Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Davenport.
I am very pleased to take part in this debate today on Bill C-23, which legally establishes the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.
The new legislation will provide the necessary power and tools for the minister and the department to achieve their mandate and to contribute to the government's ultimate goal of strengthening our social foundations.
By splitting the former Human Resources Development Canada, the government has given itself a structure that will help it focus its efforts on further helping Canadians acquire the tools they need to develop and prosper in their workplace and community and on providing Canada with a highly skilled workforce that can meet the needs of the job market in the 21st century.
It is a tall order, we agree. Canada has many assets for competing on the global market, but it has to address the important issue of the disparity between emerging jobs and the skills of its workforce. Today fewer jobs do not require a high school diploma and in five years an estimated 70% of jobs will not be accessible to people without a high school diploma. Gone are the days when a young person could get a job in a factory for the rest of his life without a diploma.
Furthermore, technologies are advancing quickly and workers have to update their skills constantly. Just think about your computer: you buy the latest model and before it is even delivered a more powerful one comes out on the market.
Workers can expect to change jobs at least three times during their working life, and will often end up in fields that are very different from where they started. They have to adapt and be very flexible.
Canadians have proven time and again that they are able to adapt to change and we are sure they will stay above the fray in this new century. However, to do so it is important for citizens to be in a continuous learning environment in a country that is advanced in skills development.
Together with the other levels of government, including the provinces and territories, the business community and trade unions, the Government of Canada seeks to do just that, namely build a lifelong learning culture. It goes without saying that to build such a culture, the government is taking action and putting in place structures such as the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.
Thanks to its many partnerships with the provinces, territories, private sector, trade unions, non-government and native organizations, the department delivers a wide range of programs to help students wishing to pursue post-secondary education, young people seeking work experience, people looking for work, businesses needing to hire and train workers, employers and unions striving to improve the work environment here in Canada.
I will now quickly list a few of the many programs delivered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in cooperation with its many partners. The Canada students loans program helps students with recognized needs access post-secondary education while the Canada education savings grants encourage parents to invest in their children's education. The Youth Employment Strategy is another component that helps young people get relevant information on careers and the job market to guide them in their choices regarding their future. It provides young people with practical work experience and learning opportunities that help them find and keep a job, and delivers programs and services to young people who have trouble finding work.
Another element is the EI benefits and support measures helping unemployed Canadians go back to work. The various sectors analyze the situation in their own areas and develop strategies accordingly.
The department is also taking a leadership role with other federal departments and agencies on numerous projects, including the recognition of foreign credentials.
As you can see, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development has a impact on all Canadians at one point or another in their life. In 2003-04 for example, employment benefits and support measures alone have helped close to 700,000 Canadians. During the same period, and thanks to the department's programs, close to 56,000 Quebeckers have re-entered the labour force.
Moreover, during the summer of 2003, more than 480,000 young Canadians benefited from the help of the 330 human resources centres for students in Canada. In short, many Canadians rely on Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
The minister obviously has an important role to play in the management of this important department. He can fortunately count on two colleagues, the Minister of State (Human Resources Development) and his colleague the Minister of Labour and Housing. Together, they manage one of the departments that has the greatest impact on the daily life of Canadians and on their common future. Together, they are working to build a lifelong learning culture to help meet the challenges of the 21st century and ensure Canada's prosperity.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be a part of ushering in the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Last December when the Prime Minister reorganized the former Human Resources Development Canada, steps were taken, pursuant to the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, to permit the creation of two new departments.
Today, with the legislation before the House, we are providing the department with the legal power and tools needed for the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to fulfill his mandate, and what an important mandate it is. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, or HRSDC, plays a key role in meeting the Government of Canada's commitment to improve the social and economic well-being of all Canadians.
Through the department's efforts to support human capital development, enhance access to post-secondary education, promote workplace and skills development and foster a culture of lifelong learning, the quality of life for all Canadians, including the most disadvantaged, will be greatly improved.
If we, as a nation, are to participate fully in the 21st century economy and society, then we must have the means to ensure that all Canadians can pursue lifelong learning and skills development opportunities.
Starting with schooling, we are working with our provincial and territorial partners to enhance the accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education. We want Canadians to have access to post-secondary education, but we also recognize the need for working-age Canadians to improve their skills and learn new ones. To help Canadians achieve this goal, HRSDC supports a variety of programs from basic literacy to apprenticeship to on-the-job training.
We all know that the best security is a job but the reality is that many Canadians need help getting started in their careers or returning to the workplace. That is why HRSDC directs substantial funds to employment insurance programs through active measures that are designed to assist unemployed workers participate in the workforce. Through such components as employment assistance services, job creation partnerships and labour market partnerships, the department has helped almost 700,000 Canadians in 2003-04.
As hon. members can tell from the names of these programs, partnership is key to ensuring the best outcomes for Canadians. It is for this reason that HRSDC is working with other levels of government, employers, unions and sector councils to develop a workplace skills strategy.
The workplace is increasingly important in a business environment characterized by rapid technological innovation. Under the workplace skills strategy, we have set three objectives: to help build a highly skilled, adaptable and resilient workforce; to see a labour market that is flexible, efficient and productive; and to work with employers to ensure that Canada's workplaces are productive and innovative.
The department is committed to looking at issues such as literacy training and essential skills upgrading for workers as well as encouraging apprenticeships in the skills trades. The workplace skills strategy will focus on the workplace for action because that is where workers' skills come into play.
In our last budget we kick-started the strategy by providing new resources for union-employer training centres. Over the next three years we will invest $25 million in a pilot project to help replace outdated equipment for trades training. The Government of Canada will match employer and union investments in new machinery in selected training centres.
Right now we are working to increase Canadians' levels of education, but Canada is undergoing a shortage of skilled workers in some areas. If we couple this with the aging demographics of the population and the moving of the baby boom generation out of the labour force, it is clear that Canada needs workers.
A key element of the workplace skills strategy will therefore be the focus on foreign credential recognition. The fact that immigration is expected to account for all net labour force growth between 2011 and 2016 and the fact that many immigrants' skills are underutilized means that we must act promptly, and we have.
To address this challenge, the Government of Canada has created the foreign credentials recognition program. To implement this program the 2003 budget provided $40 million over five years to improve the foreign credentials recognition process in Canada and followed up with an additional $5 million per year over four years in the 2004 budget.
We know that health care is a number one priority with Canadians. With this in mind, we have reached an agreement with the provinces, territories and key medical stakeholders on improved procedures for licensing foreign trained doctors. Similar initiatives are underway for foreign trained nurses and other occupations related to the health field.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is helping newcomers to have their skills recognized; supporting families so that children get the best start in life; facilitating access to post-secondary education; and encouraging learning and skills development in the workplace.
We know how important it is to help Canadians prepare for, find and keep work, but we also recognize that there are times when all a person needs is temporary assistance to help bridge the gap between jobs. HRSDC administers employment insurance to provide relief for those temporarily unemployed.
The department is also responsible for the employment insurance compensation care benefit. This benefit helps ease the stress faced by Canadians who must choose between their jobs and caring for their gravely ill family members by providing six weeks of employment insurance benefits.
In my riding of Davenport and across the greater Toronto area, HRSDC provides funding and support to many programs that assist people to improve their lives.
The services and leadership offered by HRSDC directly impacts communities like mine all across the country. Whether it is work on foreign trained doctors or employment insurance benefits, these are the kinds of things that are important to people in Toronto and across Canada.
From the broad range of programs and services that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada offers, we can see just how crucial the department is to promoting Canada's social and economic well-being.
HRSDC has an ambitious and important agenda. This legislation gives the formal authority for the new department to pursue it.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak about the importance of Bill C-23 to articulate in legislation the new mandate and responsibilities for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC.
This legislation would ensure that the Minister and the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development will have the legal powers and tools needed to fulfill the minister's mandate. I can assure the House that HRSDC is working closely with officials from Social Development Canada to strengthen this country's social foundation.
This government believes in a strong Canada where every citizen has the opportunities and the tools to achieve his or her full potential to participate in the labour market and the community at large.
We believe that all Canadians should benefit from Canada's prosperity. We have a vision of a Canada where everyone has the right to learn and to keep learning throughout their lifetime. We are committed to fostering lifelong learning so that all Canadians can acquire the skills and experience required to participate fully in the workforce and in society.
As we move forward in the 21st century, Canada will require a more highly skilled workforce. The new economy calls for Canadians to become highly skilled and adaptable workers who not only embrace change but are prepared to drive it ahead.
