Welcome letter to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

Dear Minister:

Welcome to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Please accept our congratulations on your appointment as the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that the priorities of the Government are translated into reality. Our role as Deputy Ministers is to be your primary source of public service advice and expertise on issues that fall under your responsibility. We are your principal point of contact, providing a gateway into the Department and can be relied on to provide professional, non-partisan advice as you move forward with implementing the priorities of the Government. We will support you at every step of the policy development and implementation cycle.

You are responsible for one of the largest departments within the Government of Canada. With over 25,000 public servants, two-thirds of whom work outside of the National Capital Region, the Department’s operations span from coast to coast to coast covering three portfolios: Employment and Social Development; Service Canada; and the Labour Program. Last year, the Department delivered $122 billion in direct benefits to Canadians, which represented 5.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. We are proud of the knowledge and experience our employees bring to work every day.

Over the coming days and weeks, the Department will be briefing you on a wide range of topics. To prepare you for these detailed discussions, we thought it might be helpful for you to have a bird’s eye view of your key responsibilities, how we will support you in implementing your electoral commitments and some early decisions we will be seeking from you.Footnote 1

Your role as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

ESDC at a glance

The Department supports Canadians at every stage of life. The accompanying briefing package highlights the breadth of our mandate from setting up an education savings plan for a newborn to receiving a pension from the Canada Pension Plan. The Department is either directly responsible for delivering these programs or works with key partners, such as provinces and territories, other Government of Canada departments and the non-profit sector, to ensure Canadians have the supports they need. Some of our programs focus on systemically disadvantaged populations to address inequalities and to reduce participation gaps in the economy and in society. Given the nature of its mandate, ESDC is one of the few Government departments that is at the crossroads of most social and economic policies.

The Department is also a pillar of the Government’s infrastructure, delivering benefits and services directly to Canadians. Service Canada provides services and information in communities across the country and plays an essential role in reaching all Canadians regardless of where they live. Ninety-six percent of Canadians are able to access a point of service within 50 km of their residence and telephone interpretation services are available in over 100 languages other than English and French, so that clients are able to get the help they need when they need it. We invite you to visit one of the Service Canada offices to see first hand how Canadians benefit from what we do. The Department also delivers benefits to communities more broadly, through funding programs for community organizations that provide local solutions to Canada’s social challenges.

Finally, the Labour Program promotes a fair, safe, healthy and productive work environment through workplace legislation and regulations. Working with provincial and territorial governments, unions, employers, and international partners, the Labour Program strives to enhance working conditions for Canadians.

Your role and responsibilities

As Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, you are responsible for programs that support Canadians looking to join the labour market for the first time, to re-enter the workforce or to upgrade their skills. These include programs focused on helping young people, particularly those facing barriers to employment, make a successful transition into the labour market as well as those which support skills development and employment training to Indigenous peoples. However, not all the levers are the responsibility of the Government of Canada. As Federal and Provincial/Territorial governments share responsibility for skills training and employment supports, one of your roles, is to lead the policy framework for the labour market funding transfers to provinces and territories. Provinces and Territories use this funding to design and deliver programs tailored to regional and local labour market conditions.

Helping students from low- and middle-income families pay for the cost of post-secondary education through student financial assistance initiatives, is another of your key responsibilities.

Under the Employment Insurance (EI) program, the Department provides income support to workers who have lost their job. Several types of EI special benefits are also offered to provide temporary income support to individuals who are away from the workforce due to specific circumstances. These special benefits include maternity and parental leave to help parents care for their infant, sickness benefits to help people who are unable to work for health reasons as well as compassionate care benefits and family caregiver benefits to help individuals caring for a loved one. The Department delivered $16.6 billion in EI benefits to Canadians last fiscal year.

You also have the responsibility of overseeing Service Canada and how Canadians benefit from our programs and services.

In your role relating to accessibility policy and programing you are responsible for programs that provide grants and contributions. Specifically, the Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability Component supports projects aimed at fostering the participation and integration of persons with disabilities in Canadian society, and the Enabling Accessibility Fund provides funding for capital projects that increase accessibility for people with disabilities in Canadian communities and workplaces. Other programs, such as the Opportunities Fund, assist persons with disabilities to prepare for, obtain and maintain employment.

