Feds say temporary foreign workers could be necessary for LNG projects in BC

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons. Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA —Federal Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk was told earlier this year to give a positive signal to LNG companies regarding the use of temporary foreign workers, but only if Canadians were considered for jobs first.

Mihychuk’s officials told her in February that it was inevitable that companies would need temporary foreign workers to proceed with energy projects in Western Canada.

In a briefing note on February 1st, officials wrote that the federal government can speed up how quickly it processes applications for temporary foreign workers, but couldn’t waive requirements for LNG projects.

The briefing note, prepared ahead of Mihychuk’s meeting with BC LNG Alliance president David Keane, recommends “signal support” for temporary foreign workers “on the condition that Canadians are considered first for available jobs … and only used as a measure of last resort.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

In an interview, Keane said Mihychuk didn’t give any indication of how the government would decide on the issue of foreign workers involved in projects. He said the message Mihychuk provided was that the government wanted to review the temporary foreign worker program.

Thousands of temporary foreign workers are expected to be needed to work on any of the 20 separate liquefied natural gas projects being reviewed in British Columbia, including the Pacific NorthWest LNG project that the federal cabinet has to decide on this fall.

The briefing note says unions are unlikely to speak out publicly about the use of temporary foreign workers because they know the majority of jobs will go to union members and that Canadians will be first in line for jobs.

Keane said the plan is to hire a workforce derived from local aboriginal communities and provincial residents before looking across Canada.

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