My name is Alicia Milner. I'm the president of the Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance.
It's a privilege to appear today before the committee and to speak on behalf of Canada's natural gas vehicle industry.
I'm here to share with you the challenges that are increasingly facing Canada in the areas of jobs, growth, competitiveness, and achieving a sustainable environment, and to share with you the rapid deployment that our largest trading partner to the south is making in close proximity to our shared border and how it can negatively impact our job retention, job creation, investment, and environmental outcomes if we don't pool our Canadian resources to get us on a more level North American playing field.
In the brief time allotted to me today, I would like to highlight how responding to this increasing continental infrastructure challenge can not only contribute to job retention but can also trigger more than $1.2 billion in private sector spending, lead to the creation of more than 1,200 new jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one megatonne, and increase competitiveness while ensuring there are no job losses in the Canadian trucking industry resulting from lower-cost American LNG trucks operating in Canada.
First, let's consider what's happening with our largest trading partner, the U.S. While we're focused on pipeline projects and LNG exports, in the U.S. the private sector is rapidly moving forward with investments of more than $750 million that will transform the landscape for energy use for heavy trucks. LNG refuelling stations are being built on interstate trucking corridors across the U.S. By switching to natural gas, trucking fleets will reduce their fuel costs by 40% and their emissions by 25%. Consumers will benefit because all food and consumer goods typically are delivered by truck.
Now I'd like you to turn your attention to the map handout that was distributed and should be in front of you. You can see for yourself the viral infrastructure expansion taking place with our largest trading partner.
You'll notice how rapidly their LNG station network and trucking corridors have grown in this year alone. You can see that this expansion has virtually all taken place across the southern and mid-U.S. Perhaps that's why this activity has not been receiving the attention it deserves here, north of the border. As you can also see from the map, this is about to immediately change in the coming months—and note that I said “months”, not years.
As you can see, the growth of LNG refuelling stations and corridors in the U.S. is now starting to expand across Canada's immediate southern border and in the northeast U.S. From west to east, in proximity to some of Canada's densest population areas and in the lucrative northeast region, the Americans are expanding: Washington state, Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.
Why? Because natural gas offers a lower-cost fuel choice for the trucking industry, an industry in which diesel fuel is the number one expense. With new vehicle regulations coming that require greenhouse gas emissions reductions, which will make diesel trucks even more complex, adopting natural gas now is a smart and timely business decision.
I'll go back to the map. Let's turn our attention to Canada. I would respectfully ask you to compare the Canada map with the U.S. map.
As you compare these maps, remember that more than 400,000 Canadians work in the trucking and transportation services sector; two-thirds of our trade with the U.S. moves by truck; and the majority of Canada's southbound trade goes through Ontario to the U.S. central, northeast, and south, the very areas where we are seeing the Americans invest to bring a more affordable, lower-emission fuel to the trucking industry, a fuel that Canadian trucking fleets will not be able to use as they do not have access to this fuel in their own domestic market.
As you can see, this is a rather stark reality that confronts us. As more and more fleets switch to natural gas in the U.S., the market transformation we are starting to see will pick up speed and further disadvantage Canada. We risk being left behind in a continental market and being forced to catch up at a later date—and at a greater cost. We also risk the loss of significant new capital investments that will be made over the coming years to bring LNG into the market as a fuel for heavy trucks and for ships and locomotives.
The private sector does not like unnecessary risk. As the market starts to grow for LNG as a transportation fuel in the U.S., it can be expected that private sector companies, with a choice between investing in the U.S. or Canada, will favour the U.S., given the larger, more concentrated market and the head start we're currently witnessing with the LNG station and corridor build-out.
Canada has an opportunity to act now. Industry is ready to invest, but we need government to partner with us in order to level the playing field for Canadian fleets, which also would very much like to have the choice of a lower-cost, lower-emission fuel that also happens to be Canadian.
Good afternoon, honourable members, and my thanks to you, Mr. Chair, and to the members of the committee for providing the Grain Farmers of Ontario with the opportunity to speak on behalf of our 28,000 members growing corn, soybeans, and wheat in Ontario.
My name is Henry Van Ankum. I farm near Aylmer, Ontario, just north of Guelph, and I am the chairman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario. Our members produce over nine million tons of grain on five million acres. Our production generates 3.3 billion in farm gate receipts, results in $6 billion in economic output, and provides over 50,000 Canadian jobs. In the Canadian context, Ontario is the largest agricultural province, with $9.3 billion in sales. In grain production, we are the third-largest producing province after Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In March 2013, the agricultural industry in Canada will complete a five-year policy framework called Growing Forward. The entire industry has been working with government over the last couple of years through a consultative process to define the broad sector needs within the next policy framework. In the last few months, more details of the business risk management programs have been released. The non-business risk management components are still under discussion, although provincial allocations of funds have been decided.
Although I don't intend to dwell on the past, I would be remiss if I didn't register our disappointment with the cuts to the federal business risk management suite of programs—more specifically, AgriStability and AgriInvest. The agriculture and agrifood sector is one of the largest contributors to the Canadian economy. The sector provides one in eight jobs, employs two million people, and accounts for over 8% of Canada's total economic output.
We are pleased, however, with the increased commitment the government has made in Growing Forward 2 to the areas of research and market access. These investments will have a significant impact on the future success of our sector. At this point, we know that more money will be available nationally for initiatives like science clusters, the advancement of the bio-product sector, and an aggressive trade agenda that will include the growth of markets key to Ontario's grain producers, like Japan and the EU. What we don't know right now are the details of how national programs will prioritize opportunities and give the appropriate oversight required to meet national goals.
We are here today to bring the concern of program equity to the finance committee with respect to programming in Growing Forward 2. Now that the broad program-funding envelope has been decided, it is important to our members that clear program objectives be established and that guidelines for equity between provinces and producers be put in place for national programs.
It has been a concern of many of our farmer members that, despite our province being the largest for agriculture production, many of the national programs and infrastructure investments, particularly within the grain sector, appear to favour western Canada. Our experience with the science clusters in the previous framework illustrates the basis for this perception.
The Canadian corn, soybean, and wheat commodity organizations from Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes formed an alliance to apply for cluster funding in 2010, when the program was first announced. Our proposal for funding was declined for not meeting the criterion of a national scope, despite the fact that our crops are only grown in the provinces represented within the alliance. In 2010, 70% of the program money was spent in western Canada, including the largest science cluster investment, which was specific to crops grown in western Canada.
We hope that this new policy framework is a new start and, with additional funding, there is a new opportunity to make significant scientific and trade advancements. In Ontario, where the largest economic driver in the province is agriculture and agrifood, investments can be made in which the value gained can be realized right through the value chain.
