News Briefs

THERE’S NOTHING TEMPORARY ABOUT TIM’S

Recent news that thousands of companies in Saskatchewan are hiring under the Temporary Foreign Worker program may not have come as a surprise.

But some of the names on a list of those companies obtained by CBC Saskatchewan may have.

The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program is an initiative meant to address a shortfall of skilled workers in Canada, by bringing in foreign workers for a four-year term. It’s perhaps puzzling, then, that hundreds of companies on this list are devoted to the service industry. Tim Horton’s, Ramada Hotels, and 7-11, for example, all make appearances on the list.

“The TFW program has become something that it was never intended to be,” says Larry Hubich of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. “It was originally intended to allow employers to hire primarily high skilled individuals into positions that were hard to recruit to — where there was a genuine shortage of workers, a skill shortage.

“What has appeared to have happened is it’s become the first-resort option for lots of companies, even at the entry level — not high skilled positions, but lower and semi-skilled,” he says.

On Friday Sept. 13, Saskatchewan Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan co-hosted a labour relations conference in Saskatoon and said that Saskatchewan wants to streamline the process so that temporary foreign workers can start work as quickly as possible to alleviate local labour shortages — where Canadians aren’t available to fill the positions.

But if companies are having trouble finding people to work in the local service industry, Hubich says, it might have more to do with those employers not offering a living wage.

“In the most recent Statistics Canada numbers, all of the classifications of wages are going up,” Hubich says. “Saskatchewan has one of the highest wage increases in the country — except in one category. Sales and services, from August to August has gone down. While we’re seeing an increase in costs — cost of living, rent, fuel — and while we’re seeing a corresponding increase of average wages fueled by the hot economy, at the very entry level, people are actually earning less.

“That tells me there’s an influx of people at the lower end,” he says.

The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce was approached to comment for this article but did not respond by press time. /Vanda Schmöckel

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HOUSING GROUP: WE WANT A PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS

NDP federal housing critic Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet was in town on Sept. 13 to join with Roof Ready Regina Revisited to remind Reginans that there are still serious housing problems in the city.

Roof Ready is a housing group that includes members from Queen City Tenants Association, Carmichael Outreach, the University of Alberta and Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, and at their press conference at the Artful Dodger they called upon city hall to establish a 10-year plan to end homelessness that includes yearly defined outcomes.

The first outcome they were hoping to see set is for the creation of 500 units of truly affordable, rental housing built in the first two years.

“Regina is the only major western city that doesn’t have a 10-year plan to address homelessness,” says University of Regina professor and group spokesman Marc Spooner. “Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton all have plans. And in Calgary’s case they’ve already achieved some major milestones toward providing affordable rental housing.”

A 10-year plan to end homelessness is actually one of the ideas that was raised at the Mayor’s Housing Summit earlier this year. But when asked about it, Mayor Michael Fougere said that such a project would have to be driven by higher levels of government.

Spooner disagrees.

“In every other city that has successfully dealt with affordable housing and homelessness, it’s the city that champions it. No doubt the province and the feds have a role to play. But it takes a concerted effort along with the various community-based stakeholders. But the city has to champion this,” he says.

“How can we be proud of Regina when we’re a city that leaves out a significant portion of our population that doesn’t have safe shelter?”

As for the timing of this press conference, Spooner mentions that he’s been putting an extra blanket on his bed at night.

“I’ve been getting cold at night and I’m in a house,” says Spooner. “And those who are inadequately housed… I can only imagine now that winter approaches.” /Paul Dechene

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A ROCK STAR BUREAUCRAT COMES TO REGINA

There are few Ottawa ex-bureaucrats who get plaudits from the International Monetary Fund, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

This is why, when former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page comes to Regina for a speaking engagement at the University of Regina on Sept. 26, he should get the reception usually given for endangered species.

Page became a rock star to Parliament-watchers exasperated at the lengths that control freak Prime Minister Stephen Harper went — and still goes — to avoid public scrutiny of government decisions. In Page’s case, his five-year mission at the PBO was marred by fights with the federal government over the monetary cost and results of many of Harper’s cherished policies — from ‘tough-on-crime’ laws to the future of the Canada Pension Plan — and over whether the federal government has been running a structural deficit since 2008.

Page’s concern is that better information leads to better decision-making by governments, but government leaders invariably want to restrict the amount of information offered in order to justify the decisions they make, or to cover up financial boondoggles created by the government. The problem is, however, that making that information public usually benefits opposition parties, while restricting that information is to the ruling party’s advantage.

In an op-ed in the Toronto Star last April, Page says the very survival of democracy is at stake.

“In a well-known book, Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, the historical case is made that nations fail when political leaders consolidate power at the expense of citizens,” wrote Page. “Nations succeed, the authors argue, when political power is dispersed; when governments are held to account by legislatures; and when economic opportunities are widely available. Canada’s Parliament is losing its capacity to hold the government to account. There are negative implications for prosperity and democracy.”

And as for Page’s future? He’s now the research chair of Canadian government at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences, where his term expires in 2015. /Stephen LaRose

2013-09-19