Workforce Development

Team Mandate

Terms of Reference

For further information or to join, contact Anne Peterson.


BC Labour Market Report 2017

Human Rights Commission Presentation – November 2017

Marijuana – Surrey Hot Topic Series Overview

SBOT and IECBC release strategic project report to link refugee skills and employer needs

BC Students information 2017 



The issue: Refugees

The Surrey Board of Trade is the co-chair of the Surrey Local Immigrant Partnership (LIP) coalition of local service providers focusing on the needs of new immigrants and refugees. We are the only LIP coalition in B.C. with business at the table in a leadership capacity.

In 2016, after much debate, Canada accepted approximately 40,000 Syrian refugees through a mix of public and private sponsorship programs. Surrey became home to nearly half of those arriving in BC: 44% of 1,700, up 23% of all refugees combined the previous year. Approximately 60% are under the age of 18. (Immigrant Services Society of BC – NB, figures do not include privately sponsored refugees in Surrey.)


Most of the refugees do not speak English, have varying levels of trauma and medical needs, and are learning how to adapt to Canadian society. Their day-to-day settlement needs – finding appropriate housing, furniture, appropriate clothing, food and living costs, enrolling children in school, figuring out the public transit system, finding their way to medical appointments, and finding social and emotional support networks – takes the majority of their time in the first year. In addition, the emotional toll of having left loved ones behind has an understandable impact on their resettlement efforts. Service providers such as Options and DIVERSEcity have done their best to accommodate, but waitlist for services, English Language training, basic job-skills training are long.. A new Syrian-Canadian association was developed in Guildford to help alleviate the pressure on services, providing food and translation assistance. The Surrey School District’s Welcome Centre is working with the Syrian students (approximately 600 expected to be enrolled by end of year). The Surrey Food Bank experienced a jump in requests with Syrian refugee families signing on.

Progress is slow to move Syrians off supports and in to stable employment. According to a recent survey of Syrian refugees by the Immigrant Services Society of BC, 76% of respondents are in federally funded adult English classes or LINC classes, 51% on waitlists have waited an average of 4 months, 20% are taking training/education other than English towards economic integration. Only 17% are employed either full or part time, with 59% of those in Manufacturing, Construction and Trades. Of those not currently employed, 64% are actively looking. A majority of respondents, 66%, are using the food bank regularly.

The concern is that the Federal support for publicly sponsored refugees is only for one year. Refugees then move to Provincial funding, which in BC is much less with the average family losing roughly $348/month. Funding varies based on size of family and housing needs, as well as health, language instruction and employment services. However, the provincial funding, though similar in base amount, does not include transportation allowances and housing supplements, leading to a substantial decrease in support especially in the tight housing /rental market of the Lower Mainland.

Given that it is unreasonable to expect refugees to find sustainable employment within a year of arrival due to waitlists for language and job skills training, as well as family health and emotional needs and the challenges of integration to a very different society, service providers are now advocating for the provincial support to be increased to help mitigate the impact of transition funding source.

As reported in the Globe and Mail, December 4: The B.C. government said it is continuing to look at the issue. The province said its supports for low-income individuals can include subsidized housing and child-care subsidies. It said refugees who are eligible for disability assistance could also receive more support than they did under the federal government.

These measures, if implemented, will help. Employment and English language training, essential for economic integration, however, are still Federally funded and waitlists are long. BC currently has the highest waitlist with over 5,000 permanent residents looking for spaces, the majority in Surrey (ISS of BC report), and this prior to the influx of Syrian refugees.


A number of the Syrian refugees have various education backgrounds such as engineering, or other professional credentials. Many have had their education interrupted and would like to continue. However, with lengthy waitlists for English instruction that will expedite employment opportunities, a provincial “top up” of the income assistance (IA) funding will assist Syrian and other refugee families transition until their English becomes relatively proficient. Two key areas are being suggested including the reinstatement of bus passes for all employable income assistance recipients including refugees who must avail of BC income assistance (BC IA). For those BC IA recipients living outside communities without public transit eg Syrians have now settled in 69 different communities throughout BC then a cash equivalent would be provided. Without a transportation allowance it makes it extremely difficult for people to find work and/or attend English and job related training. The other policy area relates to wage claw back mechanism while on BC IA. The wage claw back portion should be increased to fifty percent (50%) or higher in order for especially refugee newcomers to gain Canadian work experience without significant claw back of benefits. Currently the federal government provides all government assisted refugees with the ability while on federal income support to earn fifty percent (50%) of their monthly income support without claw back.

