Whistler tourism, income affected by crackdown on foreign workers

By , on September 2, 2014

Panoramic view of Whistler (Wikipedia photo)
Panoramic view of Whistler (Wikipedia photo)

OTTAWA — Canada’s posh and bustling ski-resort town of Whistler has made an urgent appeal to Ottawa officials about the Harper government’s initiatives to clamp down on its Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program.

The Vancouver Sun ran a story on September 1, in which it detailed that the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, represented by chamber chief executive Val Litwin, wrote a letter – with the support of the B.C. government and the province’s business community – to Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

The correspondence indicated that the resort town is losing clients from across the globe, and that restaurants in Whistler Village are now greatly challenged to find staff to alleviate the influx expected during the upcoming seasonal rush.

In the letter, the chamber asks Kenney to grant an exemption status to “deserving” Canadian resort communities and natural resource boom towns from the drastic, encompassing reforms.

In June of this year, Kenney made a decision to implement the sweeping changes to silence an escalating political controversy regarding several abuses to the program.

This has inadvertently backfired on Whistler’s business, as wealthy foreign clients – such as those who frequent the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort – have threatened to patronize resorts in the U.S. and Japan, given the current shortage of ski instructors who can speak foreign languages like Cantonese, Russian and Spanish.

Thus, it is projected that the resort’s usual tax revenue of roughly $1.2 million a day will be “significantly impacted” if the ski resorts, restaurants and other service businesses suffer a shortage of staff.

“We hope you will be responsive to the unintended consequences of the recent changes to the (program) and swift in your delivery of exceptions to deserving markets like Whistler. Our window of opportunity to sufficiently staff our businesses is beginning to close as we prepare for our winter season,” Litwin wrote in the letter.

Among the changes imposed by the federal government to the TFW program are:

• The program may not be utilized to hire staff for entry-level positions in the accommodation and food service sectors in any region where unemployment is six per cent or higher.

• A cap has been placed on the number of foreign workers who can be hired by any business

• A more stringent screening process has been set-up for employers who say they can’t find Canadian workers

• A significant raise in the application fee, from $275 to $1,000

In a recently held meeting with Whistler officials, Kenney told the chamber that Ottawa is amenable to exemptions from reforms, but only in particular communities in which unemployment rate is nearly zero, even if the community is situated in a region with a high rate of joblessness.

Litwin pointed out that Whistler has an unemployment rate of approximately two percent, and that the jobless rate of the B.C. region in which it is located was at 6.7 percent in 2013.

Nick Koolsbergen, spokesperson to Kenney, said on Friday that the matter is currently being discussed, and that they are determining whether Whistler meets the standards of exemption.