It might be time for federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney to make another visit to Estevan.
He can see just how reliant this city is on temporary foreign workers (TFWs), and just how detrimental the new restrictions in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program could be for southeast Saskatchewan, and other economic hotspots in Canada.
Kenney was in Estevan about 2 1/2 years ago to meet with local entrepreneurs and community leaders, so that he could learn more about the challenges facing business owners in the southeast.
The changes to the TFW program announced in late June will compound the challenges in the current business climate in Estevan, and other areas that are thriving.
Kenney isn't a fool – he's a strong MP and one of the most powerful cabinet ministers for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper and Kenney recognize that the changes to the TFW program will likely be favourable for voter-rich areas like Ontario or Quebec, where the economy isn't powerful.
But the new TFW program restrictions are a millstone for businesses in this region, particularly those in retail and hospitality sectors.
A program with some different guidelines for areas that actually need TFWs, would have been better than the one-size-fits-all approach proffered by Kenney.
Canadian businesses should always look to hire Canadians first. Temporary Foreign Workers should be regarded as a last resort. Nobody should dispute this.
But what happens when employers can't find people to fill their job vacancies, either because of a shortage of workers, or an inability to compete with high-paying industries? TFW's become the best possible option. Unfortunately, they might become a dwindling option under Kenney's new TFW system.
Employers should also treat TFWs the same way they treat Canadian employees. TFW's should be fairly compensated, with the same potential for benefits.
Most employers treat their TFWs properly. Those that don't should be held accountable, and possibly lose their eligibility for the TFW program. That would be a death blow for many businesses in the southeast.
We've seen the benefits of the TFW program in southeast Saskatchewan on a daily basis for about seven years. They're outstanding workers with intelligence, proficiency and excellent attitudes. Most have a cheerful disposition, and they have a level of appreciation for living in Canada that many Canadians lack.
Many get involved in the community. Some bring their families to this country. They eventually become permanent residents and citizens.
And we all benefit from that.
But it's unlikely that we'll benefit from these new changes to the TFW program. If these alternations force businesses to close, then it leaves us as losers.