Evidence of meeting #40 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kim Allen  Chief Executive Officer, Engineers Canada
Kelly Pollack  Chief Executive Officer, Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia
Kristyn Frank  As an Individual
Robert Henderson  President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada
Margaret Eaton  Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

In your work, what do you believe are the key factors to the successful integration of immigrants?

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

There was a very interesting question earlier about racism. I think one of the biggest issues is to try to get at what we're now calling hidden bias, or unconscious bias, this idea that we all have biases. In a very interesting study done by a Harvard professor recently, she's come up with a way of measuring bias. It turns out that everyone has some kind of bias. Sometimes it's about a preference for young people over old, or for men over women.

The way to really get past that unconscious bias, I believe, is to meet and work with a skilled immigrant. We're constantly hearing from employers about how they didn't realize there was so much skilled talent out there. I think a lot of people may have a notion that skilled immigrants are the people who are running the corner store or something like that, or the guy in the taxi, without realizing that those immigrants probably came here with perhaps more degrees than they have.

I think changing those perceptions is really important, so the more we can bring skilled immigrants together with employers, the more we'll make a lasting change.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Henderson, can you expand on how BioTalent helps immigrants succeed in Canada in the biotech industry?

10:10 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

Sure. As I said before, a lot of the professions within the biotech industry are not regulated, so credentialling often does not work in our industry in terms of gauging that level of talent. What we do very successfully is a process of skills mapping where we've been able to take 38 common professions within the biotech industry and map the skills that are required in order for them to succeed.

We have a bio skills recognition program, which is a skills transfer program. For example, doctors, veterinarians, nurses, or pharmacists who either fail or have inordinate delays in obtaining their licence here in Canada, sometimes possess 80% to 100% of the skills that are necessary within those programs. We have an online tool that allows them to map those skills, and they suddenly realize that they are qualified for several different professions within the bioeconomy, or they find they need very little training or very little professional development to bring them up to par.

Those skills can also be verified. We have a committee of professionals within the different professions that we've mapped, where the skills are mapped, who verify professional resumés and curricula vitae. The committee can say that yes, it verifies that according to what they've stated, they are bio ready—which is our label—to enter the profession among these skills. It's a unique platform. We think it has actually served as a model for other professions, medical and radiology technicians, etc. It works very well for industries that are not highly regulated, where as I mentioned, credentialling does not work.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Do you have a sense of how many immigrants BioTalent works with in a given year?

10:15 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

How many immigrants? I can say that we have more than 20,000 registered for our job board online, and the vast majority of those are immigrants. That should give you an idea of how many people want to work with us, or at least are very interested in us. Some of them are within Canada and some of them, of course, are international. We serve as an information source as to which jobs are available and what the Canadian bioeconomy is looking for in terms of talent.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

What would be some of the barriers that immigrants would face going through the BioTalent system, which you would see as difficult for them?

10:15 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

The barriers they face through the BioTalent system largely are, as I said, that small and medium-sized enterprises themselves aren't spending their time looking for talent, but when they are, for example, some of the labour market information we've seen says that 40% of the average generic recruiters use social media to find talent the majority of the time, but 4% do in the bioeconomy. They're not using the mechanisms that immigrants and all job seekers are using to look for jobs. A lot of the time they're talking to their own circle of network contacts in terms of trying to reach the appropriate professional. You have a network of small and medium-sized enterprises where human resources as a term is an oxymoron. They find it is a pain point more than they feel it is an opportunity, and when they are looking for it, they're not expanding their search to include the huge potential of newcomers that exists out there.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. Mathyssen.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much, Ms. Eaton and Mr. Henderson. I appreciate very much the expertise you bring to this discussion and to this study.

I was interested in a number of things that were said, and I'm just going to frame it and ask both of you to answer or interject in any way that's appropriate.

Regarding your comment, Mr. Henderson and Ms. Eaton, about that incredible pool of talent out there, some years ago, probably in the mid-1990s, I was supporting a group called the Council of Canadian Immigrants in London, Ontario. These were people who brought incredible talents, but they couldn't find work and they were doing things that were far below their skill sets. We tried to talk to government at that time about the connections we could make. These very talented people knew business people, entrepreneurs, and professionals in their country of origin and we could make connections, whether it was through trade or the exchange of information, expertise, research, but there was no interest.

Have things improved in 2015? Have we come past that uninterest? Is there hope that these kinds of professionals and these kinds of connections can enhance our relationships internationally?

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Absolutely. One of our partners, Scotiabank, considers itself to be the most international of banks. It has locations in 55 countries around the world. It is interested in participating in our mentoring partnership primarily, for example, because it wants to give its staff the opportunity to work with people from other cultures. Doing that is very important to Scotiabank, because it's primary to its business success.

If you're training a new leader, that person goes into the mentoring program and they learn about how to deal with someone from another culture, because no doubt in their job they are going to have to deal with someone in another country. It could be a colleague or it could be a client. On the employer side, the business side, I think there is a real recognition that the immigrant provides a tremendous connection to global success. I think there has been a change, absolutely.

