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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

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Sutcliffe, did you wish to make a point?

Just before you do that, there is a point of order.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

I would think so, Mr. Chair. The minister, at every opportunity during her press conference last week and in every response to a question from the opposition, made reference that the EI changes are as a result of what was necessary to address the unprecedented skills shortage in this country. It's their reference point on each response to an opposition question, so I think it's legitimate.

I commend the witnesses for bringing it forward today, and I think it's legitimate to understand their observations.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

I think, from that general perspective, I've allowed the questioning to go on. I'm not about to get into an examination of the EI rules or regulations that have not yet been passed, so I'll rule any of that out of order.

From a general point, because there is that connection, if you stay on that connection, it's fine.

Mr. Sutcliffe, do you wish to make a comment on that or not?

3:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters

John Sutcliffe

I would simply say that as we learn more details and hear from our members—because there will be different regional impacts with any changes—then we would like the opportunity to appear before this committee or participate in any other process in regard to those changes.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Okay, we appreciate that comment.

Now we have Mr. McColeman on deck.

May 28th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

First of all, I want to thank the witnesses for being here.

Just so you understand, I represent a riding in southwestern Ontario that has about a 35% agricultural component. I've been getting feedback from all the different commodity groups, and we have a broad range of commodity groups: you name it, we have it. Tobacco probably dominated at one time, but it certainly does not any more. They have suggested that some of these changes would actually be to their advantage.

I don't want to go down that road, because the chair has said that's not why we're here. We're really here to talk about how we employ people full-time, year-round, if possible, in jobs where the shortages are.

From the numbers I received here today from Mr. Wiseman, he represents 30,000 businesses or groups. Is that the total number of businesses in Canada?

3:55 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

It's 300,000.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

So 300,000 in Canada.

You represent your membership, or that's all-encompassing?

3:55 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

That's all-encompassing. Our membership...our board of directors is made up of a director from each province of Canada, as well as each territory, as well as various leading commodity groups within Canada. For example, the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is actually one of the members and the vice-president of our organization.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Fair enough. I want to drill down on the numbers.

It's 300,000 employees, and then you said there is a deficit of farm workers of 10%, two times the national average. Would that be 30,000 in terms of job shortage, or 60,000?

3:55 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

If you want to look at the 10% deficit that I talked about, the jobs and the shortfalls, that would be 600,000, because the total numbers are 300,000 enterprises, approximately.

We have the exact numbers. Approximately—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Excuse me, Mr. Wiseman.

Did you have a comment?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

No, I'm having trouble....

The communicators up in the box will look after the microphone for you. You guys don't have to. We're automatic pilot here.

4 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

Okay, thanks. I thought you were going to mention that I'm talking too fast. I have a tendency to do that sometimes.

If I could just recap, there are 300,000, approximately, farming enterprises. Each one of these enterprises has a number of employees, which also totals approximately 300,000. So it's a total of 600,000, 300,000 workers plus their enterprises. So, yes, the deficit is in the 30,000 range. I'm sorry.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

It's in the 30,000 range of pure numbers?

4 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

Yes, the deficit is unemployed, yes.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Most of the farms in my area are family-owned or have been passed down, or are still family-owned. They're not large corporate operators, although there are a few of those as well. It probably depends on sector. Describe to me, if I am one of these.... Let's say I'm a vegetable farmer and I need people. What kinds of shortages would I experience as a vegetable farmer?

4 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

The numbers tell us that.... Let me check here.

I think 62% of the workers who are out there across the country are seasonal workers, part-time workers. Not quite 40% would be full-time. Understanding the variation of the seasons, if you're in the horticulture industry, which is where a lot of the shortfalls come into play, you're starting to get into your seasonal worker program in early April.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

I have limited time, and that's why I have to go as fast as I do here.

A lot of my farmers bring in foreign workers, and I'm told that with the new expedited ten-day foreign worker program we've put in place it's not the nightmare that you described in your testimony. Can you square that for me?

4 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

I would square it with your comments. If your comments are accurate, praise the Lord, because up to this point I haven't seen it.

We have, as agriculture producers, some of it through our organization, CAHRC, been talking about these issues around the bureaucracy that's involved, and we want to have some shortcuts, if you will.

If you're saying that, then thank you very much, because it's something that we need, but what it means is that there will be a bigger and larger utilization of the foreign worker program.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

I have one last question.

In your example of your not being able to get back the workers you had because they are skilled, I would presume from that then that they are laid off for let's say six months of the year, and you employ them for six months a year. Are you saying through your testimony here and your answers to the opposition questions that if an individual went out and got a full-time, 12-months-a-year job, you're against that individual doing that?

4 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Mervin Wiseman

No, I'm absolutely not against that.

I encourage my employees all the time to do what's best for them. What I'm saying is that in the process of these people getting full-time jobs there is a loss.

Again, we're getting into the nuances of the EI program. I'm not saying this program is there for that purpose. What I'm saying is that in lieu of having the EI program, which in the large part has become part of the business risk management, especially as far as labour and skills are concerned, there is nothing to replace that.

The reality is that with what you've created on the one hand, a full-time job, if that happens for someone, you've created a shortfall and an issue where farming enterprises will have to get into extraordinary cost and logistics to find new workers and to be able to train them. There will be the cost of training, and there will be issues with finding these workers in the first place.

That may very well force the issue of temporary foreign workers. Is that bad? I don't know. I'm not about to say that's bad.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

That's not a problem, but your time is up.

We can let everyone continue along that line, but I think we'll now go to Mr. Brahmi.

4 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My first question is for Ms. MacDonald-Dewhirst.

At the start of your presentation, one of the things you mentioned was data collection, an important factor that allows you to clearly see the areas where you have labour shortages.

Agriculture is not part of the Labour Force Survey, the LFS. Do you feel that the survey is not precise enough to allow you to exactly assess the needs of and fluctuations in the agricultural sector?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst

Thank you for your question.

Yes, that's exactly the intent of my comments.

Statistics Canada does engage in a labour force survey that provides information about agriculture. They also engage in a census of agriculture that provides information that's more in depth. However, neither of these pictures is robust enough to give a full and clear idea of the labour market in agriculture.

At the Canadian Agricultural HR Council, we have been very busy doing our own labour market information exercises to qualify some of those findings. There has been an express recommendation that the industry work with Statistics Canada, with HRSDC, and with the sector council to come together to provide a more consolidated approach at the federal level and also at the provincial level to collect the right kinds of information so we have a clear and accurate picture of this industry.