Addressing Canada’s Labour Shortages

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March 27, 2023 Addressing Canada’s Labour Shortages
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27 Mar 2023
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March 2023
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March 27, 2023

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Addressing Canada’s Labour Shortages

Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Joseph Mancinelli, International Vice-President & Regional Manager for Central and Eastern Canada, LiUNA
The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada, Government of Canada

Head Table Guests
Sal Rabbani, President of the Board of Directors, Managing Partner, BDC Advisory Services, Empire Club of Canada, BDC
Jenna Donelson, 3rd Vice-President, Empire Club of Canada, Director, Public Affairs and Strategic Engagement, Humber College
Kim Furlong, CEO, Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association
Goldy Hyder, President & CEO, Business Council of Canada
Marsha Seca, Board Director, Empire Club of Canada
John Lee, Partner, Stikeman Elliott LLP
Caitlin Tolley, Board Director, Empire Club of Canada

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. To our in-person attendees joining us here at the Arcadian Court in Toronto, I'm delighted to be here with you today. And to our virtual audience joining in live or on demand, thank you for your participation and support. This incredible community of colleagues and peers is the driving force behind our mandate to engage, debate, educate, and advance the dialogue on issues of importance to Canadians. Welcome. My name is Sal Rabbani, and I'm the president of the Board of Directors at the Empire Club of Canada.

To formally begin this afternoon, this morning, I want to acknowledge that we're gathering on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.

This season, the Empire Club strives to bring you divergent and thought-provoking perspectives on politics, healthcare, business, arts, and culture. Today, we have the pleasure of hosting and hearing from the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship for the Government of Canada, to talk about one of the most pressing issues facing the Canadian economy: labour shortages.

The need for more skilled workers is affecting many industries in Canada, and this represents a significant challenge for businesses across the country, particularly in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, and healthcare. The labour shortage is a significant challenge for the Canadian economy and is likely to persist in the years ahead. But as we are gathered here today, I'm reminded of the importance of embracing diversity and inclusivity in our communities. Immigration has always been a cornerstone of our nation's growth and success. The contribution of immigrants to Canada's economy, social fabric, and overall prosperity, cannot be overstated. There is no doubt that labour challenges in key industries require us to find collaborative solutions. Today's conversation will provide insight on how Canada's immigration measures can help employers across various sectors and industries build thriving workforces to support Canada's economic growth.

Turning to today's program, I want to recognize the Empire Club’s distinguished past Presidents, Board of Directors, staff and volunteers. Thank you for your contributions to making this event a success. The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and we'd like to recognize our sponsors who generously support the club, and make these events possible and complementary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor, LiUNA; and thank you to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, Hydro One, and Telus.

For those joining us online, if you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We're accepting questions from the audience for our speaker. You can scan the QR code found on your program booklet, or through the Q&A under the video player. It is now my pleasure to invite Joseph Mancinelli, International Vice-President, and Head of Canada for LiUNA, to introduce our guest speaker. Joseph, welcome.

Opening Remarks byJoseph Mancinelli, International Vice-President & Regional Manager for Central and Eastern Canada, LiUNA
Thank you, Sal. Always a pleasure to be with you here at the Empire Club. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. One of the most important issues that we've been facing as an organization is immigration and the shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry. And I realize that there are a number of different sectors in the room here today that share the, the same issue, whether it be the service industry, whether it be healthcare, there are so many different sectors that, quite frankly, are experiencing the same level of growth, and in turn, a shortage of skilled labour. Just this week, I was watching the news, and they reported that we had significant growth in Canada, more than we have had since 1957; 3.3 percent of population growth, one million people. More than we had expected. And Stats Canada was surprised themselves at the number of growth that we've had in this country.

But imagine, with all the work that we have, right across the country—especially in the construction sector, for my friends that are here from the industry—today, I could put 25,000 people to work only in Ontario alone. That's the kind of numbers that we're looking at, and that's just LiUNA alone. Then, if you take into account all the rest of the trades, and then you take into account all the rest of the provinces, it is a severe shortage right across the country.

So, we're booming. Construction is booming right across Canada. And what compounds that problem even further is that—and we're very happy about this, Minister—the federal government, of course, pours billions of dollars into infrastructure, as it does the provincial governments as well. And it is compounding the problem further. And of course, COVID hit, and our borders were closed, we weren't letting anybody in. And so, we've had a number of complications as, as well.

Immigration is so, so important to so many of us, and we're really happy to have a minister who is listening to our needs, works very closely with a number of his counterparts right across the country, right across Canada. I know that Monte McNaughton and Sean Fraser get along extremely well, and have, in fact, worked out a number of the issues that I'm sure that we're going to hear about today.

