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 #7 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 employers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jonathan Beddoes  Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Manitoba
Peter Idahosa  President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association
Pam Nordstrom  Director, School of Nursing, Mount Royal University
Joan Atlin  Director of Programs, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council
Thomas Tam  Chief Executive Officer, SUCCESS

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Personally, I have a problem with opening our doors to a quota and not to everyone. I have a hard time living with that. We let people come from overseas so that they can establish themselves here. I agree that selection should be done before people are let in. Otherwise, they have a hard time working in their field. You mentioned engineering and said how frustrating it is. I understand that. I have a hard time accepting it. I don't know why we would go looking for people outside the country if we are going to treat them like that. That is one of my comments.

Mr. Jonathan—I am not even going to try to pronounce your last name for fear of massacring it—you mentioned language problems just now. You also talked about a co-op program the goal of which is to provide work for people who come here. Can you explain to me how that program works?

4:10 p.m.

Prof. Jonathan Beddoes

I agree with your comment that we let people in based on the training they've had elsewhere, and then when they get here we don't allow them to undertake the occupation for which they've been trained. That is very frustrating. I think one recommendation, which was alluded to earlier, is that Canadian immigration authorities overseas be well aware of the requirements to become registered as a professional in whatever occupation you are in once you get to Canada.

How does our language and training component work? As I said, we have a mandatory co-op program, which is part of the IEEQ program at the university. We work in very close collaboration with local industry to place each student with a local industry that's associated with the training they've had. That's a paid assignment for that person. So financially it's very good for them, but it's also primarily important from the “getting experience” point of view.

With regard to the language and cultural part, almost all the immigrant students who come to us in this program have some English-language abilities, some more than others, but their language abilities specifically with respect to engineering technology may be weaker. So we have worked with each individual student and the various applied-language experts at the university to try to raise their language skills up to the level required for entry into the profession.

We also have a mandatory course as part of the program, which is called “Practicing Professional Engineering in Canada”, so that they understand the regulatory framework within which engineering works in Canada, which is oftentimes very different from what they might be used to in their country of origin.

So we focus not only on the technical skills, which are clearly important, but on all of the other skills you need to be successful in the workforce.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

Mr. Patry, your time is gone.

We'll move now to Mr. Shory.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And thank you, witnesses, for coming this afternoon. I have to admire your passion and I can also feel your frustration in this process.

I won't waste too much time speaking of other things and I will come to the question directly.

Mr. Idahosa, I'll start with you because you also have lived through this problem. I want you to quickly go through what you had to go through and how long it took. And when we talk about the medical profession specifically.... I'm from Calgary, and in Alberta there is a shortage of almost 2,500 doctors, whereas we have almost 1,100 foreign-qualified doctors. And when we talk about foreign qualifications, we are not only talking about the individuals who came from overseas. Canadians also go out of the country to get their education.

So coming back to your profession--and talking about taxi drivers--there are some people who say that the best place to have a heart attack might be in the back seat of a taxi because the chances are a doctor is driving the taxi. It sounds funny, but it is true that the professionals have to go through all this.

You are also very actively involved in the organization, I know that. I also want you to tell us if any improvement has been made from the earlier days when we talked about coordination between different provincial bodies. Does the pan-Canadian framework help, and what more can be done? And considering the shortage of doctors, is there any appetite or is there any capacity to speed it up? What exactly should we be doing when we talk about shortening the processing time? And would this pre-certification, which you also touched on, help the professionals when they come to Canada?

4:15 p.m.

President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association

Dr. Peter Idahosa

Thank you, Mr. Devinder Shory.

Just briefly, my life is a two-page book. It's very easy, it's not a long one. I graduated in 1996 in Nigeria. I wrote exams and I passed the exams and moved to South Africa because I wanted to be a very good doctor.

During that process I applied to immigrate to Canada. And luckily in 2007 my immigration came through, and I moved here. But prior to that I already took the Canadian evaluation exams, the QE1 and then the QE2.

