Hon. Ron Atkey (Minister of Employment and Immigration):
Mr. Speaker, I am participating in this crucial debate today in my capacity as the minister responsible for employment policy in the present government. And I preface my remarks by saying frankly to this House that I am very much aware of the awesome problems that face the government in this field. They are awesome problems that have been left largely in neglect by our predecessors and they are crying out for direct and proper attention.
Today in Canada we have a double problem involving a paradox. We have an unacceptably high level of unemployment in general-no one disputes that-but at the same time
December 13, 1979
The Budget-Mr. At key
we have a shortage of workers with specific skills. This government intends to act to meet this challenge.
There is another challenge too, that of securing justice for those groups within the economy that have traditionally faced special problems in the job market-youth, women, native peoples, the handicapped and others. We intend to do something about that too.
Besides, it is clear that the demographic changes in our country and the necessity for our economy to adapt to the energy crisis and to the new physiognomy of international trade will provoke upheavals in the labour force and the labour market in coming years. Therefore, the government must adopt a flexible and balanced approach to take up these challenges.
The immediate problem of young Canadians seeking to establish themselves in a tight labour market has been at the forefront of our considerations in determining the nature and scale of our employment programs for 1980-81. Our concern stems from two main sources. First, youth suffer much more than their fair share of existing unemployment. For example, in November of this year, while youth made up about a quarter of the labour force, they also accounted for almost half of the total unemployment figure. In fact, of the number of Canadians who were looking for work, 15.4 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 and 10.7 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 were unemployed, compared with 5.3 per cent aged 25 and older. I am inclined to the view that these figures probably underestimate the problem because young people are perhaps more easily discouraged from looking for work when they sense it is difficult to find.
The second concern of the government stems from recognition of the importance that finding and keeping meaningful jobs has for the self-esteem and future labour market experience of young people.
It is well known that the first experiences of a worker have a determining influence on the rest of his active life and on his income level. The young people of the post-war baby boom now represent over a quarter of the labour force and during the years to come they will rapidly join the ranks of adult workers. For example, it is anticipated that in 1985 they will represent only 23 per cent of the labour force compared to over 26 per cent in 1980. Under these circumstances, it is particularly important that they now get the training and qualifications they will need to lead an active, significant and productive life as adults. Because above all, the government does not want to breed another generation of unemployment insurance and social welfare recipients. Our young people can do better than that, especially in a country as rich as ours in human and natural resources.
Mr. Speaker, although solid work experience in real jobs is important to all youth, the truly vital factor, especially for young people who have not had the advantage of higher education or formal skill training, is simply to land that first job. This can be critical to his or her ultimate success because it provides that all-important starting point. In that connection, I firmly believe that an authentic job, a real job, in the private sector will be more credible to potential employers than a job on a government make-work project.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: THE BUDGET