Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Construction of Migrant Work and Workers by Alberta Legislators, 2000-2011

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Construction of Migrant Work and Workers by Alberta Legislators, 2000-2011

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper uses narrative analysis to explore how Alberta government Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) "constructed" migrant work and migrant workers in legislature and media statements between 2000 and 2011. Government MLAs asserted that migrant work (1) was economically necessary and (2) posed no threat to Canadian workers. Government MLAs also asserted that international migrant workers (3) had questionable occupational, linguistic or cultural skills and (4) caused negative social and economic impacts in Canada. Taken individually, these narratives appear contradictory, casting migrant work as good but migrant workers as bad. Viewed together, these narratives comprise an effort to dehumanize temporary and permanent international migrant workers. This (sometimes racialized) "othering" of migrant workers justifies migrant workers' partial citizenship and suppresses criticism of their poor treatment.

Resume

Cet article utilise l'analyse narrative pour explorer comment les membres du gouvernement de l'Assemblee legislative de l'Alberta (deputes) ont << construit>> le travail des migrants et des travailleurs migrants avec leur declarations dans la legislature et les medias entre 2000 et 2011. Les deputes du gouvernement ont affirme que le travail migrant (1) etait necessaire economiquement et (2) ne representait aucune menace pour les travailleurs canadlens. Les deputes du gouvernement ont egalement affirme que les travailleurs migrants internationaux (3) avaient des competences professionnelles, linguistiques ou culturelles douteuse et (4) avaient des impacts negatifs sociaux et economiques au Canada. Pris individuellement, ces recits semblent contradictoires, decrivant le travail migrant comme bon, mais les travailleurs migrants comme mauvais. Prises ensemble, ces recits constituent un effort pour deshumaniser les travailleurs migrants internationaux temporaires et permanents. Cette << alterisation >> (parfois racialise) des travailleurs migrants justifie la citoyennete partielle des travailleurs migrants et supprime la critique de leur mauvais traitement.

INTRODUCTION

Like many jurisdictions, the Canadian province of Alberta saw significant growth in its population of international migrant workers--as well as rampant mistreatment of these workers--between 2000 and 2011. Provincial government legislators belonging to the ruling Conservative party frequently made demonstrably false statements justifying this growth and discounting this mistreatment (Barnetson and Foster 2014). The Alberta discourse around temporary and permanent international migrant workers hinted at a seeming contradiction: government members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Alberta often seemed bullish on migrant work, but critical of migrant workers.

Through narrative analysis of MLA statements in the legislature and in the media, this study seeks to fully identify, develop and analyze this seeming contradiction in how MLAs "constructed" migrant work and migrant workers. Ultimately, four narratives are explicated for the period 2000-2011. MLAs were supportive of migrant work, asserting it (1) was economically necessary and (2) did not pose a threat to Canadian workers. By contrast, MLAs were critical of international migrant workers, asserting they (3) had questionable occupational, linguistic or cultural skills and (4) caused negative social and economic impacts in Canada. These apparently contradictory narratives can be reconciled when theorized as part of a broader legitimation project.

MIGRANT WORKERS AND LABOUR MARKETS

Canada is a relative newcomer to large-scale migrant labour programs. In comparison with Europe and the U.S., Canada has traditionally brought in relatively few international migrant workers (Castles and Miller 2009), amounting to under one percent of the work force. Presently, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) brings approximately 18,000 farm workers from Mexico, Caribbean and Central America to Canada each year (Preibisch 2010). …

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