I think one of the issues that we can deal with immediately is ensuring that employees are working. And that, on the federal government side, is getting money out the door quickly for infrastructure projects. We have seen the significant commitment or promises that the Liberal government has put out for infrastructure. Less than 10% of the actual dollars have been committed to projects.
But what role the federal government wants to take in private industry, I think we have to be careful with that. I don’t think anybody wants too much intervention from the federal government into the private sector.
My colleague, Todd Doherty, Member of Parliament for Prince George, put forward a private member’s bill to establish a national strategy on mental health and PTSD. So that is in the process. We also encouraged partnerships — “Do More Ag” … an agriculture awareness group, and Farm Credit Canada have partnered together to develop a mental health awareness campaign with the agriculture sector, specifically.
[There are] two other ones that we have done — Blake Richards, the Member of Parliament for Banff -Airdrie, completed a study that he initiated at the Human Resources Committee expanding EI bereavement leave, specifically with the loss of a child. So previously, if you were going through some difficult times for a family reason, you weren’t able to access EI leave.
One of the pieces that we want to bring in really has much more of an impact at the very lowest ends of the economic scale, and that’s to have a guaranteed liveable income so no Canadian would experience poverty.
I know Bill Morneau has been very focused on the risk of too much personal and household debt, and certainly debt, regardless of your income, for most Canadians… will increase stress. So it’s just a question of having an emphasis on more affordable housing for people who do have these jobs but still can’t find good, affordable housing.
Our daycare policies are different from other parties in that we put a priority on workplace childcare and working in co- operation with employers to make it more feasible. Workplace childcare also reduces stress on families where you have the stress on the time crunch because time poverty is also a real issue.
We really need to increase access to mental health services for all demographics in this country. I’m particularly alarmed about adolescents. Young people facing mental health challenges are often unable to get access to an age-appropriate counsellor, to a system that will help them, and it’s at the crisis point… It shouldn’t fall on the employers to pay for the services. So our public health care system, which is really in crisis, needs to make sure that we are actually investing in mental health services, including addiction counselling, [and make it] available to Canadians.
We’ve been focused on trying to make life more affordable for Canadians through things like middle-class tax cuts and the [Canada] child benefits for families that have been very successful on raising over 300,000 kids out of poverty. That number sometimes doesn’t show the reduced stress load for parents, for example. One of the constituents in my riding specifically spoke about how relieved she was to be able to buy quality food for her kids.
So, that kind of thing can go a long way in terms of government policy that actually looks at affordability from a place where governments can actually have meaningful impact in a fairly quick way. Certainly strengthening the CPP, increasing CPP so it keeps up with the cost of living: it’s going to have profound effects for the next generation of workers who will be retiring in the future.
We’ve made an investment in mental health treatment through the labour transfers… so additional support for provinces to boost up mental health supports.
Minister Goodale [Minister of Public Safety] is working on doing some work on post-traumatic stress that first responders [may] feel. It’s very specific to people who are seeing crisis and oftentimes working in the front lines, but something that’s important to talk to.
The biggest single cost in people’s lives, and often as much as 30-50% of someone’s salary, goes towards housing. So it’s a big contributor to financial stress, and it’s a big contributor in general to not having that sense of well-being. If you don’t know if you’ve got a place to call home, it’s a massive burden on your mind.
So we are directly responding to the concern of housing affordability by putting forward a plan to build half a million new affordable homes. We’ve seen governments try to make announcements around maintaining existing housing, but that’s not enough. We need to actually build new homes.
We have to find a way to eliminate those obstacles to allow labour mobility from one province to another. Certainly, you know, when times were booming in Alberta, we had people from across Canada… coming to Alberta and working. And oftentimes I’ve seen one contractor steal an employee off of one project and take him across the street to another and offer him more money.
Some of the things that we h ave done as a government would be the Canada Job Bank, which allows companies and potential employees to host their positions on the Government of Canada website, saying we’re looking for this or that. And employees can go there and track down jobs across the country.
We’ve increased apprenticeship loans to encourage Canadians to finish their apprenticeship. We saw that only about half of Canadians who had started their apprenticeship program actually finished for various reasons, but mainly it was because they had to go back to school. They weren’t making a wage. They weren’t able to pay for a mortgage, or for school, or food. So we put the apprenticeship loan program in place.
We need to look at the fact that we don’t have enough talent in Canada for all the jobs that we need people to fill even with artificial intelligence coming along, which is another thing the Green Party wants to be up and ready for. But we also have to bring people in from other countries. There’s no question that we need to expand immigration to meet the job [market], the future, because… boomers [are retiring], and I’m at the sort of tail end of the boomer years. We are going to need to bring in more people from other countries.
I know a lot of employers recruit people and then have a real problem through the immigration system. So we need to expand immigration to say yes, if you’re coming here because you’re a needed worker, your family can come with you. We want you to stay… What you really need is to make sure that the general community context is sustainable. So you’ve got funding for recreational opportunities in every community.
