I would like to invite our committee members to come to the table.
I want to welcome our witnesses here today as we continue our cross-country tour. We started in Vancouver, as you're aware, a couple of days ago, and we went to Edmonton. Now we're here in Moose Jaw, and of course we head for Winnipeg this afternoon.
As you're aware, we're the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and we've been mandated to have hearings on three matters: temporary and undocumented workers, immigration consultants, and the Iraqi refugee problem. We're going to meet in almost all provinces, and at the end of it all, of course, our capable officials, along with us, will do a report and make recommendations to government on the things we have heard and the problems that have been enunciated to us.
We started out in Vancouver, and of course in Edmonton as well, with a full slate of people. We have about twelve people on our committee, but we have a problem as well in that the House of Commons is sitting. Two of our Liberal members, Mr. Telegdi and Mr. Karygiannis, have bills on in the House of Commons, so for them it was a matter of having to fly back and forth between Ottawa and here. And their bills are on today, so these two gentlemen from the Liberal Party had to return to the House of Commons and do what had to be done there. But we have a couple more people who are going to come.
Maybe starting with Colleen, members can introduce themselves to the people here.
Good morning, and I thank you as well for allowing us to be here.
I want to give you a little picture of what life is like for us in Saskatoon. I work very closely with the Iraqi Christian community. We are between 800 and 1,000 people now, and almost all of those folks have come either as refugees or as family class.
In these last couple of years, we have been inundated by phone calls from family members of those who are in Saskatoon, neighbours of those who are in Saskatoon or former neighbours, people calling from Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, people calling from Windsor, from Toronto. They know we do sponsorships, successful sponsorships, and they're pleading with us to help them get to a place where they can live in safety and peace and begin to build a new life. So we are under tremendous pressure.
Our community, in addition to sponsoring as quickly as we can, is also sending lots and lots of money overseas to support cousins and aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and grandparents, both in Iraq and in neighbouring countries. I would guess that the amount of money that goes out of Saskatoon in a given year is several hundred thousand dollars. All of the families are feeling extreme pressure and extreme anxiety because the other part of the picture is that our families are also impacted by the people who are abducted and by the people who are killed.
Just this week we had a funeral for a 16-year-old boy who was shot with a gun through his mouth by one of the insurgent groups in Iraq. His uncle and cousins are in one of the refugee families in Saskatoon. The father of that boy is missing.
So a part of our reality is just to really feel the pressure, and we're working as fast as we can to sponsor refugees, to bring refugees, and to help them integrate into the community.
That's a little bit about our current context. Just a few days ago we did a news release. Just to give you a taste of some of the things we have been trying to do in Saskatoon to garner more support for the refugees of Iraq, we chose to do a news release around the time of the abduction and killing of the Archbishop of Mosul. This is the second time in a year that we've come together for prayers and to invite the media on the occasion of the killing of a Christian clergy person.
On that occasion too, after telling the story of the archbishop—which has made it to some of the major media in Canada—about his abduction and his killing and the killing of the people who were with him, we then moved on to talk about what's happening around the fifth anniversary.
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, three agencies chose to issue new reports. You may or may not be familiar with these reports. The International Committee of the Red Cross published a report highlighting Iraq as one of the most critical situations in the world. Amnesty International published a report called Carnage and Despair, which I think speaks for itself in terms of the title, but it was also saying that Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The UNHCR is talking about the number of displaced people, which has not decreased by much, even though we're hearing stories that things are supposed to be safer in Iraq. The UNHCR also talked in York about the increased numbers of asylum seekers.
We have a desperate picture, and I think as Canadians we really need to reach out and help and to do some things more effectively than we have been doing. Some of the suggestions or some of the critique, I guess, is that from our perspective Canada's response to the situation in Iraq is totally inadequate.
The amount of money Canada has given to the United Nations to help care for people in Syria and Jordan is way too little in relation to the problem. The small piece the minister has decided about family reunification is window dressing. As you may know, in November the minister made a new announcement about expediting the reunification of parents and grandparents so people here could sponsor them and bring them to Canada, and it would go faster than the usual four years. That was for parents or grandparents in Syria. We're trying to make that program work for the few people here who have the means by which to do family-class sponsorship. But we have to remember that when we're talking about Iraqis, we're talking about a relatively new refugee community, and people don't have the means yet and are not well enough established yet to have the kind of income needed to do family-class sponsorship. It may work for a few people, but it will work for very few.
I think it's in response to a critique of the work we've done, in that many of the people whom we have brought as refugees are relatives. But to us, I guess, if you're a refugee, you're a refugee, and whether you're a relative or not isn't what matters. Some may see this as a big step in terms of expediting family reunification, but I don't think it's a big step at all. It's a very small step that may help a few people.
We have many, many refugees who've had their interviews in Syria and have been waiting for months. They're also calling and saying they've been told they were accepted, but they have to wait for their security clearance and medical. But nothing's coming and nothing's happening, and months after they've had their interview, people aren't getting here.
So the fact that security clearance by Canadians is taking so long is also a problem. We're continuing to have to support families overseas, and they're not getting to places of safety and places where they could get good medical care and education. They're sitting waiting for Canadians to complete the security clearances.
Some people have made the comparison to Kosovo. In 1999, Canada responded with open arms to people from Kosovo, particularly when Macedonia was overloaded with people crossing the border. It behooves us to know why our response to Iraq is so limited when under other circumstances we have moved so quickly and with great compassion to support people.
I'll stop there.
Yes, there's something I'd like to discuss.
One of the reasons there are so many refugees out of Iraq right now is that they have been invaded by a foreign nation in what I would classify as an illegal war. People have different opinions on whether they should have gone in or not, and obviously you can see where I stand.
However, the Assyrian community is in grave danger, and you'll be creating more and more refugees if the Kurds are given their own country. I'm sure Mr. Istifo is very aware of the situation. There will be an absolute slaughter of Christians in Assyria. I think that's something we have to look at internationally and see if we can stop it before it starts.
You talk about aid not getting there. I think you've been in the NGO business long enough to know that foreign aid never gets.... We never give what we pledge. And this is non-partisan, this is all governments. We never give as much as we pledge. It goes in dribs and drabbles, and usually it doesn't go to organizations that need it. I know that within Iraq right now and within the Assyrian part of Iraq there are NGOs trying to deal with this situation.
