Evidence of meeting #8 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 work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Claude Leblond  President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators
  • Serge Buy  Director, Government Relations, National Association of Career Colleges
  • Christopher Smillie  Senior Advisor, Government Relations and Public Affairs, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office
  • Gary Friend  Past-President, Canadian Home Builders' Association
  • Jack Mantyla  National Co-ordinator, Education and Training, Canadian Home Builders' Association

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

We'll call the meeting to order.

I'm going to ask the clerk to distribute some budgetary information, and if the members would like, we'll take maybe five or ten minutes at the end of the meeting to discuss that. We can deal with it today, if it's in order. If not, we can deal with it at our next scheduled meeting. You can do that during the course of the testimony.

Today we have with us Mr. Leblond, from the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators, and Mr. Buy, from the National Association of Career Colleges.

The practice here is to have you present to us for about five to seven minutes, and then we open it up to a round of questioning. You have five minutes each, and that will be the procedure. If you could speak or read relatively slowly so the translators are able to translate, that would helpful.

With that said, we'll let you commence, Mr. Leblond.

3:30 p.m.

Claude Leblond President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators

Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, it is an honour for me, as a social worker from Quebec, as well as for the organization of which I am president, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators, to have this opportunity to present our views on the study entitled: “A Framework for Success: Practical Recommendations to Further Shorten the Foreign Qualification Recognition Process”.

Since this is our first meeting, I hope you won't mind if I take a few moments to introduce our organization.

As its name suggests, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators is a national association representing provincial and territorial social work regulatory authorities. In that capacity, we represent approximately 40,000 social workers right across the country who are our members.

The Council was established in 2009 in response to a desire on the part of regulatory authorities to create a forum for review, development and discussion of views and policies relating to matters of common interest, as well as national and international issues related to licensing and regulations.

In other words, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators represents the preferred forum for discussion of issues relating to social work regulations at the national and international levels.

Even though we are generally proud of our performance when it comes to admitting foreigners into our profession—and I will come back to this point a little later—the work underway in your committee with respect to foreign credential recognition is of interest to us.

As a regulatory body, we are concerned about the harm that may come to people as a result of social phenomena. Indeed, pretty well right across the country, social issues are becoming more complex and, despite the efforts made by our governments, poverty continues to affect tens of thousands of Canadian families and children who do not have access to decent living conditions.

An aging population is also forcing us, as a society, to take another look at our relationship with seniors, particularly the most vulnerable among them. Groups and communities also need more and more support to make their voices heard and demand their rights.

At the same time, depending on the communities, a number of provinces are having to deal with or anticipate shortages of social workers of various magnitudes, particularly in rural communities or in such disciplines as youth protection and mental health.

Here in Canada, we are greatly in need of new blood in the field of social work and, that being the case, bringing more social workers from abroad would certainly be a welcome move.

Whether we are talking about pan-Canadian mobility or foreign credential recognition, our profession has done its homework and can certainly be cited as an example.

Clear evidence of that is the Agreement on Internal Trade signed in 1994 by the federal, provincial and territorial governments with a view to facilitating labour mobility, which has meant that, since 1999, social workers who are licensed by a provincial or territorial regulatory authority are able to practice their profession anywhere in Canada.

The Quebec-France Understanding on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications signed by Quebec and France authorizes the licencing of social workers of French nationality who apply using a fast track process.

Again with a view to removing barriers to full mobility, the council has begun developing a Canadian competency framework for social work.

The purpose of this framework is to develop a pan-Canadian profile of the baseline social work competencies, in order to facilitate mobility while at the same time maintaining public safety.

This pan-Canadian competency framework will be an extremely useful tool in terms of facilitating and expediting file review and the admission of foreigners, as well as establishing national standards with respect to the skills required for social work practice in Canada.

As I referred to earlier, we can be proud of our performance when it comes to bringing foreigners into Canada who want to practice their profession as social workers here. However, it's important to review the figures. Indeed, using 2010-2011 as a reference, fewer than 200 individuals from the United States and other countries applied for foreign credential recognition or training with provincial or territorial social work regulatory authorities.

