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Evidence of meeting #40 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 shortages.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mervin Wiseman  Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst  Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
John Sutcliffe  Executive Director, Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters
Daniel Kelly  Senior Vice-President, Legislative Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Mathew Wilson  Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters
Perrin Beatty  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

5:20 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Legislative Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Daniel Kelly

EI definitely does serve, as do many other support programs, as a disincentive to getting people back to work. If there are other forms of compensation that become too easy to get on or stay on and that replace too high a percentage of the overall income.... We have to remember that there is a group of Canadians out there who don't really want to work. I know that it's controversial to say, but I have to tell you that if we create too many avenues for folks to avoid working, they will take them. That's not everybody. I think people who are unemployed once or twice in their lives have a difficult time imagining that there are people who will do just about anything to not work. But they do exist, and unfortunately many of our members cite that as a difficult challenge for them to get over.

5:20 p.m.

Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters

Mathew Wilson

I won't comment on that specifically, but I'd like to add to that to say that I don't think the biggest challenge you have is necessarily encouraging people in Alberta to work. I think your labour market participation is probably higher in Alberta than it is anywhere else in Canada. The challenge you're going to face is that you don't have a labour pool in Newfoundland and the rest of Atlantic Canada to draw from any more, as you did the last time the resource boom happened. I'd be much more concerned about the ability of the economy to keep growing and about where you're going to find the supply of labour in the long term.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Do you have a comment?

5:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Perrin Beatty

Yes.

I spoke to the Alberta Chambers of Commerce on Thursday. I had a chance to meet with representatives from all across the province. You're facing a chronic, permanent, growing shortage of labour. It's going to require significant in-migration. It's going to require improvement in terms of skills. It's going to require investment by business and new technologies that will make workers more productive. Obviously you have to look at other programs as well.

One area I commend the government for looking at is the removal of disincentives for people who take, for example, part-time work. Too often we penalize people who've wanted to go to work and who've wanted to make a contribution. We're moving in the right direction by removing some of those penalties.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

You have 20 seconds left, so if you want to make a comment, you can. But if not, this would be a good place to stop.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I probably should leave it there, because if we open another conversation, it's probably going to take in excess of that.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

We'll move to Mr. Simms, for five minutes.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

It's nice to hear Mr. Beatty talk about the “working while on claim” program and the best 14 weeks program, which we started in 2005. Those mechanisms are not just about social assistance. They are also about economic development. Usually people just go crazy if I actually talk about economic development and employment insurance in the same line. Actually, Mr. Wilson touched on it earlier when he talked about the backbone of an economy.

I'll use one example, which is in my riding, in Bonavista North, which is based around a Beothic fishery that is struggling to find itself on a year-round basis. It wants to be, but the problem is that the world market in seafood now is dictated by.... That's the best way I can explain it. It doesn't go the full year. What happens is that the companies that live from the employment created by the fish plant are the ones operating longer. Therefore, they are forced from the fish plant over to the other place. It's culinary. It can happen that way.

Some of the logic just does not apply here. It's hard for these smaller communities to stay in the game. If you blindly go into what the government's proposing right now, a black and white situation.... In other words, if you've applied for EI more than twice, and I can guarantee you that 99% of the workforce there has done this—

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

We have a point of order.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Point of order, Chair.

My interpretation of your comments earlier was that you were going to allow latitude but that you were going to stop it at a certain point if we had hypotheticals about this coming into place or that coming into place. I'd appreciate your giving us your ruling on this kind of questioning.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I'm new.

5:20 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

That excuse has a certain amount....

The point of the matter is that there have been comments made back and forth, on both sides, indicating that any changes to EI, which haven't yet been made official in the regulations but which you've heard talked about, will or could have positive or negative impacts. In that sense, I've allowed the discussion to take place. But I don't mean to get into the specifics of having a look at the proposed EI changes and what they might be, because they're still in the discussion stages. So I'd like you to limit your questions to how the proposed changes, if you want to call them that in the discussion, might impact on labour shortages, and just that narrow area. I know that it's hard to contain. But I don't mean to get into a discussion of EI, because that's not what this committee is doing, although it does have an impact. Keep that in mind.

Let's hear your question again, and I'll decide if it's out of order or not. Go ahead and put your question.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Okay. I don't know.... This is the human resources committee, right? No offence....

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

It is, but we're not studying the EI proposed changes. We're talking about labour shortages and how we might deal with that area. EI may have an impact.

It has been allowed so far to have a general discussion about how it might impact it, but we're not getting into a nuanced discussion about the changes to the EI system.

So go ahead and ask your question, and I'll rule it in order or out of order.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Okay.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Repeat your question.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Okay. We almost need a third translation for politicians on what exactly we're doing.

Nonetheless, I don't mean to be rude about it, but I wanted to go back to that for one moment, and I think I can. Stop me if I cannot.

The labour shortages are going to be that much more acute in these areas if, by putting policy in place that cuts people off at the very core in a short period of time.... You alluded to that. Can I just get you to expand on this? Because I just find that this is very difficult for us without any other incentives being brought forward.

I can briefly touch on one, if I may. I've always been a big fan of having a skill set inventory for areas of rural Canada whereby companies can actually access information about people with certain skills, but without this stuff, and all you have is going after the repeat users.... It's going to be very difficult. These communities either have to survive on this fish plant or that's it—it's game over.

5:25 p.m.

Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters

Mathew Wilson

I'm not sure what I'm allowed to answer here either—

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Nor am I. I'm not even sure what to ask.

5:25 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5:25 p.m.

Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters

Mathew Wilson

Let me just.... I come from northeastern Ontario, from a logging community that relies a lot on seasonal workers. There's a certain skill set to logging. Everyone probably thinks it's very low-skilled, but there's a certain skill set to logging, just like there would be for fishing or anything else.

Those companies rely on the workers and typically rely on them through the winter months when it's cold and they can go across lakes and get the logs out. So I understand where you're coming from in terms of the need from an economic standpoint to have that pool of labour available year-round to make sure it's there in the wintertime. I certainly understand the need for that.

I don't know how much further I'm allowed to go on this, but there is certainly an economic argument for having that pool of labour available year-round, even for the seasonal workers.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Okay. Your time is up.

Mr. Beatty, did you wish to make a comment? Go ahead.

5:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Perrin Beatty

I'd just like to add a comment, Mr. Chairman.

I understand the concerns. Having represented a rural constituency in Parliament, I understand the concerns of ensuring both that you deal with individuals fairly and that you're responsive to needs of industries and communities. The fundamental question here, though, is whether this an insurance program or not. Or is it a social support program or an industrial subsidy program?

Now, I believe that it should be returned to its original purpose, and that's as an insurance program for people who, due to no fault of their own, are unable to find work. If the government in its wisdom believes that industrial subsidies are necessary or desirable, or that other social subsidies are necessary or desirable, that should be handled outside of the EI program, in my view, and it should be done in a way that is transparent and open, and where you're not asking working Canadians and other companies that are making contributions to an insurance program to subsidize the program to be used for something for which it was never designed.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

I think the discussion we've had brought out both of those points quite well. I think we'll leave it at that.

We thank you very much for your presentations.