One of the problems with talking about taking more refugees from Iraq...and I think we should. If it were up to me, we'd have a federated world. So that's where I stand on that as well. We have to acknowledge that we have created these refugees. No matter what the conditions were under Saddam Hussein, at least you knew who the enemy was. Now in Iraq, every corner you turn, it could be another enemy.
You want us to take more refugees. You want more money going where? And what can we do about trying to ward off almost what I think is becoming the inevitable for the Assyrians--and that would be genocide? And tell me if I'm wrong.
There are several aspects to the problem. The first problem is the so-called targeted number that the Canadian government establishes every year. For 2008, the Canadian government is talking about 1,800 to 2,000 resettlement places for Iraqis out of the Middle East. That's the target. Some of those will come as government-assisted refugees; some will be our people coming as privately sponsored refugees.
The targets are not high enough, and there have been no new numbers created for refugees from Iraq. Last year we think there were supposed to be around 900 and then there were 500 or 600 added, but those were added from another location, which means that another post couldn't bring as many refugees. The same thing has happened this year. On top of the established base for Iraqis in the Middle East, places were moved from another post--I don't know where--to increase the number of Iraqis out of the Middle East.
So there have been no new numbers established as a target number for Iraqis, and we need to bring more people. Now, granted it's not the answer to the war and to the number of people who have fled. We can't bring two million people in. We all know that, but we can do our part.
The second piece is the process. The process on our side for privately sponsored refugees is fairly onerous, particularly if we're doing groups of five, because we have to find five people in our community who have sufficient income to support their family and support new families. The government-assisted refugees who come have one year of support, but there doesn't seem to be any possibility of increasing those numbers, so as private sponsors we become the additionality component.
We can bring more people, as long as the resources are there to process the people. That's the other issue. Saskatoon is a large community, but I was told the other day, “Helen, I'm glad you're the only one doing Iraqi sponsorships, because we can't keep up.” This means that when I do a sponsorship and submit the papers, the papers are going to sit in the Saskatoon immigration office for longer than the supposed 30 days. Then when they go overseas, the decision-making is better than it was two years ago. There are many more positive results, and we're grateful for that. But then we have the wait for the visa, and that involves the security clearance piece.
The other issue is that Canadians really don't know what's happening in Iraq, who the refugees are, and how many there are. It's amazing. When we did our news conference a week ago and our pictures were in the paper, so many of my friends came to me and said, “We didn't know. We didn't know that minorities were being targeted in Iraq. We didn't know.”
I think the Canadian government has a role to play, too, in awareness.
It was good to hear your presentation, and I commend you on the work you are doing.
I know Alex has indicated that we should bring in more Iraqi refugees than we have been. The minister recently announced that Canada will welcome between 1,800 and 2,000 Iraqi refugees in 2008, up from the 900 in 2007. So it's more than doubling those numbers.
Certainly when you look at that in terms of what actually exists for refugees, the numbers are very small, but as you were saying, Alex, about two million have left Iraq and are in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, or the countries around there.
My sense is that notwithstanding that Canada is reshaping its refugee goals to focus more on the Iraqi refugees, the fact is that there are millions of them out there, really, and I'm wondering if the focus should be on not just bringing some in, a small percentage, but helping the countries that are taking Iraqi refugees and that have really hundreds of thousands or millions of them there. What's your sense on that, on focusing your resources towards helping those countries that the Iraqi people are fleeing to?
I'll hear from both of you.
On behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan, thank you for the opportunity to meet with the standing committee this morning. I'm going to be making some comments from a provincial perspective on the temporary foreign worker program, as it's functioning in Saskatchewan. Particularly, I'd like to stress the importance we see of that program to the economy in Saskatchewan, and there are a couple of points I want to make around that.
First of all, we are experiencing--and I suspect you'll hear the same from Mr. Hopkins--a critical labour shortage in Saskatchewan, and we simply need to improve access to foreign labour for Saskatchewan employers. We are in the midst of an economic boom that's arguably unprecedented in recent memory in Saskatchewan. Employers are really struggling to find individuals to come to work for them. Our unemployment rate is very low. The incidence of uptake of employment insurance has dropped significantly. It dropped 17%, I believe, last year, the highest rate of any province in Canada. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently reported that Saskatchewan has the highest long-term vacancy rate of any province in Canada.
Our demographics structure is going to contribute to that labour shortage. We have an unusually low percentage of working-age individuals in this province, which is presenting a challenge to employers. That's expected to get worse. Of the working-age individuals, a high percentage are going to be coming up for retirement in the next five to ten years. Projections are being made that Saskatchewan will experience a labour shortage of around 9,000 to 13,000 jobs in the next three to five years. If current economic trends continue, that's likely an optimistic forecast.
So we simply need to improve access to any source of labour, and the temporary foreign worker program is an important source of access. We have to use the other tools we have at hand as well, such as training youth, retaining youth, and attracting individuals from other provinces. But certainly foreign labour has to be part of the equation in meeting Saskatchewan's labour market needs.
The second reason I'd really stress the importance of the temporary foreign worker program for our province is that it really is a sister program to our nominee program. They need to work hand in glove. We have done a lot of things that have made it work quite successfully, but the extent to which that program can be expanded and work out some kinks that aren't perhaps working ideally now will really contribute to the province's long-term goal of increasing our overall number of immigrants in the province.
The temporary foreign worker program generally has quicker access to workers than can be provided through an immigration program, such as the Saskatchewan immigrant nominee program, or any other federal stream, so it's very critical for employers. We've designed our nominee program to take advantage of that fact, and we have several categories in which individuals come into the province initially on a temporary work permit gained through a labour market opinion process with Service Canada. When they're here for six months, they can then apply to our nominee program for permanent status. So we see that two-step program as often serving employers very effectively. If we can get more temporary foreign workers here, we think it'll build our program and help us meet our goals as well.
In terms of issues, I'll identify four issues for you to think about today in your deliberations. Two of them, I think, are fairly operational kinds of issues, and two are more what I would call policy issues.
In terms of operational issues, anything that can be done to reduce the processing times for labour market opinions for employers who are seeking temporary foreign workers will be hugely appreciated in our province. Right now, the LMOs take somewhere in the range of eight to fourteen weeks. There have been advances made in other provinces, which we're somewhat envious of, particularly to the west of here. There's been work done around expedited labour market opinion processes that we'd be interested in developing in Saskatchewan. We've been told in discussions with officials to date that that's not going to be available to Saskatchewan, at least in the short term, but maybe there are some other avenues we can use to reduce the LMO time and serve employers as effectively as we can.
