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HUMA Committee Report

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Government Response to the Third Report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development And The Status Of Persons With Disabilities

Employability In Canada: Preparing For The Future

Introduction

Despite a recent slowdown in the global economy, Canada’s labour market indicators remain strong.  The national unemployment rate is near a historic low, and participation and employment rates are near record highs.  However, skills shortages remain prominent in various sectors and regions of the economy.  

Over the long-term, these skills shortages are expected to intensify and become more widespread, due to the aging of the Canadian labour force and increasing skills requirements.  Roughly two out of every three job openings that will arise over the next decade will be attributed to labour force aging rather than new job creation.  This implies that many occupations are expected to face excess labour demand pressures.

Canada has one of the most educated working-age populations in the world.  However, growing demand for highly-skilled workers will put pressure on the need for increasing the skill levels of all Canadians.

Some segments of the population are less likely to have post-secondary credentials or be participating in the labour market – notably Aboriginal Canadians, older workers and people with disabilities. Enhancing the participation and skill levels of these groups are central to our country’s efforts to address the challenges of population aging and skills shortages.

In Advantage Canada, released in Fall 2006, the Government of Canada set out its plan for creating the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world.  In recognition of current and emerging demographic and globalization pressures, the Government of Canada made policy commitments in three key areas:

  • Quantity: Increasing the participation of Canadians and immigrants in the workforce to meet current and future labour shortages.
  • Quality: Enhancing the quality of education, skills development and training, and developing interest and excellence in research in Canada.
  • Efficiency: Facilitating workforce mobility and providing the information necessary to make informed labour market choices.

On May 11, 2006, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) undertook an examination of employability issues in Canada.  The Committee’s Report, Employability in Canada: Preparing for the Future, tabled on April 2, 2008, made 70 recommendations, which address the following four broad policy themes:

  1. Human resources planning, labour market information and labour mobility;
  2. Investments in learning;
  3. Labour force participation; and
  4. Selecting and integrating skilled immigrants and temporary foreign workers.

The Government of Canada commends the Committee for its extensive consultations, comprehensive and wide-ranging assessment, and advice on enhancing the employability of Canadians.

The Government of Canada agrees that all the players have an important role to play in mitigating existing and impending skills shortages – governments, employers, educational institutions, and individuals/families.  The Government’s approach respects the primary role that provinces and territories play in delivering education and labour market training.  As well, a well-functioning labour market must be responsive to the needs of individuals and their communities.   

The Committee’s Report affirms that the commitments laid out in Advantage Canada and the initiatives announced since the Fall of 2006 are going in the appropriate direction.  The recommendations of the Committee will be considered moving forward, as part of our ongoing effort to deliver on Advantage Canada commitments through responsible investments that deliver results.

Human Resource Planning, Labour Market Information and Labour Mobility

It is important to ensure that labour markets can adjust quickly to new realities, employers can fill jobs in high demand areas, and individuals can maximize benefits from work and learning.

In order to facilitate workforce mobility and provide the information necessary to make informed choices, the Government of Canada made the following commitments in Advantage Canada:

  • ennhance labour market information available to Canadians so that they can make optimal choices for themselves; and
  • support the removal of barriers to labour mobility across the country.
Human Resource Planning

The Government of Canada supports sector councils, which are industry driven partnerships that bring together key stakeholders such as employers, workers and educational institutions to define and collectively address critical human resource and skills development challenges faced by their economic sector. The Government shares the Committee’s view that using a sectoral, demand-driven approach to human resources planning is an appropriate way to address our new labour market challenges.

The network of 34 sector councils covers key sectors of the Canadian economy ranging from aviation maintenance to automotive manufacturing that together cover approximately 50% of the Canadian labour market.  Recently, three new sector councils have been created in forestry, supply chain and agriculture.

The Government of Canada recognizes the acute health human resource challenges facing Canada. It has provided significant support to in-depth, multi-year human resources studies of key health professions including physicians and nurses.  These projects brought together a wide cross-section of health practitioners and resulted in a report that has since informed human resources and skills development practices in these professions.  However, consensus for the establishment of a multi-stakeholder health HR coordinating mechanism (sector council) to collectively address the challenges outlined in the report was not achieved and hence this concept did not move forward.

Links with the education system are also important as it is critical that students entering the labour market are equipped with the skills required to meet industry needs and access worthwhile career opportunities.  As well, many sector councils have the education system involved in their governance boards to ensure the councils are representative and connected.

The Government of Canada will continue to support key sectors of the Canadian economy by fostering direct links between employers and the learning system to ensure that workers get the skills they need and employers have access to a skilled and productive workforce.