It should be noted that between 1979 and 1981, Canada accepted 60,000 “boat people” from Southeast Asia. Within a decade, 86% of those former refugees were working, healthy and spoke English with some proficiency, achieving the basic criteria for success set out by academic Morton Beiser in his landmark study of their integration into Canadian society (Strangers at the Gate: The Boat People). They were less likely to use social services and more likely to have jobs than the average Canadian. One in five was self-employed. They weren’t a drain on the taxpayer—they were taxpayers.

This mirrors the experience in Germany, where a 2012 study found residents with foreign citizenship paid $218 billion more in taxes than they received in social benefits. German officials have been smart to cast their willingness to accept a half-million asylum seekers each year as not just a humanitarian gesture, but as wise economic policy. In December 2015, Vancity Credit Union released a report entitled From Crisis to Community: Syrian Refugees and the B.C. Economy. The report outlined that Syrian refugees settling in British Columbia would generate at least $563 million in local economic activity over the next 20 years. 2

Like Germany, Canada has a rapidly aging population. Two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) Canadians are currently retiring annually with future projections to reach 400,000 in the near future. In fact, in December 2016, the Department of Finance released a report that indicated that the federal debt could double to $1.5 trillion by 2050-51. The report points to the major economic challenge caused by the gradual retirement of baby boomers. The demographic shift is expected to shrink work-force participation, erode labour productivity and drive up expenditures for things like elderly benefits. At the same time, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth advised the Government of Canada to increase immigration levels to 450,000 annually as one step to address the projected challenges to the Canadian economy. On October 31, 2016 Minister McCallum announced a new immigration baseline of 300,000 per year starting in 2017 along with a signal of future higher immigration levels and a multi-year three-five (3-5 year) immigration levels plan. According to a Conference Board of Canada report we’ll need to attract 350,000 immigrants annually by 2035, up from 260,404 in 2014.

What’s needed is not just a discussion of how to facilitate immigration—of refugees and others—but how to ensure our new residents integrate swiftly into the economy. Germany has had success with an “early intervention” model that identifies skilled refugees and pairs them with opportunities as soon as possible. But all of this requires a shift in thinking. Done properly, bringing refugees into our country isn’t about charity. It’s about investing in the future of business —both theirs and ours.


Statistically, only about 10% of refugees find employment in their first year in Canada. The concern is the need for the Province to support families that the Federal government have accepted until they are sufficiently employable through English and other training. This will be a draw on provincial resources.

There is a need to ensure Syrian families continue to be supported beyond the one year federally-funded period at a level that provides sufficient economic security to continue with English and employment related training. Recognizing the challenge to provincial resources, once employed, Syrians will be able to contribute back to BC and Canada through taxes as well as economic activity in their community.


That the Provincial Government works with the Federal Government:

1.     To extend the Federal financial support of refugees from one year to three years.

2.     To enhance education and career planning supports for refugees.


Drug impairment on the job is a complex challenge for employers at the best of times. With the pending legalization of recreational marijuana usage by the Federal government, employers are reviewing what they know and what they need to know to be prepared. With that purpose at the forefront, the recommendations arising encompass general and specific requests for clarity and guidance for employers large and small, unionized or not, hazardous or not.