A second aspect—an operational issue, I'll term it—that we would flag is protection of workers' rights. Temporary foreign workers are particularly vulnerable in our labour market, as they don't have the mobility other individuals in the labour market have. So we think it's very important that we take extra measures to work with this group of individuals, ensure that they understand the protection afforded to them under provincial legislation, labour standards, etc., and ensure that they have knowledge of where to go if they think their rights are not being fully protected. We also want to ensure that employers understand what their obligations to temporary foreign workers are, and we want to find mechanisms to ensure that commitments made by employers to temporary foreign workers are indeed under a labour market opinion, being followed through.
So those are two kinds of operational issues, and I should mention that we are working with our federal counterparts around some of those issues. We have developed a working group among the province and Service Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada to start to work on some of these issues. I hope some progress can be made. However, some of the avenues to address these kinds of issues are beyond what officials have the ability to do, and to the extent that resources and prioritization can be affected through a process like this, I would urge you to consider those issues.
In terms of policy issues, I'll identify two things. First, we have had a considerable amount of difficulty around the issue of open work permits for spouses under the temporary foreign worker program. Policy generally is that spouses of temporary foreign workers who are not in the skilled categories—i.e., national occupation classification system A, B, or 0—are not eligible for a work permit. That created huge problems for us in our trucker initiative when we began to bring in long-haul truckers. We created a situation where individual principal applicants were coming in and bringing their families with them. The principal applicant had a job, the kids went to school, but the spouse could not work, and it created a tremendous degree of stress for those families.
The intent in this project was clearly that these individuals would be here in the long term, and I think this policy really worked against our long-term intent there. To the extent that we can identify where temporary foreign workers are intended to be here in the long term, it would be very helpful if in those situations open work permits could be available to the spouses.
The second policy issue I'll identify for you has to do with federal settlement services. Here our issue is that again, as I think I've tried to stress for you, our program works very much hand in glove with the temporary foreign worker program. A large number of people come into our program after working on a temporary foreign worker permit gained through the LMO process.
Another significant percentage of them come to our program first. We nominate them, and then they apply simultaneously for landed immigrant status and for a temporary work permit, and they come here on a temporary work permit while their landed immigrant status application is working its way through the federal system.
In both those instances, those individuals and their families are not eligible for settlement services under federal programs. So ISAP, the immigrant settlement and assistance program, language instruction for newcomers, and the host program are simply not available for those individuals on their initial landing in Saskatchewan, and that's the period when they really need settlement assistance. It's not six months, 12 months, or 18 months later when they receive landed immigrant status that they need to start to learn language in Saskatchewan. It's when they get here.
So that policy issue has, I think, worked against our effectively working towards the goal of bringing people into the province and settling them effectively. So that's the context I'd like to set for you.
I'd also like to stress that our minister has very much identified working with the temporary foreign worker program as a priority for him—hence the work that we're doing with officials—and we're very appreciative of the opportunity today to identify some of these issues to the standing committee.
Yes. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
I'm going to be about as candid as I can possibly be on this issue. I think it's critically important.
The number one issue in the business community today in Regina is the shortage of labour. There is no other issue that's even remotely close to this issue. It was just a few short years ago that the top issue would always be taxes—it was always taxes—and now the critical thing is labour.
I'm not an expert on immigration and I'm not going to pretend to be, but I can tell you what's going on in the business community today.
I have talked to business owners who have to beg workers to come to work. Workers they would have fired five years ago they are phoning, saying “Please come to work”, because there's not the availability of workers.
I had the owner of the Tim Hortons restaurant along Albert Street say to me, “John, I don't need a doctor, I don't need a lawyer, I don't need an accountant, but I do need somebody who can pour coffee. That's what I need.”
I have retailers who want people to come to work. We have McDonald's restaurants in Regina that cannot either open their drive-through or open the restaurant because they do not have the people they require to get it done.
We are on the cusp of something unbelievable in Saskatchewan. The growth potential is almost limitless in this province, except for one critical thing, and that is the labour shortage. The demographic trends are there, and they're there in spades. There's a freight train coming, and if we don't do something about it, our economic growth potential is not even going to be close to realized.
Our chamber has looked at this issue in some detail. We've identified a few things we need to work on.
The first thing is to engage first nations and Métis people like never before. We must do that and we are taking steps to do it.
The second thing is to engage our youth and to say to them today that they don't need to go anywhere else. Before, the old joke was, when do you start talking about moving to Alberta; is it in grade 5 or grade 6? We're trying to curb that and say, no, the opportunities are here right now in Saskatchewan; our youth do not have to go anywhere else.
The next thing, and this is being done in a major way, is to retain people who are leaving the workforce—retirees, if I can call them that—or to somehow get them to come back and stay in the workforce, whether it's part-time or on contract, or consulting, or whatever the case may be, in order to hold on to workers.
The next thing is immigration. This is a critical thing for us.
We've been told about the 850,000 people who are on the list. As I understand it, those are people who have inquired about coming to Canada—not necessarily people who want to come, but who have made that inquiry, though I would venture to say a very significant number of those would like to come to this country. We believe it's absolutely critical that we start to work on that list to get people to come here. There are lots of opportunities.
When we talk about this, it's like going back to the early 1900s or even before then; the opportunity is so great. We just need people from across the globe to come here to help, because of the opportunity that's here.
One of the things I've run into is that when I say we need people to pour coffee, people say to me that we can't invest in people like that; we need the doctors, the lawyers, skilled people. My comment to that is that my dad came to this country with not a lot of skill; he came because there were opportunities. It was for the same opportunities, in many ways, as are here today that he came to this country. And of course he married my mom, and her parents came to this country for the very same reason. I think in a lot of ways history is repeating itself. The opportunity is here to open the door.
On the immigration side, I have had the opportunity to be in a few places in the world, and one is Afghanistan. I can tell you for a fact that there are many people in Afghanistan who would love to come to Regina or Moose Jaw or wherever it is to pour coffee, because it opens the door for all kinds of other opportunities.