Labour Market Information

The Government has expressed its belief in the importance of labour market information (LMI) in Advantage Canada and shares the Committee’s view that LMI will grow in importance in the years ahead.

Canadians need relevant, detailed and accessible labour market information so that they will know what job opportunities are available across the country.  Timely and adequate labour market information facilitates labour market adjustments because it lessens skills mismatches in the labour market and accelerates the acquisition and improvement of skills.  Evidence indicates that labour market information reduces unemployment and increases the probability of investing in education and training. 

HRSDC is a primary source of LMI for multiple stakeholders in Canada.  The Government of Canada is working with provinces and territories – through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers (FLMM) – to develop more detailed information and forecasts at provincial and sub-provincial levels.

Labour Mobility

A mobile labour force benefits the economy through reduced unemployment and increased worker productivity as people move to provinces or regions with better employment opportunities.

After decades of decline, interprovincial mobility rates have risen in recent years as a result of an increase in the number of Canadians moving to Western Canada.  The relocation of individuals within a province also facilitates adjustment.  In 2006, 4% of Canadians moved to a different city inside their province – more than four times the number of Canadians who moved interprovincially.

A significant determinant of mobility is ensuring that skills of all workers are recognized across the country.  The Government of Canada continues to work toward full compliance with Chapter 7 of the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) and is presently working with provincial and territorial partners to achieve interprovincial mutual recognition for all existing regulated occupations by April 1, 2009.

As a key element in encouraging recognition and mobility for apprentices, the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program is an industry-driven approach where industries across Canada support common occupational standards and interprovincial examinations for the current 49 Red Seal trades.  These trades represent 88% of registered apprentices in Canada and an important share of the trades workforce.  Approximately 17,000 Red Seals are issued annually.

The Trades and Apprenticeship Strategy (TAS) is designed to strengthen the Red Seal program. One of the joint priorities of the TAS is the harmonization of learning outcomes of technical apprenticeship training in the high-volume Red Seal trades.  This will ultimately improve the mobility of apprentices during their training programs. 
 

In addition to these measures, the Income Tax Act already includes provisions that allow workers to deduct moving expenses associated with relocation for work-related reasons, and for certain employer-paid allowances for board, lodging and transportation for employment at special work sites or remote work locations to be provided to employees on a tax-free basis.

In Budget 2006, the Government of Canada also introduced the Canada Employment Credit – a new tax credit on employment income of up to $1,019 for 2008 – to provide general recognition for the costs associated with employment.

Going forward, as resources permit, the Government of Canada intends to implement further broad-based tax relief – with a particular emphasis on personal income tax.

Investments in Learning

The long-term strength of our economy depends on businesses that thrive and workers who are productive – and this means ensuring that employers can access the right skills at the right time and focusing on Canadians at all skill levels.  The Committee’s Report highlighted the need for investments in learning, including investments in workplace training, post-secondary education, continuous learning, labour market adjustment and Employment Insurance (EI).

Canada has a highly educated and skilled workforce.  However, projected national workforce shortages, regional labour force disparities and pockets of the population lacking in basic skills and educational attainment require strategies around learning.

The Government recognizes that a quality education system – from early childhood development to higher education to ongoing learning – is critical for Canada’s continued prosperity.  As laid out in Advantage Canada, the Government of Canada will support improvements in the quality of education, workplace training and excellence in research in Canada.  At the same time, it is important to recognize that provinces and territories have a strong leadership role to play, given their jurisdictional responsibilities, and acknowledge that individuals are ultimately responsible for investing in their own learning.

Workplace Training

In a competitive, globalized economy, workplace skills training will continue to play an increasingly important role in making sure that Canadians have life-long learning opportunities and the skills that permit productivity advances.

The Government agrees with the desirability of raising the level of workplace skills investment and exploring ways in which employers can be encouraged to offer increased workplace skills training. In line with this, the Government of Canada has taken several measures to encourage and facilitate workplace training, particularly by providing supports for apprenticeship training, which involves 80% of on-the-job training, and for literacy and essential skills development.

Through Budget 2006, the Government of Canada introduced major new investments to encourage apprenticeships and to support apprentices in their training.  The Apprenticeship Incentive Grant (AIG) is available to registered apprentices who complete their first or second year in a Red Seal trade program, on or after January 1, 2007.  The AIG rewards apprentices who complete their training requirements in the early years of their apprenticeship, building momentum towards certification and Red Seal endorsement.

