Language credentials turned upside-down in HD Mining case – Globe and Mail Editorial (May 27, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The Federal Court of Canada’s judgment last week in the HD Mining case was something of a pyrrhic victory for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as it now stands. The topsy-turvy upshot is that suitable Canadian miners could not be found for a coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., in large measure because the predominant language at the mine is Mandarin, which the Chinese government recognizes as China’s national language.

Justice Russel Zinn of the Federal Court upheld a labour market opinion issued by William MacLean, an officer of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in which he had found that the hiring of 201 Chinese workers at the coal mine would have “a neutral or positive effect on the labour market in Canada.” That opinion enabled HD Mining International Ltd., a Chinese-controlled company, to hire the foreign workers. The Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers challenged that opinion in court.

Given the list of factors that it was Mr. MacLean’s duty to consider, his conclusion was right. But because the language of that particular workplace is Mandarin, most English-speaking miners in northeastern British Columbia would not be able to communicate with their fellow employees in HD Mining’s Murray River project.

Language-of-workplace legislation is well known in Canada through the Québécois nationalist Charter of the French Language, often referred to as Bill 101 (there is now a Bill 14, to tighten it up). Many or most Canadians outside Quebec would be uncomfortable with similar laws that required either English or French to be the language of workplaces – to say nothing of a foreign language.

Instead, the federal government is right to be reportedly moving toward a revision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, so that companies that apply for authorization to hire temporary foreign workers can no longer make a foreign language a requirement for the jobs concerned.

On the surface, the two unions’ lawsuit was unsuccessful, but it is succeeding in bringing sensible reforms to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

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