Respected leaders, and Ed, it's good to see you. You've had a chance to be at our inclusion works events, and I look forward to responding to this report.
There are three recommendations in this report that I have chosen to highlight.
To my esteemed colleagues from the Assembly of First Nations, they serve on our board of directors—Chief Roger Augustine and the national chief are champions. I think that there are really three challenges in this report: partnerships, education, and the area of skills and training.
One of the recommendations states that we need to build a business case for investing in remote communities. Communities must offer a product or products that have a market, access to a skilled workforce, and critical infrastructure. Here, I think the theme puts the focus on communities, instead of looking at what the economic drivers are in the north and looking at the communities as a collective resource. Let me give you an example. If you look at the size of the aboriginal market, currently it's about $24 billion per year in the spending power, or the GDP power, of aboriginal peoples. It's going to grow to $36 billion by 2016.
That GDP is the size of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland combined. What would be interesting would be if you would look at the GDP of the north—all of those rural and remote communities—and Canadians would wake up and say that it's large, it's significant, and it's growing, because we have a growing workforce.
We have a growing workforce in the north for two reasons. The first is the resource sector. We have more and more of our economy becoming a commodity-based economy. We're going to be developing more of those resources in the north, and as that waterway melts up north, we're going to be opening up waterways through the north and through the Arctic, and I see tremendous opportunities for growth. We're going to need more human capital going to these remote and rural areas.
In fact, put it in reverse. If there was nobody up there, we'd need a strategy to figure out how to get people to move up there.
The second area is telecommunications and ICT. We all know how many dollars and how much activity we have with India. On a micro-scale, if you can think of the north like India, why can't we invest in the infrastructure for ICT so that our northern communities, many of these aboriginal communities, can be a solution in delivering products and services in the ICT sector? Surely if we can transmit this knowledge from India, we can do it from the north to the south, and indeed to the rest of the world.
Canada could actually be positioning our north as an innovator in the circumpolar area to be a real leader in ICT. A related theme in the report is that we need to stress that this is an investment versus a subsidy, it's a hand up, not a handout.
I think that the cost of doing business is simply just larger in the north.
What Canadians do understand is that when you look at aboriginal Canadians in the United Nations' human resource index, they rank about 48th in the world, compared to the top 5 for all other Canadians. If you look at first nations on reserve, we rank around 63rd.
Put the costs aside for a second. We should be investing so that every Canadian, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, has the same standard of living. If that means it costs more to get potable water, it costs more. If it means it costs more to build the roads in the north, it costs more. I think this is something that Canadians believe in.
The third area of the report was in skills and training. The federal government needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the economic realities of individual communities and the alternate training models that may be required to deliver effective results. In the report, they talk about—you've heard about ASETS holders—aboriginal skills and employment training initiatives, and there are more than 300 across this country. They are a source of the community intelligence that you are looking for.
What's missing is the fact that for many of these ASETS holders, the majority of their funds flow to colleges primarily to invest in the skilled trades that we need. It's actually a tremendous relationship between ASETS holders and the money, where it goes to colleges and trains people for the workforce that employers need.
A third point in skills and training is that you definitely must have employers at the table. Earlier you were talking about training for training. We have to be training for where there are jobs. We have to be aligning our education system with the training for where we think those jobs might be. If they don't happen, at least we had some plan where we were educating people in areas where we thought the economic drivers would actually deliver some jobs in the future.
Lastly, we have a group called the young indigenous professionals. These are young aboriginal Canadians who advise on what we're doing, and just like you, all of us sitting on the inside circle are part of the baby boomers, and many of the folks sitting on the outside are part of generation X and generation Y. You need to start looking at aboriginal Canadians in much the same way. They have views and ideas about their world, and to get their insights on what they feel should be the economic opportunities of the future is very interesting.
Another point made is that we have to ensure that programs are efficient and meet the needs of employers, and they should be delivered in partnership wherever possible. That is from the report. One of the things our organization stands for is employer-focused strategies. Earlier there was some talk about misalignments. I think the ASETS holders have done a great job aligning their training investments to where there are jobs, from catering and surveying, through to the chemists, the trades, entrepreneurship, and right up to the ICT world.
