Good morning, everyone.
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting No. 28 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Friday, April 8, 2022, the committee is meeting to study Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, and some witnesses and members are attending using the Zoom application.
The participants who are here on site, in Ottawa, are familiar with the public health rules that are still in force, and should conduct themselves accordingly.
Without further delay, I will introduce the witnesses it is our honour to have with us today.
From the Competition Bureau, we have Anthony Durocher, Deputy Commissioner, Competition Promotion Branch, and Krista McWhinnie, Deputy Commissioner, Monopolistic Practices Directorate.
From the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, we have Sarah Hayward, Acting Senior Director, Immigration Program Guidance; Philip Somogyvari, Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning; and Matthew Graham, Director, Levels Planning and Migration Analysis.
From Statistics Canada, we have Greg Peterson, Assistant Chief Statistician, Economic Statistic; Josée Bégin, Director General, Labour Market, Education and Socio-Economic Well-Being; and Wulong Gu, Senior Advisor, Analytical Studies and Modelling Branch.
And from Treasury Board Secretariat, we have James van Raalte, Executive Director, Regulatory Policy and Cooperation Directorate, Regulatory Affairs Sector.
I'd like to thank the numerous witnesses who are participating in this process today. We appreciate their assistance as we conclude this study of competitiveness. Thank you for taking the time to come and speak to the committee.
Without further delay, I give the floor to Mr. Durocher for five minutes.
Mr. Chair and members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.
My name is Anthony Durocher and I am Deputy Commissioner of the Competition Promotion Branch at the Competition Bureau. I am joined by my colleague Krista McWhinnie, Deputy Commissioner of the Monopolistic Practices Directorate.
We are here today to support your study on small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. The Bureau's long-held position is that SMEs are the bedrock of a dynamic and resilient economy. While many SMEs were hit hard by the pandemic, they remain an important engine of inclusive economic growth. They challenge established incumbents, and disrupt entire industries.
The Competition Bureau enforces the Competition Act, which recognizes the vital role of SMEs at the outset in its purpose clause. It states that “maintaining and encouraging competition” is central to ensuring that “small and medium-sized enterprises have an equitable opportunity to participate in the Canadian economy.”
We work hard to support SMEs. For example, we stop any anti-competitive business practices that seek to limit SMEs from challenging bigger players. We require businesses to tell the truth about their products and services, so that consumers aren't misled away from using the products and services of SMEs. We prevent any competitive mergers and punish price-fixing and other forms of collusion to ensure that SMEs can access inputs at competitive prices. We advocate for government rules that ensure a level playing field for SMEs.
To achieve these goals, we need the right tools to address competition issues in a timely and effective manner. The Competition Act amendments set out in the are an important step, but those changes are just the beginning. We are very pleased that the government has committed to consult broadly on the role and functioning of the Competition Act and its enforcement regime. In February of this year, we made a public submission to Senator Wetston's consultation on modernizing the Competition Act. The ideas put forward are based on our experience in administering and enforcing the law across all sectors of the economy.
The bureau remains focused and motivated in its role as Canada's competition authority and looks forward to an ongoing, vigorous and inclusive debate on how best to achieve these goals.
We look forward to your questions.
Thank you for having me, committee members. I'd like to begin by acknowledging that I'm joining you from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
I'm pleased to provide an overview of the immigration system and its role in addressing labour and skills shortages. As we know, Canada is currently facing labour shortages across the country. Each sector is feeling the impact. As noted by my ESDC counterparts in their appearance before this committee, most of the solutions to meeting these challenges are made in Canada and include school leavers, training and skills development of the labour force, and addressing barriers to under-represented groups.
Immigration, though, is one tool that helps provide additional labour and complements efforts to build domestic capacity. It's an increasingly important contributor to Canada's prosperity and economic growth. IRCC manages a number of temporary and permanent economic immigration programs that support the development of a strong Canadian economy and ensure that the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions.
On the permanent side, the immigration system has multiple pathways to welcome economic immigrants, who bring skills to our economy and help fill gaps in our labour force. They are typically educated, fill targeted labour and skills shortages, contribute to innovation and workforce diversity, and are able to integrate into the Canadian labour market with ease.
