Evidence of meeting #119 for Finance in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was alberta.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jaskiran Mehta  As an Individual
Gil McGowan  President, Alberta Federation of Labour
Deborah Yedlin  President and Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Chamber of Commerce
Anthony Norejko  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Business Aviation Association
Paul McLauchlin  President, Rural Municipalities of Alberta
Nathalie Lachance  President, Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta
Malcolm Bruce  Chief Executive Officer, Edmonton Global
Daniel Breton  President and Chief Executive Officer, Electric Mobility Canada
Bill Bewick  Executive Director, Fairness Alberta
Chris Gallaway  Executive Director, Friends of Medicare
Greg Schmidt  Director, Board of Directors, National Cattle Feeders' Association
Janice Tranberg  President and Chief Executive Officer, National Cattle Feeders' Association

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

I call this meeting to order. Welcome, everyone.

This is meeting number 119 of the Standing Committee on Finance. We're meeting on the pre-budget consultations in advance of the 2024 budget.

Just for everybody's knowledge, this committee has received an overwhelming and great number of briefs from right across the country, over 850. It is a record number this year.

This is the first time that the finance committee is travelling on pre-budget consultations in five years, so we are delighted to be able to reach out locally right across the country and to be on the ground. We did the Atlantic provinces and, over this week, we've done Quebec and Toronto. We were in Winnipeg yesterday, and today we are here in beautiful Edmonton, Alberta. We're delighted to be here with all of the local stakeholders being able to share their testimony with us.

One of the things we also do on this committee—we're quite a pioneering committee, and this is a great and right place to be when you're pioneering—is that we have something called an “open mike” for individuals who would have liked to come before our committee but for whom there may not have been a space at the table, yet they would still like to provide a deputation.

We have somebody with us today who will be doing that. We'll ask Ms. Jaskiran Mehta from the Terry Fox Foundation to please come to the open mike and provide us with your statement and your testimony.

Thank you.

8:50 a.m.

Jaskiran Mehta As an Individual

Good morning, everyone.

My name is Jaskiran Mehta. I received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award, from 2005 to 2009, during my undergraduate studies at the University of Winnipeg for my Bachelor of Science degree. I went on to further pursue my education by moving to Alberta to fulfill a medical sciences degree in oncology. I now work in the management of clinical trials for a global organization, setting up trials to treat cancer.

Words cannot express the impact that this award had on my life. I come from a lower-middle-class family where finances were always limited. Receiving this award allowed me to focus and excel in my education, leading me to where I am today.

The recipients of this award are not your average group of individuals. They're a very special group that exemplifies the qualities of Terry Fox himself. They have overcome challenges, adversities and obstacles, all while excelling in their education and humanitarian efforts.

This award not only gave me, as a recipient, an opportunity, but it gave me a chance to impact the lives of thousands by the ripple effects of my work. Therefore, please, when considering the dollar allocation per recipient, also think about the exponential reach of those dollars.

Thank you.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Ms. Mehta, thank you very much. That was excellent. Thank you for your advocacy. Thank you for all that you have accomplished, and thanks to the Terry Fox Foundation for what it's done for our country not just here but globally. Thank you. We appreciate that.

Members, I know it's not nine o'clock as of yet, so we do have some time. I think this is an opportunity for members, as we go around the table, to be able to share where they're from, their ridings and a little bit about themselves for our witnesses.

We do have a local—he is not local to Edmonton but to Calgary—Jasraj Hallan, MP for Calgary Forest Lawn.

Maybe we could start with you, MP Hallan.

8:55 a.m.


Jasraj Singh Hallan Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn, AB

Hi, everyone. Thanks for being here today.

I would have preferred that we were in the better city of Alberta, but it's okay. We'll make do.

I'm the proud member of Parliament for Calgary Forest Lawn. Also, I'm the shadow minister of finance for the Conservative Party.

I was born in Dubai. I moved here when I was five. Kind of like Jaskiran said, I come from a lower-income family. I'm blessed to be here where I am today after going through.... An at-risk youth is what I was designated as, but, through the blessings of God and this country, I'm here today as a member of Parliament. That's a little bit about me.

