Controversial plans to hire 201 Chinese workers at a proposed mine in northern British Columbia have prompted Ottawa to announce a review of its entire foreign worker program, with the government suggesting the case has revealed deeper problems with a system designed to fill short-term labour shortages.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley issued a statement Thursday saying the Conservative government isn't satisfied HD Mining Ltd. followed all the rules when it sought foreign worker permits for its proposed mine near Tumbler Ridge, BC, which she said raises broader questions about the program
"We are not satisfied with what we have learned about the process that led to permission for hundreds of foreign workers to gain jobs (at the HD Mining site)," the statement said.
"In particular, we are not satisfied that sufficient efforts were made to recruit or train Canadians interested in these jobs. ... It is clear to our government that there are some problems with the temporary foreign worker program."
HD Mining has hired the Chinese workers as part of exploration work at the proposed coal mine site, located about 200 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, Alta. The mine is awaiting an environmental assessment and has not yet been approved.
The company has said there aren't any qualified workers in Canada who can work at the mine, which will be using a method of underground mining that's not in use anywhere else in Canada. But labour unions and other critics have argued there are Canadians willing and able to take those jobs.
A BC union has also raised concerns about ads it says were posted to job boards in Canada that listed Mandarin as a language requirement, though the company has insisted applicants weren't required to speak the language.
Finley's statement highlighted the language issue as a particular concern.
"The requirement that applicants have skills in a foreign language does not appear to be linked to a genuine job requirement," Finley's statement said.
HD Mining declined comment on Thursday. The company is a partnership between China-based Huiyong Holding Group, which owns a 55 per cent stake, and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc.
BC's jobs minister, Pat Bell, who has been one of the project's most vocal supporters, did not make himself available for an interview Thursday. He issued a brief statement that ignored Finely's criticisms of the HD Mining project.
Bell said the province is focused on promoting mining development, and it's up to the federal government to address any problems with the temporary foreign worker program.