I think most Canadians are aware that these days access to education and training is absolutely crucial to their job security and earning power. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, Canada's workers must have the opportunity to upgrade their skills, to improve their literacy, to learn on the job and to move onto the path of lifelong learning.
With this in mind, the Government of Canada is supporting learning and skills development at every stage of Canadians' lives. For instance, we are helping our youngest citizens through the Canadian education savings grants so that their parents can save for their children's education. The moment a child is born in Canada, its family and the government can begin to make contributions to finance their learning down the road. About 1.8 million Canadian children currently benefit from this innovative program.
Improvements have been made to support savings efforts made by low income and middle income families. All parents want the best for their children. That includes children achieving their full learning potential. The problem is that many families, particularly low income families, have trouble setting aside money for their children's education.
That is why the Government of Canada has introduced several new measures designed to encourage parents to start saving for their children's education right away. We recognize that our youth need education and training for challenging careers that will unleash their talents and bring them a bright future, but we must do more for families and students who feel challenged by the costs of post-secondary education today.
That is why we are working with our partners and key stakeholders to provide students with the financial assistance they require to pursue a post-secondary education. Through the Canada student loans program and a number of Canada study grants, we are doing much to help students cope with the rising costs of post-secondary education.
Over the last 40 years, the Canada student loans program has earned respect across the country by helping students meet the costs of a post-secondary education. About 350,000 Canadian students a year benefit from this program, which last year loaned $1.6 billion to students in need. We also introduced a new grant worth up to $3,000, which will help up to 20,000 students from low income families cover a portion of their first year tuition.
The Government of Canada supports post-secondary education in a variety of ways. A few examples are the Canada graduate scholarships, Canada study grants for students with dependents and for high needs students with permanent disabilities, as well as funding of higher education for aboriginal students and Industry Canada's support of distance education.
Members should be aware that Canada is the second biggest investor in the world in post-secondary education as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Our employment insurance program has continued to adapt to meet economic realities and will keep changing to meet the needs of Canadians. Canadians know they can count on employment insurance as a social safety net that is there when they need it, in times of job loss and economic downturns.
We are also giving unemployed Canadians new hope with special measures designed to help them get work experience, improve their job skills or start a new business. So far, more than 667,000 Canadians have been given these opportunities under the employment benefits and support measures of EI.
One of the pressure points of the new economy is finding enough workers with the right education and the right training. All new jobs require more education and skills than ever before. Roughly 70% of jobs now demand some form of post-secondary education. And on this front, as Canadians we certainly distinguish ourselves in the world, with the highest proportion of 24- to 65-year-olds with post-secondary education.
Despite this, we know that as many as 42% of working age Canadians already in the workforce lack the necessary literacy and other essential skills to meet these requirements. Too many good jobs are going begging in our country right now because we do not have people who match the right skill set.
There is a real disconnect in Canada between the need for a trained, skilled workforce and the opportunities available for workers to meet that need. We must close the skills gap if we are going to thrive and prosper as a nation in the 21st century. That is why we are committed to developing a new workplace skills strategy to ensure that Canada has the skilled, adaptable workforce it needs for the future.
We recognize that the workplace is where economic activity occurs. It is where Canadian workers' skills are put to the test as firms strive to become more innovative and more productive. As such, is an appropriate place for adult skills development. We intend to work with unions at their training sites and with businesses in the workplace through sector councils to develop this new workplace skills strategy, boosting literacy and other essential job skills for apprentices and workers.
I particularly wish to stress the important role I see unions playing in this process. Unions have resources and they have influence that will help in promoting more skills development. The workplace skills strategy will build on current federal programs and activities such as sector council initiatives, as well as apprenticeship programs, essential skills and workplace literacy initiatives, foreign credential recognition and labour mobility.
In all these activities we will collaborate with industry partners, employers and unions, as well as learning organizations and provincial and territorial governments, to promote the cost effective development of skills driven by the needs of the workplace. All these initiatives are part of the mandate of the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.
We understand that Canada is a stronger country when all people are able to contribute their skills and talents to our labour market and to society. I am genuinely excited about the momentum that is beginning to build as people start to understand the enormous potential for Canada in the new global economy.
With this ambitious agenda, our government is working to build the workforce for the 21st century in Canada, robust and strong and able to compete with the best in the world.
Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
This bill gives a definition of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Early in the bill, we read the following:
|| The powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters...over which Parliament has jurisdiction and which are not by law assigned to another Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada.
Unfortunately, it is not specified that all these jurisdictions are provincial. In other words, this bill further entrenches the federal invasion of the areas of manpower development and education.
In the next few minutes, I will not come back to the employment insurance aspect, even though it is an important part of the new department. I believe that my colleague for Chambly—Borduas has very clearly explained the position of the Bloc Québecois in this respect.
Let me just recall a few facts. The employment insurance program became a federal jurisdiction when it was handed over by the provinces in the hard times of the second world war. Since then, the federal government, here as in a number of jurisdictions, has done as it pleased, completely ignoring Quebec and the provinces.
The current government can now demonstrate its good will by supporting Bills C-278 and C-280 as tabled by the Bloc Québécois. These two bills would implement necessary and efficient amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, the first in terms of procedure and benefits, the second concerning the EI Commission and its related fund.
Unfortunately, in my riding, EI is taking on growing importance, while the government does nothing to keep businesses in business. EI is and will continue to be very important for a great number of citizens in my riding. However, the current criteria are inadequate on both counts. Workers need a decent income to meet their needs. With all the federal programs that have been slashed for all age groups and for all workers, my riding is looking at a annual shortfall of $23 million, which is an unbelievably large amount.
That being said, let me return to the current bill which, as I was saying, highlights the federal government's interference in provincial jurisdictions.
The mandate of the future Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will be, among other duties, to strengthen the social foundations of Canada. However—I repeat—these social foundations, as it is clearly said, come under provincial jurisdiction.
The skills development portion of the new department is nothing less than an education department in disguise. The learning bonds are a case in point. The federal government must transfer the money to Quebec and the provinces, rather than establish programs in jurisdictions that do not belong to it. With the transfer to the provinces, the Government of Quebec could help students by limiting debts incurred due to their studies and by providing achievable dreams to our young people.
Bill C-23 stipulates that the new “Minister may enter into agreements with a province or a provincial public body...or bodies that the Minister considers appropriate”. I should hope so; this is obvious. The sectors of labour development and education come under provincial jurisdiction. Provinces and provincial bodies should be consulted, unless, again, the Liberal government acts in bad faith.
In the area of labour development, I will again refer to the bill. It says that the Minister contributes to the achievement of these objectives by supporting the development of human capital, by improving access to post-secondary education, by supporting skills improvement in the workplace and by encouraging Canadians to embark on a path of lifelong learning.
I will provide examples from my riding to demonstrate that the Liberal government has difficulty in managing programs and that it would be well-advised to leave them, with their funds, to Quebec and the provinces.
In the Compton—Stanstead riding, after the closure of the CookshireTex and Cordelli plants, which fell victim to Asian competition, several employees took steps to retrain themselves. They sought to find their way back onto the labour market by becoming specialists.
Instead of encouraging them, the staff at the local employment insurance office thoroughly demoralized them. The federal employees there were saying that the newly unemployed people had more than enough qualifications to get retrained. Those who did not have all the qualifications were told that employment insurance would not pay for seasonal or long-term training.
Is that a show of goodwill? Is that what we call support for the development of human capital, for professional training and for continuous learning? I think the liberal government is laughing in the face of our fellow citizens. Instead of giving such absurd answers, the federal government should address the fiscal imbalance so that Quebec would have the necessary resources to take care of workforce development by itself, without having to go to Ottawa cap in hand.
I am asking my colleagues in this House to stand against Bill C-23, but to be in favour of Bill C-278 and Bill C-280, which, as I said, modify the Employment Insurance Act in an efficient manner. The Bloc Québécois also thinks that the Minister of Labour's mandate, as described in Part II of Bill C-23, is consistent with Bill C-263 on replacement workers. The federal government should support the initiative put forward by the Bloc Québécois by voting in favour of said bill, and thus modify the Labour Code without shaking up the entire Human Resources Department.
Mr. Speaker, we are wondering how the bill before us will really improve the fate of our fellow citizens and how it will translate into improvements in the field. In this case, some duties are divided. In other areas such as regional development, a new department is created when we already had the Economic Development Agency.
