Evidence of meeting #11 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was health.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jean-François LaRue  Director General, Labour Market Integration, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
  • Brendan Walsh  Director, Foreign Qualification Recognition, Foreign Credentials Referral Office, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Margo Craig Garrison  Director, Health Human Resources Policy Division, Department of Health
  • Jonathan Wells  

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

I call the meeting to order.

In the first hour we will go through a number of witnesses from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, and the Department of Health. I gather each will be making a presentation.

Thank you very much for taking the time to appear before this committee. As you know, each of you will present, and then we'll have rounds of five minutes from each of the parties for questioning.

We've heard a fair bit of testimony over the last while. You may or may not have had the opportunity to be aware of the testimony. If you have any comments in that regard, feel free to make them. I'm sure someone will be asking about some of the recommendations, and so on.

Mr. LaRue.

3:35 p.m.

Jean-François LaRue Director General, Labour Market Integration, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Chair and distinguished members of this committee, on behalf of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, I would like to express my appreciation once again for this opportunity to contribute to your study on foreign credential recognition.

I am Jean-François LaRue, director general of the labour market integration directorate and with me is Mr. Jonathan Wells, director of operations.

Foreign credential recognition is a multi-dimensional issue requiring actions from a number of stakeholders and key federal departments. Over the years HRSDC has made significant progress in this area because of the active involvement of Health Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. As you know, each department has developed a specific expertise that is fundamental to strengthening foreign credential recognition systems in Canada.

Mr. Chair, the witnesses that have testified before the committee represent a broad range of occupations. Despite the economic slowdown, many of them have indicated that they are either currently facing a shortage of skilled workers, or will be in the very near future due to Canada's aging society. The shortage of workers is and will continue to be felt by employers across many sectors.

As a result, our country will rely more and more on internationally trained individuals and Canadians trained abroad to fill these gaps. When I refer to these two groups of individuals, I often refer to internationally trained workers. These individuals have the skills, knowledge, and capacity to contribute to the success of businesses and the social fabric of Canada. The competition for top talent is also intensifying across countries, and those that can best meet their needs and interests will succeed in tomorrow's economy.

You will have noticed over the last few weeks that occupations are at very different stages of improving their FCR processes. Some of them are making first steps, such as conducting diagnostic and environmental scans, while others are more advanced in this work and are creating national assessment processes and developing online tools.

I mention this to reinforce the fact that overcoming systemic foreign trade recognition, or FCR, barriers is an ongoing, evergreen task that requires the sustained efforts of all players and cannot happen overnight. It requires the willingness and open mind of all stakeholders to consider a slightly different, or even a completely new way of doing business.

The Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications has been instrumental in fostering these ongoing partnerships with stakeholders. Over the last two years, focused work on targeted priority occupations has resulted in much progress, including building FCR capacity among regulatory bodies, facilitating national coordination, and helping individuals with pre-arrival information.

For this reason, it is important that we continue fostering these relationships and encouraging stakeholders to streamline their FCR processes. We are exploring with provincial and territorial governments ways to extend the framework beyond 2012, to maintain the current momentum and to adequately respond to future labour market needs.

Even though much progress has been made by stakeholders across many occupations, barriers still exist. Witnesses highlighted some of the areas where they think additional support from governments would make a significant difference. These messages have been consistent with those we heard in national consultations with occupations targeted under the framework. I would now like to take a few minutes to touch on some of them.

You heard about the critical importance that skilled trades play to our economy and the looming skills shortages we're facing. As you know, apprenticeship and trade certification is a provincial and territorial responsibility, with multiple approaches. This means 13 different systems, over 300 regulated trades, and a complex mix of compulsory and non-compulsory trades. In the trade occupations, the Red Seal endorsement, currently available in 52 trades, represents a standard of excellence, as it ensures mobility and the recognition of the qualifications of certified tradespersons. The Red Seal is managed by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship, CCDA, which brings together the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to develop national standards and examinations for the skilled trades, in collaboration with industry. HRSDC is currently working with the CCDA to look at how best to apply the framework to the skilled trade occupations.