We’ve been focused on ensuring that there’s a better fit between the skills that young people are either graduating with or acquiring and what the actual needs of employers are. We’ve been listening to employers, and one of the things that I’ve heard, and continue to hear, is we just can’t find the right set of skills, or we find people that may have technical skills, but they don’t have what often are called soft skills.
And so, the first part of that answer is to do a better fit between what students are learning in post-secondary institutes and training courses and what employers need. And that’s why we introduced the student workplace program in April 2017. It provides a way that allows those internships to be paid. So essentially we offset the cost of that student for the employer up to 50-60%. And what that does is it actually allows the young people to get very industry-specific, workplace- specific experience that helps them land that first job in a much smoother way.
But it also helps employers try out new talent and helps the employer see if this particular individual that they’re bringing on as an intern is a fit for their sector or company. The preliminary results are phenomenal. Employers love this program because they’re finding the talent they need and shaping it in a way that actually supports them. And students love this because they’re getting that hands-on experience in a sector.
One of the things that we’re looking at is connecting, better connecting new Canadians, so folks that immigrate to Canada, new Canadians, know the opportunities that are available.
And there hasn’t been a good connection between opportunities for work in different industries and businesses, particularly rural ones, and then connecting them with the people who are looking for opportunities.
I think one rollout has been handled very poorly. I think a lot of the due diligence was not done, and I think that’s clear because it was done in such a rush. So a lot of companies and labour groups we have spoken to are really finding themselves in a pickle in terms of not understanding how they’re going to deal with this.
It’s not even a private versus public sector conundrum. It’s the fact that the private-sector drug testing and alcohol testing is a provincial jurisdiction. I think that’s something we should be doing is working the provinces and territories to develop a national umbrella policy on this.
On the cannabis issue, it has been dealt with properly. I think we still have enough unrecognized threats in other addictive substances, and particularly alcohol, that I don’t think the addition of legal cannabis is [a problem]—certainly I’m not hearing about it from employers in my area. I do think we’ll have to see how it goes.
From our perspective, substance use in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. We have had cannabis forever. We’ve had alcohol. We have a variety of different prescription and non-prescribed drugs, a variety of legal and illicit drugs that have been with us for a very long time. And I think workplaces know that they need to have a workplace substance use policy. We certainly have been supporting federally regulated employers and really anyone in terms of making sure that their policies are up to date.
I will say that federally regulated employers don’t tolerate impairment on the job. That hasn’t changed since the legalization of cannabis. Employees have a duty to work safely. Most employers, if not all, have rules around impairment at work. If they don’t, they should be reviewing their substance use policy to make sure that it’s current and that they have a very strong protocol around substance use at work.
We continue to work with our partners, provincial, territorial and or federally regulated employer partners, to really understand how cannabis is affecting workplace health and safety, but from our perspective, this is an ongoing conversation that did not change on October 17. It is really a new phenomenon in terms of legalization, but it’s not a new drug, and it certainly falls within the realm of substance use policies that address substance use in general in the workplace.
I think there’s still a significant gap in the role the government could play in terms of giving people information around the risks— to health, to performance, and to judgement-making, like, just the overall health awareness of the impact of cannabis. For that matter, we can do a way better job with many [areas of] providing better awareness, better information. So that’s been lacking, but just in general, the rollout didn’t include enough of the supports for municipalities and for provincial governments that the federal government could have provided that they worked on. The research upfront provided some of those lessons and learning so that provinces and municipalities, and effectively companies, could have been better prepared for the new reality.
I think absolutely the government of Canada, the federal government, has to play a role in this, and we have done that already with the passing of the harassment Bill C-65, which put in harassment protocols for federally regulated departments, including ourselves as members of parliament and the g vernment. So I think, absolutely, we have to take a leadership role on that, and that goes right from the top.
Governments need to set the example and hold the highest and fairest of standards, then its influence on industry and other sectors could be salutary. Regrettably some public figures haven’t been living up to basic standards of decency, so there’s work to be done here on The Hill. The MeToo movement is a big step toward eradicating violence in the workplace, but we must always remember that the power imbalance isn’t going to go away, and we must remain vigilant and educate both men and women so as to encourage healthier and convivial work environments.
We put forward legislation last year to strengthen support for people in federal workplaces to eliminate harassment and sexual violence and all forms of violence in the workplace. I will say that our government has been clear that this is unacceptable behaviour, bad for people, bad for business. It’s really a [problem] that obviously contributes to great personal suffering and significant losses for employers, whether we’re talking about legal expenses or reputational loss.
I think we need to be leaders in making sure that we set the example that our workplaces are safe. And I’ve taken that job very seriously to make sure that I do everything possible to build a workplace that is [safe]. So I made some tough decisions and made it a priority, and I think that governments can lead the way.
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