But right off the bat most people told me that Canada is a dead end for a physician; it's extremely difficult to get licensed. But it's a country I've always loved, I've looked for, and it's something I've dreamed about and I want to settle. I look at obstacles as stepping stones. You don't need to shut the door, no matter what people say. So I said I'd put in my head and I would come in. But I wasn't told that by immigration; it was a personal decision and I am ready to face the consequences, and that's what is happening.

So back to the other question with regard to the pan-Canadian framework, we were extremely happy when we saw that the Canadian government decided to address it. It's very welcome.

Our members are a bit disillusioned, because I think it's the Canadian government, the political leaders, who have to make the decisions. We're a little disillusioned with the college, because we've lost faith in them. I come in.... Give me a licence and let me address the physician shortage. I want to contribute. This is my home. My kids will be born here. Where am I going to go? I can't go to the U.S. This is Canada. I love being in this country, but you're shutting the doors on us. You don't want to give us a pathway. Show us a pathway so we can go through. So the pan-Canadian framework is good.

Let it be an all-encompassing body that will bring together the college as well as the people whose lives are affected--that is us, the IMGs--and discuss a pathway. You cannot sit in the college in Edmonton and make a decision about people's lives without sitting with them, and that's what's happening.

We want the government to play an active role, because they are more neutral. And I believe, for this gathering today, they are not happy about what's going on. But the college has not deemed it fit to call the association and ask if they could sit and let's pool on that. We are close to 2,500 unlicensed physicians in Alberta, and that is a disaster. And 80% of us are family physicians.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you, Mr. Idahosa.

We will now move to Mr. Cuzner, for five minutes.

October 25th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Thanks very much, and I thank the witnesses for being here.

Ms. Nordstrom, I really appreciate the funnel optic in the diagram you use.

Maybe I'll get comments just a little bit later from the other two witnesses. If you guys have a similar experience in terms of when people are leaving the process, I'll get you to comment on that.

Ms. Nordstrom, you said that it would be nice to get some support so that you could further track those who exit the program. That's a fairly severe drop. More than half contact the MRU for information, and then half of them decide to be assessed. That's pretty significant. I think you're recognizing that you just don't have the capacity to monitor that. Are you trying to monitor it now? It's probably anecdotal information you're getting now. How are you doing it now, and what kinds of responses are you getting?

4:20 p.m.

Director, School of Nursing, Mount Royal University

Dr. Pam Nordstrom

Thank you for the question. I'll approach that in two different ways.

The challenge right now is that we don't have a unique identifier to know if you've been recruited by an employer and if you've contacted the regulator. Those pieces of information aren't necessarily shared. The regulator would send them to us, but that piece isn't shared. We know who comes to see us, but we don't know how many don't come to see us. We have a hunch from the regulator. They're keeping some track. An employer doesn't necessarily hire them and tag them, so to speak, as internationally educated, because as employees, they're all employees of their institutions. It's not that there isn't interest. It is that we haven't developed mechanisms or been willing to share because of privacy of information about different people. Each of us interprets our obligations for protecting privacy, and it's just not being shared.

One of our current research activities is some retrospective work on what we have. We are contacting each of those IENs who have been to us for assessment or for the bridging program. We are asking them to speak to what their integration into the workplace has been like. Have they pursued it? Our numbers are based on what we know. I think it would be much richer data if we could pool together the data from the recruiters, the regulators, us, and employers so that we could understand it a little bit better.

What do I know about the applicants who might not come to us? Part of it is that they are recruited internationally. To come to Canada they need immigration papers, and if they're unable to produce those, we lose them early on. They need to understand that nursing work in Canada is a little bit different from nursing work in other countries, so we provide the website to give them an idea of RN practice in Canada and perhaps other options they might pursue as well.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

To the gentlemen, are your experiences the same, in that you see the number of applicants sort of dwindle as they go through the process? Do you guys track that?

4:20 p.m.

Prof. Jonathan Beddoes

We don't track how many engineers are coming in and how many are successfully completing the process. The associations of professional engineers in each of the provinces will be tracking that, I am sure. I think it is very worthwhile to ask where we are losing the people along the way.