In winter wheat plant breeding, as an example, a five-year annual federal government investment of $200,000 a year, matched by industry and farmers, will increase the competitiveness of our third-largest cash crop by increasing yield by 2% per year, improving the milling and baking quality of our wheat to increase high-value market opportunities and reducing production losses from insects and diseases by 50%.
The Chair: You have one minute left.
Mr. Henry Van Ankum: Most of our anticipated winter wheat breeding advancements will be an advantage for the Canadian baking industry also. Sixty per cent of Canada's bakeries are located in Ontario, within just a few hundred kilometres of our one-million-acre wheat-growing region.
Additionally, Ontario winter wheat has the advantage of being produced within an eight-hour drive of 130 million consumers living in two of Canada's richest cities and 11 of the 20 wealthiest U.S. States. The value generated by the one million acres of Ontario winter wheat is $1 billion in sales revenue and over 7,000 Canadian jobs. That is our third-largest cash crop in the province.
Unfortunately, without broad government goals for innovation and without strong oversight, opportunities like this one will be missed when retiring researchers and the need for program cuts coincide, as they have recently.
As we prepare for another five-year policy framework, we in the Grain Farmers of Ontario are excited about the many opportunities in our sector for innovation and increased market access. Our organization is prepared to invest in these opportunities as well, because we truly believe that significant value can be added in our grain sector. We look forward to working with government to invest strategically in opportunities that benefit all Canadians.
My name is Shannon Bittman. I'm a national vice-president with the institute representing 60,000 federal public service workers across Canada.
We're very pleased to be here participating in the House finance committee's pre-budget process. Our submission has identified a few of our key concerns, which I would like to touch on briefly today.
The first deals with economic recovery and growth. Our country is currently labouring through a slow and extremely weak recovery from a serious and damaging recession. Lessons learned from the recent European experiences, including those of Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Ireland, have shown that severe spending cuts can be counterproductive and can result in even worse economic outcomes: higher unemployment, lower revenues, a slower economy, and even a much higher deficit.
In The Wall Street Journal last February, the world's two leading credit-rating firms, Moody's and Fitch, criticized Canada's deep budget cuts as unnecessary and counterproductive in the context of a fragile economic recovery.
In our submission, we recommend that the federal government put an end to its indiscriminate and wide-ranging program cuts and explore alternative sources of savings and revenue generation, such as eliminating further corporate tax reductions. We highlight wasteful outsourcing practices that should be targeted—for example, contracting out services, especially in the case of Shared Services Canada—and the need to reinvest these savings in key regulatory functions, such as the food inspection system.
On job creation, we note that jobs have been lost in previous rounds of budget cuts, through the strategic expenditure review process starting in 2007, and through the 2010 budget, which froze operating budgets of all departments and agencies, and now, more recently, as a result of the 2011 budget, the deficit reduction action plan is adversely affecting the Canadian job market and the Canadian economy as a whole.
It is estimated that approximately 19,200 jobs will be eliminated in the federal public service under the DRAP alone, which will have a ripple effect on the private sector, with up to another 40,000 job losses anticipated. In fact, these cuts will also impact on job creation by removing direct and valuable services, such as those at regional development agencies, which provide critical support for potential entrepreneurs and small business owners at a time when the economy needs innovation and new businesses to grow.
Given the economic circumstances, to protect the fragile economic recovery and job recovery in the private sector, we recommend that the federal government refrain from any further job cuts.
On productivity and public science, I would like to draw the committee's attention to the serious challenge that is now facing our country's future prosperity and the health of our citizens and their environment. I am referring to the current government's single-minded and narrow-minded attack on the science and evidence that are essential for effective and credible decision-making and the protection of the public good.
From the long-form census to the world-renowned experimental lakes area, from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy to the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, and from environmental emergencies response capacity to habitat management and the toxicology labs that contribute to our fisheries' health and sustainability, this government's decisions are scarring the scientific landscape of our country and putting at risk the health and prosperity of future generations of Canadians. By cutting a whole host of research-based programs, Canada is losing its capacity for sound, evidence-based policy decisions and eliminating services that provide real value to Canadians.
With regard to demographic change, Canadians need a comprehensive defined benefit pension plan so that all Canadians can retire with dignity. There's a direct correlation between countries with the most comprehensive public pension plans and poverty rates for seniors.
By ensuring that retirees can depend on a predefined pension, public pension plans, such as old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, can be redirected towards those who need it the most. Our solution is to ensure a secure income in retirement by requiring mandatory CPP increases. We recommend that this government promote and encourage employers to offer defined benefit pension plans and to implement mandatory increases to CPP.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
My name is Tom King. I would like thank you for the invitation to appear before this committee and offer comments on proposed measures for inclusion in the 2013 federal budget on behalf of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.
I am the co-chair of the PDAC finance and tax committee and an associate tax partner at KPMG LLP. The PDAC is a national association representing more than 10,000 members involved in the mineral exploration and development industry, both in Canada and around the world.
The mining sector creates jobs and economic stimulus in some of the remotest communities in Canada. In 2010 the mining industry employed 308,000 people, contributed $36 billion to the national GDP, and paid $5.5 billion to governments in taxes and royalties. Mineral exploration and mining are the lifeblood of many rural and remote communities throughout Canada and represent the largest private sector employer of aboriginals in Canada.
Canada is recognized as a leader in mineral exploration, development, financing, mining, and related technologies, services, and activities. In 2011 we led all countries, with 18% of the world's mineral exploration spending, while Australia was second, at 13%.
The TSX Venture Exchange is number one in equity capital raised for mining and number one in listed mining companies, with 58% of the world's total. At the end of 2011,1,646 companies—or 43%—that were listed on the TSX Venture Exchange were from the mining sector. In comparison, the Australian exchange lists 700, and the New York Stock Exchange lists 141.
One of the most influential elements of Canada's exploration leadership is attributable in part to measures included in our tax system to assist the junior mining industry in raising equity: more specifically, provisions in respect of flow-through share financing, which assists both early stage grassroots exploration and funding in the significant costs incurred to bring a mine into production, and the mineral exploration tax credit, which I'll refer to as METC and which is focused solely on funds raised to undertake early stage grassroots exploration in Canada. These are the lifeblood of a junior mining industry.
Mr. Chairman, the METC is vitally important, as exploration companies have no production revenue. Most are small businesses that rely on investors who are willing to support the high-risk nature of exploration. As the research and development branch of the mining sector, exploration companies do not have production revenue and rely on investors who are prepared to support their high-risk activities.
The ongoing global financial crisis and contraction of the equity markets have had a dramatic and negative effect on the exploration sector. While precious metals and some base metals continue to see relatively good pricing, which has benefited our operating mines, the junior exploration sector is currently facing a downturn.
