Skip to main content

Politics Ottawa overestimates Pan Am temporary foreign worker totals

Although Pan Am’s temporary foreign worker figures are lower than stated in Ottawa’s list, the true total is still raising questions.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Among the 50 foreign workers hired for Toronto's Pan American Games are two scoring specialists, four multisport tech experts and an international liaison who speaks several languages and has five Olympic Games under his belt.

The Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee's reliance on temporary foreign workers (TFWs) came to light because the group was listed on a federal government document of 2,578 employers that Ottawa maintained used TFWs to fill one-third or more of their staff last year.

(What is the temporary foreign worker program? Read The Globe's easy explanation)

Story continues below advertisement

The government's numbers are way off for the Pan Am committee and at least a dozen other employers, The Globe and Mail has uncovered. Pan Am organizers employed 18 foreign labourers in July, 2013 – far fewer than the 167 TFWs reported on the government document, said committee spokeswoman Neala Barton. The 50 TFWs now employed make up 12 per cent of Toronto Pan Am's staff of 424, Ms. Barton added.

"At TO2015, we make every effort to hire Canadians first, before considering temporary foreign workers," Ms. Barton said in an e-mail.

Although Pan Am's foreign worker figures are lower than stated in Ottawa's list, the true total is still raising questions and drawing criticism. Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow condemned the use of TFWs for the publicly funded Games.

"I opposed this program as an MP and still do," Ms. Chow, a former NDP MP, said in a statement. "Unemployment is 22 per cent for young people and 10 per cent overall, so why are Pan Am organizers using public funds to hire temporary foreign workers? We have a diverse, talented city that needs work and organizers aren't being fair."

Mayoral front-runner John Tory wouldn't comment specifically on temporary foreign workers at Pan Am, but said he would, as mayor, look into making sure as many members of the local community as possible are part of the Games. A spokesman for candidate Doug Ford did not respond to requests for comment.

"I would want to make sure we employ local people wherever we possibly can – I can't think of too many reasons why we wouldn't – and make sure we engage people beyond employment in these Games," Mr. Tory said. "It's going to be necessary for this to succeed, and I want this to be a gigantic success."

Pan Am organizers have had their struggles. Last week, the Games received a $74-million bailout from the provincial government to cover an expected $25-million revenue shortfall and $49-million for "additional requirements."

Story continues below advertisement

While tickets for the $2.57-billion sporting event have sold well at the start, organizers are grappling with construction delays on many major venues.

Meanwhile, a change at the helm and the ousting of two executives as part of "streamlining" has left taxpayers with a tab of more than $1-million in severance for the trio. Several Pan Am executives also came under fire last year for their expenses.

Pan Am committee spokeswoman Ms. Barton said organizers followed federal rules for hiring outside the country, including advertising positions for at least four weeks on multiple national job boards, detailing whether Canadians applied for the postings, and explaining why Canadians weren't hired in cases where they did step forward.

Foreign workers at Pan Am are primarily occupying highly specialized roles, Ms. Barton said. Some worked at the Olympic Games in Vancouver.

For the position of director of international relations and national Olympic committee services, the Pan Am committee turned to foreigner Lambis Konstantinidis because a qualified Canadian didn't want to move to Toronto for the job, Ms. Barton noted. Mr. Konstantinidis has extensive experience, working at Olympic Games in London, Vancouver, Beijing, Turin and Athens.

The Pan Am group said it also had trouble finding enough Canadians specialized in timing and scoring of competitions and in venue technology for multisport competitions. Six foreign workers and four Canadians were hired to fill these roles, Ms. Barton said.

Story continues below advertisement

Several employers and two business groups have expressed concern about flaws in the federal government's data on TFW employers.

The TFW employers list, produced by the Employment Department and obtained by The Globe through access-to-information-legislation, was used by the federal government to buttress its case for clamping down on the TFW program. The figures were compiled using information submitted by employers when they applied for approval to hire temporary foreign workers.

Asked about problems with the data in the House of Commons on Monday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney said under the government's new TFW system, officials would verify information provided by employers.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter