This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #5 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 process.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Rob Walsh  Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons
Christine Nielsen  Executive Director, Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science
Jim McKee  Executive Director, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
Jill McCaw  Coordinator, Integration Project, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
Charles Shields  Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists
Giulia Nastase  Manager, Special Projects, Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Walsh, for coming this afternoon.

I am certainly a lawyer by profession, but I'm nowhere close to being an expert on constitutional matters. Being a first-generation newcomer, I was a law graduate from India when I came to Canada, and I did have to live with it for a few years. It's very complicated, as you said. Jurisdictional issues are complicated and very hard to understand as well, especially for a new Canadian.

We all know that on a skilled worker basis, we have all kinds of professionals coming to Canada. Unfortunately, due to these complications, most of them have to go through very rough and tough times. Also, quite a few of them basically are unable to achieve their profession after coming to Canada. When we talk about jurisdiction, it is clear that education is under provincial jurisdiction. At the same time, I was curious to hear your views on whether the federal government has any jurisdiction to make changes to the credential recognition process.

3:40 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

If by changes you're talking about the regulations regarding the accreditation to be given for foreign qualifications, generally it does not.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Okay.

3:40 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

But it may happen in some cases. For example--and I'm not sure of this, but I'll offer it as a hypothetical--airlines are federally regulated. Can the federal government accept qualifications of an immigrant who claims to be qualified as a pilot? It could, possibly, as being incidental to the running of airlines. I'm not entirely sure about that. It's along the same thinking that the federal government can legislate labour for federally regulated enterprises, like airlines, although labour is a provincial area. They can do labour legislation for a federally regulated entity, such as the post office, for example, or airlines. In a similar fashion, it might be the case that they could allow for acceptance of foreign accreditation in those fields for which they are responsible, such as airlines.

I'm not entirely sure of that, sir, but I think that's a possibility. I'll check that when I get back to the office.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Okay.

I have a quick comment on your presentation. In the second paragraph, you talked about some limited exceptions. Can you give some examples of those exceptions?

3:45 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

It's a complicated matter, which I don't think will assist you in what you're doing here. You're talking about section 93, on education.

It does go to the question of, historically, there being separate schools in Ontario—Catholic schools—and it provides that those rights will always survive. In Quebec there are to be Protestant schools. Later on, if these things aren't respected, the federal government can intervene to see to it that these rights are respected.

I wouldn't waste any time on it, because I think I can say it's somewhat obsolete. Education now is effectively 99% provincial. Whether we're talking about formal education like universities or high schools or other kinds of education, it's a provincial field. As far as the exceptions go, I can look at that more specifically for you if you like. I don't think the exceptions to which I refer are anything more than what you might call technical constitutional exceptions that don't have much bearing any longer in the educational field.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

As you can see and appreciate, living through this issue in my own personal life made me passionate about this issue of foreign credential recognition. I have been working on trying to understand this issue for some time now.

Correct me if my understanding is wrong, but my impression is that as far as the federal government is concerned, it can assist or take a leadership role, I would say, to assist the provinces and territories in dealing with this issue of foreign credentials. In the first budget tabled after I was first elected in October 2008, our government had set aside $50 million and established a pan-Canadian framework. In a sense, this was assistance to all the provinces and territories to work together with a positive attitude and move forward towards the recognition of foreign qualification.

Is that the maximum the federal government can do when it comes to the jurisdictional issue?

3:45 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

With reference to this particular program, my understanding is that it's an attempt by the federal government to, as it were, facilitate the process: to help the provinces and territories find common ground regarding what accreditation you need to be a doctor or a mechanic, or whatever the area or the field might be.

What more can the feds do than play maître d' to an ongoing discussion about this? I suppose in some areas—and, again, government officials can more capably address these questions for you—they could try to establish standards, and they could even establish their own accreditation system. They could say they recognize this fellow to be suitably qualified as an engineer, let's say, but they can't force the provincial governments to accept that. If the provincial regulatory agency set up by the provincial government doesn't find the person to have the appropriate qualifications, that's the end of the matter.

So if the federal government, for some reason or other, thought it might be helpful if they were to set up their own accreditation regime and make judgments and assessments and give certificates of one kind or another along those lines, if that would help, they might do that, I suppose, but they can't impose those accreditations on the provinces, and they can't, by virtue of those accreditations, in my view, give the individual the ability to carry on the practice of an engineer or a doctor in a province. The individual has to get provincial regulatory approval.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you, Mr. Shory. Your time is up.

We'll go on to Mrs. Hughes.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you.

Just a couple of quick questions.

In your document you indicate:

The federal government has been working with the provinces, territories and governing bodies to allow workers recognized in a specific field in a province or territory to be recognized equally in the other provinces and territories.

I just want some clarification on that.

What is being said here—and maybe you could tell me if I'm interpreting this wrong—is that if one of the provinces has lower standards than others, the government is working right now to try to make an even blanket with respect to standards?

3:50 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

“Even” might be one way of putting it. I think the program would ideally like to see one set of standards across the country, which by definition would be “even”. But that paragraph is dealing with the right under the Charter of Rights to be able to move to and live in any part of the country. The federal government is trying to advance mobility rights by trying to bring the accreditation standards in the various provinces close to the same level, so the dentist in Nova Scotia, arriving there from India, could later move to Quebec or to Alberta and practise as a dentist there as well. But the provinces would have to agree to that. I'm just saying the federal government I think is trying to move that along.

In that paragraph I'm addressing the issue of mobility rights under the Charter to accommodate members, or immigrants in particular, to have those same rights. The rest of us who were born and raised here take that for granted. But an immigrant coming here, arguably, as the gentleman was just saying, needs some assistance in this country to get to the point where he or she can enjoy the same rights as those who have been here all their lives.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Another question is this. Under the Canada social transfer, the federal government gives tax points to the provinces for things like education. How does that agreement affect the constitutional relationship, where education is a crucial part of credentials?

3:50 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

It's the spending power. It's in effect the federal government using its control over the public purse at the federal level to assist the provinces, in this case in the field of education. I suppose the intent is to ensure the level of education, in terms of the institutions and the resources for education, are close to the same across the country, notwithstanding the different resources some provinces may have to support those institutions.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Again, looking at your document, and as a follow-up to a comment you made with respect to the necessarily incidental areas, you're talking about crown corporations, airlines, Indian reserves, telecommunications, the foreign qualification process, and the foreign credential recognition program. When it comes to some of these here, where there's a need for that labour market because there's a void there, can you explain to me how that would work and whether there's a different avenue for them?

3:50 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

The necessarily incidental concept applies to legislative powers. All that means to say is that the federal government can exercise legislative powers in a provincial area of jurisdiction where it is on a matter that is necessarily incidental to some area of jurisdiction they already have, like airlines or banks or whatever. Normally they can't legislate labour, but they can legislate labour when it relates to a federally regulated industry or business. That's all “necessarily incidental” means. It's relating to legislative powers. It's got nothing to do with the spending powers of the federal government.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Another question that just came to me is with respect to the difference between using the word “foreign” as opposed to “international”. Are you able to discuss that or just explain that to me? I'm just trying to figure out why wouldn't we do international qualification process as opposed to foreign? I'm just trying to see....

3:50 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

Semantically, international would include Canada; foreign wouldn't include Canada. That's one distinction. The use of the word “international” is sometimes there when you want to talk about a plan that applies to a large number of countries, so it has acceptance at the international level, whereas the word “foreign” is more limited to those other than Canada; foreign countries are countries other than Canada.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Do I still have time?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

No, your time is up. Thank you.

Mr. Butt.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Walsh, for being here. It's nice to see you in a committee room, and not in the chamber, in more casual attire. We very much appreciate your counsel today.

3:50 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

It's a pleasure to be here.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

As a new member of Parliament I struggle with this issue. I have constituents who come into my office, and, quite frankly, they want to work; they are qualified in another country, they're frustrated, and I'm trying to help them as a member of Parliament. I appreciate you being here, so that when they come into my office I can answer their concerns in a more constructive manner.

Would you say the right way to suggest the role of the federal government in this at all is more through moral suasion with the provinces, to encourage them to have regimes that would better recognize, or in a faster way recognize, foreign credentials to be able to practise their trained profession in various provinces?

3:55 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

Yes, I would. I think the option available to the federal government is to do as you suggest, exercising what you call moral suasion, that is, trying to convince the provincial authorities that it's in their interest as much as in the federal government's interest to assist these immigrants to gain the appropriate qualifications.

But don't forget, I think you recognize that there may be some jurisdictions where persons are recognized as being qualified, whereas the local professional regulatory group don't think they are qualified. In some cases, that may be a sound judgment. In other cases, some might characterize it as job protection. In either case, the immigrant is unable to work.

Some of this I guess is unavoidable; it's in the nature of immigration. You could go to another country and not be able to work for other reasons--you can't speak the language or something. So there are hardships for everyone, there's no question about it. I understand that members of Parliament often are asked by constituents who are immigrants or second-generation immigrants, and they're trying to deal with that problem.

I think the resources available to the federal government, arguably, are more than moral suasion; they may have fiscal suasion. Then they will tend to advance their view and perhaps bring the provinces. But you see, even if you have one province on side, they've got to get all the rest on side to get the mobility aspect addressed. I would think it's a very complex matter. As urgent and as pressing and as worthy as the goal may be, it seems to me it's a very difficult area to deal with, although some progress has been made in the past because of the mobility rights under the Charter.

Nonetheless, Canadians want to be satisfied that when someone presents themselves as being qualified to do X, they are in fact qualified to do whatever it is they're being paid to do. So the regulatory authorities have to be careful that they maintain their standards appropriately.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Would it be your same view of these various regulatory bodies that there's virtually no power at the federal government level to force regulatory bodies to amend their practices? They're predominantly governed at the provincial level. Is that correct?

3:55 p.m.

Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

Rob Walsh

That's correct.