Mr. Speaker, I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, presented on Wednesday, March 28, 2012, be concurred in.
This particular report stated that the committee begin a study of the foreign qualification and recognition process in Canada to be titled “A Framework for Success: Practical Recommendations to Further Shorten the Foreign Qualification Recognition Process”.
In case people are wondering what foreign qualification recognition is, it is defined as follows:
Foreign qualification recognition is the process of verifying that the knowledge, skills, work experience and education obtained in another country is [sic] comparable to the standards established for Canadian professionals and tradespersons.
At the time, we had about eight meetings and we heard from a variety of witnesses. I want to touch briefly upon the dissenting opinion of the New Democratic Party, which we tabled along with the report.
I am just going to read from this:
While we support the general direction and recommendations in this report, there are key points around funding and time frames that we felt needed to be highlighted.
Spending is about choices and choosing options that will improve and make the foreign qualification system more productive is an obvious one.
Using fiscal restraint as an excuse not to deal with problems in health human resources planning will result in perverse consequences like continuing high spending on wrong options.
It is clear to us that there needs to be more action from the federal government to rationalize the system, communicate with potential immigrants overseas and to provide the appropriate funding to help qualified immigrants get the necessary training or experience to be able to work in Canada.
New Democrats suggest these recommendations should be amended as follows:
There were numerous recommendations, but there were actually four that we felt needed further attention by the government.
The Committee recommends that the federal government continue to financially support bridging programs that put a particular emphasis on profession specific language training, work experience, identification of skill gaps, and support to fill those gaps. The Committee further recommends that the bridging programs and program stakeholders engage in practices that use data sharing to improve the understanding of recruitment and retention patterns and workforce outcomes.
We also suggested changes to recommendation four:
The Committee recommends that Citizenship and Immigration Canada approach provincial and territorial regulatory authorities to discuss the possibility of pre-qualifying internationally trained individuals for certain occupations as part of the immigration process.
Recommendation number seven:
The Committee recommends that the federal government act as a model employer with regard to internship opportunities for internationally trained individuals by maintaining such initiatives as Citizenship and Immigration Canada's Federal Internship for Newcomers Program and increasing the number of interns accepted into the program.
Finally, in recommendation number 13, New Democrats propose:
The Committee recommends that funding for the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications and its related programs be maintained at least at the 2011-12 level for the next five years.
I am going to touch on a number of those changes to the recommendations.
However, before I get into that, one of the reasons we thought the report was important is that it is not news in Canada that we do have a shortage of skilled workers and that there have been challenges both around the immigration process on recognition of foreign credentials and, as well, with programs like the temporary foreign worker program and within the first nations, Inuit and Metis communities around filling gaps that we have long known about in a number of occupations.
With regard to the temporary foreign worker program, in a May 7 article, CBC released some information. The article is titled, “Temporary foreign workers hired in areas with EI claimants” and states:
The minister responsible for the temporary foreign worker program was told last year that employers were hiring temporary foreign workers in the same jobs and same locations as Canadians who were collecting employment insurance....
On May 29, 2012, the deputy minister for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada wrote a briefing note to the minister...which cited four examples in which there was deemed to be a “disconnect” between the temporary foreign worker and employment insurance programs.
The article goes on to say:
One example cited in the briefing note revealed that “in January 2012, Albertan employers received positive confirmation for 1,261...(Temporary Foreign Worker) positions for food counter attendants. At the same time, nearly 350 people made a claim for...[employment insurance] who had cited significant experience in the same occupation and province.”
The article goes on to say:
“Evidence suggests that, in some instances, employers are hiring temporary foreign workers in the same occupation and location as Canadians who are collecting EI...regular benefits”...
Last month, CBC reported that dozens of employees at RBC were losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers.
Earlier this year, two labour unions took [a mining company] to court, after the mining company hired more than 200 temporary foreign workers from China for its coal mine in northeastern B.C.
The article goes on to talk about labour market opinions:
Through an Access to Information request, CBC News received a 1000-page .pdf file that contained tables of labour market opinions that employers requested between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2012.
Because Human Resources and Skills Development Canada refused to provide tables in database format, CBC News converted the document to a spreadsheet to make it possible to search by company name and location.
That is just another example of how reluctant the government is to provide information in a format that allows Canadians to track how and where money is being spent or how results are or are not being achieved, as the case may be.
The article continues:
Alberta, as it turns out, is the top user of the temporary foreign worker program, according to a CBC News analysis of data from Human Resources Canada obtained through access to information.
Between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2012, the department issued nearly 60,000 labour market opinions. Employers submit these opinions to the minister when they can’t find Canadian workers for specific jobs.