I'll also tell you about a guy I met by the name of Stephen King--not the author, but a great guy. I met him in Shanghai last summer. He talked about wanting to come to Canada. He's a very bright guy, a very nice guy, just excellent. He was with us for a number of days. He told me it was going to take him at least five years to get to Canada. I found that disturbing.
Now, he told me that it's far easier to get into Australia--and I'm not saying I know this as fact, because I don't--than it is to come to Canada. For competitive reasons, then, that's a problem we need to look at in this country. We need people to come to this country. We just do. The labour shortage, at least in Regina, in Saskatchewan, is such that we need to act quickly on this. We need to take whatever measures we can put in place to alleviate that problem, I think.
That said, I know this is a difficult issue. Particularly since 9/11, all kinds of things are associated with it. But I'm quite passionate that we need to resolve this so that we can get more people to this country to celebrate the opportunities that are here, to help grow our economy, to help grow our country. There are all kinds of reasons. And the same reasons we had 100 years ago, 150 years ago, 400 years ago are still valid today. I think there are a lot of opportunities.
I'm sorry if I kind of ranted here--I was quite candid about it, I know--but I think this is an important issue. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
I urge you to use the interpretation, if you need it.
I'm pleased to be here with you today, in Moose Jaw, even though all I've been able to see of it is the hotel pool.
Both of you talked about the arrival of foreign workers. In fact, temporary foreign workers are the subject of our study. Mr. Hopkins even went further by saying that we don't need just temporary workers, but also people who come and settle in Saskatchewan and help to develop society.
Various speakers have told us about a number of concerns about protecting these people from exploitation. There are some very good employers who take care of and decently treat people who come to work on temporary visas, but other, less scrupulous employers treat them in a way they would never treat Canadian employees.
Among other things, Mr. Hopkins mentioned that, for someone from Afghanistan who is experiencing difficulties, serving coffee in a Tim Horton's is already an improvement in living conditions. However, some unscrupulous employers abuse the situation by thinking that, even if they mistreat these individuals, they already have more than they would in their own country. That's the problem.
What measures could we put in place to prevent this situation? We often put this question to workers groups and refugee advocacy organizations. They all have suggestions to make. However, I would like to know the opinions of merchants. What can we do to prevent certain unscrupulous merchants from undermining the program as a whole?
I just want to make a few comments and one question, and I'll pass it over to Mr. Batters for further questions.
I certainly understand that our program as it now, with skilled workers having to wait years as opposed to weeks or months, is untenable. We need to make some changes and reform, which we're intending to do, and certainly I've taken note that settlement services should include the temporary foreign workers.
But what you've done here in Saskatchewan, and perhaps many provinces haven't yet had to do this, is use the provincial nominee program in a way that allows you to direct immigration and newcomers to the points that you need in terms of your labour market needs and for settlement as well.
I found it very intriguing that at the meeting yesterday in Alberta, they wondered how you transition temporary foreign workers into actually becoming newcomers and settlers in our country. You said this morning that you can do that through the provincial nominee program, and you've said that anyone who has been here for six months, I take it, as a temporary foreign worker can apply through the provincial nominee program to become a permanent resident. Essentially, we look at issues like security and health, but under the provincial nominee program, you direct the people to where you want them to go. I think that's a grand scheme for provinces, Canada, and Canadians to take advantage of that provision.
Having said that, Manitoba has been particularly successful in the provincial nominee program, and Saskatchewan has caught on to that. It's increasing in numbers, and I'm sure they'll look back in five years and see they've done very well.
One thing they have in the provincial nominee program in Manitoba that perhaps you might not have in Saskatchewan, and that other provinces might want to consider, is a series of types of newcomers they would nominate, and then they have a provision that deals with the general class of people that you might not otherwise specifically include. So you might look at, from the Saskatchewan point of view, ensuring that there is a more liberal approach in terms of who can come in and widening the capacity of the province to do that, and if the feds take off the limits on the provincial nominee or amounts you can nominate, it's a grand way for the province to actually direct its immigration.
I commend you for what you're doing, because you've made an important patch between temporary foreign workers and permanent residents, and I'm saying that there is an ability for you to go even further if we take the cap off the numbers, and I understand we have.
So I'm certainly excited by what I've seen in Saskatchewan and by what the government's doing, and I encourage you to go even further.
I pass you to Mr. Batters.
With 13 members to one, we must have been talking small-l liberal, Mr. Komarnicki.
To Mr. Johansen and Mr. Hopkins, welcome. For me, it's great to be home to the friendly city of Moose Jaw, to my constituency, and it's a real pleasure to host everyone here in the great riding of Palliser.
Mr. Hopkins, you talked a lot about needing people to pour coffee. I've heard exactly the same stories myself, shop owners saying they can't find someone to pour coffee for $10 an hour. I definitely think that's a problem in Saskatchewan.
Of course, we also have a skilled worker shortage. This is a considerable problem in terms of doctors, nurses, construction workers, welders, and tradespeople in general. We're going to hear later on today—and this is what has come to my office—about the shortage of truck drivers, a significant shortage, where they've had to go to Great Britain or the Ukraine to bring in truck drivers.
I was very proud to listen to you talk about the economic potential in this province, in Saskatchewan. Our new economic growth potential is really limitless. You talk about our province with such pride. I enjoyed hearing that.
We currently have a 850,000- to 900,000-person backlog in the immigration system. This has ballooned from 50,000 people only a few short years ago under the then Liberal government.
I'm going to ask a rhetorical question. Obviously you support legislation that would reduce that bottleneck that prevents us from getting the labour we need to fulfill our potential. Right?
We have a situation right now where it takes approximately six years to get people into Canada, and six months into Australia. The Australians will say that's one of their biggest selling features, the fact that it takes six years to get into Canada. That's expected to be 10 years by 2012 if it's not addressed.
This government is trying to address this. We're trying to reduce this bottleneck and ensure that we get both skilled and unskilled workers that we require in this country.
I have to say, in response to Mr. St-Cyr's comments, this is something that has come up a fair bit at the committee, the concern about temporary foreign workers and the abuse of temporary foreign workers. Maybe it's just because I live in the province of Saskatchewan, but I honestly do not hear of these cases coming into my office in Moose Jaw or Regina, where people are saying, “Listen, I'm here under the temporary foreign worker program and I'm being abused by my employer.”