The Government of Canada is also committed to working collaboratively with provincial and territorial governments and literacy and essential skills stakeholders to help Canadians receive the skills required to meet the challenges of the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.  The Government of Canada created the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) in April 2007.  OLES is working with a wide range of partners across Canada, including provincial and territorial governments, literacy and essential skills organizations and coalitions, community organizations, and industry to improve the literacy levels of Canadians and provide them with the essential skills they need for work, learning and life.  Through OLES, the Government of Canada is currently providing multi-year stable funding to sixteen provincial/territorial literacy coalitions and six national literacy organizations. 

The Government of Canada will continue to collaborate with provinces and territories on better integrating apprenticeship training and post-secondary education across the country. The responsibility for delivery of post-secondary education and apprenticeship training lies within provincial jurisdiction.  The Government of Canada is not a member of the Council of Ministers of Education.  However, the Government is open to collaboration and initiatives that could improve links between post-secondary education and apprentice training.

Access to Post Secondary Education and Continuous Learning

With 46% of adults aged 25 to 64 holding a post-secondary degree, Canada had the highest level of post-secondary education (PSE) among OECD countries in 2005.  Canada also had the highest proportion of young adults (aged 25 to 34) with PSE (54%).

However, demographic trends suggest that Canada’s long-term prosperity will require continued efforts to develop a highly educated, skilled and flexible workforce.  Accordingly, the Government of Canada has taken significant actions since 2006 to review and improve access to post-secondary education.  These modifications will improve access to post-secondary education, skills upgrading and training, to assist increase Canadians’ skills levels, enhance their participation in the labour force and improve their choice of job opportunities.

Budget 2007 committed HRSDC to review the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP) and simplify CSLP instruments to make them more efficient and effective.  HRSDC reviewed the program, in consultation with the provinces and territories, and following this review, Budget 2008 announced a series of initiatives to streamline and modernize the program and make it more responsive to the economic circumstances of borrowers.  Recognizing the complexity of student financial assistance, the CSLP is also improving electronic service delivery and loan administration in close cooperation with provincial and territorial governments.

The new Canada Student Grant Program will commit $514 million in assistance to low- and middle-income students starting in 2009-10, rising to $605 million in 2012-13.  These grants will provide funding to more students by covering all years of college and university studies, and students will accumulate less debt as a result. 

Improved debt management measures will be more reflective of and more responsive to the economic circumstances of borrowers.  For example, a new Repayment Assistance Plan to be implemented in the 2009-10 school year will facilitate student loan management and ensure that borrowers have affordable loan payments based upon their ability to pay.  This plan recognizes that the economic circumstances of borrowers can vary.

Budget 2008 also announced a reduction in contributions expected from the spouses of married and common-law students.  It also announced more generous part-time loans that better respond to the needs of adult learners.

Since 2006, the Government of Canada has also made significant investments in Canada’s system of post-secondary education by providing various types of support to provinces and territories.  For example, Budget 2006 invested $1 billion in the Post Secondary Education Infrastructure Trust Fund, available to provinces and territories over a two year period to enhance universities’ and colleges’ infrastructure and equipment.

Of note, Budget 2007 strengthened the Canada Social Transfer (CST), a federal block transfer to provinces and territories which supports post-secondary education, social assistance and social services, and programs for children.  The federal support is also now more transparent.  In 2008-09, the CST cash transfer will provide approximately $10.5 billion in support to provinces and territories, up from $9.5 billion in 2007-08, for all supported areas.  Budget 2007 provided an $800 million increase to the Canada Social Transfer to provide stable, predictable, long term funding to provinces and territories for post-secondary education.  This funding took effect in 2008-09, increasing the total amount of funding available through CST for post-secondary education to $3.2 billion, and will grow by three percent annually until 2013-14.

Labour Market Adjustment, Seasonal Work and Employment Insurance

The Government of Canada provides a substantial range of temporary income and learning supports to workers, helping to make Canada's labour market adjustment process one of the most efficient in the world. The EI program is the Government’s largest economic stabilization program in this regard, providing temporary income replacement and learning supports in the event of a job loss and allowing workers the time to find a job that is a better match for their skills and abilities.

The EI program is working well.  It is meeting its objectives of helping Canadian workers to adjust to labour market changes.  The annual EI Monitoring and Assessment report indicates that the EI program is there for Canadians when they need it, with nearly 83% of the unemployed who had paid EI premiums who either lost their job or quit with just cause being eligible to receive EI benefits in 2006.

In addition to providing income support to unemployed individuals, just over $2 billion in training continues to be provided under Part II of the Employment Insurance Act, primarily through Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs) with provinces and territories.  In order to improve the effectiveness of Employment Benefit Support Measures provided through EI Part II, the government is negotiating with non-transfer provinces and territories to move from co-managed agreements to the full transfer of LMDAs.  The Government of Canada is also working with provinces and territories to improve the effectiveness of LMDA program design and delivery.

In order to address the gap in labour market programming for those who do not currently qualify for training under the EI program, Budget 2007 announced $3 billion over six years, beginning in 2008-09, for new Labour Market Agreements (LMAs) with provinces and territories  LMAs will allow provinces and territories to serve targeted populations, such as low-skilled workers, youth, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, immigrants, individuals who have been out of the labour force for a considerable length of time, and social assistance recipients.  Programs may include literacy, basic, or workplace skills training; wage subsidies; employment counselling; and other active support measures.

Securing sufficient off-season or year-round employment opportunities is a challenge for workers in certain communities across Canada.  The government is standing up for Canada's traditional industries - including forestry, fisheries, manufacturing and tourism - that are facing challenges. Consistent with its commitment in the October 2007 Speech from the Throne, the Government is taking action to support workers as these industries adjust to global conditions.

The Government of Canada, through the work of the regional development agencies, continues to actively support community-level projects, which develop and diversify local economies facing high unemployment.  Regional development agencies focus their programming on creating long-term sustainable economic activity that creates durable, long-term employment in communities across Canada.

The Government of Canada has also recently increased support for provinces and territories to respond to economic pressures in communities through the Community Development Trust.  The Community Development Trust was announced in January 2008 to help vulnerable regions and laid-off workers adapt and prosper in challenging times, supporting provinces and territories in the provision of job training and skills development to meet local regional needs.  Resources for the Trust consist of $1 billion in new funding on a national basis.  A base amount of $10 million was provided to each province and $3 million to each territory, with the balance of the funding allocated on a per capita basis.

The Government is undertaking pilot projects to assess the labour market impacts of new approaches designed to assist the unemployed. For example, in December 2007, the Government of Canada announced that it will be continuing the Extended EI Benefits pilot project until June 6, 2009.  The pilot project increases EI entitlement by providing 5 additional weeks of benefits to EI claimants, up to a maximum of 45 weeks of benefits.  This pilot project is intended to test a mechanism for helping seasonal workers who experience an annual income gap due to limited work alternatives in their regions.

There are three other pilot projects underway in regions of relatively high unemployment which aim to address the unique circumstances of seasonal workers:

  • Best 14 Weeks Pilot Project , which calculates a claimant's weekly benefit rate based on a claimant's 14 highest weeks of insurable earnings, to see if this alternative benefit rate calculation method increases work incentives;
  • New Entrant/Re-Entrant Pilot Project, which tests the labour market impacts of reducing the minimum number of hours, from 910 to 840, that new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market need to qualify for EI benefits, when linked with employment programs;
  • Working While on Claim Pilot Project, which increases allowable earnings from employment while a claimant is receiving EI benefits, to see if this method would increase the incentive to accept part-time work and thereby strengthen labour market attachment.

To address concerns that Canadians are paying higher premiums than are required to pay for the EI program and to improve the management and governance of the EI Account, Budget 2008 proposed the creation of the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board (CEIFB).  The CEIFB will set the EI premium rate each year independent of the Government and will implement a new rate-setting mechanism which will ensure that EI revenues and expenditures break even over time.  With these changes, Canadian employers and employees can be confident that EI premiums will be no higher than required to pay for benefits over time, and that any revenues raised from premiums will go towards paying benefits and reducing EI premium rates.

Labour Force Participation

The Government of Canada and the Committee recognize that one of the most effective means to counter the challenges of population aging and skill shortages is to maximize the contribution of the existing labour force and to increase the participation of groups currently under-represented in the labour market.

There have been tremendous gains in the employment situation of many Canadians.  Canada’s participation rate is at a record high and is the highest among G7 countries.  Improved labour force attachment is enhancing the quality of life for many hard working Canadians and their families.  Participation and employment rates for under-represented groups – women, older workers, Aboriginal Canadians and persons with disabilities – have been rising relative to the national average in recent years.  However, participation rates for these groups remain well below average and the Government of Canada realizes that these groups face additional barriers to participation.

Advantage Canada committed the Government to take steps to eliminate barriers to participation for under-represented groups, and noted in particular that we will work to assist older workers, Aboriginal Canadians, persons with disabilities and recent immigrants.  New LMAs will allow provinces and territories to design programming for underrepresented groups.