In preparation for my speech, I looked at some notes. I can tell you that the organization charts for the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development we were given show some rather peculiar lines of authority between the Minister of Labour and Housing and the Minister of State (Human Resources Development). We think all that will not translate into operational efficiency.
We are wondering how this type of legislation will improve the fate of the unemployed, the homeless and workers.
This is why we, in the Bloc Québécois, do not support this bill which might create further encroachments and may not bring any new investment. As we know, the government has a $9.1 billion surplus. It might end up being even larger. Members do realize that one of the functions of the Minister of Labour and Housing, as defined by the bill, is housing.
As a matter of fact, as you know, today the popular front for urban redevelopment, FRAPRU, organized a demonstration asking for immediate investments. The Minister of Labour and Housing is also responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which does not appear in the new department organization chart. It does not augur well, I think.
I will agree that organizing a state such as this very centralizing federal state, is not that easy. But we know that any system can be improved and that it creates its own encroachments and management problems. But we do not see how this improves clarity.
Boileau said, “An idea well conceived presents itself clearly, and words to express it come readily”.
That cannot be said of the background information on the new department. I will quote some of it and you will agree with me that Boileau would probably roll over in his grave if he read or was made aware of the new department mission.
|| HRSDC's vision is to build a country where everyone has the opportunity to learn and to contribute to Canada's success by participating fully in a well-functioning and efficient labour market. HRSDC's mission is to improve the standard of living and quality of life of all Canadians by promoting a highly skilled and mobile labour force and an efficient and inclusive labour market. This means the department has a central role in helping build a 21st century economy for Canada and in strengthening Canada's social foundations.
|| The department contributes to meeting its vision and mission by supporting human capital development, enhancing access to post-secondary education, supporting workplace skills development, and encouraging lifelong learning for Canadians.
This is terribly wordy, without necessarily having any connection with the needs of Canadians: a job, and also a social safety net if they lose that job, one that guarantees enough to live on. I do not see where this new creation improves the situation.
Taking the homeless as an example, we know that there was a measure to help them, SCPI, but it is getting to the end of its days. The throne speech included a promise of new housing, which does not meet the needs of the homeless. This national homelessness initiative, and its related programs, including SCPI, the supporting communities partnership initiative, are programs that require investments.
So, before structures, or superstructures, of agencies and departments are built, it is necessary to have sufficient resources for them. During the election campaign, the Liberals announced $1 billion to $1.5 billion—though it was unclear—over five or six years. This promise is mixed up with the measures relating to housing, including new housing creation and measures to help the homeless.
When we look at $1.5 billion, or one billion over six years, when the creation of new housing for families—affordable housing or social housing—and the SCPI is mixed in with resources for individuals and the creation of temporary shelters that the SCPI also supports, then we see that this will be a huge department, even after it has been split or reorganized, and that its actual resources will be limited. These resources are in great demand.
The government appears to be saying, “Why should we make it simple when we can make it complicated?” We say, “Why make it complicated when it could be simple?”
Thus, the need to have an independent employment insurance fund that is not just part of an enormous department where surpluses can get lost or misplaced has become painfully obvious in recent years. Now, accountability may be diminished and difficult to achieve.
In addition, we have been through this experiment with human resources in the past and I do not think it has fixed anything at all. It is like putting a poultice on a wooden leg.
In my humble opinion, I think that problems of efficiency and effectiveness cannot be corrected by this organization, whose ministerial accountability does not seem clear from its organization chart.
What the homeless need are human resources. What the housing sector needs, what the poorly housed families of Canada need, is resources. These resources should be transferred to the provinces and Quebec, which are better at delivering programs and providing solutions than are across the board federal departments or programs.
Therefore, this bill is a source of confusion and not a source of practical solutions for people. It may also be an intrusion into Quebec's jurisdiction. I do not believe it is the source of a better quality of life for Quebeckers or for Canadians in the rest of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-23, an act that will establish in legislation the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development which was created by a series of orders in council last December.
Today we have the opportunity to examine this legislation that establishes the department of HRSDC and sets out the powers, duties and functions of the minister and the minister's mandate. I would like to talk about that mandate and why it is important for our standard of living to promote a highly skilled and mobile workforce.
As the member of Parliament for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, I am keenly aware of the role this department will play in the lives of my constituents and my community. I am pleased that the minister visited my constituency during the summer to learn about our region and to announce some important new programs in the community. I welcome him back any time.
The name of the department is appropriate, Human Resources and Skills Development, because of the role it will play in working with partners to help Canadians create better opportunities for themselves. Increasingly, in the knowledge economy, that means Canadians are recognizing the importance of learning and skills development.
One way of influencing a better outcome for individuals is to ensure that they get a good start right from the beginning when they are children. Maternity and parental benefits under the employment insurance program make it easier now for parents to concentrate on the health and well-being of their babies.
At the same time, parents and grandparents can make a commitment to invest in a registered education savings plan for their child or grandchild knowing that they will receive additional support for that child from the Government of Canada through the Canada education savings grant.
In the last budget the government recently enhanced the Canada education savings grant for low income and middle income families. For those parents entitled to the national child benefit, the government will provide a Canada learning bond giving them a further incentive to put aside some money for their children's further education.
Members will recall that 26% of children from families with incomes under $25,000 do have savings for post-secondary education. However, only 8% of these have savings in RESPs where they could get matching funds from the government.
I hope fellow members recognize the policy drivers behind these programs. We are working with Canadian parents to give their children a good start so they are ready and able to learn in school, and looking ahead to training and educational possibilities after high school.
Studies tell us that children take post-secondary education more seriously if they feel their parents are committed to a long term learning plan. Our goal is to get young people thinking of the value of education and learning from an early age so they will be motivated when it most counts.
HRSDC will also support families in another way through its national literacy secretariat which funds projects across the country to support family literacy. Literacy and essential skills are the foundation of lifelong learning, and enable us to fully participate in the workplace and society. Higher literacy results in a better quality of life through reduced poverty, lower unemployment, decreased assistance, and in fact better health for Canadians. The best security of course is a job, and the most effective route to employment is through learning, and acquiring the literacy and foundational skills so necessary in all occupations.
HRSDC will come into play later on in the lives of young people. Canada's youth employment strategy is active on many fronts in communities across the country. From hire a student activities in the summer to skills link projects for young people who have left school or are unemployed, YES projects count on local partners to help young people gain work experience and either continue their education or enter the workforce. The backdrop to our success as a country is our work with partners in our communities to spark the abilities and the talents of young people.
Some people have heard and seen the ad campaign that is encouraging young people to consider the trades as a serious career option. Through HRSDC, $12 million was provided to the Canadian apprenticeship forum and Skills/Compétences Canada to develop and launch this promotional campaign to attract more young people into trades. We are accomplishing two important objectives: expanding career opportunities for young people and renewing skilled trades. Like so much of the work at HRSDC the success of this campaign will depend on the apprenticeship stakeholders, business and labour groups, employers and educators.
The campaign also underlines the skills challenge facing Canada. First, we have a slowing of the labour force growth. Our labour force grew by over 2% a year 25 years ago. By the end of this decade it will be down to 1% per year. That is one reason why this campaign is happening. Regional labour shortages are already evident in construction, aircraft mechanics, machinists and carpenters.
The second challenge facing us is the relentless rise in skill requirements across all industries. Three out of four jobs now need some post-secondary education, whether a trade certificate, a college diploma or a university degree. Recognizing the urgency of this situation, the Government of Canada has made skills development and lifelong learning a priority.
Since first balancing the books in 1997-98, about one-quarter of all new federal spending has been devoted to education and innovation. That adds up to more than $36 billion. The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development is leading that charge. In the years ahead we will need to ensure that Canadians have the opportunity to gain the skills and the learning to succeed in an ever-changing labour market.
Very simply, our goal is to lay the foundation for promoting learning at every age and every stage of life. Part of this involves enhancing the accessibility and the affordability of post-secondary education so students can get a good education and skills.
Many students I have visited in my local schools are afraid that post-secondary education is beyond their reach. This is one of the reasons that I was interested in joining our party's post-secondary caucus and taking over the very distinguished leadership of the member for Peterborough. That is why our last budget improved the Canada student loans program and the Canada study grants to enhance access to high needs students, such as those with dependents, with disabilities or from low income families or those studying part time.
Helping students pursue post-secondary education is only part of the answer. Learning also occurs in and around the workplace. That is where workers' skills intersect with the current needs of the labour market, which also impacts on innovation and productivity.
