I call to order meeting number 18 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today is the last meeting we'll be hearing witnesses on this study. Today's meeting is again taking place in a hybrid fashion. We expect all those attending in person to follow health protocols.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. For those participating by video conference, please click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. For those in the room, your microphone will be controlled by the proceedings and verifications officer. When you are not speaking, your microphone should be on mute.
Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice, and interpretation services are available for this meeting. For those participating by video conference, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French. For those in the room, you can use an earpiece and select the desired channel. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately and we'll ensure that interpretation is properly restored.
For members participating virtually, please use the “raise hand” function. For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order as best we can. I would remind you that all questions should be directed through the chair.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, 2022, the committee will resume its study of labour shortages, working conditions and the care economy.
I would like to welcome our witnesses. To begin our discussion, we will have five minutes for opening remarks.
I will introduce a few changes, because we were not able to connect with some of the witnesses. From Deloitte, we have Georgina Black, managing partner of government and public services, and Craig Alexander, chief economist and executive adviser. From the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, we have Ivana Saula, research director for Canada. From the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, we have Rocco Rossi, president and chief executive officer, who has now joined us; Michelle Eaton, vice-president of public affairs; and Daniel Safayeni, vice-president of policy.
We're going to begin with five minutes. I would ask witnesses to keep their remarks within five minutes to give our panellists the maximum time to ask questions.
We'll begin with Deloitte. I believe Craig Alexander is going to speak for Deloitte.
Am I correct, or is it now Georgina Black?
Hello. Thank you for the opportunity to join all of you today. My name is Georgina Black, managing partner, government, public services and health care, for Deloitte.
As you mentioned, I'm also joined by my colleague Craig Alexander, the chief economist and executive adviser at Deloitte.
For context, Deloitte works with payers and providers across a public, private and not-for-profit ecosystem in Canada and the globe. Our in-house think tank, the Future of Canada Centre, has published research on how to build a thriving nation.
My remarks will highlight some of the recommendations from our report, “Catalyst: A vision for a thriving Canada in 2030” and subsequent white papers. This includes making fundamental reforms to Canada's care economy to support a growth agenda. From our perspective, the care economy includes those who work in health, education and social services, both paid and unpaid.
Prior to the pandemic, the demand for the care economy was already growing. Studies have documented the shortage of workers across child care, elder care, health care and social care for years. Here in Canada, the pandemic not only revealed the shortage of workers across the care economy, it also contributed to making the situation worse as workers across the economy left for a range of reasons—unstable access to child care, deteriorating working conditions, health and mental health issues and the pursuit of less risky jobs.
As we think about the care economy we must make sure we solve problems not only for today but also for the next 30 years. While we clearly need to find and train more humans to solve the problem, we must also think very differently about the problem and innovate in a sector that has largely been operating the same way for decades.
There are several issues to consider and today we would like to highlight five. The first is this mismatch between demand and supply, not only today but looking into the future. There is no source of truth that we've been able to find provincially or nationally about the state of demand and supply in the care economy. As a result, immigration, skills training, etc., are not aligned to the marketplace's needs.
The second issue is related to outdated regulations and standards, if in fact they existed at all. There are various barriers to effectively deploying human capital across the care economy, such as suboptimal regulations and outdated standards of care and training.
The third issue we would highlight is the outdated models of care and lack of digital innovation in the care economy. The health and social care economy in our country has largely remained unchanged for decades. It has been slow and, at times, even reluctant to embrace technology, digital solutions and new models of care.
The fourth issue we would highlight is with respect to maybe a Canadian value and thinking of this in terms of respect and compensation. Canada's respect for the rights and dignity of children, marginalized populations and elders is somewhat understated, which contributes to a perception of work in the care economy as being “less than”. Compensation across the care economy is less than other specialized professions. For unskilled and low-skilled workers, working conditions, job security and wages are well-documented issues.
The fifth and last issue I'd highlight here is that of unpaid caregivers. This is a very important part of the care economy. We have an army of unpaid caregivers in our country—estimates of 8.1 million Canadians—juggling work, caregiving and so forth. In addition to the value unpaid caregivers provide to the health and social care economy, we must recognize that there's actually a cost to our economy, which is estimated to be about $1.3 billion in lost productivity.
Deloitte's research and internal experts have identified several areas where the government and businesses could take action to create a more sustainable and resilient care economy. The first is to develop a national human resource or pan-Canadian human resource strategy for care workers that would join up immigration, training and credentialing to create a more dynamic and coherent care economy.
The second recommendation is to modernize the care economy. This includes modernizing regulations, standards of care, training, benefits for workers in the gig economy and so forth.
