Evidence of meeting #24 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 first.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Kim Warburton  Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.
  • Ross Hornby  Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.
  • Barb Keenan  Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.
  • Kelly Lendsay  President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council
  • Peter Dinsdale  Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations
  • Elvera Garlow  Representative, Assembly of First Nations
  • Cheryl McDonald  Representative, Assembly of First Nations

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

All right, I'd like to commence the second half of our committee hearings.

I'm happy to have Kelly Lendsay, the president and chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council here; and members from the Assembly of First Nations. Thank you.

Normally you would each present for about five minutes, and then there would be rounds of questioning from each of the parties.

Who is going to be presenting first? Is that Mr. Lendsay?

4:35 p.m.

Kelly Lendsay President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council

Well, you can see that Peter and I are sitting on the outside because we know the place of our women in our communities. We should let the ladies go first.

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Ladies first? All right.

4:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council

Kelly Lendsay

Mr. Dinsdale, are you taking the leap?

4:35 p.m.

Peter Dinsdale Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

I'm not sure how to respond.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Perhaps it's best to leave that one alone and just go ahead with your presentation.

4:35 p.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations

Peter Dinsdale

Absolutely. I'll just go ahead.

I'd like to thank the chair and the committee very much for inviting the Assembly of First Nations to speak on behalf of first nations aboriginal skills and employment training strategy holders, or as they're known, ASETS holders.

The topic of your study, skills development in remote rural communities in an era of fiscal restraint, appears to be tailor-made for our ASETS holders. First of all, approximately 90% of Canada's population live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. The majority of our young and growing first nation population lives in those areas of Canada considered to be rural and remote. Secondly, our ASETS holders have been operating in an era of fiscal restraint dating back to 1996.

Before I go on, let me provide a little background information. Until last year our ASETS holders were known as aboriginal human resource development agreement holders or AHRDAs. The switch from AHRDAs to ASETS was made in order to bring focus to linking first nation training needs and labour market demands, which includes an emphasis on building partnerships with industry and government at the federal, provincial, and local levels.

For over 20 years, since 1991, first nation citizens across Canada have counted on their local ASETS holders to provide opportunities for training, education, skills development, and employment. For many of our peoples who are struggling to find ways out of poverty, our ASETS holders are the first people they turn to for assistance.

The assistance we provide ranges from support for child care, literacy, life-skills classes, and a variety of trades, first aid, and safety training. However, it should be noted that basic skills training, along with upgrading to specialized and technical training, requires more time and financial resources in order to move clients from their current situation to employment. Employment retention also requires a commitment from the employer that goes beyond wage incentives.

Changing from client-driven to demand-driven services is costly for our ASETS holders and makes additional demands on capacities and resources that are already stretched to the limit. The shift from delivering services to individuals and creating new partnerships with employers places more demand on the service centres, especially in remote areas where training delivery costs are higher and funds are limited for smaller communities.

Once our clients are more qualified, they can move on to training in various sectors, from tourism to transportation, mining to forestry, and energy to environmental protection. I should point out that "client" is a term frequently used by ASETS, and employment services in general. These clients are community members who, just like the people sitting around this table, want to have meaningful employment in order to provide for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately for over 15 years, since 1996, we have not seen any increase in much-needed investments by the federal government to our core programs and services, such as ASETS.

For the past decade our AFN federal budget submissions have called for a fair increase in funding, equal to the rest of Canada. Our greatest challenge is trying to serve a rapidly growing population that is failing to receive a quality education in order to prepare for the workforce. At the same time, the costs to deliver programs continue to rise, so we have to do more with less.

We are at a critical point, where more funding and resources are needed to meet the needs of our ever-increasing clients. This continued neglect has resulted in far too many of our young people not having the proper education and skills to obtain meaningful jobs to provide for themselves, their families, and their communities.

This has also placed a heavier burden on our ASETS holders. Far too many of our communities have far too many barriers that prevent people from prospering. We need to access those same building blocks to success that are enjoyed by most Canadians. Imagine if all of our ASETS clients lived in communities with proper housing, water, and even recreational services. Imagine if they had access to a high school in their community, and they were able to graduate at rates equal to the rest of Canada.

