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Employment Minister Jason Kenney responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, May 12, 2014.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec just has to hire its own youth and unemployed instead of relying on temporary foreign workers, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Monday.

The province is seeking an exemption to a federal moratorium so restaurants in the province can hire such workers.

Kenney told the Commons the moratorium was imposed to protect Canadians who are looking for work.

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(What is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program? Read The Globe's easy explanation)

The federal minister pointed out that 14 per cent of Quebec youth are unemployed, as are 20 per cent of new arrivals to the province.

Ottawa announced the moratorium in late April after reports suggested the program was being abused by the food-service industry.

A spokesman for Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said on the weekend the province has no problem with the program and that restaurants need temporary foreign workers to keep operating, especially in the summer.

The moratorium has been widely criticized by industry groups, with Quebec's restaurant association calling it "exaggerated and unreasonable."

Earlier on Monday, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the moratorium was imposed for "very good reasons."

"There was abuse, and we are absolutely committed to completing the review and the reform we have under way," he said at an unrelated event in Montreal.

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"And I can assure you and her [Weil] and Canadians across the country that when this program is relaunched, it will not be subject to abuse."

He said the hiring of temporary foreign workers should be a "last resort."

"There are young people across Canada … who are looking for permanent jobs and summer jobs and our first obligation as employers is to look to the domestic market."

Weil and Alexander were to have met Monday but it was unclear whether they did.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has ballooned from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country. In 2013 alone, Ottawa approved approximately 240,000 temporary foreign workers.

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