Related to modernizing the care economy, the third recommendation is to embrace digital solutions in this care economy to free up existing resources, accelerate adoption of virtual care technologies and ensure providers and consumers have skills to engage with these digital programs and services.
The fourth recommendation is to introduce programs to support this army of unpaid caregivers providing benefits to the health and social care economy.
Then the last recommendation is to continue to support Canada's early learning and child care systems to allow for greater and more equitable labour force participation. The COVID pandemic has not only had a massive impact on the Canadian economy and society but has also laid bare weaknesses that existed prior to the health and social care crisis. This is particularly true of the care economy. The pressures on these sectors, the experience at long-term care homes and the criticality of access to child care for labour participation have all become strongly evident.
The opportunity in front of us is to embrace the care economy as a critical part of the Canadian economy and to view the work as important and valued, while at the same time introducing innovations that will build in resiliency and efficiency to benefit workers, employers, Canadians and the economy.
Craig and I look forward to answering any questions. Thank you.
Good morning, honoured members of the committee. My name is Ivana Saula. I am a research director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. On behalf of the IAM and our members, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to present our views on this important topic.
The IAM represents workers in a wide range of industries with a growing footprint in health care. The majority of our members in health care are personal support workers, nurses and ambulance drivers working in various facilities across Ontario and Alberta, where attacks on the public sector and on health care in particular have been especially aggressive.
On March 3, 2022, this committee touched on the possibility of automation in response to labour shortages, so I will draw on conclusions from our report on automation and artificial intelligence, “Charting Change”, and point to a useful case study. I'll also briefly comment on the government's and employers' roles in inducing these labour shortages, particularly in health care.
Employers in particular have made precarious employment and non-standard employment—which on the whole erode working conditions—the norm rather than the exception as a feature of the labour market. An employment model that arose out of convenience for employers has eroded working conditions across sectors and has eroded living standards for millions of Canadians.
Personal support workers often work for multiple employers in order to get enough hours to earn a living. This means that one employer can guarantee four hours per week, another 12 hours and a third 10 hours. Wages of personal support workers vary across Canada, with the starting wage in some provinces being as low as $12 an hour. The work of PSWs and all health care workers is also characterized by physically demanding labour, workplace violence, high turnover and high rates of burnout. Not only is the work undervalued, but the framework for employment promotes instability.
In some cases, PSWs work for private companies that earned record profits during the pandemic, but they continue to drive wages and other benefits down. Copious numbers of studies yield the same result on this topic: Compared to workers in standard employment, those with non-standard jobs tend to have lower wages, lower job tenure, higher poverty rates, less education and fewer workplace benefits, such as pensions. Similarly, poverty rates of workers in non-standard employment are two to three times higher than the poverty rates of workers in standard employment. Clearly, this framework of precarious and non-standard employment is one of the key issues affecting recruitment into this field.
Demand for care work in health care is expected to continue increasing, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, personal support workers and home care workers are expected to be two of the fastest-growing occupations over the next 10 years. If these jobs are in demand and proven to be critical to our economy, why are workers in this sector not adequately compensated? Our members find this work meaningful and are proud of what they do. It's not the work itself that makes recruitment difficult; rather, recruitment is challenging because of low wages and lack of recognition.
I point now to a case study in Japan, a country that has severe issues with labour shortages in the health care system. Labour shortages are especially acute in retirement homes and in long-term care, where the elderly are looking after the elderly. Japan's response to this issue has been automation, making Japan's use of robots the fourth-highest in the world. The use of exoskeletons and interactive robots and the piloting of culturally sensitive robots are becoming the norm, as the country anticipates severe labour shortages coupled with growing demand for workers in long-term care.
Given the immediate need for labour, it seems that an understanding of the impact of automation on quality of care has not been sufficiently studied. In North America, vast amounts of resources are funnelled into studying and developing devices that replace the need for human assistance, such as automated health assessment systems, in-home monitoring systems, smart assistive walking devices and biosensors, just to name a few. These technologies would directly impact personal support workers, health care aides and other ancillary staff. The technological developments in health care go beyond assistive devices, and there are a number of things in the pilot stage right now.
While it's possible to address the gap in labour, it's necessary to assess technology fully. We have yet to fully understand the impact that technology and digital platforms have on the quality of care and the quality of life of elderly and aging clients. Technology may be convenient, but we should not turn to it as a solution without a full understanding of its impact on the health care system, patients and clients.
Our broad recommendations are the following. First, both federal and provincial governments should reform labour laws to provide protections for those in non-standard and precarious employment. We're also looking for protection for workers to join a union and for changes to union certification to match today's labour markets. We're looking to curb the proliferation of non-standard employment. We're also hoping that governments will work among different levels to promote living wages, rather than just minimum wage.