I ran a home-building business before this and also ran an after-school program for at-risk youth, so that's where most of my passion is today.

Thanks for being here.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Before we go to Mr. Morantz, we've been asked by the technicians to not touch the mikes. They will manage the mikes. If someone does touch their mike, I guess it turns all the mikes off, so everything will go off.

Interpretation devices are available. Channel 1 is for English, and channel 2 is for French.

Thank you.

8:55 a.m.


Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

That's good to know, Mr. Chair. I'll try not to touch the button when Mr. Blaikie is speaking.

I'm Marty Morantz, member of Parliament for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, which is in Winnipeg. I was elected in 2019 and then re-elected in 2021.

I currently serve as the associate shadow minister of finance with my colleague, Jasraj Hallan. I'm delighted to be in the excellent and beautiful city of Edmonton. I look forward to hearing your testimony.

Thank you.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Go ahead, MP Ste-Marie.

8:55 a.m.


Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Hello everyone.

My name is Gabriel Ste‑Marie and I am the member of Parliament for Joliette, representing the Bloc Québécois. Joliette is located about a 45‑minute drive northeast of Montreal.

I am pleased to meet you. Our committee always has very enlightening panels of witnesses and we take a lot of notes. We will try to include your important recommendations in the report we will be presenting to the Minister of Finance and her colleagues so they are reflected in the next budget.

I will take this opportunity to say that I understand now why there is a housing shortage in Canada. It started when Mr. Hallan left his construction firm to go into politics.

8:55 a.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Good morning, everybody.

My name's Daniel Blaikie, and I'm the member of Parliament for Elmwood—Transcona, which is a Winnipeg riding. I'm a construction electrician by trade and NDP finance critic, employment and workforce development critic, and critic for democratic reform.

I'm very pleased to be here in Edmonton. I quite like Edmonton. I think there are lots of great people, so I'm glad to be here.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Thank you.

Go ahead, MP Baker.

November 16th, 2023 / 8:55 a.m.


Yvan Baker Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Welcome, everybody, and thank you all for being here and for your advocacy on your respective issues and causes.

My name is Yvan Baker. I'm the member of Parliament for a riding called Etobicoke Centre, and unlike Jas, I'm very happy to be here. My riding is a suburban community on the western side of the city of Toronto. For those of you who land at Pearson Airport and head into the city, you go through my riding almost immediately as you drive along Highway 427.

I'm proud to be a member of the finance committee. I used to be a member of provincial parliament in Ontario, where I also served on the finance committee and as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance in that context.

I'm happy to be here and look forward to your input.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Go ahead, MP Dzerowicz.

8:55 a.m.


Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thanks so much.

Thank you for being here today. It's my first time in Edmonton, although I've been right across Alberta.

I am Julie Dzerowicz. I am the member of Parliament for Davenport, which is a riding in downtown west Toronto. I spent about 20 years in the business world and co-founded an environmental group. My mother though—and I don't think anybody else knows this—actually comes from a farming family, so I know through her a lot about rural life.

I'm also president of the Canada-NATO Parliamentary Association, so I do a lot of work on national security and defence.

It's a real pleasure to be here. Thank you.

9 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Thank you, MP Dzerowicz.

I'm Peter Fonseca. I'm the MP for Mississauga East—Cooksville. I've been to Edmonton a number of times. Actually, I was saying to Deborah Yedlin that I had run the half marathon here. I can't remember how I placed, but it was pretty good. I also came to meet a friend who started a great business here called the Running Room, John Stanton. You may know John. He has a big personality, and he's done a great job, not only here but well into the United States, which is terrific.

For all of this to happen, we have our clerk, Alexandre Roger, whom you probably all know best and who helped set you up here today. We also have our analysts, our technicians—as I said, don't touch the mic, everybody—and our interpreters, who do a tremendous job and make sure that we have all of our proceedings in both official languages.

On that, we are going to now welcome our witnesses.

For our witnesses today, we have, from the Alberta Federation of Labour, president Gil McGowan. From the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, we have Deborah Yedlin, president and chief executive officer. From the Canadian Business Aviation Association, we have Anthony Norejko, president and chief executive officer. From Rural Municipalities of Alberta, we have Paul McLauchlin, president. Finally, from the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, we have Nathalie Lachance, who is the president, as well as Isabelle Laurin, who's the executive director.

