Unity pact breathes life into politics: Liberals and NDP talk about not competing for ridings, but will it be enough to win?
Two months after their brutal pounding in the last provincial election, Alberta Liberals and New Democrats are looking ahead to the next election -- one they might fight together.
In an unprecedented move sparked by a proposal from the Alberta Federation of Labour, both the Liberals and NDP are considering joining forces in a "co-operative pact" to get more opposition MLAs elected -- and perhaps even form a government.
It looks like a bit of a longshot at this point -- with just 11 opposition members in the assembly -- but the two parties are desperate for a way to revitalize their sagging spirits and boost their electoral chances.
Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, drew up a five-page plan immediately after the March 3 election outlining how and why the centre-left parties could more effectively take on the Conservatives.
"We are proposing an agreement that would stop centre-left parties from running candidates against each other because vote splitting is keeping the Conservatives in power," says the AFL proposal that has three major components --
- 1) The Liberals, NDP and Greens would "divvy up" all Alberta ridings and agree not to run candidates against each other.
- 2) The parties would maintain their autonomy and run their own election campaigns but would agree on a list of "core priorities to act upon if they are able to form a government after the next election."
- 3) If they form government, the parties would look at major electoral reform, possibly adopting a system of proportional representation for future elections where political parties would receive a percentage of seats based on their percentage of votes.
Thus, with some sort of electoral balance injected into Alberta politics, the co-operative pact would be dissolved after having served its purpose.
"I'll be blunt, it's deliberately provocative because after the election in March it became clear to me that we need to do more than the usual post-election navel gazing," said McGowan. "We have to start thinking about new approaches because if nothing changes we're looking at another 40 years of one-party rule."
Both NDP leader Brian Mason and Liberal Leader Kevin Taft say the idea -- that stops short of advocating a merger -- is worth exploring.
"Everything's on the table at least for the Alberta Liberals," said Taft.
"Everything from the name of the party, the leadership of the party, policies, the structure of the party, and the possibility of reaching out to supporters in other parties, all of that is on the table right now. There's a lot of conversations going on."
Mason doesn't sound as enthusiastic as Taft, perhaps because he's afraid the NDP could end up being swallowed, deliberately or inadvertently, by the Liberals.
"I have my own views," said Mason, "but I think at this stage what I want to do is encourage party members to have that discussion and we need to work through this as a party to come up with an idea of where we want to go as a party."
Those discussions include a motion to be debated at the NDP annual convention in June asking the party to "investigate a variety of options for political cooperation with the Alberta Liberals and/or the Albertan Greens."
Interestingly, McGowan is calling his idea the United Alternative, the same name given to the successful unite-the-right movement in federal politics where the Reform and Conservatives joined forces to take on the Liberals. With the Liberals and NDP coming together, maybe we should call it "heft the left" or perhaps "mentor the centre."
There will be those, particularly die hard NDPers, who will call it the unholy alliance and there will be Liberals who would rather stay home or vote Conservative than vote for an NDP candidate.
McGowan is certainly aware of the furor his idea will unleash.
"From the right of the political spectrum we will be accused of trying to hijack the political process," says McGowan. "And from the left we will be vilified for 'selling out' and abandoning core principles. Harsh words will be spoken and more than a few relationships and friendships will be broken. But it still needs to be done."
Just how effective or successful would a centre-left United Alternative be? If you took the results from the last provincial election and combined the Liberal and NDP vote you might see a difference in a dozen seats. That would only bring a combined Liberal-NDP opposition to 23 seats, still far short of the 42 needed to form government.
McGowan argues in his proposal that a "co-operative pact" would actually boost voter turn out. "There's a strong argument to be made that if Albertans had seen a real, viable alternative to the Tories, more of them would have voted -- and voted disproportionately for that alternative."
Maybe. Or perhaps the reason only 41 per cent of voters turned out in March was because most people support the Conservatives.
If nothing else, McGowan's proposal does manage to spark some life into Alberta politics -- and perhaps gives the losers in the last 11 elections a glimmer of hope they won't be losers again in the next.