We are working with other levels of government, business, unions, workers and sector councils to develop a workplace skills strategy. We are looking at issues such as literacy training and essential skills for upgrading of workers as well as encouraging apprenticeships in the skilled trades. Our goal is to allow workers greater opportunity to enhance and improve their skills for the workplace.
Under the workplace skills strategy we would like to first, help build a highly skilled, adaptable and resilient workforce; and second, see a flexible, efficient and productive labour market, and also respond to employers' needs for productive, innovative workplaces.
In our last budget we kick-started the strategy by providing new resources for union-employer training centres. Over the next three years we will invest $25 million in a pilot project to help replace outdated equipment for trades training.
The last budget also committed a further $5 million per year over four years to sector councils to help raise awareness of the need to better integrate skilled immigrants into the Canadian economy. In a time of skill and worker shortages, we need to work together to find solutions in assessing and recognizing the credentials of skilled immigrants. My own area of Atlantic Canada needs immigrants to grow our economy. We cannot afford to have skilled trained professionals who are unable to practise their profession.
The $5 million builds on a total of $40 million over five years announced in the 2003 budget to help create a foreign credential recognition program. HRSDC is spearheading the program by working with a number of partners, provincial and territorial governments, licensing and regulatory bodies, professional associations, employers and a variety of other stakeholders.
We have already reached an agreement on improved procedures for licensing foreign-trained doctors. Consultations will soon begin with allied health professionals such as pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and medical laboratory technicians.
As hon. members can see, the Human Resources Skills Development Department is busy on many fronts and in many communities across the country. The work accomplished by HRSDC staff, through its partners and stakeholders, is truly in the long term best interests of this country and will reflect the priorities of Canadians. Our human resources are our future and HRSDC is showing leadership to meet the critical needs of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure this afternoon to speak on a subject for which I feel strongly. I remember in the early seventies finishing university at Laurentian in Sudbury and getting a job at Sault College. I joined the staff at that institution who travelled the highways and the byways of the Sault Ste. Marie-Algoma area selling education out there like missionaries talking about lifelong learning, talking about bringing people together to look at what they might do to upgrade their skills, to shift from one job to another, to create something new in their community and to participate in the voluntary sector even. Education at that time seemed to be at a premium and everyone was excited and was participating in that.
I have to say though that in this place and over the last few years working as a member of a provincial parliament in Ontario I have found a distinct change in that atmosphere, a move from a priority on education to other things like deficit cutting and government reduction, I believe, to the detriment of communities and our young people particularly and our country.
It is an honour to rise in the House today on the bill to create the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. On the surface it may be a housekeeping bill to give legislative framework for the new department that has been operating since last December. However the mandate of this department touches on very important issues for Canadians, including workplace strategy, apprenticeship programs, employment insurance and student assistance initiatives.
I appreciate the contributions in this debate by my colleagues from Ottawa Centre and Burnaby—New Westminster, noting the shameful record of the government on social housing, homeless people and persons with disabilities.
When we look at policy related to what makes our economy healthy and strong, we have some fundamental questions to answer. We have to get it right, whether we operate out of a mindset that says that the economy exists to serve human beings or whether we think human beings were created to serve the economy.
All social and fiscal policy flows from that primary understanding of the right relationship between people and the economy. Until we build an economy that honours human beings, that permits each and every Canadian to contribute fully and enjoy all the justice and wealth that flows now only to some, I believe we have failed in our work here.
First, as the elected member in the Ontario legislature for Sault Ste. Marie and now as the federal member, I have fought to protect the northern economy. Indeed, in coming here I have discovered, in talking to some of my colleagues, that it is not just the northern economy but it is the rural economy as well. Large communities have done relatively well over the last few years, but those of us out in the far reaches, the heart of this country, who contribute in such a substantial way to the economy that has served us all so well have struggled in the last few years and continue to struggle.
I have been working to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect what we have and to attract new investment. The best and most sustainable economic development comes when natural assets within a community, primarily people, are identified and nurtured.
However, across my riding during the campaign I heard, and I still hear this today, that there are too few jobs or the jobs that are available are only poorly paid part-time positions. I hear about out-migration. My friend from Timmins—James Bay speaks here regularly and asks questions, and is in the media almost every other day talking about the phenomenon of out-migration in the northern parts of the country, in my riding in particular, in northern Ontario and I believe in rural Ontario. Out-migration, unfortunately, is too much a reality.
Our young people leave for the south to complete their schooling and too often find no full time positions when they attempt to return. They find contract work which leads only to contract after contract. They are effectively driven from the district in search of work. When the government does come up with a creative solution, a response in partnership usually with institutions and people who live and know their particular area, we find that one, two, three or four years down the road, the criteria has changed and they no longer qualify for the funding, so a good program disappears.
We heard from Northern College in Timmins. It runs a highly successful job creation program called GAP, the graduate assistance program, which addresses the huge out-migration problem of the north's young. This successful program is now told that it no longer meets HRSD criteria, despite successfully placing 75 graduates.
Subsidies increased dramatically due to the high level of jobs that our graduates obtained. A high percentage of clients averaged $13 an hour. That may not be much to those who live in the city and make much better money, but in many places in the north that is not bad money. Sixteen clients earned over $17 per hour. The program provided up to 52 weeks of funding for many employers who required more training time due to the complexity of the jobs they were offering.
Many grads returned home from college and university and expressed a real desire to stay in their small communities, so obviously GAP did fill the gap. The project received Human Resources Development Canada funding for the first four years of the program as part of youth strategies and then two years as a youth internship program. GAP is obviously expandable as a program. It could be expanded to North Bay, Sudbury or to my own community of Sault Ste. Marie where it could be introduced at Sault College in partnership with the colleges.
In Sault Ste. Marie, in my own home community, we have concerns about the lack of internship support for workers aged 30 and older. There is lack of support for older workers generally and particularly women not qualifying for EI because of part time work. I believe that was due to a change in the criteria brought forward by the government.
Another issue is the difficulty in accommodating workers caught in the quit/ fired argument. It is very difficult to prove unjust firing, and a lot of people find themselves falling through the net without any help.
Another group that seems to be affected rather dramatically in our area is seniors in the fifties group. I had a group of people come to my office to say, for example, that they took early retirement to leave room for younger people to come in, get trained and have jobs. However, after a year or two of retirement at 50, they are finding, and rightfully so, that they still have something worthwhile to contribute. With the skills, experience and knowledge that they have, they could return to the workplace in some other capacity perhaps and contribute. It would make themselves feel better and they could do more for their community and country.
However, there is a significant and serious disconnect. There does not seem to be any support, assistance or training for them to get over that gap. They are a resource we need desperately as we try to compete in the world and improve our GDP, but we are unable to make the connection. There is a need for some focus and work with that group so we can get them back into productive and constructive contributions.
Regrettably there has been the dismantling of a cooperative approach to training. We need to have a serious examination of how to improve apprenticeship programs. There is a shortage of trades people in Canada and it will worsen in the next few years.
The Conference Board of Canada believes that Canada is not prepared to deal with the issue under the current apprenticeship program. It says that there is a real disconnect in Canada between the need for a trained, skilled workforce and the opportunities available for workers to meet that need. We have systematically dismantled a cooperative approach to training, with government, industry and labour organizations working together.
Funding has been reduced, shifting the burden and cost of training to the individual in the context of the market. Anywhere we look in the world today, particularly where economies are doing well, education and training is seen as a social investment that benefits everyone, including business and industry. One of the first and most important decisions by the Irish government, for example, when it moved to kick start the Celtic tiger, was to invest heavily in education for everyone.
Finland sees the availability of skilled trained workers as essential to any future growth in its economy. One of the major competitive advantages in the new world economy is a country's workforce. This is why European jurisdictions are changing their laws to allow for dual citizenship, to attract immigrants back with their education, training and experience.
In my own community of Sault Ste. Marie we have young people trying to enter the workforce, displaced older workers looking for training and middle age retirees looking to make a further contribution. There is no central facility or resources available to take these very willing and valuable workers from where they are to where they want to be and, in fact, to where we want them to be. There is a patchwork of short term, mostly dead end programs that simply move people from one situation of frustration or poverty to another.
We used to have a network of properly funded community colleges, offering programs easily accessed, affordable and connected to real work through partnerships with community and industry. Apprenticeship programs were very often a shared cost agreement between a workplace and a college. Canada, like most western countries, is beginning to experience major demographic changes that will result in fewer workers. Meanwhile, the demand for high level skills will continue to increase in all sectors.
