Several of the audience members had signs expressing their concerns at the all-candidates forum at the Kelowna Downtown Library on Sept. 22. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)

Candidates discuss migrant workers, refugees, immigration at Central Okanagan forum

Nine of the 12 candidates from the Central Okanagan ridings were present at the forum

Candidates from both Central Okanagan ridings met at the Kelowna Downtown Library on Saturday (Sept. 22) to discuss immigration, refugees and migrant workers with their potential constituents.

Nine of the 12 candidates from both Kelowna-Lake Country and Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola showed up to the forum, which was sponsored by Amnesty International: Kelowna, KAIROS (BC-Yukon) and Citizens for Public Justice.

The format of the forum saw each party given 10 minutes to tackle all three issues followed by a session of audience-submitted questions.

John Barr (People’s Party of Canada – Kelowna-Lake Country), though not present, did send a proxy in Peter Neville, the president of the Kelowna-Lake Country People’s Party of Canada riding association.

And it was him — as well as his party — who drew the ire of some of the crowd, several of whom belonged to the groups being discussed.

“We have to recognize that certain parts of immigrants cause large expenses for Canadian taxpayers,” said Neville.

“There are some (immigrants) who do not benefit (Canada) very much. We want to limit the sponsorship to people who are in the immediate family immigrating to Canada. That means that parents, grandparents and so on, have to come in on their own merits,” Neville said.

He continued, saying that immigrants are a burden to our medical and welfare systems, which caused several reactions from members of the crowd — and NDP candidate Justin Kulik — who called his position “shameful.”

Kulik, however, turned his aim instead to the Liberal candidates, calling the current temporary foreign workers program “broken.”

“An NDP government would make sure that immigration policies and levels meet Canada’s labour force needs and to recognize people’s experience, contribution and ties to Canada,” he said. “We’ll work with the provinces to address gaps in settlement services and to improve foreign credentials recognition.

“What we’re proposing, is allowing these people that are coming to Canada to work a pathway to becoming Canadian citizens. We want to be able to offer them permanent residency. We want them to be able to call Canada home if they so choose,” he said.

Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr (Kelowna-Lake Country) said the current program has helped Canada grow its workforce.

“We don’t have enough skilled (workers); we don’t have enough unskilled workers,” he said. “We need to get people here because it helps them, it helps us, and it’s mutually beneficial for everyone.”

Conservative candidate Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola) said his party would look to expand and improve integration services such as language training as well as an simpler immigration process.

“There are too many people that are waiting for their spouse and for their family members because of the long wait that happens,” Albas said.

“Part of it is by design, to make sure that everything goes ahead first, but part of is also is that there are a lot of challenges in the system. The system, currently, right now is overrun.”

The Green Party’s Robert Mellalieu (Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola) said the temporary foreign worker program needs to be abolished and replaced with a path to citizenship.

“We’re bringing in temporary foreign workers because we don’t feel like paying fruit pickers the proper wages and giving them the proper conditions,” Mellalieu said. “And they say we can’t find workers. Yeah, we can’t find workers that will work at that wage.”

READ MORE: Former PPC Kelowna-Lake Country president to run as independent

READ MORE: Kelowna business donates $8,000 to YMCA youth initiative


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