So, Sean Fraser is a lawyer; he holds a law degree from Dalhousie University, a master’s degree from Leiden University, and a bachelor’s degree in science. Minister Fraser has a has had a very successful career in law, his law firm was one of the top law firms in in Canada. And he was practicing commercial law, commercial litigation, and international dispute resolution. He was elected back in 2015 and has served as Parliamentary Assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister, to the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, Minister of Finance, and of course, now serves as our Minister of Immigration.

He has made a number of substantial positive changes to immigration in a very short period of time. I know that he has doubled Ontario's Immigration Intake Program, which we're very, very happy to see. And our organization worked very closely with Minister Fraser to make sure that folks who were considered overstayers were not deported, and initiated a program through the Canadian Labour Congress so that these folks could be naturalized. And he just doubled that program, just recently, and so we're very happy that that has happened as well. So, ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, and we're very proud to introduce our Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Sean Fraser. I have to tell you, when we took a picture upstairs, how happy I was that he sat down for that picture. So, welcome, Sean.

The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada, Government of Canada
That's good. It's all good, all good. Well, look, my career in the NBA has fallen through due to weak ankles, so this will have to do. Look, thanks so much everyone, and I apologize for arriving a couple of minutes behind. It turns out, in rural Nova Scotia, we don't have these underground cities like you have here, so I did get lost along the way, and I hope you'll forgive me for it.

And look, this is an important conversation that we get to have today. And I want to just say what a privilege is to be able to serve in the capacity as Canada's Minister of Immigration. Not just the position, but the fact that I get to do this on behalf of Canada. You know, our approach towards immigration and refugee resettlement in Canada is unique in the world. My counterparts, when I travel internationally, are stunned when we go around and share what our biggest challenges are, that mine routinely is that we can't process applications quickly enough to satisfy the demand of communities.

The reality is, there's a lot of countries around the world whose administrations would love to have the opportunity to embrace an ambitious immigration plan, as Canada has over the past seven years, but simply can't get it done politically. And the fact that we can work across levels of government, as Joe mentioned, with the province of Ontario and others, but also across party lines to find a consensus, is a terrific thing.

And part of this, I think, is driven by Canada's history. You know, immigration is not something that we do in Canada, it's who we are. It's who we've always been. With the exception of indigenous communities, every other family in this country has had the opening chapter of their history written by a migrant. My family landed here 250 years ago from Scotland, fleeing persecution at the time—we still haven't gotten over it, the bloody English. The reality is, I live not 10 minutes away from where the vessel that brought my ancestors ashore, still play the bagpipes here, 250 years later. The reality is, if you visit any community, any region of Canada, you're going to find the story of diaspora communities that have come to define the Canada that we are today. And we're so much stronger for it. The opportunities to connect people to people, to foster cultures of investment, to embrace tourism, to work within industries, to bring workers—including in construction—allow us certain strengths that much of the world does not enjoy. And I think, with the success that we've experienced on the back of immigration for more than 150 years now, I think we also share a moral obligation to continue to make good on a reputation to welcome some of the world's most vulnerable.

You know, from my perspective—although some of the challenges day-to-day can seem complicated—in government, I think sometimes we have the bad habit of making problems seem more complicated than they are, because they may be of large scale. The solution to many of our challenges, economic challenges, and human resources challenges, is not that complicated, in my view. My perspective is that Canada needs more people. We need more people for economic reasons, for demographic reasons, and I'd suggest for social reasons as well.

You know, it's pretty easy to spot the, the economic challenges that we've been living through coming out of this pandemic. But before we address how immigration can help overcome some of these challenges, it's important to understand where we sit compared to much of the world coming out of the most significant, I'd suggest, social and economic crisis that we've experienced, likely, since the end of the Second World War. Canada's economy, despite some very real challenges in particular sectors, has come into the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than every other advanced economy in the world. The reality is, we are now dealing with virtually the lowest rate of unemployment that we've ever seen. We've got GDP well in excess of pre-pandemic levels, and we've actually seen about 830,000 jobs created since before the pandemic. This is extraordinary. The rate at which we are experiencing economic growth—and sometimes in surprising ways—as the entire world is competing for the same pool of global talent, communicates to me that we have an opportunity to embrace Canadians’ welcoming nature to capitalize on the economic opportunity of our generation. And that's to bring these skills into our country that we so desperately need, at a time when many other economies would like to welcome those same people, but don't necessarily have the capacity or the political opportunity to do so.

It's not just an economic problem that we're dealing with. [Remarks in French]. The reality is, across Canada, we may only have three workers for every retiree: in my region, we're down to about two, 2.1, to be more specific. And these demographic trends manifest themselves in extremely concerning ways. Look, if there was an alarm I could pull on one issue, it’s Canada's demographic trajectory right now. The reality is, if we don't bring more families and working-age people into this country, the economic conversations we're going to be having a generation from now won't be about labour shortages, it's going to be about whether we can afford public services, schools, hospitals, and roads, that we depend upon—and too often take for granted, by the way. And I don't mean to say this out of a sense of alarmism, I speak from personal experience.

I'll tell you, when I was first running for office, some of the biggest challenges in my own community were the closure of a local elementary school, and the loss of the mental health unit at the largest regional hospital in northern Nova Scotia. The reason that we were seeing these losses of services had to do with the out migration of people. In the case of the school, young families from Atlantic Canada—including my own—had been moving away from Nova Scotia to pursue economic opportunity since forever. But as our fertility rate declined over the years, we were unable to sustain small schools and small communities. With the case of the Aberdeen Hospital, we had one psychiatrist leave town. One psychiatrist. One fewer than we had before meant we couldn't operate that mental health unit safely and had to close it down. And there’s still not the same level of crisis mental health services that were available in my community before. Since that time, around 2015, our community’s embraced immigration as a strategy to not just solve our economic challenges, but to combat some of these demographic and social challenges. Now, although there's very real challenges, the biggest problems that I have are whether we can build enough houses to welcome all the people who want to move to my community, instead of losing schools and hospitals because so many people are leaving.

Now, I take challenges associated with growth any day of the week. But we still have to adopt smart immigration policies if we're going to overcome them. And before I get into some of the solutions, I want to touch on a third aspect of the need to continue to embrace immigration, and that's a moral responsibility I think we have, to do right by the world. You know, over the course of the past few years during the pandemic, Canada was a bright spot in the world when it came to refugee resettlement. In 2020 and 2021 in particular, Canada was responsible for the resettlement of more people than any other country in the world. In fact, during those two years, each of those two years, Canada resettled more than one third of the total number of people who were resettled permanently as refugees globally. This is extraordinary, and it's a source of national pride when I meet with people and communities, and volunteers in particular, who had a hand in fostering a successful integration and resettlement of people.

There's a unique opportunity that we have in Canada, that I do not think exists anywhere else in the world—until we show it to them—and that's to recognize that the people that we're providing a second lease on life to for humanitarian reasons, we can demonstrate to the world that they come up with an awful lot more than the contents of their suitcase. I can tell you the people who've come into my community, they are working in essential jobs, they are making an extraordinary contribution. There are many people in this room who may well have heard as the now globally famous success story of Peace By Chocolate, the Haddad family who came from Damascus after losing their chocolate factory, moved to the small town of Antigonish by complete chance, and they could not have found a more welcoming community, who helped build the little shed in the backyard of the home that was provided to them. In part to provide a therapeutic opportunity for their father to continue to make chocolate, to get back at what he was good at, back what he knew before. The reality is, when he showed up at the farmers market, he couldn't produce chocolate quickly enough to satisfy the demands of the community.

You know, they ran into some xenophobia in my community as well. There was at least one gentleman who approached my now friend, Tareq Hadhad, the CEO of the company, to say, “I’m sorry, you've lost everything, but why did you have to come and take a job for me and my community?” That was the first person he hired on the floor of the factory when they opened up. They’ve got about 50 people working in a small town in Nova Scotia right now, that wouldn't have jobs if it weren't for their story playing out in the local community. Just a couple of days ago, our colleague Elizabeth May, a proud Nova Scotian as well, gave one of their chocolate bars to the sitting President of the United States of America.

This is a story that I don't think could happen in any other country in the world. And it didn't happen just because the government embraced Syrian refugees in 2015. It happened because the family felt supported by a community who welcomed them. It happened because Canadians bought into the success of the story, and the possibility that a refugee family can start a business that's employing dozens of Canadians. The reality is, I don't think it's true that we, this could not happen anywhere—I don't just think it's true that this could not happen in any other country in the world. When we decided to launch an initiative, initially, to resettle 25,000 people, I think it was inevitable that we would have many of these stories. And though the Hadhads continue to get a lot of the spotlight because of the power behind their story of pursuing peace through chocolate, every time I visit a family of newcomers, there's an extraordinary back story to what they're doing, and how they're successful they’ve become in Canada.

I can tell you from personal experience, if you come to my own community, you're going to find the Maple Cedar restaurant, you're going to find the Syrian-Canadian restaurant. In fact, the Kassim family, who runs the restaurant on the Pictou waterfront, has a 12-year-old son—he's probably about 14 now, when this story happened, he was twelve—who decided he wanted to help learn through his parents’ business how to run a business himself. He opened a lemonade stand next to his parents’ spot on the waterfront. He wanted to save up for a Nintendo Switch. His mother told him about a young boy in Syria that the family knew, who had throat cancer, who wasn't able to pay for it himself. Omar dedicated his summer to raising money so he could buy, or cover the cost, of the throat surgery for that young boy. I shared this story on Facebook, by the way, like 18 people offered to buy him a Nintendo Switch right away.

But the reality is, when we welcome people to communities, and we do what we can to support them and integrate them into our communities, they tend to give back like I could never have thought was possible. Now, it's really important that we come to understand that that's an inevitable consequence when we welcome people who have these skills that are necessary to support our economy. That's why the government created a couple of years ago a unique program, the first of its kind, the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot—or EMPP, to those who may be familiar in the room—this is an innovative program that doesn't seek to maximize the economic opportunity for refugees by chance, but by choice. It's a program that is, at its core, economic in nature, but whose participants are required to be displaced persons. [Remarks in French]

You know, this program is extremely important. And I like to draw on examples in my own community, because these are not about data points that we keep an IRCC, these are about real people and real communities. We've benefited from this program at Glen Haven Manor, a long-term care facility that for too long had parents aging community when their families had moved away to other parts of the country, or overseas. Glen Haven Manor was having, like so many other employers in the health sector, difficulty finding staff. They embraced this opportunity—and I should give credit to the province of Nova Scotia as well, who's really dug in to make the most of this particular pilot program—and they started welcoming large numbers of care providers who had the skills that were necessary to come and provide care to elderly people who live in my community. The result has been that grandparents who previously had to go to Halifax to receive the care they needed, are receiving care in the community where their grandkids are being raised. They get to still know them, because they're able to get the care they need in their own community.

Moreover, since we've embraced immigration as a region, we've seen people move back home who initially moved away because with all the people moving into the community, opening businesses, and different types of businesses than we were accustomed to, my community’s a more vibrant and dynamic place to call home. And there's more young families than there were before. In fact, I don't know if Behati is here—I thought it was going to be—one of the participants in this program has actually started a family of her own in our community. And now her sister, who was previously in Toronto, moved to rural Nova Scotia just to continue to be close to their family.

In our ongoing effort to scale this program up and to respond to the needs of employers, I'm so pleased to announce that this new program, the Economic Mobility Program, will have a standalone federal pathway as soon as this summer. This program will avoid the need for employers to tap into the Provincial Nominee Program—whose precious spaces are hard to come by—or through the Atlantic Immigration Program in my neck of the woods. [Remarks in French].

The expanded options mean that this summer, employers are going to be able to hire refugees and other qualified displaced people under any job category. This is going to help Canadian businesses—our healthcare sector in particular—and others recover by bringing in the skills we need in in-demand jobs. We know that Canada needs nurses’ aides, personal support workers, long-term care aides, software engineers, teachers, construction workers, and everywhere else across the economy. [Remarks in French].

In most cases, we hope to be able to process people through, start to finish, in about 6 months. And this is going to help improve the existing program, which will still maintain those other parallel pathways. The reality is, I think we need to inspire ourselves to think bigger. I don't think we have to take it as a given that we live in a world where refugee camps are something we accept as normal. Where hundreds of thousands of people move out of necessity, to flee violence, war, or persecution, to a place where they are denied the most civil, social, and political rights that we all take for granted. There's a hundred million displaced people in this world. We had almost a million jobs available in this country this past summer. And there's a hundred million people who have skills to offer, that currently have no chance. I've met people who are third generation members of families that have been living in a refugee camp. There's one family who came to one of my communities in rural Nova Scotia. When they brought their children to the house, they were astounded. And when the community members who volunteered to bring them there asked what they were so surprised by, they said, “we've never seen stairs before,” at the entry to their home. These kids are growing up in the community, the parents are both working in the community, making a difference. And in the long term, they're going to help us overcome some of our most problematic demographic trends, the consequences of which I outlined previously.

