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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

5:05 p.m.

Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters

Mathew Wilson

Sure. I will try to keep my comments short.

I agree with everything that Dan just said on that, but I'll take on the matching side of things, because I made some comments about that when I spoke.

We launched the iCME.ca website and portal. What we're trying to do with CIC and HRSDC right now is to link up the available jobs that our network and members have across Canada to the skills of immigrants as well as people on EI, and then allow people to move to match those job skills. We're in the process of developing that right now. That kind of behind-the-scenes linkage is going to be critical so there can be almost instantaneous job-matching. Someone with certain pre-qualified skills can get into the system, and an employer can draw from the available pool. We're trying to set that up to help that along.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Beatty, could we have your comments with respect to this question?

5:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Perrin Beatty

To keep things as tight as possible, I will focus my comments on the issue of information.

I fully agree that we've done a terrible job in terms of projecting what the labour force needs are going to be in the future, but in my view that's not an argument for downing tools. It's an argument for us to redouble our efforts and to try to project more.

I'm also a university chancellor. I can tell you that for educational institutions, which have to make their plans well in advance, we need to do a much better job than we're doing today, to have a dialogue among employers, governments, and educators in terms of planning for what sorts of skills will be necessary. We need to do a much better job as well in terms of informing young Canadians about the sorts of opportunities there will be, so that as they're planning their careers and their training, they have a sense of where the opportunities are.

There's no disagreement at all about how badly we've done it in the past. The only disagreement may be over whether it's possible for us to do it better. I believe we have no choice. We have to do it better.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

The time is certainly up.

We'll move to Madame Boutin-Sweet.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, gentlemen.

In question period today, the minister suggested putting job seekers and employers in touch with each other. So let me give you a hypothetical situation. Tell me what you think.

Take, for example, a town with a plant that is about to close its doors. The plant has a number of employees. In the same town, another plant needs workers. How would you feel about an arrangement between the two plants and the federal government? The plant planning to close its doors would let its employees go for training to the other plant, say, two days per month, with the federal government possibly providing a partial subsidy.

The first advantage of the arrangement would be that the plant planning to close its doors would not lose all its employees as they went off to look for other jobs right away.

The second advantage would be that the other plant, the one needing people, could have access to workers because it would be training them on the spot. So it would cost less in employment insurance benefits, which the employees would not need. But financial help from the government would still be available.

What do you think of an idea like that?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

It's a hypothetical question. It's up to you whether you wish to answer it.

5:10 p.m.

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

Daniel Kelly

I don't think I'd have any conceptual problem with the suggestion that has just been made. To a degree it sounds similar to what already exists with the work-sharing program. That was something our members did say was quite helpful to them during the recession. There was the ability to downsize a little and have EI supplement wages during the recession and then allow them to pull those people back.

Again, it's not a perfect analogy, but that was a program our members did favour. It was a way of integrating uses of employment insurance while people were still working, which I think is at the heart of what you're asking. I can't see any particular reason to say that it would be a bad idea. Again, the proof would be in testing it, and I don't think that would be something we'd oppose.

5:10 p.m.

Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters

Mathew Wilson

That's good enough for me, for the time.

5:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Perrin Beatty

I have had many years of political training. I was told never to answer a hypothetical question, but having done that and having forgotten that lesson, I'll be Maoist and say that we should allow a thousand flowers to bloom. If it's a matter of experimenting and seeing whether an experimental program would work, why wouldn't we experiment?

Is it the solution to our problem? No, it isn't. Obviously the problem is very complex, but any tool we can use effectively that's cost-efficient we should be open to using and have the flexibility to experiment. And if it works, why not use it elsewhere?

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Thank you.

In Quebec, we have a program whereby employers have to set aside 1% of their payroll for training. A number of you talked about continuing education. Do you think that the feds could or should get involved in something like that?

5:15 p.m.

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

Daniel Kelly

I can tell you for certain that for small businesses the idea of a training tax, which is the program you're specifically citing, is something they oppose to the bottoms of their souls. The idea of taxing training and then having a credit that you could apply against if you demonstrate to the government that you've followed steps A, B, C, D, E, F, and G really cuts out small and medium-sized businesses.

Small firms do not train, for the most part, formally. There is an increase in formal training among small and medium-sized workplaces, but primarily training in SMEs is done informally. Governments don't understand informal training, they can't measure informal training. Therefore, what happens for small firms is they end up just paying the tax, and then do not receive any of the potential credits that are involved.

It essentially means they have less money available to provide training in the workforce because they're paying it out in tax. That's the reason the Government of Quebec actually exempted small and medium-sized firms from this overall, after years and years of lobbying from my organization.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

I was going to add that the idea would not apply to small businesses, but to those of a certain size.

5:15 p.m.

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

5:15 p.m.

Vice-President, National Policy, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters

Mathew Wilson

Our membership, companies such as Bombardier, BRP, Molson, and others in Quebec would spend well above the 1% threshold anyway, so it's not a direct business impact. The problem I have is the prescriptive nature that these regulations tend to come with. It doesn't allow for any flexibility in any different business setting.

Anything that would say here's a 1% tax, but you have to follow these specific rules, and a whole bureaucracy gets built up around it, is not going to be helpful; you're going to end up spending more. I'd rather see a 1% tax credit given across the board to companies who do training however they want to do it.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

The time is up, and we'll move to the next—

5:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Perrin Beatty

I'd like to make a comment.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Go ahead.

5:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Perrin Beatty

Such a program, essentially for the reasons that were mentioned.... Even if we were to exempt SMEs, it would be less unfair, less burdensome. But large, progressive employers today often spend well in excess of the 1% in terms of employee training. The smartest employers invest. We need to do more of it, and they'll be driven to do that by good and sufficient business reasons.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Okay. Thank you for that comment.

Mr. Warkentin, go ahead.

May 28th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It is a privilege to be a substitute in this committee for today. It's dealing with subject material that I know well. I come from Grande Prairie, Alberta, and we are facing one of the largest labour shortages in the country, next to my counterpart across in Fort McMurray. We're probably second to that. So I know generally what this means on the ground. I hear from folks on both sides, employers and employees, who have had to deal with the issues surrounding temporary foreign workers--the program specifically, but also the impacts on the community, in addition to the struggles in driving up inflationary costs as a result of a labour shortage.

I think we are in some ways a microcosm of what Canada might look like in the next number of years as we continue to see labour shortages increasing across the country.

To some extent I find some of this discussion a little academic, inasmuch as I know first-hand that while we say things like “no employer would ever look to a temporary foreign worker before a local person”, that's not always the case. There are some disincentives to work in this country, and I think we have seen some of those really highlighted in my community.

Mr. Kelly, I know you do a fair bit of research when it comes to dealing with employers. Employers on the ground know some of these things. I'm wondering if you've done any research in terms of really drilling down to some of those disincentives to work that have been identified by local employers and what the outcomes of those discussions might have been. Have you ever done any research with regard to that?

5:15 p.m.

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

Daniel Kelly

We have, and some of the disincentives are the ones that are the thing I'm not supposed to talk about--employment insurance—

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

You can in the sense that obviously there will be some connection to job shortages or labour skills gaps. But that's not the principal point. We're not going to be studying the proposed EI changes. They're not yet in the regulations. But you can make those general comments and those connections to the point that he's making in a general way.

5:15 p.m.

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

Daniel Kelly

Terrific.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Maybe I should phrase my question differently.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Why don't you just make your comments?