To my knowledge, the vast majority of these individuals had their applications processed and accepted within extremely reasonable timeframes. So, given the increasing demand for social workers in the coming years, and our effectiveness in quickly recognizing the qualifications of people wishing to practice our profession in Canada, we conclude that, were we more visible at the international level, we would be in a position to attract more social worker licensing applicants. And that's where you come in.

Indeed, with a view to developing the necessary tools to ensure optimal visibility internationally, the Canadian Council is in need of a financial contribution from the Canadian government. The social work profession must be included amongst the listed professions in the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, just as occupational therapy, nursing, engineering, pharmacy, speech therapy and audiology are.

Our hope is that a series of well-defined measures can be developed that will make it possible to promote the social work profession both here and abroad. In that respect, we believe there is a need to redouble our efforts here in Canada to introduce the social work profession to our youth, including in Aboriginal communities, to ensure that a new generation of professionals can emerge.

This financial assistance would also give us a chance to reflect further on how to organize and provide retraining or skill upgrading that some applying to practice the profession might require, or develop paid social work practicums for immigrants to allow them to acquire work experience in Canada. We are also considering setting up a Web site as a virtual bridge between ourselves and the world, as a means of informing immigrants that there is room for them in Canada within the social work profession.

In closing, the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators is anxious to play a constructive role in supporting the government as it takes steps to attract skilled workers to Canada in those areas where there is a demand, as is the case for social work.

We believe it would be possible to significantly increase the number of social work licensing applicants from abroad by developing tools to increase the visibility of social work practice in Canada, so that it becomes an attractive option to ever increasing numbers of individuals living abroad.

Here in Canada, social work regulatory authorities have done their homework. Bridges have already been built between the provinces and territories with a view to facilitating social worker mobility. Soon all the necessary components will be in place to admit licensing applicants from abroad, quickly assess their skills and thereby give them timely access, wherever possible, to a social work license.

If we want to substantially increase the number of applications, we will need to have a greater presence and be more proactive. I hope we can count on the support of committee members as we seek financial assistance from the Government of Canada.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that presentation.

Mr. Buy, go ahead.

3:45 p.m.

Serge Buy Director, Government Relations, National Association of Career Colleges

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First, let me thank you for allowing the National Association of Career Colleges to make this presentation.

The issue of foreign credential recognition is a very important one. Career colleges throughout this country play an important role in helping newcomers to Canada have their skills and knowledge assessed, and also an important role in helping them obtain the Canadian requirements that will allow them to get their foreign credentials recognized. The National Association of Career Colleges is the only organization representing career colleges throughout our country. We have over 400 members and estimate over 160,000 students are registered in our programs this year. That's about the size of eight universities.

Career colleges are private institutions. This is not new. The National Association of Career Colleges itself has been around since 1896. We're celebrating our 115th anniversary. Some of you know us very well. As an example, Mr. McColeman was our landlord in our office in Brant. I was asked to remind you of that.

Some people frown upon the private sector being involved in the education sector. I've always found it amusing to look at the background of some of these so-called intellectuals and find out that they received diplomas from Trinity Western, Harvard, MIT, or Princeton, all private universities. It's good enough for them to go to private schools, but not good enough for Canadians looking at getting a leg up in life.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we can all recognize that the public and the private sectors can all play a role. The fact is that we don't compete against our colleagues in the public sector; we complement their work, and we do a fantastic job in our country with tens of thousands of students every year. For decades, career colleges have been an important part of our Canadian educational and training landscape. Let me give you concrete examples.

Discovery Community College's Nanaimo campus has been assessing newcomers to Canada for years and helps them complete their Canadian requirements prior to having their foreign credentials recognized. Thanks to Discovery Community College's efforts, we're able to help newcomers become nurses and enhance our health care system.

