Senator Bellemare at third reading of Bill C-69, Budget Implementation Act, 2024, No. 1

By: The Hon. Diane Bellemare

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Hon. Diane Bellemare: Honourable senators, it wasn’t my intention to speak to Bill C-69, but after reviewing certain parts of the bill, I decided it would be worthwhile to underscore one good thing and one bad thing about it.

The good thing is that Division 5 of Part 4 of Bill C-69 includes a very interesting measure on training, namely, post‑secondary education funding for young Canadians. The measure concerns the automatic enrolment of children in a registered education savings plan. This means that every child will be entitled to an education savings account and access to a learning bond.

The measure involves a number of mechanisms. The education savings account has been around for a long time, but it’s not fully taken advantage of because it requires the ability to save. Sometimes, families have a hard time saving money for their children. However, grandparents can. So this measure will ensure greater equity and better access to post-secondary education funding.

What I like about this measure is that it raises the maximum age to qualify for a learning bond from 20 to 30. The measure could possibly be broadened to include lifelong learning.

In 2017, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce proposed a similar measure, specifically, a training savings plan, similar to the education savings plan. I think there are some interesting parallels to make and I wanted to point them out.

The federal government is currently offering very few measures to help with lifelong learning. There is the Canada training benefit, which is a tax credit that was adopted in budget 2017 or 2018, but that is an unpopular measure that doesn’t work and is highly criticized. We must, however, support lifelong learning; it is necessary.

As I indicated during my speech on Bill C-50, technological change and climate change will cause major changes in the labour market and will require training.

I will go over some of the data again because I think it is important; this is where I will get into the bad side of the budget. The bad part is that the funding the federal government was providing through the Employment Insurance fund in the federal‑provincial context will not be renewed. That represents $625 million.

The measure I was talking about concerning savings accounts, namely automatic registration, amounts to about $150 million a year. By comparison, what we are getting out of it, namely workforce training agreements, is a whopping $625 million.

As I explained to you in my last speech, I conducted a survey last December, after administering the same survey prior to the pandemic, to see if the data had changed. In fact, nothing much had changed.

The survey showed that 20% of employed respondents thought it was likely or somewhat likely that technological change and climate change would threaten their jobs, in other words, lead to probable job losses. This is a huge percentage. Furthermore, 37% of respondents said it was likely or very likely that technological change and climate change would affect their duties and that they would need to retrain. The point wasn’t “do you think that will affect your work duties?”, but rather “duties will be affected and we think we’ll need training.”

This 37% of employed individuals is a large number. It amounts to eight million working Canadians. Right now, eight million Canadians think that their duties will be affected, now and in the short term.

When we conducted this survey, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the results aligned with OECD data on the impact of technological change on the job market.

What prompted me to speak today is that, early this week, I read a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, which estimates that AI will affect almost 40% of jobs around the world, replacing some and complementing others. Forty per cent is a lot of jobs on the labour market. The IMF study also indicates that, in advanced economies like Canada, AI could impact about 60% of jobs, especially high-skilled jobs that help boost productivity. We have to make sure, however, that those high-skilled workers get the appropriate training.

Sixty per cent of Canada’s workforce is much higher than the result of 37% that we got in our survey, so a lot more than 8 million people will have to be trained because of AI.

The unfortunate thing about all of this is that, of the people who are interested in taking training — and that’s over half — 40% of them, or at least 6 million Canadians, do not have the means or the time to get that training. That is a reality that we will have to deal with.

I will now come back to the budget. Many people will need training and the main source of funding for that right now is EI. However, EI provides training for those who have lost their jobs. It provides training for employed people only in exceptional circumstances. That is why a reform is needed.

Currently, in EI, agreements can be made with companies to fund training and all sorts of projects under Part II of the Employment Insurance Act. However, under Part II of EI, agreements have been in place with each of the provinces since 1997. The total, not including the $625 million I mentioned earlier, is nearly $1.7 billion. With the $627 million added by the federal government since 2017, the total is approximately $2.3 billion. In this year’s budget, the government decided not to reinvest these sums in workforce training.

I think we need to keep a close eye on this. I won’t be here with you next year when this comes up in the next budget, but follow it closely in my absence. Our prosperity, productivity and fairness in Canada depend on it.

Thank you.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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