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Tories on the hot seat over youth temporary foreign workers program

OTTAWA - The Conservatives are under fire for yet another federal program that allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers — this one without an assessment of their skills or a requirement to pay them the prevailing market wage.

Under the International Experience Canada program, as many as 20,000 workers aged 18 to 35 are coming to Canada just as Canadian youth begin pounding the pavement in search of summer jobs.

John McCallum, the Liberal immigration critic, chastised the Conservatives about the program in the House of Commons.

He asked how the government can ban restaurants from participating in the temporary foreign workers program while allowing people from abroad to come to Canada without a so-called labour market opinion or rules on wages.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended the program, pointing out it allows "tens of thousands" of young Canadians to work abroad as part of its reciprocal nature.

Thirty-two countries participate in the IEC but government data indicates three times as many foreigners come to Canada under the program than the other way around. Fewer than 20,000 Canadian workers, on average, have accessed the program annually in recent years.

Unions say employers are taking advantage of IEC to bring in non-Canadian workers and are consequently driving down wages and cutting Canadians out of jobs.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander deflected criticism of the program, saying it was created by the Liberals in 1951 and expanded "dramatically" by the party in 2003.

Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25

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