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The horror! MP Brent Rathgeber on the nightmare of too few TFWs

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Brent Rathgeber

St. ALBERT, Alberta

I have a challenge for Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce and all the other hysterics wailing about the disaster wrought by the federal government when it imposed some modest limitations on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, some of which don't apply to Alberta anyway.

Show me one -- just one! -- Alberta company that's had to go out of business because of a shortage of TFWs.

Rathgeber and the local chamber here in the Edmonton bedroom community of St. Albert were in full flight last week about the horrors that await us if the TFW spigot isn't turned back to full, posthaste.

"The situation is actually worse than I thought," a horrified Rathgeber told the credulous local twice-weekly after his audience before the local Chamber of Horrors, I mean Commerce, which the paper indicated was a private get-together at which the horrified Chamber men and maids could spin their horrifying yarns without interruptions or questions from the unwashed, which would be horrifying, I presume.

Rathgeber, an Independent MP who not so long ago resigned from the federal Conservative caucus in Ottawa, says he has decided to run again under no party banner. To do so, he has apparently hit upon the strategy of campaigning to the right of the Harper Conservatives. This is hard to do at the best of times, but on the issue of TFWs, he seems to be succeeding. And it sure beats going out and door knocking, which both of his Conservative challengers have been doing.

Why, said Rathgeber, the possibilities of an insufficient supply of foreign indentured labourers are simply appalling: "It is quite conceivable, and they told me I could tell you, both Tim Hortons and McDonald's may not be able to operate any of their stores 24/7," our MP told the local rag.

I'm just going to pause to give readers an opportunity to get the breath back and get back up from the floor after thinking about that one. Good gosh, does he mean we won't be able to go out for coffee at 3 a.m.! In a town where the last of the liquor stores closes at 2? How will the people driving through on their way Fox Creek and Fort McMurray sober up?

It only gets worse from here. Among the other frightening consequences of a TFW shortage enumerated by Rathgeber, with a hearty Hear! Hear! from the spokesperson for the local Chamber are the following:

-    Local restaurant owners may put off plans to expand. (The MP explained: "They can't staff the stores they have, why do they want to build another one?")

-    Canadian employees, already reviled by Rathgeber and the Chamber's members as shiftless and lazy, may get even crankier! ("They get overworked and frustrated -- and leave," explained the local paper.)

-    If fast food restaurants aren't open as many hours, they'll buy fewer supplies -- and, get this, according to Rathgeber they actually do buy some supplies locally! I confess I have no idea how many all-beef patties our three local McDonald'ses sell between midnight and 7 a.m., but I'm betting it’s not all that many.

-    And the piece de la resistance, "philanthropic donations from local franchisees might go down as their profits dwindle."

Readers will be getting the hint by now -- even before I get to the likely story that local businesses will have to start laying off Canadian employees if they can't have their TFWs -- that your blogger is not all that shaken by the dire possibilities enumerated by our local MP.

Indeed, the only moment Rathgeber found himself in the vicinity of the real story, it's said here, was when he suggested, again in the words of the local paper, that "in some high volume, low-margin industries, raising wages could have a dramatic impact."

Exactly! Without Ottawa interfering in the local labour market to keep wages as low as possible, the Alberta fast-food industry faces the appalling prospect of having to pay its employees something approaching a living wage. And after them, who's next? Wal-Mart?

Worse, they'll have to put up with uppity Canadian employees, who are well known for standing up for their rights, even complaining to Alberta's toothless Employment Standards branch!

The possibilities are endless, and to Rathgeber and the Chamber, apparently endlessly horrifying.

But bottom line -- and this is the truly horrifying part -- if they start to pay a living wage, their profits might have to decline a little. Either that, or we'd have to pay a few cents more for our coffee.

One thing that won't happen, though, is that any Alberta business will ever have to close because of a shortage of TFWs.

A lousy business plan? Maybe. A wrong guess about what the market wants? Quite possibly.

But a shortage of indentured labour from abroad? If that's going to kill your business, you need to be in another business.

I'll say it again: No Alberta business has ever failed because of a shortage of TFWs and no Alberta business ever will.

I challenge Rathgeber and the local Chamber -- and all the other conservative MPs and all their local chambers -- to name just one shuttered Alberta business that even makes that claim. Then we can actually look at the facts of the case.

In the mean time, the big threats are no Big Macs at 3 a.m., crabby waitrons and a dip in philanthropic donations?

Please!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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