BC Chamber adopts two policies submitted by the FSJ & Dist Chamber of Commerce at the BC Chamber AGM

#1 – EXPLORING PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT ON MAJOR NEW TAXATION INITIATIVES
There is widespread agreement that a major reason for the rejection of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in BC was the lack of provincial government consultation before the HST’s implementation. Chambers across BC have long lobbied for the implementation of an HST and the report published by the independent HST Review Panel appointed by the government states that “virtually all economic analysis finds the HST increases economic growth, productivity, wages and the quality of jobs.” Thus, there are very strong arguments in favour of the HST1. The problem is that the government, in this case, did not make these arguments before implementing the HST.

The rejection of the HST by voters in the recent referendum has been quite costly to the BC economy. According the Independent Review Panel , by 2020, the HST would have added 24 000 jobs and 2.5 billion dollars to BC’s economy. This has all been lost. Additionally, the BC Government is obligated to pay $1.6 billion in HST transition assistance back to the federal government.

Going forward, let us work to salvage some golden lessons from the HST shipwreck. Specifically, the provincial government and federal government should substantively engage the public before the implementation of major new taxation initiatives.

The Chamber recognizes that substantive consultation processes already exist in terms of identifying public policy priorities involving taxation.

In addition to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services annual Budget Consultations the province is undertaking a review on BC’s tax competitiveness, a review of the BC Carbon Tax and has recently undertaken a review of BC’s major industrial property tax structure. However, these initiatives are not guide by any principles regarding outreach and more importantly no-one is held to account for the recommendations that arise from these processes.

The Chamber therefore believes that such engagement should be guided by worldwide standards for effective public engagement., one example being the core values for the practice of public participation created by the International Association of Public Participation:

1. Stakeholder participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
2. Stakeholder participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
3. Stakeholder participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
4. Stakeholder participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
5. Stakeholder participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
6. Stakeholder participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
7. Stakeholder participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.

THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government work with all stakeholders. public and private to explore the creation of public engagement models that can be used during the proposal and implementation of major taxation initiatives.

Submitted by the Fort St John Chamber of Commerce
The Policy Review Committee supports this resolution

#2 – FOREIGN WORKER PROTECTION POLICY

The Government of British Columbia has legislation and agencies in place to protect workers in the province; however, these laws, and agencies with non secure funding may not be adequately protecting foreign workers who are vulnerable to unfair treatment.

While temporary foreign workers are covered by occupational health and safety regulations and labor standards, there are employers who are not following the rules.

With dramatic increases in foreign workers in Northeastern British Columbia, and across the country, we are seeing an increase in the number of complaints from foreign workers regarding abuse and mistreatment. Fair treatment of these workers and protection of their rights will encourage other foreign workers to consider the Northeast sector of British Columbia as a place to work and build their future. Foreign workers are typically more susceptible to abuse and mistreatment by recruiters and employers since they are not familiar with Canadian laws and culture, and hence are more vulnerable. For example: Foreign workers are ordered to live in the housing provided by employers, which are overcrowded by Canadian standards. Some three bedroom dwellings are housing up to 6 and sometimes more individuals. Each of these individuals is paying $500 or more per month, plus utilities, plus travel to and from work. They are also given long work hours without being compensated fairly for the overtime. If any of these individuals complain, the employer tells them they either abide by his rules or he will send them home.

With the growth of the TFWP, employers are increasingly dependent on recruitment agencies — also known as “labour brokers,” “employment brokers” or “recruiters” — to help match them with appropriate temporary foreign workers. Too often, however, instead of legitimately earning their fee from employers, recruiters charge prospective foreign workers for work placement, which is illegal under several provincial laws. In addition, recruiters sometimes engage in illicit conduct, such as charging a fee to bring the worker to Canada for a job that never existed, no longer exists when the worker arrives, or exists for only a short time before the worker is laid off.

Regulation of recruitment agencies is a provincial matter, meaning there is no consistent set of rules across Canada, but only some provinces regulate recruiters. In Alberta, employment agencies (which include recruiters) must be licensed and are prohibited from charging foreign workers fees for assisting with settlement3. The system is complaint driven, and temporary foreign workers are less likely than others to file a complaint against a broker, due to lack of awareness of their rights, self-censorship to protect their jobs (especially now that LMOs are so difficult to obtain) and fear of reprisal.

Some efforts at improvement are being made in Alberta. In its 2009 Temporary Foreign Worker Guide for Employees, the Alberta government explains: “Employment agencies charge the employer a fee for recruiting each worker. This fee is negotiated between the employer and employment agency. The employer will not be able to recover the cost of this service from the employee. Any agency that indicates this is possible is wrong. Fees cannot be charged to potential or recruited workers to find a job” (Alberta 2009d, 104). In 2008, Alberta also issued a guide for employers that use employment agencies (Alberta 2008b). However, despite such worthwhile steps to provide information to both employees and employers about the dangers of unscrupulous agencies, the onus still falls on employees to make a complaint and on employers to monitor the performance of the agency. Yet, in about 30 percent of cases in Alberta, the employer is not aware of the fact that recruitment agencies are charging workers fees for recruitment5.

Other provinces such as Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are working towards implementing new legislation to protect temporary foreign workers6, especially recruitment and unfair treatment7.
Due to the huge shale gas finds in NEBC, over 80,000 jobs are expected to be created between Fort Nelson, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek over the next 25 years8,

The Northeast is driving the BC economy9 the export value per experienced labor force participant in the Northeast was $240,858.00 in 2006, compared to $31,935.00 in the rest of BC. With the unemployment rate sitting at approximately 4% for the Northeast, we are virtually at full employment and must look to the hiring of Foreign Workers play an important role as a temporary and permanent solution to filling the positions that exist today and in the ongoing growth and success of our economy, and are some of the most vulnerable workers in our province.

THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government;
1. review enforcement in place to ensure regulations and standards are being followed;
2. review the penalties for employers not meeting the regulations and/or standards;
3. ensure funding for existing Foreign Worker assistance agencies/settlement services; and
4. expand the mandate and funding of settlement service organizations to include help for the TFW

Submitted by the Fort St John Chamber of Commerce
The Policy Review Committee supports this resolution

3 Alberta, Employment Agency Business Licensing Regulation, Alta Reg. 189/1999; Albert, Fair Trading Act, R.S.A.2000
4 Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 2009d. “Facts and Figures 2008 – Immigration Overview; Permanent and temporary Residents, Canada, Temporary Residents by Yearly Status, 1984 to 2008, Ottawa
5 Interview with Jeff Cowlings, Manager, Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office, Edmonton, Albert, June 16,2009