OTTAWA — Jobs Minister Jason Kenney says he told the provinces the federal government is willing to make special exceptions to the strict changes in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP).
After a meeting Friday in Prince Edward Island with provincial employment ministers, Kenney wouldn't say if his counterparts expressed anger or frustration at the changes he made in June to limit access to foreign workers.
Kenney tightened the rules in response to outrage that companies across the country were hiring foreign workers for lower pay instead of hiring Canadian citizens.
Among the changes, Kenney said food service and retail companies operating in regions of the country with unemployment rates of 6% or higher are no longer allowed to apply for foreign workers.
Critics said the government's plan was too restrictive and disadvantaged businesses in areas of the country with fast-growing economies, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan.
On Friday, Kenney said he reassured the provinces the government will be flexible with the new policy.
"We are prepared to look at targeted regions as it applies to low-paid food and hospitality workers," Kenney said.
Kenny used the example of a city like Kitimat, B.C., which has close to full employment. It could make a case for an exemption, but the same isn't true for many regions of northern B.C. that have higher unemployment rates.
Kenney said he had already announced the government is willing to make exceptions, but Friday's meeting served, in part, to assuage some of the provinces' concerns.
He wouldn't say if the provincial leaders were satisfied with the government's proposed flexibility.
Despite the government's willingness to make exceptions, Kenney emphasized the program's purpose hasn't changed.
"Let's be clear, the TFWP was established to assure Canadians come first in the labour market. And the TFWP is there as a limited and last resort."