Now you will all have up to five minutes for your opening statements. We are going to start with the Alberta Federation of Labour, please.

9 a.m.

Gil McGowan President, Alberta Federation of Labour

Thanks. Good morning.

As you said, my name is Gil McGowan, and I have the honour of serving as the elected president of Alberta's largest worker advocacy group, the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents workers in all sectors of the Alberta economy.

On behalf of our members, I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to share some of our concerns and suggestions about the economy and the next federal budget. In the short time available to me, I'd like to focus on three issues of major concern to our members: the affordability crisis, the unfolding global energy transition and the Alberta government's proposal to pull out of the Canada pension plan.

When it comes to the affordability crisis, we wholeheartedly support federal initiatives to work directly with municipalities to build more housing. However, we humbly suggest that greater efforts should be made to ensure that those projects pay prevailing wages and provide opportunities for skilled trades apprenticeships. Frankly, too many contractors in the residential and commercial construction sectors cut corners on wages, and most of them are not holding up their end on training the next generation of tradespeople. If they are going to get public money, they should be required to do better.

Another concern on affordability has to do with the temporary foreign worker program. The government clearly has given in to lobbying pressure from low-wage employers and has opened the floodgates to guest workers in the low-skill categories. This is putting upward pressure on housing costs and downward pressure on wages, the opposite of what working people in the province want to see during these inflationary times.

Also on the issue of affordability, we would like this committee to seriously consider the idea of introducing an excess profits tax to discourage oligopolistic companies from using their market power to jack up prices. Frankly, we're tired of inflation being blamed on worker wages and government spending when it's clear that the real problem is that many big companies, including grocery chains and oil and gas companies, have used the pandemic as a pretext to boost profits by gouging consumers.

Here in Alberta, we also have the problem of power companies using market manipulation tactics, like so-called economic withholding, to impose obscene price increases on residential and commercial customers. Our provincial government has refused to do anything about this highway robbery, so we would like the federal government to consider stepping in.

On the subject of the global energy transition, we would like to sincerely thank the federal government for the investment tax credits included in budget 2023 and for the labour conditions that were attached to those credits. However, we want to draw your attention to efforts being made by some corporations here in Alberta to game the system. In particular, a number of big project sponsors are trying to water down and get around requirements related to prevailing wages and apprenticeships. This can't be allowed to continue.

Also on the energy transition, we want to stress the need to pass the sustainable jobs act so that workers have a seat at the table when we're shaping industrial policy. We also encourage this government to start looking at the clean energy regulations as a platform for industrial policy and job creation, not simply as a mechanism for emissions reduction. We would like to encourage the government, again, to look at the Biden administration for inspiration, particularly its strategies to speed up the approval of the diversification projects and its announcement of a youth climate corps, which is an idea that we find very intriguing and that we think would be enthusiastically received by young workers here in Alberta.

Finally, with regard to the Alberta government's proposal to pull out of the CPP, we would like to encourage the finance minister to direct the chief actuary to do more than just calculate the amount that Alberta could take out of the CPP fund should it decide to leave. She should also be asked to clearly outline the impact that this proposed divorce would have on the retirement security of workers and retirees in both Alberta and the rest of the country.

I think my time is up. With that, I thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

You were ahead of time, but that's great, Mr. McGowan. Thank you very much for your opening remarks. I'm sure there will be a lot of questions.

Now we'll hear from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, please.

9:05 a.m.

Deborah Yedlin President and Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Chamber of Commerce

Thank you.

My name is Deborah Yedlin. I am the president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I am delivering these remarks on traditional Treaty No. 6 territory.

On behalf of our member businesses, I want to thank you for the opportunity to share our recommended investment, regulatory and legislative priorities for budget 2024.

First, allow me to provide a brief background of the Calgary chamber.

We exist to help businesses reach their potential. As an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization, we advocate for businesses of all sizes and across sectors. Our focus is building strength and resilience among members, working collaboratively with them to ensure Calgary and Canada, more broadly, remain a magnet for talent, investment and opportunity. Our submission to the committee reflects this focus, having been drafted in consultation with our business community, ensuring their most pressing needs are heard.