The third and final point I'll make is in the area of partnerships. The report states:
In an era of deficit reduction, often government funds will not be available and/or sufficient to meet the infrastructure requirements of remote communities. If the federal government cannot provide all or any of the necessary funding, it can assist others in pooling their resources by—
I'd like to offer some suggestions. In the report, they suggest that the government could offer up these resources through:
...an online forum for potential business and community partners to share their infrastructure gaps and excess capacity....
I couldn't agree more. Our council has launched the first digital strategy, and it's exciting. It's about how to connect people faster and more economically. It's amazing what happens when information and knowledge are exchanged.
We're building an inclusion classroom for employers, and the inclusion classroom is going to be an online tool, not just here in Canada but our friends in Australia, the States, and other places will be able to access it. To consider ICT support for the north, the infrastructure has to be there so that we can make these types of collaborations happen.
We have a lot of silos in this country; they're called provinces and territories. We also have our silos on the aboriginal side. We need more criss-crossed networks and the ICT technology is one of the ways to do that.
Often employers find that working with aboriginal people is frustrating and can be fragmented, and there needs to be more investment. My friends here who work in the ASETS program will tell you that the dollars are not there to build the partnership mechanisms. We did something with the ASETS holders about five years ago called Work Force Connects. We put on a dating game in which we brought employers together with communities. We did it in 11 provinces and territories and generated tremendous results. It was a tremendous ASETS success. It led to jobs, to training, and to networks. We think the time is right to bring back another type of Work Force Connects to connect people, especially through our north.
We have a group called the Leadership Circle. These are real employers such as the ones you heard from earlier with OPG, who are really committed. I was saying earlier that 10 years ago this conversation would not be happening; you would not be asking these types of probing questions. I congratulate you, because I think it shows that things are changing. Employers are actually doing things, and you have very probing, direct questions. The quality of the dialogue has gone up significantly over the last decade.
My last point on the report concerns the first recommendation in the long list of recommendation summaries, which says:
Review the funding formula for education in First Nations communities to ensure parity with the provincial financing model in each of the provinces...to ensure that the education needs of all First Nations communities are met.
Ladies and gentlemen, I value public education. Sitting Bull said: “Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children.” He meant all of our children, collectively. I think, as you think about your children and your grandchildren, that they should be able to go to a first nation on-reserve school and get the same quality of education as a native child going to a school here in Ottawa. If we really believe in public education, that's the measure, and that is why that deficit of about 25% that exists between first nations on-reserve schools and off-reserve schools has to close.
My friend Mary Simon tabled with you the Inuit report, “First Canadians, Canadians First: The National Strategy on Inuit Education” from 2011. That phrase, “First Canadians, Canadians First”, was developed by Jose Kusugak, a good friend of mine. Jose has passed on, but I think that focusing attention on the Inuit, where some of the suicide capitals in the world exist.... There are some major challenges there.
Last, the report refers to closing the gap in Australia. I've been there and have been working there. We know the challenges. Be careful what you read. They've been slipping in the last two years and they're still pleading to follow Canada's models to see what can be done. This is an indigenous issue worldwide, and that's why our national chief, Shawn Atleo, speaks about the leadership that Canada should be demonstrating—because other countries are watching and connecting with us.
Finally, we did a new innovation last month. We did a virtual recruitment fair. That has never been done in Canada. We had 33 employers willing to risk it.
We gave it a try. We had 33 employers and 602 aboriginal job seekers, of which 218 actually participated.
I have two quotes. Sacha DeWolfe from New Brunswick said:
The National Aboriginal Virtual Recruitment Fair was absolutely wonderful. I'm totally impressed. I've been searching for jobs online constantly that suit my qualifications as well as my interests with no luck so far. I found three possible connections in one hour on your site. Thank you so much!
It turns out, by the way, that Sacha is Chief Augustine's niece. I flipped him this, and he said, “Oh, that's my niece”.
The second quote is:
It's nice to have a place for aboriginal people to feel free to job shop without the possibility of being rejected due to race. John
Now, someone doesn't write that unless they have had some race issues. Going forward, I think that trying to create real social and economic inclusion is our collective challenge. As I was flying here from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where our national head office is—I'm in Ottawa once or twice a month—I was wondering if the northerners are thinking about a report called “Creating Social and Economic Inclusion with the Remote South”. It's sort of a play on what we're doing here, because for many of the issues and some of the questions that came earlier, when it comes to education, training, and social and economic inclusion, the issues are the same, whether it's the north or the south.
With that, I'll conclude. I look forward to the dialogue. Thank you.