The reality is, if we do the right thing, we're able to also serve our self-interest. You know, I remember on my first day at the law firm where I started my career, one of the senior partners came in and said, “I’m going to teach you something about negotiation. People are interested in doing the right thing, unless it's easier for them to do something else.” You can trust a person's self-interest every bit as much as you can trust their sense of altruism. If we develop a program that allows people to do the right thing, that also meets an essential need, there's no limit on what we can achieve.

Canada serves this year as the Global Chair of the UN's Task Force on Labour Mobility. By demonstrating that we are putting our faith in this project, by establishing a new standalone federal pathway, my hope is we can share this lesson with other countries in the world who can help chip away so that, in the future, we don't have to accept that there's a hundred million people who don't have a safe place to call home.

Folks, this is the kind of innovative thinking that's going to help us change the world in the future. I'm thrilled to be able to help lead this initiative on behalf of the Government of Canada, because I don't think there's any other place where this is possible. I've met people who are working in long-term care, like Behati; I met a gentleman named Daniel in Toronto who's working for a major Canadian tech business; I've met a nurse named Dilruba who's working in Newfoundland. And when I asked her what her experience was like, she said, “it's nice because I never had a home before; and now I'm not a refugee, I'm a Newfoundlander, and the community treats me that way.”

I'm telling you folks, there's no greater reward in the world than seeing the policies have an impact on the real people who come to live in our communities and make a meaningful impact. I want to say thank you to all the players in the room who I know have been working on the EMPP initiative, the referral partners in particular, who are going to help us identify displaced talent, that are going to serve the needs of the Canadian business community, and allowed us to uphold our proud tradition of continuing to welcome the world's most vulnerable with open arms. It's a pleasure to be here with you today, and very much looking forward to the conversation. Merci beaucoup, tout le monde.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you very much. Welcome.

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Yeah, thanks, Sal.

Sal Rabbani
And it took me about five years to figure out that path. So. Well, thank you, Minister, for joining us today. And you know, I'll start off with a broad question. You know, I know you're involved in a major engagement initiative under this banner, an immigration system for Canada's future. Can you kind of elaborate on some of the aims, who you're engaging, and why it matters to all of us here today, whether we're in business, civil society or, you know, a civil society organization or NGO?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Yeah. So, the initiative you're referring to is the Strategic Immigration Review. In the last federal budget, we were appointed to reassess the nature of Canada immigration system, to determine what kind of a system we need. Not just to meet the needs of the economy this year, but to set ourselves on a path that's sustainable and directed towards long-term thing. Essentially, what kind of reforms do we need to make today that are going to serve the long-term interests of Canada? And it looks—funny story, on my way into the Ministers Regional Office for a meeting before this, there was a woman standing at the elevators who said, “are you here for the IRCC event?” And I didn't know there was an IRCC event, by the way. And I'm like, well, like I could be, I thought it was a different meeting, actually. And she started going through, and she's like, “okay, well, what, what's your name?” Told her my name. She said, “what's organization?” I said, IRCC. And she said, “what's your position?” When I told her what my job was, she was so embarrassed, it was terrible. So, we were hosting an event I didn't know about, a couple floors down from the meeting I actually had. But what I'm hoping to gain from this this review is to really get feedback from the people who use the system, rather than people who enter this administer the system, to figure out how it can be directed towards solving our long-term needs.

I know there's a lot of talk about the labour gap that we're experiencing now, which is extremely serious. It's going to get worse, by the way, when I look at the demographic trend that we're on, particularly in healthcare and home building. And we've made some changes to policies that will help address some of those challenges that I'm hoping will bear fruit in the second half of this year. But the long-term planning that I'm hoping to glean from this exercise is to figure out what communities need to envision themselves as a much larger version of themselves than exists today.

If we're going to be talking about—Canada will double its population at some point, whether it's in 25, 40, or 70 years, depends on decisions that Canadians will make and that future governments will make. But it is going to happen. And we should start thinking now about what decisions we have to make to deal with the social pressures larger populations create. So, where my head is at on this review is to figure out not just what immigration processing challenges do we need to overcome, but where do the water pipes go, in a community that's currently got 15,000 people that needs to build for 50? Where do the ball fields go? What housing policies do we need to adopt? What target countries can we work with to foster a culture of labour mobility that will allow us to meet the needs of the economy? So, if you get feedback, IRCC is in the midst of its strategic immigration review—I invite all of you to participate—my hope is that we'll wrap this thing up by May, to understand what the conclusions will be, that foster a culture of continued population growth in a way that will maximize economic growth and social progress at the same time.

Sal Rabbani
Excellent, thank you. And you know, you kind of touched on this, you know, as a tool, among other things, and this EMPP, the Economic Mobilities Pathway Pilot, how important are these tools, and, you know, if we think of the labour shortage at the end of the day, and today and in the long term?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Look, they're essential. And I don't want to overstate things, but you don't need to pour over the Stats Canada Labour Force Survey every month to understand that there is a shortage of talent in this country. Look, walk down Main Street of any community in Canada, there's gonna be help wanted signs in the window, whether you're dealing with a software engineering company or a pizza shop. Everybody needs workers. I think we've got a unique moment in time to try new things, to bring more people into the market—by the way, it's not just an immigration solve, we need to be training people like we have never trained them before. We need to be bringing marginalized groups into the economy by creating supports for Canadians living with disabilities. We need to be adopting policies like our childcare strategy. As much as that was a cost saving measure, it's a huge economic policy, and the rate of women's participation in the workforce has gone through the roof since those changes were made that made it more affordable for families to have both parents working where possible.

So, we get to pull every lever that we have. But even as we pull every lever, record low unemployment, almost a million jobs available in the Canadian economy. We need to find a workforce that's outside of the country. A lot of employers don't realize that displaced people have talent. We treat them as somebody that needs help, not somebody who can help. And that's, that’s not the right—both things can be true at the same time. What I'm finding with the people who've taken part in this program, it's been a godsend for the employers who've taken part, because they're not just getting somebody who's filling in labour for a few months, they're getting people who are adopting a new career with their new business. There's a sense of loyalty like I've never seen, where people say their employer didn't just bring them here and give them a job, they help them find a home, they helped get their kids signed up to go to school. They get to live in Canada, compared to a different country they would be in, which wouldn't have provided the very basics that we take for granted, and they view as providing them with endless opportunity for generations.

If we actually communicate to the world that there's a source of talent out there that we actually need, and you can do something for a vulnerable person at the same time, I've yet to meet an employer who's used the program who isn't interested in using it again. So, these things are as important as they come. We can help solve a global problem, given the culture that we've developed in Canada around welcoming newcomers, but we can do it in a way that serves the essential needs of the Canadian business community, and local economies at the same time.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. And I know there's quite a few entrepreneurs in the room as well. One of the things we focus on in my day-to-day is, you know, undertaking to invest in training and development and that being a responsibility. They always have questions. And we talked about EMPP—and there's a ton of acronyms—are you able to take a minute to maybe drill down in terms of what EMPP is, and how it connects employers in Canada this new pool of qualified displaced talent that you talked about?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Yeah. So, I can tell you what it is, but I think we've got to use our imagination to envision what it's going to be. Because to date, despite some real success in Nova Scotia, there's not been huge uptake over the last couple of years. We're dealing with about 118 or so people who are here working, that have gone through the process start to finish. But the potential is like no other program that I see across the immigration spectrum. So essentially, what the program does is provides an opportunity for skilled workers, who happen to be displaced, to come to Canada and fill an essential role in the economy. Now, these are coming out of the spaces we allocate for economic migrants. They are not displacing other vulnerable groups that we come to resettle for humanitarian purposes through our refugee resettlement streams, like we adopted for Syria or Afghanistan, or like we have in place every year, to do our share for vulnerable people in the world.

The program previously required that you work with a jurisdiction that had access to another immigration stream, so Provincial Nominee Program, for example, or in Atlantic Canada, the Atlantic Immigration Program, or the Rural and Northern Immigration Program. And getting people to give up those spaces is a really difficult thing, because everybody—employers, and provinces, and territories, communities—start to think about who they want to welcome in but have very little familiarity working with groups that know the talent that exists in these communities.

The new program, which will have a standalone federal pathway, will make it a lot easier for employers to find the person that they want by working with referral partners who actually are working on developing inventories of talent right now amongst displaced communities in the world. So, employers will be able to work with these referral partners, hire the person that they want who has the talent, who will be able to receive Canada’s protection by finding a new life outside of a refugee situation that they're currently living in. So, from my perspective, it's a win for the family who gets to come to Canada, a win for the employer, and a win for communities across the country, too.

Sal Rabbani
That's excellent. And you know, the next part of the question is, is like the skills experience of these, these individuals that you're talking about. You know, how quickly can this program identify and bring them to Canada?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Quicker than we can hire them. Like, the reality is, we've got a couple of other jurisdictions who are experimenting here right now. I think we're in a race to establish which country is going to grab onto the brand of doing this most quickly. And although a lot of the people who have been coming in have been in the personal care or health sphere, it is not limited to that. There's a gentleman that I spoke with, actually, in Toronto a number of months ago, who was selected by Shopify as one of their top employees, globally; he's a cloud computing specialist. There are people throughout the world with extraordinary talent. The referral partner is doing an excellent job right now of demonstrating to the community of displaced people globally that there are opportunities to come to places like Canada, and trying to figure out what skills they have.