Our ASETS holders have the ultimate goal of trying to meet the needs of a growing population through long-term meaningful employment that will build better first nations and a stronger Canada. In order to meet that goal, we need this committee to strongly recommend that Canada invest in our peoples.

National Chief Shawn Atleo has stated on a number of occasions that if we can close the gaps in education and employment, first nations can add $300 billion to the Canadian economy, while reducing the social costs tied to first nation poverty by $115 billion.

Last month the Prime Minister echoed our goals during his opening speech at the crown-first nations gathering here in Ottawa. I quote:

...such will be the demand for labour in our future economy that we are positioned today to unlock the enormous economic potential of First Nations peoples, and to do so in a way that meets our mutual goals. Canada's growing and vibrant economy will require a skilled and growing labour force in every region: urban, rural and remote. Aboriginal peoples are Canada's youngest population. It is therefore in all of our interests to see aboriginal people educated, skilled and employed.

Earlier this month the Canadian Chamber of Commerce released the top 10 barriers to Canada's competitiveness, citing the growing skills and human resource shortages as a top barrier to overcome. National Chief Atleo responded to this report by stating that skills training and supporting a fair and equitable education for first nations young people are essential if Canada hopes to address the skills crisis and growing labour shortage in the next budget cycle.

Investing in skills and training in education is an economic imperative for Canada, particularly when we know that first nations have the potential to contribute $400 billion or $500 billion to Canada's economy by 2026 if the education and achievement gaps are closed between first nations and other Canadians.

As it stands right now, doing nothing will result in a growing annual multi-billion dollar burden of dealing with the social impacts of poverty and despair. However, the price of adequate funding will be paid back in building a dynamic future for the first peoples of our land.

Today the demand for ASETS services is higher than ever due to a growing population that is reaching a million, with half under the age of 23. Our peoples are in the best position, especially in rural remote areas, to be Canada's future workforce. We have many success stories, despite the fact that our clients have a variety of barriers and difficulties in many areas, from daycare expenses to overcoming drug and alcohol issues.

In closing, I want to emphasize that the strength and diversity of first nation ASETS holders has made them an essential asset to their communities. Every ASETS holder has a different delivery method, based on the knowledge and needs of their clients. Those regions with sparse, remote, and rural populations have set up offices and local boards. Those with larger concentrated populations have many services under one location and one board. Regardless of the location—rural, urban, or remote—each ASETS holder occupies the best position to both understand and serve their unique job market needs, whether they be in mining, transportation, forestry, tourism, or dozens of other sectors.

In attendance with me is Elvera Garlow, from Grand River Employment and Training at Six Nations here in Ontario, as well as Cheryl McDonald, First Nations Human Resource Development Commission of Quebec. In the limited time I have left, I'd like to allow them to introduce themselves and answer any questions the committee might have.

Thank you very much.

February 27th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Elvera Garlow Representative, Assembly of First Nations

Good evening, or afternoon, late afternoon.

I would just like to say that I am an ASETS holder and I've been with this file for the last 20 years, from Pathways to now. I've been the executive director of Grand River Employment and Training, and I've seen the evolution of the devolution of employment and training for aboriginal people, in this particular area, first nations.

And do you know what? I think it's the best thing that ever happened. After having worked for the federal government for 14 years prior to taking on this job, this was just up my alley. I really appreciate the opportunity to be working at Six Nations and working with young people. I just couldn't ask for better. I don't even look at it as a job. I just enjoy every day of it.

I can see the success that's there with that devolution that has taken place. I think ASETS is a great strategy. There's only one problem. I do not like the implementation of that strategy. We've been going along merrily. We don't need anybody to interfere and micromanage us, and say we have to do this, this, and this. We've already been doing it for the last 10 years. So don't put those little detailed things on us, because we have them already. In fact, I had to say to my project officer from Toronto, “Is this my plan or is it yours? It's mine.” She's telling me what to do, and I'm thinking, “This isn't right. This is my plan for my community.” I should be able to say that and not have any person tell me it's not right, or it should be this, or it should be that.

That's the only problem I have with the ASETS program. I have a lot more to say about it and what we are doing in Ontario. We have a really good model that I would like to share with you, maybe not tonight, but sometime.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Go ahead, Ms. McDonald.