March 10th, 2015 / 10:15 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

I'd like to echo that.

Last year we did a study specifically on internationally educated professionals. The majority of the companies responding that had hired or that had internationally educated professionals on staff reported enhanced innovation, access to markets, etc. I think globalization from an industrial standpoint is driving this. Everybody understands that it's no longer a question of NIMBY, not in my backyard, of us simply looking to our own domestic market for both our business and our talent.

Can we enhance that? Are there mechanisms we can use to enhance that? Of course. But I think they have no choice but to recognize that. Sometimes there may be kicking and screaming, but they do recognize it.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you.

Is the leadership more from the business, the employer level than from other levels? I ask that because I was part of a government that brought forward an employment equity program basically because of the recognition that if you reflect the community, your business will be stronger. Unfortunately all of that was thrown out in 1995. It was completely dismantled. I think we suffer because of that.

There was a reference to racism, and certainly we know that over the years there have been waves of immigration. My grandfather was an Italian immigrant. He had to change his name and pretend that he was not Italian in order to get a job. That was just the reality. We've seen that in the waves of immigration.

Is there still some of that present? I ask that because I have a real sense that given the fears Canadians have with regard to security, there may still be remnants of racism that apply to Canadians who might be coming from the Middle East or northern Africa. Do you have you any sense of that?

10:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Yes, absolutely.

If we look at the path that immigrants of the last 10 to 20 years have experienced versus that for immigrants from 50 or 100 years ago, we know that immigrants coming from Europe and Australia have had a much easier time than have immigrants coming from our key countries right now, which are India, China, and the Philippines. I think even just anecdotally you can see that it is different. If you come in and English isn't your first language or if your skin colour is not white, it is much harder.

I was just reading in your Ottawa Metro this morning that there is a campaign now to meet a Muslim family. I thought that was a very interesting initiative for someone to go in and see that Muslims are just like you and me. I think we still have to come a long way in Canadian society and culture to really embrace the multiculturalism that we say we are so fond of in Canada. The practical lived experience is that there still is discrimination.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

With regard to successful programs that really take advantage of the incredible talent pool that comes from new Canadians, newcomers, or immigrants, are there any shortfalls? I'm wondering about the kinds of services a family would need, such as child care and access to transportation. What can we do in those kinds of areas to make things better and to help ourselves in the long run?

10:20 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

It's interesting that you say that.

When we were on the panel going across Canada, we found, obviously in the less concentrated urban centres, that a lot of those services would fall to the employer to make up for the cultural community that may not be present there. Sometimes they were ill-equipped to do so.

With the larger employers.... I remember that we spoke in Halifax at one point with Irving Oil, which was very interesting. They took it upon themselves. They felt that enhancing their cultural diversity was a corporate objective. They felt this was something that all businesses, urban or rural, were going to have to face. As the workforce diversifies and as immigrants become more and more crucial as a talent pool for these businesses, they are going to have to incorporate into their HR culture the idea of making sure that they indoctrinate and help not just the placement, but the family to be more comfortable.

Certainly some of the clusters that I represent in biotech in P.E.I., which has a vibrant cluster of biotech companies, have had big issues. With some of the skills in biotech that may be required, sometimes there are two people in Europe who have the skill. When they bring them in, it's not the fact that the workplace is not accommodating, that they can't work there; it's the fact that the spouse can't find a job; it's about the kids not feeling that they are part of the community.

That is why the placement or the employment fails many times in those communities. Your point is well taken.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Ms. Mathyssen.

Mr. McCallum.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Welcome to the witnesses.

My first question is for Ms. Eaton, about this stereotype of doctors driving taxis.

I'm wondering what the federal government can do about it because by and large the credential decisions are in the hands of provincial governments. I would have thought at a minimum that the federal government should ensure that people know what they're getting into before they come to Canada, and if possible, have a chance to secure their credentials before they come here.

I'm wondering at a practical level, given the limitations of the powers of the federal government, what you think we can do.

10:25 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

That's a great question.

In Ontario there were 2,000 internationally educated doctors who came to try to get licensure. Oftentimes they find their path. They can get their licence, but the piece they can't get is residency. There are only 200 positions in residency for Ontario doctors, yet we know that Ontario needs more doctors. There isn't the funding for them.

As one of our colleagues on the panel, Christine Nielsen, said, doctors are paid like seamstresses. They're paid on a piecemeal kind of basis, and doctors have not wanted to expand the number of people coming in to share that work.

There are systems within our health care structure that mitigate against inviting more new players into the health care field and into becoming doctors. That is one of the issues.

Certainly, though, on your point about pre-arrival, having people understand what the situation is before they come here I think is absolutely imperative. One of the great successes of the very good programs, the overseas program run by colleges, the CIIP, is in directing people to the appropriate city. People may be thinking if they are going to be doctors, they will come to Toronto. What the program tries to do is say the person might have an easier time by going to P.E.I. instead. I think that pre-arrival piece is key.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Actually that is similar to what we heard from the last group, that it is often easier for immigrants to get jobs outside of the biggest cities. That's perhaps especially true for doctors.

