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Temporary worker program needs fixing, say P.E.I. business people

Penny Walsh McGuire, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, was advocating for small business tax cuts to 2.5 per cent in 2018 and to two per cent in 2019.
Penny Walsh McGuire. -File

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Many sectors on P.E.I. are scrambling to secure enough – and the right – workers during a strong economy, says the chief executive officer of Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce.

Penny Walsh McGuire says the chamber hears from its members the need to fill shortages in both low and high-skill workers.

“We hear that over and over,’’ she said. “We hear that at the shop fronts, we hear that in the board rooms … there is a shortage in a variety of sectors.’’

Walsh McGuire made the comments to The Guardian this week after the chamber took part in a public hearing held by the federal House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in Charlottetown.

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, who chairs the committee, said witnesses like Walsh McGuire are encouraged to focus remarks on economic growth and how to ensure Canada’s competitiveness.

The committee is travelling throughout Eastern Canada to hear from individuals and groups about their priorities for the 2019 federal budget.

Mike Schut of Bulk Carriers P.E.I. Ltd. told the committee Ottawa needs to expedite the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to assist the industry in dealing with truck driver shortage, which is reaching a crisis point.

He would also like the classification for long-haul truck drivers to move from the current low skilled worker to skilled worker.

“Our intent when we bring any temporary foreign worker is not for a temporary positon. It is to get them here to recognize the beauty of this Island and how great it is to raise a family here and for them to get their permanent residency and hopefully eventually Canadian citizenship and stay with us.’’
-Mike Schut, Bulk Carriers P.E.I. Ltd.

“I think what the federal government needs to act on is recognition of the shortages and changes to streamlining the processes to get temporary foreign workers here,’’ Schut told The Guardian.

“Our intent when we bring any temporary foreign worker is not for a temporary positon. It is to get them here to recognize the beauty of this Island and how great it is to raise a family here and for them to get their permanent residency and hopefully eventually Canadian citizenship and stay with us.’’

Schut said almost half of the company’s 80-plus drivers are temporary foreign workers, adding that finding drivers locally is a growing challenge.

Kelly Doyle, president of P.E.I. Select Tours, also told the committee that Ottawa needs to improve the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

Doyle’s business caters solely to Japanese tourists, but he faces ongoing struggles in recruiting enough guides that are skilled enough to do the job.

“Our biggest problem is that when we put an application in that it is even going to be reviewed in time, let alone accepted in time,’’ he said. “They get caught up in the bureaucracy, it seems.’’

Walsh McGuire also urged the committee to brace for a downturn in the economy.

“We noted that with the economy doing well, it is an opportunity for governments to prepare for what might be around the corner,’’ she said. “We do hope to see more of a plan for that in the 2019 federal budget – servicing the debt and preparing for what might be a rainy day.’’

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