EDMONTON - The door is open much wider for temporary foreign workers in six construction jobs, and tradesmen from the U.S. can now pick up work permits at the airport, the federal immigration minister announced Monday.
But organized labour is worried Canadians may be left out if companies are no longer required to consider them first in six job categories.
At Alberta's request, the federal government has agreed to eliminate the requirement that an employer must prove that Canadians were not available (called a labour market opinion) in six job categories — welder, ironworker, carpenter, estimator, millwright and heavy duty equipment mechanic. Pipefitters have been coming for a year without a requirement for the LMO.
These are high-demand occupations and employers need to be able to recruit workers much faster to meet growing demand in the oilsands and in Edmonton, where the unemployment rate is 4.4 per cent, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
Once inside the province, temporary workers will now be able to take jobs with other employers when their first contracts are over, Kenney said. Previously, foreign workers could not change employers.
Kenney said he had no concerns about eliminating the requirement for the LMO, a document outlining evidence of a shortage in a particular category of worker and proof the employer had advertised in Canada for workers but got no response.
Kenney stressed he would rely on the provincial government to keep an eye on trends in construction employment to determine if the shortage turns into an oversupply of labour in those categories.
Kenney said he doesn't think the federal government will be "so keen" to open the doors that wide in other areas, including for unskilled temporary foreign workers.
Temporary foreign workers must have job offers and documents to prove they are qualified in a trade before getting work permits.
The new rules will help companies recruit in the U.S., where many construction workers remain unemployed, Kenney said. U.S. workers can work for three weeks and spend a week back home — a pattern common for many Canadians working in the oilsands.
But Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said it's a mistake to eliminate the LMO, the one check in the system that protected Canadian access to such jobs.
"We're troubled by this decision, which eliminates the checks and balance," said McGowan.
Alberta's non-union contractors gain a big advantage under the new system, he said. Along with elimination of the LMO, Prime Minister Stephen Harper three months ago announced foreign workers can be paid up to 15 per cent less than the going Canadian wage.
But union employers must abide by the collective agreement, said McGowan.
"This will help make foreign workers the first choice not the last resort," said McGowan.
"This is not about a labour shortage, it's a low wage strategy. This is mostly designed to give companies access to a big pool of construction labour in the U.S. that is desperate for jobs."
McGowan noted that half the companies looking for construction workers do not have apprenticeship training programs, and said those companies should not be allowed to bring in temporary workers.
"They don't want long-term solutions, they want quick fixes, and that's what Harper will give them."
Some parts of Canada have not recovered from the 2008 recession and unemployment remains high in parts of Eastern Canada, he said. "The federal government should be ashamed of itself given the high unemployment in some provinces."
Stephen Khan, Alberta's minister for enterprise and advanced education, said he's pleased with the new rules, which will create a fast track for six occupations by eliminating paperwork and weeks of waiting involved to obtain the LMO.
"We are engaging industry" to take a bigger role in recruiting labour, he said. "They can identify what they need and who they want."
Khan said he's not concerned there is no check in the system to make sure Canadians get first shot at the jobs. The government will be guided by "internal metrics" about the job market, he said.
"We have to make sure we stay ahead of the curve," said Khan.
In a meeting Monday with the Journal editorial board, Kenney noted there is high unemployment among aboriginal youth and up to 14 per cent of immigrants are jobless or chronically underemployed.
"I think employers have to do a lot more about skill training," he said.
Kenney said he is not considering extending permanent residency to temporary foreign workers, since that would add another 180,000 people to the 280,000 annually allowed into the country.
"If we were to grant residency to all, that would be 400,000 and I don't think that is sustainable."
The Edmonton Journal, July 16 2012
Byline: Sheila Pratt
Federal government to review deal
The proposed takeover of Calgary petroleum producer Nexen Inc. by a Chinese state-owned oil company sparked a fiery debate Monday, with the Alberta government welcoming foreign investment as opposition parties, unions and some business leaders urged caution.
Federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced Monday that Ottawa will review the China National Offshore Oil Corp.'s (CNOOC) $15-billion bid for Nexen under the Investment Canada Act.
The federal minister will have the final say on whether the takeover goes through, based on if it's deemed a net benefit to Canada.
Although the provincial government has no formal say in the matter, Energy Minister Ken Hughes said the news is further evidence of the importance of Alberta's oilsands in meeting global energy demand.
"Foreign investment benefits Albertans, and Canadians, putting Canadian firms in a better position to compete globally," Hughes said.
"The investment required to develop oilsands resources is significant . . . The result is jobs for Canadians here and abroad, and competitive products on an international market."
The Nexen takeover is not the first Chinese state-owned enterprise foray into Canada, but it's by far the biggest. The $15.1-billion agreement is equal to the amount Chinese firms have invested in Canada's oil and gas industry over the last three years.
The sheer size of the takeover will put Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the premiers to the test, forcing them to decide how to handle the future of the oilpatch, said University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz.
"It's going to be fascinating," Mintz said in an interview.
Debate over the Nexen deal began immediately after the news was announced Monday. Federal NDP energy critic Peter Julian said the Harper government needs to better define the criteria for a foreign sale, and the Nexen takeover should be subject to a transparent review - not decided behind closed doors.
Liberal industry critic Geoff Regan said in assessing the "blockbuster" deal, the Harper government needs to determine whether Canadian companies will be given reciprocal leeway to make major investments in China - and whether the state-owned company will act according to free market principles.
