Evidence of meeting #18 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was international.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Emma Rose Bienvenu  As an Individual
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Marie-France Lafleur
Babacar Faye  President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union
Timothy Gulliver  Advocacy Commissioner, University of Ottawa Students’ Union
Bryn de Chastelain  Board Chair, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations
Jade Marcil  President, Quebec Student Union
Matt Reesor  President, University Students’ Council, Western University
Mackenzy Metcalfe  Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

In difficult economic landscapes, it is arguably more difficult for those entering the workforce to get jobs, as there are more applicants with fewer jobs available. Experience and skills will be all that more important.

What role do you see experiential learning playing in the job market moving forward? What role can the federal government play in facilitating experiential learning and skill development?

2:30 p.m.

As an Individual

Emma Rose Bienvenu

I would say two things.

One point I tried to make in the retraining focus was that in Canada, for good reason, going to university is great, but we've tended to focus on these very long, multi-year, broad degrees that often don't very closely match the skills and demand in the labour market.

I think a combination, a very targeted retraining and experiential learning, is a really powerful blueprint for how to design retraining programs that will help upskill and prepare the Canadian workforce for automation and those kinds of structural changes. Having retraining programs that are much shorter, much more targeted and developed in concert with the enterprise that will eventually provide the experiential learning is a really cost-effective way of making sure that transition happens as smoothly as possible.

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Bienvenu, and thank you, Ms. Falk.

Next we're going to Mr. Turnbull, please, for six minutes.

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to all of the witnesses today. I've learned a lot in a short period of time from all of you. I found the opening remarks to be thought-provoking, to say the least.

I have lots of questions. I prepared many for Mr. Faye, but I also have some for Ms. Bienvenu. Your comments really got me thinking.

I'm going to start with Ms. Bienvenu.

You talked about the transformative impact of COVID-19, and I'm going to call it this labour market mobility that's almost required or is going to be necessitated by the shifts in our markets.

I wonder if you could speak to whether there are any emerging industries or sectors that you think may not otherwise have existed, or may be new and emerging and that we could anticipate.

2:35 p.m.

As an Individual

Emma Rose Bienvenu

That's a really good question, and I can think of quite a few.

For every sector of the economy that is going to suffer in this crisis, there's often going to be a few that will bloom, right? I think any technology that enables remote work and remote learning is going to do really well. That includes everything from home office furniture to software that allows you to collaborate on presentations and have meetings in a way that is enticing.

I think virtual reality is going to explode. I think that touch first technology—when you go into a store, rather than opening the door, for example, sensors allow you to do the things you usually do in the physical world without touching them—in the coming years is going to really surge.

A fun kind of rule of thumb is that anyone who trafficks in bits and boxes—so bits, as in Internet technologies that allow you to do things remotely, and boxes, as in letting you buy things without having to interact with the business itself—is going to do really well.

With regard to logistics companies, particularly in a country like Canada that is so big and so spread out, I think you'll see clear winners emerging because of the complexity of our logistics.

Then I think companies like Shopify, which allow small enterprises to participate in that bits and boxes experiment, where you could interact with customers without having to physically have them come—

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thank you, that's great. It sounds like you have lots of good ideas about what might be emerging.

Mr. Faye, our government has announced $9 billion in support for students. Students' learning experiences and career pathways are a sign of success for all of society. I don't think there's anybody around who wouldn't say that we want students to be successful.

You mentioned that 44% of students were worried about paying their bills. Do you think our Canada emergency student benefit and the $1,250 a month, with an added amount for students who have disabilities or have to provide care to a child, is relieving that anxiety and worry for the vast number of people? What's the impact of that investment?

2:35 p.m.

President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union

Babacar Faye

I believe that the CESB is certainly a relief for students. When it came to the pandemic, a lot of students were not eligible for the CERB and found themselves choosing between paying for their rent or paying for food. Some of us are unemployed and looking for opportunities for the summer. Considering the lack of those opportunities to really earn money during the summer, I believe that the CESB has played a role. It has played a really important role in alleviating the financial burden for students during the summer.

You have to keep in mind that a lot of students work in the summer to be able to afford to pay tuition.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

To go back to school, yes.

2:35 p.m.

President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union

Babacar Faye

Yes.

When we look at the amount given per month and the wage per hour, and you compare that to the amount and the wage given for this year, which is supposed to be a living wage and a minimum wage for people and for students, having that same amount would play an important role in ensuring they're able to not only survive during the summer months but also look toward the fall to be able to put that money aside—put a little aside for the fall—for their tuition as well.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

I'd like to ask you a follow-up question about that.

We also announced new eligibility criteria for the Canada student loans program and a doubling of the Canada student grant. Do you think that's going to have an impact on helping students go back, re-enrol and pay for that tuition in the fall?

2:40 p.m.

President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union

Babacar Faye

Absolutely, I think that would have an important impact. We have to ensure that is available but also that there's an equivalent or [Technical difficulty—Editor] that the amount of government aid in student loans for Canadian students is sufficient.

There is a need, I believe, for more support when it comes to just the other factors that might surround it and that might apply but might not be considered when it comes to our students. We typically have a narrow field, to use those words, when it comes to students, and we usually have the perception that students only have tuition fees to worry about. We need to expand that to consider that a lot of students also have living standards to uphold. We need to be looking at the entire cost of living for students.

