Thank you, Chair, and thank you, members of the committee, for this opportunity.
Last August we prepared a brief for you called “Canada's Crisis in Advanced Skills”. It's attached to your documents. It's a powerful statement about what, only a few months ago, was Canada's principal long-term economic challenge.
There will be a recovery, and this challenge will come to confront us again. My preoccupation is that the recovery does not stumble and fall on the crisis in advanced skills. So I'll offer a few words about our colleges and institutes of technology, where these skills are created.
Before the recession we had lineups of 6,000 students who were turned away from Algonquin College; 2,000 qualified students were turned away from Nova Scotia Community College; and there were four-year waiting lists at many programs in western Canada. What is the situation now? Well, it's a whole lot worse, because all sorts of people who have become unemployed in the past, and who perhaps will become unemployed in the future, will return to college or seek to upscale their current skills or reskill for a new profession, and they will be looking to colleges, who already have very long waiting lists.
In addition to that natural transition, you were kind enough to put $1.5 billion in the budget for retraining, over and above existing amounts, and that's terrific. Folks are also going to come to colleges for the retraining. If you're displaced from GM, you're probably not going to get a degree in English literature; you're probably going to go to a college, because they are the principal skill trainers in this economy. So we're faced with an enormous challenge to manage all of this retraining opportunity, on top of the existing demand for places in colleges.
Our institutions are going to have to exercise great creativity. They're potentially going to have to press their facilities into service around the clock and certainly work over weekends. They'll probably have to rent facilities. Unused industrial facilities may be pressed into action, and people with advanced skills who have been displaced from the workforce can also assist as instructors. So the sector is going to have to exercise a lot of creativity.
We had called for an investment in colleges. I'm happy to report that in the past budget $2 billion was allocated for universities and colleges, which will help our situation. We weren't thrilled with the 70-30 split--70% for universities, 30% for colleges--because the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is telling us that employers with skills shortages need six college grads for every university grad. But I'm not going to complain about this; the employer groups will do that for me. I know some of them have already started.
I was going to talk in my short presentation about Bill C-10 and the problem that it does not reflect the proposal in the budget speech for college and university infrastructure, which said those funds could be used for expansion. The bill says no, it's only for repair and maintenance. We think expansion is important, but with great assurance from the department and officials in the minister's office, I won't raise that.
That gives me a short time to talk about another opportunity for stimulating economic growth in the country, and that is to remind you that the principal employers in the country are small and medium enterprises; the majority of Canadians work for SMEs. We have 150 college institutions with 1,000 campuses, and the interface between SMEs and colleges is quite intense. We have been suggesting for some time that 5% of the federal investment in discovery research that takes place in universities should be used to stimulate the relationship between SMEs and colleges for product development, prototyping, and commercialization. This does happen without any support, but it could happen in a larger way that would support the SMEs, where most job creation will happen. We're all concerned about GM and we're all concerned about auto parts, but it's those small industries in small communities where most Canadians work. So there's a big opportunity to take advantage of this enormous penetration of 1,000 campuses and to build that relationship.
That's what we're going to be talking about for the future. You gave me an opportunity to talk about that. We'll be back on that issue.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.