Employment Minister Jason Kenney took action on Thursday against the government's scandal-ridden temporary foreign worker program, banning restaurants from accessing the program amid a roar of criticism.
Hours after the C.D. Howe Institute said the program had spurred joblessness in BC and Alberta — two Tory strongholds — Kenney issued the surprise moratorium.
It came despite his insistence in recent weeks that only a small number of companies were abusing the program and his repeated vows to deal with those bad actors harshly, including with fraud charges if necessary.
"I am announcing an immediate moratorium on the food services sector's access to the temporary foreign worker program," Kenney said in a statement.
He added his ministry will not process any new or pending applications for temporary foreign workers from the food services sector, and any unfilled positions tied to previous approval will be suspended.
"This moratorium will remain in effect until the completion of the ongoing review of the temporary foreign worker program," he said.
But some stakeholders said they weren't impressed.
"I don't think he's gone far enough," said Stephen Hunt, the western Canada director for United Steelworkers. "This is just another Band-aid that they seem to want to put on this program."
Hundreds of Canadian companies and governmental departments employ temporary foreign workers, according to data compiled by Kenney's department. But there's been an especially dramatic increase in the number of hotels and restaurants accessing the program under the Conservatives.
Fast-food giant McDonald's has announced it is freezing its participation in the program pending a third-party audit after it found itself in hot water for hiring temporary foreign workers in BC.
The program — originally designed to address shortages of skilled workers, not to recruit menial labour — has ballooned from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country, according to the C.D. Howe report.