Conservative MP and former PMO director of communications John Williamson is apologizing for controversial comments he made Saturday about Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program.
Williamson’s apology comes after he told delegates at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa that it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while companies “bring in brown people” as temporary foreign workers.
“Today I used offensive and inappropriate language regarding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. For this I apologize unreservedly,” the New Brunswick MP said later in a series of tweets.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”This is an incredible statement in Canadian politics in 2015,” … “I think that language is 100 per cent inappropriate for any issue.”[/quote]
“I believe different parts of Canada have different labour needs. With respect to my region, I believe employers in my district need to work to fill job vacancies by prioritizing Canadians for available jobs.”
Responding to a question about the shortage of workers in meat packing and processing plants, Williamson said the Temporary Foreign Worker program has different impacts in various regions of the country.
“I know this has been a bigger issue in Western Canada than it has been in my part of the country,” he said.
“My part of the country, I deal with temporary foreign workers and the interaction with employment insurance, and it makes no sense from my point of view, I’m going to put this in terms of colours but it’s not meant to be about race, it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs.
“When I have 10 to 12 per cent unemployment rates in my province, I’m not going to abide by a policy that encourages people to stay home and collect an EI cheque and bring people from overseas to fill these jobs. I know it is different in Western Canada, but I’ve also seen cases in Western Canada where companies were putting in Mandarin as a requirement for a job requirement, thereby bringing in Chinese workers.
“That is unacceptable.”
Companies, he said, should not be allowed to use the program to bring in foreign workers who “have fewer rights than Canadian-born workers and then drive down wages on working families,” he said.
Businesses like the cattle industry, Williamson said, should air their grievances to their respective members of parliament who are better “in tune with [the industry’s] labour needs.”
Williamson was named Harper’s director of communications — one of nine over the past nine years — in 2009. He resigned in 2010 after deciding to seek elected office. He has represented New Brunswick Southwest for the Tories since 2011.
That communications experience should have prevented comments of this nature, said John McCallum, Liberal critic for citizenship and immigration, multiculturalism, and seniors.
“Someone holding that job should know something about choosing words to communicate and I think that was a preposterous choice of words,” McCallum said.
“This is an incredible statement in Canadian politics in 2015,” he said, adding “I think that language is 100 per cent inappropriate for any issue.”
Meanwhile, NDP Employment and Social Development Critic Jinny Sims said she was “shocked that this was being said in our Canada.”
“I think the kind of inflammatory comments made by Mr. Williamson give me rise for great concern,” she said when reached by phone, noting Saturday’s development does not “reflect well on the person who made the statement or the party that that person is associated with.”
Canada is a multicultural nation, she said, one that is built by immigrants. Given this, comments like the ones made by Williamson, she said, were “distressful.”
“It’s good that he’s apologized,” Sims said, but cautioned “this is a big, big thing to have said and just saying sorry doesn’t eradicate it.”
Williamson’s comments come after the federal government, led by then Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, introduced major, sweeping reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in June 2014 after a series of abuse scandals put the Conservatives on the defensive.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“I believe different parts of Canada have different labour needs. With respect to my region, I believe employers in my district need to work to fill job vacancies by prioritizing Canadians for available jobs.”[/quote]
Those changes, Williamson said, were warranted despite concerns from industries, particularly in Western Canada, who have now been left scrambling to find workers.
“There was a public perception where business was seen, I think rightly so, given the cases involving companies big and small, as taking advantage of this program,” Williamson said.
Sims, though, insisted the Temporary Foreign Worker program was “broken” and the fact the government is now trying to “assign blame is simply outrageous.”
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca