Canada Seeks Mexican Workers

August 22, 2007

Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

In a move which will probably sound startling to Americans, (and while we’re shortsightedly alienating every Mexican in sight with our distasteful xenophobic racial slurs and systematically making life harder and harder for Mexican workers in the states, Canada has decided it wants more Mexican workers.

Why? Because the price is right. Canada already has a Seasonal Agricultural Workers program which takes in 12,000 Mexican workers a year, but is looking at ways to bring more Mexicans to Canada to fill semi-skilled or low-skilled jobs. Due to factors such as the sharp rise in the value of the Canadian dollar (expected to be at or above par with the U.S. dollar by late 2007 or early 2008), Canadian unemployment is at the lowest level in over 30 years. More workers are needed to fill low-skilled positions, especially as younger Canadians travel to the tar sands of Alberta and receive high wages working in the oil industry, or travel to the Northwest Territories to mine diamonds.

Migrant Worker

A commission to look into increased labor mobility was expected to be formed at this week’s Montebello, Québec summit meeting, with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper scheduled to meet privately today regarding the guest worker program; however, Calderon left a day early due to Hurricane Dean striking Mexico. Mexico’s ambassador to Canada, Emilio Goicoechea, said last week that the idea is to expand the already-successful seasonal worker program: “The first step will be a declaration from the leaders and the political will to do it, and the question of how it will happen will be up to a working group that will work out the details with Mexican and Canadian legislation.”

While the Canadian minimum wage varies slightly by province, all provincial minimum wages, as seen in this chart, are close to the $8.00 an hour mandated in Québec and Ontario; in some provinces, it’s as high as $8.50. Based on today’s exchange rate, that means a Mexican working for $8.00 an hour in Canada would receive the equivalent of $7.53 U.S. dollars per hour, far more than the American minimum wage of $5.85 an hour. Frequently, undocumented workers are not paid the American minimum wage. It’s believed that the Mexicans will also qualify for Canadian health care.

In June, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation that would have allowed more Mexican workers to legally enter the States and would have granted citizenship to millions already here illegally but working productively at mostly menial jobs in agriculture, in landscaping, in slaughterhouses, etc., which have a hard time attracting workers. Lacking clear directives from an immigration bill, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff initiated a measure to crack down on employers hiring illegals — which has sparked an outcry from both Mexicans and American industries which depend on the workers. In some circles, Chertoff’s directive is viewed as a sort of end run around the failed immigration legislation, intended to keep the issue before members of Congress who are now hearing from employers who can’t find employees. It’s likely that the lack of a Mexican work force will drive up construction costs and food prices, among other things.

Pipe Dream

One other odd factor in the United States’ approach to immigration is that the tax base could be dramatically increased by 12 to 20 million people if the illegals were legalized. As it is, these workers often pay more than their fair share of taxes because they are afraid in their circumstances to file tax returns and the government thus gets to keep all of the withheld taxes, some of which might otherwise be returned to the workers. We believe America has shot itself in the foot with its short-sighted and draconian immigration policies. It’s also a pipe dream to think that we can track down, detain and deport 12 to 20 million people, who could otherwise be working and paying taxes.

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Photo credits: CP/Fred Chartrand and

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