Two business groups say they're alarmed government research used to justify sweeping changes to the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program appears to contain several flaws as more companies find inaccuracies.
More than a dozen employers surveyed by The Globe said they do not employ anywhere near the number of temporary foreign workers attributed to them in a government report released to The Globe and Mail through access to information laws. The report, which found that more than 2,500 companies have a work force made up of at least one-third TFWs, has been cited by the government and Employment Minister Jason Kenney as an example of how the program has morphed beyond its original mandate. It may be the latest example of poor data informing important policy changes.
(What is the temporary foreign worker program? Read The Globe's easy explanation)
In one case, a Burger King in Truro, N.S., is listed as having a large number of temporary foreign workers. But it has never actually employed any, owner Paula Brown said.
"I do not have any foreign workers. Never did. Don't now," Ms. Brown said. "I shouldn't be on any list."
A Montreal-area health centre was listed as having 2,000 TFWs when it had only 15, according to a spokeswoman. "The numbers on this list don't correspond at all," said Raymonde Crête, communications officer at the Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle health and social service centre.
The figures were compiled using information submitted by the employers when they applied for temporary work permits. In one case the error was the government's fault, the Department of Employment and Social Development said. The data were used to support the government's case for limiting foreign workers to 10 per cent of a company's work force in low-paying and low-skilled jobs, among other changes.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the government has been making decisions on some "really poor pieces of evidence."
"Some of the numbers seem laughable on the surface, and yet sadly, this kind of crappy information has been guiding government policy," Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly said he is aware of some employers who rely heavily on foreign workers, but said they're typically small businesses in rural or remote communities.
Restaurants Canada president Garth Whyte said he had concerns about the data when the government released its figures in June but the names of the employers weren't known until now. He said the government should have checked the information before using it. "The math doesn't add up," he said.
Mr. Kenney's office said he was not available for an interview Friday. A department spokeswoman responded to The Globe's questions about the data in an e-mail by saying that the government's changes are intended to restore the TFW program to its original purpose, as a short-term last resort for employers. She did not say whether they intend to review the data.
There have been other data problems in the federal government. Statistics Canada issued a major correction to its July jobs numbers after human error led the agency to vastly under-report growth in hiring. And in March, The Globe revealed that Finance Canada was using job postings from Kijiji, a popular online classified site, in its job-vacancy calculations. As a result, Finance Canada's numbers differed from Statistics Canada's.
Restaurants Canada and the CFIB are concerned that TFW program changes will harm businesses in regions with labour shortages.
Consulting firm Accenture Canada was on the government's list of employers who rely heavily on TFWs. According to the government document, the firm employed 1,775 foreign workers in 2013, more than 30 per cent of its staff. A spokeswoman said the firm has about 3,800 employees in Canada and less than 10 per cent are foreign workers.
Consulting and tax firm PwC was included on the list of companies with more than 50 per cent of their work force as TFWs. But the true figure is less than 1 per cent, according to PwC. The government conceded it made an error with PwC's data.
Information listed for Sharico Holdings, a firm that distributes snowmobile parts in British Columbia, is also incorrect, according to the company. The government said the company employed 750 TFWs in 2013. "That's totally wrong," company owner Sheri Batt said. "We only had one."
The Semple Gooder roofing company in Toronto is listed as having 206 TFWs employed, which came as a shock to comptroller Marla Hammond.
"We don't even have 200 employees," she said.
With a report from Carrie Tait