Given these trends, competition for high skilled workers will intensify within Canada and between Canada and other countries. Recent surveys suggest that Canadian industry is set to lose approximately one-third of its skilled workforce in the next five to ten years in many of Canada's economic growth sectors.
To address these forecasted shortfalls, a great deal of effort on developing efficient and effective training strategies in the trade skills and on replacing its current workforce will be required. One very successful approach has been developed and tested by CSTEC, the Canadian Steel Trade and Employment Congress, in partnership with Mohawk College, Dofasco, Lake Erie Steel and the United Steelworkers of America.
This program is a co-op based apprenticeship program which integrates a college technician diploma program with a 16 month segment of trade school paid apprenticeship training. The Mohawk, Dofasco, Lake Erie, Steelworker pilot approach has been applied successfully to the electrical and mechanical disciplines. One worker says, “In the plant where I was an apprentice there were 400 apprentices in the early eighties. Now there are two. And the small numbers of apprentices, less than one per cent of Canada's workforce, are among the dwindling number of Canadians receiving any employer support for workplace training”.
Whether we are talking about the old economy or the so-called new economy of highly skilled workers, Canadian workers are well aware that access to education and training is absolutely crucial to their job security and earning power. There is overwhelming evidence showing that everybody wins when every worker has access to skills training.
Investment in education makes sense for the employer, the worker and for society. We cannot allow education training and skill development to become simply another commodity in the marketplace. Nor can we leave it to the whim of a benevolent employer. It is the very underpinning of a civilized, intelligent and caring society and should be treated as a right or entitlement. Citizens should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to contribute to their communities to the best of their ability and have access without fear of cost to the best training and education possible to that end.
These are the social democratic principles we New Democrats in this House will be bringing to the policy debate in our country here in this legislature.
I visit Ireland quite regularly because that is the country of my birth. I came to Canada in 1960, the oldest of 12 kids, with my father who came to work in the mines of northern Ontario. When I go back to that country the thing that impresses me most is not what we hear or read in the editorial pages, such as the National Post where it is suggested that Ireland's good economy is because it has a more competitive corporate tax structure or it is giving away things to businesses to come to that country. It is doing some of that, but we all are.
The member from Dartmouth who spoke a short while ago will understand this because he has family in Ireland. As a matter of fact, we may be related. My mother's name is Savage. She is watching me tonight. We come from the same part of that wonderful country.
If we look at the experience of people in Ireland, back in the seventies when they decided they wanted to make a change and improve their economy, the first thing they did was invest big time in the education infrastructure.
In that country if students want to get a post-secondary education, if they have the capacity to succeed that education and if they sit the tests, which are quite stringent, and get through them, their education is free. Ireland understands that a post-secondary education, whether it is skills training or at the university level, is an investment in people and in their communities. When those people come back, they will participate and contribute not only as paid employees in the workplace, but they will contribute to the overall well-being of their communities in a million different ways, such as a volunteers. They become very positive community assets. They will contribute to society and to industry in a major way, with these new skills and training.
Ireland, as opposed to what happens in Canada, decided that post-secondary education was something it should collectively put money into to ensure that no young person who had the ability, the will and the capacity to go to school, learn and then come back and contribute would be stopped from doing that. Not only is post-secondary education free, but if students have to leave home to participate in that and if they are financially challenged in some way, such as housing, or the ability to feed oneself or to provide those supports to be successful in college or university, they will be provided with grants, not loans like we have here.
Why can we not get our heads around that in Canada? As I mentioned earlier, Finlanders say that the only limit to their growth will be the availability of a skill trained workforce in the future. Why can we not see that? We belong to the same world? We compete in the same global economic context as the Fins and the Irish, yet we cannot find it within ourselves, politically, to invest the kind of money necessary to ensure that all individuals, whether young or old, have access to skills training or to universities and colleges to improve themselves so they can participate in the new economy and in their communities in the way that we know they have the potential to do. Why can we not find a was to make it affordable to them?
The challenge to all of us, as we move forward with this new ministry, is to ensure that it becomes a vehicle to make that connect, if those folks, those communities and our country are to prosper.
Mr. Speaker, first, I want to begin by quoting the Prime Minister who said:
|| We want a Canada where every child arrives at school ready to learn; a Canada where everyone has the opportunity for post-secondary education regardless of geography or means; a Canada where universal literacy and lifelong learning are part of the national fabric.
Full of wisdom and vision, these words summarize entirely the purpose of the bill that is before us today in this House.
In December 2003, the government established the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development through a series of orders in council.
Today, by means of a legislation, we are specifying the mandate and responsibilities of this new department. By the same token, this legislation will formalize the division of Human Resources Development Canada, that is HRDC, into two separate entities.
The goal is not to make economies of scale or reduce the operating expenses. The resources of the previous department, that is Human Resources Development Canada, are rather divided in two in order to obtain better strategic results. That does not mean that we should prepare a negative report on the performance of HRDC for the last decade. On the contrary, this department has rendered valuable services to Canadians, both on the social and economic fronts.
I am thinking of the improved and extended parental benefits plan that allowed thousands of families to fully enjoy their newborn. I am thinking of the implementation of the Canada child tax benefit, deemed the most progressive social action since the universal health care plan. I am also thinking of the youth employment strategy that allowed thousands of young people to regain confidence and to realize that there was a future for them in this country. I am thinking of the transition from unemployment insurance to employment insurance that steered our society toward employability.
In 2003-04, more than 700,000 Canadians received help from the department through the employment benefits paid under the Employment Insurance Act. In Quebec, more that 50,000 people re-entering the labour force received assistance.
I am also thinking of all the measures put forward to ensure that certain groups facing specific difficulties, like native Canadians, handicapped people, older and seasonal workers, can fulfill their dream.
All these measures, programs and initiatives are a testimony to the considerable efforts made by HRDC to strengthen the social fabric of Canadian life.
With this bill today, we are proposing to start writing a new chapter, without erasing the previous ones of course. In short, this bill gives the Human Resources and Skills Development minister and department the mandate, legal powers and tools to ensure that the labour market and the skills development programs, including support programs for students, work properly.
If we create this department, it is mainly because our government wants to pay more attention to some important issues, like giving workers more opportunities to develop and increase their expertise in the workforce. We are studying a few issues, including the promotion of training opportunities in skilled trade, literacy training and the enhancement of skills for workers.
This is why we are working with the provinces and the territories, businesses, unions, workers and the sector councils to develop a skills development strategy in the workplace.
Such a strategy would help to develop a highly qualified and dynamic workforce and a flexible and productive labour market, while meeting the needs of employers who want to create productive and innovative workplaces.
In this changing world where new technologies are redefining complete areas of our society, we have a duty to give all of our citizens, young or not so young, the means to educate themselves, to create and to innovate.
The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development spent a good part of his career in education. I am convinced that he will be an important ally in our efforts to ensure that all Canadians can learn and develop at all stages of their lives.
Having worked a lot in the area of labour relations and in numerous businesses before being elected to this House, I can assure you that the successful ones are the ones who emphasize in-house training, the ones that are not just marking time,but who decide to go forward and ensure that their human resources will always keep up with cutting edge technology or with the environment in which they are operating.
Thanks to the new department, we will have the opportunity to intensify our efforts to assure that every youth in this country will be able to get a post-secondary education if he or she wishes so. It is estimated that, in the future, 70% of all new jobs in this country will require post-secondary studies. Moreover, only 6% of jobs will be open to people without a high school diploma. These figures are revealing.
As a country, we can't allow young people gifted with talent and potential to miss the boat of the information age because they lack the financial means to afford an education and to get on board. As a government, we must make sure that they can not only get on board, but take the helm, as soon as possible.
To this end, last month, the minister of Human Resources and Skills Development tabled Bill C-5, aiming among other things, to help lower-income families to save money to eventually pay for post-secondary studies for their children. The bill will also allow such families to take greater advantage of the registered education savings plans and the related subventions.
As you can see, that department will help us to promote access to higher education, but it is clear that its mandate will be extensive and far-reaching. It will help us to face other emerging challenges.
Estimates show that by the year 2011, our workforce will not be able to grow without immigration; by 2020, there will be a shortage of one million workers in Canada; and by 2025, our population growth will depend exclusively on new arrivals. This means that over the next two decades, we will have to ensure that our immigration policies are as effective as possible and allow a total and complete integration of immigrants. If we do not meet this challenge, our ability to ensure an harmonious future to our children and our grandchildren will be broadly questioned, as well as Canada's competitiveness at the international level.
