Evidence of meeting #135 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was workers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gordie Hogg  South Surrey—White Rock, Lib.
Elisha Ram  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Employment and Social Development
Natasha Kim  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Stephen Johnson  Director General, Labour Market Information Directorate, Department of Employment and Social Development

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you, Mr. Fonseca. I appreciate your bringing this forward. As I said in the House, we want to see this report done and find out whether there are flaws in it and where we can go in the future.

You have stated that we have a severe labour shortage, yet BuildForce, which is a national construction association, has basically said that.... I'm reading from a report by the Library of Parliament that states:

The report also considered the demand for and supply of labour in the GTA. It concluded that in the residential sector, “established patterns of recruiting and mobility are sufficient to meet job requirements” in all construction related occupations in 2019 and beyond. In many cases, current labour supply noticeably exceeds the needs of the sector.

Can you respond to that?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Duvall.

BuildForce has put together some great information and done an excellent analysis. I have the BuildForce document right here in front of me. It talks about the trades and occupations. I'm looking at residential right now, and they show here a gap well into 2027. This is from the report they put together for 2018 to 2027.

These are the highlights they see. Within the report, they talk about severe shortages. They say, “Recruiting and mobility may extend beyond traditional sources and practices.” That's what's necessary. They also say, "Employers may need to compete to attract needed workers. Established patterns of recruiting and mobility are sufficient to meet job requirements.” But this is well into later years.

They have put together an excellent matrix that I think we can all go by. They've broken down all the various trades—be they carpenters, concrete finishers, construction estimators—and they show that there is a shortage. They are doing an excellent job and continue to recruit and bring more young people into the trades. What they always talk about is this gap, this 20,000- to 80,000-person gap that will affect the building of our communities.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Okay, thank you.

You're referring to the non-residential construction. It also states, “the labour supply of almost all occupations was projected to be sufficient.”

I'm confused about what we're saying here in the committee and what is in this report. Is there a shortage or isn't there a shortage? I went to Hamilton and met with my people in the building trades and in the carpenters union. They're basically saying that there is no labour shortage. They're saying that they're convincing young Canadians, women and aboriginals, and even challenging people to come to the trade because of the starting wage. Yet it's the non-union employers and some other unions that are paying low wages, which cannot attract those people.

Is it the wage difference?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Duvall, I'll go back to the report. The report actually breaks down the entire province of Ontario and shows that the focus where labour is needed is in the GTHA, at the highest end.

Having spoken to the skilled trades, to labour, I note they've all been saying the same thing. A number of them, I know, will be here as witnesses to this committee. What I've heard from them is that they are looking for.... I'm not talking about the regulated or certified trades. The certified trades are different—electricians, etc. There may not be shortages there. The shortages exist among what are deemed low-skilled labourers, a term which, again, I do not like: carpenters, form workers, framers, bricklayers.

What happens is that our immigration system has not been allowing or has not been bringing these types of workers forward. What we've been trying to do is fill those gaps through the temporary foreign worker program, through LMIAs, etc., and what I'm hearing is that it's not working.

You could talk to organized labour about this; you can talk to the contractors. It's not working for anybody. They want permanent Canadians who can contribute to the community, contribute to the economy, build a family here. As you said, these are good-paying, family-sustaining jobs.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you for that.

The other thing you mentioned is that you want to see the Atlantic immigration program. The Atlantic immigration program does not require labour market screening, which is also known as a labour market impact assessment.

Are you asking for that in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, that we would not have to do an impact assessment and we would just put the jobs up on the board and get to bring these people in?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

No, that is not what I'm saying. I'm saying that it has been analyzed quite a bit. BuildForce has analyzed it. Others have analyzed the marketplace. Take the analysis that exists already, in aggregate, and then come up with a model that will close the gaps that everybody is talking about. Nobody has said that there is no gap. Everybody has said there is a gap. We have a shortage, so projects are on hold. I don't care if it's affordable housing in your community or if it's pipes and sewers; whatever it is, what allows our economy to move forward is being somewhat hampered by not having these workers.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you, Chair.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

MP Sangha, please.

February 19th, 2019 / 11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Peter, for coming today for this great study.