In addition, over the past two years the CCDA has been exploring an expanded range of competency-based methods for assessing individuals, beyond the current multiple-choice exam, through the multiple assessment pathways pilot project. This expanded range of assessment tools and methodologies could provide an effective way to assess a broader range of candidates, including internationally trained individuals, for whom a written assessment may create a barrier to certification unrelated to their level of competency.

Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission, with funding from the FCR program, recently commissioned a study to better understand how the credentials and trade experience of internationally trained individuals in the Red Seal trades are assessed and recognized across the country. This study resulted in a number of recommendations that will be considered by the CCDA to improve the FCR and work experience for the skilled trades.

While many witnesses discussed the successful outcomes of bridging programs, they've also confirmed that their sustainability is very challenging. As you know, these programs bring together key stakeholders to assess skills and competencies and to deliver short, intense training to fill the gaps. Most importantly, they limit the need for internationally trained individuals to redo education and training completed abroad, which in turn speeds up their integration into the Canadian labour market.

HRSDC has already made several investments in bridging programs, the most recent being announced just last Wednesday by Minister Finley. The FCR program is funding the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants project, “Learning Assessment and Bridging Programs for Internationally Trained Accountants”. Not only is this project going to create an online tool to assess foreign education and work experience, it will also create customized bridging programs to help foreign-trained accountants complete any additional courses and exams they may need to become accredited in Canada. This will help internationally trained accountants find jobs faster in their field.

The development of mutual recognition agreements, or MRAs, is another area that witnesses highlighted as being important for government to continue to support. These agreements can help speed up the integration of internationally trained individuals, even before they leave their home country, as they prevent additional and duplicative FCR assessments upon arrival in Canada.

HRSDC supports stakeholders in this area, as per the recently announced project with the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education. This organization will hold a workshop with over 40 Canadian regulators and professional associations that will focus on the development and management of MRAs with other countries. This workshop will demonstrate the success that stakeholders have had with these agreements, identify best practices, and hopefully encourage other occupations to pursue the development of additional MRAs.

Witnesses have also described to you that many internationally trained individuals have difficulty paying for the tuition and other training costs associated with the FCR process. Witnesses have called upon government to find ways to support these individuals, as these costs can be prohibitively expensive for some, especially for an internationally trained individual who lacks the credit history to secure the necessary loans to cover tuition and other training costs.

I would like to take a moment to remind the committee that budget 2011 announced a complementary financial assistance pilot project. This pilot will test ways to help internationally trained individuals to cover costs associated with the FCR process, and will determine the extent to which governments can play a role in this area.

As we move forward to address these challenges, we will continue to carefully consider where to invest next. Ensuring that we have better data to support evaluation and reporting needs will be one of our focuses in the months to come. Witnesses have described their difficulties in collecting and tracking data to measure progress as these individuals go through the FCR process. This is in part due to the large number of players that are involved in the process and the uneven practices in collecting data. One good example of best practice is the work of one of the witnesses you received, the Manitoba fairness commissioner, Ms. Ximena Munoz.

With those considerations in mind, we are working with provincial and territorial governments to improve our ability to measure the framework's performance. This will enable us to broaden our knowledge and understanding of the challenges faced by internationally trained individuals and enhance our ability to invest in the areas that will make the biggest impact.

I have highlighted only some of the many areas where the FCR program has helped these stakeholders improve their FCR process. I have also only touched on some of the areas where continued investment from government can make a significant difference to help internationally trained individuals to overcome FCR barriers.

To conclude, and this is really important, I would like to re-emphasize that in recent years the framework has been instrumental in providing stakeholders with opportunities they may not have had otherwise. As many witnesses have clearly indicated, we do have the right approach. Given these achievements and remaining challenges, the federal government must continue to work with key stakeholders to maintain momentum. I look forward to the recommendations of the committee in this regard.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

Who will be presenting next?