4:45 p.m.

Cheryl McDonald Representative, Assembly of First Nations

Good evening, everyone.

I'm a Mohawk from the community of Kanesatake, but I wasn't born and raised on the reserve. My parents left when they were young and raised us in the United States. I can say that half my life has been in the U.S. and half has been in Canada.

When I came to Canada, one of my first jobs was at the local commission office, which is one of the local offices at the grassroots of the ASETS. I worked there about 10 years and grew in that job. I left as program director. I saw the ASETS take individuals from their situations, whether they were high school dropouts or people returning to the labour market, and help them to find meaningful employment.

On reserve, whether it's remote or close to a big city like Kahnawake, the challenges are there. In Quebec, many have first nation languages, but have to adapt to the French and English languages. That's a real barrier in Quebec.

I left and moved to the regional level. Now I work for the AFNQL at the regional level. We're looking at helping first nation communities. Over the 10 years that have passed since I've been away from the community, the challenges have become greater as the population goes up, as more and more people start to recognize their need for these services. I now see, regionally, the struggles that I previously saw only in my community of origin. I see them compounded across the province of Quebec and across Canada, because I'm part of a national working group with the AFN.

The dollars that we get aren't enough. The challenges and barriers that exist are real. I've also had the pleasure of going to conferences that are trying to integrate post-secondary students into great jobs with banks, and things like that. I'm realizing, in my work experience and life experience, that we need to have the funds to support our clients at their particular level. We're trying to do that all at the same time. We need more dollars.

In this last changeover to ASETS from AHRDAs, we're just filling out reports and showing how many times you can add two plus two and still get two. It's taking us away, that bureaucratic accountability, from helping our front-line workers receive the training they need to help these clients and make sure they receive the required support.

I'm honoured to be here today. I hope that I can offer you some insight into the grassroots levels and the challenges that exist so that my peers and my communities can start to prosper. We want to supply the demand off reserve to the different industries, and also use our ASETS dollars to develop our communities. We have to do both. We won't do one and lose the other.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

For those who are wondering, the ASETS program is the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy program. We have heard a lot of good reports about it.

Mr. Lendsay, go ahead.

4:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council

Kelly Lendsay

Thank you.

Respected leaders, and Ed, it's good to see you. You've had a chance to be at our inclusion works events, and I look forward to responding to this report.

There are three recommendations in this report that I have chosen to highlight.

To my esteemed colleagues from the Assembly of First Nations, they serve on our board of directors—Chief Roger Augustine and the national chief are champions. I think that there are really three challenges in this report: partnerships, education, and the area of skills and training.

One of the recommendations states that we need to build a business case for investing in remote communities. Communities must offer a product or products that have a market, access to a skilled workforce, and critical infrastructure. Here, I think the theme puts the focus on communities, instead of looking at what the economic drivers are in the north and looking at the communities as a collective resource. Let me give you an example. If you look at the size of the aboriginal market, currently it's about $24 billion per year in the spending power, or the GDP power, of aboriginal peoples. It's going to grow to $36 billion by 2016.

That GDP is the size of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland combined. What would be interesting would be if you would look at the GDP of the north—all of those rural and remote communities—and Canadians would wake up and say that it's large, it's significant, and it's growing, because we have a growing workforce.

We have a growing workforce in the north for two reasons. The first is the resource sector. We have more and more of our economy becoming a commodity-based economy. We're going to be developing more of those resources in the north, and as that waterway melts up north, we're going to be opening up waterways through the north and through the Arctic, and I see tremendous opportunities for growth. We're going to need more human capital going to these remote and rural areas.

In fact, put it in reverse. If there was nobody up there, we'd need a strategy to figure out how to get people to move up there.

The second area is telecommunications and ICT. We all know how many dollars and how much activity we have with India. On a micro-scale, if you can think of the north like India, why can't we invest in the infrastructure for ICT so that our northern communities, many of these aboriginal communities, can be a solution in delivering products and services in the ICT sector? Surely if we can transmit this knowledge from India, we can do it from the north to the south, and indeed to the rest of the world.