I have seen a labour shortage in the GTA, in my riding of Brampton Centre. There is a tremendous shortage of manpower, though people are coming from outside. Still, the people out there.... Many small and medium-sized enterprises are closing their businesses or are on the verge of closing their businesses because they don't have manpower.

Your motion is only for construction workers. I do agree, but at the same time.... I appreciate your presentation, where you have given very specifically how you can improve this labour shortage in the industry, but I'm still not very clear. As Mr. Duvall has said, which way are you thinking about? Do you want the labour people to come to Canada, or internally the people to work here? How will you promote our own youth, the kids, to come into this industry and work for this industry? Do you have some suggestions on that?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Sangha.

I've heard the same concerns from Brampton, Mississauga, and across the country, but in no way is this limited to any size of company: small, medium-sized or large companies. We have heard from everybody, from small contractors all the way to our largest builder, Mattamy Homes.

You're right. It's a multipronged approach, and that's what I'm hearing from all the members. What the industry has said is, “Yes, we continue to recruit, but we're not getting enough people into this labour market”—especially, again, for these types of skilled trades or the ones that I've spoken about, the bricklayers and carpenters and so on.

What's not working is what we have in place today. We try to fill that gap just through temporary foreign workers and so on, but why would we want to do that when we know that this gap, as has been studied, will exist for decades to come? Why do that? Why not look at a way to fill the gap with people who are in their twenties or thirties, and continue, and then with Canadians...?

I know we also want young people to be able to get into the trades and not have the stigma that the trades may sometimes have. These are high-paying jobs. Yes, at times you do get, as I said, mud on your boots and you get your fingernails dirty, but these are the types of jobs that can help you build a family and build a community.

For a job where you get to see, at the end of the day, something you've built, or know that you're driving on the road you constructed, or see that building that people are living in, that you've put together, that's amazing.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

I know. You're giving the suggestion that we have to fill that gap and we have to see how new programs can be set up so we can fill those vacancies, but as Mr. Duvall also asked, I will again ask you the question: What is your proposal on that?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

My proposal for our government would be for more investments, of course, in destigmatizing the trades, as well as more dollars for training, to be able to get more of our young people through our training programs, ensuring that they have the health and safety that's required so they are safe on the job site and they're able to build that skill set, as well as ongoing training, because that never stops, to be able to have that skilled workforce that we want here in Canada to grow our economy.

That's what I'd like to see: building what we have, taking what we may have in the rough today and turning that into diamonds in terms of our young people, as well as for the sake of the industry to fill the gap, to have another stream towards permanent residency and then citizenship.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

I understand that when we go through the LMIA and TFW process, it's very lengthy.

Employers have to place an advertisement and select the people. It takes two or three months to select them. Employers then apply for LMIA and spend $1,000 for each applicant. Fifty per cent are refused. Officers are so adamant. I don't know why. They refuse more than 50% of applications. Then it's time to go for immigration. Then, at the end, you're not sure that you will get all of them through immigration. It's a lengthy process, so when do you want this system to start?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

I'd like to start today, if we could, just like the Atlantic model.

What I have said is that this is an economic driver. You have people who would show up today and be able to work tomorrow. They would be paying taxes. They would be building up their skill sets. They would be helping employers. They may even start their own businesses. As I said, we will need construction workers on an ongoing basis. We're not filling this gap fast enough. Why would we want to have a temporary foreign worker or an LMIA program to bring in somebody who will work here but then leave with that skill and with whatever dollars they've collected, rather than have that experience and that person here? I think we want to build Canada through immigration and through a program like this.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Fonseca.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

It's over to Mr. Hogg, please.

11:40 a.m.

Gordie Hogg South Surrey—White Rock, Lib.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Fonseca, for talking about skilled labour. As a former bricklayer's helper for a year, I'm feeling kind of skilled and buoyed by the wonderful attributes I had, which have now deserted me.

Anecdotally, looking at the Atlantic immigration pilot program, certainly we've had the same issue in metro Vancouver, where many construction workers are charging.... They're getting a bonus. They're getting transportation paid to come into metro Vancouver. Is this an issue of affordability, as much as anything else, affordability with respect to metro Toronto and metro Vancouver, which are two of the places that have...?

