Temporary Foreign Worker Programs
The Western Canadian ski industry aggressively recruits Canadians to fill its job vacancies; however, we do not receive enough Canadian applications to fill all of our 19,000 positions. Thus, we utilize the federal temporary foreign worker programs to augment our Canadian workforce.
In recent years, Western Canada has experienced low unemployment rates relative to the balance of Canada, making it challenging to recruit Canadians into our industry. In specific mountain resort communities (e.g. Whistler & Banff), the labour market is even tighter, making it even more difficult to fill job vacancies.
The tourism industry is the largest employer of youth (15-24 year olds), which account for 1/3 of the tourism workforce. However, demographic data indicates that the youth population in Western Canada is declining at a significant rate. For example, 2014-15 BC Ministry of Education statistics show a total of 60,244 Grade 12 students but only 44,236 Grade 7 students. These trends will contribute to an increasing labour shortage in the BC ski and tourism industries. Clearly, TFW Programs can play a very positive role in offsetting the adverse impact of these labour shortages.
The ski industry is very economically challenging, due to high capital and operating costs, and the seasonal and weather-dependent nature of the business. Thus, many ski areas in Western Canada are struggling to break even, and financial failures are not uncommon. Our most recent financial survey highlights the seriousness of this situation, with 55% of our alpine ski areas reporting financial losses for the 2014-15 ski season. There can be little doubt that major cuts to federal TFW Programs will exacerbate these challenges and increase the likelihood of bankruptcies in our industry.
Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program
The majority of TFW’s utilized by alpine ski resorts are snow sports instructors. These snow sports instructors are highly trained professionals who work globally. They play a key role in promoting safe and enjoyable skiing & boarding, thus growing the sport and future business. They also bring new clients to their resorts and provide much needed instruction in foreign languages.
British Columbia is the world leader in helicopter and cat skiing. These businesses also rely on the TFW Program to augment their Canadian workforce. Most notably, a number of operators source mountain guides through the TFW Program. Clearly, the ability to secure experienced guides is critically important to this sector, both from a safety and guest experience perspective.
During 2013 and 2014 the federal government introduced various administrative and financial barriers to discourage use of the TFW Program. For example, the TFW processing fee was increased from $0 to $275 to $1,000. This fee increase was very difficult to absorb in the ski industry, where many operators were struggling to break even. Moreover, while our industry was hit with draconian fee increases, other industries that utilize seasonal TFW’s (e.g. on-farm primary agriculture) continued to be exempt from these fees.
The recent changes to the TFW Program have had a markedly negative impact on the Western Canadian Ski Industry. Some ski areas have absorbed the TFW Program fees ($1,000 per application) in a bid to protect their snow school revenue streams. Others have scaled back their snow schools, compromising their ability to compete effectively in the highly competitive global tourism market. Overall, the TFW Program changes have caused economic contraction within our industry, while failing to generate greater employment opportunities for Canadians. In light of these issues, we believe that the federal government should re-focus its program reform efforts on the small minority of employers that have abused the TFW Program, rather than implementing measures that punish employers that use the program responsibly.
International Experience Canada (IEC) Program
The IEC Program is based on reciprocal bilateral agreements between Canada and other countries around the world. Therefore, by accepting IEC employees from other countries, we are creating opportunities for Canadians to travel and work in those countries. In our view, this is a mutually beneficial approach to exchanging employment and travel opportunities between a diverse range of countries and cultures.
Within the ski industry, the IEC Program plays a critical role in staffing a variety of seasonal positions, including lift attendants, retail & rental employees, ski instructors and cooks. While we diligently recruit Canadians for these positions, we do not receive sufficient Canadian applications to fill all of our vacancies. This reflects the simple reality that many Canadians have no interest in pursuing seasonal employment in the winter tourism industry.
Working Holiday Visa (IEC) employees greatly enhance the customer experience at our resorts and are excellent cultural ambassadors for their home countries. In addition, foreign nationals travelling in Canada on IEC visas have a direct positive economic impact by participating in recreational activities, staying at commercial accommodations, and eating at various food service establishments. Moreover, these working holiday experiences are a significant catalyst for future tourist arrivals, as both the employee, and their friends & family, have a high propensity to visit Canada following the work term.
Conclusions & Recommendations
The Mandate Letter to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism (November 2015) emphasizes the need to:
a) Promote Canadian tourism and strengthen the Canadian brand abroad for tourists; and
b) Reduce the administrative burden on small business.
In our opinion, restoring legitimate access to TFW programs would help accomplish both of these objectives.
The Canadian tourism industry is a key driver of the Canadian economy, generating $88.5 billion in annual revenues and 628,000 jobs. Accordingly, we would strongly encourage the federal government to adopt policies that support growth in tourism, allowing Canada to regain its position as a leading destination for the world’s travellers.
This policy was approved by the CWSAA Board on February 4, 2015, and most recently updated on January 8, 2016.