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Politics Quebec calls on federal government to loosen rules around temporary foreign workers

The Quebec government is calling on Ottawa to loosen the rules that govern temporary foreign workers as part of an ongoing dispute over the best way to deal with the province’s labour shortage.

Quebec City and Ottawa have been haggling for weeks over the province’s call for lower immigration levels and $300-million in federal compensation for the recent influx of irregular migrants in the province. The federal government announced $114-million in new funding this week to cover costs related to the arrival of tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Canada, but did not break down how much money each province will receive.

The issue of temporary foreign workers (TFWs), who can come to Canada as part of a federal program, is the latest source of tension between the two governments.

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On Monday, senior officials from the federal and provincial governments met in Quebec City to explore demands by the Quebec government to speed up the approval process for TFWs and to make it easier for companies to hire them. There are an estimated 120,000 job openings in Quebec that are currently unfilled, and both governments are debating the best way to fill these positions.

The Quebec government is looking for greater control over the studies that employers need to conduct before they can hire temporary workers. Called labour market impact assessments (LMIA), these studies are designed to confirm that an employer needs to hire a temporary worker and that there are no Canadian workers available for the job.

“Our goal on the issue of temporary workers is to reduce the bureaucracy and respond more efficiently to the needs of the labour market,” said Marc-André Gosselin, a spokesman for Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

The federal government has defended its TFW program, saying the goal is to ensure the integrity of the hiring process and prevent companies from using it to obtain cheap labour. In an interview, federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said the Quebec government needs to focus on immigration and jobs training if it wants to adequately deal with its labour shortage.

“[Temporary labour] is not the long-term solution to a labour shortage. It is part of the mix, it is an important part of the mix, it will always be a part of the mix, but I think the long-term solution is … the skills training for Quebeckers who have been left behind,” she said.

Ms. Hajdu confirmed her government is in talks with the Quebec government, but fell short of promising major changes to the TFW program.

Canada’s Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominic LeBlanc, has been urging Quebec to look at pilot projects in the Atlantic provinces that allow employers to hire workers without going through a LMIA or make it easier for foreign workers to obtain permanent resident status in Canada.

“We would be more than happy to work with the business community and the government of Quebec on perhaps a Quebec version of this Atlantic immigration pilot,” he said. “We think there are ways, particularly in the regions of Quebec like in Atlantic Canada, to have a quick impact.”

Mr. LeBlanc is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with his Quebec counterpart, Sonia Lebel, who will be in Gatineau, Que., for a cabinet retreat.

The government of François Legault has been putting pressure in recent weeks on the federal government to reduce immigration levels in the province by 20 per cent in order to improve the integration of newcomers into Quebec society. While Quebec is in charge of economic immigration in the province, the province is also calling on Ottawa to reduce its targets in the categories under federal control, namely family reunifications and refugees.

More than 90 per cent of the thousands of people who have crossed into Canada between official points of entry over the past two years have done so at Roxham Road in southwestern Quebec near Champlain, N.Y.

The Quebec government is seeking $300-million in compensation from Ottawa, but Mr. Legault said Ottawa is only offering to cover $140-million.

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