Mr. Henderson, I have experience in my own riding that sort of backs up what you said in terms of a multicultural labour force being good for profit. This was the case where a company was competing for a global mandate with other parts of a U.S.-controlled enterprise. The fact that they had people originating in places like Korea gave them inside knowledge of how to produce good products for that market.

My question is a broader one, for you or for Ms. Eaton.

Given that experience, what can the federal government do more generally to help successful immigration settlement practices? Don't just say give more money; I know we could do that, but other than that—

10:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

We've seen some very good models. The Halifax model of the multi-stakeholder group, where you see regulators coming together with immigrant-serving agencies, coming together with employer outreach....

We've seen a huge gulf. Often the two black holes that exist within that entire chain that needs to come together for immigrants to be exposed, to understand the cultural differences, and to be welcomed exist between the regulators—and I go back to your first question on the regulators—where their responsibility stops at either licensing or not licensing the person, and that is the end of their mandate. That is a huge issue, because they have the people there and they're not passing them on. That's number one. Number two is often between the immigrant-serving agencies and the employers.

Anything that the federal government can do either to encourage, through its funding mechanisms for the immigrant-serving agencies.... I'm not saying more money; I'm saying change the conditions on which you grant it to encourage less of a silo mentality within the larger urban centres, because some of the smaller urban centres are doing this quite effectively, and it's not about money. It's simply bringing the right people to the right table and everybody having a vested interest in this, as opposed to saying that it's not their mandate, that really, they get paid only if they place the immigrant, so they're not really worried whether the other places the immigrant.

I don't know, Margaret, if you have something to add, but that's what we saw as something that would make a huge difference.

10:30 a.m.

Executive Director, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

Margaret Eaton

Rob and I both sat on this panel, which Kim Allen was on as well. One of the areas we looked at was foreign credential recognition. This was also brought up by previous panel members, this idea that every province is responsible for licensure of their particular profession. Some licensures have become national, pan-Canadian. There was a pan-Canadian framework to try to encourage regulators to think more broadly about their work.

If an immigrant coming in knew that there was one standard and they could quickly access that information, as opposed to, for example, the accounting profession, where prior to the merger to one designation there were 42 different regulators across the country.... What a mess of different requirements for anyone coming new to the country and trying to figure out whether if they go to New Brunswick, it might be different from if they go to Alberta, and how it might be different. The pan-Canadian framework tried to address that, but it has not been implemented.

If the federal government could have some influence with the provinces to encourage the regulators to make a change, that would go a long way.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, sir, and Ms. Eaton.

Mr. Shory.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our witnesses as well.

Let me start by saying I'm very happy that when I shared the story of a taxi driver in Parliament a couple of years ago, in one of my speeches and a couple of my committees, the message got across.

One of the reasons I got.... I'm an immigrant, by the way. I went through all this mess of foreign credential recognition myself, so I have lived through it. I know what it is, and I know how big this problem was and how big it still is. I have been working on this issue for almost 10 years. I am happy with one thing. The federal government, understanding that this is a provincial jurisdiction, has done some work on it. In 2008 our government came up with $50 million for this pan-Canadian framework, encouraging all the provinces to come up with a program that is acceptable throughout Canada, and we've had some success. There is no issue on that.

I am very optimistic about this express entry visa program as well, as it has an element of foreign credential evaluation before an application is made. That will help, in my view at least, some potential immigrants to come to Canada and be successful.

I'm looking at this discussion from a different angle. We all talk about what the government's role is, what the employer's role is. From my own experience, I strongly believe that along with economic integration, social integration is very important for newcomers. There is a great role to be played by the new immigrant to be successful in our society.

Would you agree with me, to start with?

10:30 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, BioTalent Canada

Robert Henderson

I totally agree with you. I think one of the issues that we have and one of the things that we applaud about the new express entry system is the fact that there is more onus on the newcomer to educate themselves in terms of labour market research and their destination. We hope that goes even further.

There was a lot of talk in terms of our panel discussions of plan B: what happens if you want to come here and become a physician or you want to become a nurse, depending on what your education is, and if that doesn't work out what are you going to do? Some of those conversations have to occur and some of that research has to occur beforehand. I think the express entry system and the fact that it awards points for some of that knowledge and some of that information that the newcomer can gather before getting here goes a long way. I certainly applaud that.

There's a sense of shock and awe both from an employment standpoint as well as from a cultural standpoint. The issue we have found is that there's a huge change between the urban centres and the non-urban centres in terms of what you were talking about, which is acclimatization to the culture. Because there's a cultural community that's very visible and very active, the large urban centres act as a very large pillow as a landing area for a lot of those families. That's a big issue for us because it's some of the small urban centres that are experiencing the most growth and require that talent.