COMMENT: We must live within our means

For the sake of our planet and our people, it’s time to stop living beyond our means.

The federal government announced two months ago an increase in the percentage of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) that employers in Canada will be allowed to hire. Given a ready-made solution to the labor shortage problem, many companies breathed a collective sigh of relief.

We can expect employers in the Bow Valley to benefit from this policy change. But we have to ask ourselves if TFWs are the most appropriate solution to our labor shortage problem and if we are really ready to welcome these workers into our communities.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was launched in 2005 by the federal government to provide seasonal and temporary workers to certain sectors of the economy. Low wages and poor working conditions in these sectors have prevented employers from attracting Canadian workers to fill these positions.

Instead of raising wages or improving working conditions to make jobs more attractive to Canadians, employers lobbied the government for access to foreign workers. And instead of legislating higher minimum wages and enforcing workplace protections, governments have granted that access to employers.

In tacit collusion, government and employers have agreed to grow the economy and corporate profits by exploiting workers in low-income countries. Workers admitted to the country were forced to separate from their families, denied the security of whether they could stay in Canada, and were denied a choice of job or employer.

Prior to the pandemic, the federal government was seeking to scrap the TFW program for several reasons. Canadian employers increasingly depended on TFWs to fill permanent jobs. There were also serious concerns about the lack of basic rights and protections for migrant workers with numerous reported incidents of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. However, in the face of current labor shortages, the federal government has flip-flopped in its TFW policy and taken the easy way out.

Even if the federal government authorizes the recruitment of more TFWs, we must ask ourselves if the communities of the Bow Valley are ready to welcome them. Do we have the capacity to support the people we ask to staff our businesses, serve our tourists and ultimately generate our profits?

We know that levels of tourism in the Bow Valley have already exceeded the limits of environmental and social sustainability. For anyone who spends time outdoors in the Bow Valley, the evidence of environmental degradation is evident. In popular areas, we see wide braided paths, trampled vegetation and soil erosion. We see litter on the edge of our hiking and biking trails and an increase in human-wildlife conflict.

There are other less visible impacts on our natural environment. Rising greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating climate change are due to more and more tourists arriving by air and land. And the increase in visits also leads to adverse effects on air and water quality.

The evidence that we have moved beyond the social boundaries of sustainability in the Bow Valley is equally abundant. We live in communities where housing is too expensive and food security is not guaranteed. The majority of jobs available in the Bow Valley are low-paying, low-skilled jobs that do not pay employees a living wage or provide them with a decent quality of life.

The labor shortage has also led to overworked staff who become burnt out and sustain physical injuries due to working long hours in physically demanding jobs. When workers are injured or simply want a family doctor to help them maintain their health, we are unable to provide them with the health services they need.

As tempting as it may be to turn to TFWs as a band-aid solution to our labor shortage issues, we know we can do better. Our economic and labor policies cannot be built on a basis of exploitation. If we invite foreign workers to our country to help grow our economy, we must give them the same rights we enjoy – the right to live in Canada with their families, the security of permanent residence and the choice of job and employer. Governments and employers must invest in skills training, improving working conditions and strengthening worker protections for the benefit of Canadian and immigrant workers.

We need to recognize, encourage and use the assets that immigrants bring to Canada. Many newcomers are leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs with professional training and experience far beyond the requirements of the menial jobs for which they are hired. If we really want to capitalize on the strengths of immigrants to strengthen the Canadian economy, we must provide pathways for their training and experience to be recognized and provide them with jobs that match their skills.

We also need to make sure our communities are welcoming and inclusive. At a minimum, this means ensuring that basic human needs are adequately met. We must provide a living wage, provide decent and affordable housing, and ensure access to healthy food and quality primary care.

While we are unable to provide this to all Bow Valley residents, including newcomers, we must recognize that we have gone beyond the boundaries of our communities to support current levels of tourism and the services they require. . For the sake of our planet and our people, it’s time to stop living beyond our means.

Vamini Selvanandan is a family physician and public health practitioner in the Bow Valley. His comments appear in the Rocky Mountain Outlook the third Thursday of each month. For more articles like this, visit www.engagedcitizen.ca.

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