Evidence of meeting #16 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 forest.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Susanna Cluff-Clyburne  Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
  • Anne Argyris  Director, SME Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
  • John Pineau  Executive Director, Canadian Institute of Forestry
  • Rosemary Sparks  Executive Director, Construction Sector Council
  • Bev Buckway  Board Member, Mayor, City of Whitehorse, Yukon, Chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Northern and Remote Forum, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
  • Erin Hogan  Board Member, Councillor, City of Thompson, Manitoba, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

I see that Rodger Cuzner has arrived. That's a signal we can start now. But we'll give him a little bit of time, as I speak. I just have a couple of preliminary matters I want to raise with you before we start.

Visiting with us is a committee of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia, which is responsible for legislative work pertaining to higher education. They would like to obtain information on the correlation between the national policy framework for higher education and the university and college quality assurance processes in Canada. In particular, they want to meet with members of this committee to discuss topics related to the processes of quality assurance in post-secondary education. Of course, it's a bit of a provincial matter, but I'm sure they'll have other matters to ask us about.

That's going to happen on Thursday, December 8, at 11 o'clock on the seventh floor of this building. For those of you who can make it, that would be great. For those of you who can't, that's fine. I'll be here. Perhaps we'll also have the analysts here, as well as the clerk. The clerk will give you a formal invitation. I just wanted to raise that with you.

We'll also have a budget presented probably next week at our Tuesday or Thursday meeting, depending on when it's available, for this aspect of the study.

Those are my preliminary remarks.

Of course, our study deals with skills development in remote rural communities in an era of fiscal restraint. It was, in part, inspired by the report entitled “The Business Case for Investing in Canada's Remote Communities”, authored by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

We're happy to have with us today the director of policy for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the director of parliamentary relations. We have two panels. We will have either one of you or both of you present for five to ten minutes, and then we will have rounds of questioning of five minutes, alternating between the parties.

That being said, you can start your presentation.

3:30 p.m.

Susanna Cluff-Clyburne Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, honourable members, for this opportunity to be with you this afternoon.

My name is Susanna Cluff-Clyburne. I am the director of parliamentary affairs at the Canadian Chamber, and I wrote the paper we released in September entitled, “The Business Case for Investing in Canada's Remote Communities”.

I'm accompanied today by my colleague, Anne Argyris, who is the director of SME policy, skills, and immigration at the Canadian Chamber.

In a world with an increasing hunger for natural resources, the economic potential of Canada's remote communities is very much on the minds of Canada's businesses, governments, and community leaders.

Many remote communities face obstacles to attaining their potential, including distance from markets and the skilled workforce and critical infrastructure essential to business operations. An additional hurdle is the perception that public finances directed toward them are often considered to be subsidies rather than investments.

While governments must always be ready to play a role in the development of remote communities, looking at the challenges and opportunities of remote communities through a business lens can change the perception of subsidies, and more of Canada's remote communities can move closer to assuming equal economic footing with the rest of the country.

For that reason, GE Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce decided to work together to seek businesses' perspectives on what it takes to draw more sustainable private sector investment into remote communities.

During the first half of 2011, GE Canada conducted an extensive consultation process, hosting round tables with business people and community leaders in 11 locations across Canada. They also conducted an online survey. Altogether, they heard from approximately 500 stakeholders. At the same time, the Canadian Chamber reached out to members from our local chamber network and companies in the financial services, energy, mining, and construction sectors. We also spoke with other stakeholders, including those who manage infrastructure in remote communities, and with people representing remote communities during the planning, construction, and operation of major infrastructure projects.

We heard that after a business determines that a community offers a product or group of products for which there is a market, one of the first investment considerations is whether or not there is a skilled workforce available locally, or that can be attracted to the community.

Nearly all of GE's round table participants acknowledged the education issues in remote communities, and many raised per capita funding of education as a factor in the difficulties these regions face. When funding is geared to population size, a small community is at a disadvantage. In order to provide the kind of education that will equip people with the skills employers need and to attract business investment, new funding models need to be explored and pursued.

The quality and level of participation in education are often linked to the degree of social problems in a community. Ensuring a strong commitment to education will make a huge difference in a remote community. In addition, provincial curricula developed for urban areas may not address the needs of sectors and trades that are useful to remote communities. Building closer working relationships between governments and businesses in this area was seen to be a step in the right direction.

