Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Overreaction on temporary-worker rules hits seafood sector hard

  • Print

On Prince Edward Island, things would be much simpler if Employment Minister Jason Kenney had exempted the fisheries and tourism sectors from stringent, new restrictions for the temporary workers program. Agriculture had been previously exempted and remains so. There was an expectation that fisheries might also enjoy exemption status, especially after Justice Minister Peter MacKay publicly expressed that same hope last week. Mr. MacKay is the senior cabinet minister from Nova Scotia, a province where fish plants are even more important to the local economy than here on P.E.I.

But for some reason, Mr. Kenney decided not to follow that advice. The result is turmoil among seafood processors and fishermen amid predictions of a weakening capacity to process fish, especially lobster.

Mr. Kenney has over-reacted to abuses in the system caused by some fast-food chains in Western Canada. Those abuses hurt the "Conservative brand" and the federal government decided it had to act decisively to cool public anger — to ensure that Canadians must be first in line for available jobs.

Mr. Kenney’s solution has failed to recognize the unique labour market needs of various regions of the country. He added costs for employers and increased red tape to access the program. Those changes are in defiance of the Conservative brand.

On P.E.I., seafood processors have been the most vocal opponents, while the Greater Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce and the local Canadian Federation of Independent Business are also concerned. The chamber has written federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and Island MPs calling for an immediate end to the moratorium in the food services sector. The CFIB warned that most small Atlantic businesses will be shut out of accessing much-needed foreign workers.

There is a legitimate concern that too many businesses lost sight of what the program was all about — a plan of urgent need and last resort. Instead, employers started making their business plans around the availability of cheaper foreign workers willing to accept tedious, long hours on assembly lines, harvesting or packing. They eagerly take jobs that local workers were reluctant to accept or refused to fill.

Mr. Kenney asked the question, as did many Canadians: How can we have high unemployment rates when there are countless unfilled job openings across Canada, even with hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the country?

The focus on fish plants revealed some disturbing issues, such as monotonous 16-hour days standing in the same place on a lobster-packing line. If such conditions are unacceptable to Island workers, why are they considered acceptable for Filipinos? Why aren’t work days limited to eight hours with a higher wage? Maybe then we wouldn’t have a problem with worker shortages.

Some workers don’t mind the long days, especially for the two-month period during the spring lobster fishery. It’s an opportunity to accumulate more stamps for an EI claim.

It was disappointing that Mr. Kenney did not put more emphasis on the valuable effort put forth by many temporary foreign workers or offer more incentives for them to achieve permanent residency status and eventually become citizens. Roadblocks were thrown up to keep them out, instead of making them welcome and appreciated.

Mr. Kenney’s new guidelines mean Premier Robert Ghiz, Minister Shea and other Atlantic politicians must make a more forceful case and persuade Ottawa to amend the rules for this region. It’s obvious a strong case was not presented to the employment minister before he made his decision. Our politicians must get their act together.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets this week - Game 2 with Tim and Gary

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Geese fight as a male defends his nesting site at the duck pond at St Vital Park Thursday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 08- May 10, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Young goslings jostle for position to take a drink from a puddle in Brookside Cemetery Thursday morning- Day 23– June 14, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google