You will also administer the Canada Disability Savings Program, which helps persons with severe and prolonged disabilities and their families to save for the future.

As you know, in the previous Parliament, the Government secured all-party support for the Accessible Canada Act, which takes a proactive and systemic approach to the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to accessibility within federal jurisdiction. The objective of this ambitious legislation is to achieve a barrier-free Canada by 2040. One of your key responsibilities as Minister of Disability Inclusion will be to oversee the effective implementation of this legislation.

We would be pleased to provide you with a briefing on these programs and other initiatives as well as your duties as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, including your obligations under associated legislation and regulations.

Your responsibilities may also include the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. You would receive a separate briefing package from this arms-length organization.

Moving forward with your objectives

Canada’s Economic and Social Landscape

In moving forward with the implementation of the Government’s objectives, we thought you might find it helpful to have information on the economic and social context impacting the Department’s mandate.

By most metrics, Canada’s labour market is performing very well. The employment rate for the population aged 15 to 65 is now higher than it was prior to the 2008-09 recession with over 900,000 jobs created since 2015. The unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in September 2019, just slightly above the recent historic low of 5.4 percent achieved in May 2019. Women have made significant inroads into well-paying jobs, while older Canadians have record high labour force participation rates. However, real wage growth has remained modest, not yet reflecting the hot labour market in some regions of the country. Many groups, notably women, older Canadians, Indigenous peoples, immigrants and persons with disabilities continue to face barriers related to issues such as access to education, language skills, discrimination and accessibility. These pose challenges to their full participation in the Canadian labour market and in society.

Canada has the most educated workforce in the world and performs well on many measures of well-being. Almost 60 percent of Canadians aged 25 to 64 have either college or university credentials, the highest rate among developed countries. The poverty rate in Canada also fell from 12.1 percent in 2015 to 9.5 percent in 2017, representing about 825,000 fewer individuals living in poverty.

Affordability, however, remains an important concern for many Canadians. Household indebtedness has increased, housing has become less affordable in many markets, and the cost of child care and post-secondary education has outpaced inflation for over a decade.

The Canadian population is aging and after three decades of steady increases in labour force participation, this demographic shift means Canada is in the midst of a 30-year period of decline in labour force participation. Employers across Canada are expressing concerns about labour and skills shortages. They report not finding workers with the right skills to fill available jobs, not being able to bring workers with the needed skills from other locations, or not having enough workers at all. These labour and skills shortages impede Canada’s ability to grow. Higher wages in sectors and regions facing acute labour shortages should help by allowing a re-allocation of potential workers across regions and sectors, but Canada will need to seize the opportunity to access currently underutilized sources of labour such as women, older Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities to sustain growth while also increasing their economic outcomes. Increasing skilled immigration levels and improving the integration of immigrants into the labour market will also help address labour shortages. However, new graduates will continue to be the largest source of new labour, and they need to be adequately prepared to meet labour market needs.

Advancements in digital technologies provide new opportunities and enhancements to productivity. Artificial intelligence, robotics and digital platforms have the potential to drive prosperity and create far-reaching gains in well-being as well as help those who may have had limited access to jobs, for example those living in rural and remote areas who can now work using the internet.

However, advances in digital technologies also have the potential to disrupt the job market and change traditional employment relationships. Non-traditional work arrangements may bring flexibility to both employers and employees, but more workers may not have access to pension and benefits, and their work conditions may worsen. These technologies may also bring with them greater wage inequality as a premium is placed on skilled workers, while wages for unskilled workers performing routine tasks may stagnate or even fall.

