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Evidence of meeting #68 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was workers.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Arthur Sweetman  Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual
Michael Wolfson  Professor, As an Individual
Vangelis Nikias  Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Frank Zinatelli  Vice-President, General Counsel, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc.
Keith Ambachtsheer  Director, Rotman International Centre for Pension Management

9:40 a.m.

Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Vangelis Nikias

Continuing on for two more years at existing social assistance rates—except Alberta's, as I said, so I mean those in other provincial systems—means two years of poverty, which people avoid or get out of by receiving OAS and GIS at the age of 65. Raising the OAS age of eligibility to 67, which means continuing on social assistance, means two more years of poverty. That is not a good policy option for Canada.

I mentioned earlier our ratification of the UN convention. I said we have agreed that we are going to improve the living standards of persons with disabilities, including through retirement benefits. I hope I have answered your question.

I applaud the idea of compensating provinces for the continuation of social assistance, but that still leaves two years of poverty for people who will be on social assistance for two more years.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you.

Canada, of course, spends a significantly smaller portion of its GDP on public pensions than do OECD countries on average, and as I said, Canada's population is younger than that of most other OECD countries.

I don't have time to ask you about it, but I also note that, given that another change in this budget implementation act will take away the requirement for proactive employment equity measures for federal contractors, there will no longer be a requirement of private contractors to the federal government to hire people with disabilities in proportion to their representation in the general population. That's another step backwards.

I do want to get time to ask Mr. Zinatelli about his support for the proposal around insuring long-term disability benefits. There were some very moving public statements by former Nortel employees who were cut off and who suffered great hardship through that catastrophe. I met someone in my riding just a couple of weeks ago, a very senior scientist for Nortel, who had lost 40% of his pension because of the Nortel bankruptcy. He still found it unbelievable that such a successful company could end up in that nosedive.

I just want to get your thoughts about pensions.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Be very brief.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Is there any kind of insurance you've been thinking of around private pension plans?

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Be very brief, Mr. Zinatelli. We're over time.

9:45 a.m.

Vice-President, General Counsel, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc.

Frank Zinatelli

That is certainly another very important question that will have to be discussed and that has been discussed to a great degree. I believe this LTD initiative we have started is very positive. We are hoping that the provinces will also come on board with similar initiatives to address employers that operate under those jurisdictions.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

Ms. Leitch, go ahead, please.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you very much. I want to thank everyone for their presentations today.

Actually, my first question is directed to Mr. Nikias.

Thank you very much for being here today.

In my previous life, I spent most of my time dealing with families with children who had cerebral palsy. I'm a pediatric orthopedic surgeon from Bloorview, so I can appreciate your comments about families who have children with disabilities and their needs for the future.

I'd like to get your comments on one of the particular initiatives that's outlined in this budget, the RDSP. We have received a significant amount of feedback. I have to say, I actually received a lot of feedback in my clinics, when I was still practising, about the RDSP and the need for flexibility and changes within that program.

Could you comment on this measure, on the need for the provinces to work together in order to bring this measure forward, and on the necessity of it for families, and give us your thoughts with regard to the RDSP?

9:45 a.m.

Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Vangelis Nikias

I can say without any reservation that the initiative, the RDSP, has been positive. It helps Canadians with disabilities and their families to plan for the future. Obviously—and this is a long-standing approach by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and others—if we are going to make progress in the disability area generally and with respect to this program in particular, it is important to have very good collaboration among the various levels of government.

In terms of the program itself, we have been very positive. We consider it a very positive development.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

The second question I have for you is focused on what you raised as labour market attachment.

I have met many families whose older adolescent children are looking to be attached to the workforce and are looking for a means to do that. This budget moves forward with increased funds in the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities, particularly the expert panel as well. Could you give us some best practices that you know of so that we can move forward with that initiative?

You have commented on older individuals with disabilities being in poverty. One of the ways to obviate that is for younger people with disabilities to be incorporated and attached to the workforce. That's the initiative we're moving forward on, to make sure they have opportunities just like every other young Canadian.

Could you give me your comments with respect to our expert panel? Do you agree that was a good initiative? Also, do you agree that an increase in funding of $30 million for the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities to increase labour market attachment was a positive move for people with disabilities?

9:45 a.m.

Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Vangelis Nikias

The opportunities fund is a positive program. The new $10 million that the government has allocated is a positive initiative and we applaud that.

The panel that the ministers are putting together is a good way of exploring good practices. It's a good way of bringing together people with disabilities. That's why we are offering to help with the functioning of the panel in its work, and also to bring together private sector employers and come up with best practices and a plan for a labour market strategy.

All these things I think are very important and positive developments.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you very much, sir. I really appreciate that. We look forward to getting your comments and your input on that, because obviously your organization and many others across the country are extremely important for moving forward with that.

My next question is for Dr. Sweetman. I'll be very quick. You commented with respect to the EI program and getting people back to work and the increase in the development of more resources for individuals to be able to attach themselves to the labour market, because they may be out of work because of some temporary issue for themselves and we want to get them reattached.

Could you elaborate a bit more on what portions of these changes you see are key with respect to the impact they will have on specific regions in the country?

9:50 a.m.

Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Sweetman

I think what you're referring to is the labour market information changes that the Minister of HRSDC announced recently. I view these as very positive. It's about the federal government systematically collecting information about job opportunities and disseminating it to Canadians in a very timely, in fact, a very forceful way.

