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Housing prices climb to global heights for latest Olympics host

BY GILBERT MOHTES-CHAN, TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2011


Home prices in Greater Vancouver, Canada, continue to rise as the region’s spring homebuying season got off to a strong start. 
Buyers flocked to the market during the first quarter, fueled by heavy sales volume in the Richmond and Vancouver West areas. Although housing sales slowed in April, the benchmark housing price increased, topping $620,000.
Recent changes in mortgages rules could make it even tougher for first-time homebuyers to enter the market, considered one of the priciest housing markets in the world.
   
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This report highlights real estate market statistics and trends in the Vancouver metro area and includes a chart with detailed market data and commentary from local real estate professionals.
Overview
Greater Vancouver housing sales cooled off in April after moving at a red-hot pace the previous two months.
Canada’s third-largest metropolitan area saw residential sales of single-family detached, attached and condominium properties decline 21 percent to 3,225 year-over-year, according to the latest report from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Sales were off 8.2 percent from March. The board attributed the April sales decline to a slowdown in condo sales.
The board’s benchmark Housing Price Index for all residential properties rose to $622,991 in April, up 5 percent from $593,419. The benchmark represents the sales price of a typical property within the market and is considered a more accurate reflection of prices.
A sales spurt of multimillion-dollar homes in some parts of Vancouver skewed the average sales price of a home nationally, pushing it up to $372,544 in April, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
An influx of homebuyers from mainland China in the past six months has triggered a wave of seven-figure housing sales, especially in the Richmond and West Vancouver locales.
The Canadian Real Estate Association reported the average sales price in April for a Vancouver residential property at $815,252, easily outpacing the average sales price tracked for 15 other major Canadian cities.
Neighboring Victoria ranked second nationally, at an average sales price of $508,005, followed by Toronto at $477,406. Vancouver real estate officials say April’s residential sales reflect typical spring activity and indicate a better balance between the supply of housing on the market and demand from homebuyers.
In fact, sales were up 8.8 percent compared to the same period in 2009, and were unchanged from 2008.
In contrast, the number of homes sold and added to the market moved at a near-record pace in February and March.
Fewer new properties came onto the market in April than the year-ago period — 5,847 compared with 7,648 in April 2010, a 23.5 percent drop. New listings were down 14 percent from the previous month.
“We are sitting on a good, strong, stable market. The consumer out there is always more comfortable with a normal, stable market,” said Rosario Setticasi, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. “Right now we are sitting at that edge. If sales pick up, it’s a seller’s market again.”
Here’s the April sales breakdown by housing type:
  • 1,402 single-family detached homes, up 2.3 percent from a year ago; the benchmark price of $879,039 is up 7.4 percent year-over-year.
  • 1,201 condos, down 21.3 percent from a year ago; the benchmark price of $409,242 is up 2.9 percent year-over-year.
  • 622 attached homes, up 1 percent from a year ago; the benchmark price of $514,670 is up 2.4 percent year-over-year.
Unlike many of their counterparts in the U.S., Vancouver real estate professionals are seeing a steady housing market in a post-recession recovery. Because of tighter and more conservative lending practices by the nation’s financial institutions, Canada’s housing market isn’t burdened by a glut of distressed properties as in the U.S.
“Our banking system tends to be a little more conservative in providing loans for homes. That (mortgage) meltdown did not have any affect in our banking industry.” Setticasi said.
“Bank foreclosure properties are not spiking. There’s the usual amount of bank foreclosures that seem to be related just to personal issues,” said David Hutchinson, an agent at Century 21 In Town Realty in Vancouver.
“Foreclosures rarely are really good deals in Vancouver. There is a system in place to ensure market value of the sales price.”
In British Columbia, only 0.49 percent of all residential mortgages were at least three months in arrears in February, according to the latest figures from the Canadian Bankers Association. That’s up slightly from 0.41 percent during the same period a year ago, 0.27 percent in 2009, and 0.16 percent in 2008.
Canada’s economy sputtered in the second half of 2008, fell into a recession, and then began to rebound by the end of 2009. Last spring, the British Columbia Business Council predicted the province would become one of the country’s growth leaders over the next couple of years.
The council’s British Columbia Economic Index continued to rise in the first quarter of 2011, signaling moderate growth for the province.
“Our economy seems to be clicking pretty good out here,” Setticasi said. “The West Coast is a desirable area.”
Desirability comes with a price, as Vancouver is one of the world’s least affordable housing markets.
In a February Housing Trends and Affordability report, Royal Bank of Canada senior economist Robert Hogue wrote, “In our view, the area’s poor affordability — the RBC measures for Vancouver are still far above their long-run average — will continue to weigh on local demand and cause a high degree of stress within the market.”
Compounding the affordability issue, Hogue said, is the cost of borrowing, which is expected to rise in the next two years.
“With prices rising, there is always a concern about affordability,” Setticasi said.
Yet Vancouver and British Columbia, in general, remain attractive markets for Canadians looking for better job prospects or a place to retire. Statistics show more Canadians are moving to the province than leaving, the British Columbia Business Council reports.
Considered Canada’s gateway to the Pacific, Vancouver increased its global visibility as host to the 2010 Winter Olympics. It has seen a recent wave of foreign investors, especially homebuyers from mainland China, who are purchasing properties in areas such as Richmond and the west side of Vancouver.
To seize this opportunity, some brokerages have formed Mandarin-speaking real restate teams.
“The Vancouver West detached home market is red-hot with mainland China foreign investment. Some homes (are selling at) a half-million dollars over asking price,” Hutchinson said.
“The Vancouver West market is now pushing the same trend eastward to traditional blue-collar East Vancouver. It’s now pushing these usually affordable, older-type homes into the $1 million range.”

