Evidence of meeting #40 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 labour.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Mervin Wiseman  Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
  • Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst  Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
  • John Sutcliffe  Executive Director, Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters
  • Daniel Kelly  Senior Vice-President, Legislative Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
  • Mathew Wilson  Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters
  • Perrin Beatty  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

I'd like to call this meeting to order.

I should mention to the committee that just before the end of the meeting I'll want a brief time to talk about committee business. I'll ask the clerk to distribute a calendar to set out what we're doing to the end of this session. When that's distributed, you can have a look at it and then we can have some discussion about that. My sense is that will take us pretty much to the end of the session, but we're open to any comments.

We'll have Mr. Wiseman present first, and there will be a bit of a tag team there. Then we'll hear from Mr. Sutcliffe. After you've presented, members of the committee will ask questions of you; then, when we get near the end of the hour, we'll adjourn for the next panel.

With that, we'll ask Mr. Wiseman to commence his presentation.

3:30 p.m.

Mervin Wiseman Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Where do I start? There's so much to say in a short period of time. Let me begin by thanking you and the committee for allowing us the time today to speak on behalf of the Canadian agriculture industry. I'm the chair of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council. Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst is the executive director. We'll take a tag-team approach here, if we may.

I want to speak to some of the broader issues around the sector council, CAHRC as we call it. I'd like to speak to an emerging issue, if I could, which is that of EI and the effects of that.

I understand, Mr. Chair, this is not a hearing on EI, but because of its impacts on labour and skills in this country as far as agriculture is concerned, we're wondering if we could somehow dovetail into that a little bit, just to give you a flavour.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

I might indicate that the study is particularly related to skill shortages, and I'm not so sure that we want to delve too far into the EI. I know there's a motion before us to look at that as a subject in itself. It would have to have a very direct correlation for me to allow questions to be asked in that area, so keep that in mind. I know you may want to make some indirect references or whatever, but I don't want this to get in to an EI hearing. That's another matter for another time.

3:30 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

I appreciate that, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much.

Our constituents in the agriculture industry represent about 300,000 farming enterprises across the country. Our enterprises employ another approximately 300,000, for a total of somewhere close to 600,000 people in the workforce.

There have been significant issues emerging around the agriculture industry on labour and skills development for quite some time. We became part of the sector council almost five years ago to deal with and be proactive in our approach to addressing some of these concerns. I think we've been successful at this stage.

The cutbacks in the sector council program came as a bit of a shock to us, as it was such a proactive and positive kind of activity that we were undertaking. There were serious gaps in labour market information, which we have since filled. There were significant areas of skill shortages for various reasons, which we have been able to get some movement on.

The sector council is all about collaboration—with government, with training institutions, and with organizations whose set goal is to take care of some of these larger issues. Of course we are good now until the end of fiscal year 2013 with funding from HRSDC on that sector council program, but after that we're cut loose along with the other I think 34 sector councils in the country to survive on our own. We're working very hard to do that.

I hope there's a message embedded in there somewhere that we will be soliciting support from government to continue with the kind of work we've been doing.

That is, in broad strokes, our purpose and what we do. We've gathered significant labour market information statistics around the shortages. We have a significant shortfall—a “deficit” is what we call it—of farm workers, something around 10%. That's twice the national average of all other occupations that we can find. That's a significant deficit. We have indications that the demand for farm workers for farm enterprises going forward will be about 2% a year.

Time being so precious here, I hope we can get some questions to further amplify some of our issues around that.

Let me now defer to Portia for some quick comments.

3:35 p.m.

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Thank you, Merv.

This is a considerable concern for the industry. Through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada there exist 11 value-chain round tables that represent the different commodity groups for agriculture. Each of the chairs of those value-chain round tables has agreed that labour is such a concern that they have struck a labour task force. They're looking for input and support at the government level, not just from Agriculture Canada, but also from other stakeholders, such as HRSDC, CIC, and the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, to provide insight and input into a consolidated approach on how to address this critical concern.

The council has done a lot of research around this very issue. Our mandate is specific: to address the HR needs of farm producers across Canada in different regions and across commodities. Through all of our research we have come up with three really relevant recommendations that I'd like to bring forward today.

First and foremost, we need a better and more accurate picture of the labour market in agriculture. Merv threw out some numbers. Stats Canada does some work in this area on the agricultural census, and those numbers are showing different pictures of this industry. We know that those pictures are not all that accurate, so we need to get a better handle on how many workers are employed in this industry.

There's a significant impact on Canada's GDP. We know that element, but we don't know so much about the labour force and shortages, other than we have forecast that there are significant vacancy rates. We need a better and more consolidated approach to gathering that information. By gathering that information we will have access to employers and better access to employees to support those organizations in their training. We can make policy decisions on longitudinal data that's accurate, rather than guesstimates.

So that's recommendation number one, which is very important to today's session.

Second is to increase the current supply of labour for agriculture in both skilled and unskilled occupations. This is critical. This is the exploration you're undertaking today. There are all sorts of things that can and should be addressed in doing so, such as career promotion and awareness; career pathing; linking student interests to careers in agriculture; and recognizing the vastness of those opportunities for those who are interested in biology, mechanics, physics, or business. There's training availability; helping to support school-to-work transitions that are so important to any sector of the economy; work experience programs; and linking labour supply and demand more effectively by matching students and workers with employers. There are all sorts of things that can be done with our stakeholders to address this issue for both skilled and unskilled occupations.

The third major recommendation is that this organization work toward supporting employers with their HR function. That means engaging stakeholders like the federal government departments of AAFC, HRSDC, and CIC on this matter; working with provincial governments for consolidation of their associated departments around agriculture, education, and economic development; working with educational institutions at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels; and working with federal and provincial industry associations, and of course with employers themselves.