Our membership is incredibly diverse, ranging from small family businesses to large multinational corporations. While each business faces specific challenges, many share the same obstacles, including increasing inflation, rising costs, interest rates and persistent labour shortages. It is with this in mind that I would like to focus my remarks on four key pieces within our submission: supporting affordability and fiscal prudence, addressing labour force shortages, the importance of infrastructure investments and the role of innovation in economic growth and diversification.

In budget 2024, we encourage a balance between policy objectives and maintaining affordability for Canadian businesses. Cost-related challenges remain businesses' most pervasive near-term obstacle. Blanket government policies and regulations create winners and losers, significantly disadvantaging some regions over others. As one country working towards the same goal of a prosperous national economy, proposed legislation must consider regional differences, especially when they are associated with cost implications. The government has already acknowledged as much through its recent pause on the price on pollution for some heating oil in Atlantic Canada.

Balancing policy objectives and affordability is possible. Implementing clear and consistent regulatory frameworks and ensuring regional nuances are accounted for in policy development provide businesses with predictability, the foresight required for long-term planning and the confidence that unique jurisdictional challenges will be recognized and accommodated to the extent possible.

Doing so has an added incentive to investment attraction. While we can't compete with the incentives provided in the United States' Inflation Reduction Act, we can adjust our regulatory system to be a competitive advantage for Canada by decreasing time frames for project approvals. This is correlated to economic productivity, as regulatory delays harm project approvals and development and translate into a real opportunity cost to the country.

In the same vein, budget 2024 must lead by example, recognizing the cost challenges businesses are facing through a commitment to fiscal prudence. In an environment characterized by high inflation and geopolitical uncertainty, Canada's fiscal and monetary policies must be better aligned, recognizing the Bank of Canada must continue to operate from arm's length and independently from government. While the government has taken steps to reduce its spending, actions that reduce the federal deficit and pay down debt are needed. Importantly, we encourage budget 2024 to minimize new investments until such a time that existing funding not yet utilized or allocated can be disbursed and spent.

I would also add that small businesses are particularly impacted by cost-related challenges, and that where possible the government should exhaust all options at its disposal to support these businesses, such as further extending repayment deadlines for CEBA loans. CEBA loan extensions are particularly important to Alberta businesses, considering that the number of Alberta businesses approved for loans was the third-highest nationally, at 14% of all loans issued.

Second, we must remain focused on addressing persistent labour shortages. With 30% of Canadian businesses expecting labour shortages to pose a challenge to their growth, it is more important than ever to set conditions for success. As we expect 100% of national labour force growth to come from immigration in the future, addressing our labour shortages requires attracting more newcomers to Canada and ensuring we set them up for success on arrival.

That's why budget 2024 should include targeted reforms to Canada's temporary foreign worker program. We encourage the government to engage with local businesses to understand their temporary foreign worker requirements and further collaborate with provinces and territories to ensure that provincial nomination limits and the time workers are eligible to remain in Canada are aligned with labour market needs.

At the same time, we must ensure newcomers are successfully integrated into our communities. Settlement services and Canadian credentialization are critical to this. Immigrant settlement agencies are crucial to the settlement and integration of newcomers into Canada's labour force, and we urge the government to ensure they are adequately supported, recognizing that many organizations are facing challenges due to uncertain funding, which will inevitably lead to impacts on the services they deliver.

In the same vein, budget 2024 should look to address persistent issues surrounding foreign credentials and experience recognition. We encourage the government to collaborate with businesses, professional associations and colleges, as well as industry regulators, to identify and implement solutions that ensure that newcomers are eligible to work in in-demand fields upon arrival, providing immediate relief to many of the businesses struggling to find skilled talent.

Third, budget 2024 is an opportunity to refocus our national infrastructure investments to the benefit of our economy. Critically, budget 2024 must continue to advance affordable housing. For this reason, we are encouraged by the government's decision to approve the City of Calgary's recent submission to the housing accelerator fund, committing $228 million to support the development of 6,800 new homes across the housing spectrum.