Vancouver, Canada, market data

Vancouver Metro Area  
Population (2010 estimate) 2,374,628 million
Population growth (2001-10) +19.5%
Total closed sales (2010) 30,595
% change closed sales (2009-10) -14.2%
% change closed sales (April ’10-April ’11) -8.2%
Sales per person 1 sale per 78 people
Benchmark sales price (April 2011) $622,991
% change benchmark sales price (April ’10-April ’11) +5%
% mortgages in arrears (British Columbia, Feb. ’11) 0.49%
% of sales distressed (March 2011) +60%
% household income needed to afford a house 77.8%
% unemployment (April ’11, 3-month moving avg.) 11.8%
Walk Score 72
Rent-vs.-ownership ratio (% households in 2006) 35%/65%
Sources: Statistics Canada, British Columbia Ministry of Citizens’ Services, Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, Canadian Bankers Association, Walk Score and RBC Economics Research.

ECONOMISTS PIERRE FORTIN AND PIERRE EMMANUEL PARADIS URGE QUÉBEC TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF IMMIGRANT INVESTORS

QUÉBEC CITY, May 31, 2011 /CNW Telbec/ – The many economic and human benefits resulting from the arrival of thousands of financially independent immigrant families in Québec and elsewhere in Canadafully justify a sizable increase in the number of immigrant investors.
This is among the recommendations in the brief submitted today by economists Pierre Fortin and Pierre Emmanuel Paradis to members of the National Assembly Committee on Citizen Relations looking into Québec immigration planning for the 2012-2015 period.
“Immigrant investors still account for only 3.5% of new immigrants, and their number could be increased substantially without hindering the arrival of immigrants with other characteristics,” they write in their brief.
Messrs. Fortin and Paradis also urge the Québec government to take the necessary means to clear the backlog of outstanding files, which they see as the key weakness in current management of the Québec Immigrant Investor Program. Waiting times under this program are having a negative effect on the number and quality of applications. “In 2009,” they say, “the average wait was two-and-a-half years, compared with 14 weeks in the United Kingdom and one year in Australia. (…) As of December 31, 2010, a total of 11,843 files were still being processed – in Québec alone!”
The two economists also want the government to continue its efforts to encourage immigrant investor families to settle in Québec through integration and mentoring programs, following the example of a program recently launched by Investissement Québec, and to continue canvassing abroad. Many of these families are settling in British Columbia (49% compared with 22% in Québec), because that province is closest to Asia, the primary source of immigrant investors. But a majority of immigrant investors in Canada first arrive in Québec (about 60% since 2005). The financial assistance brought by the 60% of immigrant investors in Québec thus ends up entirely in Québec SMEs.
Referring to Investissement Québec data, the economists also remind the committee of the “substantial contribution to the economy” by immigrant investors. From 2001 to 2011, the total value of financial contributions under the program reached $500 million, benefiting 3,126 companies all across Québec. In 2009-2010 alone, projects implemented led to the creation of 2,600 jobs and the maintenance of 1,355 others.
Messrs. Fortin and Paradis say that having immigrant investor families settle here is the main source of the program’s immediate economic impact. “Most immigrant investors are well educated and head active companies,” they explain. “Many of them move and establish their families in Canada while pursuing their business activities at the international level. (…) The usual pattern is for their children to enter the Canadian school system, probably achieving high levels of education.”
Québec’s Immigrant Investor Program
The program was created in 1985 following successive efforts by then-ministers Gérald Godin and Louise Robic. It seeks to attract experienced businesspeople and their capital as a way of promoting economic growth. Immigrant investors provide Québec with funds for a five-year period. They do not decide where or how their money will be used. The three main conditions for benefiting from the program are:
  • having a net worth of at least $1.6 million;
  • agreeing to invest $800,000 at 0% interest for five years;
  • having adequate management experience.
In writing their brief, Messrs. Fortin and Paradis relied on their own studies in this area and on studies by Marc Van Audenrode, Managing Principal of Analysis Group and an adjunct professor at Université de Sherbrooke; Roger Ware, professor of economics at Queen’s University; and Natalia Mishagina and Anne-Catherine Faye, economists at Analysis Group.
Pierre Fortin is professor emeritus of economics at Université du Québec à Montréal and an affiliated expert at the Montréal office of Analysis Group (www.analysisgroup.com), an international firm that has been providing economic, financial and business strategy consulting services to law offices, private businesses and government organizations since 1981. Pierre Emmanuel Paradis is senior economist at Analysis Group.

