OTTAWA - A poll commissioned by the federal government suggests Canadians would support the controversial temporary foreign workers program if it didn't take away jobs from Canadians.
The poll, obtained by The Canadian Press, emerges just as Employment Minister Jason Kenney prepares to roll out a series of changes to make the program more palatable to Canadians.
A majority of respondents to the poll said they would support stiff penalties against firms that abuse the system.
A large plurality of respondents also said they would support giving temporary foreign workers who are already in the country the opportunity to stay permanently and even become citizens.
The program has become a major headache for the government despite several attempts to tighten eligibility rules after news reports surfaced about foreign workers displacing Canadians.
The telephone poll surveyed 1,984 respondents in late May, at the height of the controversy over the program, and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Critics have also complained that the number of foreign workers has ballooned to as many as 336,000 from 100,000 in 2002 despite high levels of unemployment in Canada.
The attention on the program has fed some misconceptions, the poll suggests.
For instance, when asked how many temporary foreign workers they believe are in Canada, respondents gave a "mean percentage" of 12 per cent of the labour force, when the actual number is two per cent.
Still, a majority said they favoured allowing the use of foreign workers for jobs Canadians don't apply for.
Even among those who oppose the program, 58 per cent of respondents said they would prefer reforms, rather than abolishing temporary foreign workers altogether.