This new department's mandate will be, inter alia, to cooperate with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, professional licensing bodies, sectoral councils, employers and a large number of other organizations on the important issue of recognizing foreign credentials, in order to facilitate the integration of immigrants in the labour market and in society.
May I digress for a brief moment to talk about the extremely important issue of the recognition of foreign credentials. No later than a week or a week and a half ago, in Gatineau, there was a symposium held by the Conseil interculturel de l'Outaouais, which I am sure you know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker. The theme of that symposium was indeed the recognition of foreign credentials. Having spent the afternoon with them and having had dinner with them, I can tell you that I was absolutely flabbergasted.
One does indeed hear about it. One does hear stories about medical doctors waiting to be recognized and so on. I tried to draw a very dramatic parallel between that problem and our shortage of doctors and nurses, and our shortages of all kinds of skilled people in the Outaouais, among other places. I was looking at that skilled labour which is there, which exists, just waiting to be recognized by Quebec and Canada who were supposed to welcome them with open arms. That really flabbergasted me.
I heard horror stories from people who showed up that day, for example, a dentist from Colombia, a physician from another country, people that Canada will not even have to train in any way, because they are ready to practice. Nevertheless, we must be very realistic; there is always the issue of protecting the public. On the other hand, we must be careful not to hide behind this notion of protecting the public, what I call the closed shop mentality of a number of professional bodies.
As I told the participants that day, on the other hand, we must carefully respect jurisdictions. In this respect, Quebec has obligations. No doubt we will have to work with the Government of Quebec. If we can help it, that will certainly be very much appreciated. I have talked to a few of my colleagues in the Government of Quebec, and they have told us how much this concerns them as well.
On the other hand, what came out of this symposium, which was attended by very diverse cultural communities in the Ottawa valley, and the following symposium, is that it is indeed the professional bodies that are making the admission process difficult, that are complicating the process and that are making it prohibitively expensive to get these qualifications recognized.
We let these people in and, then, we have a dentist who works on the cleaning staff of a hospital instead of working for the community.
I met a pharmacist. There is a terrible shortage of pharmacists in Quebec. These people are there, they are ready, they can be tested, but not one test after another at a cost of $2,000, $2,500 or $3,000. What my friend the dentist from Colombia explained to me that day is that the cost of these tests was close to $10,000.
This is the challenge we will probably face. We should offer our assistance to our friends in the provinces to ensure that we meet the needs of the people who elect us. Apart from the issues of jurisdiction, I believe that by working together we will find the solutions. Indeed, it was on that day that I realized that it was not just a few isolated cases.
I had a case in my practice. Without revealing any identities, I met a doctor and saw how complicated it was. There was a hospital, in this region, that was ready to accept the individual.
Unfortunately, because of the decisions of some professional bodies and their lack of openness to people from abroad, qualified people cannot practice their profession or sometimes end up on welfare, or they move to other provinces.
We can tell we really have a problem when a physician comes to Quebec and cannot work there, and he or she is accepted as a practitioner in a New Brunswick hospital.
Like the Colombian dentist said, Colombians and Canadians must have very similar teeth. And the rest of their bodies must be very similar too.
That was just an aside. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development minister has said that he intends to work very hard on a new Canadian strategy to recognize the credentials of immigrants. That is great.
In Quebec, as I said earlier, it will be most important to get certain professional bodies to understand how important this is for Canada, so that it can function properly, particularly given the shortages we are experiencing in certain professions. These shortages are sometimes acute in some provinces, including Quebec.
This strategy will focus particularly on crucial sectors—so much the better—like medicine, nursing, where we are already feeling the first effects of the manpower shortage.
Briefly then, these are the mandate and objectives of the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, a department that will have a free hand in helping us tackle the challenges of the knowledge economy, a department that will focus on the development of human resources and the acquisition of skills.
Our government is in minority, but certainly does not intend to tread water. For us, the status quo is not a viable option nor is living constantly in the past, going back 10 or 15 years and looking at what has been done or not. This is 2004; we must move forward. The needs are huge and we must respond to them.
This new department that we want to create will allow us to pursue the efforts of recent years. However, first and foremost, it is further irrefutable proof that we are still innovating to ensure an even better future for our children, our youth, our retirees, our communities and our businesses.
Our government wants to make Canada a land of ever wider horizons, where each citizen will be able to benefit from the new economy. I was talking earlier about cultural communities that come here, to Canada, believing that they will find a land that welcomes immigrants and that they will be able to lead a productive life; they cannot wait to do so.
Words alone will not do. We will have to help them and ensure that these people feel totally integrated into the Canadian society.
I know, because I was told during the seminar to which I alluded earlier and which took place last week. I congratulated them, because this was one of the first times that I saw a variety of cultural communities sitting in the same room and not arguing with each other, but working towards a common goal and trying to find sustainable solutions, not only for cultural communities, but for the whole country.
Among other initiatives—and surely everyone heard about this, but I will mention it just in case—they are preparing a petition and they are preparing to sign it. Therefore, while the House is sitting, I urge hon. members who live close to my riding to sign this petition, which will be tabled at the Quebec national assembly. I made a commitment to do the same by adapting it for the Canadian Parliament.
This area and this issue concern us all. In all fairness, we have to get moving and ensure that we find solutions.
In conclusion, as our Prime Minister so aptly said it when he took charge of this country, “The world is not waiting for us, it is evolving, changing. So we must be ready to meet new challenges with new solutions, new ideas.I am not talking about changes that will be required 10 years from now; I am talking about today, about now”.
Today, I invite hon. members to support this bill, which shows our will to act now to help Canadians, and which builds the foundations of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. As I like to say, if it is good for Canada, it is also good for Quebec and for the riding of Gatineau.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-23.
This a bill wants to divide in two the former Department of Human Resources Development, which will become the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, and also to create another department that will be called the Department of Social Development.
We will oppose Bill C-23. Why? Because it shows that the federal government wants to invade provincial jurisdictions. It wants to put in place an increasing number of programs that will often go against Quebec's social development. We will have to negotiate once again, year after year, the renewal of certain sums that the government had promised, but it will not keep its promises, at least not at the level of its commitments.
Concerning manpower development and education, we know very well that education is a provincial jurisdiction. As for manpower development, we know very well that we would like to have complete jurisdiction in this sector. There was an agreement with Quebec, but we know very well that the government kept an element with regard to manpower development.
The second reason why we will oppose this bill has to do with their vision of the Employment Insurance Commission. We do not share it. I would also like to point out in this House that I am the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The Bloc and all opposition parties had proposed a motion expressing their support for the Speech from the Throne. Without that, the government could have been toppled and we could have found ourselves in an election campaign again.
However, the subamendment proposed following an agreement among all opposition parties was brought forward in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The goal was, indeed, to set up a subcommittee to review the employment insurance fund. Much to our bewilderment, who voted against the proposed subcommittee? It would have been in a position to do an assessment and then to submit recommendations to us, Parliamentarians, on the way money in the employment insurance fund should be distributed. It was the Liberals who voted against the creation of a sub-committee on human resources development in relation to the employment insurance fund.
So I was very much disappointed because they had promised, in the election, to bring changes to the employment insurance fund.
They say they want to strengthen social foundations and reach social goals. I do not believe that. I rather think they want to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
They say they want to improve management. If they really wanted to do so, at least in terms of employment insurance jurisdiction, we could at least have voted to create a subcommittee to study the issue. The report by all members of Parliament, including the Liberals was unanimous.
So, they in fact voted against what they had proposed themselves. This often raises doubts about the government's good intentions. What it really wants is to score some political points.
They now try to show they have a big heart by establishing an expanded Human Resources and Skills Development Department. They want to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. It may be worth nothing that provinces were hard hit with the Canada social transfer. Quebec, incidentally, paid a large part of it. As a matter of fact, for years it forced us to have a zero deficit target.
I would like to remind this House what former Prime Minister Chrétien said: “They will bring in cuts but provinces will see that we will support the social security net and protect social programs in Canada”.
This was a very hard experience for all provinces but especially for Quebec. As a matter of fact, what Quebec has been implementing is probably going too fast for the Government of Canada. Quebec wants social development that meets the expectations of Quebecers.
As a result, I have considerable doubts about the tangent the Liberal government is going off on, after promising during the election campaign that it was going to take a new tack. In my opinion, they are attacking the problems raised during the election campaign in the wrong way.
