The Conservative government's clampdown on the temporary foreign worker program promised a "massive" increase in inspections – including the power to search work sites without a warrant – but documents show this now year-old inspection power has never been used.
The reason: It hasn't been necessary, according to the Employment Minister.
The power to conduct inspections without a warrant was heavily promoted by the Conservative government as an example of how Ottawa was getting tough on employers in response to several high-profile cases of abuse.
(What is the temporary foreign worker program? Read The Globe's easy explanation)
The measures were first announced in June, 2013, and took effect Dec. 31 of that year with significant fanfare. "We are taking action to ensure that Canadians are always first in line for available jobs," Employment Minister Jason Kenney said at the time. A further package of changes announced in June, 2014, said the government was "massively increasing the number of inspections" and pointed to its new power to conduct warrantless on-site visits.
As of December, 2014, that power had never been invoked.
"While the department has, in some cases, visited employer premises to deliver and/or pick up documents in order to conduct reviews, it has not yet encountered a situation with an employer that met the criteria for an on-site inspection," states a written answer from Mr. Kenney that was recently tabled in the House of Commons.
Essentially, the government argues that simply having the inspection power on the books has been effective at encouraging employers to hand over documents showing they are complying with their obligations. And Ottawa would apply the new powers only if employers refused to co-operate.
The government says it has conducted 148 "reviews" in response to tips and complaints.
The department said Wednesday that it does visit work sites – including the McDonald's restaurants that attracted controversy last year – but that the new powers were not invoked because employers are willingly co-operating. A franchise owner operating three McDonald's locations in Victoria was suspended from the program last year over allegations of breaking its rules.
The government said Wednesday it could not immediately provide numbers as to how many of its "reviews" included on-site visits.
Employment and Social Development spokesperson Marie-France Faucher said in an e-mail that the department "has sent inspectors to several employers throughout the past year … and continues to do so but these employers, so far, have all agreed to comply with the inspectors' request, so the authority to force the production of information has not yet been needed."
NDP MP Jinny Sims, who requested the initial information, said it is another example of the government not following through on promises to clamp down on the controversial program.
"It's just bizarre," she said. "This government has a habit of – whenever they're caught – they make these lavish announcements: They're going to fix the temporary foreign worker program, they're going to look after Canadians' jobs. But what they do then, after the lavish announcement, is nada."
Meanwhile, Mr. Kenney was on the defensive in the House of Commons on Wednesday over his government's decision to provide an extension for temporary foreign workers in Alberta who are seeking permanent residency so that they are not subject to new rules that would force them to return home.
"There are about 1,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta with pending permanent residency applications who are about to fall out of status," Mr. Kenney told the House of Commons on Wednesday. "We are just going to allow them to stay in Canada until a decision is made on their permanent residency application."
The Alberta Federation of Labour said the change amounts to Ottawa breaking its promise to scale back the program.
Employer groups representing small business, retail and the food services sectors have been the most vocal critics of the government's reforms. They argue the limits on temporary foreign workers are hurting employers in areas with specific labour shortages, particularly in Alberta.