Edmonton Journal, Tues May 6 2008
Byline: Graham Thomson
Labour unions in B.C. and Alberta commemorated the 13th International Day of Mourning amid claims that provincial government statistics underestimate the numbers of employees killed.
The Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration reported on April 17 that there were 154 occupational fatalities in 2007.
These fatalities are broken down into three categories; 44 were motor vehicle incidents, 47 were workplace incidents, and 63 were occupational disease deaths. However, the Alberta Federation of Labour estimates the real figure to be 166.
Barrie Harrison, a communications officer with the Alberta Ministry of Employment, said that the construction sector accounted for six deaths from motor vehicle accidents, 20 deaths from workplace incidents and 24 deaths from occupational disease.
"2007 had the most work-related fatalities since 1982 and was the sixth highest in the province's history and the first two months of 2008 were even worse," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
He pointed out 28 workers were killed in the first two months of 2008, up from a year earlier.
While McGowan acknowledged it is early in the year, he expressed some concerns.
"If we continue to lose workers at this rate, we will kill 170 workers in 2008, which will be the highest number since the Hillcrest Mine disaster in 1914," he said.
A similar picture emerges in B.C.
According to WorkSafe BC fatality statistics, 228 workers died as a result of workplace incidents in 2007.
These fatalities are broken down into four categories; 37 were motor vehicle incidents, 57 were other injuries, 69 were asbestos exposure and 65 were other diseases.
WorkSafe BC also reported that first payment was made for 139 occupational deaths in 2007.
The 139 fatal injury claims first paid in 2007 is a different measure of fatalities for two reasons.
First, some of the fatalities first paid in 2007 occurred in a prior year. Second, some of the reported fatalities were not compensable.
Out of the 139 fatal injuries, construction had more workers killed in the workplace than any other industry with 30 deaths.
The B.C. Federation of Labour estimated that the true death toll in B.C. for 2007 was about 380.
"This is an epidemic, but we know these numbers fail to reflect the true number of workers and families profoundly affected by these diseases," said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
"Too often these diseases go undiagnosed and unreported. As a result, injured workers aren't compensated and employers are not held responsible."
The British Columbia and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council (BCYBCTC) made a prediction earlier this year that about 300 construction workers will die each year for the next five years of mesothelioma and other asbestos exposure illnesses.
The prediction is based on research by Professor Paul Demers at the University of British Columbia's school of environmental health as well as statistics from WorkSafe BC.
McGowan argued that fatality rates in Alberta tend to follow the cycles of economic growth and decline.
"Employers are cutting corners on training and safety procedures to meet the huge demand. The result is more accidents," he said.
"Many workers choose to walk away from unsafe jobs rather than pressure for more safety, meaning bad employers don't improve. And, the government is not doing enough inspections and enforcement."
More than 175,000 accidents were reported to the Alberta Workers Compensation Board in 2007. This works out to 20 accidents every hour - 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Both the AFL and the federation of labour are calling on employers, government and workers to do more to make workplaces safer.
Journal of Commerce, Mon May 5 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Family income in Calgary this decade has increased by nearly double the national average while the Alberta figure is nearly triple, states a Statistics Canada report.
But the numbers also show the province's boom and bust economy has sent incomes on a rollercoaster ride that's landed Albertans at virtually the same earning levels they enjoyed in 1980.
While median family incomes received a 7% boost from 2000 to 2005 compared to 3.7% nationally, individuals' earning power in Alberta has been virtually stagnant when set against the 1980 figures.
When adjusted for inflation, individuals' median income in 2005 was $43,964, only $232 more than in 1980, said senior StatsCan economist Rene Morissette.
"There was almost no change between 1980 and 2005 ... median earnings slid by $3,000 by 2000 and people have essentially just recovered that," said Morissette.
"If you take a longer-term approach, it's quite close to the national average."
That recovery and Alberta's outdistancing of the rest of the country this decade can be attributed to Alberta's petroleum-driven boom, he said.
