The speech from the throne

An HR-government specialist analyses what we can expect from the federal government in the coming months.

Tom Bursey is the chair of the federal government affairs committee for the HRPAO (Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario). He analysed the recent speech from the throne, given by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, to pick up on the initiatives that may be on the horizon that will affect HR practitioners in Canada. Here is his analysis of the speech:

The theme of the speech was innovation, and how it should be applied to Canadians in terms of the human resource capital and the skills of Canadians, building the skills base.

The speech also introduced a very modern idea – the need to ensure Canada’s “brand” is association around the world, with a high quality, skilled work force. Branding is being used by companies throughout the world. Here it was used to describe Canada’s promise to its workers.


Clarkson used very few words to describe a very important, and far-reaching intention of the government: “Immigrants have enriched Canada with their ideas and talent. The government will take steps to attract the skills workers it needs.” That’s actually a very big statement. It means the government will introduce changes to the immigration legislation to streamline and improve the immigration of skilled workers into Canada. That’s huge.

The government is very interested – at very senior levels – in ensuring there is a smooth integration of new Canadians into the workforce. You may see HRDC or Immigration Canada introducing new programs to help immigrants move more easily into the Canadian workforce, and into Canadian society. Before the closure of the House last session, the government had done a lot of work on this issue. So they’ll likely be early out of the gate in terms of changes to the Citizenship and Immigration Act because much of the legwork is already done. They will likely reintroduce the changes again this session, before the spring or summer shut-down.

What does this mean to HR practitioners? It means the government intends to set new standards for termporary and permanent skilled workers immigrating to Canada, making it easier for them to come here. This country is desperately hurting for talent in certain areas. This government is very keen on improving this situation. This is going to have a huge impact on HR professionals, who have been starving for talent.


This one’s going to be a real challenge to pull off. The government said it wants to make improvements to the education system, but education is under provincial jurisdiction. So here are some ways the federal government can have an impact in this area:

Foreign credentials – the government may decide to jointly fund the establishment of accreditation bodies. Often when workers from foreign countries who have accreditation in their homeland come to Canada, their accreditation is not recognized. This leads to things like technical professionals driving cabs while Canadian technology firms are starving for talent. One reason accreditations often aren’t accepted here, is that it is expensive and time consuming to compare foreign skill sets against Canadian standards. It may be that the person has the knowledge and skills, but our agencies don’t have the time to sit down and compare them. By stepping in, the federal government may be able to facilitate better systems and data in order to be able to compare the accreditation of foreign workers.

Although it wasn’t in the throne speech, specifically, the Ministry of Health, HRDC and Industry Canada are taking great interest in the accreditation of foreign healthcare workers so they can be employed in Canada. This issue is particularly hot right now because of the huge shortages in nursing staff which Canadian institutions are facing.

Skills upgrading – Where foreign accreditation falls short of what’s required for Canadian accreditation, the federal government may step in to provide skills upgrading training.

Lifelong learning – If the government launches this initiative, underemployed Canadians would be given training to upgrade their skills. This could include apprenticeship training and co-operative education.

More graduates – The government is committing to spending about $1-billion more in research and development. This will cause a chain reaction because when universities are given research money, more and better professors are attracted to the schools; the better the professors, the better the reputation of the school and the more attractive it is to students. Registration goes up and the number of graduates entering the workforce rises.

The government said that by 2010 it wants to be the fifth largest funder of R&D in the world, which would mean doubling its current investment. Depending on where the money will be going – telecommunications, healthcare – this could have a significant impact on the workforce.

Work-life balance

In the speech, the government said no Canadian should have to choose between having a job and caring for a sick child. They should have the ability to take extended leave without loss of income.

This may imply that companies covered by federal legislation will protect employees’ jobs indefinitely while they are caring for a sick child. There is some precedent for this – they have tested trial balloons in the past having to do with compassionate leave. This probably will have to be addressed in labour law changes and EI legislation.

The next step will be about what to do for workers caring for ill parents.

Workplace initiatives

Literacy – The government is committed to higher adult literacy rates in the workforce. Depending on what programs arise from that commitment, it may have an impact on Canadian workplaces.

Diversity – The speech indicated a focus on reducing the barriers for disabled people in terms of integration in the workplace. More benefits and skills development money will be going to aboriginal people. And this year the employment equity act is scheduled to be reviewed, as it is every five years. This review will also cover access for disabled people and the rights of aboriginals, which could put greater focus on those groups.

Canada's global brand

One statement made was that the government intends to ensure that Canadian laws and regulations pertaining to trade and investment are among the most modern and progressive in the world. This could signal the government’s intention to make more changes to the country’s employment standards. For instance, there’s a whole issue surrounding “what is work?” The nine to five jobs may be going the way of the dinosaur; in some cases 20 per cent of large employers’ staff members are telecommuters. People are working on projects and under contracts. Changes here aren’t going to be the first out of the gate, but it’s something to watch for.

Healthy workplace

There is a lot of interest by the federal government in preventing workplace injuries, especially injuries involving young workers. Last year the government sponsored a national conference on youth health and safety – they could be intending to follow this initiative up with programs or legislation.

Tom Bursey can be reached at (613) 224-9950 or [email protected].

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