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Evidence of meeting #24 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kim Warburton  Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.
Ross Hornby  Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.
Barb Keenan  Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.
Kelly Lendsay  President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council
Peter Dinsdale  Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations
Elvera Garlow  Representative, Assembly of First Nations
Cheryl McDonald  Representative, Assembly of First Nations

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thank you to the witnesses. The study that GE and the Chamber of Commerce engaged in was, I think, a very important study for rural and remote communities. I think it highlighted the fact that the language needs to shift to being an investment, not an expense.

In your recommendations, Mr. Hornby and Ms. Warburton, one of the things that you talked about, recommendation number six in the brief that came to us, was the collaboration with community organizations and so on around transition programs. Part of the challenge is that the colleges are not funded to do this, so unless the federal government steps up with a pot of funding to do this....

I was actually speaking to some colleges last week and what they told me was that they actually have to try to find money from somewhere else, because they are concerned about the success of aboriginal students once they get into post-secondary education.

I just wonder if you have heard that as well.

4 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

Yes, definitely. We did hear a little bit about that, not so much around the funding in a big way, but the real need to have this kind of initiative. What a number of people told us as well is that the transition is almost a one-year transition. So people coming from northern communities need a year to acclimatize and be within a community, and then get into the university. Then there's a need for university-related support as the students go through a four- or five-year program.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Some colleges and universities have actually experimented with having students take only two or three courses in that first year and build the rest of the support around them. But then it becomes a challenge for student funding because they're expected to carry a certain course load in order to qualify for loans, grants, or bursaries. It's a huge problem in terms of the traditional funding models.

Ms. Keenan, and perhaps Mr. Hornby and Ms. Warburton, can you tell us how many first nations, Métis, and Inuit apprentices or tradespeople you have working in your organizations?

4 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Barb Keenan

I could not tell you how many. I'd have to get back to you on that. However, I can say that we do have 139 self-identified first nations and Métis employees in OPG right now, and that's aside from the lower Mattagami project, which is a design-builder-contractor approach where there are around 100 to 200 at any given time. I can get back to you with that number.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I think it's an important number and you did make the point in your presentation, Ms. Keenan, that in the lower Mattagami project it's largely entry-level jobs. I used to be the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, so I spent five years on this file. One of the things that we fairly consistently heard from first nations was that they were always employed in the entry-level programs, and that often there weren't any mentoring and support programs to allow them to move into the skilled trades areas, middle management, or supervisory positions.

You're absolutely correct. If you can't graduate people from grade 12, you can't get them into these other areas. There's no question about that.

Aside from the trades area, do either of your companies have programs to take people into middle management?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

What we've started doing is—and we're in our third year—we've switched our GE scholarship program and now it is focused on aboriginals only. For university students in year two going through to the end, we have funding that's made available in each of their years—so year two, three, and four. What we do then is match that with a mentoring program and we bring the students in once a year within GE so that we can get to know those students and they can get to know us a little bit, as well as the business environment. We continue the mentorships throughout the course of their program, so they always have somewhere to go in terms of business questions and that kind of thing.

It's not a huge program, but it certainly makes a difference. It's great for us as well because we mentor those students throughout their university programs, and from our perspective, they're potential employees as well.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Then, of course, they become role models for their own communities.

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

Absolutely, and that's the whole point, to have role models as well.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Your time is up.

Mrs. Keenan, if you want to make a comment, go ahead.

4:05 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Barb Keenan

I'll respond to that question as well.

In my comments, I mentioned two things. One was the John Wesley Beaver awards. What we do try to do out of that is have them in for a work term, and then when they graduate, we try very much to get them on full time and bring them up through the organization. We have been very successful. Four of the winners have been with us now for a number of years, post-university.

The other area that's proved most successful is the native circle. It's a group of individuals who have become leaders through the work they've done in the native circle, and actually we do have a number of engineers who are first nations. Through some of the awareness raising events they do, it really has made a difference. Among some of the things they have told me, which was an education for me, was that a lot of first nations individuals won't even self-identify because they're worried it will have a negative impact on their career. This was troubling.

Through the native circle and some of the awareness raising, I think, it has made people feel more comfortable with coming out and being proud of their culture, and within our own organization that's made a big difference.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much.

Ms. Leitch, go ahead.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you very much, everyone, for coming today. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to give us some feedback on what is a very important subject for the federal government, and obviously for your firms.

I wanted to really focus on what you think some of those barriers are right now on the infrastructure side. I read that GE report, but maybe you could highlight for my colleagues here today what you saw as the major infrastructure challenges that you heard about from those 500 individuals you took the time to go out and speak to across the country.

