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British Columbia BC Hydro is obscuring data on temporary foreign workers: NDP

The W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River is pictured on April 19, 2010 in Hudson's Hope, B.C.

Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

BC Hydro is attempting to sidestep any controversy about the use of temporary foreign workers on its $8.8-billion Site C dam project with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Opposition New Democrats say.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, BC Hydro told Adrian Dix, the NDP's critic for the Crown corporation, that it does not collect data about the number of temporary foreign workers its contractors hire.

"BC Hydro doesn't know and doesn't want to know what its contractors are doing," Mr. Dix said in an interview on Monday.

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"It seems they want to have plausible deniability.

"They have made a policy decision that allows for temporary foreign workers on this project in a substantial way and they are fine with that – except when they have to talk to the public about it."

BC Hydro said on Monday it has not hired any temporary foreign workers.

However, in a response to the Opposition's inquiries, officials said Hydro "does not track, and cannot identify, the number of temporary foreign workers working for BC Hydro contractors on BC Hydro funded projects."

BC Hydro has launched construction of the largest public infrastructure project in the province's history with a new, open-shop labour model that has so far frozen out contractors that are affiliated with building trade unions.

Bill Bennett, the minister responsible for BC Hydro, said on Monday he has been assured temporary foreign workers are not among the hundreds of employees on the construction site in northeastern British Columbia.

He added that job fairs have drawn hundreds of potential workers from across Western Canada, and he would be surprised if the federal government approved any temporary foreign worker applications for the project, given the large number of Canadian applicants.

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"We are doing everything we can do to ensure British Columbians get first dibs on the jobs," Mr. Bennett told reporters.

However, the Energy Minister said details are difficult to track. "It is a challenge for Hydro to give us numbers right down to the last one. At Christmastime, they gave us numbers indicating they had between 70 and 75 per cent British Columbians at the site at that time, when there were about 600 workers. But that's going to scale up over the next couple of months by a lot of workers," he said. "We are the shareholder and Hydro will provide us with the information that we need to make sure it's mostly British Columbians who are working on the project."

Hydro officials say the information provided to Mr. Bennett was based on canvassing its contractors, who reported that no one on the site at that time was a temporary foreign worker, and that three-quarters of the employees were from British Columbia.

Two weeks ago, one of Hydro's major contractors on the dam project withdrew a job ad seeking a human-resources manager to assist with processing and tracking temporary foreign workers. The posting had been criticized by the organization representing B.C. building trade unions.

Tom Sigurdson, head of the BC Building Trades, said the posting revealed the intentions of Hydro's contractors, but the Crown corporation has been vague about the breakdown of the work force on the job site.

"[BC Hydro president] Jessica McDonald thinks 75 per cent of the workers are British Columbians," he said. "Well, I have thousands of skilled workers who are unemployed, who are ready and willing to work on the project. They should have first kick at the can."

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A BC Hydro spokesman for the project said last September the corporation would collect work-force data from its contractors regularly and publicly report it. However, officials would not provide any data on Monday.

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