CALGARY - The three men running to be Alberta's next leader reiterated their concerns about changes to the federal temporary foreign worker program on Monday and said if they become premier, they'll fight to make sure the province's unique labour needs are taken into account.
Ric McIver, Thomas Lukaszuk and Jim Prentice were working the crowds at the premier's annual Stampede breakfast in downtown Calgary on Monday.
McIver said he planned to bring the issue up with his caucus colleagues at a meeting following the breakfast.
"We need to ask the federal government to take another look at their temporary foreign worker program," he said.
He said he'd ask for caucus support to set up a database where employers and prospective employees can connect, push for more provincial control over the program and cut down on the time needed to bring in provincial nominees.
Lukaszuk, who was Alberta's jobs minister before he entered the leadership race, said he's been trying to "straighten out" the program with his provincial counterpart for years and that Alberta's interests are being "compromised."
"The fact is, we do have a bona fide shortage of workers and in certain parts of the province, like Bonnyville, Cold Lake, Fort McMurray, Hinton, Edson. No matter how much employers pay, they can't attract workers to entry-level positions," he said.
"Albertans overall do not believe in this revolving door of bringing workers in and shipping them out every four years and treating them like rented tools. We want to give them an opportunity to stay over here, invest themselves in our communities and become great Canadians."
Prentice says he aims to have a "constructive" discussion with his counterparts in Ottawa about how Alberta's huge labour needs can be met under the program, while making sure it remains transparent and any abuses are addressed.
"We're going to have to find Alberta-specific solutions," he said. "Our circumstances are unique and we need to do that together with the federal government as a partner and we need to do it quickly."
It was the first time hosting the event for Premier Dave Hancock, who took the helm on an interim basis following Alison Redford's resignation in March. He said the recent tumult within the Progressive Conservative party in recent months hasn't dampened the mood at this year's event.
"I think Albertans work hard, they need to play hard. I think it's important for us to be part of coming together as a community and that's one of the things that the Calgary Stampede actually symbolizes."