Welcome letter to the Minister of Seniors

Dear Minister:

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

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 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 Seniors, 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 Seniors

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 the 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 federal 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

Your key responsibility as Minister of Seniors is to enhance the well-being and quality of life of Canadian seniors. In this capacity, you may be called upon to work horizontally with other Ministers who are responsible for many of the programs that could help to advance the Government’s agenda for seniors such as combating elder abuse, increasing the availability of home care and palliative care or moving towards implementing a national universal pharmacare program. We will support you in this engagement with your colleagues including working at the officials’ level.

Within the ESDC portfolio, you will work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development on a range of income support programs, such as the Old Age Security (OAS) program, Canada’s largest pension program, which delivers monthly payments to seniors 65 years of age and older, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) which provides additional financial support to lower-income seniors, and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), which provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits based on past contributions into the Plan. Last 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.

At the same time, you are directly responsible for the New Horizons for Seniors Program, which provides funding to projects that benefit seniors. The Program provides $70 million in funding annually for community-based projects as well as pan-Canadian projects.

We would be pleased to provide you with a briefing on these programs and other initiatives as well as your duties as the Minister of Seniors.

Moving forward with your objectives

Canada’s Economic and Social Landscape

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

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.

In terms of the Canada Pension Plan, 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. [Three 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. [Nineteen words redacted] are detailed in the Briefing Book One under “Early Decisions”.

Partners you may wish to work with to advance your priorities

As previously indicated, you will be expected 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 on seniors. This includes working with them at the Cabinet table and in Committee as well as bilaterally on commitments and programs.

As Minister of Seniors, you will serve as the co-chair of the forum of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers responsible for seniors, where you will be able to share information, discuss new and emerging issues related to seniors, and promote collaborative work with your provincial and territorial colleagues on key projects and initiatives concerning seniors.

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

As a Department, we continuously strive to be innovative in our approaches to ensure we are best meeting the needs of Canadians and we have established a few resources to assist us in that endeavour. Specifically, the Department’s Innovation Lab and the Acceleration Hub can help you 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 noted earlier, millions of Canadians rely on this department to provide timely and efficient financial support for such programs as the Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance. [One sentence redacted]

[Two paragraphs redacted]

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.


[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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