Typical Canadian fast-food help, as seen by Canadian fast-food employers, sort of. Below: Employment Minister Jason Kenney in Stampede-Week-appropriate garb and the CFIB’s Richard Truscott.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Unemployment has climbed to 7.1 per cent in Canada and yet a key segment of the Harper Government’s donor base is screeching for more Temporary Foreign Workers. What to do?

From the perspective of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, this is a serious problem. Too many Canadians remain unpersuaded by the hysterical campaign cranked up by the country’s retail business sector to turn the TFW spigot back to full, and to do it right now, lest … well, lest something really bad happens.

Not satisfied by mere wage-suppression – delivered in spades by the federal government – now they’re hooked on a steady supply of powerless and compliant workers from abroad.

Fast-food restaurant owners have threatened everything from cutting back the number of coffees they serve after 3 a.m. to trimming their charitable donations, and yet the general public seems unshaken by their warnings. Maybe the usual suspects can blame the education system: here in Alberta our teachers still seem to be teaching their charges how to do the math.

Behind closed doors, have no doubt about it, the TFW lobby is telling the Harper Cons that the spigot that’s actually going to be shut off if they don’t get their way, and soon, with the flow of easily coerced and underpaid foreign workers fully restored, is the one full of money they send to Conservative Party coffers.

The Harper Government’s Solomonic answer? “Targeted exemptions,” which according to the Canadian Press means Employment Minister Jason Kenney will consider fewer restrictions on a steady flow of TFWs “in specific areas with very low levels of unemployment in regions with a higher level.”

That’s vague enough it should be possible for any fast-food business owner to claim a special unemployment zone around his or her store sufficiently low to set up a backyard maquiladora anywhere in Canada – successfully suppressing wages despite market realities while enabling Conservative politicians to make soothing noises to Canadians that all is well with the rigorously enforced TFW Program.

I await publication of the Harper Government’s clear and accessible rules for these regulatory exemption zones with interest.

Meantime, the usual suspects in the campaign to suppress wages by hiring no one but TFWs – thus eliminating the need to deal with uppity Canadians and their propensity to insist they have workplace rights – are starting to snarl at more people than their Conservative MPs.

Back in April, the Alberta Director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an AstroTurf group that purports to represent the interests of small business owners and has been at the forefront of the fight for unlimited use of TFWs, was pleading for reasoned discourse to prevail.

“It’s time to dial down the rhetoric and have an informed conversation about labour shortages, skills training for Canadian workers, new government strategies to match employers with qualified employees, and fixing the permanent immigration system to ensure it matches the current and future labour force needs within the economy,” Richard Truscott wrote in the vast expanse of free space donated to him by the Calgary Herald, a once-great newspaper that nowadays appears to rely on full-time right-wing agitators from groups with mysterious funding sources to report the news.

The targets of his call for sweet reason? “Some union leaders” whom he said had “turned their rhetoric dial all the way up to shrill, and are calling for the program to be scrapped.”

Well, as I’ve said before, it’s still a free country, after a fashion, so you can call that shrill if you like.

But just yesterday, Mr. Truscott – sounding a little shrill himself – was accusing this blogger via Tweet of “profound ignorance” of how small businesses operate. My offence was daring to challenge the hysterics of the TFW lobby to produce even one Alberta business that’s had to go out of business because of a shortage of TFWs.

They can’t because there are none. But Mr. Truscott promised fast-food businesses won’t disappear overnight for want of a TFW, but some will … someday.

My question remains the same: “If the market’s so great, what’s wrong with the market?” That, in turn, leads inevitably to a prescription: Pay a living wage and employees will find their way to you.

All the pro-TFW crowd has to offer are anecdotal tales about how hard they’re trying to find Canadians to work in their restaurants, and how few of these ungrateful wretches respond to their calls.

So here’s a little equally unscientific anecdotal evidence of my own, from right here in St. Albert where our more-Tory-than-the-Tories Independent MP claims to be inundated by pleas for more TFWs from local fast-food business owners who insist Canadians won’t apply for the jobs they need to fill.