Reduced investments lead to fewer drilling programs and negatively impact regional employment and income, particularly in rural, northern, and aboriginal communities. Our concern is that without sustained and effective exploration, Canadian mineral production will outstrip additions to its reserves, jeopardizing the country's smelters and refiners and placing the domestic mining industry at risk.
We believe that the government has a role to play in contributing to the stability of this sector. The METC, introduced in 2000, has consistently provided Canada with one of our competitive advantages and helps to provide Canadians with attractive domestic investment opportunities.
Our recommendation is not only to renew the METC, but to make the 15% mineral exploration tax credit a permanent feature of the federal tax system. This will provide our industry with the long-term certainty to plan crucial investments in exploration programs that, by their very nature, span a multiple of years.
We believe our recommendation meets the objectives set out in a pre-budget consultation. Further, we believe that a vibrant mineral sector in Canada creates jobs in all regions of the country, sustains communities, fosters new business opportunities, and raises tax revenues that allow governments to meet social needs.
Thank you for your time, consideration, and commitment to improving economic and social conditions for Canadians.
Thank you to everyone for being here today. We had four wonderful presentations, on quite varied topics.
I'll start with Mr. Van Ankum since, among other things, I am from a riding that depends a lot on agriculture. We grow a little grain, and there is a lot of milk production and cattle.
Farmers often ask me two main questions. Perhaps you will be able to answer them.
You spoke in your brief about family farms. In my riding, most of the people who speak to me mention the difficulty that family farms are currently facing because of competition from large integrators.
I would like to know what you think about the Canadian government's current policies on family farms. Do you think the rules and regulations enable them to develop, be it in grain or other areas? I would like you to address these areas.
Another complaint has been made and might affect the grain industry. When we talk about importing products, our farmers, when they are producing, are facing environmental and standards constraints that they must comply with and that are not imposed on the producers of the products we import. Obviously, this causes serious problems and reduces the ability of our farmers to be competitive.
What do you think about that? Does this affect the grain industry? How could the government address this issue?
There's a number of different aspects to your question. Certainly, the core of farming in Canada is still the family farm. I think it's important to acknowledge that the definition of the family farm has probably changed a bit over the years, in that families have adapted to different conditions and the economic conditions around them. We have seen family farms take on many structures.
I have a family farm. I operate my farm with my wife and my four children. Also, I was born and raised on a farm. I know that sometimes we hear the corporate farm slammed, but my family has chosen to operate under a corporate entity for a number of reasons. It's a much better business vehicle for us. I think we have to be a bit careful in being too narrow in our definition of the family farm, because a family farm can take on many different structures as it adapts to business conditions around it.
I'll move on to another aspect of your question. When we think about imports coming into the country and the different sets of rules and regulations for them as opposed to the conditions that we operate under with our domestically grown products, that is an area of concern. We feel that it is very important to have the same requirements for those imported products that we would experience here at home and to have an equal playing field of competitiveness between our industries.
Thanks to all of you for coming. What a great group we have here today. I wish I had half an hour, because I think I have questions for all of you. I'll direct my questions to Ms. Milner, though.
You've given us some incredible statistics: 400,000 Canadians work in the truck and transportation sector, and two-thirds of our trade with the U.S. moves by truck. I don't know if people realize just how much trucking is a part of everybody's life.
Natural gas is a very interesting and exciting new development. We're of course talking about liquefied natural gas. I understand, too, that part of the challenge in the past was in creating an engine that was able to use the gas. I understand that the foremost company in natural gas trucking is a B.C. company—Westport. Is that correct?
Well, first of all, certainly representing the CNGVA, we would like to recognize the federal government. We are benefiting now from the ecoEnergy for alternative fuels program, which is a $3-million, five-year program to build capacity really to help end-users change. For instance, whether it's training or codes and standards, we need to have consistency across Canada. This program is leveraging the same amount of money from the industry and has been a great success under Natural Resources Canada's leadership, so thank you very much for that.
I brought the map today. Obviously, there's a lot of investment going on in the U.S. that we're not yet seeing in Canada. This is really about scale. We have a market that's one-tenth the size and, of course, we have a lot more geography. We know that investment's going to flow where the richest opportunities are, and that's exactly what we're seeing in the U.S., where the private sector is targeting the densest trucking corridors to bring this fuel into the market.
It's definitely a challenge, and a challenge for us, sitting in a continental market, because we know it doesn't stop at the border. This is a very integrated market for goods movement in North America. I think that's a critical concern.
First, on the role for government, we really see that it's very helpful to be working on these capacity-building aspects.
Second, how do we get around this scale issue, particularly as we see the Americans taking a strong lead? I think the private sector is ready and is investing in infrastructure. We don't see any role for government in infrastructure. Where we do see a government role is in helping the end-users invest in these technologies. In fact, for every dollar the federal government would put toward fleet and users to adopt these lower GHG technologies, industry will invest $5 in infrastructure.
What's key about this is that we're at the start of a transformation. It's not going to affect just the on-road trucks. Some of you may have seen a CN Rail announcement: they're now going to demonstrate a locomotive between Edmonton and Fort McMurray. We're starting to also see tighter marine regulations coming.
On the question of what the investment window is to support this transformation, it's right now, and that is really the risk. I noticed Mr. Brison isn't in the room for the committee hearing today, but Irving Oil announced that it's going to offer LNG at five of its truck stops. Well, that's great, and that's probably about a $10-million investment at existing sites, but the real investment is to produce the LNG to supply those stations. Now, Irving operates in the northeast U.S., the Maritimes, and Quebec: where is that investment likely going to go in the absence of any certainty in Canada? There's a good chance it will go to the U.S..
It's that investment window at the front end, as we see this change coming in North America, that I think is critical in why we see a role for government in having a national look at this and making sure on a continent-wide basis that we have the level playing field we need.
Thank you for your question.
In terms of British Columbia, I think you're referring to Vedder Transport, which has a very large project out of Abbotsford. In terms of the driver for that project in regard to that particular fleet, they're the largest hauler of raw milk in Canada, and they knew if they could offer their customers a greener service that could mean more business. In fact, they have already won a new contract because of it.
That said, as an early adopter, they were fortunate that they were able to get incentive funding from the local utility to help strip out some of that front-end risk of purchasing the trucks. That was a big driver for them, but certainly the policies of the Province of British Columbia related to GHG reductions are also very important. They're looking to the future in wanting to be well positioned so they're not penalized in terms of their environmental impact in operating in B.C. There's definitely a lot of leadership there.
As to how we see this transition, we're often asked why we would even look at one fossil fuel when we're already married to another one, which, for 99% of heavy vehicles, is crude oil. Well, the answer to that is that not only is this a lower-carbon fossil fuel that can help in the transition by up to about 25%, but there is renewable natural gas, which is natural gas that's produced from waste sources. We see, for instance, that FortisBC in British Columbia now offers this to their customers: they can have a renewable blend. That renewable natural gas is a near-zero-emission fuel.
