Journal of Commerce, Aug 20 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Unions and contractors in Alberta disagree about the merits of a new federal government immigration program.
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley outlined recently the details of a proposal, which targets temporary foreign workers (TFWs) and foreign graduate students.
It will allow applicants with managerial, professional, technical or trade work experience to become permanent residents and eventually Canadian citizens.
"Choosing newcomers based on knowledge of our labour market and experience within Canadian society would make Canada a more attractive destination for skilled individuals from around the world," said Finley.
"International students and skilled workers would be more likely to choose Canada if they knew their time in Canada and contribution to Canadian society would assist in their eligibility to apply to stay permanently."
The program is open to TFWs with at least two years of work experience and graduates of post-secondary programs lasting at least two academic years, provided they have at least one year of work experience.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is extremely critical of the federal government's proposed new measures to fast-track citizenship for only certain classes of TFWs.
"By restricting this benefit to only professional, technical and skilled occupations, the government is setting up a permanent underclass of unskilled temporary foreign workers who will be deprived of the rights to citizenship being extended only to elite workers," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president.
"The great majority of temporary foreign workers in Alberta do not fall into the privileged O, A and B designated occupations."
Only 14,842 temporary workers or 39.8 per cent of all TFWs in Alberta would have been included in this program in 2007, according to McGowan.
This means 22,415 other, lesser skilled temporary foreign workers would have been excluded.
He said the federal government has left out unskilled service sector workers and labourers (level D), which is the fastest growing occupational category for TFWs in Alberta. In 2007, this category accounted for 6,338 workers.
McGowan argued that the government is creating a class of exploited workers, who can be endlessly cycled back to their home countries when their work in Canada is done.
Merit Contractors Association strongly disagrees with the AFL's position and supports the federal government's proposal.
"What McGowan doesn't understand is the federal government is constipated," said Bill Stewart, vice president of Merit.
"There are about 900,000 people waiting for admission to Canada for landed immigrant status. This is a six-year backlog. The system needs a laxative."
Currently, there is no immigration pathway that values experience in Canada as a key indicator of a newcomer's likelihood to succeed.
The federal skilled worker program is the most important avenue available for people who want to become permanent residents.
It was designed for overseas immigration and does not focus on Canadian experience.
Skilled tradespersons and TFWs may not qualify to immigrate under this program because they often lack sufficient formal education to qualify.
Critics also argue that the program is being compromised by long waiting times caused by the backlog of applicants being processed at Canada's missions abroad.
Stewart explained that the latest numbers he has from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) show that only 524 skilled trades people were admitted as landed immigrants in 2003 and 2004.
The Canadian Experience Class was announced in the 2007 budget and is a key element of the Harper government's immigration plan.
CIC estimates that 10,000 to 12,000 people will come to Canada in 2008 under the program.
"How many of these workers will come to Alberta?" asked Stewart.
"If we assume 1,000 people come to Alberta, this is still a drop in the bucket."
According to the Construction Sector Council, 31,035 workers will be needed for Alberta to keep pace with investment new construction projects between 2008 and 2016.
Another 21,271 workers are required to replace retiring baby boomers in the same period.
Canada helping temporary foreign workers and foreign students to get residency
Last week the Canadian Department of Immigration and Citizenship announced the details of the proposed Canadian Experience Class, which helps temporary foreign workers and foreign student graduates get residency visas in Canada.
Canadian Visa Bureau, August 20, 2008
The new avenue for Canadian residency visas will mean work experience will have more weighting when the Immigration Department is considering a person's application for residency.
The Canadian Experience Class will help foreign nationals on a Canadian work permit or a Canadian study permit to use their managerial, professional, technical or trade work experience as points towards their applications for residency and citizenship.
The applicants using the Experience Class will still need to prove their English language ability and their occupational skill level. Final changes to the Immigration Bill will be made after a 15-day review period.
"The Canadian Experience Class is one more measure this government is proposing to make our immigration system more attractive and accessible to individuals with diverse skills from around the world, and more responsive to Canada's labour market needs," said the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Diane Finley. "This new proposed avenue for immigration would also go further to spread the benefits of immigration into smaller centres across Canada."
The Minister is hoping that the changes will encourage more people to stay in Canada permanently and attract more skilled workers to the country.
