Ottawa denies claims from Quebec it will modify Temporary Foreign Worker Program

QUEBEC – The federal government quickly closed the door on Monday to claims from Quebec it was open to modifying the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to address the province’s concerns.

Quebec Labour Minister Sam Hamad said Monday his federal counterpart agreed to talks aimed at easing frustration from some businesses that the program was excessively burdensome.

The program has been a source of tension between Quebec and Ottawa since the federal government changed the rules in 2014 to make it harder to hire foreign workers after reports businesses were abusing the system.

Hamad said federal Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre was “very open” to changing the rules.

He added Quebec’s immigration minister is to meet Tuesday with Poilievre to “discuss and to understand … to take into account the particularities of Quebec.”

But Poilievre, who was also in Quebec City on Monday, denied the federal government had any intention of changing the program.

He said 140 000 people benefited from employment insurance in Quebec in 2013 and businesses need to hire local workers before they look to recruit foreigners.

“Quebecers are totally in agreement with our approach,” Poilievre said. “Employers are looking for 8,000 temporary foreign workers. I say: ‘Hire Quebecers first.'”

Ottawa tightened access to temporary foreign workers in 2014 after news reports revealed businesses across the country were replacing local workers with foreigners and paying them less.

The new rules force companies to prove they tried to look for local workers before seeking permission to hire foreign nationals.

The changes also forbid businesses in certain industries from hiring temporary foreign workers if they operate in regions with an unemployment rate under six per cent.

Quebec says the changes penalize certain regions in the province and make it excessively complicated for businesses with worker shortages to hire talent.