Canada could actually be positioning our north as an innovator in the circumpolar area to be a real leader in ICT. A related theme in the report is that we need to stress that this is an investment versus a subsidy, it's a hand up, not a handout.

I think that the cost of doing business is simply just larger in the north.

What Canadians do understand is that when you look at aboriginal Canadians in the United Nations' human resource index, they rank about 48th in the world, compared to the top 5 for all other Canadians. If you look at first nations on reserve, we rank around 63rd.

Put the costs aside for a second. We should be investing so that every Canadian, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, has the same standard of living. If that means it costs more to get potable water, it costs more. If it means it costs more to build the roads in the north, it costs more. I think this is something that Canadians believe in.

The third area of the report was in skills and training. The federal government needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the economic realities of individual communities and the alternate training models that may be required to deliver effective results. In the report, they talk about—you've heard about ASETS holders—aboriginal skills and employment training initiatives, and there are more than 300 across this country. They are a source of the community intelligence that you are looking for.

What's missing is the fact that for many of these ASETS holders, the majority of their funds flow to colleges primarily to invest in the skilled trades that we need. It's actually a tremendous relationship between ASETS holders and the money, where it goes to colleges and trains people for the workforce that employers need.

A third point in skills and training is that you definitely must have employers at the table. Earlier you were talking about training for training. We have to be training for where there are jobs. We have to be aligning our education system with the training for where we think those jobs might be. If they don't happen, at least we had some plan where we were educating people in areas where we thought the economic drivers would actually deliver some jobs in the future.

Lastly, we have a group called the young indigenous professionals. These are young aboriginal Canadians who advise on what we're doing, and just like you, all of us sitting on the inside circle are part of the baby boomers, and many of the folks sitting on the outside are part of generation X and generation Y. You need to start looking at aboriginal Canadians in much the same way. They have views and ideas about their world, and to get their insights on what they feel should be the economic opportunities of the future is very interesting.

Another point made is that we have to ensure that programs are efficient and meet the needs of employers, and they should be delivered in partnership wherever possible. That is from the report. One of the things our organization stands for is employer-focused strategies. Earlier there was some talk about misalignments. I think the ASETS holders have done a great job aligning their training investments to where there are jobs, from catering and surveying, through to the chemists, the trades, entrepreneurship, and right up to the ICT world.

The third and final point I'll make is in the area of partnerships. The report states:

In an era of deficit reduction, often government funds will not be available and/or sufficient to meet the infrastructure requirements of remote communities. If the federal government cannot provide all or any of the necessary funding, it can assist others in pooling their resources by—

I'd like to offer some suggestions. In the report, they suggest that the government could offer up these resources through:

...an online forum for potential business and community partners to share their infrastructure gaps and excess capacity....

I couldn't agree more. Our council has launched the first digital strategy, and it's exciting. It's about how to connect people faster and more economically. It's amazing what happens when information and knowledge are exchanged.

We're building an inclusion classroom for employers, and the inclusion classroom is going to be an online tool, not just here in Canada but our friends in Australia, the States, and other places will be able to access it. To consider ICT support for the north, the infrastructure has to be there so that we can make these types of collaborations happen.

We have a lot of silos in this country; they're called provinces and territories. We also have our silos on the aboriginal side. We need more criss-crossed networks and the ICT technology is one of the ways to do that.

Often employers find that working with aboriginal people is frustrating and can be fragmented, and there needs to be more investment. My friends here who work in the ASETS program will tell you that the dollars are not there to build the partnership mechanisms. We did something with the ASETS holders about five years ago called Work Force Connects. We put on a dating game in which we brought employers together with communities. We did it in 11 provinces and territories and generated tremendous results. It was a tremendous ASETS success. It led to jobs, to training, and to networks. We think the time is right to bring back another type of Work Force Connects to connect people, especially through our north.

We have a group called the Leadership Circle. These are real employers such as the ones you heard from earlier with OPG, who are really committed. I was saying earlier that 10 years ago this conversation would not be happening; you would not be asking these types of probing questions. I congratulate you, because I think it shows that things are changing. Employers are actually doing things, and you have very probing, direct questions. The quality of the dialogue has gone up significantly over the last decade.