"Choosing newcomers based on knowledge of our labour market and experience within Canadian society would make Canada a more attractive destination for skilled individuals from around the world," added Minister Finley. "International students and skilled workers would be more likely to choose Canada if they knew their time in Canada and contribution to Canadian society would assist in their eligibility to apply to stay permanently."
However, according to the Journal of Commerce, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has raised concern about the proposal.
"By restricting this benefit to only professional, technical and skilled occupations, the government is setting up a permanent underclass of unskilled temporary foreign workers who will be deprived of the rights to citizenship being extended only to elite workers," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour President.
Alberta is desperate for more skilled workers to move to the region; currently 900,000 skilled workers are waiting to get visas approved to move to Canada and Alberta are will be needing around 50,000 of them. According to the news provider, the Construction Sector Council has said 31,035 skilled workers will be needed to maintain development progress over the next eight years and a further 21,271 workers will be needed to replace the retiring baby boomer generation.
In related news, the Canadian Government has also recently amended the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, improved resettlement programs, and streamlined the application process for skilled migrants so that more skilled workers and temporary workers can contribute to the Canadian community.
Applicants could address Alberta skills shortage
This week, federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley announced plans to fast-track immigration applications from skilled temporary foreign workers already employed in Canada -- and for foreign students who've graduated from Canadian universities, colleges and technical institutes.
It's a move that's long, long overdue.
Right now, foreigners here on temporary permits for work or study generally aren't allowed to apply for landed immigrant status from within Canada. Unless they are sponsored to work here by an employer under the provincial nominee program, they have to go home first and start the immigration process from abroad.
One of the few exceptions to that rule has been made for live-in caregivers, such as nannies. But up until now, if you were a nurse or plumber or pipefitter or engineer or chef or chartered accountant, you often had to leave Canada in order to reapply for admission.
On average, it takes about six years for someone applying to come here as a skilled worker to get his or her immigration application processed -- and there are some 600,000 people waiting in the queue.
At a time when we're desperate for skilled workers -- nowhere more so than in Alberta -- it's been a ludicrous situation.
We've had a resident population of new graduates, trained professionals and tradespeople, and we've been routinely kicking them out of the country and forcing them to the back of the line.
As a result, we've lost many potential Canadians, who could have brought their education, expertise, creativity and experience to our economy and culture.
But as of this autumn, skilled workers with two years of Canadian work experience, or foreign graduates with one year of work experience, will be able to apply to immigrate without leaving Canada. And they'll get extra credit for the time they've spent here.
Danielle Norris, with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, says those who qualify under this new Canadian Experience program will have their applications processed in months, not years.
"It doesn't mean that anybody who applies for it is going to get it," she says.
Applicants will still have to pass security and health clearances, for example.
Norris says Ottawa hopes the program will bring 25,000 skilled and educated new immigrants to Canada over the next five years.
Here in Alberta, where we seem to have a shortage of every kind of worker, the province is cautiously optimistic about the proposal.
"We still are getting a commitment on processing timelines, but anything faster is an improvement," says Janice Schroeder, with the provincial Department of Employment and Immigration. "We need skilled people. To be able to keep available, skilled people? We're happy about that."
Capital Health, this region's largest employer, is happy, too. Angie Harwood, Capital Health's senior director of human resources, says the new system could benefit "a couple of hundred" of its current international workers, particularly nurses and physicians.
"It's a win-win," she says. "It's going to be helpful for recruiting and helpful with retention, getting people to stay. It's difficult to change countries. Anything that eases the process helps."
The Alberta Federation of Labour doesn't see it that way. As of Dec. 1, 2007, it points out, there were 37,257 temporary foreign workers in Alberta. Of those, 14,842 were classed as professional or skilled workers, 15,187 were categorized as unskilled, and another 6,981 were labelled as unclassified or job unknown.
Gil McGowan, the AFL's president, says it's wrong to create a two-tier system that discriminates against unskilled workers -- who are the majority.
"We're in the process of creating an underclass of workers who don't have the same rights and privileges as other Canadians," he says. "If we need people, then they should all have the same right to come here as prospective citizens rather than disposable workers.
"This program flies in the face of Canadian values and the best Canadian traditions. If we'd had the same rules 50 or 100 years ago, most of our ancestors wouldn't have been able to come to this country."