We could look at promoting and pushing for a more complete approach when it comes to providing, first of all, accessibility for learning materials and other tools that may aid students in learning, but also look at rent and the ability to find places to rent. We also need to be looking beyond domestic students to international students, who don't apply for that help and don't receive that aid, and who don't apply, for example—

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Mr. Faye.

Thank you, Mr. Turnbull.

Ms. Chabot, you have the floor for six minutes.

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I also thank the witnesses for being here.

My questions are for you, Ms. Bienvenu. First of all, I'd like to thank you for your testimony. You have indeed produced a very interesting article on several subjects.

Since time for questions is limited, I'll start with automation. We know that the whole issue of automation was already under consideration before the COVID-19 pandemic. I myself sat on the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail, in Quebec, which brings together the major labour organizations, employers and government departments. We considered automation to be part of the necessary adaptations, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

How will the pandemic accelerate automation? What has accelerated so far has been accelerated in an emergency situation. So I'm not convinced that this will continue, but I'd like to see it. Will that be enough to say that we'll go further on these issues?

There are advantages, but what are the disadvantages? Indeed, we're going to have to rely heavily on technology. By relying on technology in this way, how can we take into account its effects not only on the social level, but also on the knowledge level? When I speak of knowledge, I am of course speaking here of skills in the broadest sense, that is to say know-how as well as interpersonal or life skills.

2:40 p.m.

As an Individual

Emma Rose Bienvenu

Thank you, Ms. Chabot. This is a very important issue. As I too am from Quebec, it's a question that concerns me too from time to time.

To answer your question about the acceleration of automation in the manufacturing sector, I think that acceleration will be caused by the great difficulty of maintaining the same number of employees and letting them work close together during this interim period where we are living with the virus without, as yet, having a vaccine.

Acceleration will therefore be needed to allow the manufacturing sector to continue to produce during this interim period, i.e. the two or more years when the physical distancing and other measures currently in place will have to continue to be applied. Manufacturers will likely determine that automation is a preferred option since they will no longer be able to have as many employees on site at the same time.

Betting on technology is hard, because you win at some levels and you lose on others. It is very important to make huge investments in automation services and technology. I think the important thing is to anticipate changes before they happen. Indeed, if we only start to invest as we attempt to launch automation, it is too late. Even if it is not for this year or the next, it will be necessary to recognize that automation, accelerated or not, is an issue that will require a technological solution.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

This will require a technological solution, but also a knowledge solution. Workers have expertise that must not be lost, so there are concerns around that. I'm interested in the broader labour market, where employees are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Their knowledge has to be preserved and a certain balance must be sought.

My next question is on a subject you have not touched on as much, but which interests me a great deal: telework. You've done projections about this. Both in Quebec and in Canada, we have seen telework increase more and more because of the pandemic, in sectors and services where it was not happening before. However, only 13% of people here worked remotely before, for all sorts of good reasons; that is not a very high number.

Do you think that telework will become more widespread in sectors where it has been absent until now? If that is the case, it involves disadvantages with regard to the working conditions of employees, which must be taken into account.

2:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Emma Rose Bienvenu

You're absolutely right. As you read in the article, I think telework will become much more widespread in Canada and elsewhere.

The experience brought about by necessity proved that telework is a very interesting solution for people who had not thought about it. I am thinking in particular of people who previously had to travel to other cities for their jobs and who saw that they could have a much shorter work day if they stayed at home.

Obviously, people with children are going to need a lot of support during this transition, when they are forced to telework and cannot come to their offices.

The disadvantage of telework is that it can mask some of the inequities in the employee's living conditions at home that would otherwise be levelled out and go unnoticed in the office. I think we need to keep that in mind.

That said, employers today can offer reasonable accommodation to people facing certain constraints. Usually these limitations are physical, such as a person who has to use a wheelchair and has difficulty getting to the office. Allowing telework as a reasonable accommodation for people with physical limitations could be a positive development as it would provide opportunities for more people.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you very much, Ms. Bienvenu and Ms. Chabot.

Next, we have Ms. Kwan for six minutes.

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses for their presentations.

First, Mr. Faye, you touched on the issue around the financial expenses for students. It was a first step for the government in coming with a CERB for students, but the amount was less than the regular CERB.

Can you comment on that and what your thoughts are with respect to the difference in the amount?

2:45 p.m.

President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union

Babacar Faye

I believe the amount, when it comes to the expenses.... If you look at the minimum wage in the province of Ontario, which is $15 per hour, compared to what CESB would give, which is about $7 per hour, you see it's half the amount.

When it comes to a living wage and the expenses that students face on a daily basis, they face the same expenses that normal people would usually face. There is also the added burden of the tuition fees in the fall, and the tuition fees you may not have paid for the summer as well. These are added burdens, in addition to paying rent as well as considering the economic impact of the pandemic. A lot of students are not receiving support from their parents, who may have either lost their jobs or been laid off temporarily for that period as well, so there is no additional amount of support from those parents.

Lots of factors create problems when it comes to the equity of the amount given to students compared to the regular population.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you.

Would it be fair to say that the government should in fact acknowledge the hardships that students experience? Their living expenses are the same as everyone else's. Therefore, the amount for the student CERB should be the same as the amount for the regular CERB. Could I get a quick yes or no from all of our witnesses?

We'll start with you, Mr. Faye.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Ms. Bienvenu?

2:50 p.m.

President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union

2:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Emma Rose Bienvenu

I think so, yes.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Gulliver?

June 12th, 2020 / 2:50 p.m.

Advocacy Commissioner, University of Ottawa Students’ Union

Timothy Gulliver

Yes, I agree.