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Former prime minister Stephen Harper is shown in this still image taken from a video he posted to Facebook. Harper had packed up his Parliament Hill office months ago but on Friday officially turned out the lights, resigning his seat as a member of Parliament and ending nearly two decades in public office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook MANDATORY CREDIT (HO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Former prime minister Stephen Harper is shown in this still image taken from a video he posted to Facebook. Harper had packed up his Parliament Hill office months ago but on Friday officially turned out the lights, resigning his seat as a member of Parliament and ending nearly two decades in public office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook MANDATORY CREDIT (HO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

On temporary foreign workers, the Liberals can learn from the Conservatives Add to ...

Under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada exploded. But to the government’s credit, it eventually made a serious effort to understand the phenomenon – and limit it.

Back in 2009, the Auditor-General found that the number of temporary work permit applications had doubled in six years. By 2012, depending on how one counted these things, there were somewhere between 300,000 and nearly half a million temporary foreign workers under several different programs.

The Harper government started considering whether this was really a good thing for Canada’s labour market, and Canadians.

Evidence began to accumulate that many temporary foreign workers were being hired for entry-level jobs that unemployed or underemployed Canadians might be doing, in sectors from fast-food to retail, sometimes even in regions of high unemployment. Jason Kenney, then minister of immigration, pointed out that this was surely driving down the wages of lower-income Canadians – and despite the demands of some employers, lower market wages should not be an objective of government policy.

As a result, the Conservatives rightly changed the rules, and rolled the program back. Canada does not want a permanent underclass of non-citizen labourers. Canada is not Qatar. As much as possible, employees should be Canadians or people who have the ability to become Canadians, vested with full legal rights and the ability to leave an abusive employer.

The Trudeau government has been under pressure to loosen the TFW program’s tighter rules, and ditch many of the restrictions the Harper government put in place. It’s understandable why many employers want this. It is less understandable why this government, elected on a platform of strengthening and growing the middle class, would agree to it.

Do Canadians want a policy of deliberately increasing the number of temporary, low-wage, non-citizens? When the question is put that way, the answer should pretty much write itself.

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