At the same time, we must ensure that we provide the cultural experiences people look for when choosing which communities to call home, and downtown vibrancy is critical to these experiences. Locally, the City of Calgary and the Government of Alberta have made significant strides towards the revitalization of Calgary's downtown, and additional support for downtown revitalization can unlock even greater economic potential. By collaborating with others—

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Thank you.

9:10 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Chamber of Commerce

Deborah Yedlin

Am I done?

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

We're well past the time, Ms. Yedlin, but you're going to have a lot of time during members' questions to witnesses.

It was five minutes, but, as I said, you'll have a lot of time during questions from members.

We are going to hear now from the Canadian Business Aviation Association, please.

9:10 a.m.

Anthony Norejko President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Business Aviation Association

Good morning, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

My name is Anthony Norejko. On behalf of the Canadian Business Aviation Association, I am here to discuss key considerations for the upcoming 2024 pre-budget consultation. By way of a quick background, our association is the voice for business aviation in Canada. We represent almost 400 members and the 1,500 aircraft that operate across the country coast to coast to coast, and 300 of those aircraft are based right here in Alberta. Our recently completed and soon to be released economic impact study demonstrates that business aviation operations and manufacturing in Canada support directly 25,600 jobs across the country, earning $3 billion in wages. In fact, the average wage per direct job is just over $116,000.

In short, our industry moves both Canadians and our economy forward every day. My testimony today will focus on three pivotal themes: the impact of the luxury tax, the crucial role of sustainable aviation fuel and the imperative need for a comprehensive study of the aviation industry’s economic influence on Canadians.

Firstly, the implementation of the luxury tax needs careful scrutiny and continued review. Although the federal Department of Finance Canada estimates only minor economic losses to the aerospace sector from the tax—between $2 million to $4 million in GDP and 10 to 20 full-time job losses—a study conducted by the researchers at HEC Montréal and circulated by our colleagues at the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada anticipates far worse consequences to the industry and, by effect, the national economy at large.

In 2022, it is estimated that the tax resulted in the lost sales of no less than 18 business jet aircraft, equivalent to roughly $800 million in lost revenue. However, the potential full-year consequences to the sector include losses to manufacturers of not only business jets but other aircraft types, along with employment losses to the broader aerospace supply chain, business aviation operators, and maintenance, repair and overhaul businesses in Canada. Across all these subsectors combined, the anticipated losses include at least 2,000 direct jobs with a conservative estimate of $149 million in lost wages. These lost wages imply $29.9 million in forgone annual income tax revenue to the federal government, which would exceed the $9 million in annual revenue expected to be collected from the luxury tax itself. Additional consequences may include forgone foreign direct investment into the Canadian aerospace sector at risk as a result of a less industry-friendly government, along with environmental impacts associated with operators retaining older and used aircraft with lower fuel efficiencies instead of buying new technologies to improve both safety and environmental performance.

This brings me to the topic of support for sustainable aviation fuel. It is vital to address the support for SAF. SAF presents a transformative opportunity and is today the single largest lever we can pull for aviation emissions reductions. By investing in SAF, the government can position Canada at the forefront of aviation sustainability. This not only aligns with our environmental commitments but also stimulates green innovation and job creation. Therefore, allocating budgetary resources towards SAF development, infrastructure and incentives to use the fuel when available, is a strategic move for the long-term environmental and economic benefits.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the importance of this committee undertaking a detailed study of the entire aviation industry. I’ll start by sharing some quick statistics to help frame the story. Each business aircraft in Canada has a direct economic impact that results in 7.1 jobs per aircraft, $770,000 in wages to Canadians per aircraft, almost $1 million in GDP per aircraft and at least $305,000 in taxes per aircraft.

Business aviation operations and manufacturing result in $1.2 billion in taxes paid to the federal, provincial and municipal governments. While this is just one sector of Canada’s air transportation system, it is a substantial contributor to our economy, offering employment, facilitating trade and connecting our communities. Canada’s air industry competes globally and benefits us locally. Understanding the entire sector's dynamics, challenges and potential is critical for informed policy-making. This study should review no less than six critical areas of Canada’s air industry: the role of government, airports, airlines, air operators, air navigation, and lastly, manufacturing and maintenance. This in-depth study could pave the way for strategic decisions that bolster the industry while ensuring it aligns with our national economic goals.