From a humanitarian perspective, I see McGowan's point. It might seem unfair to recruit people to work here as agricultural labourers or nursing aides and then give them second-class treatment when it comes to immigration.
But as a nation, we have a right to recruit, target and fast-track the people with the talents and skills we need most, who will add the most, long term, to our economy and society.
And while the AFL calls the Canadian Experience class program elitist, it will also give preferential treatment to skilled workers such as butchers, bakers, mechanics, tailors, miners, masons, plasterers, pipe fitters, court reporters, firefighters and police officers -- not just doctors and engineers.
That said, no honest, hard-working person who longs to come to Canada should have to wait for years just to get their application processed. This new program, welcome though it is, is a Band-Aid on a gaping sore, one small fix to a severely dysfunctional immigration system.
What we really need isn't so much a patchwork quilt of programs, but a fair, transparent and efficient process, that works for every would-be immigrant. Until then, this is at least a small step in the right direction.
What Is the Canadian Experience Class Program? (Hint: it's not a course in eating doughnuts and watching hockey.)
- The program will allow managers, professionals and skilled tradespeople who have worked here for two years on temporary work permits to apply for landed immigrant status from within Canada.
- It will also apply to recent graduates of Canadian universities, colleges and technical institutions, who have studied here for a minimum of two years and who have at least one year of work experience.
- Applicants do not have to be nominated by an employer or province, or sponsored by a family member.
- Applications will be fast-tracked. Instead of waiting for years, applicants are promised an answer within months.
- The government expects 25,000 people to enter the country under the program within five years.
- Some of the occupations eligible under the program include lawyers, doctors, social workers, psychologists, senior managers, engineers, accountants, registered nurses, masons, underground miners, oil and gas drillers, gas fitters, chefs, bakers, fishermen, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, artists, actors, firefighters, cobblers, cabinet makers, teachers and veterinarians.
Edmonton Journal, Page B4, Thurs Aug 14 2008
Byline: Paula Simons
REGINA -- A pilot program to allow foreign workers to work temporarily in the hospitality industry in Saskatchewan and to potentially receive landed immigrant status has received business support but a skeptical response from labour.
Tom Mullin, the president of the Saskatchewan Hotel & Hospitality Association, said the program is a good one and he has received numerous inquiries from interested restaurant and hotel owners since the program was unveiled by federal and provincial officials on Tuesday.
But Larry Hubich, the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said the federation is worried about the possible exploitation of foreign workers from poor third world countries.
Foreign workers, desperate for a job and desperate to obtain Canadian citizenship, could be in a very vulnerable position if employed by an unscrupulous employer, Hubich said.
The record has not been good in Alberta, where there has more extensive use of foreign temporary workers, Hubich said, adding that the Alberta Federation of Labour has been involved in trying to help foreign workers exploited on the job.
Saskatchewan should put more emphasis on other strategies to address the labour shortage, like bring more aboriginal people into the workforce, Hubich said.
Mullin said the foreign workers will be protected by labour laws and will be entitled to receive the province's minimum wage or potentially even higher salaries.
Employers will have responsibility to ensure that appropriate housing is provided for the temporary workers, Mullin said.
Efforts are being made to involve more aboriginal workers, Mullin said. But the shortage of workers for the hospitality industry makes the importation of foreign workers necessary as well, Mullin said.
The original idea was that the program would primarily be for restaurants and hotels in Regina and Saskatoon, Mullin said.
But there is considerable interest in the program across the province, Mullin said.
"We've been getting calls from a lot of rural operators saying I'm (they) are desperate for help,'' Mullin said, in a telephone interview Thursday.
The program is a good one because it would give foreign workers from third world countries (like Mexico or the Philippines for example) the opportunity to make money on a temporary basis and to potentially seek landed immigrant status after six months work in the hospitality industry, Mullin said.
That would provide both short-term and potentially long-term benefits for the hospitality industry, he said.
Mullin said he anticipates most of the temporary workers would be from third world countries like Mexico or the Philippines and will be employed in restaurant kitchens or in the housekeeping departments of hotels.
Bonnie Morton, of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said that organization support giving immigrants the chance to live and work in Saskatchewan.
