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Evidence of meeting #5 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was million.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I would say the very good news is that this last summer was the hottest job market for youth in 15 years. Generally, youth did very well between the support we provided through CSJ and what was occurring already. Through the private sector and the not-for-profit sector, there were many opportunities.

However, I think it always is a wise idea for members of Parliament to take as much of a national approach as possible. We're always pulled in two ways. We're pulled toward our ridings, obviously. We're members of Parliament. We have a job to do to represent people. But we also have to look at the big picture. We're obliged to do that, and hopefully we'll all agree to try to find that balance as we consider the new program when we roll that out very soon.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

And that's what we look forward to.

My main question concerns the need to dispel some myths about the Canada summer jobs program. First of all, that there was $80 million from the common experience payment account to pay for those summer jobs. There have been incorrect stories in the media, and some members actually believe them. Could you perhaps straighten this out?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I'd be happy to do that, and I want to thank my friend for that question.

This was a story that ran and it was factually untrue. The $82 million the member raised, of course, was paid out to residential school students who were over the age of 65. It was paid out last year. This was not money that went to the Canada summer jobs program from residential schools; it was actually a payment to residential school students. So that's a pretty important point to make, and I appreciate the chance to correct the record on that.

Of course, as everyone knows and as I mentioned in my remarks, we are now approaching $600 million in payments to people who went to residential schools and were eligible for the common experience payment.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

And I think it's helpful for the committee to understand that it was an advance payment, because it was suggested that these advances be paid out early. I think it also has to be reiterated.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

It's a good point. The people who were receiving these payments tended to be very elderly. You know, tomorrow is promised to none of us, and we wanted, in a good faith attempt, to show that we understood our obligation with respect to this program. We got that money out the door as quickly as possible to make sure that very elderly people who had passed through the residential schools had the chance to enjoy the benefits of the common experience payment.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Would you also like to comment on the delays for people who have applied for the common experience payment? Could you update the committee on what's happening in regard to the service standards on that? How many applications have been made and how many payments?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

As I said in my remarks, about 79,000 have actually applied for the program. We've paid out, as I recall, a total of $600 million so far to 25,000 people.

Sometimes it's challenging, because people will come to us with not very much information. But I can tell you that the officials at Service Canada have been working very hard, along with the officials at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, to make sure we do everything we can to get this funding out as quickly as possible.

December 3rd, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

I'm going to take over now. I probably have time for one quick question before the next round.

You mentioned in your speaking notes the national homelessness initiative and the homelessness partnering strategy, $25.1 million. I had an opportunity in Edmonton to attend the opening of the L'Arche Ted Bradshaw House, which is a home for aging people with developmental disabilities. Six people live in the home and they have the live-in support they need there. It's a wonderful program, dealing with some of the issues we deal with from a homelessness perspective.

I have a son with autism, so it's something that's fairly close to my heart, obviously. As a parent you always kind of wonder what's going to happen when your child gets older and you're not around to take care of him any more.

Would you speak a little bit more to this homelessness partnering strategy? It seemed there was a lot of support in the room at that opening to the concept of bringing different groups together and taking ownership of something like that.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

I'm happy to.

This is an issue that I think really crosses party bounds. I've talked to a lot of people on this committee about the wisdom of having a lot of these problems resolved at the local level, to the degree that we can.

The homelessness partnering strategy brings together the federal government, the provincial government, municipal governments, the not-for-profit sector, and in many cases the private sector as well to try to resolve problems that might be unique to a particular community. I think that's a terrific idea. I think it's potentially a model for doing a lot of the programming that we do in the future. But as I said before, we're in the early days and trying to figure out how effective it is.

The idea of local solutions to local problems makes a lot of sense to me. I think it makes sense to a lot of folks. As I said before, the real expertise isn't here in Ottawa with me; it's with folks on the ground who experience these things every day.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

You have 30 seconds.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

I'll follow up on that.

You did mention the extension of the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities with the provinces and territories. I come from Alberta, where our really tight labour market right now is a real challenge for us, but one of the opportunities of that tight labour market is that there are opportunities for people who may not have had opportunities in the past.

A lot of those people would be people with disabilities. Can you speak to that a bit?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Sure.

I think that again it's something that crosses party bounds. Everyone wants to make sure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to contribute. One of the unique perks of this job is that you get to meet all kinds of interesting and, frankly, pretty inspiring people who face all kinds of barriers that most of us don't have to face. I think we're obligated to try to give them the skills and abilities that will allow them to step into the labour market. Today, perhaps more than at any point in our history, they have a chance to do that. It's pretty exciting, actually.

You see it in places like Alberta and British Columbia, where I have to say it's sometimes not necessarily out of the goodness of their hearts that employers are going to people in the disabled community to offer them jobs, but because they have to. But you know what? As far as I'm concerned, I don't care; as long as people are getting those opportunities, that's terrific. So we're going to continue to work hard and hopefully get good advice from this committee on how to do an even better job of helping people with disabilities step into the workforce.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to move to our second round of five minutes.

Ms. Sgro, you have five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you very much.

I'm glad you're here. I hope you enjoy being on that hot seat today. Some of us have been there, and I know you're enjoying every second of being here with us.

On the issue of the criteria and the summer school program, I think, along with my colleagues, that I'm not interesting in riding issues; I'm interested in making sure we have support for Canadian kids all over the country. I represent, as do many of the others, very high-risk kids in a lot of areas who relied on those programs specifically as the first job opportunity they'd ever had. I can send you lots of letters from young people who were going down a certain path; we were able to use that program to give them a real job opportunity for 8 or 10 or 12 weeks. That and other support programs we have turned them away from going into a life of crime and down a wrong road when they saw what it was to have a real job. So it was a big concern this summer when we had all those issues in and around the criteria.