In terms of the timeframe, it's really at the beginning in North America. There have been a few announcements. The reality is that we're probably looking at a 10- to 15-year transition, but the beauty of going down this path with natural gas is that when the renewable is available, it can just be blended in or in fact totally displaced.... It totally complements without any further change or investment.
It's a good question, because obviously these are commodities that are subject to market factors, right? That said, across North America, a lot of the drilling rigs are being laid down because they can't get enough money for their product. They would love to have that dilemma of growing demand, whether it's offshore or continentally.
I think the other thing is that we have to go back to that point I made about the differential. At the end of the day, for natural gas to succeed, provided there's a differential with oil, that will be sufficient to move it forward. We think that with this uncoupling, we have this continental resource for 100-plus years up against oil, which is a global commodity, is very volatile, and certainly has its whole share of risks.
Nobody can predict the future, but that said, with this sort of resource base.... Also, the other thing that we in Canada have to remember is that while we have more of this stuff, so do the Americans. Our exports are declining precipitously. By 2035, the National Energy Board thinks that exports to the U.S. will be down by about 60%. We export half our gas right now, so we have a challenge with markets for this resource.
Right now in Canada we have New Flyer in Winnipeg, of course, Motor Coach Industries, and Nova Bus in Quebec. Of those three, two already offer a natural gas product. For New Flyer, that is a quarter of their sales to the U.S., so it is substantial.
Now, in Canada it has been tougher, because we invented the technology back in the eighties in Hamilton, and we did it there because the air quality was poor—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Ms. Alicia Milner: That said, we have the early adopters in our midst, and some of those same people are still working in transit. What we really have to see in transit in Canada to pull that demand is, first, a transit move, and we think Calgary will be the one there.
That said, even with Calgary, now that they've expressed strong interest, we see Nova Bus in Quebec.... They're the last one not to offer natural gas and they are now bringing forward a natural gas prototype. Again, there's nothing like the customer on the ground asking for it to stimulate that local production.
I will give you another example. Labrie Environmental is in Saint-Nicolas, Quebec. They make bodies for garbage trucks. They too have quite a good business—to primarily California and Texas—selling the natural gas trucks. They've now made their first sales in Canada. They're quite excited about the potential for the Canadian market. Offhand, I think their employment is at about 250 or 300 people. But absolutely: having this product and expanding their product line can help with local employment.
We see that. I think that earlier Dave mentioned Westport and Cummins Westport out of Vancouver. Westport alone has added about 250 people in the last 18 months just in Canada and another 300 internationally. They sell the heavy engine for the highway tractors. It has very much been a generator of jobs at the local level.
We see, as you said, that we've lost a lot of our capacity, unfortunately, to assemble heavy trucks. But can we supply components? Absolutely: I think we're well positioned in that space as well.
Our concern is that currently there's a lot of confusion at the NRC. There has been a trend towards downgrading basic research, certainly, but at the same time it's more a question of not being clear on what is actually going on.
With the restructuring, we have two processes that are criss-crossing. We have the deficit reduction action plan, which is having an impact, and at the same time we have reorganization that's being driven towards a new model. It's very unclear to a lot of our members there where this is actually going.
There are a lot of concerns. In many cases, they're feeling like the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. There's a lot of uncertainty. Also, there's this feeling that experts are not actually being consulted as part of the process, which actually applies not just to the NRC but to most other science-based departments, really, where changes are taking place—for example, among the veterinarians at CFIA.
This concern is not only with what the change is, but with the fact that the very people who have the scientific knowledge and expertise have not been consulted as part of the process in arriving at change, which drives a lot of concern, often legitimate, but not always, necessarily.
Thanks to all of you for being here this afternoon. It's great to see you here.
Unfortunately, I only get five minutes to ask questions, so I'm going to stick to one constituent.
I'm going to talk with you, Mr. Van Ankum, a grain farmer from Ontario. I'm a grain farmer from Saskatchewan. One thing I know about farmers is that if you say you're a farmer, you have a best friend, anywhere in the world—it doesn't matter where you are.
You made some really interesting points in your opening comments, which I found to be something we should be listening to and talking about, for sure.
I noted your disappointment in AgriStability and AgriInvest and the changes there. I will highlight the fact that with AgriInvest now, farmers can actually invest more in their accounts on a yearly basis, so even though it has gone from 1.5% to 1%, they can actually put more in and have it matching. I think that's a positive.
I think we also have to highlight the fact that AgriStability is a joint program with the provinces, so any changes to that program wouldn't have been only the federal government's. Actually, it was eight provinces in conjunction making the recommendations for the changes. I think it came down to the fact that we've had such great years in the grain sector across Canada, and the margins these guys have now are so high that if there were ever a trigger of a huge payment, we'd be paying farmers who would be still making money, more money on top of that. I think taxpayers would have trouble with that. I think that justifies some of the changes.
One thing happening with those changes is that it's freeing up cash to go into the research side of things. I know that in Ontario you talked about the winter wheat production and the cereal production. Could you highlight what you'd like to see as far as moving forward goes with research in the winter wheat and the grain sector, what you'd like to see that might be something we could support or help you with?
Welcome. I'm pleased to hear that there's quite a dialogue going on here.
Ms. Bittman, I was listening to your presentation. One of my beliefs—and I think it is one for Canadians as a whole—is that the federal government's primary role is delivering particular services, services that have been in place for a long time, such as, obviously, the Canada Pension Plan, old age security. Of course, employment insurance is one of the more prominent ones that come to mind.
In our offices, we get a lot of questions. People come in with concerns about immigration cases and with all kinds of spillover. As the cuts are happening and things are starting to change, we're seeing a higher volume of questions coming in. Now, I've been told—and this is a rumour and I want to stress that—that the government is giving consideration to closing 100 of 120 Service Canada centres. When we question the minister in the House, the response we get is that people will be able to access their EI through the Internet and that....
My experience—and I presume yours may be the same—is that when most people wind up being in the position of being on EI in the first place, one of the first things to go is their Internet connection. I'm wondering if you could respond to what you may know about potential suggestions of the closure of those offices.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Bittman, on the question of job creation, you started by saying that job creation in Canada should not begin with job losses.You say that with the cuts the government has put forward, we will lose about 40,000 positions in the private sector, and that's on top of the 19,200 positions in the public sector.
Also, with respect to the cuts that were made, you mentioned that there are some issues that will have an effect on safety in terms of regulating bodies. For instance, you talked about food safety, environmental assessment, and safe transportation infrastructure. Can you tell us a bit more about the impact of those cuts?