I think you're right, Mr. Hopkins. If we ever saw that, we'd simply direct them to the right office and that would be dealt with very promptly.
I'm just going to wrap up, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Hopkins, you did refer to the fact that foreign credentials have to be recognized. Our government has set up a foreign credential referral office to do just that, to speed up that process so that we don't have, as Ms. Beaumier said, cardiologists driving cabs when we have a shortage of cardiologists, or radiologists or OB/GYNs. We have that office set up, and we're going to try to expedite that, to get those people their credentials verified as soon as possible and get them into their trained field that they're a master in.
I want to wrap up by saying that we have welcomed to Canada this past year more immigrants than we have in nearly a century. As a quick fact, Canada this past year welcomed the highest number of newcomers in our history—429,649—surpassing the previous high in 1911.
So we're certainly moving in the right direction, and I'm glad you gentlemen approve of the movement by our government to reduce the bottleneck. Thank you very much.
If you have any comments or....
Thank you very much. I'll just plunge right in regarding foreign workers in Saskatchewan.
In Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, P.E.I., and Quebec, we have occupations under pressure lists that reduce the advertising requirement for anyone trying to bring in foreign workers. Saskatchewan does not have that list, even though we have right now the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada. I would strongly urge that we get that list developed here in Saskatchewan.
Secondly, Service Canada on the provincial level is very short staffed. It's easy to just ask for more money to hire more people, but I do talk to all the workers on a regular basis, and they are under a lot of pressure to work on a lot of files. Without a word of a lie, I'm sure we could double the number of foreign worker officers in Saskatchewan. Doubling the numbers would probably help. I don't know if that's possible, but it's certainly something that needs to be done now.
On policies regarding how Service Canada assesses files, I know Mr. Thomas will talk a bit about that as well. There are requirements when you submit labour market opinion applications. I've done enough LMOs, as we call them. I've done plenty of LMOs. I've standardized how I do it. I can submit two identical LMOs to two workers. One will get approved; one may get denied. I would just like to see some clear policies. I have done an information request to, I think, HRDC in Quebec, to the information office, requesting an organizational chart and the policies and procedures manual for Saskatchewan region. If memory serves me correctly, I've been unable to get either of those things. If I had a policies and procedures manual, by all means I'd quote policy when I submitted LMOs. If something was denied, I could say, show me the regulation that states that.
Third parties. In immigration you get the third parties, which are often CSIC consultants. I'll hold my comments back about CSIC, but there are a lot of recruitment companies that are called third parties. I would be considered a third party. I get the authorization from a company to submit an application on their behalf. Here again, you have six workers in Saskatchewan; half of these workers will phone me and phone the employer regarding the file, and the other half will not phone me. I talk to the employer after the fact, and the employer says, “I got a call from so-and-so, and we talked on the phone for 10 minutes”, and what I have heard twice in the last month was, “It was all Greek to me”.
Companies hire third party representatives such as me because the companies don't know how to do it themselves. By all means, the Service Canada officer should phone the company directly, ensure that I'm an authorized representative, ensure there's a job there, ensure that they're aware of the requirement for the employer, the return airfare for low skills, all these sorts of things. I would urge clear direction to all the workers to cc the third party on any correspondence and make a quick phone call to the third party as well. It creates so many hassles when I talk to the employer and the employer has no idea what transpired over the phone. Service Canada uses acronyms. Employers don't know what these acronyms are. That's why they hire me.
Another thing about Service Canada is that they are fairly distinct from CIC. As a small recommendation, it's probably not a good idea to have Service Canada workers offering advice on immigration matters, because it is a very separate field. It doesn't happen a lot. When I hear an officer telling a client that while he's coming over from the Philippines he cannot bring his spouse, I get upset. As we know, skilled workers on temporary farm work permits have the option of bringing their spouse and family.
Regarding wages and Service Canada, I did a lot of work with hotels in Saskatchewan. Eight months ago a hotel cleaner would make $8.25 to $8.50 an hour, depending on which hotel. That has been traditionally one of the lower-paid jobs. It's also one of the more difficult jobs. Six months on, three hotels in Saskatoon had moved their wages up to $10 an hour, and that was to get the foreign workers in. They're paying other Canadians $10 an hour. But what you're looking at is a 20% to 25% increase over six months. A lot of companies can't quite handle that.
In Saskatchewan we have a 4.1% unemployment rate. A balanced unemployment rate is 5%. Below 5%...out of every 10 people out there able to work, one is generally considered unemployable. So having Service Canada telling companies that they have to raise their rates to get foreign workers and attract other Canadians is not a good direction to be going in.
Do you want me to hold on for a second?
Again, about wages, I understand that Service Canada is there to protect the Canadian labour market, and I'm fully supportive of that. My background in immigration is actually in settlement. I could talk here at great length about the point system and settlement.
I don't believe in the abuse of foreign workers. I have turned down some companies, big contractor companies, because I knew they wouldn't treat their foreign workers right. But it's to the point where a lot of employers are very upset. I know they're calling the transition coordinator at Service Canada here in Saskatchewan, Miss Rose Hill, and are probably calling Eric Johansen, because they can't get approvals for some of their positions, and they are actually paying decent wages.
One quick example--this was six months ago, and the rates have probably gone up--was the case of an entry-level construction worker. One company wanted to bring in a few Mexicans and applied for the LMO. Service Canada is quite nice in Saskatchewan. They phoned back and said that everything looked good, but the company couldn't pay $12 an hour; it had to pay $15 an hour. The employer said he wasn't paying $15 an hour to anyone who walked in off the street, so why should he pay $15 an hour to a worker he'd never met. That's a good point.
My point to Service Canada--I didn't argue it much--was that if I walked into any construction company and asked for a job, they would start me at $12 an hour. So why is it any different to bring in a foreign worker at $12 an hour? The response was that it was because of what they call the prevailing wage rate. In Saskatchewan they do a study every six to 12 months to peg it. The prevailing wage rate is the wage rate at which the company says people stick around. What they're starting with is what keeps the workers. They look at the retention rate.
It's a bit tricky to use prevailing wage rates when you're hiring people you've never met. You're a little bit leery about their skill sets. Starting them a bit lower and then agreeing to move them up after one year to a higher wage rate, to the prevailing wage rate, would be acceptable. Companies would be more open to that. But telling companies that they have to pay $15 an hour to a construction labourer, basically a grunt worker, is a tough one for them. So a lot of companies have shied away because of that.
