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Stills from a CPAC video taken of a scuffle involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inside the House of Commons on May 18.

CPAC

To many outside Ottawa, Justin Trudeau's accidental elbowing of a fellow MP and the ensuing partisan back-and-forth was an embarrassing show of childishness that will soon be forgotten.

To Teta Bayan, the incident was anything but trivial. Ms. Bayan, 31, is a Filipina woman who works as a nanny for a family in the North York area of Toronto. While the country's lawmakers scuffled in the House of Commons, they lost their sole chance to speak to her as they draft a law of vital importance to thousands in her position.

At the last minute, Ms. Bayan had been invited to speak this week before the parliamentary committee that is studying Canada's temporary foreign worker program.

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The problem is that, in a job that lasts from dawn until bedtime, arranging a few hours off is nearly impossible. Ms. Bayan, who makes $11.25 an hour, is on call during all her waking weekday hours, as are most nannies in the temporary foreign worker program.

However, Ms. Bayan knew there were very few migrant workers slated to speak to the committee and that no nannies have testified about their working conditions.

"I wanted … to speak to them directly," she said. "Now that they're planning to review the program, we wanted to be a part in how they shape the laws for the migrant workers."

Ms. Bayan talked her employers into the plan, finding another woman to replace her on Wednesday afternoon and also promising to work extra hours later to make up for it. After staying up until 2 a.m. writing her speech, she travelled on Wednesday to the downtown Toronto office of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, where she waited to speak by video link.

Among other things, she planned to tell the committee about withheld wages, including a nanny who was paid only $2,100 for two years of work.

She wanted to explain how drastically the workers will risk their own health to avoid displeasing their employers, on whom they are dependent at first for their status in Canada. One migrant agricultural worker miscarried because she tried to hide her pregnancy, Ms. Bayan said.

"She tied her stomach," she said. "She was afraid to get fired if her employer found out that she is pregnant."

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The Liberal government is considering expanding the temporary foreign worker program to employers in seasonal industries, and also making it easier for the workers to obtain citizenship.

Ms. Bayan planned to urge the committee to give migrant workers more independence – permanent residency or at least open work permits – and therefore more negotiating power over their working conditions.

As she waited, business owners spoke first, and then committee members left for a half-hour break to attend a vote in the House of Commons. Ms. Bayan was told she would speak after they returned.

But the break stretched on. Finally she realized no one would be returning.

"We waited, and after the 30 minutes we found out they decided to adjourn the meeting, and that … whatever we wanted to speak to them, we could submit a written copy instead," she said.

It stung, because the things she wanted to say should be delivered in person, she said – and even if they invite her back, she won't be able to come.

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"I don't think I would be able to get an afternoon off again," she said.

"When speaking to them, they would be able to get a good sense of what we are really experiencing under the program, compared to a written submission. They could just toss the paper on their tables, right? And not really pay attention to it."

Confused, she started to pack up her things. Then she learned why the meeting had been postponed. After the Prime Minister grabbed the Opposition Whip and jostled NDP MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau in the process, other MPs had started yelling, and accusations flew back and forth for hours.

"I was overwhelmed to hear leaders doing those kind of things, and very frustrating that they put us on hold because of [it]," she said.

"It is kind of … how do I say that … I don't have any words to describe," she said.

"I was there, I prepared, and then to find out they adjourned the meeting because, you know, they were fighting, is very shameful, honestly."

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The chair of the committee, Ontario Liberal MP Bryan May, was not immediately available for comment.

One of its vice-chairs is Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton, who set off controversy Wednesday by comparing Mr. Trudeau's actions to violence against women. Ms. Ashton said Thursday the bigger problem is that the temporary migrant workers review is being rushed. Missing Ms. Bayan's appointment shouldn't mean losing the only chance to hear similar testimony, she said.

It's a concern she has raised several times in committee meetings, and on Wednesday she was the only committee member to ask why Ms. Bayan's slot was moved to the end of the meeting, when her time was precious. Committee meetings are often disrupted by votes in the House, she said.

"My priority is to hear from workers themselves," Ms. Ashton said.

She said she doesn't think too much has been made of the elbowing incident, including by her.

"I saw my colleague right in front of me be hit by the Prime Minister. Whenever you see violence and abuse you have to speak out," she said. "I think it was a big deal. I've never seen a prime minister do what he did. That behaviour … would not be tolerated in any workplace."

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