Cutting off your nose (Editorial)

Canada can't afford to deport skilled workers
By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/10/2006

With a revenue windfall at budget time, Ontario decided to put some sorely needed funds into improving infrastructure in the province. March’s budget includes $1.2 billion for repairing roads and adding on to Toronto’s subway system — construction projects that will improve the commute in one of North America’s most congested cities, while boosting the economy. Unfortunately, the same week Ontario announced infrastructure funding, Ottawa was busy deporting Portuguese construction workers needed to do the work.

There are as many as 15,000 Portuguese labourers working illegally in Toronto, and the federal government has begun deporting people. A commonly held myth in many European nations is that it is easy to work and stay in Canada without documentation — and Europeans without papers have been an important part of the construction industry’s labour pool. But letting them jump ahead of others in the immigration queue is unfair, so the Conservative government is sticking to its deportation plan, despite the protests of unions and employers alike who fear the loss of skilled labourers.

The Conservative government says it isn’t launching a new push to remove people, merely enforcing the same laws the previous Liberal government did. But immigration advocates had been expecting the Liberals to introduce an amnesty plan for the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people working illegally in Canada — something the Conservatives say is not in the offing.

Some of the Portuguese nationals being deported have lived in the country for years, put down roots, held jobs, raised families and paid taxes in Canada. Deporting them in the name of “fairness” means ignoring the individual hardships they will face. And while deportation is bad for the individual, in this case it’s also bad for business. Employers will have a hard time replacing the skills being expelled. Trades workers are in high demand — British Columbia doesn’t have enough to work on construction for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Alberta doesn’t have enough to work in its booming oil and gas sector, the Northwest Territories needs them to build pipelines… so who’s going to build Toronto’s subways?

Ottawa should be spending its time helping employers bring construction workers into the country, not expelling ones who have already settled here. If Canada’s construction sector held a job fair in Lisbon and successfully recruited 15,000 workers it says it needs for the economy, would Ottawa fast-track the workers into the country? If the answer is “no,” some serious questions need to be asked about how Canada’s immigration policy is serving the nation’s needs.

Canada can’t afford to deport workers it needs. An immigration policy that doesn’t recognize this must be re-examined. Cutting off your nose to spite your face isn’t a viable plan.

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