Vancouver-based retailer Lululemon has threatened it could move its headquarters out of Canada if federal regulators don’t grant them an exemption to the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program.

The popular apparel company wrote a letter submitted to the House of Commons Finance Committee in late July seeking an exemption to the program in order to expand its business and remain in Canada. Lululemon currently employs 1,200 workers at their Vancouver headquarters.

The clothing retailer, best known for its yoga wear, said it needs to recruit specialized talent from other countries to be able to compete. The exemption would allow them to avoid filing a labour market impact assessment application (LMIA), which would make it easier for them to hire foreign workers. The clothing company argues there is a shortage of talent in the Canadian market.

A number of other Canadian industries, including the hospitality and restaurant sectors, have complained that the LMIA process is too complicated and time-consuming. Lululemon said the federal government already grants similar exemptions to the TFW program to universities, Microsoft and the film industry.

Since its letter to federal regulators became public, the retailer has toned down its rhetoric on leaving Canada. In a statement to CTV News on Thursday, Lululemon CEO Laurent Poldevin wrote:

“As a company firmly rooted in Vancouver for eighteen years, we are proud of our Canadian heritage and deeply committed to remaining here for the long term.”

The president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, Irene Lanzinger, expressed her concerns about Lululemon’s exemption request to CTV Vancouver on Thursday. She said that while she’s sympathetic to labour shortages in any market, she thinks the apparel retailer should be working with various levels of government to train Canadians for these jobs instead of resorting to talent from other parts of the world.

“It's ridiculous that they're asking for an exemption because the exemption really means you have to show us there's no British Columbian or Canadian that can do the job,” Lanzinger said. “There are many people in this province interested in fashion design, in testing in the production areas that Lululemon is talking about and we should be training British Columbians to do those jobs.”

In the letter to the government, the clothing giant insists they have focused on training in Canada and the TFW program is simply not effective or efficient enough to meet its labour market requirements.

“Despite our investments in training and education, including partnerships with post-secondary institutions, Canada simply does not produce enough skilled, specialized workers to meet our demand,” Lululemon wrote.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has sided with Lululemon on this issue. He told CTV Vancouver on Thursday that he believes they should be granted the exemption from the federal government and that he’s “very concerned” companies in the city will leave because of the TFW policy.

“The Vancouver economic commission, the city, we've worked to press the federal government for some changes that are very targeted at making sure companies can attract the right people to grow the business and create more Canadian jobs,” Robertson said.

The mayor also said that Lululemon isn’t the only company in the city with problems with the TFW program. He said he has heard from a number of CEOs in industries such as, television and film, visual effects and animation who have expressed their concern over the government’s regulations on foreign workers.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos