NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Legislative Committees Office
Helmets to Hardhats Canada (H2H) - Program Overview
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Mr. Derek Mombourquette (Chairman)
Mr. Keith Irving (Vice-Chairman)
Ms. Patricia Arab
Mr. Ben Jessome
Mr. David Wilton
Hon. Alfie MacLeod
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Hon. David Wilson
Hon. Sterling Belliveau
[Ms. Patricia Arab was replaced by Mr. Brendan Maguire.]
[Hon. Alfie MacLeod was replaced by Ms. Karla MacFarlane.]
[Mr. Eddie Orrell was replaced by Hon. Chris d’Entremont.]
Ms. Kim Langille
Legislative Committee Clerk
Ms. Cathleen O’Grady
Helmets to Hardhats (H2H)
Brigadier-General (Retd) Gregory Matte,
National Executive Director
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2015
STANDING COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
Mr. Derek Mombourquette
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, I call the meeting to order. This is the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. My name is Derek Mombourquette. I’m the new chairman and I want to give everybody a chance to introduce themselves. We’ll start with you, Chris.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just a note to remind everybody to make sure their phones are off or on vibrate. We have General Matte with us today from Helmets to Hardhats Canada and he’s going to give us a presentation. That's the first item on the agenda. Then we have some committee business to deal with. At this point I’ll pass the floor over to you and you can introduce yourself and introduce your organization.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL (RETD) GREGORY MATTE: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a real honour and a pleasure to be here this morning. I actually do come from Nova Scotia and my military career began just down in the Valley with the West Nova Scotia Regiment. I started my career as a private in the militia and was fortunate enough to be picked up for a scholarship at Royal Roads Military College, went on to do pilot training, fighter pilot training and served 29 years with my country and then retired about five years ago and have been running this program now for about three and a half years.
Thank you for your interest in what we’re doing, thank you for your interest in veterans’ affairs and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you a little bit more about what this program is about but also to seek your assistance on a couple of issues.
With that I understand I have about 10 minutes to kind of set the context of the program before we get underway, if that’s okay, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, 10, 15 minutes, it’s fine.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: So you should all have a copy of the presentation, I’ve kept it short and sweet. To begin with the program itself is very simple. The whole idea is to help our veterans with the transition into a civilian career, and in particular a civilian career in the building construction trade industry. It’s actually a very narrow sector of our economy, but a very deep one because the building construction industry represents about 12 per cent of our gross domestic product, if you look across Canada, by aggregate.
The other thing I want to mention is when I talk about assisting our vets I want to be specific because when I say vets, it’s quite common for people to think of our gentlemen and ladies who fought in World War II or in the Korean War who, with age and weariness, are now being assisted with wheelchairs and walkers, but I’d like to share with you that the situation is very much different. The situation that we see today with our veterans is not unlike what we saw in post-World War I and World War II after demobilization.
We were in combat in Afghanistan for over 12 years and during that period of time we saw thousands of men and women go overseas, some on several tours of duty. We also had quite a high number of part-time reservists participate in this conflict, quite simply because the demand on personnel was so high. As a result, it’s not uncommon today to walk the streets of Halifax or Sackville or Toronto or Calgary or Vancouver or Ottawa and to find a “veteran” that could be 22 years old, has already served three years to their country through an initial contract, has been in combat, potentially has been wounded, and may even have been decorated for valour.
So when I use the word “vet”, please don’t think of World War II and Korean War vets - think in the modern context post-Afghanistan. We have an awful lot of young people out there seeking assistance because they left home early, they gave up university or college opportunities to serve their country, and have come home in some cases broken and they need our assistance.
The second aspect of this program is that it’s in place to also address the shortage of skilled workers in the building construction industry. Now I know that there is some debate about whether or not there is a shortage and, of course, it is cyclical and it varies from province to region, but the truth of the matter is when you look at compulsory trades, we do have a shortage of skilled workers and that’s why we have an immigration program that’s founded on the basis of skills and wealth. Furthermore, the temporary foreign worker program, although it’s no longer in the limelight, it still is alive and well, and what that tells me is that if we have to bring in temporary foreign workers that means we have a shortage of workers here in Nova Scotia and in Canada.
Quite frankly, I see this program as a win-win-win. It’s a win for our vets because we give them a second lease on life, post-military, to have a great career in the building construction trade industry through the building trade unions. It’s a win for the employers who have come to me time and again to say how much they appreciate the work ethic and the professionalism and the dedication that our vets bring to the workplace. And it’s a win for our communities because we’re taking people that could otherwise end up in the streets - in Ottawa alone, we have over 850 vets who are homeless. We take them off the streets, put them into a career where they become productive citizens of Nova Scotia once again, where they’re paying taxes and they’re contributing to their communities, so it really is a win-win-win.
The program itself is non-profit. When we began three and a half years ago we did get seed money from different levels of government, but we’ve turned the page on that and we’re now almost entirely funded through industry itself. We don’t rely on government funding per se, but we rely on government benevolence for assistance in certain matters, and I’ll address that in a moment.
We have a web-based approach because it’s a very small team; we are four people working at this full-time with one part-time. We’re vets, we’re all fluently bilingual because it is a bilingual nation, and we use a web-based approach to give publicity and explanation about the program itself. Also, we have a second server that allows us to actually manage the case files for every single individual, company, and union that registers with the program, and there are quite a few.
As such, it’s a national program and if you look at this slide just for a second, even though we’re only a team of four and a half, we’re supported by a huge team; 14 different building construction trade unions, and I have Brad Smith here just behind me who represents the Mainland Nova Scotia Building Trades - Brad, if you just want to raise your hand. We have with that over 170 union-owned training establishments across Canada and these are all licence-producing, provincially-trained apprentices as well as upgraded postgraduate journeyman-status training to give them excellence in skills beyond a journeyperson level. We have over 275 union locals that are involved all across the country, which gives us a real good geographical footprint and then upwards of 160 owners and contractors that have subscribed to the program. So it’s quite a large network and that gives us the strength to be able to do what we do all across Canada.
We believe that we’re supporting a worthy cause. Our vets have put their lives on the line quite literally for their country and, like I mentioned earlier, some of them do come home broken. We do not turn a blind eye to someone who needs our help, whether they have been harmed psychologically or physically. If they think that they can do an honest day’s work, we’re going to help them find that work - quite simple.
The building trade unions that support this are very much supportive of the military and I’m thankful for that. The individual that actually founded the program, Joe Maloney - he never served a day in uniform, but I’ve never seen him walk by a vet without stopping to thank that vet for their service. It’s quite remarkable.
The other interesting aspect of this program that I never really appreciated until I became involved - because I was in the military and the military is non-unionized as you should know - is that the similarities culturally between the military and the building trade unions is quite remarkable. Part of that is the fraternity. In the military we call it the Brotherhood of War, and it’s quite literally what I just said. More than that, we look after our families so when the serving member goes off to Afghanistan or to Bosnia or to wherever, we have a support system in place for the families - for the kids, for the spouse - so if anything goes wrong, they’re not left alone. They are supported and the military member knows that so they can do their business while they’re away.
The building trade unions is not indifferent from that in that a lot of the projects they do - particularly the big industrial projects - are quite often away from where they live and so, ergo, they have a similar support system that they’ve had to develop for their families and for their children as well and to allow the union member to go off and do the work they do. In some cases, we have people going between provinces. We have people going up to Fort McMurray, for instance, from the Maritimes, and so that aspect is quite important.
The other thing that we have in the military is that from the day that you join, it’s not about you, it’s about the team. It’s all about teamwork and it’s all about getting the mission done - whether it’s rebuilding Haiti after an earthquake or trying to deal with the Taliban up in the Khyber Pass of Afghanistan or whatever it may be, it’s all about working as a team towards a common mission.
The building construction industry is quite similar. If you think of a project like building a hospital, you’re going to have the engineers and the architect that are going to design it, no doubt, but you’re going to have to have operating engineers digging the hole; you’re going to have other people pouring the cement; someone building the iron structure or the wood frame; someone else putting in the electrical work, the plumbing and so on and so forth. It’s a team effort just like with the military - every single member of the team brings their own unique competencies, but only together can you complete the mission.
So the similarities between the military and the building construction industry, in particular with the building trade unions, is remarkable. That element unto itself has made this program a home run because when a military vet goes into the building trade unions and goes into an apprenticeship, they feel like they’re back home again. They have a fraternal support system. They are respected for what they’ve done, serving their country, they have a valuable contribution they’re making in the workplace and they feel part of a team that’s bigger than themselves.
I get a little bit passionate about this because I am a vet myself and I believe in looking after one another, and so this has become my life’s work.
So do vets offer potential? They certainly do, but they also have an awful lot of trouble getting into a civilian career. Part of the reason for that is most of them are not used to the interview process or applying for a job. The military skills and qualifications that they have are not recognized quite often in the civilian world, other than for a few. There are 10 trades, by the way, here in Nova Scotia that are recognized by your apprenticeship body and I can tell you what those are later during the question and answer period, if you wish, but there are also 108 that are not.
Finally, the vets themselves are quite humble. If they are told no, they accept no as the first answer and so when it comes to looking for a job, quite often they end up in precarious employment, taking the first thing that they can get because they need to put food on the table, but in reality have a lot more to offer. This is what I highlight to them and this is what I highlight to the business contractors and owners when they think about vets.
Vets are professional, resilient and adaptable. When you consider that a vet is asked on a recurring basis to pick up and move from one province to another, from one base to another, and quite often overseas or on a mission for six months, that unto itself takes tremendous coping skills. To be able to get settled in a new location, find new accommodations, get the children settled in school, hopefully find a family doctor for the spouse, which often they can’t and so on and so forth. On top of that, when you join the military you go into a particular occupation. I started out as a pilot but with time and with progress, you are groomed to take on additional responsibilities so that you understand the business of the military that much better.
It is not uncommon for someone when they move to a new place, they move to a new challenge that takes them out of their current occupation into something new. It could be HR, it could be acquisition, it doesn’t matter. So they’ll get a very short handover brief of maybe half a day. They’ll be told who the boss is, who their subordinates are, what the budget is, what the game plan is and then off they go, and then what? They are a success at making that change.
The point I bring here is that if they are given an opportunity to get a new career, they’ll sort themselves out. If they are given the right tools and the right opportunities, they’ll make it a success.
The military takes great pride in calling itself a learning institution. From the moment you arrive until the moment you leave you are always learning something new. I’ll use myself as an example - here I was, a 45-year-old general, starting a Ph.D. and this was supported by Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff, because he believed in people developing lifelong learning skills. So anyone who has gone through the military experience can learn in the classroom, they are completely computer literate, they work with simulators and emulators, they work in the workshop, they work in the field. On top of that, who do you think does the instructing? It is people in uniform. So the best way to learn is to teach. All that to be said is individuals coming out of the military are quite versatile at just the learning process, which unto itself is an important element of success.
Solid leaders and team players; everyone has heard of General Hillier. It’s true that Rick was an outstanding leader and he still is today, in his own way. The secret sauce of the military isn’t so much about good leadership, it’s about good followership. I don’t mean someone who just clicks their heels and marches off to their own demise without questioning the order, I’m talking about someone who understands what the mission is, understands what other people on the team are doing, understands that everyone has a bad day and you need to support one another today because tomorrow could be your turn. That type of followership, working commonly and collectively towards a common mission is what makes the military what it is today. As I said already, culturally, that’s exactly what we need in the building trade industry, so again it’s a real slam dunk.
People coming out of the military need to be resourceful. I’m speaking to people in Halifax and you know all about the Sea King - the only thing on there that is original maybe is the placard. The point being is that in the military, you have to be very resourceful not only dealing with old equipment but also when you are under fire and something breaks, you can’t wait for FedEx to deliver it overnight; you’ve got to fix it on the spot. So again, you just think of the drilling industry where you are out in a remote location and the generator breaks, you’re not going to wait two days for someone to come fix the generator, you’ve got to fix it on the spot because there’s millions of dollars being lost if you don’t. People in the military understand that, they are very resourceful, very innovative. They understand that you want to solve the problem, not complain about it.
On top of that they are very comfortable with multi-tasking because that’s the nature of what the military is all about. Whether it’s the weather, whether it’s the enemy, whether it’s bad equipment, you’ve just got to make the day work and at the end of the day it all comes together.
People in the military, even though we’re trained to kill and destroy, we do so with great precision. I do that tongue in cheek but the truth of the matter is that when someone is being taught how to handle a weapon, it’s done with tremendous safety and precaution - the arc of fire, how to discharge the weapon, how to unload it, how to make sure that you’re not accidentally going to shoot someone beside you or yourself. This permeates throughout all the training the military people receive. Just about everyone has first aid training, just about everyone has WHMIS training - dealing with toxic materials and whatnot. A lot of them have fall arrest training. The point I’m making is that the similarities between the building construction industry and the military, again on that level, are quite remarkable because everyone going into an industrial commercial worksite has to have that safety-type training.
Okay, so where are we now? We started in May 2012. We have over 4,200 vets who have registered into the program, meaning that they are interested in getting our assistance. We have upwards now of about 450 confirmed placements. Here in Nova Scotia there have only been 14 confirmed. It’s a low number and I’m hoping that’s going to build over time. In reality I believe that number is double or triple. The reason it is higher than what it is is because we have a hard time tracking our results. It’s a multi-faceted program, as I said, dealing with 275 different unions, 140 different employers across 10 provinces and three territories. Even the vets themselves, as much as we ask of them nothing more than to let us know how things work out when we give them assistance, a lot of them forget to call back home and tell us. As a result, we have only a number of confirmed placements but we’re certain it’s much higher.
The highest results so far shouldn’t be a surprise: Alberta and Ontario. Alberta because of the oil and gas industry, up until about nine months ago; and Ontario just because of the size of the province and the diversity of the economy.
On average we have about 100 vets a month who subscribe to the program. Part of the reason for that is that I’m invited to go to every single base in Canada on a recurring basis, meaning once or twice a year, to talk to individuals seeking to leave the military. It’s called the SCAN program - Second Career Assistance Network. I just came from Edmonton yesterday, briefing a group of about 80 people who are now looking to find out how they’re going to sort themselves out when they leave the military. As a result of that, we have a very high profile with people serving and we also have a very high profile through the website and whatnot, so about 100 vets who enlist into this program every month and on average, about two successful placements every five days, based on the known placements - I think it’s actually higher.
Finally something that we just recently launched is something we call the One Vet Per Local Challenge. The whole idea there is that although we’ve had an awful lot of success in Alberta and Ontario, I’d like to see our vets have greater choice geographically as to where they can get their career going. So whether it’s in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia or Cape Breton or P.E.I., I want to have all the different unions now on board, so people like Mr. Smith behind me and many others all across Canada are helping me in that endeavour to give our vets even greater choice geographically as to where they can begin their career.
We’ve had a number of vets whose lives are simply transformed. This is just one of many, Steve Krsnik who, as you can see, was over in Afghanistan. He got accepted into the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, without any experience whatsoever as an electrician, and is now into his third year as an apprentice in Ontario.
I will close my remarks with three forward-looking initiatives that we have ongoing. The first one is called Teens to Trades. The idea here is that part of my Ph.D. is in public policy and my dissertation is looking at post-secondary education, looking at the situation between university, college, and vocational schools, and focusing on the situation in British Columbia with regard to the shortage of skilled workers. So I do have a little bit of background and understanding on what I’m talking about.
We have an awful lot of young people who go into a university degree program not necessarily knowing why they’re doing it or how this is going to translate into employment when they leave. So what we’re trying to do is encourage young people, if they’re so interested, to consider a career as an apprentice in the building construction trade industry. They don’t necessarily have to make it a full-time career but what it does is it gives them a starting point, it gives them an opportunity to learn skills with their hands, to also learn skills about themselves and working with others, and to develop the self-confidence so they can actually achieve something in the workplace. From there, that might actually teach them the importance of getting a good education; I don’t know. The whole idea is to give these young people an opportunity.
Right now the way it is set up is for these young people to get our assistance they would have to join the reserves, just as I did when I was 16 with the West Nova Scotia Regiment. But we’re about to change that very shortly, so that children under the age of 21 of veterans can do this without joining the military. So this is something we’re going to do to help the whole family.
The second initiative we have ongoing is the DND 404 accreditation. I just talked to Global News, you’re going to see it in the news at the end of the day. What this is about is - and I’m still astounded that I have to explain it - we have quite a number of people serving in the military who are qualified to drive everything from a tank, to a tractor-trailer, to a deuce and a half, to a staff car, to a 40-passenger bus. While they’re in uniform they are permitted, with a military driver’s licence, to drive those same vehicles on civilian highways, so whether it’s going down Highway No. 101 to my home of Kingston or wherever it may be, no questions asked. As soon as they take that uniform off those driving skills are unrecognized; they have to go and take a driving course, they have to go and be tested and qualified before the Province of Nova Scotia will issue them a similar licence to drive a similar vehicle. It’s absolutely ludicrous.
We have been on the hobby horse now for a year and a half and I have presented to the CCMTA, which is an interprovincial body that has representatives from Nova Scotia and all the Atlantic Provinces for the motor transportation agencies, who are looking at this issue. I’m pleased to report that as of June of this year, at the last meeting they had in the Yukon, they are 100 per cent unanimously on board with the idea that they would give full accreditation to our vets that have this qualification.
Each province has to introduce this in their own way because it’s a provincial jurisdiction and I understand that. Some provinces are doing it at a different speed or in a different methodology than others. I’m hoping that Nova Scotia will get on board with this sooner rather than later. Ontario is on board, Quebec in on board, Manitoba is on board, Alberta was about to announce, but then they had a provincial election so they’re going to be announcing here next month, Saskatchewan will be announcing before Christmas. It would be nice to see Nova Scotia do the same. I will be speaking, hopefully, with some of your folks here afterward and hopefully we can get this going.
The third thing is the Canada Job Grant, Canada-Nova Scotia Job Grant and I do recognize that the job grant does not apply to people doing apprentice, but it does apply to certain things that are outside of the normal apprenticeship field. We may have some vets who may not have a DND 404, who would still like to be a truck driver. With the Canada-Nova Scotia Job Grant, if I can guarantee that that vet will have employment as a truck driver, conditional on them passing their tests and getting the training, then it will be funded through the Canada-Nova Scotia Job Grant. So thank you for supporting that, even though you may not be aware of it, but I will be exploiting that for our vets.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is all I have, but I’ll leave you with that famous quote from Admiral Chester Nimitz, that you can see if you ever go down to Washington, D.C. I am open to your questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I’m going to start a list, we’ll just move back and forth amongst people who have any questions. The first person I have on the list is Mr. d’Entremont.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thank you very much for your presentation. I’m not a normal member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, but I do love coming in and getting presentations from whether it’s the resource centres and just looking at the support for our armed forces or support for our veterans.
As a brother to a warrant officer in the Royal Canadian Dragoons, I do harass him quite often and say, what are you going to do when you’re done? Of course he throws back at me, well what are you going to do when you’re done? (Laughter) Which I would probably have a harder time to find a job after this kind of job than he will.
My question sort of revolves around the apprentice side of things. The programs for apprentices are provincial jurisdiction, how has that input been or that relationship been between your organization or the building trades, to make sure that these individuals are streamed or do they get priority to make sure that they get the skills they need because they don’t necessarily have those skills? They have a lot of skills, but maybe not the necessary skill to be an electrician, carpenter, or the things that they need to be in the building trades. How does that relationship work with this province?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: Mr. Chairman, how much time does each question have?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There’s no time limit, so you just fire away.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: I’ll start by saying your brother who is in the Dragoons, 85 per cent of the individuals who come to us for assistance come out of the combat arms, 85 per cent, and there’s a reason for that and you nailed it right on the head. It’s because they don’t have marketable skills the same that someone working in the air force as an aviation technician might have or someone in the navy who is working as a marine engineer, so there’s quite a high number.
You are quite right that many of them that come to us don’t have any prerequisite skills in the trade that they wish to go into. That’s why the support that we have from the Building Trades Unions, through Mr. Smith and others who represent that, is absolutely phenomenal. Yes, there are waiting lists of individuals wanting to get into apprenticeships. The community colleges pump out pre-apprentices all the time, without any guarantee of employment. The Helmets to Hardhats Program is designed to make sure that our vets have priority. In fact, there was a Legislative Assembly meeting of the Canadian Building Trades in Lac-Leamy, Ontario, back in 2013, wherein they passed unanimously a resolution to ensure that every union would give up 10 per cent of their apprenticeship positions to a vet. In the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, it’s 25 per cent and this is not insignificant.
If we have a vet who is seeking to get into an apprenticeship, they will be streamlined. Does that answer your question?
MR. D’ENTREMONT: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Irving.
MR. KEITH IRVING: Thank you, Mr. Matte. First of all I want to thank you for your service; 29 years is remarkable for such a young man. It’s always an honour to meet those who have served and served so well.
Can you expand a bit on how large your budget is, and how many people are out there that you think could benefit from your program? Plans for growth - can you grow? Do you need to be eight persons rather than four? Is the funding coming along as you grow? Can you expand on your size?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: It’s a triad of questions and I’ll address them in order. The initial funding was seed funding. Some of it came from the government. We got a $150,000 grant from Veterans Affairs Canada, which was used to set up our website. Dalton McGuinty contributed $150,000 in the Province of Ontario; Alison Redford did the same in kind for Alberta. Later on, New Brunswick came on board with a $50,000 grant. That was the end of the initial seed money from government.
