Operating context: Conditions affecting our work

Official title: ESDC 2017-2018 Departmental Plan

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Supporting the Government of Canada policy agenda

ESDC operates in a constantly changing environment characterized by significant demographic changes and difficult global/domestic economic conditions that affect the socio-economic opportunities of Canadians. The Government of Canada's policy agenda, as announced in its mandate letters, responds in many ways to these external pressures. In particular, the Government's commitment to help and to grow the middle class has implications for ESDC, whose programs provide a variety of means for addressing the challenges that face the middle class and those working hard to join it. In support of this commitment, ESDC will use data as an asset to support evidence-based decisions and will advance an open government approach through greater access to its data. Externally, the following are some of the major trends influencing ESDC business and some of the ways in which the Department's activities and commitments will help it to respond to these pressures.

Trends and Issues Responses

Roughly 3 million Canadians are living in poverty and about 746,000 Canadians live in a household where the main income earner is working poor. While child poverty has declined since the mid-1990s, more than half a million Canadian children are living in low-income households and, according to the HungerCount 2016 Report, of the 863,492 people who were helped by food banks in March 2016, 36% were children and youth (more than 300,000). Poverty rates among the elderly have declined from 30% to 4% since the mid-1970s, but rates remain high among unattached seniors of whom the majority are women.

Nine out of ten families receive more support with the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit and an estimated 300,000 children are expected to be lifted out of poverty (representing an almost 40% reduction in child poverty).

In addition, the Guaranteed Income Supplement increase for low-income seniors lifted roughly 13,000 seniors out of poverty and increased support for approximately 900,000, and the increase in age eligibility for Old Age Security (from 65 to 67) was cancelled.

To advance the work on poverty reduction, a Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities study is underway and broader consultations have been launched that will inform the development of a poverty reduction strategy.

Families and child care

The cost of goods required to raise a family are increasing. At the same time, public spending on child care is below the OECD average, while there is a steady increase in the participation of both parents in the workforce.

In Canada, employment among lone-parent women with children under 3 increased from 27.6% in 1976 to 45.9% in 2009, while the rate for mothers with young children in a couple increased even more from just under 28% to 66.5%. This increased labour-market participation bolsters the demand for early learning and child care.

Child care availability and affordability vary widely across families and provinces. Child care spaces are available for about a quarter of pre‑school age children, well below best-performing OECD countries (with rates exceeding 50%) and access to culturally appropriate supports for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children is even more limited. Affordability also remains a concern for many families, with average fees for parents that can reach $20,000 annually in Toronto. These realities signal the need to improve investments for the 2.3 million children under 6 years of age as well as to support parents' participation in the labour market.

Among some segments of the population, the need for early learning and child care supports is particularly acute.

The Indigenous population, for example, is young: Indigenous children aged 14 and under make up 28.0% of the total Indigenous population and 7.0% of all children in Canada.

All Canadian children deserve a fair chance to succeed and the best possible early start in life. In recognition of the need to better support Canadian families, Budget 2016 introduced the Canada Child Benefit, which gave Canadian families more money to help with the high cost of raising their children.

The Government also recognizes that access to affordable, quality child care as well as access to culturally appropriate early learning and child care for Indigenous families are important in helping to support families and their children in the early years.

Building on the Canada Child Benefit, the Government is moving forward to better meet the early learning and child care needs of Canadian families.

The Prime Minister has asked the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to collaborate with Indigenous peoples, provinces and territories in developing a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework as a first step towards delivering affordable, high-quality, flexible and fully inclusive child care.

Accordingly, we will continue working with provinces and territories on development of a new Early Learning and Child Care Framework. As announced in Budget 2016, $400 million has been committed to this initiative for 2017-2018. 

Given the unique needs and priorities of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, a dedicated Indigenous Framework is also being developed, $100 million has been allocated in 2017-2018 to support federal Indigenous early learning and child care programming, while engagement with Indigenous peoples is undertaken toward the development of the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework

Recognizing other care pressures faced by Canadian families, we will continue to work to provide Canadians with access to flexible parental and caregiver benefits through the Employment Insurance program and to support more flexible work arrangements.


Between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of 25- to 34-year-old Canadians that had attained tertiary education (college, university and other forms of post-secondary education [PSE]) increased by 5 percentage points (from 54% to 59%).

While participation in PSE is affected by a complex set of factors, cost is an important factor for not continuing to PSE. Approximately 60% of PSE students belong to higher-income families; while 40% belong to middle- and low-income families and more than 46% of graduates have student loans with an average debt load of $22,000.

Between 2005 and 2015, employment rates were consistently higher among individuals with a tertiary education compared with those who had not attained that level of education.

While there have been some positive signs that youth unemployment is decreasing, the proportion of 15- to 29-year-olds who were neither employed nor in education or training increased from 12% in 2008 to 13% in 2012. This is lower than the OECD average, which has remained stable at 17% between 2008 and 2012.

Budget 2016 provided increases to Canada Student Grants and adjusted repayment conditions on Canada Student Loans. As a result of increases to Canada Student Grants, roughly 247,000 students from low-income families and 100,000 from middle-income families will receive increased assistance each year to meet the costs of post-secondary education.

Budget 2016 also included additional investments in the Youth Employment Strategy which are being utilized to create new green jobs for youth; increase the number of youth who access the Skills Link program; support employment in the heritage sector; and increase the number of jobs under the Canada Summer Jobs program.

In addition, the Expert Panel on Youth Employment was launched in fall 2016 to explore ideas to improve labour market outcomes for youth—including vulnerable youth. The Panel's findings are expected in March 2017 and will inform future investments for youth, including the Youth Employment Strategy. Other initiatives will focus on increasing youth engagement in their communities and society.

Employment, skills and training

Job insecurity is increasing, making it harder to enter and stay in the middle class. It is thus becoming harder to benefit from the opportunities that growth is creating (i.e. growth has not been inclusive). More education is needed for all forms of employment while tuition costs are rising. And while more education is required to obtain employment, a relatively high proportion of Canadian adults have poor literacy (17%) and/or numeracy skills (23%).

In an increasingly integrated global economy, there is greater mobility of capital and high-skilled workers. New technology is also changing the types of jobs available and the skills requirements of all jobs. Automation continues to affect low-skill and routine jobs, but also high-skill and non-routine jobs. There is a continuous need for training and upskilling to keep pace with changing job needs and evolving employment requirements.

Persistent barriers for some disadvantaged groups mean they may be falling further behind. Unemployment rates within Canada's Indigenous population living off-reserve (excluding territories) have remained stable at 12.4% from 2015 to 2016, almost twice as high as the national unemployment rate (6.5%). Also, as per the 2011 National Household Survey, on-reserve First Nations have lower employment rates (36%) than other Indigenous peoples (57%) and their non-Indigenous counterparts (61%).

Improvements in 2016-2017 to Employment Insurance have increased support to Canadian workers. These include: temporarily extending the maximum duration of Work-Sharing agreements; eliminating the EI eligibility requirements that restrict access for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market; simplifying job search responsibilities for EI claimants; temporarily extending regular EI benefits in regions hardest hit by the commodities downturn; introducing a EI Working While on Claim pilot project to help EI claimants stay connected to the labour market; reducing EI premiums for employers and workers; reducing the EI waiting period from two weeks to one week.

Work is underway with provinces and territories (P/Ts) to modernize labour market transfer agreements, worth nearly $3 billion annually, to ensure federal support for job training is responsive to the needs of Canadians and the changing economy. As a first step, Budget 2016 committed to providing an additional $125 million under the Labour Market Development Agreements and $50 million under the Canada Job Fund agreements to P/Ts in 2016-2017 to help ensure unemployed Canadians can access the training and supports they need to develop their skills and pursue new opportunities. We also undertook broad-based consultations with provinces and stakeholders in 2016-2017 to identify ways to improve these agreements. This will guide future investments to strengthen labour market programming.

Recently, ASETS agreement holders received a 3% funding increase. As announced in Budget 2016, a further amount of $15 million has been made available for 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 for projects that align training with community needs in the areas such as housing construction, water treatment, child care and local administration. This reflects the federal government's commitment to improving Indigenous people's employment outcomes.

Efforts to renew and expand ASETS, as committed to in Budget 2016, are ongoing, including engagement with Indigenous partners across Canada on the future of Indigenous Labour Market Programming.


Addressing homelessness is a challenge in all regions of Canada. From 2010 to 2014, an estimated 450,000 Canadians used an emergency homeless shelter at least once. The lack of availability of affordable housing contributes to many households and individuals facing imminent risk of homelessness.

Budget 2016 announced an additional $111.8 million in funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy over two years. This substantial new investment builds on the program's existing five-year investment of nearly $600 million over five years (2014−19).

Consultations on a National Housing Strategy were held and this will inform work going forward on the future of federal homelessness programming.

In spring 2017, ESDC will establish an Advisory Committee of experts and stakeholders in the field of homelessness to support the renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The Committee's mandate will be to explore issues and recommendations heard through the National Housing Strategy engagement process in greater depth; undertake targeted engagement with homelessness experts, communities and other key stakeholders from different regions of Canada; validate analysis of homelessness data, information and trends; analyze specific options for renewal of the program; and provide key findings to the Minister.

Demographic changes

The share of working-age Canadians in the population will decline over the short and medium term with the proportion of seniors climbing from 14% to 24% by 2036.

While the proportion of the seniors' population is increasing in Canada, the demand for specialized workers is increasing and both factors will have an effect on skills shortages in coming years. Close to two-thirds of Canada's population growth, from 2011 to 2016, was the result of migratory increase. This trend is expected to continue due to the low fertility and an aging population.

At the same time, saving for retirement is harder and fewer employers are offering defined benefit pensions. Many families (24%) approaching retirement are at risk of not saving enough to achieve adequate income replacement.

The Department's programs and services respond to demographic changes in a variety of ways.

Many of ESDC's labour market programs focus on ensuring a flexible labour force that can adapt to changing conditions of supply and demand. Programs like the Foreign Credential Recognition Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and initiatives to address the need for up-to-date labour market information support the ability of employers, Canadian workers and immigrants to effectively respond to such changes.

With respect to the increased proportion of seniors and the difficulties of saving for retirement, agreements with provincial governments to enhance the Canada Pension Plan are expected to reduce the number of families at risk of under-saving by 25%.

In addition, the Canada Pension Plan provides a secure, predictable, lifetime benefit; enhancing it reduces Canadians' concerns about outliving their savings or having their savings reduced by external shocks, market downturns or inflation.

Ensuring service excellence

Each day, the Government of Canada interacts with millions of Canadians by delivering services that play important roles in their lives. They expect high-quality, easy-to-access, simple and secure services that are responsive to their needs, and in the official language of their choice, whether they are offered online, through call centres, in person or by mail. Through the ESDC Service Strategy, the Department is moving to adopt world-class service delivery models enabled by modern technologies to provide more services online and deliver services in a way that responds to our clients' current and emerging needs. ESDC is working collaboratively with our partners within the Department, across the federal government and with provinces and territories to transform how we engage to better understand Canadians and deliver services that meet their needs. The following are some of the major trends and issues affecting the Department's ability to provide responsive services to Canadians and potential avenues of response.

Trends and issues Responses
Rising expectations of Canadians

Canadians expect government services to be on par with their experiences with the private sector. They expect services to be easy to access and available at a time that is convenient for them, with assistance provided in a timely way when needed. They expect their information to be secure and benefits delivered accurately and on time. These expectations combined with a growth in beneficiaries, and profound technological, social and economic changes, are all compelling the Government of Canada to improve the way it delivers its services to Canadians.