Our high-skilled programs, managed through an application management system known as express entry, help Canada stay competitive and attract talent from around the world. IRCC has also implemented several pilots and programs to support rural and remote regions across a range of skill levels. Immigration is a shared responsibility among the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and almost all jurisdictions operate provincial nominee programs that cater to their specific labour force needs.
Regional immigration programs and pilots, such as the rural and northern immigration pilot and the Atlantic immigration program, allow jurisdictions to respond to their unique conditions, prioritizing the attraction and retention of skilled workers in the sectors and occupations with identified needs. The government also announced plans to attract record numbers of immigrants to help Canada grow. In 2021 Canada welcomed a record number of permanent residents, at 405,000, and Canada aims to continue welcoming immigrants at a rate of just over 1% of Canada's population. This means targets of just under 432,000 in 2022 and just over 447,000 in 2023.
On the temporary side, foreign workers and international students play a significant role in Canada's economy. They address immediate workforce needs of diverse employers, provide a wide range of skill levels and educational attainment, and facilitate business growth, innovation and productivity. Canada's temporary worker programs are demand-driven, flexible and responsive to the changing labour market landscape. There are no caps on the number of foreign workers who can be authorized to work temporarily. Employers can use temporary worker programs to tap into global pools of labour and talent to fill vacancies in any occupation.
The number of students and temporary residents who are authorized to work, including a portion of ESDC's TFW program, has been growing year over year, reaching around 1.5 million temporary residents in Canada in each of the last three years. Their contributions have been even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic and during Canada's economic recovery, as they help employers in essential industries fill jobs when no Canadian citizens or permanent residents are available. In recognition of their importance to Canada's recovery and to respond to border restrictions, in 2021 a time-limited temporary resident to permanent resident pathway was introduced to help us retain the talent of over 90,000 essential workers and international graduates. Many of these new residents work for small and medium-sized enterprises and continue to support them.
Some jobs are temporary in nature, and it's not the desire of every student or migrant worker to remain permanently. Our system also is limited in the number of individuals who can become permanent residents in a year. In the case of permanent immigration, individuals are selected based on factors that will contribute to their economic success. Whatever the labour market looks like in the future, and however it evolves or gets disrupted, our economically selected migrants need to be able to weather downturns and have transferable skills and attributes.
To ensure that the immigration system continues to adapt to an evolving economy, the government announced a number of new measures to further contribute to meeting labour market needs and support SMEs. Through the budget, the will have the authority to better select candidates who meet a range of economic and labour force needs. Additional measures to address Canada's labour shortages have also been recently announced. These include faster processing of permanent resident applications and more flexibility around work permits for students and visitors.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My colleagues and I would be happy to take questions.
Good afternoon, members. It's a pleasure to be here today. My name is Greg Peterson. I'm the assistant chief statistician responsible for Statistics Canada's economic statistics program. I'm joined today by Josée Bégin, the director general responsible for labour market education and socio-economic statistics. Also joining me is Wulong Gu, a senior adviser in our analytical studies and modelling branch.
SMEs are a vital part of the Canadian economy. In 2021 small businesses were employing over 10.3 million people, two-thirds of the overall labour force. Medium-sized businesses were employing another 3.4 million people.
The number of businesses that express labour shortages to be an obstacle has almost doubled in the last 15 months to 37%.
Most indicators are pointing to an increasingly tight labour market in Canada, with the demand for workers accelerating to record levels during the second half of 2021. Job vacancies in the fourth quarter rose 80% compared with pre-pandemic levels, reflecting broad-based increases across provinces and industrial sectors.
Last month, the unemployment rate fell to a near historic low of 5.1% while the participation rate was near a record high among core-aged workers.
To help attract and retain staff, businesses are also adjusting their wage plans. In the three years leading up to April 2022, wages among new hires rose by 15.4%, compared with 12.1% for established employees. In the first quarter of 2022, over two-fifths (45%) of businesses reported that they planned to raise wages for existing employees over the coming year. It is important to note that while wages have been on an upward trend since the fall of 2021, their growth has remained below the inflation rate.
Resiliency of supply chains is an issue.
In the second quarter of 2022, more businesses experienced an increased difficulty in sourcing inputs domestically, compared to the number of businesses experiencing difficulty in acquiring inputs from abroad. Over 40% of businesses expected this difficulty in acquiring inputs, products or supplies from within Canada to persist for 12 months or more, and 39.3% of businesses expected the same difficulty in acquiring inputs, products or supplies from abroad.