The Government also committed to help make work more rewarding for the many low- and modest-income individuals who face obstacles to joining or staying in the workforce.  The Government recognizes the importance of suitable and affordable housing as an employment support.

Older Workers

The Government of Canada is concerned about the impact of an ageing society and is aware of the increasing importance of older workers in the labour force.  Participation rates for older workers, especially among older women, have increased significantly in recent years; however, they remain below the national average.  Older workers are also disproportionately represented in declining sectors, and those who experience job loss remain unemployed longer, on average, than younger workers.

The Targeted Initiative for Older Workers supports unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities through activities, including skills development, aimed at reintegrating them into employment.  A federal investment of $70 million over two years was announced in October 2006 and Budget 2008 proposes an additional $90 million for three more years.  This extension will result in continued help for displaced older workers in sectors such as forestry and fishing, and those living in smaller communities affected by downsizing or unemployment.

The Government of Canada appointed the Expert Panel on Older Workers in January 2007, with a mandate to undertake a report examining the longer term issues facing older workers, including the barriers and disincentives to the continued labour market participation of older workers.  As announced in Budget 2008, the Government has committed to respond to the report of the Expert Panel in 2008.

The issue of mandatory retirement is important and deserves thorough examination. There are arguments for and against the elimination of mandatory retirement at the federal level.  The Government of Canada needs to consult with employees, union representatives and business leaders to understand their points of view on this issue.

The Canada Pension Plan is subject to a legislated review every three years to ensure its financial sustainability and make recommendations as to whether benefits and/or contributions rates should be changed.  At the conclusion of the Triennial Review in June 2006, Ministers reiterated their commitment to supporting the growing number of older Canadians who wish to remain active in the labour force by agreeing to continue examining whether changes need to be made to the Canada Pension Plan in the next review.  The current round of the Triennial Review was formally launched in the fall of 2007 with the release of the 23rd Actuarial Report.

The Government of Canada routinely collects data pertaining to its programs.  As data become available, the impact of the increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement earnings exemption announced in Budget 2008 will be studied.

In addition, Budget 2007 increased the age limit for maturing Registered Pension Plans and Registered Retirement Savings Plans to 71 from 69.  Budget 2007 also introduced changes to the tax rules to allow employers to offer more flexible phased retirement programs in order to retain older, experienced workers and ease succession-planning pressures.

Aboriginal Peoples

While participation and employment rates for Aboriginal people have been increasing more rapidly than for non-Aboriginal people, the Government of Canada is taking action to improve the labour market outcomes of Aboriginal peoples through a number of measures, including: employment-focused services and strategies; education and skills-development; support for economic development; and investments in affordable housing.

The Aboriginal Human Resource Development Strategy (AHRDS) is the Government of Canada’s largest Aboriginal labour market program, which currently receives $344 million annually. The AHRDS helps Aboriginal people find, prepare for, and keep employment, and offers important labour market supports such as childcare.  This program recognizes the unique needs of on- and off-reserve, rural and urban populations.  The Strategy will expire in 2009, and the Government will continue to engage Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders on a successor approach, as per its Budget 2008 commitment.

Budget 2007 extended the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP) and committed $105 million for additional projects. The ASEP program provides Aboriginal people with the skills they need to participate in economic opportunities such as northern mining, oil and gas, forestry, and hydro development projects across Canada.  ASEP's objective is sustainable employment for Aboriginal people in major economic industries.

As per Budget 2008, the Government will continue to engage with Aboriginal, provincial, territorial and industry stakeholders to ensure that job-ready Aboriginal workers have opportunities to complete their apprenticeships.  Budget 2008 identified resources to support individual access to post-secondary education programs and training.  HRSDC and INAC are developing a coordinated approach to Aboriginal post-secondary learners in vocational and skills training programs.

Budget 2008 also committed an additional $70 million over the next two years for measures within a new Aboriginal economic development framework.  The new measures will support First Nations, Inuit and Métis participation in the economy, in all parts of Canada.

The Government of Canada would like First Nations learners to enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians.  The Government provided $1.6 billion in 2007-2008 for First Nations education.  Budget 2008 committed an additional $70 million over two years to improve First Nations education outcomes through enhanced accountability and tripartite partnerships with willing First Nations and provinces.

The Government of Canada recognizes that affordable housing is a basic need for all Canadians, and that without adequate housing workers cannot effectively participate in the labour market.  The Government of Canada has initiatives to provide assistance for housing to Aboriginal people on and off reserve.  The Government of Canada invests approximately $272 million per year to help First Nations meet their on-reserve housing needs.  First Nations, Métis and Inuit living off reserve have access to programs under the $1 billion Affordable Housing Initiative.  The Initiative aims to increase the supply of affordable housing, and support housing renovation programs and the National Homelessness Initiative.  Federal funds of $156 million are provided annually through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to support off-reserve housing needs.  Aboriginal people can also benefit from the Housing Trusts announced in Budget 2006: $800 million for provinces and territories to improve the supply of affordable housing;          $300 million for off-reserve Aboriginal housing; and $300 million for housing in the north.  Further, capacity building is a key component of Government efforts to maximize the socio-economic benefits for Aboriginal housing.

In May 2008, the Government of Canada launched the new $300 million First Nations Market Housing Fund to assist in the creation of a housing market on-reserve that will provide up to 25,000 units over 10 years. Market-based housing brings many benefits to First Nation communities including employment from home construction, reduced housing shortages, improved quality of life and accumulation of wealth.

As well, in 2007 the Government of Canada renewed the Urban Aboriginal Strategy        ($68.5 million over 5 years) that will focus on, for example, investments to improve life skills, promoting job training, skills and entrepreneurship.

Persons with Disabilities

The participation rate for persons with disabilities has improved over time and more rapidly than the Canadian average.  Nevertheless, latest figures available indicate that, in 2001, 571,000 persons with disabilities were able to work, but did not participate in the labour force.

The Government of Canada recognizes the many employment challenges facing persons with disabilities.  The Government of Canada has multiple policies and tools in place to ensure that the full spectrum of employment opportunities is available to people with disabilities.  People with disabilities are one of the four groups designated in the Employment Equity Act.

There are many federally funded programs delivered by provinces and territories that serve the needs of persons with disabilities, including Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities (LMAPD).  The design of these programs is flexible to ensure that provinces and territories can develop their own priorities based on local labour market needs.

Currently, the Government of Canada is working closely with provincial and territorial governments to enhance the employability and labour market participation of persons with disabilities.  HRSDC provides $223 million annually for the LMAPDs and these agreements have been extended until March 31, 2009.  Under the LMAPDs, provinces and territories may choose from a ‘menu’ of labour market support options for people with disabilities, including skills development and employer awareness.  LMAPDs currently allow for portable education related disability supports, portable employment related disability supports and portable workplace related disability supports.  HRSDC also provides $30 million annually for the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities to assist people with disabilities to prepare for and obtain employment.  This initiative delivers projects in partnership with sponsoring organizations, to help people with disabilities with little or no labour force attachment move towards employment or self-employment.  A summative evaluation of the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities will be completed in 2008-2009.

In addition, Budget 2008 recently outlined further commitments to assist persons with disabilities with their education.  Work is underway to streamline and modernize the Canada Student Loans Program, including the Canada Access Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities.

Existing tax measures allow for full deductibility in the year incurred of eligible capital expenditures accommodating persons with disabilities, which is intended to encourage businesses to make these socially and economically important investments.  In addition, individuals who are eligible for the disability tax credit and the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) are also able to claim an additional disability supplement under the WITB.

Low-income Workers

As stated in Advantage Canada, making work pay for the many low- and modest-income individuals who face obstacles to joining or staying in the workforce remains one of the priorities of this Government.  

The $550 million Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), introduced in Budget 2007, helps make work more rewarding and attractive for low-income Canadians.  This measure is expected to improve incentives to stay employed for an estimated 1.2 million Canadians already in the workforce, and to encourage close to 60,000 people to enter the workforce.

To maximize the effectiveness of the WITB, individuals and families can apply for an advance payment of one-half of their estimated annual WITB entitlements.  This is similar to the Quebec Work Premium, which also allows for a portion of the benefit to be paid in advance.  The Government of Canada is prepared to consider province- or territory-specific changes to the design of the WITB to better harmonize it with existing provincial and territorial programs.

Recent broad personal income tax reductions also contribute to improving incentives to work for low-income Canadians.  The Canada Employment Credit, as previously mentioned, is also available to help all working Canadians, including many low-income individuals.

The Government of Canada is committed to helping Canadians balance the demands of their working and family lives.  Child care is a priority for this government.  Canada’s Universal Child Care Plan respects the role of parents in determining how best to care for their children, as well as respects provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

As part of this plan, the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) provides eligible families with $100 per month for each child under six.  That is $2.4 billion per year to assist 1.5 million families and 2 million children.  For the average family, the UCCB together with the Child Care Expenses Deduction offsets well over one-third of the cost of non-parental child care.