To meet the service needs and expectations of Canadians, ESDC is transforming the way it delivers services to clients, employers, communities and organizations. It will move to being "client-centric" as a foundational principle that ensures services are responsive to current and emerging client needs. Initiatives such as the review of service standards and the introduction of new call centre technology and processes will be premised on the results of engagement and consultation. Others such as the modernization of benefit delivery will involve a multi-year, multi-pronged strategy focused on increasing client self-service and automation, streamlining business processes and addressing the risks associated with aging information technology.
Digital services

ESDC delivers many core federal programs to Canadians within a service delivery environment that is shifting rapidly and with increased expectations for digital services. At the same time, Canada is losing pace with other international governments in delivering digital services. The United Nations E-Government Survey of 193 countries has seen Canada's e‑government ranking drop from 3rd to 14th from 2010 to 2016.

As part of ESDC's service transformation efforts, the Department will work to deliver better digital services by providing Canadians with a user-friendly online option to access services from the information and application stage up to a decision on their file. The digital channel offers unparalleled convenience in that clients can access and advance their files online anytime and anywhere.

Service Improvement Strategies for EI, CPP and OAS will enhance the client experience by improving e-services through a series of program-specific enhancements. Work underway includes:

  • The ability for EI clients to check the status of their application and introducing Alert Me functionality, allowing clients to receive notifications that new information is available on their claim (target to be completed in 2017-2018). This represents key building blocks for creating a secure two-way communication space within which to engage clients.
  • Implementing a "Tell-us-Once" approach to transferring client data across channels so that clients need to only provide their information once to update across multiple programs and services. The Direct Deposit and Address Information Sharing Initiative (DAISI) will allow clients to update both their direct deposit and address information via any channel with one program and/or organization to the alternate organization, if they are enrolled in a program. Once fully implemented, this initiative will allow Canadians to register and/or update both their direct deposit and address information with one department and know that the other department has also received the same information, thereby saving Canadians the time and effort required to update each department separately. Starting in November 2017, individuals will be able to give consent to share their direct deposit information between the CRA and ESDC's Canada Pension Plan (CPP) program.

As part of the commitment to improving service to Canadians, the Government launched the EI Service Quality Review (SQR), which sought input from stakeholders and Canadians across the country on ways Service Canada could improve the quality of EI services. The SQR report was publicly released on February 1, 2017, and contains recommendations for improving EI service quality, organized in five priority areas: citizen-centric; employee engagement; process; technology; and policy.

With respect to technology, the SQR report recommended replacing outdated technology systems with modern processing technology and call centre telephony. It was recommended that this be done through a phased-in approach, which will allow the organization to use technology as an enabler to meet the needs, priorities and expectations of citizens.

The expansion of the Grants and Contributions online services is among the many initiatives the Department is pursuing in order to meet expectations for expanded digital services.

Opportunities to collaborate to address the needs of citizens

Domestically, provincial and territorial partners are looking to the federal government for opportunities to collaborate and integrate service delivery. In April 2016, federal-provincial/territorial Clerks and Cabinet Secretaries requested that departments accelerate collaboration in priority areas such as bundled services and death registration and notification. In addition, provincial and territorial partners are interested in pursuing sustainable in-person networks through co-location and integrated service delivery.

ESDC has a leadership role in the development of these acceleration plans with the provinces and territories and in establishing opportunities to leverage best practices across jurisdictions. Partnerships with other government departments such as the CRA to simplify client access to benefits and services, with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to provide electronic identity validation and with the provinces and territories on projects like geo-mapping to establish a baseline of federal-provincial/territorial points of service and identify opportunities for in-person collaboration are focused on simplifying the way citizens interact with government. Other initiatives aimed at supporting these kinds of partnerships are highlighted in this document under Horizontal initiatives: Secure service and seamless access for clients.

Given these trends and the shifting service delivery landscape, ESDC is pursuing a transformation agenda to modernize and improve the design and provision of services and programs to which Canadians are entitled while ensuring the protection of private information. These improvements will support the Department in effectively delivering on the Government's mandate commitments.

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