Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to appear before this committee to talk about the 2007-2008 Supplementary Estimates.
Of course, Mr. Chairman, it's always a pleasure to be amongst friends here at Christmastime, a real pleasure.
Let me briefly outline my department's proposed investments and ask your support in helping Canadians create a productive and prosperous economy.
Human Resources and Social Development Canada touches the lives of all Canadians. Our programs and services directly benefit Canadians through employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, old age security, the universal child care benefit, loans disbursed under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and other student assistance programs.
We assist Canadians through Service Canada's 597 points of service and by working with our federal, provincial, and voluntary sector partners.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, is helping Canadians access quality and affordable housing by supporting low-income Canadian households, including seniors, persons with disabilities, aboriginal Canadians and women and children experiencing family violence.
Earlier I mentioned that my portfolio provides services directly to Canadians. I want to take this opportunity to update you on our progress in providing eligible citizens funding under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. To date, we have received 79,600 common-experience payment applications and have issued 25,900 payments, totalling $512.7 million. This is in addition to advance payments of $82.6 million, which have already been paid to individuals 65 and older, for a total of $595.3 million.
The funding sought by HRSD in these supplementary estimates is in support of a vision to build a stronger and more competitive Canada, to support Canadians in making choices that help them live productive and rewarding lives, and to improve Canadians' quality of life.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the ways in which these supplementary estimates enable the government to deliver on its budget commitments: making improvements to the temporary foreign worker program, $15.9 million; expanding the New Horizons for Seniors program, $8.2 million; improving labour market outcomes of aboriginal people, $4.9 million; providing domestic in-person service and a dedicated phone line for the foreign credential recognition office, $4.2 million; creating a new human resource sector council for the forestry industry, $0.3 million; enabling the transition from the national homelessness initiative to the new homelessness partnering strategy, $25.1 million; supporting the delivery of the Transport Canada ecoAUTO rebate program, $6.3 million; delivering renovation program assistance for low-income households over the next two years, $181.9 million; creating affordable housing under the bilateral affordable housing agreements, $40.8 million.
Today I would like to focus on what my department is doing to address the changing nature of the labour force and to support Canada's families.
Let me start with the labour market.
Canadians can take pride in our performance as a society and an economy. Our unemployment rate, at 5.8%, is the lowest in 33 years. Half a million jobs have been created in the past two years alone, and almost 80% of working-age Canadians are in the labour force today, a record level.
But when we look at the long term, it becomes clear that the demographics are working against us. For the last 50 years, our labour force has been the single greatest factor contributing to economic expansion. Over the past half century, it grew by nearly 200%. But in the next 50 years, that labour force is projected to increase by only 11%, and that includes immigration.
Our challenge is too few skilled workers to meet demand. In the past, we didn't seem to have enough work to go around for the number of workers. Now many jobs are going unfilled. Even in areas of high unemployment, we don't have enough skilled workers to fill job openings.
This is a challenge, Mr. Chairman, but it is also a wonderful opportunity.
We can raise our standard of living by ensuring all Canadians can access our labour market. Far too many Canadians are unemployed or underemployed. The best way to help them create opportunities in the emerging economy is by helping them acquire knowledge and skills.
This brings me to Advantage Canada, our long-term economic strategy. It sets an achievable goal:
to create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world.
Mr. Chair, our government wants to ensure that students can access post-secondary education. That's why the Government of Canada is investing 40% more per year in our post-secondary education system through the Canada social transfer.
In budget 2007, we also formally launched a review of the Canada student loans program, in consultation with provinces, territories, and stakeholders. In that regard, my officials have worked with national advisory groups representing a wide range of interests, held regular consultations with provinces and territories, and have sought the views of Canadians. We plan to announce the outcomes of this review in budget 2008.
I would now like to say a few words about the Canada summer jobs initiative. I am pleased to report that this initiative created about 42,000 summer jobs and offered funding to over 18,000 applicants. As you all know, I asked the department to accelerate a second round of funding decisions when it became apparent that some organizations delivering vital community services could be denied funding.
When the books are closed, we expect to have spent between $103 million and $105 million under this initiative. In the supplementary estimates, we are requesting $44.3 million for Canada summer jobs.
I am proud of the Government of Canada's role in helping students find career-related work while helping them save for school. I seek the support of the committee in continuing to make that happen. I look forward to announcing the government's new approach to the Canada summer jobs initiative for 2008 in the very near future.
Mr. Chair, through our labour market initiative announced in budget 2007, we will make significant investments through negotiated agreements with provinces and territories to provide training and labour market programming to people not covered by employment insurance. This includes members of underrepresented groups such as persons with disabilities as well as those with low education and literacy levels.
That same philosophy of collaboration also exists under the aboriginal skills and employment partnership program. We have more than doubled the program to provide training and jobs for aboriginal workers in major economic development sectors across Canada, such as forestry, mining, and construction.
I would like to draw committee members' attention to the forestry sector, which has been faced with some serious challenges in recent years.
Our government recognizes that many single-industry towns across Canada have been hit by lay-offs.
Our targeted initiative for older workers program means we can give older workers in these communities the training they need so they can find new jobs and support their families and our economic growth.
In September this year we also created a new sector council for the forestry industry. This investment highlights our commitment to work closely with the forestry industry to address skills shortages and to help the industry recruit and retain skilled workers.
Mr. Chairman, our government recognizes that not all regions experience the same growth and that individuals employed in seasonal work face special challenges.
To help these seasonal workers, we will continue the extended EI benefits pilot project to June 6, 2009. This demonstrates that our government has taken action to support workers and will continue to do so while traditional and seasonal industries adjust to global conditions. Our priority is to help Canadians participate in the labour market.
I have also announced an extension in the labour market agreement for persons with disabilities, with the provinces and territories, until March 2009. This investment will help Canadians with disabilities develop skills so they can find and keep good, long-term jobs, by breaking down barriers that some persons with disabilities face when trying to get a meaningful job.
Let me now turn to our other priority, providing support to families and their diverse needs. Through our significant investments in benefits for families, particularly those with children and those in low- and middle-income families, we are trying to help Canadians reach their potential. We believe in strong Canadian families that are able to contribute to their well-being, to the labour market, to their communities, and to their country. We are making significant investments in low- and middle-income families through the Canada child tax benefit, and the national child benefit supplement for low-Income families. We are also helping families with the costs of raising their children, through the universal child care benefit and the new child tax credit announced in budget 2007. And we are helping Canadians get over the welfare wall through the working income tax benefit, which strengthens incentives for low-income individuals who are either already in the workforce or who want to work.
The Government of Canada recognizes and values the contributions that seniors have made to their communities. With the passage of Bill C-36, there will now be automatic renewals of the guaranteed income supplement for recipients who file tax returns. We've also been conducting an outreach program to ensure that seniors are getting the information they need about their benefits.
Finally, we are expanding the New Horizons for Seniors program. This program helps seniors benefit from and contribute to the quality of life in their communities through active living. One aspect of that program focuses on education about elder abuse.
With these supplementary estimates, HRSDC is requesting Parliament's approval for additional funding totalling $146.6 million, which is offset by funding available within the department of $82.6 million. The total net voted requirements for the 2007-08 supplementary estimates is $64 million.
For CMHC, we are requesting a total of $222,871,000 to cover planned expenses for the 2007-08 period.
I would be pleased to answer the committee's questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.