Mr. Speaker, first, I want to begin by quoting the Prime Minister who said:
We want a Canada where every child arrives at school ready to learn; a Canada where everyone has the opportunity for post-secondary education regardless of geography or means; a Canada where universal literacy and lifelong learning are part of the national fabric.
Full of wisdom and vision, these words summarize entirely the purpose of the bill that is before us today in this House.
In December 2003, the government established the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development through a series of orders in council.
Today, by means of a legislation, we are specifying the mandate and responsibilities of this new department. By the same token, this legislation will formalize the division of Human Resources Development Canada, that is HRDC, into two separate entities.
The goal is not to make economies of scale or reduce the operating expenses. The resources of the previous department, that is Human Resources Development Canada, are rather divided in two in order to obtain better strategic results. That does not mean that we should prepare a negative report on the performance of HRDC for the last decade. On the contrary, this department has rendered valuable services to Canadians, both on the social and economic fronts.
I am thinking of the improved and extended parental benefits plan that allowed thousands of families to fully enjoy their newborn. I am thinking of the implementation of the Canada child tax benefit, deemed the most progressive social action since the universal health care plan. I am also thinking of the youth employment strategy that allowed thousands of young people to regain confidence and to realize that there was a future for them in this country. I am thinking of the transition from unemployment insurance to employment insurance that steered our society toward employability.
In 2003-04, more than 700,000 Canadians received help from the department through the employment benefits paid under the Employment Insurance Act. In Quebec, more that 50,000 people re-entering the labour force received assistance.
I am also thinking of all the measures put forward to ensure that certain groups facing specific difficulties, like native Canadians, handicapped people, older and seasonal workers, can fulfill their dream.
All these measures, programs and initiatives are a testimony to the considerable efforts made by HRDC to strengthen the social fabric of Canadian life.
With this bill today, we are proposing to start writing a new chapter, without erasing the previous ones of course. In short, this bill gives the Human Resources and Skills Development minister and department the mandate, legal powers and tools to ensure that the labour market and the skills development programs, including support programs for students, work properly.
If we create this department, it is mainly because our government wants to pay more attention to some important issues, like giving workers more opportunities to develop and increase their expertise in the workforce. We are studying a few issues, including the promotion of training opportunities in skilled trade, literacy training and the enhancement of skills for workers.
This is why we are working with the provinces and the territories, businesses, unions, workers and the sector councils to develop a skills development strategy in the workplace.
Such a strategy would help to develop a highly qualified and dynamic workforce and a flexible and productive labour market, while meeting the needs of employers who want to create productive and innovative workplaces.
In this changing world where new technologies are redefining complete areas of our society, we have a duty to give all of our citizens, young or not so young, the means to educate themselves, to create and to innovate.
The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development spent a good part of his career in education. I am convinced that he will be an important ally in our efforts to ensure that all Canadians can learn and develop at all stages of their lives.
Having worked a lot in the area of labour relations and in numerous businesses before being elected to this House, I can assure you that the successful ones are the ones who emphasize in-house training, the ones that are not just marking time,but who decide to go forward and ensure that their human resources will always keep up with cutting edge technology or with the environment in which they are operating.
Thanks to the new department, we will have the opportunity to intensify our efforts to assure that every youth in this country will be able to get a post-secondary education if he or she wishes so. It is estimated that, in the future, 70% of all new jobs in this country will require post-secondary studies. Moreover, only 6% of jobs will be open to people without a high school diploma. These figures are revealing.
As a country, we can't allow young people gifted with talent and potential to miss the boat of the information age because they lack the financial means to afford an education and to get on board. As a government, we must make sure that they can not only get on board, but take the helm, as soon as possible.
To this end, last month, the minister of Human Resources and Skills Development tabled Bill C-5, aiming among other things, to help lower-income families to save money to eventually pay for post-secondary studies for their children. The bill will also allow such families to take greater advantage of the registered education savings plans and the related subventions.
As you can see, that department will help us to promote access to higher education, but it is clear that its mandate will be extensive and far-reaching. It will help us to face other emerging challenges.
Estimates show that by the year 2011, our workforce will not be able to grow without immigration; by 2020, there will be a shortage of one million workers in Canada; and by 2025, our population growth will depend exclusively on new arrivals. This means that over the next two decades, we will have to ensure that our immigration policies are as effective as possible and allow a total and complete integration of immigrants. If we do not meet this challenge, our ability to ensure an harmonious future to our children and our grandchildren will be broadly questioned, as well as Canada's competitiveness at the international level.
This new department's mandate will be, inter alia, to cooperate with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, professional licensing bodies, sectoral councils, employers and a large number of other organizations on the important issue of recognizing foreign credentials, in order to facilitate the integration of immigrants in the labour market and in society.
May I digress for a brief moment to talk about the extremely important issue of the recognition of foreign credentials. No later than a week or a week and a half ago, in Gatineau, there was a symposium held by the Conseil interculturel de l'Outaouais, which I am sure you know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker. The theme of that symposium was indeed the recognition of foreign credentials. Having spent the afternoon with them and having had dinner with them, I can tell you that I was absolutely flabbergasted.
