Jason Kenney, a man for whom I have considerable respect as he almost singlehandedly rebuilt the Tory profile within Canada’s immigrant community, was tweeting gleefully away from his visit to Saskatchewan this weekend.
He tweets were filled with warnings about the shortage of labour in SK and that employers were telling him that this was the biggest barrier to growth facing the province.
He cited examples of SK companies who had used the TFW program to bring in workers and successful transfer them to permanent immigrant status.
It’s all good.
The interesting thing is that when federal officials came to Moncton last year they also heard about the labour shortage and the barrier to growth from the inability to find workers.
A message that was primarily ignored because New Brunswick has a high unemployment rate, a low participation rate and 37,000 people (give or take) as chronic users of the EI program.
My questions are simple. Who should decide questions of ‘labour shortage’ and how much of the onus to force people to work should rest with employers?
I am growing increasingly convinced that tightening immigration – long delays to TFW LMOs, clamping down on immigration streams, etc. will hold back New Brunswick’s economic growth potential – and I further maintain it could be an even bigger problem in places like Moncton than SK or AB.
That, of course, is heresy and I will be mocked from Saskatoon to Red Deer but consider these points:
1) The Alberta market can afford to make major adjustments to salary levels. It’s not always pretty but wages have risen substantially – across most industries and occupations – and profit levels remain above the national average for most industries. In other words, Alberta has dealt with shortages with significant increases in wages. Employers are not happy about that – I talked to over a dozen last fall – but it remains a fact.
I am not convinced that New Brunswick could handle substantial increases in wages as a response to tightening labour markets and as an incentive to move people to full time, full year work.
I am also not convinced there is easily alignment – skills, motivation and geography – between the ‘unemployed’ in New Brunswick and the available jobs now and the potential available jobs over the next 5-10 years.
The feds may believe that tightening immigration will force locals to work and employers to hire – even if it is a clunky and frustrating process.
I am starting to believe that could be a gamble that may not pay off.
I come back to my point about onus. If an employer has exhausted – through a good faith effort – attempts to hire locally and needs to attract international workers – why should the feds arbitrarily say “no, work harder to get locals”? Why not make that same statement in Saskatchewan? There were 58,000 people who claimed EI income in 2011 across Saskatchewan. Why shouldn’t those malcontents be forced to take jobs in Estevan’s energy sector?
As the din of laughter dies down – I realize there is no comparison to the EI usage in NB and SK but I still think it is worth reflect back on my point about onus.
There are obviously thousands and thousands of SKers that work and then collect EI. They could, in theory, be told to work in all the 10s of thousands of available jobs that, to the delight of Kenney – are being filled by TFWs and new immigrants.