Construction Sector Council launches tool for hiring immigrant workers

Canadian construction employers have a new resource from the Construction Sector Council to assist in hiring immigrant workers to meet growing labour needs.
“We know from our labour market information work that looking into future immigration will play a big role in employment growth in Canada and construction will not be immune to that,” said George Gritziotis, executive director of CSC.
“We will be relying on all sorts of labour. Also, in some parts of the country, the industry looks at dealing with short-term peak demand by using temporary foreign workers.”
The Construction Employer’s Roadmap, is designed to help employers and others involved in human resources (HR) management navigate government programs, assess foreign credentials and help immigrant workers “put their best foot forward” when seeking opportunities Canadian construction.
“Foreign workers are playing a role not just in a temporary but also a permanent basis,” said Gritziotis. “What kind of capacity do our contractors have to hire and retain foreign trained workers? This road map will help industry where a majority of employers are small to medium businesses with less than 15 employees and do not have HR departments who take care of this.”
It provides information on the role of employment agencies and immigration consultants and an overview of Canada’s immigration programs. The guide also explains options for permanent residents, temporary residents and workers outside of Canada.
Simplicity, accuracy and efficiency about information and processes available were deemed most important by small to medium contractors consulted during the roadmap’s development. The roadmap also offers advice on how to assess experience obtained in other countries, make job offers, develop orientation programs and retain workers.
“It’s a ready-made approach and process contractors can use when they are looking to hire foreign workers,” added Gritziotis.
Development of the roadmap was funded by the Foreign Credential Referral Office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The guide is available in hard copy and electronically with hyperlinks to other useful resources and websites.
“Attracting and retaining the best international talent to address existing and future labour market challenges is critical to our economic success…we know that within the next few years, most of Canada’s labour force growth will come from immigration,” said Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
Gritziotis said immigrant workers bring “many benefits to the industry” such as the ability to speak different languages, cultural knowledge and a network of connections which all can strengthen employer’s competitiveness.
“When construction was headed towards the 2008 boom, we were getting a lot of contractors asking for help with recruiting foreign workers,” added Gritziotis. “Now that activity is heating up, people are looking for this information.”
Visit www.csc-ca.org for more.