One does indeed hear about it. One does hear stories about medical doctors waiting to be recognized and so on. I tried to draw a very dramatic parallel between that problem and our shortage of doctors and nurses, and our shortages of all kinds of skilled people in the Outaouais, among other places. I was looking at that skilled labour which is there, which exists, just waiting to be recognized by Quebec and Canada who were supposed to welcome them with open arms. That really flabbergasted me.
I heard horror stories from people who showed up that day, for example, a dentist from Colombia, a physician from another country, people that Canada will not even have to train in any way, because they are ready to practice. Nevertheless, we must be very realistic; there is always the issue of protecting the public. On the other hand, we must be careful not to hide behind this notion of protecting the public, what I call the closed shop mentality of a number of professional bodies.
As I told the participants that day, on the other hand, we must carefully respect jurisdictions. In this respect, Quebec has obligations. No doubt we will have to work with the Government of Quebec. If we can help it, that will certainly be very much appreciated. I have talked to a few of my colleagues in the Government of Quebec, and they have told us how much this concerns them as well.
On the other hand, what came out of this symposium, which was attended by very diverse cultural communities in the Ottawa valley, and the following symposium, is that it is indeed the professional bodies that are making the admission process difficult, that are complicating the process and that are making it prohibitively expensive to get these qualifications recognized.
We let these people in and, then, we have a dentist who works on the cleaning staff of a hospital instead of working for the community.
I met a pharmacist. There is a terrible shortage of pharmacists in Quebec. These people are there, they are ready, they can be tested, but not one test after another at a cost of $2,000, $2,500 or $3,000. What my friend the dentist from Colombia explained to me that day is that the cost of these tests was close to $10,000.
This is the challenge we will probably face. We should offer our assistance to our friends in the provinces to ensure that we meet the needs of the people who elect us. Apart from the issues of jurisdiction, I believe that by working together we will find the solutions. Indeed, it was on that day that I realized that it was not just a few isolated cases.
I had a case in my practice. Without revealing any identities, I met a doctor and saw how complicated it was. There was a hospital, in this region, that was ready to accept the individual.
Unfortunately, because of the decisions of some professional bodies and their lack of openness to people from abroad, qualified people cannot practice their profession or sometimes end up on welfare, or they move to other provinces.
We can tell we really have a problem when a physician comes to Quebec and cannot work there, and he or she is accepted as a practitioner in a New Brunswick hospital.
Like the Colombian dentist said, Colombians and Canadians must have very similar teeth. And the rest of their bodies must be very similar too.
That was just an aside. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development minister has said that he intends to work very hard on a new Canadian strategy to recognize the credentials of immigrants. That is great.
In Quebec, as I said earlier, it will be most important to get certain professional bodies to understand how important this is for Canada, so that it can function properly, particularly given the shortages we are experiencing in certain professions. These shortages are sometimes acute in some provinces, including Quebec.
This strategy will focus particularly on crucial sectors—so much the better—like medicine, nursing, where we are already feeling the first effects of the manpower shortage.
Briefly then, these are the mandate and objectives of the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, a department that will have a free hand in helping us tackle the challenges of the knowledge economy, a department that will focus on the development of human resources and the acquisition of skills.
Our government is in minority, but certainly does not intend to tread water. For us, the status quo is not a viable option nor is living constantly in the past, going back 10 or 15 years and looking at what has been done or not. This is 2004; we must move forward. The needs are huge and we must respond to them.
This new department that we want to create will allow us to pursue the efforts of recent years. However, first and foremost, it is further irrefutable proof that we are still innovating to ensure an even better future for our children, our youth, our retirees, our communities and our businesses.
Our government wants to make Canada a land of ever wider horizons, where each citizen will be able to benefit from the new economy. I was talking earlier about cultural communities that come here, to Canada, believing that they will find a land that welcomes immigrants and that they will be able to lead a productive life; they cannot wait to do so.
Words alone will not do. We will have to help them and ensure that these people feel totally integrated into the Canadian society.
I know, because I was told during the seminar to which I alluded earlier and which took place last week. I congratulated them, because this was one of the first times that I saw a variety of cultural communities sitting in the same room and not arguing with each other, but working towards a common goal and trying to find sustainable solutions, not only for cultural communities, but for the whole country.
Among other initiatives—and surely everyone heard about this, but I will mention it just in case—they are preparing a petition and they are preparing to sign it. Therefore, while the House is sitting, I urge hon. members who live close to my riding to sign this petition, which will be tabled at the Quebec national assembly. I made a commitment to do the same by adapting it for the Canadian Parliament.
This area and this issue concern us all. In all fairness, we have to get moving and ensure that we find solutions.
In conclusion, as our Prime Minister so aptly said it when he took charge of this country, “The world is not waiting for us, it is evolving, changing. So we must be ready to meet new challenges with new solutions, new ideas.I am not talking about changes that will be required 10 years from now; I am talking about today, about now”.
Today, I invite hon. members to support this bill, which shows our will to act now to help Canadians, and which builds the foundations of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. As I like to say, if it is good for Canada, it is also good for Quebec and for the riding of Gatineau.