Available evidence suggests there has been modest labour market disruption to date due to new digital technologies. New full-time jobs are being created to replace jobs that have disappeared, and the rate of Canadians working in non-traditional jobs – part-time work, self-employment and temporary work – has held steady for 20 years. There are, however, early signals that this may be shifting—for example, there has been an increase in temporary work among youth from 9 percent in 1997 to 13 percent in 2018. [One sentence redacted]

What we do know is that new jobs will continue to require more education and skills than before. [One sentence redacted]

New technologies could also increase the availability of services, as well as drive expectations of Canadians for intuitive and responsive online interactions with government tailored to people’s needs and circumstances on par with what is available from the private sector while also holding government to high standards for the use and protection of personal data. While Canadians are generally happy with the services we deliver, with satisfaction rates of 87 percent for in person, 79 percent for online and 75 percent for phone services, [Twenty-four words and one sentence redacted].

Your platform commitments

The Department has undertaken an initial analysis of your platform commitments. [Four sentences redacted]. Below is our early assessment of the major commitments.

Helping Working Canadians Get Ahead

Create the Canadian Apprenticeship Service to provide guaranteed training for apprentices, which will support up to 12,500 apprentices finish their training on time; directly hire 250 apprentices each year; and requiring government suppliers to participate in the Canadian Apprenticeship Service, including meeting targets for greater inclusion of women in the trades.

In addition, make an investment of $100 million in skills training to ensure there are sufficient qualified workers to keep up with energy audits, retrofits and net-zero emission home construction.

[Three paragraphs redacted]

Enhance the Youth Employment Strategy to ensure that racialized and Indigenous young people face fewer barriers at the beginning of their working lives.

Work is already underway to modernize the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy (YESS), to provide skills and employment supports that enable youth to achieve their career aspirations. [Three sentences redacted]

[One paragraph redacted]

Develop a Just Transition Act to ensure energy workers and communities can shape their own futures through access to the training, support, and new opportunities needed to succeed in the clean economy.

[One paragraph redacted]

Strengthen employment benefits, including: making maternity and parental benefits tax-free; introducing a 15-week leave for adoptive parents; extending Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks; permanently extending the Employment Insurance Seasonal Workers Benefits pilot (i.e., an additional five weeks of benefits for workers in seasonal industries); and providing a new Employment Insurance Disaster Assistance Benefit, to help people affected by natural disasters replace lost income when people need to stop working to protect their homes or relocate to safety.

[Two paragraphs redacted]

Give families more time and money to help raise their children by developing a Guaranteed Paid Family Leave income for parents who do not qualify for paid leave through Employment Insurance or those who do not get enough of it.

[One paragraph redacted]

Give more help to long-term workers who are laid off by providing a Career Insurance Benefit to people who have worked continuously for the same employer for five or more years and are laid off.

[One paragraph redacted]

An Affordable Education

Increase Canada Student Grants; increase the non-repayment period of students loans from six months to two years, interest free; increase the minimum income requirement to begin repayments to $35,000; and allow parents to pause their student loan repayments, interest free, until their youngest child reaches the age of five.

[One paragraph redacted]

Accessibility

Introduce a new national workplace accessibility fund to help increase the availability of workplace accommodations with $20 million of funding in 2020-21 and $40 million annually in subsequent years.

Provide greater support to parents who care for children with special needs by doubling the Child Disability Benefit.

The Department is ready to support you as the lead in implementing the commitment to create a national workplace accessibility fund and [Ten words redacted].

As issues related to taxation fall under the sole responsibility of your colleague, the Minister of Finance, and for implementation, the Minister of National Revenue, the Department will support your engagement with your colleagues [Ten words redacted].

Moving forward with items from the previous mandate

In addition to the new commitments outlined above, there remain commitments from the previous mandate that will require further direction from you in order to continue advancing implementation. These items are detailed in the attached documents under “Early Decisions”. [Twenty-seven words redacted]

[Five paragraphs redacted]

Partners you may wish to work with to advance your priorities

In your role as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion you will need to work with other federal colleagues, including your colleagues who are also responsible for elements of ESDC’s portfolio, to help advance the Government’s agenda. This includes not only working with them at the Cabinet table and in Committee, but also bilaterally on key commitments and programs. For example, as you are responsible for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, you will have the opportunity to work with your colleague, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, given the importance of ensuring complementarity between the respective departmental initiatives and of bringing newcomers to Canada to support economic growth.