I also want to thank the witnesses for being here.
As I listen to the panel, I hear a lot of different ideas for budget 2013.
I have to admit that I was quite surprised, Ms. Bittman, and actually quite disappointed, that you would come here and use this as an open mike without even having read the submission submitted by your organization.
Nevertheless, I'm going to try to put all of that aside, because Canada faces some pretty tough times. We are still faced with a fragile economy. We remain very, very tepid as far as moving forward goes. However, Canada is doing better than most countries. As a result, we're looking towards budget 2013 to try to continue job growth, prosperity over the long term and, of course, growth in the economy.
Ms. Milner, perhaps you could tell me how you feel about balancing the budget. Do you have any ideas for cost-neutral regulation changes or anything in your industry for budget 2013 that might help us ensure we don't fall behind?
Ms. Bittman, I just want to ask you a supplementary question.
First of all, thank you so much for being here. You should of course feel free to say whatever your perspective is.... This is a democratic parliamentary committee. Feel free to give whatever testimony you want.
I want to pick up on the issue about outside consultants. The outside consultants my colleague was referring to cost Canadians something in the order of $20 million. I understand that much of the expertise is in fact already contained in our civil service for many of these services that we're going outside of government to provide at the same time that we're laying off the expertise we have within our public service.
I wonder if you can just give me your opinion about what this says about public administration. Because I think what Canadians expect is that their tax dollars are well spent and that we're providing good public administration. Can you comment on that, please?
Well, it's triple-A.
What credit rating does Moody's give to Canada? It's triple-A, the highest.
What credit rating does Fitch give to Canada?
Ms. Shannon Bittman: Triple-A.
The Chair: It's triple-A, the highest.
I'll read from the Fitch report, headlined “Fitch Affirms 'AAA' sovereign rating for Canada”:
|| Fitch Ratings has affirmed its 'AAA' sovereign rating for Canada, noting that the government has demonstrated fiscal responsibility and has a plan to further reduce debt.
||The rating agency affirmed its rating on Canada with a stable outlook, saying that the ratings are supported by Canada's institutional and structural strengths, which are, in turn, underpinned by effective policies and a history of macroeconomic and social stability.
It also says:
||Given the Conservative majority, which was awarded to a government running on a platform of fiscal austerity, Fitch expects Canada's fiscal conservatism to continue...gross general government debt is expected to decline as fiscal consolidation proceeds and GDP growth remains steady.
I think it's important to get on the record what Fitch, Moody's, and Standard & Poor's are actually saying about Canada and the government.
I do want to turn, however.... You were very critical in your presentation about our government's approach to science, so let me just read from another document. This is from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada:
||Canada's universities welcome the smart, strategic investments in research and innovation contained in today's federal budget. “In the face of tough fiscal choices, the government showed leadership by continuing its investments in research, innovation, research infrastructure and university-private sector collaborations,” says Stephen Toope, the chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada's board of directors and president of the University of British Columbia. “These investments will build a stronger future for our society and economy.”
|| In a climate where...federal government departments are seeing reductions, the federal budget provides ongoing funding for research and innovation through [SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC] to enhance their support of industry-academic research partnership programs.
It talks about an additional $500 million over five years for the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It talks about investments in Genome Canada and CANARIE, and investments in McMaster, in the lovely city of Hamilton.
Do you want to comment on the AUCC's comment on the last federal budget? It is saying exactly the opposite of what you're saying here today.
I call this 78th meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance back to order.
I want to welcome our second panel here today.
We have the first organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, and then the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, and Ecojustice Canada.
Lastly, we have representatives from the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec.
Welcome to the committee. You have five minutes for your presentations.
Then there will be questions from members.
We will start with you, Mr. MacDonald, for your presentation, and work our way down the table.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to share our thoughts with you today.
As part of a vibrant non-profit sector that represents 11.1% of Canada's workforce and whose $106 billion in economic activity counts for 7.1% of GDP, Big Brothers Big Sisters is an on-the-ground organization providing direct service to more than 36,000 children and youth each year. Our 122 local Big Brother Big Sister agencies have been serving Canadian children and families for a very long time. In fact, we're fewer than 100 days away from celebrating the beginning of our 100th anniversary. As you can appreciate, a healthy and thriving economy is critical to the sponsorship and donating climate in which charities such as ours exist.
With a vision that “every child in Canada who needs a mentor has a mentor”, we have big dreams, and we will need to maximize both traditional and non-traditional sources of sustainable funding and fundraising.
For our part, Big Brothers Big Sisters is looking at developing new sources of funding that not only provide long-term revenues but also contribute to job creation. Having just partnered with the University of Waterloo, we're in the final stages of assessing the feasibility of launching a social enterprise.
Tentatively branded “First Mentors Incorporated”, this for-profit corporation would secure private sector clients and develop, implement, and monitor mentoring programs to attract and maintain new, young employees. The profits from First Mentors would then be channelled back to Big Brothers Big Sisters as a corporate donation.
Another area that will be critical for our organization in the future will be the development of a better understanding of the economic climate and forces at play in the world around us and of how the non-profit sector needs to respond.
We're fully supportive of a new initiative by Imagine Canada that will see the creation of a chief economist for the non-profit sector. When the chief economist begins work in early 2013, he or she will analyze the economic implications of both government-initiated and sector-initiated policy proposals for charities and public benefit non-profits.
Through the work of the chief economist, the charitable and non-profit sector will inform federal and pan-Canadian public policy in order to create a more supportive environment that will enable charities and public benefit non-profits to better serve and engage Canadians. As well, the sector's first chief economist will interact with parliamentarians, government officials, other economists, and the media to ensure that the impact of the sector is more fully understood.
We're also delighted that our organization has become involved with other voluntary sector organizations in two new partnerships aimed at providing additional support to northern and remote communities, first with DreamCatcher Mentoring, and second in conjunction with Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, YMCA Canada, YWCA Canada, and the United Way of Canada. If we can positively affect the life trajectory of young people primarily from aboriginal and Inuit families, we can work to develop a healthy and sustainable workforce of the future.
I've mentioned the notion of partnerships. Being seen as a credible and important partner is essential in today's world. I'd like to draw your attention to a recent Ipsos-Reid/TrojanOne sport marketing study on the most valuable sponsorship properties in Canada. Big Brothers Big Sisters found itself in 11th position in a pool of 35 causes and properties. We're delighted that our organization was cited as a leader in two of the seven categories that comprise excellence in corporate and government sponsorship, impact of cause, and responsible management.
Big Brothers Big Sisters recognizes that it has multiple roles in contributing to a healthy economy, first and foremost in helping to develop children and youth into the workforce of the future; second, as an employer of staff across this country; and third, in the development of innovative approaches to organizational growth and sustainability.