We're also hoping that there can be a thorough study of emerging trends and technologies for use in long-term care. Broadly and ambitiously speaking, we're hoping that long-term care could be included as part of the Canada Health Act.
We also support a national strategy for health human resources in health care, and last but not least, for national standards for long-term care.
Thank you very much.
We are delighted to be here.
While we meet in cyberspace, I want to acknowledge off the top that I come to you from the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Chippewa and the Wendat peoples. Of course, we're all in different parts of Turtle Island, where the lands and waters have been stewarded by first nations, Inuit and Métis people for generations. The single best way we can thank them for that is to truly redouble our efforts on the path towards truth and reconciliation.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, my colleagues and I represent some 157 chambers and boards of trade across the province of Ontario, which in turn represent some 60,000 businesses and organizations, which include organizations like the Ontario Medical Association, various hospitals and different organizations in the care economy.
I want to kick off, though, by underscoring that the labour shortage issue permeates the economy as a whole. While certainly accentuated during the COVID crisis, it is something that we've been consistently tracking with our members in our annual surveys. Our latest survey, which was done for this year's “Ontario Economic Report”, underscored that some 62% of members are facing serious labour shortages, and that is across all sectors.
One area we're focused on in particular is ensuring that traditionally under-represented groups, particularly in the area of disabilities, are approached with very targeted supports and training to ensure that, at a time when we are desperate for labour, no talent and no potential is left behind.
In focusing on those elements that are specific to the federal government, we have to start with immigration. Clearly these last two years have been an enormous challenge to process. We note that as of December 2021, there were over 1.8 million applications in the queue. Particularly in the area of skilled labour, we're seeing a massive backlog that has to be focused on if we're going to attack this problem.
There are other issues specific for Ontario within the larger immigration question. Number one, we would very much like to see Ontario's allocation of immigrants, under the Ontario immigrant nominee program, increase from the current 9,000 to a minimum of 18,000, and quite frankly, that number could be much higher. We call upon the federal government to work with the Ontario government to eliminate the current requirement for labour market impact assessments for OINP participants, particularly those hired in communities with populations under 200,000, where it is far more challenging for employers to attract and retain the workers they need to fill labour shortages.
We recommend expanding Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's ability to process express entry for federal skilled worker applications domestically and abroad, as well as to process international student study permits and visas at Canadian mission offices, and recommend working with the Ontario government to develop a long-term northern and rural Ontario immigration strategy to ensure communities can attract and retain immigrants.
We recommend continuing to modernize and address administrative burdens within the temporary foreign worker program. We were encouraged to see the federal government recently announce its foreign worker program workforce solutions road map, but we need to be moving, not just looking at the road map.
As well, we recommend reviewing the national occupation classification codes to create opportunities for permanent residence for labourers and operators.
There are still enormous barriers to interprovincial labour mobility that make absolutely no sense in an increasingly competitive world, a world where labour is at such a premium and not necessarily in the right places. This has been exacerbated by inconsistent certification, training standards and acceptance of credentials across the country.
As we chart our road to recovery, the Government of Canada must develop a strategy to boost long-term economic growth by further accelerating efforts to remove barriers to interprovincial labour mobility. One thing that we could do is create a public repository of information about labour mobility barriers in Canada to help policy-makers prioritize those efforts and strengthen the case for reform.
The support of health care—
Thank you for that question.
I'm not sure that I'm necessarily making an argument that we bridge the gap with technology when it comes to labour shortages right across the economy, but I think what's necessary to understand is that there are possibilities, certainly with artificial intelligence, where we can replace workers in a number of industries and some really surprising ones too.
What's essential before we move down that road is to really have a firm understanding of where the use of automation is appropriate. It's not just where does it harm workers, but where does it just not make economic sense to deploy at this point? Essentially what we're asking for as an organization is for the federal government to undertake a study of artificial intelligence and the possibilities that exist for various sectors, where it makes sense and where it doesn't make sense.
In terms of regulatory reforms, we're looking at specific sector reforms rather than just a broad approach in terms of protecting workers or enabling businesses to deploy technology.
I don't have a direct answer to your question in terms of regulatory reforms but we're looking at specific sectors to develop their own.
One of the examples that we have been looking to as a progressive template is the Port of Seattle. They've developed a code of ethics for the use of biometrics and the different types of technologies that are being used across airports, not just in Canada and the U.S. but globally. Essentially that code of ethics applies to anybody operating in the aerodrome. It's not just a code of ethics in terms of how employers or how the airport authorities anticipate it to behave, but it really spells out roles and responsibilities in terms of how the technology is handled and how it impacts upon passengers, workers and airline carriers. It asks some of the broader questions.
When we talk about reforms I think it's important to look at them from the perspective of sectors but also to develop something that works, something that's not just an impediment for employers to implement the technology, because it may be necessary. We want a full understanding, but we also want some assurances that there's no harm that comes out of these technologies.
Thank you for that question. It's a very good question, because we also put out a report on labour shortages in the aerospace and aviation industry.
Succession is something that, through the union and the collective agreement in some of the aerospace plants, has been a common practice. The union has negotiated with employers that are anticipating labour shortages in their region for workers who are near retirement to either stay on longer, on a shorter work week—two or three days per week—and come in and mentor younger workers who are coming in, or bring them back post-retirement on a modified work schedule to work with those who are in the plant. We think that this model works quite well, because it passes on that institutional knowledge and it passes on that hands-on experience that sometimes young workers might not get out of their training programs.
Succession, in the way that it has been informally set up through collective agreements, has been quite successful. It's something that's working, both for our retired members and new workers who are entering the workplace.
We have gone specifically to the Province of Quebec with this model and tried to get some input and some buy-in into the process. I don't know how far we have gotten with that as we speak, but I know that the Province of Quebec has been an ally for the IAM in Quebec in pushing the aerospace agenda forward.
Good morning to all the witnesses. I'd like to thank them for being here, for participating, and for their testimony.
My first question is for Ms. Saula, of the IAMAW.
Even though you discussed the care economy in your testimony, I'd like us to talk about the labour reality in the aerospace industry, since you are the biggest union in the world representing that sector.
During the last meeting of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Martel, the general manager of the CAMAQ, the Comité sectoriel de main-d'œuvre en aérospatiale, told us that the sector suffers from a lack of appeal, among other things because of the pandemic, because of the numerous layoff announcements and the fact that the sector isn't valued, despite it being important to the economy. You know that Montreal is the third largest aerospace hub in the world. Ms. Martel also said that in 2031, or in less than 10 years, 30,000 positions will need to be filled because of retirements and career changes.
Do you share the same view?
I found it quite troubling that a sector as critical as the aerospace industry should be coming up against these issues of scarcity and labour retention, as well as appeal.
What can you tell us about that?
That's a very good question.
Yes, the subsector was heavily impacted by the pandemic, given its reliance on air transportation. We know the impact of the pandemic on air travel, both domestically and internationally.
In our study, we also found that labour shortages are expected to be extreme as soon as 2025. One of the obstacles to recruitment is, again, lack of recognition, particularly for the skilled trades in aerospace. That's one thing. The second thing is the availability of training programs. What we're seeing is that colleges are not able to get sufficient enrolment numbers, so when there are students who are interested in a particular program, the program gets cancelled and they transfer into a different skilled trade. As a result, there are never enough people trained for work in aerospace, even though it's rewarding work, it's enriching, it's stimulating, it's well paid and it's stable. Really, the issue is between people wanting to get into the industry versus having the ability to do so. It is just not there. It's a provincial responsibility, and all of the provinces could be looking more at that. We do have recommendations on what that would look like.
You're absolutely correct that Montreal is the third-largest ecosystem when it comes to aerospace. Canada is very much globally competitive. This is a subsector that is also of national importance. However, we see that Canada has been falling in terms of global competition and we see that investment on all fronts, from education and training all the way to support to SMEs, really isn't there, so it's a much broader issue. However, skill shortages certainly are plaguing this industry, like many others.
Yes, there are. For instance, I mentioned exoskeletons. Exoskeletons aren't just used in health care. From the research that I've done, I know they're also used in construction. They are meant to relieve pressure on the body when something heavy is being lifted, whether it's on a construction site or whether it's in a care home, a resident home or whatever it might be. There are advancements that are being made.
It's essentially a suit that's put on a specific part of the body. It could be to support the shoulders, the neck, the upper body or the back. Exoskeletons are also used for residents themselves, in order to help them with their mobility, with getting up, getting dressed, moving around and that sort of thing.
Technology is complex, and it's a very nuanced topic. On the one hand, technology is enabling patients, residents and clients to look after themselves and potentially have a better quality of life, but at the same time it's reducing their need and their reliance on a health care aide or a personal support worker. I think advancements in technology, particularly in health care, are really fascinating in the ways in which they could completely transform long-term care. That's why we're saying we're fascinated by the advancements, but I think there has to be more of an understanding about the impact of those advancements on both patients and workers.
Thank you to all the guests today. I want to take a bit of a different approach, primarily with the chamber of commerce and Deloitte as two of our guests.
