Welcome letter to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Dear Minister:

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

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 now part of 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% 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 as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, 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 Families, Children and Social Development

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 Family, Children and Social Development, your main responsibilities are to deliver social development and income support programs for Canadians.

Specifically, you are responsible for three major programs that provide direct income support to Canadians at different life stages.

Working with the Minister for Seniors, you are responsible for the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), which provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits based on past contributions into the Plan; the Old Age Security (OAS) program, Canada’s largest pension program, which delivers monthly payments to seniors 65 years of age and older; and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) which provides additional financial support to lower-income seniors. Last fiscal year, the CPP program delivered $46.5 billion in benefits to seniors while the OAS and GIS programs provided an additional $53.4 billion in benefits.

Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) also falls under your purview. As ELCC is primarily a provincial/territorial responsibility, your role includes overseeing the federal funding provided to provinces and territories through bilateral funding agreements and collaborating with your counterparts in the provinces and territories to implement the vision of the Multilateral ELCC Framework. You are also responsible for the implementation of the co-developed Indigenous ELCC Framework that supports reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples through greater self-determination and strengthened ELCC programs for Indigenous children and families.

The Department also provides grants and contributions to help support employment, training, and social development of Canadians. For example, as Minister of Family, Children and Social Development, you are responsible for the Social Development Partnership Program, which provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, communities and other groups to increase the social inclusion and participation of Canadians in society.

In your role, you oversee community-based programs that assist local organizations in achieving positive solutions. For example, Reaching Home, Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, was launched this year, and supports efforts to prevent and reduce homelessness across the country. The Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy aims to improve the effectiveness of social interventions and support greater growth and sustainability of social and other service-providing organizations.

You have a variety of tools at your disposal when implementing your responsibilities, including providing benefits directly to Canadians as well as funding to non-profit and private sector organizations and transfers to provinces and territories. We would be pleased to provide you a briefing on these programs and other initiatives as well as on your duties as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, 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% in September 2019, just slightly above the recent historic low of 5.4% 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% 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% in 2015 to 9.5 % 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 the federal 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% for in person, 79% for online and 75% 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.

More Help for Families

Make before and after school child care more accessible and affordable for families, by: creating up to 250,000 more before- and after school spaces for kids under 10 (with 10 per cent of those spaces set aside for care during extended hours) and decreasing the cost of before- and after school spaces by 10 percent across the board; providing greater training and tuition support for early childhood educators; and working with the provinces and territories to establish a national child care secretariat to lay the groundwork for a Pan-Canadian child care system. These initiatives would be achieved through additional ELCC investments of $535 million per year.

As provinces and territories are primarily responsible for the delivery of before and after school child care services, [Twenty-one words and one sentence redacted]

[One paragraph redacted]

Increase the Canada Child Benefit by 15% for children under the age of one.

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, we will work with you to support your engagement with your colleagues [Nineteen words and one sentence redacted].

Ensuring a More Secure Retirement for Seniors

Increase the Old Age Security pension by 10% for seniors aged 75 and over, as well as to increase the Canada Pension Plan survivor’s benefit by 25%. This would make life more affordable for Canada’s seniors and help us make further gains towards reducing poverty.

Any changes to the CPP require the consent of two-thirds of provinces representing two-thirds of the population. In addition, the Québec Pension Plan in not under the federal government responsibility. [Two sentences redacted]

With respect to the commitment to increase OAS pensions by 10%, [Seven words redacted]

[Five sentences redacted]

Moving forward with items from the previous mandate

In addition to the new commitments outlined above, there remain files from the previous mandate that will require further direction from you in order to continue advancing implementation. We have highlighted one of these items below, but would also refer you to Briefing Book One where a list of early decisions is outlined.

[Two sentences redacted]

Partners you may wish to work with to advance your priorities

In your role as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, 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 ongoing implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, you will have the opportunity to work with many of your colleagues.

You also co-chair the Federal- Provincial-Territorial Forum of Ministers responsible for Social Services, and as such your provincial and territorial counterparts will be looking forward to engaging with you to advance key files, such as early learning and child care, which fall under provincial responsibility. As the co-chair, you will also have the opportunity to help shape and influence the agenda going forward.

Given that the challenges facing Canada are not unique, you may also choose to engage with international colleagues, through broader fora, such as the G20, the G7, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the United Nations. 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. For example, the Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy support community organizations working to achieve solutions to persistent social problems.

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 Families, Children and Social Development, you play a critical role in providing benefits to over 9 million Canadians, via the main statutory income support programs of OAS and CPP. [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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