But he said the 12.8% increase in median family incomes since 1980 was due to women increasingly entering the workforce.
"It's the only source of growth ... it makes for a time crunch and family work balance issues," said Morissette.
Gains by those in the upper and lower 20% income categories were about double those of middle-earners, the latter by far the largest sector, he added.
The figures confirm the worst fears over an increasingly squeezed middle class and workers whose longer hours are no longer being rewarded, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"If it wasn't for the income growth of the past five years Albertans would have lost ground and the rest of the country isn't even as lucky," said McGowan.
"Productivity gains have been decoupled from wage increases ... we're a middle-class society but the middle class is under attack."
McGowan said much of Alberta's current prosperity is more construction than oil-based and once the building is done, income will drop.
StatsCan also states 9.5% of Calgary families spent at least 55% of their incomes on lodging, food and clothing - classifying them as lower income and struggling.
"Policy-makers at all levels should see this as a warning sign," said McGowan.
Calgary Sun, Thurs May 1 2008
Byline: Bill Kaufmann
Recent deaths raise question of workplace safety: Complaints to province have 'fallen upon deaf ears,' victim's wife says
EDMONTON - Not even two years after Lorna Chandler's husband was crushed in a grain silo at a feedlot near High River, one of his employers also died in a silo-related workplace accident.
Chandler feels sure her 35-year-old husband, Kevan, would have survived if there had been a rope and a way to secure the harness that was on site. Her husband's boss was also unsecured when he fell to his death from the top of a silo last Tuesday, she said.
"If he had a rope and harness, too, I'm quite sure he'd be alive," Chandler said Monday, following an annual ceremony at City Hall honouring lost and injured workers.
Chandler is frustrated because no one in the provincial government seems to be doing anything to stop these easily preventable deaths.
"What I'm trying to say has fallen upon deaf ears."
Last year, 154 Albertans died in workplace accidents, making it the worst year for fatalities since 1982. In addition, more than 175,000 people were injured while working.
It's time to connect the tragedy of workplace deaths with the causes, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said at the ceremony. Weak safety laws and lax enforcement send a message that the government doesn't take worker safety seriously, he said. "A worker is injured every three minutes every day in Alberta. We all know Albertans like to be number one. We're number one in investment. We're number one in growth. We're also number one in workplace deaths."
Simple guardrails costing as little as $30 could have saved the life of his grandson, said Leonard Brennan. But no one was doing the inspections required to find the "ongoing death trap" at his grandson's worksite.
Jahryn Kozak, 20, was killed Dec. 13, 2004, while working for Fitzgerald Construction. He became entangled in an unguarded tail pulley while cleaning excess gravel from the ground under a rock crusher. He was pronounced dead at the worksite.
Brennan noted that the company got a charitable donation receipt for almost all of the $300,000 it was ordered to pay as punishment because it went towards the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, a non-profit society which assists workers to improve workplace health and safety. Though he praised the work done by the centre, Brennan found it disturbing that the company would benefit in any fashion from what was supposed to be punishment. "I felt like throwing up when I heard that," he said.
Meanwhile, the Alberta NDP slammed the government for refusing to place limits on working alone in a worksite.
Employment critic Rachel Notley released a government official's e-mail from last week that nixed a proposal to let the employment minister ban working alone on certain unsafe sites.
A working group of industry, government and labour officials asked for the move.
Kenn Hample, provincial safety specialist co-ordinator, rejected that idea outright, saying in the e-mail that the province doesn't want to be "interjecting a government decision into the operation of a worksite," when the government prefers companies practice "internal responsibility" for their actions.
Notley called the proposal "hesitant first steps" that would have modestly improved worker safety in Alberta.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 29 2008
Byline: Hanneke Brooymans and Jason Markusoff
The elimination of health-care premiums will pump $1 billion annually into the economy beginning next January and some of that cash could wind up in employees' pockets, say business and union officials.
