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Alberta needs temporary foreign workers, advocates say

Many of the workers who have come to Calgary under the temporary foreign workers program say they're helping the economy, not hindering it.

Labour groups say the program drives down wages, but employers argue they're just trying to find people willing to take certain jobs.

The issue came to the fore earlier this week after it was alleged RBC was using the program to replace its IT staff with a foreign workforce. The head of RBC denied the bank is replacing Canadian workers with temporary foreign workers.

Kenneth Artezeula, who came to Calgary four years ago as a childcare worker, said her co-workers are mostly fellow Filipinos.

“There are only a few … Canadians who work in the daycare. I don't know why, but for me I love the work,” she said.

Fariborz Birjandian, the executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said that's typical of the majority of the jobs available under the temporary foreign workers program.

The program began in 1973 to fill a gap in the labour market for jobs Canadians could not or would not fill — domestic workers and agricultural workers as well as highly skilled jobs, such as specialist physicians and professors.

The total number of temporary foreign workers has doubled in the last decade, to 338,189 workers.

Alberta has the highest per capita percentage of those workers in Canada.

Birjandian doesn't think that's going to change. “I believe (temporary foreign workers) are here to stay,” he said.

Last year, Artezeula became a permanent resident, allowing her family to join her in Calgary.

Richard Truscott with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said employers will always prefer to hire within the country first.

“No employer in their right mind is going to go through all the cost and hassle of bringing someone in from another country if there’s a Canadian somewhere in the local market that is willing, able and qualified to work in those jobs,” he said.

“But there are jobs in the economy that Canadians don’t seem to want to work in, so there need to be some solutions,” he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in Calgary on Thursday to announce the renaming of a child advocacy centre, told reporters that his government plans to reform the temporary foreign worker program.

"The reality is, in this country, particularly in a province like (Alberta), there are occupations and there are circumstances where there is an absolute labour shortage and certain employers need to find workers from outside the country. But this is not supposed to have a purpose beyond that and we will make sure it is not used for purposes beyond that."

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