In general, we're finding that businesses are responding to these difficulties in supply chains by carrying more inventory.
I'd like to turn for a second to inflation. While much attention is focused on the consumer price index, Statistics Canada follows prices all along the supply chain. In general, these prices are increasing at every stage.
The raw materials price index measures the prices for raw materials purchased by Canadian manufacturers. In March 2022, this index was 64.4% higher than in January 2020, prior to the pandemic. The industrial product price index measures the prices at the factory gate of products sold by manufacturers operating in Canada. Again, in March 2022, the IPPI was nearly 30% higher than in January 2020.
The wholesale services price index measures the margin price that Canadian wholesalers receive for their products. In December 2021, the last data point we have available, the index was 12.1% higher than in January 2020. The retail services price index measures the margin price that Canadian retailers receive for their products. The retail services price index didn't increase too much during the pandemic but had moderate increases throughout 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, the retail service price index increased by 1.9% and further increased by 4.8% between 2020 and 2021.
In all, businesses are facing increased input costs. From Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, there has been a steady increase across almost all industries such that the rising costs of inputs are being identified as an obstacle to business, and over one-third of businesses reported they plan on passing on increased costs of inputs to their consumers. This challenge is accentuated by SMEs, where 75% cite rising costs of inputs as an obstacle, while 30% cite it as a major obstacle.
Statistics Canada has been closely following how SMEs have fared during the pandemic, as they're important drivers of the Canadian economy. In addition to our standard suite of products, we partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce early in the pandemic to launch a forward-facing survey of business conditions. More recently, we've started working with them on a business data lab in order to better support public and private sectors in making decisions in this area.
Mr. Chair, this is a brief summary of the constraints facing Canadian businesses that we're measuring. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members, for inviting me to join you today.
My remarks will focus on how Canada's federal regulatory policy and modernization agenda responds to the needs and concerns of Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises. I'd also like to share some of the key policy challenges we are seeing in this space.
The Government of Canada policy that sets out how regulatory departments and agencies must develop, manage and review federal regulations is called the “Cabinet Directive on Regulation”. The directive asks regulators to:
...consider the impact of proposed regulations...on small businesses to ensure that [they] do not unnecessarily bear a disproportionate burden when complying with regulations.
To determine whether there are impacts on small businesses, regulators must apply what we refer to as the small business lens. If there are impacts, they must explain how they were factored into the regulatory design, as well as any flexibility that responds to small businesses' needs within the regulation. Flexibility can come in the form of delaying implementation, offering exemptions, reducing reporting frequency, etc. We find that about 20% of the time, there are impacts on small businesses when departments come forward with new regulatory proposals.
There is also a rule within the federal regulatory system that controls the administrative burden on businesses, known as the one-for-one rule. Established in policy in 2012 and under the in 2015, this rule requires that, for every new dollar of administrative burden imposed on businesses, a dollar must be removed. It also requires that for every new regulation that imposes a new administrative burden on businesses, a regulation must be repealed from the books. As of March 31, 2021, $60.5 million in net annualized reductions have been observed under the rule. There's also been a net reduction of 185 regulations.
Part of our role at TBS is to ensure that regulators are complying with these rules and to report annually on the application of the one-for-one rule. In addition, TBS leads the government's regulatory modernization effort to facilitate competitiveness, agility and innovation within the Canadian regulatory system and address inefficiency, while ensuring important protections for Canadians and the environment.
We have regulatory co-operation fora with the United States, the European Union and provinces and territories in order to reduce the regulatory differences across jurisdictions and remove barriers to trade. We lead thematic regulatory reviews to identify rules and practices that are creating bottlenecks to growth and innovation, and develop plans to address them. We host a centre for regulatory innovation that focuses on building capacity for regulators to design flexible regulations that enable new and innovative products to come to market. We have a regular TBS-sponsored legislative initiative that removes requirements that stand in the way of modernizing regulations.
In support of this agenda, a committee of stakeholders external to government advises the Treasury Board on ways to improve regulatory competitiveness in Canada and promote excellence, growth and innovation. The committee most recently recommended that the government take a practical approach to help regulators assess the impact of regulations on competitiveness. We commissioned the OECD to learn about what other countries are doing to understand these impacts. The OECD report was clear. Each country has its own approach, and there is no standardized way to measure regulatory competitiveness.
