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The new census results reveal a challenge could put the brakes on Canada’s economic growth for years to come. Yet they also present an opportunity for the country’s First Nations to secure for themselves a future less dependent on welfare and hand-outs.
The new data show the Western provinces are aging more slowly than those in the East, in large part because of burgeoning native populations. Saskatchewan was the only province to see the proportion of over 65s fall in the last five years, thanks to its growing aboriginal communities.
Canada is facing labour shortages and most of its slack supply, such as the east coast provinces, has already been tapped. A study by Raymond James Investments earlier this year suggested cost inflation because of lack of available labour will be the major constraint on growth in the oil sands.
The Canadian Energy Research Institute has estimated the oil sands will require more than 450,000 positions filled across Canada annually. The challenge is clear – to marry the one remaining pool of slack supply – the aboriginal community – to the jobs that desperately need to be filled.
So far, so obvious. Less well known is how badly we are faring at that task.
In Saskatchewan, which has an unemployment rate of 4.9%, 48.1% of natives on reserves are on income assistance. In Alberta, with the same unemployment rate, that number is 36.6%; in British Columbia (6.2%) natives on income assistance total 19.2%; in Manitoba (5.3%) it’s 50%.
Ontario has an unemployment rate of 7.8%, but 22.6% of natives on reserve are on income assistance. Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario Premier, called last week for more federal help to upgrade skill levels for First Nations to kick-start the development of the Ring of Fire area in northern Ontario.
Yet it’s not as if training is not already available. The Human Resources and Skills Development website has an alphabet spaghetti of training programs – the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership, the Skills and Partnership Fund and so on. In addition, companies keen to hire aboriginal workers often pay for their own training. When De Beers established the $1-billion Victor diamond mine in northern Ontario, it set aside $10-million for skills training for natives from the nearby Attawapiskat reserve, only to find the numbers involved were far fewer than anticipated.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/29/john-ivison-aging-canadian-population-an-economic-opportunity-for-youthful-first-nations/