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.

Ross Hornby

The first barrier related to energy. A lot of the new development in small northern communities is in areas that are off the grid. The challenge there is getting reliable sources of electricity to those communities to allow them to wean themselves off diesel, in particular, which is very expensive and very polluting. What they're looking for from both the mining companies building installations there, as well as suppliers like GE, is to have a variety of sources of energy—some renewable, some gas turbines, or a small generation hydro—that will allow them to go off diesel and have a reliable local source of electricity.

The other area relates to clean water. A lot of communities felt that they didn't have adequate water resources now, and particularly, if they are going to be developing new resource-based projects, whether forestry or mining, they needed to have the water system brought up to the right standards for development. Again, the mining companies are going to do a lot of that. The technology clearly exists to be able to do that.

The other area was related to transportation, in and out. Some of these communities are fly-in, fly-out. Others have a combination of fly-in, fly-out, and the local communities; others are communities built from scratch. The cost of transportation is something that holds back people who want to go there, and also people who are there from being able to get out to get the rest and relaxation, and the skills development that they may need elsewhere. So reliable transportation was another infrastructure element that was raised.

Essentially, it was energy, water, and transportation.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

I have a second question.

I know both firms made some comments with regard to regulatory affairs. If you could choose the three regulatory components at the federal government level that could substantially impact remote and rural communities, what would they be?

I know it's like having an orthopedic surgeon ask you questions. It's sort of like me at teaching rounds. If you have two or three questions that are quite specific so that we're not working in general....

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

Certainly, the first one—and we heard this right across the board, and I think Ross mentioned this as well—is streamlining approval processes. We heard from so many people who felt they were ready to go, and now there's another layer of approval. One person shared with us that after 11 years they learned they had to start the process all over again. That would definitely be one clear area.

Another area that came up a lot was the lack of data. To make decisions, a number of communities needed basic data and information about population growth, differences, what had been happening for five, 10, or 15 years, and there was a lack of that data or it was really hard to find or it couldn't be shared. Putting together a picture of what's going on over a period of time was difficult for individuals to do.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Just so that I'm clear, when you say it couldn't be shared, you're stating that data would be available somewhere but the recipient couldn't access it to make their decisions?

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

Yes, or it was hard to find.

If you come back to skills, a number of members who were in municipal government said to us that they have people on their staff. When they look for information and data, it's often difficult for people to find who even has a degree in this stuff. If you imagine people who maybe don't have advanced skills trying to find it and then knit it together to make a picture of that community and what they could potentially be looking at, it was difficult.

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.

Ross Hornby

Can I just add the third area where we could see some change? This is a sensitive area related to aboriginal government. The schools are often administered at a very local level as opposed to a regional level. I think that is holding back addressing some of the challenges, particularly at the kindergarten to grade 12 levels, in terms of getting a proper curriculum that is directed at helping develop skills that are then useful in the workforce later. The system is so decentralized. It's a capacity problem that needs to be addressed.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

Mr. Cuzner.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Thanks very much for being here today.

Mr. Hornby, I don't discount how frustrating it can be to go through the environmental processes, and sometimes it seems as if you're doing the same thing twice, provincially and federally, what have you, but loop that back into skills development.

Are companies apprehensive about raising an expectation in the community and investing in skills development in the community pending the outcome of that assessment? Is that the biggest drawback there? Can you tie it in with the regulatory regime?

4:15 p.m.

Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.

Ross Hornby

GE is a global company. When it's making decisions about investments, the number one factor it looks at is the availability of skilled workers. That is more important than the cost of labour, for example. It's having the available skill set that allows you to be able to bring something online and then sell it globally and compete globally. I think what happens is that sometimes when you look at a project that is tied up in the process of regulatory approval, the companies....

GE is not a producer. It does not operate mines.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

No.

4:15 p.m.

Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.

Ross Hornby

We supply high-tech equipment to all these different businesses. But if those businesses are tied up in a regulatory process that doesn't have a timetable, they're not going to start making the investment that needs to be made in the skills that they will eventually require, because of the high risk involved in it.

What I tie back to GE is that we know how important a skilled workforce is. When you talk to our senior people around the world, they will all say it is the number one reason why they go to one place and not the other.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

You bring good things to life.

4:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Barb Keenan

Just as an example of that, we have a contractor and then we're an operator. In the lower Mattagami project, we're the people who are going to operate and we gave the bill to a contractor. So, for us, the 25% equity stake for the Moose Cree was really important, and putting our money and initiative into training and employment was very important, because we need a sustained workforce once those dams are up and running. It makes a lot of good business sense. It's right for the community, and it's just a good business decision.