In conclusion, the upcoming budget presents a unique opportunity to address these critical areas. By carefully evaluating the impact of the luxury tax, strongly supporting sustainable aviation fuel and undertaking a thorough study of the aviation industry, we can ensure balanced, forward-looking policies that benefit all Canadians.

Thank you for your attention and for the pivotal role you play in shaping our nation’s economic policy.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Thank you, Mr. Norejko.

Now we'll hear from the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

9:15 a.m.

Paul McLauchlin President, Rural Municipalities of Alberta

I appreciate being here today. Thank you to the committee and thank you, Chair.

I represent 85% of the land base in the province of Alberta, including 69 municipalities. We have 15% of the population and contribute 26% to the GDP and 44% of capital investment. We are stewards of the air, the water and food security. These are all critical issues that I deal with from a rural standpoint.

To MP Hallan, I grew up in Marlboro. Go figure. I moved back to the farm and married a Burlington girl, so I'm connected to everybody here, I think.

The message I have for you folks has to do with understanding the journey we are on. Rural connectivity is a critical and pivotal piece of the investment piece. Going back to the conversation related to investment, rural connectivity is critical. We do appreciate the announced investments, but the flow of money has not met the need. Alberta has actually been terribly behind and only about 35% of rural Alberta has broadband that actually matches the expectations.

We need to have these investments a little quicker and continue these investments, because Alberta is terribly behind. There are really the unserved folks, the rural remote folks who are the most unserved.

I want to talk about resilient rural communities. You have to love Alberta. Five of the 10 largest insurance claims for weather-induced events have occurred in the province of Alberta. If you go to Lloyd's of London, they know exactly where Alberta is, whether it's related to a fire, a flood or you name it.

I want to talk a little bit about resilient communities with respect to looking at disaster recovery to build back better. “Like for like” has been the model, but communities, especially small communities, need to have those core investments to understand what the risks are and the risk mitigations for these weather-induced events. It's critically important.

I represent a low population and a large land base. The municipalities I represent actually have more responsibility, with 65% of the roads in the province of Alberta and 55% of the bridges, but we have low population and that is due to the small towns that are near us. This rural infrastructure conversation is one of our biggest issues. As a municipal councillor and the reeve of Ponoka County, I have 10,000 people, and I actually have a $170-million bridge liability among those 10,000 people, because we have the responsibility for those bridges.

We are required to replace this infrastructure—and again I go back to the conversation related to weather-induced events—if we do have a situation where we're having a disaster such as a fire or flood. The good folks in Edson had both and got evacuated twice. This is a stark reality we are dealing with, and building this resilient infrastructure is an important conversation. I won't lie to you, folks: The Government of Alberta is starting to assert itself, much as other provincial governments have, in that they are trying to break the relationship or any type of relationship between municipalities and the federal government. They are actively doing so.

I'm very concerned about that, because although we are children of the provincial government, I don't like being treated like a child. We do amazing things with our low population. We take care of an incredible amount of infrastructure that's extremely cost-effective. It is really important to ensure that we have this conversation and we create this relationship to create a better rural Alberta.

Ultimately—I am also on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities—this is all across Canada. Rural communities work hard. They need a hand up, and they need some help that way as well.

One final piece I want to touch on is the policy piece: someone writing cheques with our butts but we're not at the table. Retroactive RCMP pay has been a huge blow to small municipalities across Canada. I know we can't go back in a wayback machine, but that policy choice and those choices made on retroactive pay have caused undue harm to many municipalities.

We're trying to do more with less, and those types of policy choices that provide that downloading of negotiated fees to municipalities are critically important. It's a big issue for a lot of municipalities because we're doing more with less.

I'm the president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta. My two top issues are health care and policing, but my responsibility is roads and bridges. That is a stark communication on really where we're at as a society, and we need to have this conversation.

Thank you so much.

9:20 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Peter Fonseca

Thank you, Mr. McLauchlin. Yes, municipal government is really where the rubber meets the road, and we all know that.

Now we will hear from the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta.

Go ahead, please.