But there is concern that foreign workers sometimes have difficulty accessing benefits available to Canadian workers, such as employment insurance benefits, she said.
Foreign workers can also have trouble finding affordable decent housing, Morton said. And the escalation of housing and apartment rental rates in Saskatchewan over the past year makes that concern about affordable housing even more serious, she said.
Temporary foreign workers face some of the same problems, associated with a poverty level standard of living, experienced by Saskatchewan residenta working at low-paying jobs, Morton said.
"We need to make sure that people, when they work, can afford to live,'' Morton said.
Regina Leader-Post, Thurs Aug 14 2008
Byline: Neil Scott
Temporary foreign workers and international students with recognized skills will be able to apply for permanent residency from within Canada under a new immigration class announced yesterday.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley said the program will be implemented in October and is part of an effort to make Canada more attractive to skilled foreigners.
"We want to take advantage of those credentials, of their demonstrated ability to integrate into the Canadian society by giving them the opportunity to stay here on a permanent basis without having to leave," Finley told The Canadian Press.
But critics panned the program, predicting it will create two classes of foreign workers -- the elite eligible for the fast-track and many temporary foreign workers, such as labourers, factory workers, chefs and farmers, who will be excluded from the program.
Jason Foster of the Alberta Federation of Labour said he's worried it will create a "class" issue.
Workers included are classified as A- and B-level workers, which is dependant on skill level. So-called unskilled foreign workers are in the 'C' and 'D' categories.
Ottawa Sun, Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Immigration rules eased for foreign students, workers: Skilled workers will be able to apply for permanent resident status from within Canada
OTTAWA - Temporary foreign workers and international students with recognized skills will be able to apply for permanent residency from within Canada under a new immigration class announced yesterday.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley said the new program will be implemented in October and is part of the government's efforts to make Canada more attractive to skilled foreign workers.
"We want to take advantage of those credentials, of their demonstrated ability to integrate into the Canadian society by giving them the opportunity to stay here on a permanent basis without having to leave," Finley told The Canadian Press.
But critics panned the program, predicting it will create two classes of foreign workers -- the elite who are eligible for the faster residency process and the many temporary foreign workers, such as blue-collar labourers, factory workers, chefs and farmers, who will be excluded from the program.
Under the Canadian Experience Class program, qualified applicants will be allowed to seek permanent residency while continuing to work or study in Canada.
Under the old rules, they would have to leave the country and apply to immigrate.
"If they go back to their home country...quite often they can choose never to come back because it can take up to six years to get their application processed," said Finley.
The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada last year totalled 165,200, while 74,000 foreign students attended Canadians academic institutions.
For those seeking permanent residence, experience already acquired in Canada will be considered a bonus on their application.
Qualified applicants will also require at least two years of Canadian work experience and moderate or basic language skills.
The Conservatives first introduced this initiative back in 2007 and it is expected to affect approximately 25,000 skilled workers and students. Critics call the program unfair because it excludes many temporary foreign workers. Jason Foster, director of policy analysis for the Alberta Federation of Labour, said he's worried it will create a "class" issue.
The workers included in the changes are classified by Citizenship and Immigration Canada as A- and B-level workers, which is dependant on skill level.
So-called unskilled foreign workers are in the 'C' and 'D' categories.
"It's a bit of a joke really because the biggest expansion, especially here in Alberta, has not been the A's and B's, it's been the C's and the D's." "They are giving the break to the workers that don't need it as much . . . and leaving the C's and the D's out in the cold."
Times & Script, Wed Aug 13 2008
Many of Canada's streets-including some in Toronto and Calgary-are lined not with gold, but with asbestos. The Alberta Federation of Labour doesn't like it. The labor union has accused the city government of Calgary in particular of treating the discovery of an asbestos-contaminated asphalt roadway far too casually. Calling asbestos "one of the worst workplace killers in Canada," AFL President Gil McGowan has noted that Canada's Occupational Health and Safety Code requires measures for both worker and public safety in circumstances where asbestos may be released. McGowan has stressed that asbestos exposure can cause serious disease, including "mesothelioma, a malignant cancer whose only known cause is exposure to asbestos." The labor president encouraged Calgary to take the same precautions used by Toronto, where the streets are also paved with asbestos: require road construction workers to wear hazmat suits, keep down the dust, and inform citizens of the risks and necessary safety measures. McGowan also urged that future paving projects should be asbestos-free.