I looked in the Saturday edition of the local twice-weekly newspaper. There were only 13 help-wanted ads, not one of them from a fast-food restaurant.

Can’t find local kids willing to work in their stores? Maybe they need to look a little harder.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. More foreign workers coming under International Experience Canada program aged 18-35 pic.twitter.com/Dbmaup6kHt http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/more-foreign-workers-coming-under-international-experience-canada-program-1.1798171 #cdnpoli

    Under Intn’l Experience prog, 20,000 aged 18-35 soon coming 2 Canada http://montrealsimon.blogspot.ca/2014/04/jason-kenney-stephen-harper-and-foreign.html #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/Dbmaup6kHt

    If one cross matched Bus. List w CPC memberships, it would blow Jason’s TFW SCAM wide open http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/social/MyTake/minimum-wage-tfw-jobs_n_5392107_312957842.html #cdnpoli

    Is the Harper Conservatives giving TFW approval in exchange for party contributions? Interesting. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/social/MyTake/minimum-wage-tfw-jobs_n_5392107_312957842.html #cdnpoli

    Jason Kenney arsonists firefighter Corporate CON CON MP F*35er
    pic.twitter.com/qsNtdmUOcR #cdnpoli

    Harper quietly allowed businesses to pay foreign workers 15% less than Canadians

    If one cross matched Bus. List w CPC memberships, it would blow Jason’s TFW SCAM wide open http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/social/MyTake/minimum-wage-tfw-jobs_n_5392107_312957842.html #cdnpoli

    Harper’s TFW undercuts Canadian wages, usually after Bus makes big donation to CPC pic.twitter.com/QKkgk9A9HY


  2. Maybe they should declare an “economic zone” in Alberta like they have in Asia or like the maquiladora zone in Mexico.
    They could name it after that lake you have … Great Slave.

  3. Dear Cheap Suit Astroturf groomers;

    If these people are needed so badly why not grant them landed status and allow them to have rights? If the hamburgers are so essential, why not charge a nickel more and pay to retain staff? From my experience in Alberta the people who need a coffee at 3:00 am could care less how much it costs. Why not raise your price and wage? For fuck sake why not do the right thing for change instead of your faux yankee bullshit sophistry?

  4. All this, of course, puts the lie to the neo-liberal cow crap about free markets and small governments being the way to economic nirvana. Of course, those of us who are denizens of David’s blog, being a more savvy bunch, saw through this from the very beginning – the ‘free market’ and the invisible hand-job is only to be used when it benefits the employers and their ilk. When market conditions shift and benefit wage-earners, well, look out – time to bring in that costly and inefficient government to make things right because the free market…well it’s not supposed to work in other people’s favour.

    All bile aside, I would think that the best thing for an overheated labour market would be for a few fast food joints to close down and have the employers seek employment as wage-earners in the fast food joint down the street. After all, it is supposed to be a market signal (remember those?) that capital should find another investment opportunity.

  5. Here’s a thought… instead of importing TFWs from the other side of the world to clean hotel rooms, flip burgers and sling double-doubles, how about importing out-of-work Canadians from Central and Eastern Canada, and/or out-of-work aboriginals from right here in the West, to do that instead?

    1. Notwithstanding TFW advocates’ claims that the TFW Program is a “last resort” and hiring TFWs is expensive, the C.D. Howe Institute study showed that the costs of bringing in TFWs are extraordinarily low compared to other countries and, relevant to your point, considerably lower than bringing employees from other parts of Canada where unemployment rates are high. Regardless, of course, Canadian fast food employers have talked themselves into the notion they don’t want Canadians for Canadian jobs because they are shiftless and lazy. There is a word for this kind of attitude and it is “unpatriotic.” This is the true face, I would suggest, of the globalized right’s fake patriotism.

      1. I would add a very simple notion: if indeed Canadian fast-food employees are lazy and demanding, that’s what’s called in the business a ‘management problem’ to be solved by the business in question. How the CFIB can say, with a straight face, that the solution to a management problem is government intervention into the (ostensibly) free market boggles the mind. But we all know it is not about that, really…

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