B.C. needs immigrants ‘to fill jobs’: There’s a shortage of skilled workers in the midst of a booming economy, premier says

by Bruce Constantineau

The B.C. government is lobbying Ottawa to amend immigration rules to allow international workers to fill jobs that are going begging throughout the province, Premier Gordon Campbell said Thursday.

One of the proposals includes bringing in seasonal workers who can be sent home once they’re no longer needed, Campbell said.

“We have literally billions of dollars of construction that’s on the books now as a result of a thriving economy … and we clearly have a shortage of skilled trades people,” he told reporters after a Vancouver speech to the Coalition of B.C. Businesses.

“We have to look at training initiatives and immigration opportunities and we’re working with Canada to see if we can find a way that that will work for us.”

The B.C. unemployment rate dropped to a 30-year low of 4.9 per cent last month as 18,000 more people found jobs in several industries. Employment in the province has grown by 90,000 jobs in the past year, for a job-growth rate of 4.3 per cent — the highest in Canada.

Campbell said construction job opportunities abound and noted there is also a big demand for entry-level workers in the hospitality industry.

“We’re thinking of perhaps bringing in seasonal workers and then they go back home,” he said. “All that stuff is in the early stages. We have to find a way to meet the job demands of British Columbia.”

Campbell said potential international sources for new workers include Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Mexico. Fraser Valley and Okanagan fruit growers have used temporary workers from Mexico to harvest their crops in the past two years, under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Campbell said Alberta has a program that allows international workers to fill jobs around Fort McMurray, but he wants immigration rules that would allow workers to take jobs anywhere they’re needed in B.C.

“I’m thinking of a province-wide program that doesn’t hold back our economy because there happens to be a worker shortage right now,” he said.

Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. chief executive officer Mary Mahon Jones said the industry clearly welcomes any initiatives to relieve worker shortages.

“We have more jobs than workers now and we know there are skilled workers available beyond our domestic borders,” she said. “We need to come up with some real creative approaches to deal with this issue. It’s not like we’d be taking jobs away from B.C. people.”