While no one can say for sure who will reap the benefits of the massive tax cut announced Tuesday, the savings give businesses that paid the fee for their employees a host of options, says Danielle Smith, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
"We get the strong indication from the business community that they recognize they have to be competitive on wages and benefits," she said. "I imagine by having more money in their pockets to devote to increasing employee pay that will be one of the main places they decide to reinvest. It may not be immediate, but I imagine throughout the course of the year there will be a lot of that money going back to employees."
While 2.6 million Albertans face health-care premiums, 1.6 million pay for them through benefit plans that are often subsidized by employers.
The CFIB surveyed Alberta businesses last summer on what they would do with any savings from a tax cut and the majority responded they would invest in new equipment and increase employee wages, Smith said.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said it's an issue that unions haven't yet had time to digest.
"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here that will be freed up as a result of the elimination of the premiums and the big question is where does that money go," he said. "Obviously, employers will have a lot of ideas for it, but it does at least open the possibility for some of the money going into the employees' pockets.
"It puts a little more money on the table at a time when the labour market is tight and workers are in a better position to ask for wage increases."
Mike Percy, the University of Alberta's dean of the business faculty, said the tax cut could have the same impact as former Premier Ralph Klein's $400 resource dividend, but this tax cut isn't just a one-time shot. Albertans will save that money annually, he noted.
"It will have a positive effect, but it will be very difficult to say how much," he said. "It's complex."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Apr 24 2008
Byline: Darcy Henton
Alberta's provincial opposition is calling for the province's labour standards code and job safety legislation to include farm workers.
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft on Monday called for the Stelmach government to expand the Employment Standards Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include protections for farm workers and adopt a farm safety program to promote safety in the farming community.
"Alberta's farm workers have no protection regarding hours of work and overtime, no statutory holidays or vacation pay, no right to refuse unsafe work, and no compensation if they are injured on the job," Taft said, accusing the Tories of dodging the issue of farm safety.
"Injuries and deaths on Alberta farms continue to be a burden on farm families. In some of these cases, farm worker safety standards could have prevented incidents from happening, and provide the needed support when incidents do occur."
Edmonton MLA Hugh MacDonald, the Liberals' employment critic, said in a release Monday that safety standards for all workers must be improved and properly enforced.
The Liberals made their statements as part of the International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, 166 Albertans, including 154 of what it called "officially 'recognized'" workers and 12 farm workers, lost their lives for work-related reasons in 2007.
AFL president Gil McGowan said in a separate release that 2007 saw the most work-related fatalities in the province since 1982 and the sixth-highest total in provincial history, with 28 work-related deaths so far in 2008 -- a tally McGowan blamed on the province's current boom.
"Employers are cutting corners on training and safety procedures to meet the huge demand," he said. "The result is more accidents. Many workers choose to walk away from unsafe jobs rather than pressure for more safety, meaning bad employers don't improve. And the government is not doing enough inspections and enforcement."
While it's still early in 2008, he said, "if we continue to lose workers at this rate, we will kill 170 workers in 2008, which will be the highest number since the Hillcrest Mine disaster in 1914."
Lorna Chandler, whose husband died in June 2006 in an accident on a farm near High River, said in the Liberals' release that "farm workers deserve the same on the job protection as everyone else."
Farm Business Communications, Mon Apr 28 2008
The provincial government says in 2007, workplace related deaths rose 24 per cent in Alberta to 154 - the highest number in the last decade.
On Monday, labour groups are gathering to honour those who died in International Day of Mourning ceremonies.
The main one in Calgary is at City Hall at noon. A "death march" begins at 3rd Street and 6th Avenue southeast at 11:45 a.m. - followed by a memorial wreath laying service at noon at city hall.
Alberta Federation of Labour's Gil McGowan says it's a very somber day for workers all over the world.
McGowan says last week alone five people died in work-related fatalities in Alberta - one of those in Calgary.
A father of six was killed at a southeast warehouse when a bunch of pallets toppled onto him.
