Evidence of meeting #39 for Natural Resources in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was alberta.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Gil McGowan  President, Alberta Federation of Labour
  • Mimi Fortier  Director General, Northern Oil and Gas, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Michel Chenier  Director, Policy and Research, Northern Oil and Gas Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

May 10th, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, witnesses.

I'm going to follow on a bit about the northern areas, in terms of the aboriginals and folks like that.

We heard witnesses come in and tell us earlier that the aboriginal communities have difficulties in migrating from their normal pursuits to these technical challenges of the energy industry. How involved are they? Are they being educated enough? Do the northern regions have the necessary workforce and expertise to carry on and support these industries?

10:05 a.m.

Director General, Northern Oil and Gas, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mimi Fortier

It's not one size fits all; there's certainly a great deal of variability across the north, just as there would be in Canada. As I mentioned earlier, for instance, the Inuvialuit are one of the earliest aboriginal groups in Canada to agree to a land claim agreement, so they're very organized. They've built up a service sector, for instance, in joint ventures with service suppliers. But they do continue to have challenges because of the cyclicity of economic opportunities in the north, to keep the education and train for graduation from secondary school.

Again, the industry continues to work closely with the organizations. There definitely is a close connection that doesn't necessarily involve government, to try to look at opportunities, even to hire northerners for operations throughout the world, particularly in Alberta, so that they gain experience and can take it home. Over the years, since there have been cycles of exploration activity in the north, there's been a lot of experience among a lot of the population. Sometimes it's been the only opportunity for that kind of employment. So there is a great deal of experience, but it is scattered, definitely, according to where the resource is.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Thank you.

Mr. McGowan, we've talked about and you've talked about a lot of the skills gaps and the jobs being taken by foreign temporary workers, etc. Since you're leading this big organization, can you tell us what sorts of apprenticeship programs, how many apprentices or trainees, other qualifications, technical stuff, are being produced by your organizations each year to try to fill the skills gap?

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Go ahead, Mr. McGowan.

10:05 a.m.

President, Alberta Federation of Labour

Gil McGowan

The federation itself is an umbrella organization for unions, so we don't train directly, but many of our affiliates do. In fact, when it comes to taking on apprentices and training them for the jobs in the oil sands and elsewhere in construction, the building trades unions do the lion's share of the training.

One thing we've seen over the last number of years is efforts made by non-unionized construction firms to poach the well-trained people who are working for unionized construction firms. It's a big battle, and often ends up in a bidding war, because a lot of the non-union construction companies simply aren't investing in training in the same way the unionized firms are. It's a priority, but the reality is that simply too many projects have been approved at once. We just can't keep up with the demand.

Alberta has more apprentices in training as a proportion of our labour force than has any other province. In response to the big demand for skilled trades, our unions have stepped up to the plate, and they remain the biggest trainers of skilled trades in the province.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

That's great.

Can you tell us if the gap is narrowing or getting wider? Where do we stand, in the number of people being trained?

10:10 a.m.

President, Alberta Federation of Labour

Gil McGowan

I'd say the gap is getting wider because more projects are coming online. As I mentioned in response to some earlier questions, a lot of our big employers in construction are saying that they've tapped out in finding trades people in Alberta and in the more traditional places they've gone for workers, like the Maritimes, partly because the pool of skilled trades in Canada is relatively small and also because Alberta is now competing with other jurisdictions. In the Maritimes, for example, people who used to come to Alberta to work are choosing to work on things like the Halifax shipyard, some of the offshore oil projects. So there's a problem.

One of the important issues the oil industry and governments need to grapple with is the pace of development. Right now, decisions about pace of development are being left exclusively in the hands of industry. Government is basically saying that it has no role to play in the pace. We would argue that they do, especially the Alberta government, when it comes to approval of the sale of leases and the approval of projects. We should use those policy levers to set a more reasonable pace so that the number of projects more effectively corresponds with the existing Canadian labour force to do the work.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Thank you very much.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. McGowan.

Thank you, Mr. Daniel.

We go now to Mr. Toone, for up to five minutes.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for joining us today. This has really been very beneficial.

My question is for the department representatives.

The Fisheries Act stipulates that the fish habitat in coastal regions like the Great North must be protected. Section 35 of the Fisheries Act may be amended, so that, from now on, only commercial and aboriginal fishing would be protected. If an agreement was really reached on hydrocarbon development in the Great North, how would the department take aboriginal interests into consideration?

We saw in the Marshall decision that it was not only a matter of consulting aboriginals, but also of taking their needs into account. I would like to know whether technology that helps protect aboriginal fishing exists and whether the department has taken steps not only to consult aboriginals, but also to take their interests into consideration.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Mr. Chenier, go ahead, please.

10:10 a.m.

Director, Policy and Research, Northern Oil and Gas Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michel Chenier

Thank you.

I will try to answer your question by linking it to our mandate.

As we mentioned in the opening statement, we consult communities before we issue rights. During those consultations, specific regions are often identified as being especially valuable or important to the local communities' way of life.

As far as fishing goes, locations that are important for fishing are often identified. In such cases, we take that information into account. We regularly leave those parts out of areas that could be subject to rights issuance. That's how we keep aboriginal interests in mind.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Could you give us a detailed list of regions that were left out and will not be developed?

10:15 a.m.

Director, Policy and Research, Northern Oil and Gas Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michel Chenier

Yes. I can provide the clerk with a copy of our maps. We make extensive use of a geomatics system, which helps us in areas such as consultation. It's a very visual technique that facilitates the work. The system is available at our offices, but Canadians can access it through our website.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Okay. Thank you. I will eagerly await that list.

I yield the floor to my colleague.