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Grewal draws historical comparison to present day temporary foreign workers in Canada

The Vancouver Sun reports, “British Columbians from a cross-section of ethnic groups called on the Liberal government Friday to dramatically broaden an ‘obscure’ public consultation process over a proposed apology to the Chinese population for discriminatory policies that existed more than six decades ago.” The apology is reported to be for “the Chinese head tax, which ended in 1923, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was repealed in 1947.”

“Community activist Bill Chu organized the news conference in Richmond, where one of two residents are ethnic Chinese, while chastising the B.C. government for preparing to apologize for past wrongs to ethnic Chinese people without consulting widely with people who are not Chinese. …The wide-ranging news conference touched on a number of controversial topics. Links were made between B.C.’s early Chinese ‘coolies’ and Canada’s current temporary foreign workers and concerns were raised about the effect of foreign ownership on the high cost of Metro Vancouver housing.”

“(At the news conference), Harjap Grewal, who works for the centre-left Council of Canadians, compared the early Chinese men brought to B.C. to stop unionization efforts and work at ‘exploitative’ wages in the railway industry to the roughly 250,000 temporary foreign workers (TFWs) the federal Conservative government has now allowed into Canada. While many Canadians are concerned that the presence of an increasing number of TFWs is keeping Canadians’ wages low, Grewal emphasized the new TFWs have few rights, which makes them similar to Chinese workers of a century ago.”

On this point, in October 2012 the Vancouver Sun reported, “(Vancouver-based Dehua International Mines Group, which is) proposing (the Murray River) underground coal mine (on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains) near Tumbler Ridge in northeastern B.C. wants to bring in (just under 2,000) experienced miners from China as part of its operating plan… The company says it can’t find the specialized workers it needs in British Columbia, where there are few remaining underground mines. The federal government, which runs the temporary foreign worker program under which about 150,000 people are allowed into the country each year, agrees there is a labour shortage in mining.”

Making a similar point to Grewal, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom has commented, “Early on in the 20th century, the silver and gold mines of Northern Ontario imported thousands of foreign workers. …In every case, the point of the exercise was to bring in workers who were less likely to make common cause with those already there and who, therefore, would be willing to work for less. …So it is depressing in the extreme to see employers, aided and abetted by the federal government, engage in the same discredited tactics. …I expect the real reason that Canadian Dehua and its Chinese partners want to bring in Chinese miners is because they figure on getting more work for less money from them. As temporary migrants dependent on their employer for work visas, the Chinese workers will be less likely to complain. They also will be reluctant to join a union.”

Walkom also noted, “Under Stephen Harper’s federal government, the number of temporary migrant workers allowed into Canada has exploded. …This government just authorizes more temporary migrant workers, knowing full well that — regardless of their formal rights — they are in no position to complain. It’s one thing for the Harper Conservatives to return us to the status of a resource economy. It is another for them to insist that we become a low-wage resource economy.”