Concretely, what the government wants to create is a new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development; to promote a labour market that it feels is working well, along with the system of lifelong education, including for students; and, in conjunction with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to address a very important issue. The hon. member for Gatineau has raised that issue: recognition of qualifications and skills of newcomers, that is those who have chosen to live in Quebec or in Canada.
So we will get back to the creation of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development tomorrow, since the bill will be debated here in this House then. We will then have all possible latitude to discuss the harmful objectives of this department: federal interference, creation of a social economy project, study grants for students. So we will be able to see how the federal government is creating piecemeal family and child policy. This is not one integrated policy, but a policy of bits and pieces, and we are opposed to the approach the Liberal government is taking.
I would also like to address just what the programs of this new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development comprise.They encompass: the whole employment insurance delivery program, employability, the workplace, on- the-job training, work, and two objectives relating to homelessness and support for service and benefit delivery. I would like to say more on the latter two later on.
There is also a very critical analysis of Bill C-23 with respect to four sectors of activity. With respect to employment insurance, we know very well it is nothing but an empty shell. We know very well that they did not want to examine it closely. They did not want to examine the unanimous recommendations of all members now sitting on the subcommittee on the employment insurance funds. Had it not been for the opposition parties, the Liberals would not have stopped to look at them.
As for the work done on the issue of replacement workers—the Bloc Québécois members have been working on that for years, of course—the anti-scab legislation is back on the rails. The hon. member who will follow me will speak to that, since it is one of his responsibilities.
Apprenticeship, skills development and the homeless are clear examples of institutionalized interference by the federal government. We know very well that the federal government—just like that—has decided to do something about the homeless, and appears with a project to spend a few billion dollars for all of Canada. For Quebec, that will mean $56 million, which is very small compared to Quebec's goals to improve its people's security.
We have met with groups in Quebec. We make recommendations every time the finance minister unveils a budget. We invite all social, economic and political stakeholders to come and tell us what they recommend and how they wish the government to enact measures that affect them.
As a result, we met, in fact, with a group concerned with homelessness in Quebec City, the Regroupement pour l'aide aux itinérantes et itinérants de Québec. They would like this budget to include not $56 million over 3 years but $100 million to meet community needs in Quebec.
We had to work hard to get the government to consider Quebec's approach. We know this is a first plan for the homeless. The government wanted to build a place where they could add beds to welcome homeless people who have nowhere to go. I agree that this is a commendable goal. However, in Quebec we had our own way of doing things. For many years we have been setting up facilities with beds. All we were urgently asking for was to take into account training and human resources support in this sector.
We had to really fight to make the federal government understand how we thought the homelessness problem should be handled in Quebec. They ended up understanding and set up an issue table called the Regroupement pour l'aide aux itinérants et itinérantes de Québec. This table has a committee that evaluates the various demands of the sector. It was just a waste of time and it provided very little money for truly achieving Quebec's goals with respect to homelessness.
Bill C-23 is bad. It will raise the federal government's profile. There are very clear electoral goals in this bill. We are against this bill.
On another note, the second objection to Bill C-23 is that it inadequately defines the Employment Insurance Commission, its structure, its function and its role. Clause 20 of Bill C-23 states that the Canada Employment Insurance Commission is continued. That means nothing is changing. The clause continues:
|| The Canada Employment Insurance Commission, consisting of four commissioners to be appointed by the Governor in Council, is continued.
|| (2) The four commissioners shall be (a) the Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, who shall be the Chairperson of the Commission; (b) an Associate Deputy Minister, who shall be the Vice-Chairperson of the Commission; (c) a person appointed after consultation with organizations representative of workers; and (d) a person appointed after consultation with organizations representative of employers.
We see how transparent this government is in all this. It promises us in every election that it will be more transparent, but it loves to control the game.
The Bloc Québécois says no to that. It is totally opposed to such a structure. Rather, it proposes that the employment insurance commission consist of the following: a chairperson, two deputy ministers or associate deputy ministers from the Department of Human Resources, seven representatives for employers and seven representatives for employees. We are not opposed to the government having a seat at the table, but there needs to be greater input from the groups concerned, including employers and employees.
This is why the candidate for the position of chair of the commission should be proposed by the minister and approved by the House of Commons. We want this appointment to be endorsed by the House of Commons and to be the object of a consultation with employers' and employees' representatives. We do not want the reverse to happen, namely that the commissioners be appointed by the minister in office.
This process is much more thorough, it is more transparent and it is a more accurate reflection of the reality. Should the need arise, the chairperson has a casting vote. This is also something that we want. Employers' and employees' representatives are appointed by the government, from a list of names suggested by representative associations. It is rather obvious that the government did not want to make a move; it prefers the status quo, as usual. However, this is not what the Liberals had promised.
This approach reflects not only the Bloc Québécois' wishes, but also those of the employers and employees, to the effect that the fund be monitored by those who contribute to it. But the government is systematically ignoring that approach. Perhaps this is why it did not want a subcommittee to make recommendations on the employment insurance fund.
We know full well that $45 billion were put in the consolidated fund to, perhaps, pay off part of the debt, but also fund some of the programs that the Liberals are boasting about. They are bragging and claiming that they now want to help Quebec and Quebeckers. I do not think they understood the signal that we sent to them during the last election.
To show you again what the Bloc is asking for, I will give you yet another quote. Only a few days ago, Mr. Hassan Yussef, senior economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, testified before the Subcommittee on the Employment Insurance Funds of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. He was once more recommending to the subcommittee that this employment commission be independent. He said, “--at arm's length to the government with independence to oversee and report to the public”.
We know that the government is not putting any more money in the employment insurance fund. It manages that fund and decides where the money goes. A new entrant on the labour market has to work 910 hours before qualifying for EI. Very often, he or she does not qualify and cannot receive any money. This is just another example.
There is also the issue of seasonal work, of people who work in an economic sector that is not operating all year round. We all know that there is a black hole before the activities resume.
We are thus completely against the status quo concerning the EI commission.
Finally, M. Yussef said:
|| Right now essentially you have a worker and an employer commission that has very little power in regard to its responsibility.
One can imagine sitting with a deputy minister and two officials who are also controlled by the minister. How can the employees feel free to say what they think or what pressure they could bring to bear on the government?
At this same meeting of the subcommittee, René Roy, the secretary general of the FTQ, added:
|| We wanted it to be just employers and employees.
He went on to say:
|| However, it would be fair for the federal government to join us.
So, they saved a place for the federal government, but just a place. They want to play a much greater part among those who are not well served by the EI fund. They are neglected by the system.
The government talks about one big management, about wanting to be fair and having a big heart. I guess we can think about it, because I do not believe a word it said.
I would also like to address the whole nature of this national homelessness initiative. This initiative has two objectives. The first objective is to develop support services to help homeless Canadians leave homelessness behind. The second one is to ensure that communities develop lasting capabilities to deal with homelessness by promoting leadership and that non-profit public and private sectors take a more active part in the fight against homelessness.
We know very well that homelessness is a societal problem requiring long-term rather than short-term managed action. What the government is proposing in this initiative is more along the lines of an arrangement with Quebec and the provinces, which could be renewed every three years.
What will happen? We saw what happened in other areas. Social housing, for instance, is a very good example. The Liberal government said it wanted to help the community. It threw money at the problem but, often, when a few million dollars are divided between ten provinces and two territories, that means very little money for each community.
When the federal government decides to stop investing, communities suffer. Structures that were created can no longer be offered to the people. This puts enormous pressure on the governments of provinces, namely Quebec.
Why, for example, not give provinces their just share in relation to the fiscal imbalance? Do you know how many billions of dollars the federal government has spent in provincial fields of jurisdiction? It has spent $66 billion. Do you how much it has spent in relation to its own fields of jurisdiction? It has spent $60 billion. There is an imbalance. The federal government does not take care of its own fields of jurisdiction. And I would like to say something on this subject, if I have enough time.
Before concluding, I would like to talk about the time it takes to review Old Age Security applications. This is federal jurisdiction. I heard that it takes six months to process these applications. Before, it was only two to three months. Can the federal government at least properly administer what comes under its jurisdiction?
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague. There was indeed quite a battle, the goal of which was to be able to obtain the support of all members.
