in the community.
As Marie Chen, a lawyer with the Income Security Advocacy Centre, emphasized at our committee, and I quote:
Many have nothing other than what they came with and have no means of support. Some may be eligible for work permits, but even then they have to wait for it to be issued. Those who are not eligible will have no means of support. In these circumstances, social assistance is critical for their survival.
This amendment in Division 5 will now allow provinces and territories to deny refugees the assistance they require by enacting a residency clause. Refugees could be left homeless with no resources. The province or territory would be essentially downloading these social services on churches, community charities and not-for-profit organizations.
These resources are already overburdened and would never have the capacity to take on the social services required if the provincial or territorial government should choose to opt out of providing them. As I said yesterday, I am puzzled about what the motivation is behind this proposed change. Who is requesting this change and for what purpose? We found out at committee that the provinces and territories did not request such a change. A government witness said they had discussions with the provinces. The Ontario government has said they were not consulted, and inquiries to the Nova Scotia government revealed they did not have any discussion with the government regarding residency restrictions.
So I am left to wonder: Who was consulted, or who had the so-called discussions with government officials? I'm also left to question why the government is making this change since this is the same government that removed health benefits for refugees. One has to question whether we, as a country, are beginning to close the door to refugees. We certainly appear to be making it more challenging for refugees once they arrive in Canada.
I truly believe there is something fundamentally wrong with this change. Why would we target those most vulnerable? I believe that no provincial or territorial government would be so uncaring as to take advantage of this opportunity that the federal government is offering, but I can't help but worry that this is just a small part of a larger shift in government immigration and refugee policy.
The motivations behind this proposed change are worrisome, and we know that this change can devastate the lives of refugees who come to Canada to seek a safe haven.
In my opinion, the enforcing of a residency requirement for refugees to access social assistance while they wait for a work permit is nothing short of cruel and unnecessary punishment. A clause of this nature has no place in a piece of government legislation and definitely has no place in a government budget implementation bill.
Honourable senators, Division 24 of Bill C-43 amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to implement aspects of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that was announced in July 2014 with respect to changes to terminology, fees and penalties and more data collection.
Specifically, the changes introduced in this bill will extend the scope of the government to place businesses who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on a blacklist. The changes will provide either the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration or the Minister of Employment and Social Development with the power to publish a list of employers who have been found guilty of an offence that may be designated in regulations or under any federal or provincial law regulating employment or recruitment.
I agree changes were necessary to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as allegations of widespread abuse of the program by large corporations and restaurant chains have been brought to light. I agree changes had to be made to the program, but I feel Division 24 of Bill C-43 is indicative of the hastily-conceived and rushed response by the government to the problem.
There was a lack of oversight and a lack of understanding of the consequences these changes would make to individual Canadians and small businesses. The program is essential for many small businesses in Canada, particularly in Western Canada, and has been invaluable to the operations of these businesses. There are concerns that the government's reaction to the allegations of abuse to the program will lead to financial hardships on small businesses that also utilize the program.
As Joyce Reynolds, Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, Restaurants Canada, said at committee:
This program is extremely important to our members, particularly in communities in Western Canada, and in pockets in other parts of the country as well where labour shortages are acute. Having said that, you need to know that temporary foreign workers comprise a very small percentage of our almost 1.2 million Canadians and landed immigrants. Of the approximately 2 per cent of our workforce that are TFWs, most are in Western Canada, with by far the highest number in Alberta. In Alberta's red-hot labour market, this program is critical to keeping many restaurant businesses operational.
. . .
It is understandable that these members believe that the rule changes brought in on June 20 that severely curtail our industry's ability to access the foreign worker program are a huge overreaction by government to media reporting, innuendo and unproven allegations, rather than government policy formulated on facts-based evidence.
Gordon Maynard, Past Chair, National Immigration Law Section, Canadian Bar Association, who also appeared before the committee, echoed Ms. Reynolds' concern about the government's response to the alleged abuse of the program. His exact words were:
It has been a huge over-reaction of the government with respect to the restaurant industry.
Both Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Maynard were also critical of the government's plan for a blacklist of employers who abuse the program. Employers placed on this list would be barred from accessing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the International Mobility Program for a period of two years. The government's plan for the list has not been fully thought out, and there appears to be a lack of defined parameters with it.
As Mr. Maynard questioned:
Who gets put on to this list? It says in the legislation employers who are found guilty of an offence. What does "found guilty" mean? Does it mean an administrative breach? Can a provincial officer issue a ticket for an administrative breach of a safety violation on a work site?
Ms. Reynolds had this to say:
Finally, we have concerns about giving department officials blanket authority to publicly expose an employer without due cause or natural justice. We want to ensure that there is an oversight and appeals process in place.
Honourable senators, in Western Canada where the labour market has been strong, filling employment positions with Canadians has been more challenging.
The Alberta Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of businesses in Alberta that utilize the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to determine the impact of the current changes by the federal government. The findings were not surprising. The changes are hurting small business.