The common thread was that labour is a complex and often expensive component of doing business in a remote community. Many of those we spoke with suggested that public policies concerning education, training, and labour supply should be re-examined from the standpoint of ensuring their closer tailoring to the unique needs of remote communities.

As many of Canada' s remote communities are aboriginal, the failure of the education system to graduate aboriginal youth from secondary school and to give them the opportunity for post-secondary education and training are considerable barriers to economic development. As you all know, secondary school graduation or its equivalent is usually the minimal level of education required by employers.

There are complex reasons for why education and training programs fail to bring the desired outcomes. One is a lack of focus and flexibility rather than funding. Education and training programs developed to meet provincial, territorial, and--in the case of aboriginal programs--national goals may not be focused or flexible enough to meet the needs of residents of remote communities and their prospective employers.

In some remote communities, it may not be possible to offer on-site training; and mentoring programs may be the most effective way to convey the skills required for a particular type of employment. In communities where there is no prospect of a major extractive or construction project, training, perhaps delivered online, in skills that can be used to deliver services remotely--for example, accounting, or web and graphic design--might be more appropriate.

Often, there is no option for residents of remote communities other than to relocate, even temporarily, to an urban centre to obtain higher education and training. Governments need to do more to help people from these communities prepare for life in an urban setting. There needs to be effective transition support for those leaving remote communities to pursue studies in urban centres.

Private sector partners can help develop a skilled workforce. To quote GE' s report on its consultations, “...there may be a need for businesses and governments to work more closely together in planning education infrastructure, and perhaps in funding arrangements as well.”

Our paper mentions some best practices where government, business, and the community have worked successfully together with positive outcomes. Businesses themselves can play a significant role in developing a skilled workforce in remote communities by taking the time and making the effort to do more than what is legally required to consult with and engage local communities when planning, constructing, and operating major projects. Often, the knowledge gained from local communities can help projects proceed more quickly and inexpensively. Engaging communities early in a project can also provide the time required to leverage the potential of the local workforce.

While the challenges of bringing remote communities to their full economic potential can seem overwhelming, the opportunities for the communities themselves and for all Canadians are great. The private sector can play a significant role in making a reality what may seem unattainable if left to government alone.

Thank you. We would be happy to answer your questions.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

I take it that's the conclusion of your presentation, so we'll open it up to five-minute rounds of questioning, starting with Ms. Crowder.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I want to thank you very much for the presentation and for the very good report.

I want to touch on a couple of points. One is the issue of subsidies versus investment. I have a couple of quotes.

I'm going to specifically talk about British Columbia, but this is applicable to rural and remote communities across Canada. I don't have the numbers for other rural and remote communities, but there are two pieces here. One is an article that was done by a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia. He indicates that in British Columbia, rural and remote communities generate the bulk of export wealth. I oftentimes think people believe that large cities are the economic drivers in a province, but he has numbers here that indicate the bulk of B.C.'s export wealth, which is the key to the province's past, present and future success, derives from rural and remote communities.

Another presentation, done by Jock Finlayson, reminded people of two things. He was quoting a report on regions' contributions to B.C.'s economic base, and he says that B.C.'s “...economic base has historically been, currently is, and will likely continue to be...predominantly dependent upon rural and resource activities such as forestry, fishing, farming, mining [and energy production].” He pointed out that large cities actually benefit from rural and remote development because those resource firms purchase several billion dollars per year in business inputs from GVRD suppliers—the Greater Vancouver Regional District—such as engineering, legal and accounting, finance, advertising, and executive search firms, and so on.

I wonder if, in your round table and from your discussions with people, you have anything more quantitative to say about the economic contribution that rural and remote communities make to those large urban centres and the overall economy in Canada, and why it's important that the recommendations in your report be looked at quite seriously in terms of that piece around the economic drivers.

3:40 p.m.

Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Susanna Cluff-Clyburne

The reports you've cited are consistent with what we heard both from the round tables that GE conducted and from the outreach that I did on behalf of the Canadian Chamber. It was pretty clear that the collective well-being of the country depends on our ability to think of remote communities differently from the way that most, but not all, Canadians think of them today.