9:20 a.m.

Nathalie Lachance President, Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta

Hello everyone. Welcome to Edmonton, a very beautiful city in a beautiful valley.

My name is Nathalie Lachance and I am president of the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, the ACFA. With me is our executive director, Isabelle Laurin.

I want to extend a warm welcome on Treaty 6 territory and the territory of the Métis nation. I think it is important to note that we are commemorating Louis Riel today and there will be an event at 11:00 this morning in front of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Thank you for the invitation to appear before this committee and to express the concerns of the francophone community of Alberta.

Since 1926, the ACFA has been defending the gains of Alberta's francophonie, advancing its rights, and enhancing its vitality. The ACFA represents more than 261,000 French-speaking Albertans, a growing francophonie, and more than 50 francophone organizations. As a member of the FCFA, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, the ACFA supports the recommendations put forward by the FCFA in its brief presented to your committee last August.

I take the opportunity of my presence here to revisit some of these recommendations, and to add a few points about the realities faced by our francophone communities in Alberta.

Last April, the ACFA enthusiastically welcomed the Action Plan for Official Languages 2023‑2028, which included a historic, but temporary, increase in investment in official languages. Although the federal government increased the amounts earmarked for core funding of organizations operating within Canada's francophonie, these amounts fell short of the FCFA's recommendations to avoid the breaking point for organizations. In our opinion, core funding should be increased in the next budget.

Before the pandemic and inflation, many organizations were already struggling to make ends meet. This reality has only intensified over the past year: rising rent costs, increased event organization costs, increased travel costs, departure of employees in a context of labour shortage, as they find better-paid jobs elsewhere, and inevitable deficits to meet deliverables.

The need to act is urgent. That is not to mention the organizations that receive no core funding, like our community media, and which have also seen their federal advertising revenues plummet. To add to the problem, here we are, seven months after the unveiling of the action plan, and none of the funding and programs planned for the current fiscal year has been confirmed and allocated to our francophone communities. We are still waiting, even though the federal government should be distributing these funds now, and it is important to note that they must be spent by March 31.

Meanwhile, our organizations are having to cut back on their operations. Successful programs are also being put on hold. In a minority situation, we do not have the luxury of advancing funds and risking the future of our organizations while we wait for the federal government to sort out the paperwork to distribute the funds. These delays are far from a positive measure, as intended by the Official Languages Act: they weaken our francophone communities.

In our opinion, Alberta's francophonie is experiencing an additional problem related to the significant growth of its French-speaking population over the past 20 to 30 years. The federal government must review its funding envelopes to reflect these new realities. Alberta often mentions that it wants its fair share from the federal government. The same is true for Alberta's francophonie.

This is true for French-language education, whether through francophone or French immersion schools, which is crucial to Alberta's francophonie. The OLEP envelope for Alberta, the Official Languages in Education Program, has not changed in several agreements, despite the fact that our population and educational needs have grown significantly. It is time for the federal government to recognize that we need to review these amounts. The data released by Statistics Canada on section 23 charter rights holders now supports what our francophone school boards have known and said for many years.

Last June, the ACFA also welcomed the modernization of the Official Languages Act. More than six years of work has been invested, both by the federal government and representatives of francophone communities, such as the ACFA. The federal government must provide adequate funding for the implementation of the new act in its next budget. This is fundamental for us. Without this funding, the federal government will not have the means and resources to meet the new requirements imposed by the act.

Think about Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which is now obliged to implement a strong francophone immigration policy to increase the demographic weight of francophone minority communities. To achieve this, it is imperative to fund a real strategy for the internationalization of the francophonie. And think about Radio-Canada and its regional stations that serve our francophone communities, including Alberta, and whose fears of cuts are already worrying us. And our community organizations, which are already at breaking point, will have new workloads added to them to respond to countless requests for consultations or evidence from federal departments.

Finally, when it comes to transferring funds to the provinces and territories for various initiatives, the federal government must continue to include language clauses. In Alberta, for example, we have seen major advances in health and early childhood over the past year, with transfer agreements including language clauses. Without these clauses, French-language services are not automatically provided by our provinces, to the detriment of francophone communities.

Thank you.