CHQR Newsroom, Mon Apr 28 2008
Man dies in crash with giant truck: Oil sands hauler collides with pickup at Fort McMurray mine site
An oilsands contractor driving a pickup has died after colliding this weekend with a 400-tonne oilsands dump truck on a mine site that prides itself on its clean worker-safety record.
RCMP and officials with the Albian Sands mine north of Fort McMurray have released few details about the Saturday-night collision, but those familiar with massive oilsands haulers say workers take many precautions to ensure such run-ins never happen.
"To run over something like (a pickup truck) would just flatten it like a pancake. You wouldn't even know you hit it," said Doug Krupa, who works for Heavy Hauler Service and Repair in Edmonton.
The dump truck involved in the accident was a Caterpillar 797B, the largest mining truck in the world. It stands more than three storeys high and is so large that it can't be driven on highways, but must be transported in pieces and reassembled at the mine site.
The driver behind the wheel sits about 6.5 metres above the ground.
Ordinary-sized vehicles are normally not allowed near giant trucks, Krupa said.
The collision happened shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday at the Albian Sands Energy Muskeg River Mine site, about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, said RCMP Const. Ali Fayad. Albian emergency crews responded, then called RCMP at 9:30 p.m.
The pickup driver died shortly after he arrived at a nearby hospital. RCMP and Workplace Health and Safety officers are investigating and a stop-work order has been written.
Shell Canada spokeswoman Simone Marler said the crash happened on the mine site, not in the mine. The mine is a joint venture between Shell Canada, Chevron and Marathon Oil.
The victim's name and age were withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Marler said this was the first fatality in the six-year history of the oilsands project. Until the accident, the roughly 1,000 employees at the site went through three million hours of work without a lost-time incident.
"Our commitment is to fully understand the cause and circumstance surrounding the accident ... to ensure that it never happens again," she said Sunday. "We're deeply saddened by this and our thoughts are with the contractor and (his) family."
John Payne, an instructor in the Mine Operations program at Fort McMurray's Keyano College, has driven the Caterpillar 797 and said operators have to be on guard all the time.
"Your visibility is limited. You have clear vision straight ahead through the windshield and then there's a blind spot on either side," Payne said, because side mirrors can only do so much.
The truck's height means "it's quite a ways in front before you can see a hard hat standing in front of you. They're extremely dangerous if you're on the ground near it, even for light-duty pick-ups."
Payne said he has heard of incidents similar to what happened Saturday night, but said that the 797 is "probably one of the safest machines on the road."
Today is the international day of mourning to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.
A ceremony is planned for 7 p.m. tonight at Edmonton City Hall, where victims' families will be speaking out, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
Workplace fatalities hit a 25-year high last year, but the large dump trucks are considered quite safe, he said. "Those trucks are less likely to be in an accident than a truck on the highway simply because they are driven by well-trained professionals.
"The oilsands trucks don't drive around willy-nilly," McGowan added. "They have clearly identified tracks ... and everyone else on the worksites know about the routes that they follow."
Krupa transports smaller dump trucks to oilsands sites. He drives 50-tonne trucks off and on their trailers, and at times it can be unnerving to drive a vehicle when you can't see what you're driving onto.
"You take it real slow," he said.
Facts on the Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler involved in the deadly collision with a pickup truck:
- Designed for high-production mining and construction.
- Hauling capacity: 400 tonnes
- Gross machine operating weight: 623,700 kg
- Maximum speed: 67 km/h
w Dimensions: 7.6 metres high by 14.5 metres long by 9.8 metres wide. It's so large it can't be driven on the highway, so it is shipped in pieces and built on site.
- Cost: $5 million to $6 million. A single tire costs more than $35,000, is four metres high and weighs over 15,000 kilograms.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Apr 28 2008
Byline: Elise Stolte and Steve Lillebuen
The provincial government came under fire in the legislature Wednesday for its lack of workplace safety laws for farm workers, the day after a feedlot owner fell from a silo to his death west of High River.
This is not the first farm death in the area. The 52-year-old man -- identified as Brian Morrison -- died at Roseburn Ranches on Tuesday, just a short distance from where one of his family's employees was killed in a silo two years ago.
