CALGARY - Calling Alberta the "Dubai of the North" is insulting to the Arab city, says the provincial employment and immigration minister.
Thomas Lukazsuk is reacting to a comment made by the boss of the Alberta Federation of Labour, who said employers in the province are choosing to hire cheap imported labour over locals, a trend seen in many Arab cities.
"Would that make me a blue-eyed sheik then?" Lukazsuk said tongue in cheek.
"A comment like this is very insulting to Dubai," he said, noting there are many people in Alberta from that city.
Gil McGowan, president of the labour group, said Lukazsuk got it backwards because Dubai, a city in United Arab Emirates is known for building its economy on the backs of imported cheap labour.
"We're becoming the Dubai or Saudi Arabia of the North, not only because we have oil, but because we're abandoning real immigration in favour of using an exploitative guest worker program to fill our most menial and undesirable jobs," he said.
"We've joined a global underground railway trading in human misery.
"It's a shameful transformation and a betrayal of Canadian values and our traditional approach to immigration," said McGowan.
New figures from the federal government show that the number of approved applications for employers wanting to bring imported workers into Alberta soared by 37% between 2009 and 2010, rising by 11,655 to a total of 42,885.
McGowan said no other province comes close to Alberta in terms of the per capita usage of the federal government's Temporary Foreign Workers program.
Lukazsuk said employers are not choosing to bring imported workers because they're cheap labour, but there's simply a staggering lack of people to take the jobs.
"Even if we are 100 per cent successful in putting all Canadians to work we still would be short," said the minister.
"We will be relying on foreign workers, but what we really need are permanent foreign workers," said Lukazsuk, who has been critical of the federal program.
The minister said it costs more to employers to bring foreigners than it is to hire locals because the wage required to pay either is the same and there's extra expenses incurred for flying them here and finding accommodation.
While McGowan recognizes there are labour rules regulating wages, but insisted vulnerable imported workers tend to take lower pay, keep quiet in spite of abuses and not assert their rights for fear of losing jobs.
Lukazsuk said his department has established offices in Calgary and Edmonton to look after those issues and some abusive employers have been prosecuted.
London Free Press, Fri July 29 2011
Byline: Renato Gandia