Finally, as you may be aware, 25 young people from across Canada arrived in Ottawa on Monday to begin our social innovators summit. Each young person is a current or former “little brother” or “little sister”. While they share a common background of having a formal mentor in their lives, we are hoping to hear from them about the issues they care about the most and to provide them with skills and tools to go back to their communities and initiate a social change project. This summit is fully funded by the private sector, with MasterCard Canada, WestJet, and Roots Canada having stepped up to the plate.
Upon the conclusion of this session and after the vote, you're all invited to come down the hall to visit with these dynamic young people, volunteer leaders from Big Brothers Big Sisters, and representatives of other youth-serving organizations.
Thanks very much.
I thank you and committee members for providing the Canadian Construction Association with the opportunity to appear before you today.
Our association represents the non-residential side of the construction industry. We build Canada's infrastructure. We have an integrated membership structure of some 70 local and provincial associations from coast to coast to coast in Canada, with a membership of just over 17,000 member firms, over 95% of which are small and medium-sized businesses.
The construction industry employs just under 1.5 million Canadians, or nearly 10% of Canada's total workforce. Our construction market is projected by international economic projections to be the fifth largest in the world by 2020, behind only China, the U.S., India, and Japan.
Our pre-budget submission addresses the areas of economic recovery, growth, job creation, demographic change, and productivity.
With respect to Canada's continued economic recovery and growth, it will probably come as no surprise to you that we continue to emphasize the importance of ensuring that Canada's key critical public infrastructures—its highways, roads, bridges, seaports, border crossings, inland trade routes, water treatment facilities, water distribution systems, schools, and hospitals—are not only repaired and restored, but improved and maintained. Why? Because there can be no economic growth without state-of-the-art and well-maintained critical public infrastructure.
Canada's critical public infrastructure is our national economy's health care plan. Despite the fiscal challenges, we cannot reduce our efforts to rebuild, improve, and maintain our vital infrastructure. We must not repeat the neglect of the past.
We very much support the focus of the current economic action plan on economic growth. Economic growth cannot occur without state-of-the-art public infrastructure. The current $33-billion Building Canada plan comes to an end on March 31, 2014. In order to ensure no gap in funding and not to lose a construction season, the new plan's successor long-term infrastructure plan must be part of the next federal budget.
We are hopeful that this summer's consultations with stakeholders around the country on the new federal long-term infrastructure plan helped reinforce the importance of ensuring that this plan continues and that we continue our sustained effort to ensure that Canada's infrastructure is world class. From our perspective, the long-term infrastructure plan must be truly long term, must be funded at a level equivalent to that of the current Building Canada plan, and must be flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the diverse regions and participating partners.
In addition to the next long-term infrastructure program, we also believe the federal government needs to provide greater support and certainty for municipalities in the maintenance and rebuilding of their key municipal infrastructure. To this end, we commend the government for continuing and making permanent the gas tax transfer fund of $2 billion annually to municipalities; however, we would like to see that indexed so that it is not eroded over the years by inflation.
That brings me to my second recommendation on red tape. As an industry, we strongly support the efforts of the government to reduce the regulatory burden on small business, chiefly in areas where provinces or municipalities already have robust regulations essentially performing a similar function. Signing interjurisdictional agreements to deliver joint services, harmonizing regulations where possible, and creating a single federal-provincial service delivery window for small business would all be welcome. Certainly, your efforts in the area of environmental assessment and, indeed, the recommendations to the red tape commission, are positive movements.
With respect to the needs of our workforce of the future, and in training especially, we very much support the reforms that are being made to our permanent immigration system and also to our temporary foreign worker program, especially the measures that will see employers more involved in the process. With that, we commend the recent announcement by the government to bring in an expression of interest program for skilled worker immigration to Canada. We think that's a very positive step. We would certainly want to have it ensured by this committee that the necessary measures and resources to put that in place are there.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I will conclude my remarks. I look forward to your questions.
As president of the Canadian Nurses Association, which represents more than 146,000 registered nurses in our country—the largest group of health care providers—I thank you for this opportunity to present the nursing profession's solutions for a transformed health care system that will support and contribute to economic growth.
A healthy economy and a healthy nation are inextricably linked. To strengthen and grow our economy, we must first tend to the health of our nation and its ability to support this economy. It just makes good financial sense. We are presenting strategies and tools that the federal government can use to achieve better health and a healthier economy.
The CNA has two key recommendations:
First, the federal government should work collaboratively with the Canadian Institute for Health Information , Canada's registered nurses, physicians, and other health providers to select five health and health system indicators on which to focus our efforts. The federal government should then convene a consensus conference with these stakeholders, as well as provincial and territorial representatives, to endorse the indicators and commit to having Canada within the top five ranking nations on each indicator by 2017.
The federal government has the opportunity to set forth a pan-Canadian vision for better health, but it must be built communally, based on consensus from all levels of the government and leaders in health care and business. The incentive to act now could not be greater, with direct medical costs in Canada at $200 billion annually and chronic disease estimated to cost the Canadian economy $190 billion every year.
This brings me to CNA's second point: the need for policy interventions to support healthy aging. Canada's population over the age of 65 is projected to more than double by the year 2036, bringing it to more than nine million. More than 40% of Canadians currently report having at least one of seven chronic conditions. If the current trend continues, Canadians will suffer from several chronic conditions as they age. These further complications, once in place, are costly to treat.
As our seniors age, the broader social determinants of health, such as income, literacy, and employment, have a deeper impact. The Canadian Nurses Association recommends that the federal government support healthy aging by expanding federal tax credits and home care benefits to help older Canadians stay in their homes longer, receive the right care at the right time, and remain resilient and independent.
In addition to improved quality of life for seniors, Canada's economy could save more than $15,000 per patient per year by moving palliative care patients from costly and scarce acute care beds to robust home care services. For example, as one family recently shared with me in despair, the four hours of help that they were allocated per week was simply not enough.
A system that is heavy with overburdened hospitals and emergency departments cannot be sustained. The absence of a healthy aging strategy means increased rates of chronic diseases and their related complications and rising costs on an already overtaxed acute care system. These consequences strain the generations that follow, who put aside their careers, productivity, and personal lives to care for aging family members. It is clear that implementing a healthy aging strategy to support a healthy and productive nation is key to a thriving economy.
On behalf of Canada's registered nurses, I thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you for inviting Ecojustice to this committee meeting.
Ecojustice is a group of lawyers in Canada who have been in practice for 20 years with an objective of seeking a healthy environment, using the law as a tool to achieving that.
You may wonder what a lawyer has to tell this committee and to say on the economy. No, we're not economists, but there are obvious places where the law and the economy do intersect. I will offer two concrete examples that Ecojustice has identified. At the very least, if adopted they would be cost-neutral, if not ultimately affording government savings in the end.