The real thrust here is for us to establish credible and reliable information that employers can use to plan their businesses and ensure that small and large farm operations in all regions of Canada are well supported to find the talent they need, access those pools of labour that are very difficult to access, retain that talent along the way, and ensure that people are well skilled. That's the role of the sector council, and that's what we are endeavouring to do to assist with this very critical issue of labour shortage for this industry.

Merv, do you have anything further to add?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Did you have something to add?

3:40 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

No, that's fine.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Okay, you'll wait for the questions. That's fine.

Mr. Sutcliffe, go ahead with your presentation.

May 28th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

John Sutcliffe Executive Director, Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My comments are brief, and we look forward to the members' questions.

The Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters is the National Human Resource Sector Council for the Canadian fish harvesting industry. The council is a non-profit organization. We were founded in 1995 to represent the interests of fish harvesters at the national level and to promote professionalization of fish harvesters through support for regionally based and industry-led initiatives.

The council's mission is to ensure that fish harvesters have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and commitment to meet the human resources needs of the Canadian fishery, now and in the future. The council members represent the crewmen, captains, and vessel owners in the independent owner-operator fishery in Canada.

The owner-operator fishery is the dominant characteristic of the Canadian fishing industry, representing over 90% of employers and crew and producing upwards of 75% of the landed value. There are about 1,300 rural, coastal, and inland communities dependent on the fishery. It's especially noteworthy, I think, that overall in Atlantic Canada, the fish harvesting and processing sectors together are the largest private sector employer.

In the early to middle 1990s, in response to the collapse of the cod stock and other stock concerns on the west coast, a major restructuring of the harvesting sector took place. The entrenched view was that there were too many boats and the people on those boats were chasing too few fish, a situation contrary to the issues that bring us together today. Today, the fish harvester labour force is much smaller--perhaps surprisingly, 40% smaller on the west coast and 20% on the east coast, in spite of the massive restructuring on that coast, particularly in Newfoundland--and labour market challenges are pointing to a crisis for the sustainability of the fisheries labour force and coastal communities dependent on the fishery.

Without getting into any of them at this point, four major contributing factors are demographics, the changing status of crew members, declining fishing opportunities and prices, and rising costs. Today a career in fishing entails an uncertain future and significant investments to acquire fishing assets and skills. Other opportunities are more attractive for a younger generation that would traditionally have been recruited to the fishery.

Strategies are needed to address fisheries labour force challenges and ultimately the sustainability of many coastal communities. There are opportunities; fish harvesters can become partners in fisheries management and science—a partnership that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been reluctant to engage.

Many of the skills that are required to be successful at fishing are similar to trades skills that are increasingly in short supply in rural and remote communities. Programs to support occupational pluralism could improve the attractiveness and viability of the fishing occupation. Also, and perhaps most optimistically for many harvesters, changing seafood market demand may create new opportunities for Canadian fish harvesters.

That's a very quick run over a number of issues with regard to the labour force in the fish harvesting sector.

I have provided a sector study that is the only human resource study of the fish harvesting sector that's ever been done. It's condensely detailed. You have before you the summary in text. There are a thousand pages of data attached in a CD, if you wish to really dig into it.

One issue with regard to that study is that it was the first and only one, and it was completed in 2005, so it's somewhat dated. Some of the big changes in the industry have occurred since then, so we would like to update that study. We do have the resources to do that, and we have strong interest and cooperation from our membership across the country, but one of the difficulties—or really the only difficulty—has been accessing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans database, which we previously accessed in order to produce the study, and in particular, a very extensive survey that was done coast to coast of all major fleet sectors.

We would really like to proceed with a similar survey, with a third-party survey firm, using the same samples, because the trends around harvester expectations, commitments, training priorities, and so on would really become clear. It's a piece of labour force information that other sectors of the same department acknowledge is also very important for evolving fisheries management policy decisions.

Those are my opening comments. Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that presentation.

As I mentioned previously, we'll have rounds of questions. They will be limited to five minutes. We'll start with Mr. Cleary.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank our witnesses today.

This study, as you know, is about labour and skills shortages, so my question is very specific. I'll be looking for answers from you, Mr. Wiseman, and from you, Mr. Sutcliffe, from both the agriculture sector and the fisheries sector.

Will the changes to employment insurance that have been proposed lead to labour and skills shortages in your industries? Very specific....

3:50 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

The short answer is yes. I don't know if you want me to qualify that.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Yes, please.

3:50 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

Well, it's funny.... In terms of issues that we would want to present here today, we had framed up what we thought was a good presentation on a lot of different aspects. Since the announcement on EI last week, we took the trouble to go across the country to our board of directors, who are from all the provinces and territories, and there has been an awful lot of absolute anxiety and stress, and also the belief that there will be a net total loss of the labour pool as well as skills.

If I could, I'll illustrate that a little bit. I'm a farm enterprise employer myself. I own the largest silver fox farm in the world, actually, in North Harbour, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. In my enterprise, I have a breeding season of about six months. I have developed a level of expertise there that's very important to me. It has come with experience, apprenticeship-type approaches, and some formal education.

Unfortunately, I don't have the extra six months to fill in labour for that person. If that person were to find himself out into the workforce through some of the different gateways that are now being established through the new rules of EI, I would be absolutely devastated. If I couldn't get that worker back, I don't know where I could find another worker. That's a small example to illustrate what others have told me almost entirely—for example, in the fruit industry, the horticulture industry, and other livestock industries.

While it would appear that some of the jobs are low-skilled, if you will, on labour, that is in fact not the case. What's going to happen here is that it's really going to push producers to start to more aggressively get more foreign workers to come in. I think that's counter to what the objectives are of the EI program as I see it—

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

I'm sorry to interrupt. So what you're saying is that this will lead to the need for more foreign workers.