The 300 per cent fee increase for the Labour Market Impact Assessment, fees that increased from $275 to $1,000, was specifically mentioned in the Albert Chamber of Commerce's report. It states that the fee is a primary hindrance to business. The $1,000 application fee for a Labour Market Impact Assessment is putting a real strain on small businesses and making the program unviable. Ms. Reynolds, speaking on behalf of Restaurants Canada, had this to say about the new program fees:
With regard to the privilege fee, the TFW program is already costly, and this fee will make it more so. When the $275 LMO user fee was imposed, our members were prepared to help bear the cost of the program, particularly because they were led to believe it would lead to improvements that would speed the application and approvals process. Instead, they paid tens of thousands of dollars in fees for a more cumbersome process that often did not result in a positive application or work permit. The fee more than tripled in June, putting the program out of reach for many operators. To make matters worse, the application process is slower still.
The $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee hasn't just been a hardship on small businesses reliant on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for staffing. It is also creating additional financial hardship on individual Canadians who also rely on the program to hire in-home caregivers. Many of these Canadians are elderly or have a disability and live on a fixed income. They rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program because of the challenges in finding Canadians to fill the position.
Honourable senators, the reality is that many Canadians do not want to work as caregivers, particularly in provinces with low unemployment. I've spoken several times in this chamber about the Davidson family in Alberta and their struggle to secure full-time home care for their adult son who has disabilities.
Grace Davidson is 75 years old and her husband is 76. They are an elderly Albertan couple who require full-time care for their adult son who is living with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Grace is also recovering from cancer treatment. Currently, they have one person who is only able to care for their son for so many hours each week. This person is doing all she can to provide their son with proper care, but she is only able to do so much.
While they wait for the processing of a work permit for an additional new temporary foreign worker, Mrs. Davidson has been doing her best to provide care for her son. Her son is unable to perform many everyday tasks and must be carried in and out of bed, and he relies on a wheelchair for mobility and needs to be lifted in and out of the wheelchair. These are not easy tasks for a 75-year-old recovering from cancer, and they are not tasks she should be undertaking. It is taking a toll on her. This is what she had to say in a letter to the Department of Employment and Social Development:
My situation is getting worse each day as not only is my son very stressed because he does not have a caregiver, me, his mother is also extremely stressed and stress is affecting our health. In addition to the after effects of cancer treatments I am now trying to cope with stomach troubles brought on by too much stress. My son's MS symptoms are greatly affected by stress and his body becomes rigid. Does anyone in your department have any idea how difficult it is for the handicapped to cope not only with their disabilities but to also wonder if they will ever receive someone to look after their needs? My son is worried that he will be left alone with no one to care for him. My situation has gone on for so long due to being scammed by two TFWs and then to start the process over again so apply for an LMIA. There must be a better way to secure employment of a TFW live-in caregiver.
It is extremely difficult for someone who is handicapped to wait the length of time it takes to process an application. I reluctantly paid the $1,000 and received a favourable LMIA but I am still waiting for the incumbent to receive her work permit. Why is there not a fast track for emergencies or for someone who desperately requires a person to care for them — all their personal needs?
I must stress again that we are not a business and although I agree with some of the changes that have been implemented by Minister Kenney's department it is so very unfair to those who are handicapped/disabled and on limited income/disability.
The Davidsons have now been without full-time care for their son since May 11, 2014. They have had two applicants abruptly quit in the midst of the application process after the Davidsons have paid the fees and received a positive labour market opinion, in one case, and a Labour Market Impact Assessment in a second case. One applicant purposely sabotaged their application for a work permit.
They are currently going through the process for a third time to fill the position. I realize the Davidsons' case may seem extreme, but these are issues that occur more often than you may think for Canadians relying on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for caregivers. The increased fees, the lack of service, the extended processing times all create both financial and emotional hardships, mostly on those living on a fixed income like the elderly and the disabled. As Mrs. Davidson wrote to me:
I cannot help but think that the government in their haste to make changes did not fully comprehend the consequences to someone who is disabled and needs to hire a TFW caregiver.
It is unfortunate that Minister Kenney has a black-and-white policy where there is no room for extenuating circumstances in situations like the Davidsons'. In an email on December 4, Mrs. Davidson was told by government officials:
Under no circumstances can an application be expedited even though Mrs. Davidson's home situation is clearly urgent.
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology did include an observation in our report to the Senate on Bill C-43, which stated:
Your Committee asks that the current regulations be reviewed to permit the waiver of the LMIA fee in cases of financial hardship involving seniors and in cases of financial hardship involving seniors and individuals with disabilities, specifically those who live on fixed incomes.
I applaud the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee for raising this issue in its report.
Honourable senators, we may not be able to improve service and access to the program for Canadians like the Davidsons, but we can help to alleviate some of the financial burden associated with the program. It is with this in mind that I would like to see the committee's recommendation reflected in Bill C-43.
Motion in Amendment
Hon. Jane Cordy: Therefore, honourable senators, I move:
THAT Bill C-43 be not now read a third time, but that it be amended in clause 310, on page 409, by replacing line 4 with the following:
"310. (1) Section 89 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):
(1.01) The Governor in Council shall, within 120 days after this subsection comes into force, amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to provide that no fee is payable for the provision of services in relation to a request for an assessment by the Department of Employment and Social Development made by an employer in respect of an offer of employment to a foreign national that relates to work to be performed as a live-in caregiver who provides senior home support care or care of the disabled.
(2) Subsection 89(1.1) of the Act is".