Critics have pointed out that in many instances, employers aren’t searching hard enough to find Canadian workers, especially in higher unemployment areas, a concern that seems to be suggested in the briefing note.
When it comes to matters such as the foreign qualification recognition process, what we actually need is a much broader context for how we are dealing with the labour market in Canada. It would seem that one of the roles the federal government could play is working in partnership with provincial and territorial governments to not only develop a plan to deal with some of these perceived critical labour shortages but also to take a look at how matches are made between the temporary foreign worker program and who is permitted to come into Canada.
In connection with initiatives that the federal government might want to undertake, there is another matter with respect to filling jobs in Canada. Again I want to emphasize that the immigration program is an important part of how Canada will fulfill some of its labour requirements, but there are other ways for Canada to take a look at the situation.
A Conference Board of Canada report from July 2012, entitled “Understanding the Value, Challenges, and Opportunities of Engaging Métis, Inuit, and First Nations Workers”, is an important document in terms of how Canada can look to filling its workforce requirements.
In the chapter summary under “The Role of Aboriginal Workers in the Canadian Economy”, it states:
In the years ahead, Canada faces the challenge of not having enough workers with the right skills and experience to meet its labour needs. Canada’s Aboriginal population is the fastest-growing population cohort in Canada, and could play a significant role in helping the country meet its future labour market needs. However, the labour market participation of Canada's Aboriginal population lags behind that of the non-Aboriginal population.
Several factors affect the labour market participation of Aboriginal people: their geographic location; lower educational attainment; and language and cultural issues.
In the context of the foreign qualification recognition process, this is an important piece, because it sets a context for what Canada would be facing in terms of its labour force requirements.
The report further states:
Canada’s economic development and ongoing prosperity depends on having a strong and skilled workforce.
New Democrats would agree with that statement. In terms of our economy, our innovation and our ability to compete both nationally and internationally, it is absolutely critical that we have that skilled workforce.
The Conference Board of Canada goes on to state:
In the coming years, however, Canada is unlikely to have enough workers with the right skills to meet its labour needs. Falling fertility rates and longer lifespans are aging Canada’s workforce at an accelerating rate. The result is not enough younger workers to replace those who are retiring. Further, many businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and hire qualified workers. This is particularly true in areas with small populations but high demand for skills, such as in Western and Northern Canada where primary industries such as oil and gas, and mineral extraction are flourishing.
Previous research from The Conference Board of Canada concludes that “the now-imminent prospect of declining workforce growth represents a real threat and limit to our future well-being unless there are significant improvements in productivity and increasing technological innovation.”
The report goes on to say that there are a number of potential solutions to address Canada's looming labour shortage: first, raise the rate of natural population increase; second, increase immigration; and third, increase the number of mature workers engaged in the workforce.
Because it was dealing specifically with first nations, Metis and Inuit, there a couple of challenges that the report identified, as well as a couple of solutions.
The report identified some of the top challenges of hiring aboriginal workers as similar to those faced when attracting aboriginal workers: lack of qualifications, formal documentation, or certification; skill levels of new hires too low; lack of work experience; differences in expectations between workers and employer; and worker reluctance to move to a job site away from their community.
One part of this particular list of challenges relates to the foreign worker qualification process, in that the issues around formal documentation and certification come up over and over again, as well as the recognition of credentials. There is an important overlap in some of these recommendations.
As well, the report looked at some recommendations and strategies for the successful engagement of aboriginal workers. It said that a couple of things need to be in place. The tools and strategies employers most commonly use to recruit aboriginal workers are:
...advertising; local employment centres; educational institutions; community organizations; band or treaty organizations; internships or job placement programs; and Aboriginal labour market development organizations.
The report gave the example of ASETS agreement holders.
There are some tools and techniques that employers currently use, but there is no great mechanism to share those and there is no mechanism to make sure that some of the programs and services that the government is currently funding are working with employer organizations to ensure the outcomes that we all hope for.
Businesses use a variety of programs, tools and strategies to motivate and retain Aboriginal workers, including Aboriginal-friendly workplace programs and/or policies, learning and development opportunities, competitive compensation and benefits, providing time for Aboriginal workers to participate in seasonal or traditional activities, and mentorship programs.
Of course, a number of those require funding, which again, is not there consistently.
Businesses see the following positive impacts most frequently from successfully employing Aboriginal workers: Aboriginal workers acting as role models in their communities, better relationships and integration with the local community, improved employee equity and inclusion, and economic benefits to the community.