Mesotheliama News, Dallas, Texas, July 29, 2008
CALGARY - Temporary foreign workers are streaming into Alberta at breakneck speed to meet labour shortages - and are, for the first time, surpassing the province's yearly intake of permanent immigrants, according to new figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The province is leading a national trend of growth in temporary foreign-worker numbers, even as the number of annual immigrants slows, a change which some say constitutes a major shift in Canadian immigration policy.
"It's an admission that our immigration system isn't working as planned," said University of Alberta sociologist Michael Haan, who studies immigration trends.
A total of 29,405 temporary foreign workers came to the province in 2007. In contrast, 20,857 permanent workers arrived.
According to data from the end of 2007, there are now more than 37,000 temporary foreign workers living in Alberta (up from about 22,000 in 2006), equivalent to half the population of Lethbridge, Alta.
Many employers say the temporary foreign worker program is the only way they can fill jobs.
"They're are a good thing for Canada and Alberta," said Lillian Davies of Calgary Aggregate Recycling Ltd., which has hired about a dozen temporary workers from Mexico and the Philippines, and hopes to keep some in the province permanently through the province's nominee program.
"They are good workers and they're easy to get along with," Davies said. "You can't get Canadian help. You can't get no help. Nobody wants to work here anymore, it seems."
Ontario and British Columbia still have larger populations, but nowhere is the number of temporary foreign workers - who are in the country on one- or two-year visas at the request of an employer - growing faster than in Alberta.
Between 2006 and 2007, the number of people entering Canada for the first time on a temporary work visa grew by 22 per cent. In Alberta, it grew by a staggering 66 per cent.
Even with just 10 per cent of Canada's total population, Alberta is now the makeshift home for almost one in five temporary foreign workers across the country.
But the province, along with the rest of the country, is failing to attract greater numbers of permanent immigrants. As a whole, the province attracted just 141 more immigrants in 2007 than a year earlier.
That follows trends seen across Canada of fewer immigrants coming for the second straight year in a row - dropping by about 15,000, to 236,758.
"While the number of permanent residents admitted this year was lower than planned, the overall number is up because of a significant increase in temporary residents to meet Canada's labour market needs," said Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Karen Shadd.
"In fact, the number of people who came to Canada as permanent residents, temporary foreign workers, and foreign students in 2007 is the highest in Canada's history."
Calgary Herald, Thurs July 24 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
A little more than halfway through the year, the dollar amount of fines levied against Alberta companies convicted of workplace safety violations is more than twice the total amount from all of last year.
More than $3.6 million in fines have been handed down so far this year, compared to around $1.7 million for all of last year.
The higher total is a sign the courts are growing weary of companies that let safety fall by the wayside, those involved in prosecuting the cases say.
However, critics say Alberta still lags far behind other provinces when it comes to going after companies whose workers die or are seriously injured on the job.
The doubling can't be pinned on a proportionate increase in convictions. The fines this year have come against 14 companies, while last year's total came against 12 companies.
What the 2008 numbers do show are heftier fines compared to years past, with the average penalty sitting just above $280,000 so far this year. The maximum fine is $500,000.
The hike in punishments shows courts are growing "increasingly intolerant" of workplace safety violations, said provincial Occupational Health and Safety spokesman Barrie Harrison.
"They're tired of seeing these things. They're throwing the book at (companies)."
Harrison said he's not aware of a company that's been taken to court twice by the province, an indicator they get the message sent by the fines.
All but three of the 14 convictions this year have been in connection with workplace deaths.
The cases stemmed from incidents dating anywhere from October 2003 to August 2005.
Brian Caruk, an assistant chief Crown prosecutor who handles 20 to 30 workplace safety cases a year, said judges have been raising the fines because whatever they've handed out in the past hasn't shown them companies are changing their ways.
"Companies are in business to make money, and if they're funneling significant money away from profitability, they're going to feel that," he said.
The higher total this year didn't impress Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, who said the province is generally reluctant to take companies to court when it comes to workplace safety.
"I know how they're going to spin this: 'We're getting tough,' " McGowan said. "The Alberta government is only getting tough compared to its own sorry track record over the last 20 years."
