Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's a great pleasure for me to be here before you and all the members of the committee for the first time as the new Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. I look forward to discussing my responsibilities regarding Employment and Social Development Canada's portion of the main estimates tabled on February 23, 2017.
In accepting my mandate as a new minister, I knew that both my personal and work life experiences would give me a good perspective.
It's very exciting for me to be working on a mandate that, among many other things, includes a focus on ensuring skill development, and in particular, lifelong skills, as you've heard our government talking about. This is very personal for me because I was the first in my family to receive a post-secondary education. In fact, I was able to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty.
As you know, Employment and Social Development Canada delivers a range of programs and services that affect Canadians throughout their lives.
My focus within the department is twofold: to help all Canadians access the right skills and training to find, and keep, good jobs; and to ensure that, when Canadians are at work, they are fairly compensated, their rights are protected, and their environment is safe.
These objectives are core to our government's goal of growing Canada's economy by strengthening the middle class, and helping those who are working so hard to join it. I'm pleased to be able to share with you some of the work that we're doing to deliver on this commitment.
Let me start with our youth. We know that Canada's prosperity is increasingly going to depend on creating a path to success in education and employment for our young people. Our government's first budget, budget 2016, tackled this challenge head-on by making unprecedented investments in the youth employment strategy, including a commitment to create more Canada summer jobs for youth than ever before. I'm very pleased that further funding over three years has been pledged in budget 2017 to continue our work. Combined with budget 2016 measures, these investments will help more than 33,000 vulnerable youth develop the skills they need to find work or go back to school, create 15,000 new green jobs for young Canadians, and provide over 1,600 new employment opportunities for youth in the heritage sector.
Our government knows that a highly skilled, flexible, and adaptable workforce is critical for a strong middle class. That's why we've delivered on our commitment to invest more in skills and training, apprenticeships, and access to post-secondary education.
One of the most promising career paths that we don't talk about enough for young Canadians today is the skilled trades, and as the parent of a young welder, I can tell you this first-hand. That's why our government is supporting union-based apprenticeship training, which will give more people the opportunity to start their careers in these sectors. I'm particularly focused on encouraging more women to pursue careers in the trades, critical to closing that gender wage gap we've heard about time and time again.
We've also addressed the importance of demand-driven education and training through the work integrated learning program. We're investing in partnerships between employers and post-secondary education institutions. The goal is simple. We want to align education and training with employer needs.
Through budget 2017, we're also investing in organizations, like Mitacs, so they can nearly triple their co-op placements. This gives young people that critical on-the-job experience that so many employers are looking for on a resumé.
Our government will also be doing more to help adult learners retrain or upgrade their skills to adapt to a changing market, turning challenges into opportunities, and increasing people's earning potential. By showing leadership in a time of change, we're ensuring that every Canadian can be more confident that the next job is indeed a better job.
When it comes to making post-secondary education more affordable, we've accomplished a lot in the past year. Our very first budget included many measures to make post-secondary education more affordable for students from low- to middle-class, middle-income families, and to make debt loads more manageable, and we've built on those investments in budget 2017.
We've increased Canada's student grants and are continuing to expand their eligibility with both budget 2016 and budget 2017. We've brought in a flat-rate student contribution, and we've improved loan repayment assistance so that no graduate will have to start repaying their loans until they're earning a minimum of $25,000.
I also believe strongly that we need to generate opportunities for those who are traditionally under-represented in the workplace, like indigenous people, newcomers to Canada, people with disabilities, and women.
That's why I'm so proud that budget 2017 also builds on our government's investment in skills and training for indigenous people. Indigenous people are the fastest-growing segment of our workforce, and their success at finding and keeping good, well-paying jobs is critical to Canada's growth.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the members of this committee for the hard work that you undertook last summer to study the temporary foreign worker program. I know you spent a great deal of time hearing witnesses, constructing recommendations, and drafting the report. I want to express my thanks and tell you that your recommendations have played a very real role in our work to improve the program.
In December, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Refugees and my predecessor as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour took early action to respond to the report by announcing four new measures: an end to the “four-in, four-out” rule, a commitment to a pathway to permanence, an extension of the cap for low-wage workers in seasonal industries, and increased requirements for employers to advertise available jobs to the Canadian workforce before they can apply to bring in a temporary foreign worker.
This week, Minister Hussen and I were pleased to announce further measures our government is taking to improve the temporary foreign worker program. Budget 2017 provides an investment of $279.8 million over five years starting in 2017-18, and $49.8 million per year thereafter to support the continued delivery of this program, as well as the international mobility program.
Our goal is always to ensure that Canadians have the first opportunity at available jobs, and to that end we're taking two new key steps. First, employers will be required to do more on targeting the recruitment of Canadian workers, particularly those who are typically under-represented in our workforce, like women, indigenous people, and people with disabilities. The government will work with industry sectors that are heavy users of the program to create Canadian workforce development strategies in partnership with employers, organized labour, and other stakeholders.
To fulfill our commitment to better protect vulnerable foreign workers, we will also increase on-site and spot inspections of workplaces employing foreign workers, and we will work with community organizations that have been devoted to protecting vulnerable foreign workers to ensure these workers are informed of their rights and protections.
In my capacity as Minister of Labour, I'm very proud to be overseeing the passage of Bill C-4, which is currently before the Senate. As you know, our government was elected on a commitment to restore fairness and balance to labour relations in Canada, and that is why Bill C-4 is one of the first pieces of legislation our government put forward.
We're also on track to introduce proactive pay equity legislation for the federal jurisdiction in 2018. Consultation on key design elements of a proactive pay equity system that works for everyone will begin with stakeholders and experts this spring. This legislation will help address gender-based wage discrimination related to the undervaluation of work traditionally performed by women, which will contribute to equality and fairness for all Canadians, particularly those in the middle class and the many people who work so hard to join it.
Budget 2017 also laid out our government's commitment to help workers balance the competing personal and professional responsibilities in their lives. We will be introducing legislation to give federally regulated workers the right to request flexible work arrangements from their employers, a measure that we know from other jurisdictions can have positive impacts on increasing productivity, lower turnover, and lower absenteeism.
With budget 2017, we're also introducing a new investment of $13 million over five years to strengthen and modernize compliance and enforcement mechanisms under the Canada Labour Code. These enhancements will help ensure that workers are treated fairly and protected from harm in the workplace.
A lot in my mandate letter has been accomplished. The steps we have taken are already having a real, positive impact on our economy and on Canadians. Optimism is on the rise, and with good reason, as forecasters are expecting Canada's economy to grow even faster.
After 10 years of weak job growth, our country is coming off the best six months of job growth in a decade. Almost a quarter million jobs have been created.
Canadian businesses are hiring again, because they are confident in our plan for creating long-term growth.
But we're not done. There is a lot of work to do. I am looking forward to working with each and every one of you in the coming years to do the best we can for Canadians in every corner of our country.
With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my opening remarks. I look forward to taking your questions.