One of the big problems for many job seekers is identifying job opportunities. The search process itself is difficult. Anything government can do to increase the efficiency of the search process has the potential to be very beneficial. I am very keen on this. I think if it's executed well, it has the potential to be a very beneficial program. I hope they extend it not just to EI recipients but to all job seekers in Canada. If we can help people know more about jobs that are available locally, that would be very beneficial.

In particular, one of the things—

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you. I'm sorry, but we are over time. We can come back if there's more time at the end.

Monsieur Mai, s'il vous plaît.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Nikias, yesterday and the day before, we heard from Canada Without Poverty and Campaign 2000. They came before us and asked the government to work in terms of trying to tackle poverty. They said that in this budget there's nothing that really does tackle poverty.

Even in your case, I think you mentioned that one of the unintended consequences of this bill is that people with disabilities will live in poverty longer. What are the consequences of disabled people living in poverty longer?

9:50 a.m.

Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Vangelis Nikias

What are the consequences? Where do I start? Perhaps their food budget is affected negatively. Their health is affected negatively. Shelter is affected negatively. I hate to be sensational, but living two more years in poverty for people who are already poor is basically a prolongation of social misery. Why should we in Canada, even by mistake, do something like that?

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

You also mentioned that, obviously, when we're talking about people who are affected by GIS—and with disabilities and you also mentioned aboriginal people—we're really talking about people who definitely do need the help, and in this case the government is not doing its job in protecting those people. Am I correct?

9:50 a.m.

Project Manager, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Vangelis Nikias

Our approach, as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, is that we want to raise these issues, to work with the government and parliamentarians to address problems as they arise.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Thank you very much.

Mr. Wolfson, you've worked with Statistics Canada, Treasury Board, the Department of Finance. When we were asked to look at this bill and when we had the officials come here, we asked for more information regarding OAS, for instance, how much it would cost. We never received a clear answer from the officials. It was only after, and through the media, that we received some of the information.

Can you comment a bit in terms of how much information we get here now in terms of the bill or in terms of the budget? Is it normal? Is it sufficient for us to make clear decisions?

9:50 a.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Michael Wolfson

I can't comment on its normalcy because it's been over 20 to 25 years since I was involved in the policy departments, but my impression is that there is a tremendous capacity in this country and in the Government of Canada—at least until I was there—to produce sophisticated policy analysis. In my own experience, for example, when I worked with this parliamentary committee in the early 1980s we could call on Health and Welfare—as it was called then—or the Department of Finance, to produce detailed numbers and the parliamentary committee routinely asked for them and got them. My impression is that continued for many years, but I have no idea what you guys are getting now. My impression is, not as much. It's disappointing.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

It is disappointing. We had the Parliamentary Budget Officer saying that we have an unacceptable lack of transparency. He's also saying that we cannot make decisions regarding the information or the lack of information that we have right now. When we talk about OAS, for instance, and we talk about the modelling, there are a lot of questions that were asked for which we didn't get answers from the officials. Also, if you look at the budget, it's not as clear in terms of all the impacts, especially the economic impact, from that budget. So we don't have all the information that we should have as parliamentarians who have to make decisions regarding the implications of the policies. For instance, when we talk about people with disabilities, we have now learned that those impacts will be there.

Just very briefly, how much compensation do you think that the provincial governments will receive according to this budget, with all of the implications?

9:55 a.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Michael Wolfson

The short answer is that I don't know because it's a projection.

But just back on the business about information, I'm afraid, folks, that the government is behaving in a way that seems to imply that it doesn't care as much about evidence. It knows what it wants to do.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

Mr. Albas, please.

June 1st, 2012 / 9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I appreciate the witnesses being here today. This is a very important topic to me. I'd actually like to discuss something that so far I haven't heard a lot of discussion about today, so I'm going to be directing my questions, Mr. Chair, to Mr. Sweetman.

There's been a lot discussion in this country on the need for introducing long overdue reforms to the immigration system, which we all know faces significant challenges. Researchers, commentators and—obviously here—elected officials, in particular, have noted the need to make admissions and decisions more quickly and that improving economic outcomes for new immigrants will be better for prospective immigrants and for Canada. I should say that this, Mr. Chair, is exactly what the government is striving to do. I'd like to ask Mr. Sweetman if he can explain to the committee the benefits of a more responsive, flexible, and economically focused immigration system.

9:55 a.m.

Professor, Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, Department of Economics, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Sweetman

Clearly, our immigration system is in need of reform and the minister has announced an amazingly large and detailed series of reforms over the past couple of months, most of which are not part of this budget. The elements that are in this budget are primarily to give the minister more responsibility to be able to make ministerial instructions—that is to make short-term changes—and also to affect the queue of people applying to Canada, the so-called inventory or backlog. Reducing the inventory or backlog is really very important since it increases the flexibility for the system to make it responsive, which has great advantages for Canada if you're going to be filling niches, if you're looking for people who are complements to current Canadians in production.

Someone, though, is going to have to bear some pain associated with that policy. At the moment, what the budget seems to be doing is putting a large percentage of that pain not onto the Canadian population, but onto the people who are in the queue waiting to apply to become Canadians. There is definitely a need for reform, and there's going to be some pain associated with that reform. One of the questions that this budget is dealing with is: who's bearing that pain?