Audio revealed from Prime Minister Harper's ethnic event
Stephen Harper asked about his legacy and the foreign worker program during an unpublicized roundtable that excluded mainstream English journalists and some larger ethnic outlets. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)
Stephen Harper’s unpublicized roundtable with ethnic media in Vancouver last week featured a fawning thank you from a refugee reporter, while another journalist asked the prime minister what he would like his “legacy” of greatest achievements to be, according to audio supplied to 24 hours.
The event, attended by about a dozen ethnic media members, excluded mainstream English journalists and some larger ethnic outlets, and was held after Harper spoke the Vancouver Board of Trade Jan. 6.
The roundtable was not mentioned on the prime minister’s itinerary or by the MPs who attended.
Audio supplied to 24 hours by one of the reporters invited to the roundtable reveals Harper telling the reporters “far more” people are working in Canada now than were working before the recession began.
According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in October 2008 was 6.3% and sat at 7.2% at the end of 2013.
During the 45-minute conversation, he also claimed the federal government has recently reined in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, despite massive growth in the program over the last decade.
“Before this government took office, and since, those programs have grown very dramatically,” Harper said. “We saw numerous examples of abuse of this program, outright abuse, companies importing workers for the sole purpose of paying less than the prevailing wage.”
Up until recently, the program legally allowed employers to pay 15% less than the prevailing wage to make up for recruitment fees. The discount has since been cancelled.
Harper said Canada needs fewer temporary foreign workers and more permanent foreign workers.
“What I say is if you really need temporary workers permanently then that means we need permanent workers who become Canadian,” Harper said, lightly thumping the table. “They have a right to stay here and they have a right to bargain with their employer.”
A reporter explained he had “escaped” Iran and thanked the prime minister from “the bottom of our hearts” for his stance on that country’s human rights issues before asking Harper his opinion on it.
“There’s a new president who has, in my judgment, received a lot more good ink in the western press than he deserves,” Harper said of Iran's Hassan Rouhani. “Do not judge this new administration in Iran by a few symbolic acts or by its rhetoric, let’s keep pushing until we see real significant change.”
The prime minister’s final question came from a lifestyle magazine asking about what he wanted his legacy or greatest achievement to be.
“Legacy. I’m too young to talk about legacy,” he joked before wrapping it up a minute later. “We’ll take a few pictures before everyone goes.”