Following on this, we've taken our external advisory committee's approach and are consulting with stakeholders on a draft tool designed to be a practical self-assessment checklist to help unearth potential competitiveness impacts that are top of mind to Canadian businesses as regulatory proposals come forward.
The recommendations made by the external committee are consistent with what we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and by monitoring how our regulatory policy compares to other top countries, exposing key opportunities and challenges.
First, while we rank third in the OECD, stakeholder engagement isn't working for everyone. Modernization requires more frequent and meaningful consultation with stakeholders. However, we are hearing that many stakeholders are experiencing consultation fatigue and lack the capacity, knowledge and resources necessary to contribute effectively. This challenge also contributes to a lack of diverse representation.
Second, businesses are concerned with the impact of the cumulative regulatory burden on competitiveness. This issue is significant, yet complex. It implicates the federal government, provinces, municipalities and international regulations. There are no recognized ways to objectively measure cumulative burden or to compare it across jurisdictions. There's a real need for better regulatory data to help search for, identify and address this cumulative burden efficiently.
Third, regulators could make better use of digital solutions and embrace user-centred approaches to improve service delivery. Simply put, being responsive to Canadians demands new ways of working with a focus on digitalization.
Fourth, while the one-for-one rule controls the creation of new burdens, the burden that lies in existing regulations is not getting enough attention. Canada ranks sixth place in the OECD's regulatory policy ranking on post-implementation review, a fact that reinforces the need to improve the way we examine the existing regulatory stock to ensure it is relevant and performing as intended.
Finally, while there is greater demand for agility in regulation, for example, by incorporating standards by reference, stakeholders also require predictable regulatory regimes in which to operate, and there is a tension in finding the right balance between these opposing objectives, agility and predictability.
As we look to address these challenges, I welcome the insights this committee can offer about ways the regulatory system can be more responsive to small and medium-sized enterprises, and support regulatory efficiency and competitiveness more broadly while maintaining Canada's high standards for health, safety, security and environmental stewardship.
I would be pleased to expand upon these points I've raised and to answer your questions, Mr. Chair.
Yes. Thank you for the question.
Indeed, I would refer to the temporary to permanent immigration stream, which was particularly useful during the border closures last year in being able to retain those temporary workers, particularly in essential occupations, and for students and graduates in being able to apply for permanent residence and remain in Canada.
I would mention as well some of the thinking we're doing in terms of targeting our economic immigration to meet the needs of the labour market. As was recently introduced in the Senate, our amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act permit the minister, upon consultation and in order to achieve an economic goal, to be able to conduct category-based rounds within express entry. What this essentially means is that, to provide more specificity in pinpointing and selecting those with particular attributes, including particular occupations, it's inviting them to apply for permanent residence in express entry.
I'd like to thank the witness for his presentation, which was very instructive.
My question will be for the representatives of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
In the July 10, 2021, issue of the Canada Gazette, we learned that the department was doing all sorts of verifications in connection with the labour market impact assessment, or LMIA, process. Contrary to what we might think, a lot of inspections are done that have absolutely nothing to do with making sure that no Canadian can do the work of an immigrant. Over 47,200 enterprises are small enterprises, and each of them is having to deal with the difficulties and delays involved in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This doesn't make sense.
The government is simply passing the costs of inspections associated with the LMIA process off to enterprises. It is certainly possible to do things differently and not make the enterprises cover the costs associated with the delays it causes. While applications pile up in offices, billions of dollars in revenue are slipping through our fingers.
Representatives of Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters testified before the committee and told us that revenue lost by businesses amounted to almost $18 billion. However, there is nothing in the LMIA process that prevents things from being done differently once immigrants arrive here.
Do you think suspending the LMIA process could be considered, at least for applications concerning workers in Quebec?
I'm happy to hear there is a desire to take action to reduce the delays in processing times. I would still like it if you could submit a report for Quebec, to include a table with the number of LMIA applications filed in all months in 2020, 2021, and, if possible, 2022, the number of decisions made, the number of positive and negative responses, and the number of suspended decisions. Then I would like the reasons why those LMIAs were refused in Quebec to be shown, with the number of refusals for those years and for each of those reasons.