Have you completed the review you were doing on that program, and are you going to make sure you have an area that's going to handle those high-risk areas where we need to provide opportunities for those young people?

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Let me first of all say, in response to your general remarks, that I agree that one of the best ways to help people who face these challenges or who come out of very tough situations is to provide a pathway to a job that very often gives them responsibility and attention that maybe they haven't ever received before. That can only be a good thing, so in general I completely agree with you.

I don't know how to say it, except to say that many of you have forcefully made your point about criteria, and I hear your message on this. Our job is to strike a balance between making sure students have the best possible job options and making sure groups that are doing a tremendous amount of good in their individual communities can hire students to fill those positions and do those jobs.

I suspect that maybe we erred a bit too much on the side of putting an emphasis on helping students who were in trouble in certain ways so that they could get those jobs. That's a solid criticism, and we'll take that into account. But I can guarantee you that our goal is exactly the same as yours: to make sure we get people into jobs. It's the best possible way to help them make the journey from dependence to independence and on to success.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

I appreciate the fact that you recognize the value of a variety of good, solid Liberal programs that were there and that you are building on for the benefit of all Canadians.

We've been talking about jobs, and about how the job market is going up from a numbers perspective. But I'm more interested in the situation in which someone was earning $30 an hour--i.e., in the auto industry or some of the other manufacturing areas--and is now earning $7 an hour. So the numbers may be going up, but these jobs pay $7 an hour.

What is the plan for those age 55 and older who are losing their jobs, and for those others who are living on $7 or $7.50 an hour? It's okay to live on that when you're learning, when you're a youngster just out of school, but it isn't helpful for many of the people who are now looking for employment.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Well, I'm pretty sympathetic to the people who have been at a particular job their whole life and who all of a sudden, because of the real troubles we're experiencing in manufacturing and particularly forestry, find themselves without a job. We have commissioned an expert panel on older workers. Former Senator Cohen will be bringing forward recommendations pretty soon regarding that.

But the good news--and this isn't something I thought I would ever live to see--is that older workers are finding jobs. As well, wages are rising. Wages last month were up 4.1% as compared with last October. That's the biggest increase since we started keeping records. A lot of people are transitioning out of manufacturing and into construction-type jobs. People are making very good incomes going into trucking, for instance.

This is a very different labour market from what I experienced as a kid growing up. When a factory would close down, it would mean the end for the town. Today things have changed a lot. And it's good news.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you very much.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you, Ms. Sgro.

Mr. Gourde, five minutes, please.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Our country, Canada, is currently experiencing strong economic growth. More than ever people are working, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest level in the past 30 years, 5.8% nationally and 6.9% in the province of Quebec. And yet some sectors are experiencing difficulties, particularly the manufacturing and forest sectors.

Minister, could you tell the committee what you are doing for workers who do not have the necessary skills to start a new career in new sectors of the economy? Do workers' skill levels improve their chances of finding a job for the future? And what actions are being taken in that direction?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Thanks for that question.

First of all, I have to point out that we did announce the renewal of the extended EI pilot for people in regions of chronically high unemployment and not many year-round full-time jobs.

Secondly, a number of different things are in place to help people in these positions. Of course people have employment insurance initially, and on top of that they have employment insurance part II benefits. A total of $2 billion a year goes to the provinces to help retrain the people who are eligible for EI.

Then, of course, there's the targeted initiative for older workers, which we brought in. That is helping a lot of people. We've announced 40 projects around the country, 20 of them in Quebec.

As I said before, the good news is that people are stepping from those programs right into jobs. That includes older workers, and in fact at a much higher rate. Last month older workers made up the majority of the successful job seekers in this country. That is pretty remarkable. It's tremendous news. Obviously older workers have a lot that they can still contribute.

We've also announced that under the new labour market agreements, $500 million a year will go to help people find jobs when they're not eligible for employment insurance. This would include, for instance, a recent immigrant looking for their first job experience, someone with a disability, someone with low literacy skills, or someone on social assistance.

We've also doubled the size of the aboriginal skills employment program. That is a tremendous program that's helping a lot of people.

So although I'm very sympathetic to people in all parts of the country who are struggling with these closures, this is not the same country it was fifteen years ago, for instance. There are lots of opportunities out there, and we have to make sure we give people every possible chance to be successful.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you.

I hand the floor over to Michael.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Mr. Chong, there are two minutes left.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have two minutes to start a simple question for the minister.

Recently we've heard a lot of discussion around poverty in Canada. Maybe you could tell this committee where the poverty is and what steps your department is taking to address this problem.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Thanks for that.

It is a serious issue, and it has been very much in the news lately. The good news is that according to Statistics Canada, as employment rates climb, poverty rates have fallen. And that is generally true across all the vulnerable groups. But there are some groups that tend to chronically struggle with these issues--single parents. Mr. Martin pointed this out. We also see it with aboriginals, particularly aboriginals on reserve. We see it with people who have disabilities. Recent immigrants make up some of those numbers, as well.

As Gord Mackintosh, the NDP social services minister in Manitoba, says, the path from poverty is employment. I agree with him. I think that's the best possible way to help people. But there are people who are not ever going to be in a position where they can step into a job. We're obliged to make sure we meet their basic needs as well, through income support, so they can live a decent life.