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The federal government’s temporary foreign worker approvals have increased 176 percent since 2015

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Mexican and Guatemalan workers pick strawberries at the Faucher strawberry farm, Tuesday, August 24, 2021 in Pont Rouge Que. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press.

Three charts showing the increase of foreign worker approvals by occupation and area

Nearly all applications for jobs to be filled under the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program were accepted last year, as the number of approved requests have risen by more than 170 percent since 2015.

According to data collected by The Hub, in 2023, nearly all roles filed through the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program were approved—98.79 percent, 228,429, or just over the population number of Regina. That’s a 10 percentage point rise since 2015.

Percent of portion of accepted foreign worker roles from decided Labour Market Impact Assessment filings. Chart: Kiernan Green, The Hub.

In 2022 alone, tens of thousands of more applications were made in the sectors of sales and service, trades and transport, and agriculture following an expansion of the program.

The Employment and Social Development Canada data reviewed shows the number of roles approved through Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) by the government. When a Canadian employer wants to fill a job position with a foreign worker, in the majority of cases they are required to file an LMIA.

The application includes details like their sector and the number of roles they seek to fill with a foreign worker. The LMIA, reviewed, approved, or denied by Employment and Social Development Canada, determines if a foreign worker is truly needed and if no Canadian or permanent resident is available to do the job.

The resulting Temporary Foreign Worker Program work permit allows foreign nationals to work in Canada temporarily. Between 2006 and 2010, nearly half (47 percent) of foreign workers who had used the program for 10 years transitioned to permanent residency.

Approved LMIAs do not necessarily mean a foreign worker enters Canada, as employers may not necessarily ultimately fill the requested job. Nevertheless, the large increase in LMIA applications and their approvals demonstrates Canada’s increasing reliance on foreign labour. Canadian employers have evidently leapt at opportunities to hire more workers outside of Canada.

In 2023 the total number of jobs approved for foreign workers reached 228,429. That was a 107 percent increase from 2021’s 110,342 approvals, and more than double (176 percent) 2015's 82,683 approvals.

Natural resources and agriculture occupations like farm labourers and greenhouse workers, which have historically provided the most opportunities to Canada’s foreign workers, had 32,388 additional jobs approved in 2023 over those approved in 2021.

But the greatest additional jobs approved in 2023 compared to 2021 were in sales (34,433 additional jobs, totalling 46,525) and trades, transport, and equipment operators (22,949 additional jobs totalling 34,480).

The cause of the major growth in foreign worker application acceptance was the Trudeau government’s expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in April 2022. As Canada added 337,000 jobs to bring unemployment to pre-pandemic levels, Carla Qualtrough, then-employment, workforce development, and disability inclusion minister, announced a new plan, called the Workforce Solutions Road Map, to see foreign workers “meet the labour market needs of today” and address Canadian labour shortages.

That same year, the cap on the proportion of low-wage foreign workers was raised from 10 to 20 percent for all employers, and to 30 percent in seven sectors with “demonstrated labour shortages in low-wage positions.” These included construction; hospitals; accommodation and food services; nursing and residential care facilities; and manufacturing in food, wood, and furniture products.

Additionally, the government permanently removed a cap on foreign worker’s low-wage seasonal employment. This included jobs like agricultural harvesting.

It's a reversal from the Liberal Party’s 2014 promise to reduce the number of foreign workers accepted to the country.

“As a result of the Conservatives’ mismanagement, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has failed to achieve its original objective of filling jobs when qualified Canadian workers cannot be found, and Liberals are calling for the program to be scaled back and re-focused on its original purpose,” said then-Liberal critic for citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism, John McCallum.

In 2022, the federal government also ended a policy that automatically rejected foreign workers’ TFW applications for low-wage occupations in accommodation, food services, and retail trade in regions with an unemployment rate of six percent or higher.

Between 2019 and 2020, employment declined in accommodation and food services by over 380,000, retail trade by over 164,000, and construction by over 78,000.