We had the head of the Canadian Medical Association as a witness a couple of weeks ago, and she said that Canada's health care system is in crisis and in fact is “on life support”. That is a quote. We heard today from Ms. Black, who said that primarily long-term care has been operating largely the same for decades.
We hear a lot about the need for innovation and the need for technology and all of these sorts of things, but what we don't hear very much about is whether our entire system is structured properly. If it's not based on a solid structure.... In other words, we will hear a lot from public sector unions and friends of socialized medicine when something goes wrong at a privately run long-term care facility, but my experience with government is that government is not very good at innovation and not very good at making changes.
Here is my question to the two of you to start with. Have you done much work around—and you mention a couple of studies—whether the structure of our health care economy, which is what we're calling it now, is correct, or do we need to look at ways we can provide better care without simply doing it the same way we've always done it?
I'll start. That is a big wicked question that you've posed, so I'll try to be succinct.
I would agree with the head of the CMA that Canada's health and social care system is under significant strain. It was designed for a different era. We also have to remember that we have 13 health and social care systems for a population that I think is at 36 million, so inherently there are inefficiencies. Mr. Rossi talked about some of the challenges in just moving health care labour between provinces during COVID. There was an opportunity to provide virtual care—which the country adopted pretty rapidly, by the way—and there were provinces that didn't have enough nurses and individuals who could provide virtual care. It would have been great if we could have used labour in one province to support virtual care in another, so there are some built-in inefficiencies.
We also know from the OECD ratings that Canada ranks second to last—the United States is last—on a number of indicators, including cost of our health care system and outcomes. The U.K. and Australia would be jurisdictions we could look to for better performance.
I want to conclude by saying that we believe there is a really important opportunity for Canada to think about health and social care as an economy. Frankly, it already is a very dynamic ecosystem, with public, private and not-for-profit players in a publicly funded system. When we start to think about it as an economy, with supply and demand, and we bring that lens to it, we'll be quicker to embrace a number of innovations and technologies that are working in other jurisdictions.
Thank you for the question.
I would certainly echo what Ms. Black has said, and I would add to that two things. First, at the beginning of this pandemic, we saw just how important and intrinsically related the caring economy and our health care system are to the vibrancy of our economy writ large. In Ontario, we had to basically shut the economy down very early in the pandemic due to capacity constraints within our health care system, but we also saw the government move very quickly on certain health initiatives, such as the immunization campaign in which we saw various health professionals allying and bringing together public health messaging and campaigns to boost Ontario's vaccination rates to some of the best nationwide, so I think we saw how effectively we can work as well.
There are two components to this. First, there is the funding component, and I think the pandemic has underscored just how strained some of the funding equations are for the health care system here in Ontario, so we are calling for a jump of the provincial health care spending from 22% to 35% when it comes to the transfer payment.
The second part of that, which touches on your question as well, I believe, is how that money gets spent. What are the systemic reforms that are going to be needed to deliver a health care system that matches the economy and the needs of society today? I think that is the bigger, trickier question that is probably beyond the scope of today's meeting, but obviously it is one that needs to be explored in earnest when we talk about the types of reforms and changes we need to bolster our health care system's capacity.
Great. Thank you very much.
My question then will go to the chamber of commerce.
First and foremost, let me say that our local chambers of commerce have been invaluable resources to many small businesses, particularly during this past pandemic. They've been able to organize subject matter experts to advise their members as support programs were introduced, and even when they were updated. They've been a very important bridge to small and medium-sized enterprises that don't have the resources of larger multinational organizations, but these SMEs do create a large percentage of new jobs with the widest range of skill set requirements.
My question to the chamber, to whoever wants to respond, is this: Where do you see the biggest gaps in labour shortages from a small business perspective? What kinds of programs should be expanded, introduced or changed to resolve some of these issues?
Could someone from the chamber respond to that, please?
I'll take a stab at that first, and Michelle, please feel free to jump in as well.
We'd be happy to provide the committee with our latest “Ontario Economic Report”, which provides a sector-by-sector breakdown of labour shortages within the province, both by sector and more specifically by region beyond that as well.
Unfortunately, it's not a very tight answer, because what we're experiencing is that certainly some of the usual suspects are disproportionately being affected by skilled trades, such as construction sectors or anything that has required hand-to-hand contact in the service industry, including restaurants, food and accommodations. These industries are being disproportionately impacted by it. We do have a report that outlines this, and we would be happy to provide that to the committee.
As a few points on the solution front, number one, I think, is appreciating that there isn't going to be a one-size-fits-all approach, as we're finding out here. Labour strategies that are going to address this need to be sector-specific and also, ideally, regionally targeted.