Also as part of this plan, provinces and territories receive an additional $250 million through the CST each year to support the creation of child care spaces that meet the diverse needs of parents in their respective jurisdictions.  This brings total transfer support to provinces and territories for early learning and child care and early childhood development in 2008-09 to $1.1 billion, set to grow at 3% annually.  In addition, a new 25% non-refundable tax credit provides support to businesses that create new child care spaces in the workplace.

In total, the Government of Canada will provide nearly $5.8 billion in 2008-09 in support of early learning and child care through transfers, direct spending and tax measures.

The Employment Insurance Family Supplement provides additional benefits to low-income families with children.

Housing is also an important employability support.  Without affordable housing, individuals are unable to focus on finding and maintaining employment.  Moreover, affordable housing provides a stable platform from which low-income people can access education and skills to enhance their employability.  The 2007 Speech from the Throne indicated the Government will help those seeking to break free from the cycles of homelessness and poverty.

The Committee’s Report praises the Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI) and references current federal support for a number of other initiatives that address housing needs and homelessness.  Indeed, as of March 31, 2008, federal AHI funding for the creation or preservation of over 38,000 affordable housing units had been committed or announced.

The Government is investing more on affordable and supportive housing than any other government in history, more than $2.7 billion annually.  This includes funding of $1 billion for the AHI, $1.4 billion for three provincial/territorial affordable housing trusts, and ongoing support for existing social housing, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, on-reserve housing and housing renovation programs for low-income Canadians.

Selecting and Integrating Skilled Immigrants and Temporary Foreign Workers

Immigration is expected to play an increasingly important role in supporting Canada’s economic prosperity and competitiveness.  Immigration is expected to account for all net labour-force growth in coming years, as retirements from the labour force exceed the number of new entries from domestic school-leavers. 

Immigration can contribute to addressing both short- and long-term labour market needs by attracting people with the right mix of skills and talents to support economic growth today and in the future.  With other industrialized countries confronting similar challenges with respect to sustaining population and economic growth, Canada will be operating in an increasingly competitive worldwide market for higher skilled workers.

Canada’s immigration program is taking action to meet the diverse skill requirements of an expanding and dynamic economy and to address the growing inventory of applications.  Bringing immigrants to Canada is only part of the challenge. Just as important is ensuring that they settle successfully upon arrival and integrate fully over the longer term. 

The Government has also introduced improvements so that employers across Canada will be able to hire temporary foreign workers more quickly and easily to meet immediate skill shortages.

Selecting Skilled Immigrants

Attracting and retaining skilled immigrants is necessary to foster innovation and growth.  This is why the Government is working to enhance the immigrant selection process and has committed to a number of initiatives.

In 2002, the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) introduced a human capital selection model for the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP).  Selection criteria are based on objective factors related to success in today’s labour market, including education and official language ability.  This model was designed to award points on flexible characteristics that would indicate an individual’s ability to move from job to job as the economy shifted, rather than the previous model which selected on intended occupation.  An evaluation of the FSWP is currently in the design stages and is expected to provide an early picture as to how well the program is performing. 

The Government also introduced a proposed regulatory change requiring all Federal Skilled Worker applicants to submit the results of a third-party language test as proof of language proficiency.  This amendment was pre-published in the Canada Gazette on April 19, 2008 and in accordance with standard procedure, interested persons were invited to provide submissions on this proposed regulatory amendment within 30 days of the pre-publication notice.  Any final regulatory change would take full account of comments received.

The Government has taken steps to ensure that economic immigration remains strong overall.  Building on Advantage Canada commitments, the Government has lifted numerical caps from the Provincial Nominee Program and has introduced the new Canadian Experience Class (CEC).  Budget 2007 announced the creation of the CEC, which will target the immigration of Canadian-educated international graduates and skilled foreign workers already in the country.  The CEC will be launched in 2008 and is expected to admit about 25,000 permanent residents each year at maturity.  The selection criteria to qualify for the CEC will be tied to determinants of successful labour market integration: possession of a Canadian credential (for the international graduate stream), Canadian skilled work experience, and official language proficiency.

With regards to the percentage of Federal Skilled Worker principal applicants, given increasing demand in other immigration categories, their proportion of total admissions will fluctuate from year to year.  However, other avenues for skilled immigrants such as the new Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Programme will ensure that Canada continues to bring in skilled workers to meet labour shortages.

Budget 2008 proposed funding of $109 million over five years to modernize the immigration system, as well as introduced amendments to IRPA in order to provide CIC with the tools needed to reduce inventory and wait times, and to make the immigration system more flexible and responsive.