I'll say a little bit more about wages in the food service industry. I think Mr. Thomas will talk more about that. I do a lot of work with restaurants, fast food restaurants, and the hotel industry. There are tips and gratuities that everyone makes. Service Canada doesn't account for that in the wage. I understand that it's problematic; you can't guarantee that you'll get tips. But when it comes to banquet servers, for example, when the hotel gives the bill for the food, they add a 15% gratuity. That's fairly concrete. They know you're going to be getting that.
On behalf of some of my client hotels, I wonder if Service Canada would take a look at somehow factoring in tips and gratuities in some of these positions. What they're saying right now is that you can't hire banquet servers for less than $10 an hour. Banquet servers get $8.70 an hour. They average $2 to $3 an hour in tips. Hotels aren't about to bump them up to $10 an hour, because they're doing well already.
How much time do I have?
Thank you all again for inviting us down today. It's greatly appreciated.
I'm here today representing our 2,700 locations in Canada, and by their calculations, all the store owners figure that with 2,700 locations, at seven minutes each, we should be here for about 13 and a half days, so I sure hope everybody's prepared for that on this side. So we'll be going from there.
One of the things I wanted to talk about today is that we've been involved with this for a fairly long time now and have been dealing with a lot of the issues that have cropped up. We have about 178 store owners in Canada who are currently looking at this program. We have over 600 candidates already in Canada. We are looking at another 400 arriving here by the end of the next quarter. So the number is going to continually increase.
We're seeing this across the board in Canada. This is just not an Alberta-B.C. issue. We hear people all the time saying, “Well, the only reason is the oil and gas, it's the Olympics in Vancouver”. This is everywhere. We're seeing this in Saskatchewan. We're seeing this in Manitoba. We're seeing this in Toronto, where we're getting a lot of people coming and saying, “You know what? I want a job, but I am a radiologist. I don't want to work at a Tim Hortons; I want to work as a radiologist.” We'll certainly work with them, but we know that obviously their hearts are in another place where they want to be.
We're seeing this in Quebec and we're seeing this in the Maritimes, so this is something that's coming fairly quickly across all of Canada. So I think it's just something for most of us to be prepared for.
One thing gives us a little bit more of an opportunity to see versus a lot of the other businesses in Canada that are looking at this. Because this is happening Canada-wide, we're seeing a lot of process and standardization issues across the board. What you end up seeing is a duplication of efforts all the way through, whether it's at Service Canada, the various embassies, CIC—the processing of the same candidate multiple times for multiple reasons.
You will see a person who gets a stamp from the embassy to come into Canada for a two-year work permit, and Border Services turns around and puts six months onto their stamp when they come in. All of a sudden, then they've got to go back to Vegreville, Alberta, get another year and a half put on there, for an additional $150 charge, if they're lucky, and they have to start the whole process all over again.
Why are we doing this same thing multiple times, again and again and again? It causes an issue for the candidates, it's an issue for the store owners, and I think it's an issue for the government. When you talk to the various levels of bureaucrats, they're saying all the time that their paperwork is getting harder and harder and there's more and more of it. The idea is how to cut this down. Standardization of processes would help a lot with it from there.
Regarding definition and publication of program regulations, how much effort is spent on incorrect applications? Not every company in Canada is like ours, where they have somebody in place like me who can help the store owners through this process. We've got a lot of small mom-and-pop operations out there, and they're trying to do this application, and we're hearing stories of applications going to the government six or seven times before finally getting approved. Again, if it were standardized in terms of what was required in the application, and as Daniel mentioned earlier, if this same information were being provided for each one of the workers, it would make it a lot easier to process the people through and get it done on a quicker, more timely basis.
On the contracts and prevailing wage calculations, the idea of a prevailing wage isn't so bad. It lets us at least know where we're starting from. The problem seems to be in the calculation of it. How exactly did they determine the numbers? What you see is that even though it's a federal program, each province defines it differently as to how they figure out the information and where they're getting the information from, and they don't necessarily follow normal industry standards.
For our industry on the quick service side, we get people all the time saying, okay, it should be a $9- or $10-an-hour job, and then you find out that people who work in prisons as food counter attendants make $24 an hour, so we'll include that into the wage as well. When you throw that into the mix, of course it throws off the numbers all across the board.
On contract enforcement, one bit of clarification from what we heard in the previous presentations is that once workers come to Canada, contracts are provided under labour standards by each one of the provinces. Individuals are free to move if they want, as long as they can get another contract, all legal, through various CIC offices. As long as they can do that, they can move from employer to employer.
The issue that comes up with this is for the lower-skilled positions such as ours. We have to pay for recruitment of the individuals. We have to pay for airfare of the individuals to get to Canada. The problem is that if a second employer comes and takes that individual, we're still responsible for the recruitment and the airfare for them on that side. This is unfair from that standpoint. There has to be something in there for the workers or for the secondary employers or the third employers, such that they have to take on the responsibility of those costs.
Concerning lack of acceptance of secondary costs, Service Canada, as Daniel mentioned, does not seem to define that things such as tips, housing, housing accommodation items, training, and time put into this effort be recognized, as apportioned by what store owners have to do to get this done. They think it's a very easy process, and evidently it's not.
Concerning recruitment standards, one of the things we're seeing here a lot--and I know you heard a lot about this in Vancouver as well as in Edmonton yesterday--is that realistically this program is punishing people who want to do it legally and ethically in Canada.
Basically, right now when somebody comes into Canada and they have used an illegal recruiter—they've had the candidates pay fees—and then the candidates end up disappearing or go MIA on them, nothing is done to them. In the case of the ones who do it right—spend the money up front, do everything properly, and then the people leave—there is the thought, “Oh well, so what? You lost three candidates. You lost the people; we can't do anything about it.” Again we are rewarding people for doing it illegally. Something has to be done about this.
As to various offices and officers not understanding the impact of a “no experience required, no English level required”, this is something that comes up fairly often. What you see is different industries writing into their LMOs that “we don't need someone who speaks English, we don't need someone who has any experience”. Then when we try to bring the people over, various embassies are saying no, we won't let you do that. So what do they do? They start looking at quick service industries, manufacturing industries, trying to draw the people out of there, because they know they can get them at a lower rate, and they're already in Canada, where their processing times are going to be reduced.