What is really important is that there are economic benefits both to the first nations community and to Canadians as a whole because, as I mentioned earlier and as the Conference Board of Canada and other organizations have pointed out, that Canada's contribution in terms of its productivity and its innovation rely on having a trained and skilled workforce available.
The fact that we have had these issues with temporary foreign workers continues to speak to the lack of leadership at the government level around a strategy to deal with the ongoing skills shortages that we have known about ever since we identified the baby boom cohort and knew that they were going to retire. Part of the government answer to this, of course, is to force seniors into working longer and moving the retirement age from 65 to 67. That is hardly a plan to deal with skill shortages in Canada.
There were a couple of things in the foreign qualification recognition process report that are important to note. One is that there was a forum of labour market ministers, the FLMM, co-chaired by the Canada, which was given the task of developing a framework agreement. This new Canadian framework for the assessment and recognition of foreign qualifications is called the pan-Canadian framework.
The FLMM decided to give priority to certain specific regulated occupations for implementation of the pan-Canadian framework in the initial stages of this agreement, in the first three years. The pan-Canadian framework has been in place for a number of years but needs long-term attention, because these problems are not easily fixed overnight.
According to the pan-Canadian framework, the standard of timely assessment had to be implemented in the following eight occupations by December 31, 2010: architects, engineers, financial auditors and accountants, medical laboratory technologists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists and registered nurses.
The second implementation phase of the pan-Canadian framework provided for the application of the timely assessment standard in the following six occupations by the end of December 2012: dentists, engineering technicians, licensed practical nurses, medical radiation technologists, physicians and teachers from kindergarten to grade 12.
When we read the list of occupations that are noted as priorities in this pan-Canadian framework, one has to wonder how the federal government is working with provinces and territories to ensure that we are developing a plan to address some of these priority occupations for the foreign credential recognition process. One wonders what is happening with colleges and universities, with employers and with other stakeholders in making sure we are looking at training Canadians who can also take those jobs.
I have to admit that I was a little surprised to hear that teachers from kindergarten to grade 12 were on this list. I wonder how we are working interprovincially in this area. There may be teachers who are available but are unable to take jobs in their own provinces. I wonder what kind of process is in place to address that scenario.
In response to a couple of problems that witnesses identified, New Democrats put forward a different recommendation, recommendation 4. The NDP's dissenting opinion states:
A number of witnesses underscored the importance of starting the FQR process in the country of origin by issuing more certificates and licences to [internationally-trained individuals] before they come to Canada so that they are a step ahead of the game when they land. Others stated that for some occupations, such as pharmacy, there are online self-assessment tools that enable individuals to take examinations outside of Canada and obtain immediate feedback. Still others suggested Canada should go further and allow regulatory authorities to narrow the selection before ITIs land. Another suggestion was to incorporate a prequalification system into the immigration process.
Part of the problem that comes up here is that although there have been improvements in the information that is available to people who are coming to Canada hoping to have their qualifications recognized, I think we have all too often heard the horror stories about highly qualified individuals taking jobs that are not within the occupation they trained for. In my own riding I had a conversation with a young man who was an engineer. His experience before coming to Canada was that, first of all, the information he received about recognition of his qualifications in Canada was absolutely inadequate. He was led to believe something that turned out not to be true once he arrived in Canada.
Therefore, there are a couple of things. One piece is to make sure that people have good access to information before they make the decision to come to Canada based on their occupation. The second piece is wherever possible—and it is not always possible—to allow for a process to assess those qualifications prior to making that move.
Nothing is more disappointing to people than to come to Canada after having spent many years being trained in a particular occupation to find out that they cannot work here. Often that is a very big personal decision for the whole family. People come here expecting to take part in a lifestyle that simply is not going to be available to them because they end up being underemployed. Of course, we have heard that in some places we have highly trained people driving taxi, which is an honourable profession, but if one has been trained as an engineer or a physician or in some other occupation, one hopes to come to Canada and practise it.
One of the things that came before committee is an example that other countries are using. Australia has a pre-arrival qualification practice, and for the most part, Australia approaches the foreign qualification recognition the same way as Canada: employers, regulatory bodies and institutions are the entities that recognize the qualification of internationally-trained individuals. It also says that that people are fully screened before they come.
The New Democrats thought that this was an important matter to bring before the House, particularly in light of what is happening with the temporary foreign worker program, as well as in first nations, Metis and Inuit communities where we have young, capable, eager people who just need access to skills and training so that they can take part in the modern economy.
I would encourage members to take a hard look at this report to see where Canada could do better in terms of improving access to the labour market for both Canadians and immigrants who wish to come here and take part in the labour market.