There is a great deal of data in the first part of the report that talks about the contribution to the Canadian economy of the natural resource sector. I can go digging for it, but that probably wouldn't be a productive use of everyone's time.

What makes compelling the arguments about looking at remote communities differently is the fact that the natural resources the world is beating a path to our door for are becoming more and more difficult to retrieve easily, so remote communities are becoming more and more important. We have to go looking farther and farther afield for these natural resources. That is very much consistent with our perspective.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Looking at the list of recommendations helpfully summarized at the back of the report, does this whole list, in your view, have to be implemented as a package? I know the steps might be staged. If not, are there some priorities you would set out of that list of recommendations?

3:40 p.m.

Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Susanna Cluff-Clyburne

The simple answer to your question is no, they do not have to be implemented all at once.

The basic premise of the paper was that there is some work to be done by the government in research, analysis, and communication around remote communities, and we realize that is a very long-term commitment. The recommendations in the paper are shorter-term measures that we believe the federal government could take, working either alone or with the provinces and territories, and with business, of course, given that's our constituency, to move some of these issues ahead.

I would say, from our perspective, if there were priorities they would probably be on the skills and training side, because there's obviously a lot of spillover from skills and training into a lot of other social issues in remote communities.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

On the skills and training end, of course your report and others also identified the challenges of providing education and training in rural and remote communities. One problem you identified was the per capita funding formulas. I know that in first nations communities, especially on-reserve communities, it's an enormous problem, because they're underfunded on a per capita basis compared to provincial schools.

The other issue is that even getting people to graduate from grade 12 to take advantage of post-secondary educations is an enormous challenge for many of these communities, because they simply don't have the infrastructure around education. I know you've touched on some of that, but in your actual report, a lot of what you've touched on seems to be post-grade 12. Do you have any recommendations around contributing to graduating students from grade 12, aside from the per capita funding issue?

3:45 p.m.

Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Susanna Cluff-Clyburne

Well, it's interesting you should mention that, because we also did a submission to the first nations panel on elementary and secondary education, and we did have some recommendations around that. Of course, one of those recommendations concerns the gap that exists in the funding of students on reserves. There are various estimates of anywhere from $2,000 per student and up.

If you'll excuse me, I'll just go to my submission, which I brought with me.

In order to encourage all aboriginal students—not necessarily only those living on reserves—to look positively toward post-secondary education, we have another recommendation. In a lot of cases, there's a lot of trepidation around leaving the community and going into an urban centre, so something that government—be it federal, depending on jurisdiction, or provincial and territorial—needs to look at is partnering with post-secondary educational institutions. Prospective high school graduates could be brought into urban locations, just on a temporary basis for a couple of weeks, to get a sense of what life is like there, because, as I'm sure everyone around the table has heard, there are a lot of cases where people just can't cope with urban life.

We also felt there needs to be a partnership—and we suggest that the federal government could take the lead on this—in bringing some of the key deliverers of K to 12 education together around the table, whether aboriginal or non-aboriginal. The people who have experience in delivering elementary and post-secondary education to remote communities, could then talk about best practices and, hopefully, propagate those more broadly throughout the country.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that. We will move to Mr. Shory.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for coming this afternoon. Also thank you very much for the report and the time the chamber put into preparing the report. It's worth reading. I had a chance to skim through it once, but I picked up some points that are very interesting and helpful.

For example, you suggested that federal programs should be flexible. Then you talked about encouraging private investments. Also, you talked about public-private partnerships, which was very important and interesting.

I am sure you are aware that along the same lines, Minister Lebel made an announcement yesterday that he has launched a program for a formal engagement process that will bring together the Government of Canada, provinces, territories, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and others to develop a new long-term plan for public infrastructure.

We all know we are going through fiscally restrained times, and I picked up these measures because they'll be very helpful—at least in my view. I'd like you to make some comments on all of the measures the minister is taking. Based on your recommendations, how will these measures benefit us in the long term?

3:50 p.m.

Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Susanna Cluff-Clyburne

Sorry, which measures do you mean?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

How would they benefit us in the long term?

3:50 p.m.

Director, Parliamentary Relations, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Susanna Cluff-Clyburne

Do you mean the recommendations in our paper?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

I mean those and the minister's.