My last point on the report concerns the first recommendation in the long list of recommendation summaries, which says:

Review the funding formula for education in First Nations communities to ensure parity with the provincial financing model in each of the provinces...to ensure that the education needs of all First Nations communities are met.

Ladies and gentlemen, I value public education. Sitting Bull said: “Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children.” He meant all of our children, collectively. I think, as you think about your children and your grandchildren, that they should be able to go to a first nation on-reserve school and get the same quality of education as a native child going to a school here in Ottawa. If we really believe in public education, that's the measure, and that is why that deficit of about 25% that exists between first nations on-reserve schools and off-reserve schools has to close.

My friend Mary Simon tabled with you the Inuit report, “First Canadians, Canadians First: The National Strategy on Inuit Education” from 2011. That phrase, “First Canadians, Canadians First”, was developed by Jose Kusugak, a good friend of mine. Jose has passed on, but I think that focusing attention on the Inuit, where some of the suicide capitals in the world exist.... There are some major challenges there.

Last, the report refers to closing the gap in Australia. I've been there and have been working there. We know the challenges. Be careful what you read. They've been slipping in the last two years and they're still pleading to follow Canada's models to see what can be done. This is an indigenous issue worldwide, and that's why our national chief, Shawn Atleo, speaks about the leadership that Canada should be demonstrating—because other countries are watching and connecting with us.

Finally, we did a new innovation last month. We did a virtual recruitment fair. That has never been done in Canada. We had 33 employers willing to risk it.

We gave it a try. We had 33 employers and 602 aboriginal job seekers, of which 218 actually participated.

I have two quotes. Sacha DeWolfe from New Brunswick said:

The National Aboriginal Virtual Recruitment Fair was absolutely wonderful. I'm totally impressed. I've been searching for jobs online constantly that suit my qualifications as well as my interests with no luck so far. I found three possible connections in one hour on your site. Thank you so much!

It turns out, by the way, that Sacha is Chief Augustine's niece. I flipped him this, and he said, “Oh, that's my niece”.

The second quote is:

It's nice to have a place for aboriginal people to feel free to job shop without the possibility of being rejected due to race. John

Now, someone doesn't write that unless they have had some race issues. Going forward, I think that trying to create real social and economic inclusion is our collective challenge. As I was flying here from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where our national head office is—I'm in Ottawa once or twice a month—I was wondering if the northerners are thinking about a report called “Creating Social and Economic Inclusion with the Remote South”. It's sort of a play on what we're doing here, because for many of the issues and some of the questions that came earlier, when it comes to education, training, and social and economic inclusion, the issues are the same, whether it's the north or the south.

With that, I'll conclude. I look forward to the dialogue. Thank you.

Meegwetch.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation, which was fascinating in a lot of respects. I know that you said “lastly” and “finally”, and you concluded, but we gave you extra time because I think it was important to hear what you had to say. We may have to shorten our rounds a bit, but I thought it was important to give you the opportunity and the freedom to speak on this issue.

We'll start with Ms. Crowder.

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for being here today.

I'm going to start with the ASETS piece and give a real quick summary.

From what you've said, but also from communities across this country, what we've heard about ASETS is that on the ability to deliver programs, the program length is too short, because often you have people coming in who may have multiple barriers to employment. Also, ASETS programs are not necessarily responsive to the needs of the clients themselves because of the restraints that are put on them by the department that funds it. There's not enough money. I understand that the money was capped at 2% back in 1996 and hasn't recognized the increase in the population, particularly the younger population. We've also heard that it's far too complicated to administer because of the number of reports and whatnot.

The other thing you didn't mention, but I've heard, is from the Coast Salish Employment and Training Society, where I live. They represent 19 bands on lower Vancouver Island, and what they've told me is that people keep talking about partnerships, but sometimes when they have another government agency that partners, they actually suffer clawbacks. If they have private sector partners, they don't have a clawback, but they've had money clawed back because of other government funding.

Finally, child care is a big issue. CSETS is finding money from somewhere else to provide child care, but many of the students who are coming back have children. They're older students, and they have family responsibilities, and it's not possible.

You've made one recommendation about sustained funding. Do you have other specific recommendations about improving the ASETS program?