The federal Conservatives believe Canada’s immigration policy is ineffective and local MP Blake Richards is among those reaching out to Canadians for feedback through the party’s Pathways to Canada initiative.

As the party’s critic (shadow cabinet) for Small Business, Export Promotion and Tourism, Richards has been involved with cross-country consultations on the policy in preparation for the federal election later this year. He’s also been seeking feedback from the tourism industry in his home riding on completely revamping Canada’s low-skilled Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

Bow Valley tourism operators constantly struggle to fill positions and it’s particularly challenging with the escalating number of visitors to the region. The Banff National Park has been shattering records and in just seven years annual visits have risen to 4.18 million from 3.15 million.

To help meet the labour need a more effective TFW policy would go a long way towards meeting the demand, says Richards.

He believes the program needs to be revamped to better address permanent labour shortages, like low-wage and/or seasonal positions in accommodations, food services, and retail trade sector. Currently, many Bow Valley businesses don’t qualify for the program and that has forced some businesses to shorten their hours.

At the same time, though, Richards recognizes there has been pushback on the need to make those job opportunities available to Canadians first.

“While the current government has introduced some patchwork changes such as increased caps on how many temporary foreign workers tourism operators can hire to help fill this gap, there has been no holistic approach which can target specific problems and link tourism operators to the employees they require in the long term,” writes Richards.

“We want to make sure that first of all Canadians get the first opportunity and second of all we want to make sure where there are legitimate needs in our labour market that our immigration system is lined up to deal with those properly and fill some of the needs we do have for employers.”

Zooming out further, the Conservatives are concerned with what they believe is an immigration policy that is unfair and costly to taxpayers.

“It’s our effort to try and make sure we get our immigration system right,” explains Richards. “Right now, Justin Trudeau’s plan seems to be to spend billions of dollars to let people come across our borders illegally.

“What happens here is the people who are trying to do it by the proper rules and procedures are sitting waiting and they are waiting there longer and longer while we spend more and more taxpayers’ money on the people who come here illegally.

“The first step is to try and line up our immigration system with our economic needs and we’ve got to need to try to make sure we prioritize helping the people who most need it when dealing with refugees and stop letting the flow of illegal people coming across the border.”

Richards maintains an online survey and is encouraging tourism operators to discuss the TFW program. It will be combined with other feedback, including roundtable discussions, to form the party’s policy.

The online survey is located at http://www.blakerichards.ca/pathway-to-canada/.

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