Certainly a number of the training and retraining programs that both the provincial and federal governments have rolled out have been enormously helpful. The tax credits for on-the-job training are particularly helpful for those smaller organizations that might not be able to compete with larger multinational firms in terms of talent attraction and retraining.
Also, we need to be amenable to a constant feedback loop. We're at a time right now in which a number of the federal government's supports are being wound down, so it's important for us to take stock of which programs have been the most helpful in filling some of these talent gaps and perhaps double down on them in a thoughtful way that addresses the unique concerns of sector A versus sector B. Talent attraction might look very different in each, and, therefore, the solution is going to look very different for those sectors.
Committee members, we will now resume the second hour of the committee meeting today, welcoming back committee members on this study on the care economy.
I've reviewed the procedures you should be following during the committee hearing. If you lose translation, please let me know, and please follow the health protocols in place. I remind members and witnesses to speak slowly for the benefit of the interpreters. That would be great.
At this time, I would like to welcome back Minister Qualtrough.
Minister, it's good to have you back before the committee, as well as your department officials. They have all introduced themselves, so I'm not going to repeat that.
We will move directly to hearing from the minister for five minutes.
Madam Minister, you have the floor.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to appear here today.
I'll begin by mentioning that I am joining you from the territory of the Musqueam and Tsawwassen First Nations.
I also want to recognize our care economy workers, from doctors and nurses to personal support workers and child care workers, to those who take care of our family members at home. They have worked non-stop over the last two years, repeatedly putting themselves at risk to care for others. For the hours they worked, the lives they saved and the people they cared for, we will never be able to adequately thank them.
I also want to thank our colleague, Bonita Zarrillo, for this motion to study this important topic.
Our government is steadfast in its support for Canada's caregivers. We are committed to growing this workforce to ensure that workers are skilled, jobs are filled and every Canadian has the very best care.
I know the committee has heard from an extensive list of witnesses and I commend you on your work. I look forward to your report.
Today I am going to focus on the care economy and share what we are doing to address labour shortages more generally.
At this time last year, my focus was on finding jobs for workers, but these days my focus is on finding workers for jobs. Canada has record low unemployment levels, with growth in many sectors outpacing employers' abilities to find workers. Canada's care sector is one of many that are facing labour shortages.
Our plan to address labour shortages includes investing in the next generation of Canadian workers, helping workers upskill to a changing labour market, maximizing workforce participation, welcoming talent from around the world and addressing the needs of specific sectors, and of course the care sector will benefit from each of these approaches.
Investing in the next generation of workers means supporting students and apprentices and creating first work experiences. Specific to the care economy, we know that many young doctors and nurses graduate with significant student loans to pay off. We also know that Canada's more rural and remote areas don't attract medical professionals as our urban centres to. Therefore, in budget 2022 we are proposing an investment of $26.2 million over five years to increase the forgivable amount of student loans for doctors and nurses who practise in rural and remote communities.
In addition, the government will expand the current list of eligible professionals under the program and review the definition of “rural communities”. In 2019-20, nearly 5,500 doctors and nurses benefited from the loan forgiveness program, and with expanded eligibility, this is only expected to grow.
With respect to skills training, we are working with employers, unions and the provinces and territories to make training accessible for all workers and to help workers stay in the workforce longer.
Every year, the federal government invests more than $3 billion in funding so that provinces and territories can provide training and employment support through the labour market transfer agreements. These investments help more than one million Canadians each year to prepare for their next job through programs ranging from skills training and wage subsidies to career counselling and job search assistance. We are going to renew this partnership with provinces and territories so that we can be more responsive to the needs of workers, businesses and the economy.
In budget 2022, we are proposing to amend Part II of the Employment Insurance Act so more workers are eligible for help before they become unemployed, and employers can receive direct support to re-train their existing workers.
That builds upon work which is already under way. During the pandemic, we partnered with Colleges and Institutes Canada to provide free, accelerated training to 2,600 supportive care assistants. This project offers a career pathway to become fully certified personal care workers, and provides much needed support to long‑term care staff, as they receive training on the job.
Maximizing workforce participation is accessing untapped labour pools and removing the barriers that restrict workforce participation for many historically marginalized or disadvantaged groups. It is about making our workforce more diverse and inclusive.
One such example is persons with disabilities. The more than six million Canadians aged 15 and over that identify as having a disability represent a huge untapped labour pool. Despite many being able to work and wanting to work, employment rates for persons with disabilities are much lower than those of Canadians without disabilities, at 59% versus 80%. We aim to change this. Budget 2022 proposes to provide $272.6 million over five years to support the implementation of the employment strategy for persons with disabilities through the opportunities fund.
As we tap into the talent pools that are within Canada, we also recognize the imperative of attracting workers to Canada and supporting them to efficiently integrate into the labour market. It is also about having a fair and balanced temporary foreign worker program.
