Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Minister, thank you very much for being here. My question today relates to seasonal workers in my home province of New Brunswick and the neighbouring province of Quebec.
As you know, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the minister from New Brunswick, Dominic LeBlanc, temporarily closed several fishing areas on the east coast of New Brunswick and Quebec. That was done after two North Atlantic right whales were spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The closure will affect a good number of fisheries, including snow crab, rock crab and the lobster fishery.
While measures to protect these endangered whales are highly supported by the people in New Brunswick and Quebec, there is collateral damage that will result in closing the fisheries, and that is in relation to seasonal workers. We are already hearing concerns being expressed by seasonal fishers, by deckhands and by factory workers that they will not be able to find alternate employment and they may not, therefore, be able to qualify for Employment Insurance.
As Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, you know as well as anyone that it is very difficult to find alternate employment in some of those remote areas where the fishery is located. Can you tell us and can you reassure those individuals who are caught in this unintended consequence of closing the fishery, however temporarily, what measures your department and your government will take to reassure those workers that they will be protected?
Hon. Patricia A. Hajdu, P.C., M.P., Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour: Thank you very much, senator, for the question. At this point, Employment Insurance rests with the responsibility of Minister Duclos, but I can tell you that the department takes all issues of labour disruption seriously and we will be working closely with those who are affected and supporting them through any transitions that might be necessary.
This year, we’ve also introduced a new program for older workers who have been out of school for a long time. This might not be the right choice for every person, but we wanted to make sure that older workers, who have been out of school for at least 10 years, have additional supports through Canada student grants and loans that will actually allow those older workers to return to school either in a part-time or a full-time capacity, if they wish to upgrade their skills, which may be a solution for some of the folks affected.
In the short term, though, I would say the department stands by ready to assist anyone experiencing workforce disruption. Our hearts go out to those struggling because, as you pointed out, this is a very difficult time for families.
Senator Day: I have a supplementary question. You send the older workers back to school, but what do you do with the younger workers? This is a difficult situation. We support the government’s efforts to protect the whales, but the workers need some immediate help.
Ms. Hajdu: Thank you very much, senator. You give me an opportunity to talk about one of the strong pillars of Budget 2018, which is increasing our ability to support workers of different ages, including young work workers, with increasing their skills and their access to skills development, the enhanced labour market development agreements that will transfer money into the provinces have the added benefit of adaptability.
Provinces and territories will have complete autonomy over how they deliver those services in their own regions. The only thing we’re asking from the provinces and territories is to have some shared outcome measures so we know those investments pay off in the long term for Canadians and that Canadians can expect that the skills development resources they need are there when they need them.
Generally speaking, provinces would then be able to design programs that address the specific needs and realities of their own economies, their own workers and their own populations.