Mr. Walsh, go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Brendan Walsh Director, Foreign Qualification Recognition, Foreign Credentials Referral Office, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My name is Brendan Walsh. I am the director of foreign qualification recognition of the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, or FCRO, at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. I am here today on behalf of the FCRO's acting director general, Ms. Natasha Pateman, who spoke to this committee in early October.

I want to thank the committee for inviting federal officials back to speak further about the complexities of foreign credential recognition, or FCR, in Canada and I am pleased to answer additional questions that you may have.

In my remarks today, I will provide additional information related to some of the points and suggestions raised by some of the witnesses. As you will see, in many instances, CIC is already moving forward on suggested improvements.

As you may already know, it is the mandate of CIC to build a stronger Canada by developing policies, programs, and services that facilitate the arrival of people and their integration in a way that maximizes their contribution to this country. In line with the department's mandate, the FCRO focuses on working with individuals overseas by supporting the development of pre-arrival tools and services that provide needed information and that begin some of the licensure processes overseas. The FCRO is uniquely positioned within CIC's mandate and legislation to reach out to immigrants early via CIC'c immigration system and to support their labour market integration through the department's responsibility for the settlement and integration of newcomers.

Some witnesses specifically mentioned the Canadian immigrant integration program, or CIIP, the program that the FCRO funds with the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. You will recall that this program consists of a two-day orientation session.

I want to take a moment to clarify the reach of this CIIP program. You may recall that CIIP services are offered in the Philippines, China, India, and the United Kingdom, with satellite services available to Southeast Asia, northern Europe, and the Persian Gulf. By locating the CIIP in these service delivery points, which are Canada's highest immigration source countries, the program can potentially reach 70% of federal skilled worker applicants and 44% of provincial nominee applicants.

It is important to note that although the CIIP is a voluntary program for Canadian immigrants, it is reaching its targets. During the course of the contribution agreement 2010 through 2013, the CIIP is planning to serve a total of 13,326 immigrants. The evaluation of the CIIP will help to determine the feasibility of further program expansion after the contribution funding ends in 2013.

Mr. Chair, as noted in my remarks, which I have shared with this committee, the FCRO develops a number of information products and online tools that help internationally trained individuals understand the foreign recognition processes of Canada while they are in their country of origin and that also help other key stakeholders such as employers.

In the interest of time and to allow for more questions, I would ask the committee to please refer to my remarks for further detail about some of these FCRO information products. However, I would like to underscore that FCRO products such as An essential workbook for newcomers, our 24 occupation-specific fact sheets, and the Employer's Roadmap to Hiring and Retaining Internationally Trained Workers are meeting a real need by providing tangible, helpful information and advice. The number of downloads for all of these products is reaching now the one-million mark.

Mr. Chair, in addition to the information products that we provide, the FCRO also promotes discussion and information sharing among stakeholders who are responsible for assessing, licensing, and hiring internationally trained individuals. Launching this winter, the International Qualifications Network, or IQN, will provide a one-stop information site for FCR activities for employers, governments, immigrant-serving organizations, regulatory bodies, and academics to share new approaches and best practices.

Some of the witnesses who have appeared before this committee called for more federal leadership or new national initiatives to address FCR-related challenges. At CIC, we are always interested in hearing about new ideas and solutions from stakeholders, as we look forward to hearing the recommendations from this committee.

However, it is worth noting that, in many areas, the authority to make concrete improvements lies with provincial and territorial governments, especially if those changes concern provincially mandated professional regulatory bodies. That is why it is so important that all orders of government continue to work closely together to achieve progress through, for example, the pan-Canadian framework.

Part of CIC's specific mandate is to facilitate the integration of immigrants into Canada. The products and services provided by FCRO support CIC's mandate and are an example of how each of the three federal departments engaged in FCR activities has a unique contribution to make. There is a clear link between immigrants' ability to have their international education and experience recognized and how successful they will be in the labour market.

In the context of Minister Kenney's recent work to modernize Canada's federal skilled worker program, having the FCRO located within CIC has allowed us to work closely with other parts of the department to ensure that FCR issues and challenges are reflected and addressed through departmental policies and operations.