For example, internationally educated health professionals too often face challenges in getting their credentials recognized in Canada, so we're investing in projects that will help them put their education and skills to work sooner in caring for Canadians. Budget 2022 proposes to provide $115 million over five years, with $30 million ongoing, to expand the foreign credential recognition program and help up to 11,000 skilled newcomers per year get their credentials recognized and find work in their field. The program will continue to focus its efforts on supporting internationally educated health professionals to help build a strong, resilient workforce in Canada's health care sector.
We are also modernizing the temporary foreign workers program. We recently introduced more flexibility into the program to help employers access workers more quickly and in a way that meets their needs. What's more, budget 2022 set aside funding to establish a trusted employer program and to create a new agriculture and food processors stream to the program.
Finally, we need to develop talent for emerging sectors and industries and find sector-specific workforce and labour shortage solutions.
Specific to the care sector, we recently launched a call for proposals under the new sectoral workforce solutions program. Investing in the health care sector was a top priority for this call. We look forward to finding projects to help address challenges in the sector, including labour mobility, mental health needs of the workforce and integration of internationally trained health professionals.
Mr. Chair, colleagues, our focus and investments are about making sure that the care sector has all of the support and human resources it needs to be the best it can be and that we are addressing labour shortages with historic investments in people. We're going to continue these efforts.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much, Minister. It's always a pleasure to see you.
I wish your family health. I hope that everyone recovers soon. My family went through the same thing over the holidays.
I have just a couple of things before I get to my questioning.
I thank Member Zarrillo for presenting this motion, but I would also like to point out that I believe all of the opposition parties were united in the idea of a labour shortage study.
That includes the Bloc Québécois.
Certainly Ms. Zarrillo added the nuance of the care economy, but I think everyone was eagerly interested in studying the labour shortage.
Secondly, to your comment about how last year you were focused on finding jobs, unfortunately, this is part of the reason we find ourselves in the labour shortage situation now. It's my belief, backed up by the economist from your department, that the number of increased jobs we saw—what was previously the one million talked about by the government—was really the natural recovery of the pandemic as people went back to work. Nonetheless it has occurred, and that's a good thing.
That brings us back to the main issue of the day, which is the labour shortage. Many of the items you talked about in your opening statement are items you put in place both within budget 2022 as well as previously. To outline, some of those were the new foreign labour program specifically for agriculture and fish processing. Of course, one can't mention that without recognizing the Auditor General's report, which indicated that working conditions for temporary foreign workers in both agriculture and fish processing were not upheld. Unfortunately, we didn't really have an opportunity to discuss that here.
In addition, the LMIA stipulation that you put in, increasing the validity of the LMIAs, I think was very good. I also have that you referred to the temporary foreign worker program workforce solutions road map. You mentioned some of these items, such as making the seasonal cap exemption permanent. I mentioned previously longer validity for labour market impact assessments, as well as the removal of the 6% refusal to process policy.
What I'm seeing repeatedly, and what was brought up in the last hour by a witness from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce specifically, is that these initiatives by your department, and certainly you and your department are to be commended on these things.... However, the overarching theme is that, despite more budget and program allocations toward these problems, the solutions are not being found, and the overarching problem is with backlogs of immigration processing.
My first question would be, how are you working with and encouraging the to process these backlogs? It just seems to me that almost every single program you mentioned that is implemented or brought forward to solve the labour shortage is not being addressed as a result of these immigration backlogs. What are you doing together, please, in an effort to resolve that? Really, all of your suggestions hinge upon the resolution of the backlogs.
Thank you for the question.
It's a kind of three-pronged approach when we're dealing with supporting persons with disabilities in employment. We provide targeted funding, so that would be the employment strategy that was recently announced in the budget. That's obviously a key pillar of our disability inclusion action plan and our $272-million commitment, through the opportunities fund, to provide targeted employment opportunities and supports for persons with disabilities.
It's also ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to our broader skills training and employment opportunity program, so we're baking in disability inclusion into these broader programs. One example would be the skills for success program, but I could name 10 others. We really are ensuring that people with disabilities are specifically mentioned under these programs.
Then there are broader efforts to remove barriers to workforce participation globally, such as the enabling accessibility fund to make sure that people can get into buildings because then they can work there. We're investing in child care that is inclusive so that kids with disabilities have a place to go and parents with disabilities have a place to go, as well as in housing and transit.
It's really about taking a system-wide approach to programming that is targeted, broad-based and removes barriers to participation.
It's the same approach is what I would say.