It is an unregulated industry. As a result, many issues are happening overseas and in Canada causing additional issues for government offices, business owners, and the candidates themselves. More regulation of this industry has to take place when you're bringing people over. Whether it be further intervention through CSIC members or through immigration lawyers, something has to be done to make these people accountable for their actions.
Finally, one of the things we have heard today—Colleen, you mentioned it earlier—is that the temporary foreign worker program is supposed to be a temporary program, and in the long term the idea should be immigration. What we need to do is have clearly defined pathways for temporary foreign workers to become citizens or permanent residents. Right now it's a bit of a crapshoot. One officer tells you maybe they could do it like this; another one says possibly it is like this. There should be a clearly defined pathway showing us exactly how to do it. If the people are not going to be eligible for it, we have to tell them up front. If there is that opportunity in Australia for them, let them go. It's Canada's loss at that particular point in time.
Finally, I'll talk about industry-targeted immigration streams. We need people in our industries who want to work in our industries. We gladly accept individuals from all over Canada. It is, however, very unfair to expect a professional such as an engineer, a doctor, an accountant, a radiologist to work in our industry, because there are barriers in their industry to getting in. We have to give people who are coming to Canada the impression of coming here to work at their profession, and that is what we want to make sure we are available to do.
If we are opening these doors up for engineers, for radiologists, and for accountants, what we are expecting is that obviously the same thing comes up for our service-level industry as well--that we can bring the people in and help them out from there.
Thank you very much.
That highlights a little bit of what I wanted to open with: our company overview, where we're located. We're a dry and liquid bulk carrier, so we haul your fuel to your gas stations, we haul fertilizer to farmers throughout our provinces, we haul into the diamond mines in the Northwest Territories. We cover Manitoba to Vancouver Island, and into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. We do have a partner company by the name of RTL Robinson in Yellowknife. All totalled, we're about 1,000 people strong, and of those, 600 work specifically for Westcan.
We hire professional long-haul truck drivers through the temporary foreign worker program. We're also involved in the provincial nominee programs in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and most recently, in British Columbia. When you talk about pathways, we identify this as our pathway to have families immigrate to our country and become sustainable, long-lasting members of our society and our economy. That is our pathway. We use this program as a means to get people through the door on a two-year work permit, and then at the time determined between us and our foreign worker, we decide when we're going to apply to the PN program.
Typically it's around the six-month mark for us, because we have a six-month or 180-day probationary period for anybody who works for our company, whether you're from Canada, from the United States, from Wales, from Ukraine. So that's the time we typically apply to the PN program.
We have most of our foreign workers receiving their permanent residency in Canada within the first two years, anywhere from that 12-month to 24-month mark. I'll use Moose Jaw as an example. We have 15 foreign workers working in our Moose Jaw terminal, of which seven have their permanent residency; four of those received permanent residency within the last two months. We think that's a success.
Throughout our company we have 91 foreign workers driving for us or working in our office. We've hired not just Sandra but spouses of our drivers in Edmonton as well as in Calgary. I don't think there are any in Lloydminster or Saskatoon.
So that's a little bit about what we use as the pathway.
We are bulk LMO approved through Service Canada in all three provinces. We have an allocation of 60 in Alberta, 60 in Saskatchewan, and 10 in British Columbia. We've seen a lot of growth, a lot of change. We started in 2004. We sat at the lobbying table to get truck drivers allowed to come through the program. We did so diligently in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and then most recently with the B.C. Trucking Association. We are a carrier member that lobbied that government to a successful end result. We're very proud of that fact, and we were very happy to be able to work with our government members to further our progress on both sides.
We've experienced lots of improvements. We require many of the drivers who want to work for us to come over on a research trip to experience exactly what our company has to offer and what Canada has to offer. That's our response to trying to reduce the turnover, improve our retention rates.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks we've encountered and an area for improvement on the Service Canada side of things would definitely be the spousal work permit issue. Under the low-skilled to semi-skilled occupations, when we give a driver a contract to sign, get an LMO to him, and have him come over here with his family, the spouse doesn't automatically get a work permit. It has contributed in some of our locations to up to 90% of our turnover for the drivers who have left. Ninety percent of them would identify that the inability of their spouse to settle in our communities and in Canada was one of the biggest factors in going home. It's not the driver himself, working. He's settled. You know, you're working, you're training. Trucking is trucking--trucking in the U.K. is similar--so that wasn't an issue. Children are not an issue. They go to school, they make friends, they have accents, they're the most popular kid on the block for most of it.
The biggest settling issue was the spouse sitting at home. They cannot participate in volunteer programs where they're working with older people or children. They can't work part-time. They can't go to school, which would look like they're going to try to further their stay in Canada. So they can't do a degree program.
If we hire from an English-speaking country already, it's not an attractive option to take ESL courses, which is one of the things that spouses can do. But Sandra didn't need to learn how to speak English, so she was left sitting at home, and there's only so much decorating you can do, and spending of money, when you are working in a one-income family.
So that is probably one of the biggest things that as a company in this program we would like to see--spousal work permits afforded to the spouses of our drivers at the time we hire them. It's the two-for-one approach--from the government's standpoint, anyway.
I was reading the Edmonton Journal this morning from your committee meeting yesterday there. One of the issues was the gentleman presenting being phoned at the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation; he was away overseas recruiting when one of the people we brought here could no longer satisfy his work permit to get the job.
Isn't it ironic? Here we are trying to get more people in when we have a whole bunch of people sitting and unable to work. We've already done background checks. We've already done medicals on them. It's basically wasted effort, and we're losing some valuable skills sitting at home for that first year.
We don't, as a company, want to circumvent and go the PN route from day one. We want to have a defined pathway so that we can assess a fit for our company and for Canada. We think it's in the best interest of all Canadians to have the six-month probationary period to see if they are a good fit before we just stamp somebody with a permanent residency card and say they're free to do as they wish in our country. As a company, that's one of our checks and balances, and that's why we would lobby our federal government to allow it on the Service Canada end of things.
We're unique in truck drivers, and I do appreciate that not every industry is faced with that stumbling block.
Other areas are inconsistencies or variances between provinces, even though we're dealing with Service Canada. There are variances when we're contacting the Service Canada office in Alberta versus Saskatchewan.
