Opinion: Temporary Foreign Worker Program needs better policing

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Sometimes I’m ashamed of Canada. Ours is a very fine country and I’m mighty proud to call it home, but our imperfections are obvious and many. One of the current worst is a horror story of the first order. An almost unbelievable tale as told by Kathy Tomlinson in the Oct. 5 Globe and Mail: How an immigration scheme steers newcomers into Canadian trucking jobs – and puts lives at risk.

We now have unscrupulous immigration consultants feeding equally unscrupulous trucking companies with innocent newbie drivers who pay as much as $30,000 for the chance to become a Canadian. By first becoming a truck driver. Experience? Not important. Training? Not supplied.

That scam is often perpetrated under the auspices of the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program, designed to fill the many gaps in our workforce, not just in trucking. But to call that program and its implementation faulty is to understate the case in a big way.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud its intent. We need immigrants badly, which is by no means a new story. The thing is, we’re a big country with a small population. We have always needed immigration, from Day 1. Always will.

In trucking our labor shortages – not just at the steering wheel – began with an ever-expanding demand for trucking services, not to mention the brutal demographic realities of an aging population. And then we faced a crisis. We kept dipping deeper into the Canadian gene pool and coming up empty of suitable driving talent. Or perhaps more to the point, coming up empty of Canucks willing to do an increasingly unattractive job, which has only gotten worse over time in a lot of eyes.

Looking abroad, we couldn’t continue counting on Poland and other such places for the volume we needed. So India popped up, particularly the Punjab region. There’s no shortage of young men there who are desperate for a better life in Canada. Which makes them easy marks for the vile immigration consultants and opportunistic little trucking businesses detailed in the Globe article, which focused only on B.C.

“The dangerous scheme has been allowed to flourish partly because there is no systemic [sic] integration between provincial regulators for the trucking industry and those overseeing the immigration system at the federal level,” Tomlinson wrote.

“The Globe investigation has revealed,” she went on, “that immigration authorities let trucking companies hire newcomers through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, even when the carriers have a proven history of multiple-injury accidents, serious safety violations, or exploitative labor practices.”

The fatal disconnect here is that the feds are only interested in the immigration angle. Has the hiring company tried to find locals before looking overseas? They don’t care that the company may have a lousy safety record. That’s provincial territory. And at least in B.C., but it’s really the same everywhere, there’s apparently a dangerously lax level of inspection and enforcement that might otherwise prevent poorly trained rookie drivers from trying to negotiate winter mountain roads when they’ve never seen ice or snow. Actually, Trans-Canada highways 11 and 17 through northern Ontario are no easier, it seems.

We absolutely must crack down on a system that allows this to go on, obviously in B.C., but I think no province is immune to letting untrained drivers loose. And not just immigrants working for barely legal trucking companies. A few years back someone very close to me signed on to a fairly large, established carrier right after he graduated from a solid driving school. A good Canadian country boy, just two weeks later he found himself pulling flatdeck B-trains into those nasty hills northeast of Montreal. Was he ready? No way. Was he scared? You bet. Did he kill anyone? Luckily, no.

But, clearly, luck should have no part in any of this.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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