High River's future depends on Temporary Foreign Worker Program: mayor

  • National Newswatch

From the Desk of the Mayor of High River Alberta.High River is made up of people who face challenges head on.That tenacity is on display every day as we continue to rebuild from the flood. That's why I have no doubt our community and our local economy will come back stronger than ever. That's the kind of determination you find in High River.Despite our inspiring determination, one of the biggest challenges facing High River today in addition to the cost of the clean up and rebuilding effort – is the shortage of labour.Our biggest employer, Cargill, has been an anchor in our community for 25 years. Today, they are our largest employer. They provide good paying jobs during good economic times and bad.In working with Cargill and other employers in our area, I have seen first hand the problems that come with a labour shortage. Their determination to find employees to fill vacancies is exhaustive. No stone is left unturned in looking for workers.This is the context that I have come to know the Temporary Foreign Worker Program: much-needed relief for employers in a community committed to a vibrant economy.In the case of the local meat plant, the TFWP keeps Canadians employed. Without these workers, Canadians working in the rest of the production chain would be thrown out of work.My fear is that if we can't find a solution to our labour shortage in the meat processing industry, we may lose Cargill altogether, and that would devastate High River, and the entire beef value chain in Canada.This isn't just an issue for our community, though. I know other mayors and community leaders throughout Western Canada who find themselves in the same position. That's because in our communities, employers compete with the oil industry for workers. Young people go off to work in the oil patch, leaving employers like Cargill in a difficult spot in their search for employees to work in their plants.Companies like Cargill offer good-paying jobs and work with the local union to make sure working conditions are fair for all employees in the plan. But when they can't fill all the jobs with local residents or people from different regions of the province and Canada, they turn to temporary foreign workers, with a hope to provide a path to permanent residency.They work alongside each other and provide a vital contribution to our town. At Cargill alone, 12 temporary foreign workers have moved into management after obtaining permanent residency. Others have gone on to start their own businesses and create jobs.They buy houses here with their families and they volunteer at their kids' schools. They fill the pews in our churches. They shop in our stores. They're part of the fabric of High River and dozens of communities throughout Alberta. They make up a big part of who we are. We need them to make our economy run. We need them to stay here and help rebuild.That's why it's vital Minister Jason Kenney, as part of his ongoing review of the TFWP, acknowledge the vital role the program plays in the meat industry and in communities like High River. Responsible employers and their communities shouldn't be penalized for the bad apples out there.In short, the challenges of our local economy can't be met with a one-size fits-all change to a federal program. We've all read the headlines. The stories of abuse have been infuriating for those of us who see the good this program does for communities like High River. But that doesn't mean we rush ahead and revise public policy in haste.Let's make sure we don't penalise sectors and communities that utilise the program as it was designed.Let's get this right.Communities like High River are counting on it.