As I was in the audience, I heard the earlier comments about Canada's fragile economy. We're certainly cognizant of that and are not in the position of advocating enormous spending on environmental enforcement that simply won't happen. We're trying to be creative and look at ways in which we can achieve better outcomes for the environment, enforce and uphold Canada's environmental laws, and not put us in an economically disadvantaged position.
The first of those two ideas is making environmental law enforcement information readily available to Canadians. This is something that's available in the U.S.; it's something that is available piecemeal in Canada. If one wants to know if enforcement action has been taken against a certain polluter, for example, it can often be very hard to get that information.
From a transparency standpoint, I think it's obviously not good for the public to be unable to get that information, but it has deeper consequences that we're aware of. One of those, for example, is the inability for investors to easily obtain information when they're doing their due diligence on a facility as to whether they ought to buy an entity. Such information is not very easy to get right now. It requires access to information requests that can be costly and time-consuming. These go into the government bureaucracy and are not an ideal way to get that information.
What we're advocating is the creation of a database that would be easily searchable online. It would contain the following: inspection information, investigations, warnings, orders, prosecutions, convictions, and penalties. It would be a comprehensive database that would allow all of the different agencies throughout Canada that engage in environmental law enforcement to put their information there. The obvious cost saving would be that this information would no longer be subject to access to information requests; it would simply be available. So we're putting this forward as ultimately a cost-neutral outcome.
Beyond that, there are the greater, loftier ideals about democracy and the notion that access to information is democracy in action, more or less. I think it would be a good thing. No matter what our environmental laws say and what they are, we want to enforce them—whatever is on the books—and this would be an excellent tool for doing so.
The second issue is the notion of capped liability for offshore drilling. This is something that's very important to Ecojustice. Right now, our legislative regime caps liability at $40 million for a spill in the Arctic, like the BP Horizon offshore spill. That's a very low figure. In the U.K, I believe it has gone up to $125 million. To give a perspective to this, the BP spill has cost around $40 billion already, so there really is no reason for a government to be acting as an insurer for these companies. It creates disincentives for companies to enact proper policies to ensure safety and that kind of thing.
On that issue, we're not necessarily suggesting that there be no cap on the liability. Obviously, a balance probably ought to be struck. Again, I'm not an economist, but right now it simply does not make sense to have a $40-million cap.
How this ties back to the economy, in my view, is that Canadians will be ultimately holding the bag if a spill happens place in the Arctic, and right now, bidding is closed on 195,000 hectares of Arctic oceans. This is a new issue. The licences haven't been really issued that much in the past, and now they are. It's something that's very important to us.
Thank you very much for your time.
Good afternoon. I will speak in French, which will be a bit of a change.
My name is Magali Delomier, and I am the director general of the Fédération de la relève agricole du Québec. I would like to thank you for inviting us to appear before the committee. As far as I know, this is the first time we have been asked to appear. This is probably because a little more importance is being given to the next generation of farmers, which is very good news.
First, I will give you a little bit of information about my organization.
My federation is the only spokesperson for the next generation of farmers in Quebec. We have been working for 30 years to improve conditions for farmers to get established. We have also been trying to make the profession more attractive to young people, to give them information and to offer them training. The federation has over 2,000 members across Quebec. They are between 16 and 40 years of age and have a shared passion for farming. These young people are in training, in the process of getting established or already established.
I would like you to take four things that I am going to talk about from my presentation. The first is the need for a strong agricultural policy. The second is tax measures. The third is implementing a transfer savings fund. The fourth is the renewal of the agreement with the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum. These are important elements for making it easier for young people to get established in agriculture and making it easier to maintain agriculture in Quebec, and across Canada. We think that a strong agricultural policy that supports farmers is critical and that it must be the basis of other future measures.
Recent cuts to support programs under Growing Forward will affect young people in particular and make their situation more precarious. Young people are especially at risk because they are, for the most part, in the development stage. They are especially sensitive to variations in price and changes in weather conditions. That cuts have been made to these support programs has not really helped them.
One of the major problems in Quebec, in particular, is that it is more cost-effective to dismantle a farm than to transfer it because the next generation is not in a position to buy it at the market value. So we need to have transfer incentives, if not some kind of positive discrimination for dismantling. I have three tax recommendations to make in that regard.
Today, incorporated family farm operations are not considered capital gains under the Income Tax Act and, therefore, they are not covered under the capital gains exemption. We are therefore asking that operations sold to a family member be considered an exemption from now on. This would simply require a change to the Income Tax Act. In addition to this measure, and to encourage transfer rather than dismantling, the capital gains exemption could be increased from $750,000 to $1 million, only in cases where operations are transferred.
We also recommend that a transfer savings fund be created. It would be similar to the educations savings plan, where the parents would contribute to a fund that would be complemented by contributions from the provincial and federal government and would be paid out upon retirement, but only in the case of a transfer. This would encourage parents to plan for their retirement and the transfer of their business. There are serious gaps in this respect, and I think this is true across Canada. This would also enable these people to have additional funds when they retire in order to meet their needs, without depending on dismantling their farm. Lastly, this would help reduce financial pressure on the next generation when the transfer occurs.
The fourth and final point is important, with respect to funding, renewal of the financial framework agreement between the government and the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum. This agreement will expire in 2013. Without the funding, this organization will no longer be able to exist. The Canadian Young Farmers' Forum brings together all the young farmers organizations from all over Canada. It has been around for 15 years and enabled the next generation of farmers to structure itself, network, train leaders and dispense information on best practices in agriculture. It is the spokesperson for young farmers at forums and discussions involving Growing Forward 2. It is truly important to continue this support, if not increase it.
Currently, this organization can only afford to hire one resource person to take care of the entire Canadian network.
In closing, we would like to see the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum relaunch the National Future Farmers Network, which was started by Minister Blackburn in 2009 and was completely abandoned when the minister left. But time and money had been invested in this network. Work had been started to look into the problem of the next generation of farmers, and we think this network needs to start again through the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum.
I think it goes without saying that everyone understands how related the state of our highways and the state of our trade routes, etc., are to our economy and to prosperity for our country, and indeed, for our standard of living, and even our health, such as when it comes to our drinking water and the environment. What has pleased us over the last while is that not just the federal government but the provincial and municipal governments have seen the need to continue to ensure that our public infrastructure is in a state such that it can provide this.
In fact, it's even more important, coming out of a recession, that Canada is strategically positioned with state-of-the-art infrastructure that can continue to attract foreign investment and continue to ensure that we're competitive in a very competitive marketplace. It is key. Quite frankly, we're encouraged by the position that governments of all stripes at all levels in Canada have taken. They have shown a real, renewed partnership to ensure that. Indeed, it's the private sector as well; there is a role for the private sector in ensuring that Canada's public infrastructure continues to improve and is maintained.
