Ottawa Eases Foreign Worker Rules To Help Quebec With Labour Shortage

The federal government in Ottawa is making it easier for Quebec employers to hire temporary foreign workers in key industries such as food and healthcare as the province grapples with an acute labor shortage.

Temporary workers from outside Canada can now make up as much as 20% of the workforce for low-wage positions in certain sectors, up from 10% previously, the federal government said in a news release.

The moves won praise from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which conducted a survey of small firms in November that showed Quebec as the province hardest hit by labor shortages.

With unemployment in Quebec at 4.6% and job vacancies up 73% over two years, the provincial government has made the job market a priority for 2022. In a November budget update, the Quebec government pledged almost $3 billion over five years to help train or attract workers in crucial economic sectors.

Quebec companies are having a hard time filling low-paying jobs after the economy emerged from pandemic lockdowns. But the province’s predicament, which pre-dates the crisis, is also shaped by aging demographics, a tougher approach to immigration, and a skills shortage.

The number of Quebec residents of working age grew by just 120,000 between 2010 and 2020, a 60% drop from the previous decade, and is set to decline by almost 100,000 between 2020 and 2030, according to a November study by Institut du Quebec, an economic think tank.

Compared to other Canadian provinces, aging workers in Quebec tend to leave the workforce faster. The participation rate for Quebeckers between 60 and 64 years old was 54% in 2021, versus 60% in Ontario and a national average of 58%.

The government has been dangling financial incentives to keep older workers on the job longer. It’s also offering scholarships of as much as $20,000 to lure students to information technology, engineering or nursing programs.