We had money from private industry, from TransCanada pipelines that put $1 million into the project; the General Presidents’ Maintenance Committee that represents all the maintenance that goes on within the building construction industry - assigned shutdowns like for plant maintenance and whatnot - $800,000; PCL, if you’ve ever heard of them, they put in $150,000; and then the building trade unions themselves have been injecting money on a recurring basis. That was all seed money.
Over the last 18 months, we’ve gone through a transitional period wherein we want to have sustainable funding. The sustainable funding we need right now is in the order of about $850,000 a year. I’m pleased to let you know that we have now achieved that sustainable funding figure and we’re looking to grow that even further, to have money in the pot so that if we have a couple of bad years, the program doesn’t die unnecessarily.
I can’t remember the other two questions.
MR. IRVING: The number of potential clients and plans for growth.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: At the moment, I don’t see the requirement for growth of the team per se, other than perhaps in the area of public relations, but for now I’m happy with the size of the team and the capacity that we have - in part because of that network that I talked about already.
What we have been doing slowly, but incrementally, has been developing champions at the grassroots level so that every union local will have identified someone that is familiar with the program and becomes their point of contact on the ground in that local to assist us if we have a vet that we want to place there.
Similarly, bigger companies like Irving will have upwards of five individuals assigned to me to deal with HR and with the assignment of individuals. Similarly at the provincial level, we have people like Mr. Smith - or even at the regional level - that again are going to be assisting in promoting the program and getting individuals into apprenticeships and helping us recruit other companies, owners, and contractors to come on board.
So with regard to growth, is there room for growth? Absolutely. We have on average about 450 vets each month who are available and interested in going into an apprenticeship. We don’t place that many per se at the moment because we just don’t have the capacity. Of course, as you know, we’re in a small “r” recession at the moment, but I’m hoping that with growth on the horizon, particularly here in Nova Scotia and in the Maritimes, that we’ll be able to pick up some of the slack that we’ve seen in the past.
So whether it’s the Energy East program, whether it’s liquid natural gas up in the Canso Strait, whether it’s at the shipbuilding program, whether it’s with the Irving Oil facility over in Saint John, I don’t know, but with all these combined I’m hoping that we’re going to have more opportunities to get vets into apprenticeships here in the Maritimes.
MR. IRVING: Just one more supplementary in terms of the numbers things and perhaps we can get that behind us. Your presentation really highlighted how valuable the vets are for our future. It’s a great resource so I really commend your efforts and your program. What is the average age? You pointed to changing our perspective from wheelchairs to 22-year-olds, but what’s the average age that you’re dealing with?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: Seventy-five per cent of the placements have been under the age of 37. The reason I use 37 as a demarcation point is that you need to have 20 years of service in the regular force to be entitled to a pension so I wanted to know how many people were coming to us without a pension. The reason that was important to me is that people who serve in the military are obliged to pay for EI. When they leave the military, they’re not entitled to draw on EI. So if someone is under 20 years of service when they leave the military, they do not have a pension. They get a return on contributions, which is taxable. They’re not eligible for EI.
They no longer have severance pay because the federal government decided to have a one-time election 18 months ago to allow people to actually cash out; 92 per cent of people who are in the federal government, including the military, cashed out. Why? High debt loads. As a result, someone leaving the military today has no cash flow if they have less than 20 years of service. That’s why I looked at that particular number.
About 75 per cent are under the age of 37. We don’t draw a line on age. I had one individual from Charlottetown who was 57 when he came to me and started an apprenticeship as a plumber. He is now in his third year of his apprenticeship out in Edmonton. We have people as young as 18, through the Teens to Trades program, but the vast majority at the moment are under the age of 37.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Wilson.
HON. DAVID WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome as a new member of the Legislature, now the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. It’s a great committee to belong to and it’s not as partisan as many of the other committees; I’ve sat on many of them. That’s why there’s no red light and no buzzer. For the most part we do get along and often we do make recommendations, and often those deal with the federal government.
We’re privileged to have one of - I think we’re the only jurisdiction to have a Veterans Affairs Committee in the country and we know how important it is. I think it’s because of the contribution that our residents make to the military - like yourself - so thank you.