Regionally, most foreign worker jobs approved in the past year centred around metropolitan centres. Surrey, B.C., saw the most, 13,502, followed by Calgary (10,193) and Toronto (9,631). Farmland throughout southern Ontario and Quebec and natural resource destinations in northern Alberta and Nova Scotia have also welcomed more TFWs.

On May 1 this year, Employment and Social Development Canada altered certain measures of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program Road Map earlier than anticipated due to the “surge in demand” and declining job vacancies. For instance, the government reduced the TFW cap from 30 to 20 percent in seven sectors under special consideration, excluding construction and healthcare.

LMIAs are now valid to hire foreign workers for six months, down from 12.

A major upset: Five Tweets on the Conservatives winning the Toronto-St. Paul’s by-election

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Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a rally in Ottawa, on Sunday, March 24, 2024. Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press.

In a late-night nail biter last night, the Conservatives won the Toronto-St. Paul’s riding for the first time since the 1980s. The midtown urban riding has long been considered one of the safest Liberal seats in Canada.

At 4:00 a.m. today, Don Stewart, a former financial and investment advisor on Bay Street, flipped the riding blue by approximately 590 votes, or 1.6 percent. He had breached a Liberal stronghold.

Stewart’s primary opponent was Liberal candidate Leslie Church, former chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Several pollsters and pundits contended before the byelection results trickled in that a Conservative win and a Liberal loss in the riding may pressure Prime Minister Trudeau to step down as Liberal leader and indicate a future majority Conservative government led by Pierre Poilievre.

Here are five Tweets on the Toronto-St Paul’s by-election.

Polling aggregator 338 had the Liberals winning Toronto-St Paul’s by four percent in their latest projection. Other pollsters and commentators figured that the Conservatives may come close, with that being a symbolic victory in and of itself. But, much to the shock of spectators all over the country, the Conservatives pulled off what some journalists are describing as, “one of the biggest by-election upsets in Canadian history.”

For weeks, Liberal cabinet ministers, along with the prime minister, have been descending on the riding to door-knock and drum up support.

On the morning of by-election day, Chrystia Freeland gave a speech where she claimed that the Conservative choice in the Toronto-St. Paul’s race was “cold, and cruel and small.” She also implied that voting for the Conservatives, whom she called “the alternative,” would be a vote for austerity and a lack of belief in Canada. It was received by many online eye-rolls.

The by-election results were not solidified until the day after the vote, which might be attributed to the near-metre-long ballot consisting of 84 candidates. An activist group called the Longest Ballot Committee has taken responsibility for many of the independent candidates on the ballot, saying they are “having fun and breaking records until the electoral reform promised is delivered.” During the 2015 election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised that vote would be the last one under the first-past-the-post system.

As the by-election results slowly began to trickle out, the Edmonton Oilers lost a hard-fought game seven of the 2024 Stanley Cup final to the Florida Panthers.

Eventually, however, the results came through.

Don Stewart will be the next Honourable Member for Toronto-St. Paul’s, making him the first Conservative to take the seat since 1988. The Liberals won the seat in 1993. Carolyn Bennett, a well-known cabinet minister, represented the Liberal stronghold from 1997 until this year, when she was appointed Canada’s ambassador to Denmark.

The Conservatives gained 16.8 percent in this by-election, compared to their performance in the 2021 federal election.

The by-election results might suggest that political winds of change are blowing through Canada. If what was once seen as a safe seat for the Liberals can be flipped, an even bigger swing could be possible in the next federal election, expected before October 2025.

David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, finds that the Conservatives can flip upwards of 50 Liberal seats in Ontario alone, based on the historic outcome of the Toronto-St. Paul’s by-election.

All eyes are now on Prime Minister Trudeau to see if he will take the loss to heart and step down—a moment his critics are anxiously awaiting. Still, some Conservatives think his departure might not be a net positive for the coming campaign, given how Poilievre has honed his attacks against the Liberal leader, who has now governed Canada for almost a decade.