Three years ago the Saskatoon Health Region recognized their need to address labour shortages in health care and approached the Saskatoon Business College to become a training partner. To date, hundreds of our personal-care aides and medical adrninistrative assistant graduates have been hired by the Saskatoon Health Region. This year alone, 48 graduates were hired by the Saskatoon Health Region, many of them new Canadians.

The Saskatoon Business College, led by young entrepreneurs, has been in operation for over 100 years delivering great services in Saskatchewan. It is a family business. Some of you have been in business before, and you know the only way to stay in business that long is to provide fantastic services to your community, and they do.

Academy Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador will soon be working with a major Canadian company to conduct foreign credential assessments and provide gap training. This is a major project associated with the offshore oil industry, which is having significant difficulties recruiting skilled trades workers locally. As a result, this forward-looking school will be helping welders, electricians, steamfitters, and pipefitters work in Canada, to help our booming oil sector on the east coast.

And there are many good stories in Ontario, in Quebec, and throughout our great country.

Businesses have recognized that career colleges are serious partners and can provide significant help to deal with the serious issue of foreign credentials recognition for newcomers. Various NGOs and local governments consider career colleges as partners in their efforts to solve this issue and provide support to their communities. If only the federal government could do the same. The human resources and skills development department has understood lately that career colleges could be a partner in helping on this issue and others. We recognize the great work done by this minister and her staff. We're looking forward to public servants also understanding that we have a role to play and involving us in their programs.

Mr. Chairman, Kai Frantz, a very young Canadian, with great parents, Jennie and Chris, and a fantastic future in front of him should also have a choice and be able to decide which institution he goes to and be supported by our government in his choice. I would like a newcomer from Poland with the proper credentials to be given the choice to benefit from an assessment in a career college and be given training in that institution to quickly become a productive member of Canadian society. However, Mr. Chairman, at this point we're noticing some significant issues in this process.

The Canadian government provides billions of dollars in training money to the provinces, which in turn use that money to subsidize their deficits. Two quick examples:

In the last couple of months, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador realized they had run out of money to help train people and as a result hundreds of people had to stop their classes in midstream. This is not a joke. We're giving advice to European governments, but the government doesn't know, in the middle of their financial year, what to do with their training money. Is this the way the federal government intended this process to work?

The Government of British Columbia has put a very low cap on the amount of money to be spent for training of individuals. The result: newcomers to Canada have to go through the public route and wait for years for the training they require, instead of having their skills assessed in compressed and efficient programs in career colleges. We understand this to be a way to support your public institutions. However, once again we're taking away the ability for people to choose.

The Canadian government does not provide Canadian students with grants to programs that are less than 60 weeks. A decision to change this could go a long way to help newcomers upgrade their skills and get their foreign credentials recognized by bridging the gap. We know the government is looking at this favorably. Our request: let's get it done; let's not delay the process. This is not a cost; this will lower costs on EI and other training programs for the federal government.

I'm not here today, Mr. Chair, to request money from the Canadian government; I'm asking you to make the process simpler.

Foreign students also wish to come to Canada and study. We know that's important, as some stay. Career colleges get regular requests from foreign students in the skilled trades, IT, and health care sectors. However, due to a decision that can't really be justified, students who go to career colleges cannot benefit from work permits, while the same foreign students attending a public institution can. It makes no sense to me. It should make no sense to you either. Why? When we asked the question, we were told “because”. When we asked for the reason, we were given none.

While we understand this is changing. This is a decision that this government is changing, and we appreciate that, but it can be done faster. Let's not wait for lengthy processes involving various provinces. The decision should be made and implemented now. It can be done. We asked bureaucrats if they could make the decision now, and they told us they could. Again, let's do it.

HRSDC and Citizenship and Immigration Canada spend millions on foreign credential recognition programs with universities and community colleges. They've done this for years. How much have they spent for similar career programs with career colleges? Zero dollars. Why? Is it because we're private institutions? I don't know. At least an offer of a pilot project would be welcomed, and we're still waiting.