So you mentioned, and I have just a few questions, the 10 trades recognized in Nova Scotia, could you maybe run them off?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: The context of this is that when you look at the skilled trades in the building construction industry they have what they call compulsory and non-compulsory. The compulsory trades are ones that have to actually follow a particular program wherein it’s controlled. There are steps of vocational training, as well as hours in the workplace under supervision, and then a test at the end of it to make sure that they have met the prerequisites.
There’s also an additional test called a Red Seal exam. The Red Seal exam is something that exists to allow for interprovincial mobility, so if someone was to pass the Red Seal exam, they would be recognized as a plumber or as an electrician, not just in Nova Scotia but all across this great country. As part of that Red Seal program a study was undertaken about eight years ago to see how many military occupations were within the compulsory trades and how many of those would be the equivalent of a journeyman and potentially a Red Seal certificate.
What they discovered was there were actually 10 different out of the 108 that exist and those trades are as follows. The first one is cook and you might go, what has cook got to do with the building construction trade industry? I scratch my head as well until you think about Fort McMurray and some of these work camps, and the ability to cook for 1,000 people three times a day is not so much about your culinary skills as it is about your logistical skills. So cook is one of those.
The second one is marine engineering technician. A marine engineering technician would be the equivalent of a millwright. We have quite a number of those here in Halifax, obviously, as well as in Esquimalt. The third one would be electrical distribution technician. This is an Army and Air Force trade. That individual would be recognized as an industrial electrician. The fourth one would be carpenter. Within the military we have what we call construction engineering and they typically look after the base facilities, whether it’s the private member quarters or other buildings we have, so they have carpentry skills that are the equivalent of a Red Seal carpenter.
A heat and frost technician; a vehicle technician - that comes in two different orders, both as a driver as well as a technician fixing them. In Alberta, which is unique, they recognize a logistics technician, so logistics supply chain management. I think I’m probably missing a couple and I don’t know what they are. But you know what? If you google your own Nova Scotia apprenticeship website you’ll find all 10 listed. Hopefully that answers your question.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Definitely it does. I think it’s a great exposure of how a military career can cross over into the civilian side. I know my father served for 34 years, but was a weapons tech so there weren’t a lot of opportunities in the private sector once he retired, but after 34 years he didn’t need to work a whole lot anyway. He has worked in the Commissionaires, which I know gives an opportunity for some retired military to continue on. He likes the slow pace - not that all commissionaires are slow-paced, but I know the work my dad has done has worked well for him.
The other question - you talked about the placements and I think you said 14 confirmed here in Nova Scotia. What can be done to try to increase that? Is it awareness? I’ve heard about the program, but I haven’t heard too many people on the civilian side of things talk about the program. I’ve been involved with the unions over the years in a number of different capacities.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: How much time do we have? (Laughter)
MR. DAVID WILSON: So maybe a quick answer on that. What can we do and what can be done in Nova Scotia to promote your program and promote the fact that there are opportunities for retired personnel?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: There are a number of things that could be considered. One that could be considered is that the Province of Nova Scotia time and again will be tendering contracts for construction work, and one thing that you could consider in there is that time and again, or maybe on a recurring basis, you could introduce into the RFP language that indicates if one of the bidders is actually supporting the Helmets to Hardhats Program and will ensure that they will have a certain quota of vets on the work program itself, whatever that project is, that they would be given bonus points, whatever that may be - 5 per cent or 10 per cent in the bid.
I’m doing the same thing with the federal government. I’ve already talked to Aaron O’Toole about the same idea and he seemed to find that quite interesting as well. So that could be one consideration.
Another consideration is that if you look at a number of different studies the way that I have through my Ph.D., you’ll come to discover that there is an anomaly right now and the anomaly is this - we do have a shortage of skilled workers. Industry is well aware of it. They need to have these skilled workers, but an apprenticeship is actually a triad of responsibility and one leg of that three-legged stool is the employer subscribing to the apprenticeship, but employers are very concerned about indenturing a first-year or even a second-year apprentice because they see it as a high risk. They’re not going to get the return on the investment. They’re afraid that if they give that individual one to two years of apprenticeship training, that in the third year they’re going to walk down the street and work with a competitor.
