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Employment Minster Jason Kenney says he is standing up for Canadians and free enterprise

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Rick Bell

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Calgary Sun

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You can tell Jason Kenney has had it up to here and he’s right on the money.

We’re talking about businesses like fast-food joints and sit-down eateries.

Or at least the ones using poorly-paid temporary workers from offshore to kill jobs for people in Canada and keep wages low, all courtesy of a federal government program.

Kenney, Canada’s employment minister, thinks it is just not right.

He’s not in the mood to do any favours or offer any privileges.

Instead, he schools one and all on the meaning of free enterprise.

Kenney talks of being told about folks planning brand new fast-food restaurants in rural Alberta, signing franchise deals and borrowing a million bucks to make it happen.

“Then they turn around and they say to us: Oh, by the way, there’s no one in this town available to work in my fast-food outlet. I need you, the government, to help me airlift people from overseas,” he says.

“And I’m asking myself, what kind of responsible business person would make a capital investment, sign a franchise agreement and start a new business without any local workers available?”

“And why is it the responsibility of the government to solve that problem? That’s not free enterprise.”

Kenney says his job is “first and foremost to the public good in Canada.”

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t end up crowding out the availability of jobs and decent wages for the working poor and other Canadians.”

The employment minister mentions young people and immigrants to this country as some of “the people we’ve got to look out for first.”

“Why would we go halfway around the world to bring people in on temporary visas when we’ve already got people who don’t have jobs?”

“Why don’t we turn to them?”

And so, in two years, no employer can have low-wage foreign workers make up more than 10% of a worksite.

In 2016, Kenney says he’s keeping options open, including scrapping the program.

In a perfect world he doesn’t think it should exist.

He gets why businesses think the cozy arrangement was great.

They get someone who always shows up early, leaves late, works even when they’re sick, never complains and hopes like hell the job will lead to citizenship in Canada.

“What’s not to like?” says Kenney.

But the deal was supposed to be a “last and limited resort” and “the purpose wasn’t to have foreign workers competing with Canadians.”

The program wasn’t even on the books before 2002.

Kenney says other places with hot economies manage without bringing in people “who are basically indentured from abroad.”

Yes, it was too good to be true and foreign workers went from last resort to first choice for some outfits.

With a steady supply of foreign workers in the pipeline, wages stayed low, with any piddling pay increases lagging well behind inflation and way behind the average hikes in Alberta.

Low-wage jobs become more and more unattractive for those in this country.

A common question.

Who in Canada is going to work for peanuts an hour?

Kenney doesn’t skirt the issue.

“The closer I looked at this program the more I saw a lot of folks who are struggling to make ends meet finding their wages lower than they otherwise would be because more businesses are bringing more low-paid workers from aboard.”

As well, Kenney also hears of managers in fast-food spots being told by their bosses not to hire Canadians or cut back their hours.

It is true, without foreign workers, employers finding it hard to hire will have to offer a little higher wage. That’s how the free market works.

Supply and demand.

They’re more likely to take the jobs if they’re paying a wee bit more,” says Kenney, of workers in Canada.

He adds individuals from the rest of the country “are not going to come out here for $11 an hour.”

So what we have is higher wages and jobs for people living here.

And yes, the price of a coffee or a burger will probably go up some.

What does he have to say to someone grumbling about an extra 25 cents on a jolt of java?

“You’re given a Canadian kid a fair crack at a job,” he says.

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Jason Kenney

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, Sales and service occupations - general, Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations - general, Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing, Home child care providers, Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations, Food and beverage servers, Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations, and General farm workers

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Policy analysis

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Federal and National relevance