In Alberta, Liberal MLA Kent Hehr said the proposed sale should provoke questions about whether Albertans are losing control of their own resources.
And Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said Canadians shouldn't let a company like Calgary-based Nexen, with a major stake in the oilsands, fall into the control of a foreign government without serious reflection.
"They'll keep the best jobs for themselves. They'll do the minimum to protect the environment and ignore Canada's long-term energy needs in favour of their own nation's needs," McGowan said.
But Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta's China Institute, said given the size of the Chinese economy, it would be strange if the Asian powerhouse wasn't investing in Canadian energy companies.
He noted China is still a smaller player than Europe and the U.S. in Canada's oilpatch, but the U.S. will quickly realize it has a robust competitor north of the border.
The Nexen deal is likely to draw comparisons with CNOOC's $18.5-billion bid for U.S. energy giant Unocal in 2005, a tender ultimately beaten down by political opposition on Capitol Hill.
In Canada, the Harper government blocked Australian miner BHP Billiton Ltd.'s hostile bid in 2010 for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan after political and business leaders lobbied against it.
Dick Haskayne, one of those business leaders, said the onus is on Nexen and CNOOC to prove this latest deal is a net benefit to Canada.
Haskayne, one of Calgary's most prominent energy executives, said Ottawa's decision needs to be shaped by the fact a number of energy companies hammered by the global economic slowdown and low natural gas prices are also ripe for a takeover.
"It's going to be a critical decision," Haskayne said. "It's not just Nexen. If Nexen is approved, you know the other ones that are in the same league."
Haskayne said he doesn't know all the pros and cons of the deal, but one of his key concerns is whether a pledge to keep a head office in Calgary is met.
But businessman Jim Gray, who also opposed the Potash Corp. sale, said it's a good thing Canada is building a closer relationship with the country poised to become the world's largest economy.
The chairman of the energy group of Brookfield Asset Management said he was concerned about Potash Corp. falling into the hands of a foreign entity because the Saskatchewan company controls one-fifth of the global resource.
Control of the oilsands isn't as concentrated, Gray noted. While Nexen is a major Canadian company, much of its assets are located outside the country.
"There's no parallel between those two deals," he said.
Recent Chinese investments in Alberta
- July 23: Calgary-based Nexen Inc. agrees to a friendly $15-billion takeover bid by CNOOC, China's largest offshore oil producer. Separately, Talisman Energy agrees to sell a 49-per-cent interest in its UK division to Sinopec Corp. for $1.5 billion.
- January: Calgary-based Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. announces it is selling its remaining 40 per cent of the MacKay River project in northern Alberta to PetroChina for $680 million. PetroChina becomes the first Chinese-state-owned company to wholly own a Canadian oilsands project.
- December 2011: Sinopec Group spends $2.2 billion acquiring Calgary oil and gas explorer Daylight Energy Ltd.
- November 2011: CNOOC buys Calgary oilsands developer Opti Canada Inc. for $2.1 billion US.
- May 2010: China Investment Corp. injects $1.25 billion into Penn West Energy to develop the trust's oilsands assets in the Peace River region.
- April 2010: Sinopec purchases ConocoPhillips' nine per cent stake in Syncrude for $4.65 billion.
- August 2009: PetroChina buys a 60-per-cent share in Athabasca Oil Sands' MacKay River and Dover projects for $1.9 billion.
- April 2005: CNOOC Ltd. pays $122 million for 16.7 per cent in MEG Energy Ltd. for a northern Alberta oilsands project.
The Edmonton Journal, July 24 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald
With files from The Canadian Press
Alberta Federation of Labour applauds Keystone XL delay: It’s a chance to consider value-added opportunities in Alberta, says McGowan
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour applauds the Obama administration’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it will give the Redford government an opportunity to pursue value-added opportunities here at home, rather than shipping unprocessed bitumen south for upgrading.
“There’s been a parade of Alberta government ministers travelling to the States to sell unprocessed bitumen. Now perhaps those same ministers can stay in Alberta and consider our needs and our future ahead of those of our neighbours south of the border,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
“Upgrading more bitumen in Alberta will help our province in many ways. Increasing value-added industries will provide quality, long-term jobs for Albertans and Canadians. While good relationships with our neighbours are important, the government of Alberta must promote the long-term health of our province first. Increasing value-added energy industries in Alberta will increase revenues from royalties and taxes,” he says.
“As bitumen is upgraded and moved up the value chain, more funds will flow into the Treasury through higher royalties on finished products. This is money that can be used to pay for important public services like health care and education,” says McGowan.
McGowan took particular exception to the Wildrose Party’s reaction to the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The Wildrose Party was playing fast and loose with the facts in their media release today. They should avoid fear mongering. The truth is that this pipeline is bad news for quality jobs and bad news for royalties,” says McGowan.
“Danielle Smith is trying to convince us that we’ll lose billions in royalties if the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t approved, but the opposite is true. If we export unprocessed bitumen, we ruin a great competitive advantage,” says McGowan
“The National Energy Board notes that, ‘wide differentials provide refiners with an economic incentive to build heavy oil conversion capacity.’ If we get rid of the prices differential between our bitumen and global crude, we destroy future opportunities to boost our value-added industries,” he says.
“In this context, Albertans should see the Obama administration’s decision as an opportunity, not a disappointment. It is an opportunity for us to move up the value chain and create a more prosperous and stable economic future for Albertans.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)