Former Canadian immigration chief calls for increased immigration

A Canadian Customs and Immigration service signImage via Wikipediaby Ray Clancy on May 30, 2011

A former immigration boss in Canada is calling for the country’s annual immigration intake to be increased by 100,000 a year to match needed population targets.
Robert Vineberg, a former Director of Federal-Provincial Relations at Immigration Canada, said policy changes are needed to boost numbers in most provinces.
He pointed out that the major political parties are failing to address the issue despite agreeing that Canada needs to increase immigration levels by 1% per year.
Now a research fellow at the Canada West Foundation, he argued that Canada’s native labour force is stagnating. Most provinces, and particularly the Western Provinces, want to increase their population and see increased immigration as a major way to do so. The way to expand the federal immigration streams is not to freeze growth in provincial programmes but to increase overall levels during the next several years,’ he explained.
‘An increase in immigration levels by 50,000 to 300,000 per year would bring the ratio back to the 0.87% figure of two decades ago. An increase of 100,000 to 350,000 per year would see Canada finally achieve the one-percent-per-year goal that all parties ostensibly espouse,’ he added.
His comments have been made as a result of Canada’s major political parties failing to address the issue of how many immigrants Canada needs, despite all of them expressing support for an increase in Canadian immigration.

He also hit out at a recent study from the Fraser Institute which suggested that immigration costs Canada as much as $23.6 billion a year. Economists Herb Grubel and Patrick Grady used statistics from the 2006 census to argue for a reduction in immigration.
They said that immigrants received on average $6,051 more in benefits than they paid in taxes and that this weak economic performance of recent immigrants is costing Canadian taxpayers between $16.3 billion and $23.6 billion a year.
Vineberg said that the average income of immigrants in Canada more than 15 years before the 2006 census was actually higher than for native-born Canadians. ‘This turns the Fraser Institute’s analysis on its head and suggests that immigrants are net contributors to government revenues if their entire working life is considered,’ he said.
The data used can lead to diametrically opposed conclusions, he added and described the study as not addressing the issue. ‘The whole principle of such analysis is faulty,’ he said, adding that it zoomed in on one small aspect of the economics of immigration and ignored the larger picture entirely.

Small towns try to jump-start immigration

Manitoba Legislature, meeting place of the Leg...Image via WikipediaBy: Bill Redekop


CARTWRIGHT — When Alex and Nadia Tolmachev and daughter, Ekaterina, emigrated from Russia five years ago, they didn’t know a soul in Manitoba but at least Alex had a job waiting, thanks to an immigration consultant.
Alex worked in Winkler for a few years, then moved west to the village of Cartwright, where he opened his own carpentry shop, and now has gained a reputation in restoring heritage buildings like the Christ Church Anglican (1898) in Cartwright, and the historic train station museum in Miami.

He’s fortunate. That kind of immigration — matching immigrants with jobs — has virtually stopped in rural Manitoba the past two years, the unintended result of the provincial government’s Bill 22.
Now the government is trying to correct the problem by supporting a pilot project.
The pilot project resulted when companies in the Pembina Valley told a recent survey they need at least 600 new employees within the next 12 to 18 months. Many businesses in the Winkler-Morden area have rebounded from the recession stronger than ever and, if they had more staff, could fill the void left by American companies that went out of business in the recession.
But they haven’t been able to access foreign workers like before under Bill 22.
Bill 22, passed in 2009, changed the Worker Recruitment and Protection Act to protect immigrants from unscrupulous immigration consultants. Under the bill, consultants can no longer act as both immigration agents and job recruiters. There were too many cases of immigrants landing and not having the job promised them.
But Bill 22 made it too hard for many legitimate consultants to recruit immigrants for the labour market, to the point where most new immigrants to rural Manitoba are now arriving under the “family stream” of the provincial nominee program (PNP). Under the family class, landed immigrants sponsor a friend or close relative for immigration but not for the labour market. However, the PNP was designed primarily to match skilled foreign workers with provincial employment needs.
Winkler officials initiated talks with the province that resulted in the “strategic initiative.” Under the program, the local economic development office will act like a recruiter by reviewing immigrant applications and identifying newcomers with skills that are in demand. The economic development officer for the City of Winkler and RM of Stanley will fill that function along with an industry committee. They have already begun reviewing immigrant applications on a weekly basis.
If successful, government hopes to roll the pilot project out across the province, said Ben Rempel, assistant deputy minister in the province’s immigration office. Rempel said an imbalance of immigrants was starting to arrive under the PNP’s “family stream.”
He maintained the pilot project is part of “a learning experience” for communities trying to adapt to Bill 22.
How big an impact did Bill 22 have? To the west of Pembina Valley, in small-town Cartwright, people pulled off a minor miracle six years ago by drawing 140 immigrants to their small, little-known town near the Canada-U.S. border, including the Tolmachev family.
Penny Burton, the economic development officer for that area, said that immigration would not have taken place under Bill 22.
“The province now recognizes what has happened,” said Irma Maier, an immigrant herself and owner of Compass Canada Immigration Services in Morden. Maier helped bring most of the newcomers into Cartwright.
In Winkler, about 10 families have already been approved under the new “strategic initiative.”
“Our goal is to bring in 100 to 150 families” under the pilot project, said Darlis Collinge, the Winkler-Stanley economic development officer.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2011 B3