In addition, given the labour shortage, which also seems to be affecting federal government departments, I would like it if you could submit a report on LMIA cases in Quebec that includes a table showing the number of employees who worked on examining LMIA applications in 2020 and 2021, the average time each employee spent on a case, and the number of cases that the department believes an employee should assess each week. I think that would help us understand why the process is so slow.
In addition, Ottawa's refusal to transfer the LMIA process to Quebec is purely political, in my opinion, and the federal government is making businesses in Quebec pay the price. There is nothing in the LMIA process that Quebec is not capable of doing and is not already doing through the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail. Obviously the federal government can issue the work permits and do the security checks. Those are its only responsibilities.
Why not recognize the labour market information, the LMI, and avoid these pointless duplications that result in wasted time and money for our SMEs, particularly if it would enable you to put your energy into other equally essential matters?
Thank you, witnesses, for being here on a Friday.
I come from Windsor, Ontario, a border city, so my first question is going to be for Immigration.
Obviously, in a border city, especially with the volume of traffic—about 40,000 vehicles per day and about 40% of Canada's daily trade by land and rail come through here—we get a lot of refugees, especially during times when bodies in the United States try to push them outside their country, including some of the companies that were hired to actually move them from Florida and other places.
We also have a college, St. Clair College, and the University of Windsor, which use international students as part of the base for their educational systems. They come in from all over the world and are actively recruited.
We also have some of the highest numbers of temporary foreign workers in Canada, as does the area just outside my region. Some people live here and then travel every single day to work on mushroom farms and other types of greenhouses and agricultural industries.
We also have a shortage of skilled labour in the manufacturing sector. My office has already opened thousands of inquiries about immigration. About 30 to 40 per day come in here to us, so my question is this: How strategically wise was it to close the immigration office in the city of Windsor to the public and to those persons? How strategic was that and when will that be reviewed?
That's fair enough. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's a very serious issue. That's why I listed off the challenges here. The infrastructure exists and is still owned or being rented by the federal government. The employees are still in there, and people are being turned away.
The other question I have is that, since we have a shortage of labour, how strategic is it for someone....? For example, I have a single mom who is waiting for her humanitarian case to be completed. She is working with no problems, convictions or issues with regard to the Canadian economy and she is a taxpayer. She's being deported before her case can be appealed or reviewed, which will deprive us of another skilled person in the community in the health care system.
How strategic is it to deport people who are trying to get Canadian citizenship—and who are in active employment, when there are shortages in workplaces—before we finalize the decision about their citizenship in Canada?
I know I'm out of time, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank you. I'm not trying to be difficult, but I have a full-time caseworker dedicated to immigration alone in this office for the public. The seriousness of the situation is so bad. The government is now only allowing us to have five emails a day for inquiries, and then after that we have to go on the phones and put a staffer on there for hours, waiting on the line. This is a real thing that's happening.
In the cases I mentioned, we have to turn around every single day, because we get five emails allowed for contact per day. It's something that's not helpful for business, the community and, obviously, the people who we're serving.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being with us today. It is always good to debate issues that affect Canadians. Today we are talking, more specifically, about small businesses.
As members of Parliament, we are all being approached by entrepreneurs for help. Everyone is aware that we currently have a major problem in our economy that directly affects all small businesses: the labour shortage. No wave of a magic wand can solve this problem. As well, there is no single fact that can explain the labour shortage, and the problem exists around the world. However, there are things that can be done to accelerate certain processes.
Today, we have with us representatives of a number of organizations and departments: the Competition Bureau, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
The subject I would like to address with the witnesses involves the representatives of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration more directly.
I think that all my colleagues, whatever their political allegiance, are having to deal with two main problems in their constituency offices. The first relates to passport applications and the second to immigration applications.
This week, Isabelle Turcotte-Genest, the constituency assistant who does a remarkable job in the constituency I represent, waited five hours and 20 minutes before she was able to speak with an officer to deal with a passport case. I have no doubt that my colleagues have all had cases like this in their own constituencies.
On the question of immigration, I'd like to address certain specific cases, but I will start with a case I learned about this morning. Walking on Parliament Hill to get to the West Block, where we are now, I happened on two tourists from Switzerland who were looking for some information. I introduced myself to them and we chatted a bit. It turned out that they had come to Canada to visit their son. He had obtained a visa and had come to discover the beauty and charm of our country, as many people do.