Bureaucratic delays only serve to impede our efforts to strengthen our economy. Career colleges are flexible and adapt to the needs of the Canadian economy. Career colleges provide quality education and training.

We're proud to be part of the solution, and hope, Mr. Chairman, that you will recognize this.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that presentation, and the points you've made.

We'll open it up to rounds of questioning, and we'll start with Ms. Crowder.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for coming today.

I want to start with Monsieur Leblond. There were a couple of points in your presentation, and I just want to make sure I've understood them.

Under the agreement on internal trade, I'm understanding you to say that now social workers can move across provinces. Is that correct?

3:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators

Claude Leblond

Yes, that's correct.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I also understand that different provinces have different requirements, in terms of qualifications for social workers—and this will relate to the foreign workers in a moment. How do they reconcile it? I believe Alberta has a substantially different standard, for example, from British Columbia to qualify for social work. Is that correct?

3:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators

Claude Leblond

That is partly true.

Some social workers in Alberta received their license based on something other than a university degree.

There is a further difficulty in Saskatchewan. Some members of the Association of Social Workers received a license after successfully completing a two-year university certificate program, as opposed to the common baseline, which is a Bachelor's degree at a minimum. But there are ways of dealing with those two issues.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

If a foreign worker came into Alberta and was credentialed under the Alberta system, would they then be able to work because of the AIT, for example, in Ontario or British Columbia?

3:50 p.m.

President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators

Claude Leblond

That is correct. That is why we feel it is absolutely critical to develop a pan-Canadian competency framework, followed by standards, so that applications from foreigners with a social work degree will be assessed in the same fashion all across Canada. That will ensure, given the need for public protection, that whatever an immigrant's point of entry into the social work profession, he or she will possess the minimum professional skills corresponding to the requirements in place across the provinces.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

The analyst indicated that, at a minimum, there's going to be a shortage of 3,500 social workers in Quebec, and I believe that plays out across Canada as well, that there are going to be shortages in many provinces. In your presentation you referenced that in 2010-11, 200 people applied for recognition for their social work credentials in Canada. That's a very large gap. I know educational institutions in Canada are training up, but clearly there's a very wide gap.

We have heard from other witnesses that language and culture are very important when you're assessing people's ability to work in certain professions. Health care professions came up the other day. In the current system, is there a way to assess for language and cultural competencies?

3:55 p.m.

President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators

Claude Leblond

There is no doubt that language proficiency and knowledge of the culture of the host society are important to exercise a profession.

Furthermore, it is increasingly important to be aware of, and familiar with, the culture of individuals arriving in Canada. Having a different culture can also be an asset for Canadian society, giving us an opportunity to provide the service to people here in Canada who share that culture. At the present time, social work regulatory bodies have no certification powers with respect to language proficiency issues, with the possible exception of Quebec, where there is an obligation to have adequate knowledge of French to register with a professional body. I am not aware of the situation in other provinces in that respect.

Indeed, there is a very significant gap between the number of immigrants coming in and the demand for social workers in Canada in the years to come. It is clear to me—and that was the point of our first recommendation—that we first have to acknowledge that we will be facing a shortage. Then we will be in a position to priorize that profession, as we have chosen to priorize others in the past.

I have also been president of the Ordre professionnel des travailleurs sociaux du Québec for 10 years now. Since at least 2004, we have been trying to demonstrate that there will be a shortage. In Quebec, the Ministry of Health and Social Services recognized that reality this year. At the same time, we did note a gap between what had been announced and the actual priority given to our profession in terms of those that need to be acted on. So, it is my hope that at the pan-Canadian level, it will not take as much time to make this happen. Canada's population is increasing, as is the demand for social workers because of an aging population. The need--

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

You may want to wrap up here. Your time has been up for a while, so if you want to make a concluding remark, try to make it short.

Are you okay?

3:55 p.m.

President, Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators

Claude Leblond

I will keep my answers brief.