Kevan Chandler, 36, died in June 2006 after being buried by an avalanche of grain at the Morrison family's nearby Tongue Creek Feeders.
Ever since his death, Chandler's widow Lorna has made it her self-described mission to push for workplace safety laws for farm workers. She said Tuesday this most recent death just goes to show how badly the Alberta government needs to take action.
"I thought they would have learned something or done something," said Chandler, 32, who works as a high school janitor in Black Diamond.
"I think they should get off their butts and improve the safety standards."
Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces where workplace safety standards don't apply to farms. In Alberta, farm owners don't have to be part of the workers' compensation program, and the government doesn't have to investigate fatalities like it does for other industries. Farm workers are also barred from unionizing.
In Alberta last year, there were 12 farm-related fatalities, according to Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. This year, including the most recent death in High River, the figure sits at four.
The opposition Liberals grilled Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld on the issue during question period Tuesday.
"Will this government finally concede that workers on corporate farms need the same protection through workplace safety legislation as other workers in the province?" Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said.
"How many farmers have to die in Alberta before this government takes action?"
Groeneveld said: "Farms are very unique worksites . . . families live, work, they play in these areas. We're talking about education, I suspect, more than rules."
He added that farms are dangerous places to work, but suggested that more rules aren't the answer. "We make seatbelt rules and look at what happens."
Later in an interview, Groeneveld said his government will have another look at the issue.
"A lot of these farms are big business now and they're corporate farms, and I will sit down with the minister of employment and immigration."
Regarding his comments in the legislature, Groeneveld added: "I'm certainly not against seatbelt legislation."
But those who have pushed for laws for farm workers say the government is unwilling to consider workplace safety laws for the sector, and promises to take another look at developing rules ring hollow.
"I will believe it when they actually do something," said Jason Foster, director of policy analysis at the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Shortly after Kevan Chandler's death in 2006, then-human resources minister Mike Cardinal said he would review whether workplace safety standards should be extended to farm workers. The NDP later obtained documents showing that Cardinal had rejected a recommendation from a government panel to do so, just weeks earlier.
Foster said the provincial government favours the interests of corporate farms rather than workers. Other provinces have been able to make workplace safety laws for workers at larger corporate farms without introducing onerous rules for family farms, he said.
However, Danielle Smith of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said farms are different from other businesses, and tax incentives for purchasing safety equipment would be a better strategy for the government to pursue.
She said it's difficult to draw the line between a family farm and large-scale operations.
"When you've got this hybrid home/farm operation, it gets really tricky," Smith said.
In High River on Wednesday, family and friends were focused on their mourning for Morrison.
"It's very sad news. He was a great neighbour," said Mac Brocklebank, who farms near both Roseburn Ranches and Tongue Creek Feeders.
- - -
Recent Farm Deaths
- April: A 52-year-old man is killed after falling almost 30 metres from a grain silo at Roseburn Ranches Ltd., just west of High River.
- March: A 52-year-old man, a resident of a Hutterite colony near New Dayton, southeast of Lethbridge, dies after becoming entangled in farm machinery.
- December 2007: Michael Collett, 46, dies while loading grain into a truck from a wooden bin on his farm, 12 kilometres south of Taber. He was buried under grain while working alone in the bin.
- June 2006: Kevan Chandler, a 36-year-old father of two from Black Diamond, dies after an avalanche of grain buries him inside a silo at Tongue Creek Feeders, a High River feedlot.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 24 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
Globalization has increased acceptance of a multi-racial world and provided endless supplies of skilled and other labour, so what's not to love about mass immigration?
While Canada's opposition parties quibbled over modest measures expediting the arrival of skilled immigrant workers, one answer to that question appeared in a report from the British House of Lords. Stunningly, it concludes that record levels of immigration bring no economic benefits.
The Economic Impact of Immigration argues that immigration addresses neither labour shortages nor problems associated with an aging society. Rather, low-paid and young workers are being placed at a disadvantage because of competition from immigrants; worse, strains on public services and Britons being priced out of the housing market risk stoking social tensions.