Integrating Immigrants into the Labour Market

The Government of Canada acknowledges that immigrants face barriers when integrating into the labour market, particularly with regards to recognition of foreign credentials and official language skills.

The Government fully agrees that immigrants need access to timely, clear and accurate information to help them get their credentials recognized as quickly and efficiently as possible.  The Government of Canada has a leadership role to play in encouraging the adoption of more efficient credential recognition processes across the country, while recognizing that the assessment and recognition process is a provincial and territorial responsibility, as was made clear during consultations in 2006 and 2007.

The Government of Canada is now delivering on its Advantage Canada commitment to facilitate assessment and recognition of foreign credentials through two main initiatives: the Foreign Credentials Referral Office (FCRO) and the Foreign Credential Recognition Program (FCRP).

The Foreign Credentials Referral Office (FCRO) was launched on May 24, 2007, with a mandate to help internationally trained individuals find the information and access the services they need to put their skills to work quickly in Canada.  The FCRO focuses on providing skilled immigrants with access to integrated, authoritative information, and path-finding and referral services on the Canadian credential assessment and licensure processes.

HRSDC’s Foreign Credential Recognition Program (FCRP) provides strategic and financial investments to provincial/territorial partners and to key stakeholders to develop coherent, transparent, and rigorous FCR processes.  Its goal is to improve the labour market outcomes of internationally-trained workers in targeted occupations and sectors.

In March 2008 the Government announced that the Canadian Immigration Integration Project (CIIP) pilot would be extended to March 31, 2011.  The CIIP pilot is offered on a voluntary basis to immigrants applying under the Federal Skilled Worker Program in the Philippines, India and China.

CIC is making substantial new investments in settlement programs.  Since 2006, the Government has begun to invest an additional $1.4 billion over five years in settlement programs in provinces outside of Quebec (which already receives funding under the Canada-Quebec Accord).  These programs include language instruction and employment-related support to help immigrants successfully integrate into Canadian society.

Integration programs such as the Enhanced Language Training (ELT) Initiative underline the importance of occupation-specific language training, as well as the value of incorporating bridge-to-work opportunities that provide newcomers with Canadian workplace experience.  Projects will continue to be funded based on regional/provincial labour market needs.  Over $45.4M has been allocated to provinces in 2008/09 to initiate further ELT-related projects.

Temporary Foreign Workers

The Government of Canada recognizes the vital role that temporary foreign workers play in ensuring that our workforce remains flexible and adjustable.  The Government also recognizes the opportunities in facilitating the transition to permanent residence status for those foreign workers already succeeding in Canada.

The Government of Canada is committed to making the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) more responsive to address Canada’s labour market needs, while strengthening worker protections.  Under the TFWP, HRSDC provides a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) to the employer, which is based on a number of factors including whether the working conditions meet generally accepted Canadian standards.  Foreign nationals working temporarily in Canada are protected by the same labour standards, safety legislation and wage laws that apply to Canadian citizens and permanent residents.  As most labour standards, including health and safety standards, fall under provincial jurisdiction, CIC and HRSDC rely on provincial governments to investigate non-compliance that falls within their jurisdiction.  The RCMP and Canadian Border Services Agency investigate and enforce violations of Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its Regulations.

In Budget 2007, $149.5 million was committed over a five year period to introduce measures to reduce processing delays, more effectively respond to regional labour and skills shortages and enhance mechanisms to monitor employer compliance with the requirements of the TFWP.  Currently, the Government of Canada is providing temporary foreign workers with information in multiple languages about their rights and the recourse mechanisms available to them.

HRSDC is developing information sharing agreements to share administrative and complaint information between the two orders of government.  These Letters of Understanding (LOUs) are designed to facilitate information sharing to enforce provincial labour standards, and to ensure that the requirements of the TFWP and the terms of employment are fulfilled by employers.  The first LOU was signed with the Government of Alberta in February 2008.

For the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, HRSDC requires employers to provide suitable housing on or off the farm.  They are also required to submit a seasonal housing accommodations inspection report prior to HRSDC issuing a labour market opinion.  HRSDC is currently reviewing the standards of housing used by temporary foreign workers, particularly those in the agricultural sector.

Conclusion

The Government of Canada fundamentally believes in the objective of enhancing the employability of Canadians and furthering our capacity to meet current and future skills shortages.  In Advantage Canada, the Government of Canada set out its plan for creating the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world.  As this Response sets out to demonstrate, the Government of Canada is taking concrete steps to support this objective through its three Budgets and recent announcements.  The recommendations of the Committee will be considered moving forward, as part of our ongoing effort to deliver on Advantage Canada commitments through responsible investments that deliver results.