One has to acknowledge that we have been very nimble about this file. I can recall giving a hand to NDP colleagues so that we could see to the drafting of recommendations. We do not need to go into all the details, but we came close to losing the vote. Amendments to the amendments were necessary. The goal was to form a subcommittee. It is well known that within the standing committee, there was a desire to delay the creation of this subcommittee until after Christmas. On our side, we were saying that there was an obligation to the public to consider this file on a priority basis. We mentioned the urgency of the debate.
Thus, there are some little subtleties, but, at the end of the day, we can say that the opposition parties worked very hard towards the emergence of a subcommittee. We are all happy about it today. We impatiently await all of the recommendations. I thank my colleague for these additional explanations.
The colleague who asked me the question said there was a concern about the whole employment insurance system, namely that it did not necessarily meet the concerns of voters in his riding. On the other hand, if one wants to be candid with the unemployment insurance monies, taking into account restrictions, the exclusion of some recipients for all kinds of reasons, the limit of funds granted and, also, the duration of benefits, we must all work on it so that we will be able to meet the expectations of the public. Those $45 billion belong to those who contributed to the fund, to the workers as well as to companies.
We will remember that the Bloc Québécois has fought some epic battles on the EI fund, and the way all those who lost their jobs but did not qualify for benefits were treated. I remember the numerous speeches made by my hon. colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup on this subject. I sat on the committee myself. This is nothing new; it has been an issue ever since we came to this place in 1993. Since then, we have fought epic battles to make the government realize that it was on the wrong track. They laughed at us, saying it was not so, that we were fantasizing, that the situation was not that urgent. Even today, the minister's answers seem to indicate that all is well and under control. We have heard about our skilled workforce and ability to meet needs. Earlier, I listened to the hon. member for Gatineau, who sounded like she was living in a wonderful world.
At the same time, we can see the problems encountered by those who lose their jobs in certain regions in terms of support. Needs are not being met either in the whole file of atypical jobs through measures relating to the EI fund.
I must state very seriously that I have been here since 1993 and can say that the Bloc Québécois has worked very diligently on this issue. Colleagues over the way ought to at least acknowledge that: we have never backed off. We could have thrown in the towel, but we have persevered. Certain groups have come to see us. We have set up files on EI horror stories. Now today we are being told how the Liberals are setting an example, how they want to have better administration. They want to see the manpower development and educational sectors made more efficient. FIne, but let them also recognize provincial jurisdiction.
We in Quebec feel very vulnerable when the federal government keeps too much money in its coffers, whether in general revenues or the foundations it sets up. We are well aware that Quebec's desire to make social advancement, to advance as a society, is a lost cause. One need just look at the emphasis put on health during the election and then look at the post-election situation. There is always consensus, not just among the Bloc Québécois, but also with hundreds of Quebec leaders who have come here. Then we get accused often of petty politics, when I feel instead that what we are doing is looking after Quebec issues. That is why we were elected and why we were given such a strong mandate. Our goal, first and foremost, is to look after the issues of concern to Quebeckers.
If Canada wants to develop in a different direction, and if some communities want to adopt the objectives of Quebec—
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak to this bill which concerns a department of great importance to all Canadians, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.
One of the responsibilities of this department is the literacy initiative. If people can write the name of this department, they are already doing quite well. Perhaps it could have been given a simpler name, but we must recognize nonetheless that the department provides services of importance to all Canadians from infancy to adulthood, including child care, joining the labour force, going to university, and other stages. All through our lives, we need this department. In all communities large and small, the department plays an important role. The flexibility and the presence of people from the department in each community are very important.
In Nova Scotia a short while ago, people were leaving rural communities and moving to urban centres, and right away we noticed the absence of these people to help take part in the programs of all the other departments, Canadian Heritage, or ACOA, FedNor, CED or Western Economic Diversification Canada. All of these agencies work in partnership with this department on site in the communities, municipalities, cities, and with individuals. This department plays an extremely important role in many sectors, including education, economic development, and all aspects of life. It has a very important role to play.
Reorganizing this department at this time is a very good idea. It is also a good idea to create a department that is responsible for the social aspect, early childhood, child care and all that, under the direction of a competent minister.
Today we are providing the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development with all the legal powers and tools it will need to fulfil its mandate. This is just the beginning. The mandate of the new department is to provide all Canadians with the tools they need to thrive and prosper in the workplace and community.
We speak quite a bit in the House and in Canada about unemployment but the wider problem is under-employment. People who perhaps are not achieving their level of capability are not finding the type of work that best meets their skill sets or their training. This department, working with unions and with other federal departments, provincial governments and communities, can help. It has a great role to play in retraining and refocusing on the continuing education of people so they can reach their full potential.
When people in my father's day had a grade 12 education they went out into the workforce, got a job and stayed there forever. That has changed. People in our my time need more skills. They need a university degree, or community college certificate or trade school certificate. It is quite normal nowadays for people to continually change jobs. In the future it will be even faster.
People of the age of our pages see a different world. In my community 100 years ago there were blacksmith shops every 10 miles. They disappeared. In my day there were video stores every 10 miles. They are now being replaced by the Internet where people can buy videos directly from the Internet. Computer stores are now being replaced with the Internet.
There are changes and it is necessary for communities, big and small, to address those changes and for the workforce to adjust. I heard statistics indicating that the average person can now look forward to seven careers in his or her adult life. That is a lot.
Employment is the most important form of security. This is why Human Resources and Skills Development Canada works in your community.
In 2003-04, the department helped more than 667,500 Canadians through active employment measures set forth in the Employment Insurance Act. We help unemployed Canadians re-enter the labour force. We also help young people gain experience on the job market, pursue their education or enter the job market through the Youth Employment Strategy.
These are essential and very difficult issues which require much discussion. I am pleased that the committee is studying these issues and that we are discussing them. We can see the problems in the communities.
In communities with seasonal employment, like my community, some people have a great deal of difficulty finding work twelve months a year. These people are not necessarily good candidates for skill development. They might well be prisoners of these jobs. Sometimes, they are older people, single mothers or fathers, and they are caught in the circle of seasonal work.
My riding has known periods of incredibly strong economic development, but it does not help these people. It puts them at a disadvantage, for as the employment insurance rate goes down in my riding, they must work more weeks to be eligible and they receive fewer unemployment benefits. This is a good system, but not for them.
We need changes. I am happy that the members of this House are studying this issue.
I would like to talk now about education and training. Nowadays, the cost of university education is very high.
It is very difficult for many young Canadians to attend university if their families cannot help a lot or if the family has more than one child going to university. The costs of attending university are high and those young adults accumulate huge debt before they start in the workforce. I always encourage them by telling them that within 10 years of graduation they will pay more for a car than the debt they accumulate in university. It is true that university graduates get better employment.
However it does not mean that we should not be doing more to help every young Canadian afford the type of education for which he or she has the capacity and that they do not limit their choices in accordance to the cost. All forms of education are good, from trade schools to community colleges to universities to post-graduate studies and so on. I want young Canadians to develop their capabilities according to their capacity and not in accordance with their financial abilities. We must work more in those areas.
We have had advances in the last few budgets but I do not think we can stop there. We have to continue looking at where it is.
One last element I would like to discuss quickly on these points is the famous question of the employment insurance fund.
I would now like to talk about the employment insurance fund, which members of the Bloc Québécois often refer to. Actually, that fund does not exist and it is unfair to talk about a fund to Canadians.
What we have is an employment insurance program. We pay a part of our salary as a contribution to that program. Employers and employees both contribute. That contribution is given to the federal government and it is put into the Government of Canada's consolidated revenue fund, so that when we are in need, we have access to a program and revenues.
Should we modify the accessibility or the revenues? Obviously, we should in several cases, for instance with seasonal jobs, as I was saying. In the southwest part of Nova Scotia, it is important to do so. I hear the same thing in other areas of the country, be it in agriculture, fisheries, tourism or other areas.
Now, we cannot talk about a fund, say that this is workers' money and that it is not being given back to them. If we now have a surplus in that program, which has more revenues than expenses, it is because we had a good government. We will not always have a Liberal government, and we may then find ourselves with a deficit.
Without a Liberal government, unemployment will rise. And the government will have to pay. It will have to make sure it wipes out the deficit of the program. You cannot tell Canadians that the last dollar was paid out last week and that no one will receive money to buy food and pay their rent.
The fact is, in the last four years, we have reduced taxpayers' contributions to this program.
I do not remember if it is three, four or five years, but every year the amount of money that we have to pay is reduced, so to say that it is a fund I think is being dishonest with Canadians. It is a program. We can always modify it and improve it but I do not think that we should fool Canadians.
Some programs that we were able to--