A preliminary review of recent (within the past 5 years) and relevant (Canadian) literature (including peer reviewed academic literature) reveals three general foci:  adolescent usage concerns, non-alcoholic drug-impaired driving, and accommodation for medical marijuana usage. Workplace research is minimal and tends to be reliant on case law findings arising from appealed dismissals. The recently released report of the Task Force on Cannabis legalization and Regulation, “A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada,” likewise concerns itself with adolescence and impaired drivers. The section on workplace safety is 1½ pages and from which, three of the Task Force 83 recommendations are relevant:

  1. Facilitate and monitor ongoing research on cannabis and impairment, considering implications for occupational health and safety policies,

2. Work with existing federal, provincial and territorial bodies to better understand potential occupational health and safety issues related to cannabis impairment, and

3. Work with provinces, territories, employers and labour representatives to facilitate the development of workplace impairment policies. (P. 29)

In B.C., both the B.C. Human Rights Code[i] and WorkSafe BC have bearing on employment guidance. In the Human Rights Code, there is no specific definition for impairment; however, Section 13 (1) states A person must not (b) discriminate against a person regarding employment or any term or condition of employment because of … physical or mental disability… ; nor can any person discriminate in regard to accommodation (Section 8) based on physical or mental disability without reasonable justification. This is relevant to marijuana usage as drug dependence (addiction) is considered a disability.[ii] Accommodation is required up to the point of undue hardship, where the cost of reasonable and practical steps are too difficult or expensive.[iii] The bar for employers to prove this is very high.[iv]

Worksafe BC provides some guidance[v]:

4.20 Impairment by alcohol, drug or other substance

(1)  A person must not enter or remain at any workplace while the person’s ability to work is affected by alcohol, a drug or other substance so as to endanger the person or anyone else.

(2)  The employer must not knowingly permit a person to remain at any workplace while the person’s ability to work is affected by alcohol, a drug or other substance so as to endanger the person or anyone else.

(3)  A person must not remain at a workplace if the person’s behaviour is affected by alcohol, a drug or other substance so as to create an undue risk to workers, except where such a workplace has as one of its purposes the treatment or confinement of such persons.

Note: In the application of section 4.20, workers and employers need to consider the effects of prescription and non-prescription drugs, and fatigue, as potential sources of impairment. There is a need for disclosure of potential impairment from any source, and for adequate supervision of work to ensure reported or observed impairment is effectively managed.

While guidelines exist in various forms and templates for employers to use to develop onsite alcohol and substance use policies, and caveats are given in the literature regarding which ones would be better, what is lacking in all the literature is clarity in definitions and clear guidelines for employers.

There are two separate issues to consider:  medical marijuana users and recreational usage on the job. For medical marijuana, the rules are quite clear regarding accommodation. Insofar as an employer can, those with appropriate medical documentation are accommodated and only actual impairment at work, not usage, would be grounds for further action up to dismissal. The challenge is determining what constitutes impairment.[vi] Under current Federal criminal law, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPRs), the required document, similar to a prescription, must

129. (1) A medical document provided by a health care practitioner to a person who is under their professional treatment must indicate

a)     The practitioner’s given name, surname, profession, business address and telephone number, facsimile number and email address, if applicable, the province in which the practitioner is authorized to practise their profession and the number assigned by the province to that authorization;

b)    The person’s given name, surname, and date of birth;

c)     The address of the location at which the person consulted with the practitioner;

d)    The daily quantity of dried marihuana to be used by the person, expressed in grams; and

e)     The period of use.[vii]

For medical marijuana usage, therefore, the challenge for an employer is to determine whether the documentation and allowable amounts can lead to impairment up to the point, as expressed by WorkSafe BC, of undue risk. This does not address potential decreased productivity, the impact of usage and/or accommodation on other employees, and the overall costs of accommodation even if not up to point of undue hardship.

Recreational users (legalized or not) would be treated as other substance users and potential abusers, according to the literature.[viii] However, again, it is the level of impairment, rather than usage itself, that provides grounds for employer action up to and including dismissal. Key to whether employers have any sway, is the existence of written policies outlining a clear statement of drug usage on the job, the levels of graduated disciplinary steps, and an invitation for disclosure with accommodation considered. Recreational users may or may not be addicted – a determination that is difficult without self-disclosure; and addiction is considered a disability requiring accommodation. Until that point, an employer’s “duty to accommodate does not extend to the point of accommodating an employee that is not properly medically authorized.”[ix]

There are many guides and helpful suggestions available online. What is lacking, however, is clarity for employers along with guidance that provides assurance that the information by which they operate is best practice and in line with legislation in existence and anticipated.


