Let me be very clear that the government places a high priority on safe, fair, and productive workplaces. These are an essential part of Canada's continued economic growth and prosperity, our number one priority, and internships play an essential role when it comes to providing Canadians with opportunities to gain the skills and experience they need to join that workforce.
There are currently estimated to be several hundred thousand interns in Canadian workplaces, many of whom are working toward degrees or diplomas through secondary or post-secondary educational institutions, but not all of them. There are also new Canadians, recent graduates, and people pursuing a career change or looking to return to the workforce after a period of absence, among others. I think we can all agree that no one wants to see them exploited or left unprotected.
However, the bill could put serious limits on prospective interns. Unpaid internships would be available only to current secondary, post-secondary, or vocational students who are receiving the training as part of their degree or diploma program. This change could leave in the dark prospective unpaid interns who fall outside these limitations, or anyone not involved in an education program with an internship component. Those trying to transition to future studies or employment, like new Canadians, recent graduates, or those looking for a mid-career change could lose an invaluable stepping stone to meeting those goals.
I am sure that prospective interns would have serious concerns about the number of meaningful internship opportunities available to them. The bill also does not define training, which is very much an issue of concern.
The bill could have the unintended consequence, for example, of making it easier for employers to withhold pay from their existing employees who are involved in workplace training.
Another issue is that Bill C-636 is somewhat inconsistent in that it would provide all interns with labour standard protections, except the minimum wage in some cases. This means that labour standards like paid overtime and paid holidays would apply to interns receiving wages, but also to unpaid interns.
There is real potential for confusion about the obligations of employers and the expectations of interns. I am sure we could all agree that internships, whether paid or unpaid, can be extremely valuable. Our government has been saying for some time now that we want to ensure that young Canadians continue to have access to the on-the-job training they need, and internships are an important part of that training.
At the end of January, my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, consulted the stakeholders in cities across Canada and across industries to gain a deeper understanding of how we can best support interns. Those meetings will help inform the current environment and help us better understand how best to protect interns in the workplace.
We are talking about balanced measures to make sure that Canadians continue to have the opportunity to get the skills and experience they need, including through internships, and to make sure that all interns are protected while doing so. We are investing $40 million to support up to 3,000 paid internships in these high-demand fields, and $15 million annually to support up to 1,000 paid internships in small and medium-size enterprises.
That's not all we're doing to support young workers. We also provide a number of programs to help our young people learn and develop necessary skills for their future careers, including Canada student loans and grants for post-secondary students, and the new Canada apprentice loan for apprentices.
Our government is committed to providing Canadians with the workplace experience and skills they need to find jobs and succeed in the job market.
This brings me to the point in my speech where I will talk a little bit about my personal experiences when it comes to internship programs. A little while ago, when I was chair of the Canada-Poland Parliamentary Friendship Group, I had the notion brought forward to me by young people in Canada, primarily of Polish ancestry.
Our institution has a great history when it comes to internships. We have the internship program on Parliament Hill, where young people from Canada come here to work in MPs' and senators' offices. We have internship programs, such as the Ukrainian internship program, where young Ukrainians come here to work in our Parliament. It is regrettable that we do not have reciprocity on that particular issue with Ukraine, wherein young Canadians could also go to do the same thing. We also have the Jewish internship program here on the Hill. That is part of a community that participates in these internships.
Some of these internships are paid, some of these internships are unpaid. It is happening right here, all around us, in all of our offices.
I am wondering what the effect of this legislative change might be. The member of Parliament sponsoring the bill never mentioned once any of the potential consequences of the legislation when it comes to these kinds of internship programs
Each political party has the ability to have its own internship programs. We have a Conservative internship program and I am sure the other political parties have ones as well. I do not know what the other parties do. They do not pick up the phone and tell me what they do behind their closed doors, which is unfortunate. I do not know why they do not do that.
These are some of the concerns that we have.
Trinity Western University has an internship program here as well. I do not remember the exact name of it, but young people from that university are also coming here.
This prompted me to reach out to the Polish community a few years ago and create Canada's first ever bilateral internship program. The problem that I see with all of these other internship programs here on the Hill is that they are all unilateral. They are all one-way. Through my ability to get the Polish community involved, we have created a society and an agreement with the Polish parliament, and at this point in time we have had a number of young Poles come over and intern in offices here in our Parliament. Young Canadians of Polish heritage have had the same opportunity to do internships in the chancellery, the Polish parliament, as well.
We have a lot of knowledge on the Hill about the impact of these internship programs and how valuable they are and how unique each one is in its structure and how they are set up. While I understand the sponsor's intent with the bill, we have to be careful if we start to tinker with some of these things.
While the protection is nice, and no one would disagree with that, if we do not get it absolutely right, any legislative changes that would deny young people an opportunity to participate in a parliamentary internship program, or to create a bilateral parliamentary program between parliaments, or to give young Canadians an opportunity not only to intern here but also to intern anywhere in the world as part of those bilateral exchanges, is not something we would want to do.
Canada is a great country. It is a land of opportunity and hope. Internship is just a part of that. It is a rite of passage for many young people so they can get the valuable skills and experience they need, and get those first references on their resumés when it comes to moving on and advancing their careers. We have cooperatives and internship placements and all kinds of other things emanating from our public education institutions. However, we have to be careful.
I will reserve judgement on the member's bill until we have had an opportunity to discuss it further, but at this particular point in time, while I do not question the member's motive, I do question the unintended consequences as we see so many times from legislation from the NDP.