Of course, you've all heard me say that women were both frontlined and sidelined during this pandemic. Women, who are more precariously employed, were the first to lose their jobs. They were on the front lines fighting the pandemic.
Again, it's specific, targeted programming, such as our women's employment readiness program, which helps women and provides supports specifically focused on the needs of women, to reduce the barriers to employment and get them the skills and opportunities they need. It's also providing wraparound supports within our programs. If you look at our sectoral workforce solutions program, for example, if an organization receives money for training, they have to provide wraparound supports for women. That could include accommodation, transportation and child care.
Then finally, it's the big bucket of addressing structural, social and more systemic barriers, and the big one there is child care. Women now, with our child care agreements in place with all the provinces and territories, have a real choice about returning to work. That's unlocking the economic potential of half of our population. Again, it's this three-pronged approach: targeted, broad-based and systemic.
Thank you, Minister, for all the programs you mentioned that are addressing workers' needs.
Today, I want to focus on income supports for the six million Canadians you mentioned who have a disability. They did not see in the budget the Canada disability benefit.
I'll share with you, Minister, what you already know, which is that inflation is here. The cost of food and the cost of goods are going up. With REITS—real estate investment trusts—there is a lot of displacement happening in housing, based on this financialization of housing. A lot of co-ops are being lost, which heavily over-index for people with disabilities to live in. There are a number of really pressing, urgent matters around income supports right now for persons with disabilities.
I know that a number of fiscal bills have come to the floor, but not the Canada disability benefit. We are approaching a year since Bill was first introduced, and the disability community just can't wait any longer. They need a date. They need to know when this will be coming. We know that the Senate is ready to deal with it and the House is ready to deal with it.
Please, Minister, the community would like to know: When will we see this bill come to the floor?
There are a couple of things. First of all, in terms of our employment strategy, historically governments have focused on supporting workers and organizations that support individuals with disabilities to find jobs. What we know is that in fact we need to support employers and increase awareness of the duty to accommodate and the business case for disability inclusion. We need to invest more in entrepreneurs with disabilities.
The employment strategy, as we are moving forward with it, is a much broader-based approach to ensuring not only that people can get jobs and have opportunities to apply for jobs but also that the conditions they are working within are more dignified and more flexible. There is some really exciting work.
The $20 million in the budget for Ready, Willing and Able is a really good example of a program that actually looks functionally at what an individual can do and then looks functionally at what an employer needs to have done and matches those two. It might take a little bit from three different job descriptions to create a really robust, meaningful and contributing role for an individual with a disability that plays to their strength. It gives the employer exactly what they need.
Yes, absolutely, that is top of mind for me, of course.
Thanks for the question.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can make sure that we access the experience and expertise of every newcomer to Canada, and of course, from their perspective, how they can put these talents to work meaningfully after all the hard work they've done in other countries.
The foreign credential recognition program supports what I would call the labour market integration of newcomers. We fund provincial and territorial regulatory authorities. We fund organizations to help improve foreign credential recognition. We provide loan and support services to help skilled newcomers navigate these complicated processes, and we provide employment supports.
I recently visited an organization that stressed to me how important that first work experience is. It's really getting that first job in Canada in their area of expertise that makes all the difference.
We recently announced $26.5 million in funding for 11 projects across the country that do those kinds of skill and employment supports, as well as the really important work of working with provinces and territories on the regulatory side to streamline and simplify the recognition process. We're attacking it from a bunch of different fronts to make it easier, from a process point of view, to provide that first work or upskilling opportunity.
Then, to give newcomers loans, in some cases small loans but meaningful loans, to go through the process and get their credentials upskilled or recognized is really important. If we look at the labour shortage in the care economy, we know that many of these jobs can be filled by newcomers, so this is a really important piece of the puzzle to solve this.
I'm going to start with the data question first.
The best tool we have right now is the StatsCan labour force survey. Historically, it has collected good data but not disaggregated data, so it has had a limited use or it certainly hasn't maximized the potential for its use. Over the past year—I don't remember exactly when; I'm sorry, Mr. Coteau—we started collecting race-specific data through the labour force survey.
We've recently also started collecting disaggregated data on disability. It's been very helpful as we build our programs and policies to understand where these pockets of untapped talent are, who they are, where they live in the country. It helps us create targeted programs, like the ones I talked about for women and persons with disabilities. It also helps us ensure that our broad programs are responsive at the local or regional levels to the labour market realities people are facing and the barriers people are facing.
The other story that data doesn't tell, regardless of unemployment levels or regardless of opportunities that exist, is that, if the systemic discrimination is not addressed, people aren't getting these jobs. We need to up our game, as all governments do and as we are trying to do, on addressing the systemic discrimination that these same groups are facing to enter the workforce.