Richards Report – April 4, 2017 – Open Letter to Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Dear Minister Hajdu:

I am writing to you today about an issue that is of great concern in three communities in my riding – Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise.

As you know, in order to qualify for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) approval in a low-wage industry under the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program, an economic region must have an unemployment rate of less than 6%. The updated rates published on April 1, 2017 have indicated that the region of Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House and Athabasca-Grande Prairie-Peace River has an unemployment rate of 6.9%, thus disqualifying employers in the region from hiring any Temporary Foreign Workers.

With tourism being the main economic driver in Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise, there are many low-wage positions in the accommodation, food services, and retail trade sectors. In fact, the unemployment rate in Banff is far below 6%. In the past, hotels, restaurants, and other employers in the service industry were able to apply for a LMIA and could hire TFWs, as long as they didn’t exceed 20% of their workforce. Now, they can’t even hire a single TFW as an employee. As we are gearing up for the busy summer season – which will be even busier this year as visitors take advantage of the free admission to Canada’s national parks – the service industry is going to be struggling to fill positions.

The economic and labour market realities in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper are very different from those throughout the rest of this very vast and incoherently designed region. In many parts of that area, the economy and job market is weak due to low prices and economic uncertainty, however in these tourism communities there truly is a shortage of workers due to increasing tourist visitation.

You will note that the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) identified this issue in their September 2016 Report on the TFW Program when they recommended:

  • That Employment and Social Development Canada take immediate steps to improve the collection of labour market data and review the geographic zones used for determining unemployment rates, with a view to aligning the labour market conditions of more localized economies with the requirements of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

For these reasons, I am asking that you either remove Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and other tourism destinations from the economic region of Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House and Athabasca-Grande Prairie-Peace River or give those communities an exemption for the low-wage positions in accommodation, food services, and retail trade sectors, as is the case for Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

Furthermore, you should consider accepting the following recommendation from the Official Opposition Dissenting Opinion attached to the aforementioned HUMA Report so that workforce issues can be avoided in the future for tourism communities such as Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and others.

  • In the context of the study on the TFW Program, we believe it is important to take the specific needs of the tourism industry into account.
  • In our opinion, the federal government must consider implementing a hiring program for temporary foreign workers in the tourism industry similar to the current hiring program in the agricultural industry. These two industries share characteristics: their need is seasonal and they are often located in remote regions. For these reasons, we believe the tourism industry would benefit from having the same advantages as the agricultural industry.

Thank you for your consideration of my request.

Yours Sincerely,

Blake Richards

Member of Parliament, Banff-Airdrie