Opinion: The big picture shows immigrants are a good bet

Calgary is the largest metropolis in the Calga...Image via WikipediaBy Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun

I’m an immigrant.
Let’s get that out of the way first in this reaction to the Fraser Institute’s disingenuous study asserting that immigration costs Canada as much as $23.6 billion a year.
Researchers Herb Grubel and Patrick Grady — both of whom are also immigrants and presumably don’t consider themselves a burden on the economy — conclude that in 2006, immigrants received on average $6,051 more in benefits than they paid in taxes.
On the basis of this snapshot, they advocate restrictions upon immigration. However, the narrowness of the data set suggests the broad conclusions don’t have sound foundations.
Indeed, the arguments sound suspiciously like those of the old Reform Party, which gave gloomy voice to utilitarian assumptions about acceptable skill sets and wealth required of prospective immigrants.
Of course, anxiety about the potential financial burden of newcomers is well established, if misplaced, in framing immigration policy for Canada.
Similar concerns were expressed about Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century. Central Europeans, Russian Jews, Scandinavians — even the English — have all been subjected to worries that they got more from their new country than they contributed.
So, here we are in 2011 faced with two successful immigrants, both indisputably valued and productive members of Canadian society — let’s leave aside the amusing irony of the Fraser Institute issuing tax-deductible receipts to wealthy contributors so they can pay less tax — fretting that new immigrants don’t pay enough tax to cover their cost to Canadian society.
This sounds like the venerable “I’m in the lifeboat, pull up the ladder” argument.
I say venerable because the notion that the most recent arrivals are paying insufficient tax and drawing excessive benefits remains one of the persistent memes in Canadian society.
And it is almost always based on selective statistical evidence while ignoring the unassailable fact that of the 34 million people in Canada, 33 million are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who helped to build a national economy which ranks in the top eight globally.
I’m not alone in my doubtful reaction to the Fraser Institute’s study.
Robert Vineberg, a senior fellow at the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation, notes that the average income of immigrants in Canada more than 15 years before the 2006 census was actually higher than for native-born Canadians.
On average, those immigrants paid more in taxes than they got in benefits, Vineberg observes.
“This turns the Fraser Institute’s analysis on its head and suggests that immigrants are net contributors to government revenues if their entire working life is considered,” he says. The data used can lead to diametrically opposed conclusions, he notes, and suggests “the whole principle of such analysis is faulty.”
Vineberg argues that immigrant contributions are much broader than their tax contribution. For example, an immigrant nanny earning less than average income often enables both native-born parents to earn higher salaries and therefore to pay higher taxes.
So it all depends where you take your snapshot.
When my father brought me to Canada as an infant 63 years ago, the only job he could find was on a garbage scow, although he was a qualified machinist. He worked filling paint cans and delivering bread at considerably less than the average income. He had five kids in school. That snapshot would show him – and me – as a social cost rather than a benefit.
Later he became an award-winning journalist, still writing at 87. And those five kids – two are newspaper columnists, one works for the navy, another provides research and management consulting to big health care organizations, one is a successful artist. By that snapshot, he’s a benefit rather than a social cost.
Vineberg concludes: “By zooming in on one small part of a complex phenomenon, the Fraser Institute … has come to conclusions that may appear correct but, if the assumptions involved are examined closely, are unfounded. This does not make a constructive contribution to the needed debate.”
Indeed.
shume@islandnet.com

Country rankings for trade, business, fiscal, monetary, financial, labor and investment freedoms

Country rankings for trade, business, fiscal, monetary, financial, labor and investment freedoms

Canada ranks high on ‘better life index’

Canadians make more, work less, are happier with their lives and better educated than most residents of the 34 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a new index suggests.
The OECD launched the “better life index” Tuesday, which allows comparisons between the member countries that go beyond the traditional economic measures, such as gross domestic product.
“Canada performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being,” the agency said, citing statistics such as:
  • Nearly four out of five Canadians are satisfied with their lives, compared with three out of five for the OECD as a whole.