The government in Nova Scotia, during a recent trip to Kenya, actually made 65 job offers to healthcare workers, all of whom are going to come to Nova Scotia to provide care in our communities. This is growing at a breakneck pace. So, despite the fact that it's fairly new, and we're just sort of learning the ins and outs of how it's going to work, the early indications to me suggest whoever's first to market as a national brand is going to benefit from a solid pipeline of talent, which is going to continue to grow quite rapidly.

Sal Rabbani
That's excellent, and thanks for sharing. You know, we've got a lot of stakeholders in the room here today, and you know, this is always a question. Now, what do we need, or what do you need ,to scale up initiatives such as the EMPP?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Buy in. I think buy in, and then willing partners to copy and paste the model. So, if there's employers in the room who are thinking about this, follow up with our office. We will give you all the information that we need, and particularly, if you're an employer who has a long-term projected need for labour. I think I can understand how permanent residency programs can be difficult when you're dealing with six months to turnaround for an employee. But if I'm looking at long-term care, for example—we've had most success in that sector with this program so far—because the trendline is that we're going to need workers in long-term care for a generation to come. If you have a long-term, predictable need for workers, you should talk to us—and talk more importantly to the people who know the reality on the ground, who are finding the talent. I see a couple of folks in the room who might be able to point you in the right direction, as well.

Once we see employers start doing this—as I said, I'm yet to meet one employer who's taken part that's not looking to do it again—that's a good sign. Once we get a critical mass in Canada—and we're scaling this program up, trying to quadruple it in size, presently—what we're going to do is try to work with partners around the world, who always look to Canada when it comes to refugee resettlement on what's the most thinking on the forefront of this wave. The United States, for example, just more or less copied and pasted Canada’s private sponsorship model to come up with the Welcome Corps, which the President drew attention to during his recent visit, just last week. I had a meeting with my German counterparts who were fascinated by this idea. Who, by the way, are hosting, temporarily, enormous numbers of displaced people, that they might be looking to transition into permanent economic opportunities.

So, if we find Canadian buy in and two or three institutional partners at the state level, across the world—hopefully, before we give up the chair position next year of this global task force—we might put something in the motion that over the course of my life will help millions of people find a better future for themselves and their family.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. You indicated during your remarks at the beginning, you know, that when you meet your counterparts, they're responsible for immigration. You know, we're the envy, you know, as a country, among other things. Are there any other countries that are pursuing initiatives like this?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
There's a few that are trying to, but they're not quite there yet. The United States has shown a real interest, and—but they want to make sure that they can get a handle on the new Welcome Corps Initiative. The Germans, in particular, I drew attention to not by coincidence, but because we discussed this program during their visit, most recently, where we actually visited a business that was founded by newcomers and employees, a mix of Canadians and newcomers; an amazing tech startup with now dozens and dozens of employees—in good-paying jobs as well, by the way.

What I find fascinating, though, is the obstacles that they raised with me in those conversations to getting it done domestically. Because at the ministerial level, everybody's got buy in. I think there's, amongst the G7 economies, everyone knows that we're competing for a global pool of talent right now. And Canada, by the way, is winning that that race for talent by almost double what any other country is. But we're not winning it by as wide a margin as I would like. But the Germans in particular said, “well, look, with these applications coming in, I mean, do you have processing challenges?” Yes, of course I do, but we're working very hard to accommodate them; we've hired more people. And they said, “how many more people have you hired?” And I said 1600. And they said, “well, how do you have a finance minister that lets you hire that many people?” It’s because she believes, when we welcome workers into the economy, they more than pay for the cost of processing their applications. And they leaned over and joked and said, “maybe we should ask for a new finance minister when we get home.” But of course, in jest, I think they were good friends.

But the reality is, we can do things here. We're in a place in the world where we can experiment, by combining economic and humanitarian programs in a way that doesn't displace other commitments we've made but showcases to the rest of the world—and to Canadians—that doing the right thing can also serve your interests. So, we may as well try.

Sal Rabbani
Absolutely. And that's a great theme, doing the right thing. You know, again, going back to some of the small- and medium-sized, and large employers, that are here in the room today. You know, why should they consider this EMPP as a way to meet their medium- and long-term labour needs, and how does the expansion open more doors to employers across a wider range of sectors and industries?