As a federal co-chair of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Forum of Labour Market Ministers, your provincial and territorial counterparts will be looking forward to engaging with you in the shared and common interest of helping Canadians enter and remain in the labour market and contribute to Canada’s economic growth. As the co-chair, you will have the opportunity to help shape and influence the agenda going forward, which will include ongoing implementation and possible improvements to the existing labour market transfer agreements.

In addition, through the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services forum, which is co-chaired by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, you may wish to engage your provincial/territorial colleagues in establishing a collaborative agenda on disability issues moving forward.

Given the challenges facing Canada are not unique, you may also choose to engage with international colleagues, both one-on-one and through broader fora, such as the G20, the G7, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations to advance the commitments outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Your immediate attention will be needed with respect to an invitation to attend a G7 follow-up meeting in Paris on December 19th. We will require a decision quickly on whether you wish to attend or send a delegate. You will also be invited to attend the next G20 Education Ministerial meeting, expected to take place on April 4-5, 2020. These relationships are important for sharing knowledge, showcasing and advancing Canada's labour market, learning and social policy priorities as well as protecting and promoting Canada's interests internationally.

Collaborating with the not-for-profit/community-based sector will be one of the main avenues for reaching target populations and ensuring Canadians have access to the supports and services they need.

As a Department, we continuously strive to be innovative in our approaches to meet the needs of Canadians and we have established resources to assist us in that endeavour. Specifically, the Department’s Innovation Lab and the Acceleration Hub help the Minister generate client-centric and design-centered solutions for Canadians across the service delivery continuum, from policy to programs and delivery of services, in order to address program and policy challenges. The Lab employs various methods, such as behavioural insight, design thinking, organizational development diagnostics, and systemic design to find innovative solutions to ESDC’s most pressing challenges, while the Acceleration Hub offers multi-disciplinary teams a unique environment for designing and testing tangible solutions to service delivery programs that bring real value for clients.

Challenges you may encounter in advancing your priorities

We would not be serving you well as your Deputies if we did not bring to your attention challenges that we will face as we work together toward implementing your priorities. We will need to have an early discussion on how to address these issues, while also moving forward on your agenda.

[Subtitle redacted]

While ESDC infrastructure and systems deliver a significant amount of benefits to Canadians each year, [Nineteen words redacted].

As Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, you play a critical role in providing benefits to over 9 million Canadians, via the main statutory income support programs: OAS; CPP; and EI. [Two sentences redacted]

[Five paragraphs redacted]

[Subtitle redacted]

As previously indicated, Canadians enjoy high levels of well-being and our investments in poverty reduction have been paying off. Some populations of Canadians, however, remain vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and recent immigrants. They continue to face barriers to fully participating in the workforce and contributing to Canada’s prosperity, including lower than average employment rates and incomes for many of these groups which puts them at greater risk of poverty and can cause challenges accessing education and stable housing.

We have been taking action to boost access to our services, for example through outreach visits to Indigenous communities. [One sentence redacted]

However, the federal government does not possess all the program levers and tools. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility and authority for social programming, including health, education and social services. Provincial and territorial governments, along with local governments, play a significant role in funding and delivering programs and services that contribute to the well-being of Canadians. Therefore, as noted earlier in this letter, we will support you in working with key partners to continue addressing challenges for some of Canada’s most vulnerable.

Your briefing package

To complement this letter, you will find attached documents that provide more context and information on the issues we have outlined. Specifically, you will find:

In closing, we would like to reiterate that you can count on our full support, as well as that of the entire Department, in implementing your priorities, meeting the challenges of your mandate and navigating the complexities of your responsibilities. More detailed program briefings will be available for your information in the coming days. We look forward to working with you.

Sincerely

[Original signed by]

Graham Flack, Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development

Chantal Maheu, Deputy Minister of Labour and Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development

Leslie MacLean, Senior Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development and Chief Operating Officer of Service Canada; and

Benoît Robidoux, Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development.

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