Hon. Brian Francis: Welcome, minister. Prince Edward Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. At the same time, a wide range of industries face ongoing labour shortages, especially in remote areas. What exactly is the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, or ACOA, doing to address the mismatch between people without jobs and jobs without people on Prince Edward Island? Could you point to specific programs and initiatives?
Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, P.C., M.P., Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency: Thank you so much, senator, for your work and for those questions.
Again, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is an agency on the ground mandated to help tackle the challenges of small- and medium-sized businesses. I like to say that if it’s an economic issue or hurdle, it becomes an ACOA issue; if it becomes an ACOA issue, it becomes a Minister Petitpas Taylor issue. We want to ensure we can address these issues hand in hand in order to promote economic growth within the area.
When I meet with small- and medium-sized businesses — whether in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador — the number one issue I am hearing about from businesses is the labour force shortage, especially when it comes to rural parts of the country. That is why, through ACOA, we are looking at ways that we can help address those matters. One thing is for certain: We know the issue of automatization and digitalization is a tool that many small- and medium-sized businesses are using. However, we recognize that, for some jobs, it is very difficult to find people who want to do them day in, day out. So automatization and digitalization are really key. That is why ACOA is providing specific funding, namely, to encourage small- and medium-sized businesses to incur the expenses and make the needed investments in order to automate and digitalize their industries.
ACOA has supported some community groups with respect to immigration-type projects as well. If we are finding small communities that are successful in receiving immigrants in their areas, we have to ensure that we have the support services in place to keep them in those communities. I’ll use Chipman, New Brunswick, as an example. It is a small, rural community —