I bring that up because I know of two physicians who are married and who say they can't afford to live in metro Vancouver, and they're earning much more than any of the people we're making reference to. Is there a strong correlation between housing affordability, the cost of living and this issue?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Hogg, there is.

We often hear about not enough supply in terms of places to live, and also about getting businesses expanded. It is about making sure that we have that workforce. You're quite right; I have heard from contractors who have had to change the way they build some homes and businesses, in terms of the products they use and how they're built, because they don't have the labour supply to be able to do it.

If you're a builder and you're trying to put together hundreds or even thousands of homes at a time, and you don't have the particular skill set, you will say, “Okay, not bricks. We'll have to put siding on here” or whatever. You'll have to change the way you do things, and not for the better. They'd rather do it in a quality way. They'd rather be able to afford it, so that supply is necessary. The only way we're going to close the gap on the supply is to be able to close the gap on labour.

11:40 a.m.

South Surrey—White Rock, Lib.

Gordie Hogg

You've suggested the Atlantic immigration pilot program as perhaps a template to look at. Do we have any metrics with respect to people who come into that program and whether or not they stay there, whether they're there a year later? The reason I ask is that, anecdotally, we had a job fair at a high school in metro Vancouver, and I think the families of five of the people in grade 12 who were being interviewed had come in on the Atlantic program and were now living in British Columbia. I just wonder whether we have any metrics, whether we track that and know exactly how many actually stay in the area.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Thank you, Mr. Hogg.

I don't have those stats with me. Anecdotally, I've read some reports. I know that getting the program up and started was a little challenging at first, but in the second year there has been a great deal of success. It's been region to region, or province to province, in terms of the success they've had in being able to fill some of those labour gaps.

As for what this would do, when you look at the Atlantic model, it was just getting back to the ability to be nimble enough to bring in a workforce that would help a company expand. What we would see in the GTHA, as well as the entire country, is that ability for organized labour—I've heard this from employers, contractors and associations—to bring in that labour through a stream in working with the provinces, as in the Atlantic model. Of course, if you're bringing that labour into your region to help it expand in your region or to help with the gap you have in labour, you wouldn't want it moving elsewhere. I don't see that happening.

What I've seen is a need for more of these workers. You can go to any job site in the greater Toronto area—it may be the same in Vancouver—and you will see that many of the workers are in their fifties and even their sixties now. They're going to retire. This is not easy work. They continue to do the work, and I have employers who continue to beg them to come back and will pay a lot more for their services because they can't find others to address their shortage.

Again, I go back to how many times bureaucrats and others see this as no-skill or low-skill work. Try to frame a house or try to frame a business or do some formwork. You've done bricklaying. It's not something that you just pick up in one day and start doing. You need the training to be able to do it as a skilled craftsperson, but also as somebody who wants to invest in that trade.

I don't think we're doing it really well here in Canada. Look at other places, at Europe, at Austria and Germany, etc. They will start you in the trades in your teens, at 17 and 18 and even earlier. You have kids who are 16 years old and already learning how to do this stuff, and they become artists. They are artists. Look at the work that's done here on Parliament Hill.

11:45 a.m.

South Surrey—White Rock, Lib.

Gordie Hogg

I have 20 seconds. I would like to know whether there are other jurisdictions in the world where this has been looked at, whether it's the European model or others. Also, you talked about the collaborative approach in doing analysis and metrics. Could you describe what that collaborative approach would look like and what kind of direction you're suggesting this committee take? What would that collaborative approach look like? What would the metrics be? How long would that take? What types of actions would grow out of it?

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Very quickly, please.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Well, I also hope it can be “very quickly”, Mr. Chair, and I hope we can do this very quickly because I think the analysis and metrics, etc., have all been done by the industry. We don't have to go out there and do it again. It has all been done. In terms of the countries that I just brought up, many countries in Europe believe in the trades and have a partnership with employers and with labour—with everybody—and it is one smooth continuum. That continuum allows for a robust industry. They can see it as it's progressing.

The industry has put this together for us. It's just a matter now of taking the initiative and implementing something that we have already done with the Atlantic model.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

MP Falk, please.