The Hon. Sean Fraser
Look, the first part of the question is, why should they do it: because you need workers, and everybody else has a job. If I can cut to the chase, we've never been in a position, in my lifetime, like this, when I look at the Canadian economy. We are dealing with a situation coming out of this pandemic where there has been many opportunities for people who were looking at changing jobs, and a lot of people took them. Thankfully, my community hasn't yet decided it's time for me to switch. That day may come, who knows? But the reality is, no matter what we do from a training point of view, no matter what we do to bring marginalized groups into the economy, we cannot meet the long-term predictable skills gap that is going to be there.

And the labour shortage, look, over the course of the next year, year-and-a-half, there will still be a need for workers, but precisely what, it's going to do is hard to tell. But if I look down the road 20 and 30 years, there are certain sectors that we know we're going to need people, because of our aging population in particular, both because people will need to be taken care of, but skills are going to be retiring out of the workforce at a pace that we we've never experienced, with the Baby Boomers hitting retirement age right now. In fact, a lot of them left prematurely during and after the pandemic. So, why do it? You probably need to. A lot of small- and medium-sized employers that I talked to, who don't have big HR departments, are terrified of embracing immigration. The ones that end up trying it once or twice figure out, hey, it's actually a workable thing. It takes a little bit longer than we might like, but hey, we get a worker at the end of the day that we wouldn't have otherwise had. And once you do it once, you know how to do it twice. And if you've got long-term, predictable skills gap your business is going to be facing, it's—the cost of embracing immigration as a growth strategy is far less than the cost of not availing yourself of the opportunity of foreign talent that we want to welcome into the country.

On how it opens doors—that was the second part of the question—look, once you start to see communities have a culture where one or two businesses embrace immigration as a growth strategy, it's the coolest thing to watch, because you see others start doing it as well. Particularly, when you have good local organizations like Chambers of Commerce—and you guys have all the institutions in the world, here in Toronto—but the big opportunities that I see are not just for large-scale business in big cities, but for small- and medium-sized businesses in small communities. What you end up actually seeing is the community gets to see a future for itself. Because small-town Canada, by the way, is living in a very different world than we are in, in urban environments. People are not so worried just about the next worker, they're going to come in, they're worried about the next family that’s going to leave.

I come from like a part of the world where, like, the lobster fishery is the be all and end all for my neighbours. There's been a group of people from Mexico have been coming to work for a number of years. And last year, for the first time, the Mexican visitors put in a team at the local softball tournament, which exclusively has people who have been living in the community for more than 10 generations. By the end of it, my neighbours were cheering in Spanish for the Mexican team as they were rounding the bases, and it's the most beautiful thing that I could imagine. These are people who never prided themselves on being welcoming or celebrating diversity before, but they've realized that their ability to hang on to the livelihood that's provided food for them for hundreds of years, now depends on them being welcoming to others and sharing that opportunity, because if the supply chain disappears, the underlying industry disappears too. And the way that it's opening doors is, it's not a short-sighted thing for a business to get to next year. Over the long term, this is the kind of program that's going to help communities see a future for themselves a century from now, that otherwise, would have a hard time hanging on.

Sal Rabbani
Absolutely. And I'm reminded of that Peace by Chocolate example, you know, as a great example of success, among other things, and a call to action to everyone to have an open mind as it relates to these things. I know we're coming to the end of time. I really do want to appreciate, you know, that you took the time to be here. And it's been a great conversation, and I know there's a busy week ahead for you, as well.

The Hon. Sean Fraser
You get a federal budget drop for tomorrow, so it's going to be pretty busy.

Sal Rabbani
That's right. Well, thank you. Thank you very much, for taking the time to join us here at the Empire Club, and we'll hopefully have you back here.

The Hon. Sean Fraser
The pleasure’s mine. I’ll look forward to it. Thank you, everyone. Thank you.

Concluding Remarks by Sal Rabbani
Thank you, Minister Fraser, and thanks again to Joseph Mancinelli of LiUNA, and all our sponsors for their support, and everyone joining us today in person or online. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand on our website. A recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive an e-mail with the link. Our next event will be at One King West Hotel on Wednesday, March 29th, and I'll be joined by James Scongack, Chair of the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council, to explore Canada's position as a world leader in the development and use of life saving medical isotopes to enable modern healthcare. On March 31st, we'll be welcoming to the podium the Ontario Minister of Finance, for a keynote speech and fireside chat on Ontario's 2023 budget. Thanks again for being here today. We invite you to enjoy your lunch—among other things—get to know one another, and we'll convene shortly after the lunch service. Thank you.

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