I think the other thing to ask is almost a corollary of that. When is it that people join the process? We have an awful lot of students in our program who have been in Canada for four or five years, but it's only after four or five years of working at some relatively menial jobs that they've actually built up the financial wherewithal to stop working for eight months to come back to university, even for eight months, on a full-time basis. For most people, not getting a paycheque for eight months is a pretty daunting sort of thing to try to plan for. So it takes a while for many of them to actually show up and undertake the program.

4:25 p.m.

President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association

Dr. Peter Idahosa

Our situation is a little bit different, because the numbers that are not being licensed are increasing. What we have come to realize is that the number of foreign-trained doctors going through the residency program, the training program, has decreased. At the end of the day, in 2009 in Alberta we had 68 positions and as of last year it dropped to 40. An average of 2,500 people are competing for 40 positions. It cannot be calculated in a mathematical kind of way. The equation doesn't add up. It is actually becoming a very bad situation at the moment because of the numbers that are not being licensed.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you. Your time is up.

We've got a few moments left for the final round.

Mr. Daniel, go ahead.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Thank you.

To each of the professions here, I'm going to ask what may seem like a dumb question, but please help me understand this. Is there any country that somebody can come to Canada from, say England or Australia, where there are no language barriers and the process and the culture, and go straight into their profession?

4:25 p.m.

Prof. Jonathan Beddoes

Yes. In engineering there is. Canada is a signatory to what is referred to as the Washington Accord, along with a number of other countries, the United States, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and so on. Engineers who are trained in accredited universities in those countries can come to Canada and practise professional engineering in Canada by applying to the provincial association and being accepted. Likewise, Canadians can go to all of those countries and practise professional engineering with very minor obstacles involved.

The Washington Accord is a very strictly regulated aspect of the profession. It's monitored very closely to make sure that engineers who are in that system meet a minimum standard. It works very well.

Unfortunately, if you look at the countries from which we draw most of our immigrants, most of them are not Washington Accord countries.

4:25 p.m.

President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association

Dr. Peter Idahosa

Adding further to what Jonathan has said, it is the same thing in medicine. There are particular countries you can come from, but it's not very easy.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

From the U.K. or--

4:25 p.m.

President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association

Dr. Peter Idahosa

From the U.K.... My problem was, I graduated from Nigeria and I trained in South Africa, so it knocked me off. If you're from the U.K. and you graduated from medical schools from South Africa or Australia, it's easier. You won't have as many problems to get your certificate recognized.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

So it's easier, but you still have to go through a process--

4:25 p.m.

President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association

Dr. Peter Idahosa

You still have to, yes.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

--to get re-registered here, etc.?

4:25 p.m.

President, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association

4:25 p.m.

Director, School of Nursing, Mount Royal University

Dr. Pam Nordstrom

In nursing, all applicants have to write the registered national exam. Some will go through more quickly. Australia, the U.K., the United States might not have to come for assessment of competency, but they all have to write the national exam.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Okay. So following up with that, in your opinion how far can the credentialing process proceed before individuals arrive in Canada?

4:25 p.m.

Prof. Jonathan Beddoes

That's a very good question. I'm not sure that it could actually proceed very far. I think that at least what we owe potential immigrants to Canada is a clear explanation of what they will face when they get here to become a professional in their occupation.

I have frequently been really disheartened when I speak to recent immigrant engineers who really want to practise and their conclusion is “I'm better off to go back to where I came from, because I just can't build a career in Canada without doing the whole engineering program again, which costs a lot of money”. They can't do it. To see first-rate immigrants like that give up on Canada and go back home, I just think, oh man, we're really doing something wrong here.

That's why I think this qualification program that we've introduced in Manitoba and that has now been cloned at several other universities really needs to expand, because these are the people we're really going after. Once they're here, we've invested that much in them. Let's get them to build a strong career here in Canada.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Just from the engineering point of view, we're talking about registered engineers?