  • Average Canadian household income of $27,015 US in 2008, more than $4,700 above the OECD average.
  • Nearly 72 per cent of Canadians 15 to 64 have a paid job, above the OECD average of 65 per cent.
  • Canadians work 40 hours a year (a work week) less than the OECD average.
  • About 87 per cent of Canadians have the equivalent of a high-school diploma, much higher than the OECD average of 73 per cent.
  • Life expectancy in Canada is 80.7 years, a year above the OECD average.
  • The level of atmospheric PM10, tiny particles that are small enough to damage the lungs, is 15 micrograms per cubic metre, lower than the OECD average of 22.
But in terms of voter turnout, “a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process,” Canada ranks at 60 per cent, below the OECD average of 72 per cent.
Canada’s rankings are based on assigning an equal weight to each of 11 topics. But using the OECD’s interactive index, individuals can adjust the weight of the topics and create their own index. The 11 items are housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance.
The index “has extraordinary potential to help us deliver better policies for better lives,” said OECD secretary general Angel Gurría.
It’s part of an OECD plan to measure well-being and progress.
The organization includes many European countries, the U.S., Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

Gearing up for a new labour crunch

NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE – The Globe and Mail
Canada’s oil patch is scrambling to bring back foreign workers, desperate to avoid a repeat of the labour crunch that clobbered the industry three years ago.
With oil prices hovering at a lofty $100 (U.S.) a barrel, new discoveries scarce and Asian energy demand on the rise, Canadian companies are taking every measure to ensure oil sands projects aren’t slowed down by labour shortages. The federal government has resumed granting approval for companies to fly in trades workers from other countries. And labour recruiters are drafting corporate international hiring plans and reopening skills training centres to prepare workers in places like Mexico to come to Canada.
The surge in hiring comes amid forecasts that Alberta will need tens of thousands of new workers in coming years as it attempts to cope with a spending spree expected to top the heights of the last boom, which peaked when crude hit $147 a barrel in 2008. Then, a shortage of workers and soaring labour costs caused widespread pain, bringing delays, multibillion-dollar increases to project costs and shoddy work that has plagued newly built facilities.
Companies have since instituted labour caps, chopped projects into smaller sizes that are easier to manage, committed to finish engineering before building, and hired overseas firms to manufacture key components. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is even promising to halt major construction from Dec. 15 to Feb. 1, a time when cold weather and holidays hurt productivity.
But for all those efforts, the industry is again hurtling into a situation that may prove worse than last time. The oil sands have attracted major spending commitments from some of the world’s largest petroleum companies, including giants from Europe, the U.S. and Asia. The vast, known oil reserves in the Fort McMurray area have proven a powerful lure.
The result is a tide of spending that is now hitting Alberta’s bitumen-rich boreal forest. Wildfires have recently forced production shutdowns and affected project construction in some areas, but the interruptions are expected to be temporary.
In 2008, oil sands capital spending hit about $18-billion (Canadian). Projections by Calgary-based investment dealer Peters & Co. suggest industry will surpass that level by next year. By 2014, the firm forecasts capital spending will exceed 2008 levels by nearly 25 per cent.
The Alberta government says the province will be short 77,000 workers in the next 10 years. The Petroleum Human Resources Council has predicted up to 130,000 new workers will be needed in the coming decade, both to staff new jobs and replace retirements.
For Flint Energy Services Ltd., the pinch is already on. The project construction, oilfield transportation and equipment design company has brought in 20 Filipino insulators this year. It has authority from the federal government to bring in 60 more foreign workers, and expects to apply for more later this year.
“Everybody’s got a bit of a guess at all of this, but the numbers are like nothing we’ve seen before,” said international recruitment lead Brent Guthrie. “Whereas Flint was bringing in hundreds in 2008, an expectation of going to 1,000 is not unheard of going forward … The local market gets burned out quite quickly on these major projects, and then everybody’s scrambling.”
PCL Industrial Contractors Inc., the arm of the construction giant that is heavily involved in building the oil sands, hit 350 temporary foreign workers in the last boom. Today it has little more than a dozen, but is laying plans for a spree starting early next year that far outstrips the past.
“We’re looking at the 1,000-person mark for a prolonged period, probably peaking in late 2012,” said Gary Truhn, the company’s director of construction and labour relations. “We think there’s some major projects that are going to be there for quite a while.”
The hiring will begin months before, however. Depending on the country of origin – a factor that affects the speed of visa processing at local embassies – it can take between four and six months to gain government approval to bring in a foreign worker. That’s why companies are working now to start the process.
In the first four months of this year, Alberta companies applied to bring in 9,910 temporary foreign workers, according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Peter Veress, president of immigration consultants Vermax Group Inc., recently set up a new training centre in Saltillo, Mexico. In early May, it welcomed its first group of workers to a course designed to impart safety, language and other skills to pipe-fitters and welders before they head north.
“Companies are a little more proactive this time around. They don’t want to get caught like they did last time around,” he said.
It’s not cheap, though. Between paperwork, training and travel, it can easily cost $10,000 to bring in a temporary foreign worker. And in Alberta, hiring can be uncertain. Workers in certified trades have a year to pass Red Seal exams in their area of specialty. If they can’t, they must go back home.
For those who have found work in Canada, the resurrection of temporary foreign worker hiring is cause for celebration. Luis Arce, from Pachuca, just north of Mexico City, first came to Alberta in 2008 to work in the concrete industry. He was laid off in 2009, but had made enough to buy his first house. In the months of unemployment that followed, however, he began to despair that he would lose it – until, last September, he was called back to Canada to work as an electrician in Edmonton.
“I’m happy, because I know the work is good – and the pay is very good,” he said. “Working in Canada, I make in one day what I would make in a week in Mexico.”
But the hiring of foreign workers is fraught with controversy.
On the East Coast, where many trade and construction workers remain unemployed, the mention of overseas hiring rankles.
“We have probably 150 guys on the out-of-work list,” said Ian MacIsaac, business representative for local 1178 of the Nova Scotia & PEI Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights & Allied Workers, which has 240 members.
Temporary foreign worker “is a bad word to me,” he said.
The Alberta government is starting to feel the same way. It recently released a strategy to keep older workers in the labour pool. Thomas Lukaszuk, Minister of Employment and Immigration, has called on Ottawa to shrink employment insurance eligibility in other provinces, in hopes of compelling workers from elsewhere in Canada to come to Alberta. He also wants authority for the province to nominate far more foreign workers to become permanent residents.
“We will be severely short on workers, not [just] the next few years but the next few decades,” he said.