With regard to the wait times for renewal, I like to think of us as a frequent flyer in the temporary foreign worker program. We've had two Service Canada reviews in the four years we've been doing this program. We've welcomed Service Canada representatives into our company to see the processes we have put in place to improve retention and to improve recruitment and our hiring process.
One of my suggestions for an area of improvement would be to adapt a frequent flyer program. As a carrier in Alberta, we're members of Partners in Compliance. That's a government initiative between the provincial government and certain carriers in Alberta. They do regular audits on our company to make sure our safety standards and codes are there. In response to keeping a high standard--a high level of service and safety--we're allowed to bypass some of our scales in a defined way. My suggestion would be something like that.
We find our wait is with the E-LMOs and with the volume that we're experiencing. We're waiting on renewals of LMOs that we've already had approval on for the last four years, and it's limiting our ability to communicate with the people we want to bring into our country. We're saying, “Don't sell your house yet, because I've sent away my LMO request to assign your name to one of our bulk LMOs; sometimes it's five days to get the LMO back with your name on it, but sometimes it's five weeks.” For example, right now we're waiting for LMOs back in Alberta from Service Canada with our names assigned from March 6. It's April 2, and we haven't heard anything. Sometimes, as I said, we get them in five days. That is another area we would try to improve.
That is kind of a two-pronged question. One of the things, obviously, that would come with it there is that if the individual is coming over for an industry, if the person has been defined as having been working as an engineer for the last 10 years, or working in food service for the last 10 years, he or she should have the ability to work within that industry. Obviously that's what the person has been defined as. Recruiters have spent their time, companies have spent their time, the embassy has spent its time defining this person's background as being in food service. So if there's a need for food service, we could have that person come over and work within an industry.
On the idea about the fair compensation, it's very true. For levels 0, A, and B, there is no fee that the employer has to pay in order to bring the person over. They may choose to pay a fee, as they would in the case with Daniel, and follow up like that, but they don't have to.
For NOC C and D, which would be low-skill workers like our workers, the regulation is that you have to pay return airfare and you must pay the cost of recruitment. Where the unfair advantage is coming up is that now—we're seeing this more with the oil and gas industry, construction, and manufacturing—they are waiting for low-skill workers to come to Canada who are not in their industry, driving up to the local McDonald's, the local Tim Hortons, the local A & W, and saying, “You're 10 workers; instead of getting paid $10 or $12 an hour, why don't you guys come and work for us at $25 an hour?”
It's an easier and quicker pathway for them. The problem is that Service Canada says, “Freedom of information rules prevent us from telling you where those workers are going.” So right now, there's no way to get recruitment for the first employer who brought the people over and spent the cost.
On average, if you're looking at a store owner spending, let's say, $3,000 for airfare and recruitment for 10 workers, that's $30,000 about which Service Canada and CIC are just expecting that store owner to say, “Oh well, it's gone. Forget about it.” That's a big investment for somebody to have, and as I say, right now you get some people in the industry who are in lower positions, who are turning around and saying, “Why should I do it legally? Why should I do it correctly? If I do it illegally, I don't have to spend any money to get these people over here, and if I lose them, so what?”
That's the wrong message to be sending.
We're just now looking at going to countries where the first language is not English. Up until 2008, we've predominantly brought in drivers whose first language was English, so we didn't have the language issue.
We are doing an extensive research program in trips to Ukraine, which would be, for our company, the next place we would bring drivers from. Having said that, there's a huge language barrier. It's probably the only barrier. There are lots of different challenges in every country that you go to, and as a company we try to research and understand what those are going to be.
In Ukraine, they have similar driving conditions; they use similar equipment—all of those things check out. It's a language issue. Right now we're trying to get some clarity on identifying within our own workforce what is an optimal level of English and what it correlates to, whether it's the Canadian Language Benchmarks or, when they're leaving their home country and being assessed at a Canadian embassy, using the IELP, or whatever testing mechanism it may be, and trying to align so that we know what level we need to bring.
I'm meeting tomorrow with the Saskatchewan Transportation Association representatives to try to come together as carriers to say we don't want to compromise safety and we don't want to compromise a person's quality of life. When you don't speak a language in a country, your quality of life is that much less than that of somebody who does.
We want to address all of those things and make sure that when we bring somebody from, say, a place like Ukraine, their level of English is at a point where they're going to get by and will improve substantially with training, which we provide on the post-arrival end, covered by the employer, with certified ESL teachers and with a defined path to where they're going, so that they can become prominent and successful members of our society. It's just in the research stage for drivers right now, but we know it's something we have to work with governments on.
What we fear is that somebody is going to come in and impose a certain level: you have to be a level eight or a level six. I worked for the University of Saskatchewan; the international students we brought to our university didn't have a level six. We have to make sure we identify the appropriate level of English—not to compromise any of those things, but so as not have a government infrastructure impose a level that's unattainable, because then we hinder the program all over again.
We as carriers are trying to find out who we need to talk to at the government, whether it's Service Canada or the PN level. Right now, it's the Alberta PN who's likely going to come with a defined level for truck drivers first. So it's a question of finding those key people to say, “We want to work with you. Come to our company, interview our drivers, learn for yourselves what is required for English to do the job.”
I appreciate hearing from you. That was a good presentation. I hear you when you say that there needs to be some standardization of process and a clear pathway. When you look at all the various options and all the things you might do, even a qualified, competent person has to scratch their head sometimes in terms of which way to go. So we need to simplify and even streamline the process.
I've heard from a number of people, and they've said that when you do bring somebody down, a temporary foreign worker or labourer, and there is a spouse involved, we need to be sure that there is an opportunity for them to work. We hear you loud and clear on that.
The other issue we've heard is that many of the temporary foreign workers are somewhat vulnerable, and what can we do to protect them? I'll leave that area, but I'd like a comment from Chris or Daniel on that.
To Chelsea, the provincial nominee program is something that I'm convinced the provinces can use to a great degree to bring in temporary workers, and then we need to patch them into permanent residents, along with their spouses, if we can. I know that in Saskatchewan, if you're in six months, you can apply for the provincial nominee program and off you go. Maybe they could broaden or widen their process.
Did you find, in dealing with the various provincial governments, a harmonization in that provincial nominee program, or have you detected some differences? And could there be some improvement in that area as well?
I know I haven't got much time, but perhaps you can go ahead first, Chelsea, and answer that question.