Why am I telling you this? You will understand shortly. Their son arrived on September 29, 2021, with a tourist visa that he has to renew every six months. Since Canada is a very welcoming country, the young man met his soulmate. That's good news. He also found a job, which is also a good thing. His employer wasn't a little neighbourhood restaurant, it was the Fairmont hotel chain. He was ready to work, but since he didn't have a work permit, he put his application in on November 9 of last year. He provided his biometric data and everything went well. But he has never received an answer to his application.
His work permit application was submitted on November 9, 2021, and seven months later, he still has not received an answer from the Immigration Department. Not only does he want to work, but he has also been selected by an employer, and not just any employer. He wants to settle here. His family has come to see him. All the ingredients for success are present. He is missing only one thing: efficiency on the part of the government of Canada.
My question is a bit blunt, but I will ask it anyway, since there are representatives of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration here today.
How is it that Canada, a G7 country, that employs hundreds of thousands of people, is not capable of handling a case like this, a case in which the person has all the necessary ingredients for success?
Thank you for the question.
Without any further knowledge about that case, I can speak in generality and reiterate what I said before unreservedly. Some of the delays with respect to processing temporary and permanent resident authorizations are unfortunate. We're working very hard to expedite those and return back to the processing time standards. While we're starting to come out the other end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic itself caused several challenges to offices, particularly where paper files were necessary and individuals couldn't go into the office, but also with respect to border restrictions. Right now the department is working hard and, based on the $85 million provided as part of the budget, is trying to return to those processing times.
With respect to client interaction, while the case that was raised by the member is, again, unfortunate, in terms of the client call centre, some of the innovations, including callback features, are meant to provide better client service to individuals. As well, the department is working on other client service tools, which would include things like being able to track one's application. Many of these are features that one would expect to be built into the platform modernization process that's being undertaken by the department.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I want to thank our witnesses for coming today.
The focus of this study, or the main piece, is around enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs. I have some questions for the Competition Bureau as well as IRCC and StatsCan.
First, to the Competition Bureau, we've heard reports of international shipping companies gouging shipping costs or prices in the last two years. We've seen a sharp increase of anywhere between $3,000 to $4,000 U.S. all the way to $20,000 U.S. Are you aware of this phenomenon? What's your understanding of the situation and the cause of these sharp increases?
I'd like to turn to the officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. Perhaps Mr. Somogyvari can answer my question.
Let's look at some statistics, specifically with regard to applications for study permits at Quebec's French-language universities. In 2015, the refusal rate for study permits at Quebec universities was around 30%. Today, it's 52% for francophone universities, compared to 33% elsewhere in Canada. There is a 20% gap between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
For Quebec universities in the regions, the refusal rate is between 60% and 80%, depending on the country of origin of applicants. As for English-language universities in Quebec, McGill University has a rate of only 9%, versus 23% at Concordia University and 27% at Bishop's University.
At Cégep de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the refusal rate is 75%. In the field of vocational training, it can be as high as 95% for foreign students that are not from France.
Can you reassure me and say that there is no deliberate discrimination against Quebec or French-speaking countries in the case processing measures announced?
I'd like to thank the honourable member for the question.
With respect to the approval rates for international students destined to Quebec versus destined to the rest of Canada, our department is always reviewing ways to address Quebec's concerns about approval rates for international students. In 2021, of all students who declared English or French as an official language, 57% of those destined to Quebec declared French.
When comparing the approval rates for students with French as a declared language, they're very similar: 41% to Quebec and 40% to the rest of Canada. This also holds true for the approval rate between the declared language for French and English students destined to Quebec. The overall approval rate for students destined to Quebec is 41%, and it's about 62% for the rest of Canada.
So, there is discrimination based on the country of origin.
Let's talk about the Quebec Acceptance Certificate, or CAQ. In 2019, 12,182 certificates were issued to students of Algerian origin. Of these, only 2,679 students were granted a study permit. For Tunisian students, the refusal rate rose from 33% in 2016 to 50% in 2020.
Why is this? There are statistics for France, but there are many other countries as well. Francophone universities in the regions clearly count on the influx of foreign students, especially as a strategy to address labour shortages there.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank the honourable member for the question.
Our department is committed to addressing low visa issuance and study permit approval rates for those from French-speaking countries in Africa and elsewhere to support Quebec's immigration plan and Canada's competitive edge.