According to the Telegraph, the British government welcomed this contribution to its "huge immigration shakeup."
Here in Canada, few noticed the British report or even Britain's "immigration shakeup," though for similar reasons cracks have been appearing in Canada's immigration portfolio too, and a small but growing number of academics, former civil servants and diplomats knowledgeable about Canada's complex and inefficient immigration system are speaking out.
Martin Collacott and James Bissett have reached conclusions similar to the new thinking on immigration now gripping most Western democracies, as did the late Bernard Ostry, while economists and professors emeritus such as Alan Green (Queen's University) and Herbert Grubel (Simon Fraser) are backing them up with far-reaching data and analysis.
Citizen groups, too, like Canada Immigration Watch are organizing to counter the vast stakeholder industry of immigration lawyers, consultants and advocacy groups that has so far monopolized Canada's immigration file. Out west, the Alberta Federation of Labour is squaring the debate with today's labour market realities.
A paper by Herbert Grubel, for instance, blames Canada's poor selection criteria and high rates of immigration for the failure of recent immigrants to achieve incomes comparable to resident Canadians, even though previous immigrants did so within 10 years of arrival. Accordingly, Immigration and the Welfare State in Canada, published by the Fraser Institute, estimates a cost to Canadian taxpayers of more than $18 billion for immigrants who arrived between 1990 and 2002.
To understand Canada's selection criteria, it's helpful to see how the numbers align under Canada's two largest classes of immigrants to Canada: economic and family.
In 2002, 23.3 per cent of all Canadian immigrants were principal applicants, that is skilled workers who acquired sufficient points for language, skills, etc., under Canada's selection criteria to gain admission to Canada while their spouses and dependents, who are allowed automatic entry, comprised a further 30.5 per cent. Together, at 53.5 per cent of total immigrants, they made up the bulk of Canada's Economic Immigrants.
Family-class immigrants, at 28.5 per cent of the total in 2002, are the other dominant set. Consisting of parents and grandparents (9.8 per cent) and "immediate" family members (18.7 per cent), these immigrants must be sponsored. Like parents and grandparents, the myriad cousins, uncles, in-laws, sisters and fiancés are then able to sponsor other "immediate" family members, leading to a phenomenon known as "chain" migration.
In other words, family-class immigrants meet no selection criteria. This means they often arrive with no language or job skills and a commensurately diminished capacity for paying taxes and social integration.
The economic success of immigrants is also affected by the rate at which they arrive. Having levelled out at 0.5 per cent of the population or less after the Second World War, it skyrocketed in the 1990s to today's one per cent - the highest in the world. These high rates, combined with slow economic growth in the 1990s, says Grubel, affected the income of new immigrants and those arriving in the previous decade who now had new competition for jobs. It was in this period, too, that the number of ethnic enclaves - defined as "census" regions where at least 30 per cent of the population is of a particular ethnic background - rose to 254 by 2001, from six in 1981.
Despite similar economic conditions during the same period, Australian immigrants fared better than Canada's. Migrants there must meet more stringent requirements for skills, credentials and language. Australia also denies entrants social benefits for two years and admits a higher proportion of work-age immigrants. Parents of principal applicants, for instance, may enter only if the majority of their independently qualified children already reside in Australia.
If economic realities matter, the new thinking on immigration may find its ultimate home among the stewards of today's labour market. After appearing before a Commons standing committee where he opposed employer exploitation of temporary workers, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour told me how, even in booming Alberta, there is no blanket shortage of labour.
"Overall, the market is tight but absolute shortages exist only in certain sectors. In others, like natural gas, forestry and agriculture, workers are being laid off," Gil McGowan said
So why aren't we employing the people who are here, aboriginals for instance? Provincial training programs are what need fixing, he suggests. "Politicians have a cartoon understanding of what is happening in the labour market."
Montreal Gazette, Mon Apr 21 2008
Byline: Margret Kopla