McGowan pointed to B.C. as an example. That province handed out 221 penalties totalling $4.2 million last year, though it typically levies fines administratively, without taking the company to court. Only one company was convicted in court of a workplace safety violation last year in B.C.
McGowan said last year's conviction total in Alberta pales compared to the 172,000 injury accidents he said occurred in the province in 2007.
"One-hundred-and-seventy-two-thousand injury accidents and 12 (convictions) -- something doesn't add up," he said.
There were 154 workplace deaths in Alberta last year, including 63 occupational disease deaths that can stem from jobs dating back several years.
Last year's death total was 24 per cent higher than the previous year, though it did not reach the record 169 workplace deaths in both 1980 and 1982.
There have been 23 suspected workplace deaths so far this year (some have yet to be officially linked with the victim's job). Many of the investigations into last year's and this year's deaths have yet to be wrapped up, since the province has up to two years to file charges.
For two parents who lost their son in a workplace accident three years ago, the fines that have been handed down aren't high enough.
Ed Dore was 28 years old when he died in 2005, after being trapped in a machine used for shaping and cutting steel. He wasn't properly trained on the machine, and other safety measures weren't followed.
His company, Exchanger Industries, was fined $325,000 earlier this year in connection with his death.
Almost all of that cash went to SAIT through what the province calls creative sentencing, which lets victims and their families choose an organization or two to receive the cash.
Jean Dore, Ed's mother, said she's glad the average penalty is rising, but she doesn't think companies -- many of which are doing better because of the economic boom -- really get the message over the long term.
"I'd like the companies to think about safety and not just getting the job done, because that's when accidents happen," she said.
She pointed out a second worker died at her son's company almost a year to the day after her son died.
Blair Wetmore, the president of Exchanger Industries, said the province found the company did nothing wrong in the death of Carlos Afonso, who was caught between two large metal cylinders and crushed by steel while assembling oilfield equipment.
Wetmore said the punishment was harsh enough to send a message.
"No one wants to pay out money, obviously, and no one wants to be involved in a workplace death," he said.
Calgary Herald, Mon July 21 2008
Byline: Joel Kom
In approving the Keystone pipeline expansion, the National Energy Board (NEB) was not persuaded the project would threaten potential upgrading jobs in Alberta, the board ruled in a 98-page decision.
As reported last week, a three-member panel of the board allowed the application by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline GP Ltd. to expand the Canadian leg of its Keystone pipeline, ultimately boosting capacity by 156,000 bbls per day, to a projected 591,000 bbls, from the previously-projected 435,000 bbls per day (DOB, July 18, 2008).
During the NEB hearing on the matter, a lawyer for the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), one of several intervenors, argued the NEB lacked sufficient evidence on the "more important question of broader impacts on value-added production in Canada." Yet, on that point, the board said it had all the evidence it needed to decide the matter.
Turning to the merits of the AFL's argument, the board said it was "not persuaded ... that approval of the Cushing Expansion might mean a lost opportunity to generate thousands of permanent full-time jobs in Canada, particularly in light of Keystone's evidence that the expanded ... pipeline would have the capability to ship a full range of crude oil products including synthetic crude upgraded in western Canada, and could, if required, be modified to carry refined products."
The labour group, representing more than 100,000 unionized Alberta workers, also argued that, given the unsettled nature of public (i.e. government) policy at the moment, the board should deny the application or delay a decision until more information on Canadian energy policy objectives becomes available. Alternatively, the AFL argued the board should wait until more evidence could be gathered on the "value-added" aspects of the project.
On the topic of energy policy, the board ruled it could make a well-informed public interest decision, "notwithstanding the AFL's view that energy policy may continue to evolve." As for waiting for further evidence on value-added aspects, the board said it considered the "fact that no government body, refiners or upgraders expressed opposition to the application."
No one at the AFL's Edmonton offices was available to comment on the matter by press time this morning.
Daily Oil Bulletin, Mon July 21 2008
Byline: James Mahony
Labour leaders are expressing grave concerns about dozens of city roads revealed by the Sun to contain toxic asbestos.
And while city officials claim there is no public danger, they say they will be doing more safety testing to ensure the dangerous material isn't released into the air during construction.