In closing, both CIC and the FCRO remain committed to improving the labour market integration and outcomes for internationally trained individuals. The FCRO will continue to support projects and develop tools that help internationally trained individuals begin the credential recognition process overseas so they can come to Canada and, to the extent possible, hit the ground running.

The FCRO will continue to work with federal partners at HRSDC and Health Canada, as well as provinces and territories and various stakeholders, to improve and streamline FCRO processes. When newcomers to Canada succeed in finding commensurate employment that allows them to put their skills and training to work quickly, we all succeed.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for those insightful comments.

Is there going to be a presentation from Health Canada?

Ms. Craig Garrison, is it? Go ahead.

3:50 p.m.

Margo Craig Garrison Director, Health Human Resources Policy Division, Department of Health

Good afternoon.

I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you again. In my previous remarks I provided a general overview of Health Canada’s internationally educated health professionals initiative. I would like to focus today on some of the successes that have resulted from our work and our role in foreign qualification recognition.

Health Canada has an important role to play in supporting improvements to foreign qualification recognition. Since 2005, when Health Canada started the initiative, progress has been made. We have expanded our focus from funding largely physician and nursing projects to several other professions, and from primarily assessment-focused projects to those that cross the integration pathway, from pathfinding information to entry into the health workforce.

Many of the activities and programs that address the needs of internationally educated health professionals go beyond the scope of labour and immigration ministries, and must also draw on the knowledge and expertise in health ministries. Health Canada has several avenues through which we work with our provincial and territorial counterparts on foreign qualification recognition. As a recent example, in 2010, through the Conference of Deputy Ministers of Health, an internationally educated health professionals task force was established to address shared issues.

Investments by Health Canada align with the themes identified to the committee by other presenters. These include improving competency assessment, supporting bridge training and orientation, and professional development for faculty working with the internationally educated. I would like to provide a few examples to illustrate this alignment.

To improve the assessment and recognition of international medical graduates’ foreign qualifications, Health Canada has supported the Medical Council of Canada to provide reliable, comparable information about candidates to program directors in faculties of medicine to use in their decision-making about entry into postgraduate residency programs. This is resulting in a more fair, transparent, and consistent process across jurisdictions.

To respond to a call for nationally standardized nursing bridging programs, Health Canada is supporting the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing to improve the quality and consistency of nursing bridging programs. This association is working with its provincial and territorial partners to develop a pan-Canadian framework of guiding principles and essential components for nursing bridging programs.

Helping to put in place the supports to assist internationally educated health professionals obtain the appropriate so-called soft skills is also an important focus of our work. Many of our projects support improvements to language, cultural awareness, and communication skills that are critical for interactions with patients, their families, and other health professionals. Improvements to these soft skills encourage successful integration into the workplace.

As an example of the work funded in this area, British Columbia’s communication and cultural awareness project tackles language barriers by expanding access to professional communication courses, and developing and implementing a course to assist supervisors identify and address communication challenges. Funding from Health Canada has allowed the province to build program components that are self-sustaining. Working closely with stakeholders, the Government of British Columbia is addressing these needs of internationally educated health professionals and employers across the province.

The role of faculty, supervisors or preceptors, and mentors in the provision of bridging programs is also well recognized. Health Canada has worked with the University of Toronto faculty of pharmacy to develop and deliver a training program that assists mentors and preceptors gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence required to effectively supervise international pharmacy graduates during their clinical training and assessment period. Preceptor training was provided to 146 pharmacists, 78% of whom subsequently indicated a willingness to take on internationally educated pharmacy students.

These examples provide only a partial picture of the investments Health Canada has made to improve foreign qualification recognition. Over the coming years Health Canada’s investments will address the gaps identified in the action plans developed with selected health professions as part of the implementation of the FQR framework. Our current work is focused on accelerating the assessment of physicians as one of the priority occupations for implementation.

I would like to conclude with a few general comments.