In consideration of what is legally required and to ensure employers, particularly the small to medium sized operations that will not have the resources to easily access legal advice or human resource specialists, we recommend:

1.     A regulatory authority be identified for which employers and employees can rely on for consistent information, updated regulations, and standardized forms and templates that are legally vetted to be sound; and that regulatory authority take the lead on devising

·      a workable definition of impairment

·      a universally applicable checklist that non-medically trained supervisors/managers can use to determine impairment, and

·      a list of types of medical practitioners who are qualified to be signatories on such standardized medical forms

2.     That regulatory authority so identified work with the Federal government to ensure consistency between Provincial and Federal regulations

3.     Devise a standardized medical marijuana and/or cannabinoid form which would include (but not limited to), not only the required information as outlined above, but also the following (insofar as privacy laws apply):

·      The frequency of usage in whatever form it takes

·      The anticipated impairment, if any, of the employee while taking medical marijuana

·      Anticipated duration of usage

·      Acknowledgement by the practitioner of the employee’s occupation and what would be helpful or harmful for that individual AND those they work with up to considerations of potential injury to the individual and others, and

·      Recommendations of accommodation that do not limit employer determinations, but can provide some guidance and awareness of the disability in question

4.     That the three recommendations from the Task Force on Cannabis legalization and Regulation as noted above be strengthened in language substantially to include

·      The authorized agencies identified to be part of the process of identifying occupational health and safety issues and subsequent policies

·      Ensure that businesses and their representative associations, particularly chambers and boards of trade, be part of the process

·      Identify a timeline by which issues and policies are worked by these authorities, and

·      Ensure that the work is well underway, if not near completion, in conjunction with the implementation of the Federal legislation.

[i] BC Human Rights Code and
[ii] Lynch QC, Jennifer. Human Rights and Employer Responsibility to Accommodate Disability in the Workplace, Visions: BC’s mental Health and Addictions Journal, 2009, 5 (3), pp 9-10.

[iv] Bhalloo, Shafik, and Alisha Parmar. Medical Marijuana in the Workplace—Don’t Weed Out Your Employees Just Yet! The Advocate. 74, 2016. Pp 687-696
[vi] Brown, Shelley. Road Map to Weed in the Workplace: legal Considerations as Legalization Approaches. Canadian HR Reporter; Oct 31, 2016. 29, 18 ProQuest. P.16
[vii] Bhalloo and Parmer, The Advocate. P.688
[viii] Brown, Road Map. P.16
[ix] Bhallo and Parmer, The Advocate. P.691

The issue: Labour Mobility across provinces in Canada

What it’s about: An Alberta accountant has a chance at a major promotion in the next province. But the accountant is married to a teacher, who would need additional courses to be certified in B.C. Does one spouse lose an opportunity, because the family has one income until the teacher re-certifies? After April 2009, it will not be an


issue in Alberta or B.C. After that date, people in the trades and professions can accept opportunities in the other province without a delay to re-certify, the time and expense of additional training, or a break in earnings. And employers in Alberta and B.C. can draw on the entire workforce of both provinces. This is the employment future in our two provinces under the most comprehensive free trade agreement in Canada. It could be your future, even if you do not live here. We believe our agreement is a model for the rest of Canada. Under the TILMA (Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement), a business registered in one province automatically is recognized in other provinces ⎯ no residency required, no added cost. Government procurement including professional services like accounting, engineering and architecture, is open to suppliers in both provinces, at lower thresholds. Commercial trucks need not be re-registered for temporary travel in the other province. Farmers will no longer have to restack their loads of hay at the border to comply with different transport regulations in the other province. Of interest, professional and trade certifications will be mutually recognized where scopes of practice are similar, and without undermining the authority of regulatory bodies. That means TILMA will be an open door to employment opportunities and choice.

What the Surrey Board of Trade did: Resolution supported by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 2008 to replace the Agreement on Internal Trade.

The result: TILMA was approved and includes the governments of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan under this new Western Partnership Trade Agreement (2010). Ongoing watch for the rest of Canada – Provinces did meet and agreed to TILMA principles. More work to be done.