Canada’s The Indus Entrepreneurs turning Indian immigrants into millionaires

TORONTO: The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) in Canada is making its mark by turning struggling Indian immigrants into successful entrepreneurs. 

Under its mentorship programme, TiE Toronto has turned million-dollar dreams of many budding entrepreneurs into reality. “Many of the entrepreneurs we have mentored for the past 10 have created multi-million-dollar companies in a matter of years,” TiE Toronto president Suresh Madan told media . 

Giving the latest example of successful entrepreneurs mentored by Indian techies, Madan said: “Just last November, Indo-Canadian Haroon Mirza sold his start-up Cognovision to Intel for $25 million. An engineering graduate, Mirza had a vision, but he didn’t know how to go about it. 

“So he came to TiE in 2006 and our people guided him to set up his company. By 2010, he became a multi-millionaire when Intel bought his company.” 

Cognovision, which created a unique software to measure customer attention span on a particular product while browsing in a superstore, was also chosen ‘Canada’s 2009 Innovation Leader.’ 

“Cognovision’s software helps advertisers and product companies to know which product is getting how much attention from customers,” Madan said. 

According to him, another entrepreneur mentored by TiE has just sold his company – Ecologic Engineering – for eight million dollars. “Considering that two of the entrepreneurs mentored by us have sold their companies for millions in the last six months shows that TiE mentoring has been very successful in Canada.” 

“At TiE, we – a group of successful entrepreneurs – have come together to give back to the community. Rather than donating at temples or charities, we have decided to do something practical to help budding entrepreneurs,” he said. 

Currently, 75 TiE members are mentoring 400 budding entrepreneurs – more than 75 percent of whom are Indo-Canadians. 

“At 40, when you land here as an immigrant, you either update your skills and join some job at the bottom or become an entrepreneur. That’s what TiE is teaching so that new immigrants become their own masters,” the TiE chief said. 

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