As the said, we are taking measures to address unconscious bias and to ensure consistency in decision-making. All decision-makers processing applications from Africa have completed Government of Canada training to recognize and counter unconscious bias. We're reviewing immigration program outcomes to identify all institutional mechanisms that contribute to any inequitable outcomes for clients to further mitigate against bias.
We've also made efforts to attract eligible students in Africa and to increase acceptance rates by engaging in outreach to those partners as well as at public events. Our IRCC offices located in Africa participate in events, such as EduCanada and ÉduQuébec, and regularly host webinars to help explain the study permit application process and requirements.
I'm going to ask this of the Competition Bureau. One of the larger complaints we get from smaller SMEs is in regard to the fees for transactions for credit cards and Interac, as well as the inability to negotiate good rates. There have been high-profile disturbances in the system in the United States involving Costco and credit cards and Walmart and so forth, using their kind of purchasing power.
What needs to change in Canada? Has there been a review of this on our side? The rates seem to be.... I guess, for lack of a better analysis, if you don't have competition, you really are just going to have collusion by default. I'm wondering whether there's been any review of that. That's one large thing.
I actually asked the BDC whether they've considered credit card processing fees. They said they did 10 years ago, but they didn't really give us much of a robust answer. They followed up with the same kind of response—that they did look at that but that was all. They didn't even give us any details, so I'll have to see if we can get those.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for joining us today.
I would like to start with Statistics Canada.
Last month, the committee heard testimony from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. We had Ms. Corinne Pohlmann from the CFIB join us. She noted that almost 90% of small business owners surveyed said, “excessive regulations add significant stress to their lives, and almost two-thirds would not advise their children to start a business given the burden of regulations.”
I was wondering. Does Statistics Canada have a way to measure the cost of regulation and over-regulation on small businesses? If so, what were your findings?
It depends on the program. With respect to permanent residents, to provide an example, within our express entry program—which is skilled workers, the experience class, skilled trades and a portion of the provincial nominee programs—our service standards are six months in 80% of cases following the receipt of a full application.
Now, given some of the delays I've explained and some of the backlogs that were created during COVID, we're not at those processing times. We're well behind, and we're aware of this. With respect to express entry, however, it is our goal that once we reopen invitations under the express entry program, which is slated for July, we'll be able to return to a six-month standard for those applications and continue to work through the existing inventory of applications already received.
With respect to the issuance of work permits, similarly, the standard is 60 days. We're currently not at that standard, but we're working to get back to that standard as quickly as we can.
If you'd like more information, I might be able to turn to my colleague. Have I answered your question?
Thank you, Chair, very much. We don't mind taking questions.
With respect to trades, in fact we do have the federal skilled trades program. This is within express entry. Due to efforts to calibrate our intake to our output, the intake of federal skilled trades has been on pause, but if we look back to prior to the pause, if we look back to 2019, we would actually do separate federal skilled trades invitation rounds to ensure that those who were qualified in the trades program could be invited to apply for permanent residence. As I mentioned before, in July we'll be reopening express entry.
Also, I must say that quite a few tradespeople come in not within the federal skilled trades program but in programs such as the Canada experience class and the federal skilled worker class. I believe the percentage, although my colleague can correct me, was close to 40% of those qualified in trades within express entry were, in fact, coming in through those programs. There are several avenues.
As well, I would mention, as I said before, through the provincial nominee program, which not only has streams that can basically bring in tradespeople and tradespeople with employment, they could do so within the context of their particular regional or provincial labour market.
Thanks for the question.
In fact, the international student program is demand-driven, so there is no cap on applications for study permits per se.
It's demand-driven and, in fact, moreover, they do tend to, in very large numbers, apply for permanent residence through express entry, often based on their ability to find work through a post-graduate work permit thereafter.
To answer the question directly, there are no caps on the intake of international students. Many of them reside in residence as well.
Mr. van Raalte, last spring the committee conducted a study on competitiveness in Canada. In June 2021, parliamentarians took part in a historic vote on a bill that later received royal assent. By the end of June, it'll have been a year since this historic vote took place. By passing Bill , parliamentarians corrected a tax injustice long-tolerated within the federal government. The bill grants small businesses, particularly family farms and fishing corporations, the same tax rate on the sale of their business whether it is sold to a family member or to a third party.
