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
QUEBEC CITY -- A meeting code-named Quadrant took place 65 years ago in the Chateau Frontenac - the very same hotel the Council of the Federation gab fest is being held this week.
It's the spot where Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt basically cut the D-Day deal to invade Adolf Hitler's Fortress Europe.
The 2008 Preem Fest is not exactly in the same league as that eventful get-together that changed the course of history.
But the premiers managed to unleash a war of words by agreeing in principle to a deal on full labour mobility, including a mechanism for resolving disputes.
Any discussion on inter-provincial trade barriers at similar events was seen by reporters as a sure cure for insomnia.
Now, the thermonuclear rhetoric is coming from leaders of the country's provincial labour organizations, who are holding their own gab fest here. They object to the dispute resolution mechanism.
"It's not in the public interest, it's anti-democratic," complained Alberta Federation of Labour prez Gil McGowan. "Decisions about public policy should be made by elected, accountable officials."
Quebec federation president Michael Arsenault picked up where Gil left off.
"It's the end of democracy if we allow a private tribunal to make the decisions regarding the law of the land," Arsenault snapped.
He warned that Quebec's rock-bottom hydro rates and subsidized daycare could be under threat. Then he demanded the premiers "back off."
Ontario Federation of Labour honcho Wayne Samuelson branded the dirty deal "disgraceful," which puts workers "at the beck and call of the business elite."
"When politicians start talking about free trade," he blasted, "if you are a worker in Ontario, you better duck."
He also complained about a "crisis in the economy" after 45,000 Ontario jobs were lost in the last month.
Meanwhile, a labour press release said the agreement was negotiated in a "culture of secrecy."
Adding to the union guys' overreaction was a letter from Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty and other business booster outfits, which urged the premiers to beef up the agreement with an "effective and enforceable" dispute resolution mechanism "to bring parties into compliance."
The union bosses charged this will "open the door for corporations who might want to challenge a province or municipality's laws and regulations if they are deemed a barrier to trade."
It sounds a whole lot different than the simple labour mobility agreement - where trade tickets and other qualifications are recognized across the country - that the premiers were spinning it to be yesterday.
"The sad part of this issue," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach shot back, "is there's a fair amount of misinformation."
But the deal clearly has teeth: The tribunal will have the power to impose fines up to $5 million for non-compliance.
"This brings some common sense to labour mobility," Stelmach said. "In Alberta, we're greatly short of people."
But he did admit "there are some details to work out."
It didn't get any better for the Alberta Tories when it was revealed that taxpayers could be stung for up to $6.5 million to pay Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis's settlement after the unelected authority was disbanded.
Meanwhile, Stelmach goes into the final showdown over greenhouse gas reduction later today with a poll that shows he's got a majority of Canadians on his side.
And premiers like Ontario's Dalton McGuinty and Quebec's Jean Charest are on the outside looking in when it comes to the dubious carbon-cap-and-trade scheme they want to impose on Canada's energy provinces.
The Innovative Research Group survey found Alberta's plan to capture and store carbon dioxide in rock formations received a "more positive initial response," with 54% of Canadians for it. Only 46% backed the McGuinty/Charest deal, which Stelmach calls a sneaky "wealth transfer."
Churchill and Roosevelt have no fear of being upstaged by these guys.
Edmonton Sun, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Neil Waugh
Deal means workers trained in one province will be able to work in any other province without recertification
QUEBEC - As premiers and territorial leaders reached a deal on trade and labour mobility across Canada Thursday, they also expressed worries about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We feel it's very important as provinces and territories to do our share to nurture this relationship (NAFTA) and defend what is the most important trade relationship in the world," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said on behalf of his counterparts.
"There is a shared concern about the future of NAFTA and we feel the federal government needs to be very vigilant in defending NAFTA and making it very clear that if Americans choose to question this trade agreement everything will be on the table," he added.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has said he might want to renegotiate NAFTA if he is elected to the White House.
Premiers spent the day talking about trade and labour at the Council of the Federation meeting in Quebec City on Thursday.
They inked a deal to remove labour mobility barriers across Canada beginning next year. The agreement means workers trained in one province will be able to do their job in any other province.
"We believe working people and their families want to have a situation where they do not have to go through 13 separate accreditation processes, but rather one accreditation process," Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said at a news conference.
"We believe that a nurse is a nurse, a teacher is a teacher, a welder is a welder," he added.
Charest said it is important for professional qualifications to be recognized across the country as provinces face worker shortages.
"There are serious mobility constraints in about 25 per cent of jobs in Canada, so our task is to smooth away those last difficulties to create the most stimulating market," said Charest, who hosted the meeting.
The provinces expect full labour mobility to be effective on April 1, 2009, but will still have to work out how to harmonize professional credentials between provinces at a future meeting.
And certain professions will be exempted. Provincial labour ministers are to meet at a later date to develop a list of the exempted professions. It could, for instance, include pharmacists, who are allowed to write prescriptions in Alberta -- but not in other provinces.
"We're very pleased with the significant progress we made this morning on labour mobility," said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. "This is a bold step forward."
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the agreement makes the country more competitive.
"I'm not worried about Alberta and B.C., I'm worried about China, India, the U.S. and Europe," he said. "Also, I've got 100,000 jobs in Ontario that I can't fill."
But labour officials from Canada, who are also meeting in Quebec City this week, don't see any silver lining in this deal.
"This is not the most pressing issue facing Canadians," said Jim Sinclair of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
"They are worried about the fact they can't afford to put gas in their car and where is the premiers' response to that problem?" he added.
The provinces will amend the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) by Jan. 1, 2009. The premiers will harmonize the different provincial requirements for job credentials at their next meeting, in August, 2009.
Also on the trade front, Charest stressed that the premiers fully support the conclusion of a Canada-European transatlantic accord that will be discussed between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Nicolas Sarkozy this fall.
The premiers also pressed the federal government to commit more financial resources to reduce the visa backlog at the Immigration Department in Ottawa. There are currently more than 900,000 pending requests and the provinces want to bring the figure down to 200,000 by 2011.
"It is unacceptable as it is right now," Charest said, adding many of those waiting for a visa to come to Canada are workers.
Also on Thursday, the premiers approved a new mechanism to resolve internal trade disputes that will include an enforcement tool.
The old dispute system is based on the consensus of the parties and contains no binding settlement mechanism or penalties.
"The former mechanism was weak, anemic and without effects," said Charest.
The new formula also provides for penalties of up to $5 million for failure to comply with the terms of the agreement.
The dispute mechanism will be implemented as of Jan. 1, 2009.
Labour federations voiced their own concerns about the new mechanism and said they fear it could open the door for corporations that might want to challenge a province's laws if they are deemed a barrier to trade.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the new policy could open the door to corporations suing all levels of government over actions that hinder trade and profits.
He also expressed doubts that Canada's labour-mobility rules required an overhaul, contending few workers experience obstacles when moving from province to province.
But the premiers stressed this new mechanism isn't a tribunal but a panel made up of a representative of the province complaining and of the default province, as well as a third-party member chosen by both parties.
Edmonton Journal, Page A3, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Marianne White