National News

Quebec wants foreign worker moratorium lifted

By Benjamin Shingler, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - The Quebec government is calling on Ottawa to lift the ban on restaurants hiring temporary foreign workers — at least when it comes to its own province.

The province's immigration minister Kathleen Weil was to meet with her federal counterpart Chris Alexander on Monday, according to her spokesman.

Dave McMahon said Weil will ask that Quebec be granted an exemption to the moratorium.

"We are a bit worried about the impact of the moratorium on our restaurants and on our small and medium-sized businesses," he said Sunday.

"We are ready to work with the federal government to tighten the rules of the program if need be."

Weil is also planning to make the same case to Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who oversees the temporary foreign workers program, McMahon said.

A spokeswoman for Kenney said there are no immediate plans to lift the ban, in Quebec or anywhere else.

"Abuse of the temporary foreign worker program will not be tolerated," Alexandra Fortier said in an email.

"Allegations of misuse will continue to be investigated and any employer found to have violated the rules will face serious consequences."

Ottawa announced the moratorium late last month, after a string of reports alleging the program was being misused by the restaurant industry.

Overall, the program has jumped from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country. Last year alone, Ottawa approved approximately 240,000 temporary foreign workers.

The moratorium has been widely criticized by industry groups.

Quebec's restaurant association called it "exaggerated and unreasonable."

McMahon said there hadn't been any problems in Quebec.

"As we speak there's no abuse that's been reported to us in Quebec, and especially in the restaurant sector," he said.

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