However, on June 30 and July 19, 2021, the issued a press release announcing her intention to delay the entry into force of these changes until January 1, 2022, due to concerns with the wording of the bill. It is now June and there has been no update. Ms. Freeland committed to providing further clarification, yet when we asked her about the matter at the Standing Committee on Finance, she was unable to provide an answer.
Can you tell us if you have any clarification on the implementation of this legislation? People are awaiting news. When will that happen?
First off, I'd just acknowledge that, yes, foreign credential recognition is an issue, and it can be a barrier for the integration of newcomers and to having newcomers working in their chosen occupations, especially in regulated occupations that represent roughly 20% of all occupations.
IRCC works really closely with the leads at Employment and Social Development Canada, and, in turn, we work with the provinces and territories—either through them or their devolved regulatory agencies that have primary oversight over regulated occupations. Having said that, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has recently taken strides to provide more, I would say, pre-arrival or pre-landing information and pathfinding to newcomers so that they're aware of what the rules are before they come to Canada and, in some cases, are able to start the pathway towards accreditation.
Then, lastly, in budget 2022, there was $115 million over five years starting in 2022 and 2023, and $30 million ongoing to expand ESDC's foreign credential recognition program and expand supports, particularly to train health professionals. Again, just to recap, it is an issue, and we're quite aware of it. We're working to resolve it with provincial and territorial partners and ESDC.
Thank you to the witnesses for joining us today.
I want to go backwards to touch on a few items that have been raised and go a little bit deeper on them.
The first is the question on the limit of hours per week for foreign students. I guess I was a little disappointed to hear that there doesn't appear to be any ongoing or current discussion at IRCC about changing that 20-hour limit. There are a couple of reasons. I don't think it's the role of government to act like a parent to foreign students to protect their study time when they're largely adults and are asking, very articulately and clearly, to have those hours increased so that they can meet the growing cost of education and the cost of living. Also, in the midst of a labour crisis there are people who really need to be hiring, and hiring those students. There are job vacancies, as we've heard.
I just want to put on the record for our committee that I think it would be very appropriate for a finding of this study to include a recommendation to amend that 20-hour limit or to eliminate it entirely.
I don't know if IRCC wants to add anything to that or if I misheard. Is there currently anything going on to look at that figure?
Thank you very much for that.
I'm going to switch gears now to another thing that was already raised, which is the business of working from home, working remotely.
In many cities in Canada, primarily the provincial capitals, there's a large concentration of public sector employees, including federal employees, who are in part responsible for the health of the SME ecosystem in the downtowns, keeping restaurants busy, galleries open and dry cleaners going. This is evident in Ottawa and evident in my hometown of Halifax. Buildings are sitting empty, and restaurants are sitting half full.
I understand that much of the decision-making on whether or not people are asked to return to work in person is devolved to the regional director level or managerial level, but I want to hear from each of the four offices that are represented today. Is there any centralized program from the top down, not devolved to regional, to get people back—the word on the street is “bums back in seats”—to activate the SMEs?
Maybe I'll just start with IRCC. Is there anything happening centrally?
I'd like to make the same heartfelt plea to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration regarding the urgent need to do something about access to services in the regions. In my riding of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the issue is extremely critical. It's important that Service Canada offices be able to respond to immigration-related requests. This is an essential need for the people who come here and for our businesses.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has called on Immigration and Citizenship Canada to address the many barriers faced by applicants from French-speaking Africa. The refusal rates for study permits, which are issued by Ottawa, have soared in Quebec in recent years. The refusal rate for students from Algeria, the Republic of Congo, Togo, Senegal and Cameroon is as high as 80% or more.
A number of institutions welcome foreign students. This gives them greater financial flexibility and, in some regions, it ensures their survival. In my riding, over 50% of our students come from abroad.
Why are we seeing this high refusal rate? Could visa officers' decisions be biased? According to the report, IRCC employees have had to deal with problems like this.
What can be done about this, practically? The problem isn't that more time is needed to process applications, it's the high number of refusals.
I want to thank all of the witnesses for making themselves available on this beautiful Friday afternoon.
Beyond that, on behalf of the entire committee, thank you for your service to Canadians.
Thanks to all members and to the analysts.
Thank you to the interpreters, the clerks, and the support staff.
I wish you all a great weekend. Take care of yourselves.
The meeting is adjourned.