Health Canada acknowledges that the integration of internationally educated health professionals is a complex undertaking involving the mandates of numerous organizations. To this end, our work emphasizes the value of collaboration with many partners, including our federal partners, to expand the networks of organizations that are working to common purpose. Further, Health Canada collaborates with the provinces and territories to complement the significant work being undertaken in the jurisdictions.

Health Canada is committed to moving the FQR agenda forward, while recognizing the primary and key role of the jurisdictions in health, education, and training.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to speak to you today.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

We will go to our rounds of questioning.

We'll start with Ms. Crowder.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you very much. I'm actually going to split my time with Madame Perreault.

I want to thank the witnesses for coming.

I'm going to focus on one aspect.

Mr. LaRue, you pointed out in your presentation the difficulties in collecting and tracking data, which witnesses have highlighted.

I was fortunate enough to be at a presentation this morning by the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada. Their presentation was about IMGs and Canadians being treated abroad. In that presentation, they said that the single most important element we could pay attention to was support for evidence-informed health and human resources planning, which includes continued support for the national IMG database and broader support for a health human resources data and analysis centre.

I also want to point to a report from the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. It is a final project report from July 2008. There were a number of recommendations, but they talked about access to Canadian labour market information.

When you talk about collecting and tracking data, that's not in the larger context of labour market information and the kind of integrated, broad-range planning required not just for health and human services but for all occupations for when we're encouraging people from abroad.

Would you tell me what kind of labour market planning is happening right now around some of these key areas? That would include a gap analysis, looking at Canadians who could fill the jobs, looking at short-term plans for foreign recruitment, looking at timelines, and all of that kind of thing.

3:55 p.m.

Director General, Labour Market Integration, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Jean-François LaRue

Your question is very large. I mean, it speaks to--

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

You can send us a written response if you can't deal with it in the next 30 seconds.

3:55 p.m.

Director General, Labour Market Integration, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Jean-François LaRue

I would say that through the work of the pan-Canadian framework, we've targeted 14 priority occupations, as you know. For these 14 priority occupations, we have a commitment to governance and accountability.

Clearly, one of the things we're doing is trying to identify the sorts of data commonly collected by stakeholders that would prove to be useful, common indicators for the progress being made. That's certainly one aspect.

As part of our work in terms of planning, any time we have a priority occupation, there is a process. What we do is consult, because with those national occupations, we don't necessarily have the right assessment of the certifying process. There's a process of validation that occurs with any of those occupations on the target list.

Once we've validated that we understand clearly the pathway to certification, we develop action plans.The provincial and federal governments are in the room and the regulators are in the room. The reason is very simple: We want to make sure that we don't duplicate those investments we're going to make.

Those action plans identify three specific priorities for future investments for those particular occupations. Once those action plans are in place, we examine whether they meet their commitment for the one-year timeliness service standard.

Ultimately, we also have a task group as part of the federal-provincial committee that works on this. It ensures a follow-up, because once we've done the first set of priority occupations, we're not done. We're fully aware that this is an evergreen process, so we have the structures in place in terms of tracking this.

My answer has two dimensions. One is performance management and tracking information. The second is more on your focus on planning and the process we have in place in terms of working with the priority occupations.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Not exactly a 30-second response, but certainly a large question.

Go ahead. You still have one minute.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madame Perreault.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Go ahead.

4 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Good afternoon. Thank you for being here.

In 1989, Canada ratified the 1979 UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees concerning Higher Education in the States belonging to the Europe Region. The object of the convention was to foster the recognition of foreign degrees. A new convention, similar to the 1979 one, was adopted in 1997. Canada is one of 55 signatories, like a number of countries in Europe, as well as Australia and the United States. But Canada is one of four countries that still have not ratified the convention.

I have several questions. That was just for background.

Do you know why Canada has not ratified the convention? What would be the consequences for Canada of ratifying it? What would the implications be for post-secondary institutions and the regulatory bodies of those professions? As the representative of a branch of a department that deals with the recognition of the qualifications of foreign workers, do you think that ratifying the convention would be beneficial or nothing more than symbolic?