Delivered Monday, December 5, 2022, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Good morning, everyone, and a big thank-you to my friend, Sean Casey, for the very kind introduction this morning.
I’m very glad to be joining you virtually today from Ottawa, the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin People.
Look, before I get into the substance of today’s announcement, let me just start by saying that Canada needs more people. We need more people for economic reasons, to start, but also for demographic reasons. It’s important when we talk about our increased immigration ambition that we understand the economic context in which we currently exist. Canada has had—despite certain challenges that remain—one of the strongest economic recoveries from the COVID‑19 pandemic of any advanced economy in the world. We’ve now recovered many of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic. GDP is well in advance of pre-pandemic levels, and this summer, we actually recorded the lowest rate of unemployment in the recorded history of Canada.
Despite the successes this summer, there are close to one million job vacancies in our economy, and we need to increase the number of newcomers with essential skills to support our economy.
Just last week, we continued to advance new measures to bring workers into the country to help alleviate the labour shortage that we’re seeing in every region in this country. You don’t need to pore over labour force statistics every month from Stats Canada, like I do, to understand there’s a labour shortage. Walk down the main street in any community in Canada, and you’re going to see “Help Wanted” signs in the window.
Last week, we introduced 2 new policies that are going to help alleviate the labour shortage, including a significant expansion of the International Experience Canada program, which is going to allow up to 90,000 workers—young people under the age of 35 from 36 different countries—to come and take part in work opportunities here in Canada. In addition, we’ve made a decision to extend eligibility for open work permits to the family members of certain workers who are here now. We expect this is not only going to allow us to welcome more than 200,000 additional workers into the economy, it’s also going to help us do the right thing by allowing more families to be reunited, as we continue to benefit from the labour they provide to our economy.
In no sector is the labour shortage more prominent, in my view, than in the health care sector. Sean, you’ll know this, as an Atlantic Canadian. I should say that Sean Casey has been an absolute champion for addressing health care shortages in Atlantic Canada since I have known him, not just since I’ve been in this position. Our health care sector, over the course of the past few years, has been hit extremely hard, and it’s not just a labour shortage today that we need to be concerned with—it’s a skills shortage for the next generation, as we continue to experience an aging population.
You know, if you rewind the clock about 50 years, you’ll see that there were 7 workers for every retired person in this country. Today, that number is closer to 3. In 10 to 15 years, we’re going to be looking at about 2 workers for every retiree. Not only do we need to bring workers in who are going to help sustain our economy, we also need to bring in the right kinds of workers, who have the skills necessary to provide care for an aging population. It’s no secret that newcomers have the skills we need to fill the vacancies, but they need our help to enter the workforce as soon as possible.
Let me just share a few statistics that drive home the importance of using immigration as a tool to strengthen our health care sector. About a quarter of health care workers are newcomers to Canada. This includes 23% of nurses and 36% of doctors in this country; they have come from another country. We’ve been advancing measures over the last number of months to help address the human resource challenges the provinces are facing, including a new exemption for physicians that makes them eligible to come through the federal Express Entry immigration stream—even when they may be self-employed and operate on a fee-for-service model—which was not possible only several months ago. We’ve also introduced a new major change to the federal Express Entry stream that will allow us to do targeted draws, beginning in calendar year 2023, to target workers by region and by sector for the first time. Since the pandemic, we’ve been expediting work permits for health care workers, and we are planning to scale up a stream that welcomes skilled refugees to our country as economic migrants because we know that a lot of the people who come here, seeking refuge, arrive without much more than the contents of their suitcase.
In my own community, just across the Northumberland Strait from where you’re all gathered today, we’ve seen the benefit of this particular program: bringing long-term care workers into rural Nova Scotia who are providing care to people who live in the community and, importantly, allowing people to age in the community where their families are being raised, which allows more grandparents to be aging in the same neighbourhood where their grandchildren are being raised.
But, we know we need to do more. Frankly, it’s unacceptable that we continue to see skilled professional surgeons, doctors and others working well outside their level of education and experience. I’ve had too many rides in taxis from people who were working in their home country as family physicians or surgeons. Today, I’m very pleased to share details of a new program on behalf of my colleague, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, and in collaboration with the Minister of Health, the Honourable Jean‑Yves Duclos. We are launching a call for proposals under the foreign credential recognition program.
This is a program that was refunded with 115 million dollars in the last federal budget. As of today, eligible organizations will be able to apply for funding toward projects that will help remove the barriers that prevent qualified and skilled newcomers from gaining employment in their profession or field of study. The grants that will be made available through this program will range between $500,000 and $10 million. These new investments to support internationally educated health professionals will help ensure that our health care system is one of the best in the world.
The eligible projects are going to have to focus on at least one of the following areas:
- reducing barriers to foreign credential recognition for internationally educated health care professionals
- providing internationally educated health care professionals with Canadian work experience that is relevant to their intended fields
- facilitating labour mobility between jurisdictions within Canada for health care professionals and internationally educated health care workers
One of Canada’s priorities is attracting the brightest and most talented people in the world, and newcomers represent a large part of the workforce and of the workers recruited by Canadian employers.
With the call for proposals launching today, organizations will have until January 30, 2023, to apply.
Our health care system, frankly, includes some of the greatest heroes, who have kept so many of us safe over the past couple of years. We want to say thank you to our health care workers, whether it’s doctors, nurses, counsellors, hospital administrators or those who are working behind the scenes to administer the system. We’re never going to be able to thank you enough, but we hope to make your lives easier and take some of the load off by alleviating the labour shortage that the sector is facing. I’m so grateful to share details of this new plan today, as part of a $115 million investment through the foreign credential recognition program. And, I encourage different entities to apply as soon as possible if they have programs or ideas about how to streamline the recognition process, to provide work experience to internationally trained health care professionals or to facilitate the practice of health care professionals within Canada, across jurisdictions.
Mr. Casey, I’m pleased to turn things back to you. Thank you so much, everyone, for joining us today. Thank you, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.