A report prepared for the city and obtained by the Sun measured core samples from 34 roads in March and found the majority, including some major roads, contained levels of asbestos, a now-banned mineral that was commonly used in asphalt prior to 1985 and has been linked to serious health risks if inhaled.
With the city continuing its practice of using recycled asphalt containing asbestos when it prepares new material for road surfacing, a steady chorus of those demanding answers is beginning to arise from both union leaders and elected officials.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said asbestos has caused more workplace fatalities than any other contaminant -- and he's stunned at the city's cavalier attitude toward its continued use of recycled asphalt and lack of safety measures employed.
"It's simply unconscionable if the city doesn't take greater efforts to take this stuff out of circulation," he said.
"I can't understand why the bureaucrats in Calgary city hall are not taking this situation more seriously."
"The bottom line is asbestos is a killer and this is a public health and safety issue that needs to be addressed."
McGowan said some 80 deaths in Alberta last year were officially attributed to asbestos, which can cause a number of severe lung problems, including scarring and cancer, many of which aren't diagnosed for years.
He suggested Calgary should follow Toronto's lead and insist that road workers milling asbestos-laden streets wear protective hazardous material suits, wet down asphalt to keep dust to a minimum and warn nearby residents the toxic substance could be airborne.
The president of Calgary's outside workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 37 boss Kevin Galley, said he will be calling on the city to see any reports it has done related to asbestos and wants to work with officials to ensure those who may be exposed to the material won't have their health threatened.
"What I'm going to do is request copies of any reports they've done and see what we need to do to make sure workers are safe," he said.
"If there are any concerns I'm sure the city will be taking steps to address them."
Calgary's director of roads, Mac Logan, said the city began testing for asbestos after one of its contractors, Volker-Stevin, found traces of asbestos in their laboratory and raised concerns.
But air quality monitoring around sites where roadwork is under way has suggested there is little risk to workers or the public that any dangerous levels of asbestos are likely to be inhaled, he said.
"None of our testing indicates it is airborne -- in fact we're going to go and do some more testing, but so far we haven't seen anything to indicate there's a public health risk here," Logan said, noting there will be air quality testing next week.
"What we're seeing through the research that's being done across North America is when you mill the road it doesn't necessarily release it to become airborne -- it's coated in oil, it's quite heavy and it bonds very well to the oil."
He noted the city can either reuse old asphalt or take it to the landfill but has opted to continue the practice of recycling road material because it's a better option and it's safe.
Logan said the city is also looking at its inventory of roads to determine those built prior to 1985 to better determine which areas may include asbestos in the asphalt.
Earlier this week, Toronto city officials issued warnings to residents that road work was being done in the borough of North York in surfaces that contained trace elements of asbestos.
Due to stringent regulations by Ontario's ministry of labour, any road work being done with asphalt containing asbestos requires workers to wear hazardous material suits, wet down pavement to keep dust under control and recommend the public close doors and windows and avoid the area during construction.
Bill Mason, the City of Toronto's superintendent of technical operations in the Etobicoke-York district, said while they are complying with the legislation that requires safety precautions any time a concentration of more than 0.5% of asbestos is found at a job site, they are hoping the regulations will be softened.
He said air quality testing around road work sites have shown no dangerous levels of asbestos have been generated and there will likely be more samples taken next week.
"The city is being diligent, they're working with the ministry of labour and they have come up with guidelines for the removal of (asbestos) in urban centres," Mason said.
"We're following those guidelines despite the fact we have done air quality and air monitoring on trials last year after this came to light that showed there wasn't any asbestos risk."
But with so many doubts about the long-term effects of exposure to asbestos, McGowan said the city should err on the side of caution and ensure workers and the public are safe.
"Asbestos is a killer and it continues to kill even years after the ban," he said.
Asbestos is a mineral fibre that has been used in a variety of construction materials.
Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodelling activities.
Asbestos poses health risks when fibres are present in the air people breathe.
How exposure to asbestos can affect you depends on:
- The concentration of asbestos fibres in the air around you.
-How long the exposure to asbestos fibres has lasted.
- How often you were exposed.
- The size of the asbestos fibres inhaled.
- The amount of time since the initial exposure.
Calgary Sun, Page 4, Sat July 19 2008
Byline: Shawn Logan