The controversy over restaurants hiring temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians is serving up a nasty side dish of xenophobia, say those who work with newcomers.
"We've heard even from so-called progressives 'These workers are stealing jobs from our kids,' " said Diwa Marcelino with Damayan Manitoba. The labour organization advocates for temporary foreign workers from the Philippines, the largest source country for foreign workers in Canada.
On Thursday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney announced a moratorium on the hiring of temporary foreign workers in the food-services sector.
The news comes after reports of McDonald's and Tim Hortons employees in B.C. and Alberta being displaced by temporary foreign workers, a violation of the federal program's rules.
The perception of foreigners taking away Canadians' jobs raised hackles across the country, including Manitoba, said Marcelino.
"They're taking away our homes and raising up the prices of homes," is one of the comments the Filipino-Canadian has since heard.
Vicki Sinclair said she's hearing echoes of the xenophobia she left behind in England more than a decade ago.
"It's a 'them and us' attitude," said Sinclair, who immigrated to Canada in 2003 and works with newcomers.
She pointed to an anti-immigration pamphlet targeting Sikhs that cited the temporary foreign worker taking jobs away from Canadians. The Immigration Watch Canada screed was distributed in Brampton, Ont., but that's too close for comfort, said Sinclair in Winnipeg.
Aside from First Nations people, Canada is a country of immigrants, she said. In the U.K., there's no sense of that, and there's more open to hostility toward foreigners, she said.
"It scares me," said Sinclair. "I don't want what happened there to happen here."
Meanwhile, the prospect of a moratorium on hiring new temporary foreign workers scares some Manitoba businesses and people abroad looking for work here to support their families.
"We're disappointed," said Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association. "We're always concerned when there are things painted with one broad brush stroke."
Problems with temporary foreign workers are more of an issue in other provinces but employers across the country will pay the price, he said.
In places such as Thompson, temporary foreign workers are a necessary last resort to fill jobs in the service sector and keep businesses open, Jocelyn said.
"To stop a program like this, you would hope the federal government would have a look and say, 'Let's do a rethink. There's a need for this,' " said the eatery association spokesman.
"It's a drastic measure," said Chuck Davidson, president and chief executive officer of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. "There should be measures taken for those taking advantage of the program," he said. "But to basically do a moratorium across the country, it's going to limit opportunities for a lot of businesses," said Davidson. "It isn't good."
A Filipina food service worker in southern Manitoba supporting her parents and extended family back home said the news isn't good. She feels bad for temporary foreign workers who will miss out on restaurant jobs as a result of the moratorium.
The university-educated woman earned $4 a day in the Philippines before going to work at a multinational corporation in another Asian country where she made $500 a month after paying rent.
Although the practice is illegal, she paid a recruiter $5,000 to connect her with a better-paying job in Manitoba last year. Here she makes $750 every two weeks and pays $300 a month for rent. She doesn't want to be identified or go after the recruiter to recoup her $5,000 because she doesn't want any trouble.