Municipalities want an Alberta temporary foreign worker program

EDMONTON – Alberta’s municipalities voted Friday to ask for Alberta-specific rules for the temporary foreign worker program.

Cities, towns and villages passed the TFW resolution — brought forward by Red Deer — on the final morning of the annual Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. The resolution asks the province to advocate for short and long-term alterations to federal changes.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer called changes introduced this summer “an overcorrection� that could lead to a labour market shortage in Alberta.

“Ultimately, we agree that the government needs to address abuses within the program,� said Veer. “It is imperative that we demonstrate support for municipalities in the province that have the most significant labour needs.�

In June, Ottawa capped the number of low-wage, temporary foreign workers an employer can hire, raised the fees to $1,000 per employee from $275 and required companies to reapply every year instead of every two years for workers. The reforms would have barred about 8,000 low-paid TFWs in Alberta last year, Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney has said.

Premier Jim Prentice has repeatedly vowed to speak to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about Alberta’s labour woes. On Wednesday, AUMA president Helen Rice issued a news release asking the federal government for province-specific changes to the TFW program.

Although there were no opponents speaking against the resolution, Edmonton Coun. Amarjeet Sohi added an amendment adding immigration and citizenship to the discussions between the province and the feds.

“The federal government is basically using the temporary foreign worker program to replace the immigration program,� Sohi said. “We need more permanent people to come live in Alberta, work in Alberta and make homes in Alberta.�

The AUMA is an advocacy association that represents 271 municipalities from large urban centres to small summer villages. Resolutions passed by delegates are not legally binding, but are taken to the province for consideration.

Several other resolutions passed Friday. Brooks wants to create mandatory boat inspections to prevent mussels from clogging provincial water ways, while Red Deer brought a successful motion to create a program to detect and reduce water contaminants.

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman called for a compromise to allow local councils a voice in contentious urban drilling projects.

In April, Goldenkey Oil backed off on a controversial plan to drill for oil inside Lethbridge city limits. Under the current Municipality Government Act, municipalities aren’t able to say no to oil and gas projects within urban boundaries.

The province has been considering new rules on urban drilling in Alberta since a 2012 dispute over a proposed oil well in Calgary’s Royal Oak neighbourhood and recently held an online forum on urban drilling for its ongoing provincial policy review.

bwittmeier@edmontonjournal.com

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