What's so important about this is having a long-term plan, because the more long-term planning we have, the more that we as an industry, one of Canada's largest—if not the largest—industrial employers, can also plan. We can plan our human resources, our training, and what we're going to need to meet that future demand. It makes it so much easier in many other areas as well. It's absolutely key. It's not a question of “should we?”; it's a question of when and how committed we are.
I want to make you aware that if I have a little bit of time left, Mr. Jean might take the rest of my time.
Ms. Delomier—and I'm sorry if I'm pronouncing your name wrong—you gave us some really interesting perspectives. The transfer of family farms is always something that we're trying to figure out how to do more effectively and more efficiently. You made some good comments about the capital gains exemptions; I understand where you're coming from. The capital gains extension of $750,000 to $1 million is I think in some ways a reasonable request in light of the size of our farms now and the capital that's involved.
One thing you talked about that I thought was really intriguing, though, was the savings account for the next generation. There has been talk in the sector that maybe the AgriInvest account should be that account, that as a farm is transferred from one person to the next, the AgriInvest account should transfer with the farm and not stay with the person who had the farm. The logic behind this is that the farm entity put the money in that AgriInvest account, so that farm entity should maintain that account as it moves into the next generation.
Do you have any thoughts on that?
First of all, in relation to Ecojustice, I'd be happy to meet with you at another time—my iPad is unfortunately not charged—to go over specifically what Canada has relating to the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, which we brought into force since our government came to power, and the maximum penalties and the insurance liability, etc. I was on that committee when it, along with the Migratory Birds Convention Act, was passed, and it's not what you're suggesting. I'd be happy to meet with you to go over that in particular.
My interest is in relation to the Canadian Construction Association in particular.
First of all, would you agree that this federal government has been in charge of the largest-ever investment in infrastructure in Canada's history as far as money goes? It has been the fastest that any government has ever implemented and paid out. As far as the application process goes, it's the most efficient rollout ever. In fact, it's about five times what any Liberal government has done before, because of the nature of the economic action plan. Would you agree with that $45-billion infrastructure plan?
I think it's fair to say that if there were a planned, methodical infrastructure program, if there were a need to do stimulus, you would just deliver on that plan and it would be predictable and sustainable.
Mr. MacDonald, from Big Brothers, I'm interested in your comments about mentoring. In your written submission, you talked about income inequality. You also talked about the need for first nations mentoring.
Can you tell me a bit more about your organization's experience with income inequity and where it is going? Does that link to your concern for first nations?
Lastly, how do you see your work as being important, preventative work to keeping people out of prisons so that we don't need to have a lot more spending and a lot more people in jail?
They're both interdependent and independent questions. First and foremost, our organization has a tendency to serve a lot of kids who come to us with multiple risk factors. These are kids who are going to be living in poverty and are transient. They may be witnessing family violence or drug and alcohol abuse in the family. As well, we have kids who live in great families. There is an undeniable correlation: those kids who come from families who don't value education are not breaking the cycle of poverty and are not becoming contributing members of society.
One of the things we're doing right now has been around for a long time. In January, we'll be announcing the results of a five-year study that has taken a look at almost 1,000 families who have had Big Brothers and Big Sisters for the last five years and how they've turned out, in effect. One thing that the early findings are showing is that these kids are graduating from high school at a rate of two and a half times their peer groups in Canada. That's the first step to going on to post-secondary education and breaking that cycle.
In terms of looking at aboriginal populations, one of the biggest things we're learning about is whether we are actually prepared to give up the brand of Big Brothers Big Sisters to make effective inroads in working with aboriginal populations. Last fall, we piloted a program in Flying Dust First Nation in northern Saskatchewan. It is a modified in-school mentoring program whereby high school students are matched with elementary school students in school, but the match itself is paired with an elder for a cultural component. One of the things we learned during the process was that the band council we partnered with wants to make sure the high school students get on to post-secondary so that the economic gap starts to be minimized as they're getting good jobs because they have an education.
As well, we found out that the program wouldn't work if we called it Big Brothers Big Sisters, so it actually has a Cree name. For organizations like ours, it's a fundamental rethink and shift in terms of how we're going to approach working not just with aboriginal or first nations communities but also with new Canadians.
I just want to preface my remarks by saying that I'll be sharing my time with Mr. Jean.
In the very limited time I have, I do want to say, Mr. MacDonald, that your organization is fabulous. I love what you do. You should be very proud of Big Brothers Big Sisters. I respect what you do so much. You do some fabulous work. Congratulations.
Similarly, Ms. Mildon, nurses are the backbone of our health system, so keep up the good work. Again, nurses are first class.
Mr. Atkinson, I just want you to comment on a couple of things. Environmental assessment: one project, one review...good?
That's excellent. Thank you very much.
Mr. Atkinson, I'm going to continue with the same questions.
How do we encourage the private sector to build in places—I'm from Fort McMurray—keeping in mind the situations that are happening? It's also happening to my other constituents who are from Newfoundland, and in other areas of the country, especially the north.
How do we do so without putting money into it? Because governments, in my opinion, are not very good at spending money. We've done a great job with the economic action plan and the $45 billion included, but how do we do so...? Do we do it through tax incentives? Do we do it through tax credits or maybe a rebate on the GST in certain areas to do builds in residential or commercial to alleviate some of the problems?
In one minute, what would you tell me to do?
Thank you. Please cut me off when my time is up.
Mr. MacDonald, first of all, I do want to thank you very much. I, as a teenage mother, had a daughter who benefited from a Big Sister. It made her a better person and actually made me a better parent, so thank you for that. At that time, it was only Big Sisters, and then you amalgamated to become Big Brothers Big Sisters, and you have gone on to do great things.
I have some quick questions. Do you have a business plan on the First Mentors Incorporated program? I'd love to see it. It sounds interesting. I want to know what you want from government to get this off the ground, because it does look like it would be a good mentorship program, but I need to know the costs you're looking for, and I would like to know what are your targeted outcomes.
I certainly would like to focus my time on Ms. Mildon.
You haven't had much of an opportunity, I think, and as I listened to your first recommendation, I was quite intrigued by it. It sounded very much like it was respecting the provincial-federal jurisdictions. You're talking about five indicators being readily and possibly available from CIHI.
Tell us more about how you perceive this moving forward and what the benefit would be. It didn't sound like it would be a very expensive thing to move forward with. Also, perhaps what the benefits might be.... Again, I might also put it in this context: I know that we've done some targeting for hips, we'll say, and it's actually skewed other areas when we've developed it. Talk a little bit about how you perceive this being a benefit and what it would look like.