There’s no empirical evidence to show that’s going to happen. It’s irrational, it’s emotional but the thing is, it drives their decisions. So if we had some mechanism here in Nova Scotia to incentivize employers to actually indenture first-year and second-year apprentices, that wouldn’t only just help my program, it would help an awful lot of kids coming out of the community college program as well. That is a recurring problem and it exists all across Canada.
Those are just two particular ideas that I can come up with. I’m sure that Mr. Smith would probably have others as well. Right, Brad?
MR. BRAD SMITH: Yes.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: I’ll leave you with those two for now, for the sake of time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: First off, I just want to say thank you and thank you to Mr. Smith as well for being here today. I see so much value in this organization. It’s funny, if you ask my kids what the most important day is in our household, they’ll say Remembrance Day. So I have a lot of family members as well over the years.
I’m interested, you mentioned that there are about 4,500 across Canada who have registered and that, once again, only 14 in Nova Scotia who have been placed. What is the ratio between men and women? Do you have a figure?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: In the military, it’s about 60 per cent female; through our program, it’s about 4 per cent. We get excited when we have women register with the program because we know that they’re going to be rock stars, and they always are, because the building trade unions and the building construction industry itself knows that there is a shortage of women. It’s not like 50 years ago where it was picking up heavy bricks and moving them; today, it’s very much fine skills and intellectual skills. Just about everyone who goes through this program has to have a minimum of Grade 12 Math because of the calculations you have to do on the worksite and whatnot.
When it comes to skills like welding, it has been demonstrated time and again that women actually are superior when it comes to welding than men, just because of the dexterity and the skill and whatnot. All that said, we encourage women to go through this program into the building trade unions, but they self-select out of it by not registering with us for whatever reason, but we’re certainly open to them.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just a couple of other questions. I was curious, you said something about a number of homeless and I didn’t catch the number.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: Eight hundred and fifty in Ottawa.
MS. MACFARLANE: Okay. I’m just wondering have you had any discussions with the Halifax shipyard with regard to . . .
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: The homeless?
MS. MACFARLANE: No, no, with networking with them?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: Indirectly through people like Mr. Smith and the building trade unions, whether it is with the iron workers, with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, with the sheet metal workers, with the boilermakers. I haven’t dealt directly with Irving Shipbuilding because I haven’t had an audience with them yet.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Jessome.
MR. BEN JESSOME: Mr. Chairman, through you - and I say this respectfully, sir - you served in the military for longer than I’ve been on this planet. (Laughter)
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: See, Mr. Irving said I was a young man and now you’re telling me I’m an old man. (Laughter)
MR. JESSOME: I didn’t say that, so I’ll follow it up by simply stating thank you for your years of service and I’ll jump into questions. Firstly, you speak a lot about your partnerships with various unions and locals countrywide. Is it mandated that you hook up with unions or do you tap into businesses that fall outside that unionized environment?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: It’s primarily with the unions and businesses that deal with a unionized environment quite simply because this is a non-profit and the funding comes from the building trade unions and their associated owners/contractors. That having been said, I do deal time and again with people that are non-union, provided they are not competitors with the building trade unions. If they are competitors with the building trade unions by supporting other organizations, such as Merit, then I don’t deal with them because they are not putting money into the program and they’re actually causing me trouble by being competitive with the building trade unions that are supporting our vets through the apprenticeships.
MR. JESSOME: I’ll shift gears a little bit. You talked a lot in the early stages about our veterans who have served, who come home and are kind of beat up and have ended up in a negative situation where they’re homeless or things along those lines. I’m wondering about your marketing strategy, do a little bit of a deeper dive into what gets done pre-emptively before serving military members turn civilian.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: Before they turn civilian, okay. Well, if they decide that they want to transition out of the military then there’s a number of services available to them. One that I mentioned is the Second Career Assistance Network. It’s a two-day seminar that’s put on at every major base at least once year, if not twice a year, at which any individual in the military that is serving and thinking about retiring out of the military is entitled to attend. They talk about everything from dealing with your health when you leave the military, to the benefits that you’re entitled to, how to manage your money, how the pension works if you’re entitled to a pension. They have counsellors talking about how to write a resume, how to do interviews.
If they have medical issues they have a secondary program, a medical scan designed specifically for those individuals to explain to them about what is available for them when they leave the military, when they transition to Veterans Affairs under their support - the packages of subsidies that are available and there’s a whole multiplicity of them, and how that would work - and then, on top of that, they invite people like myself and other organizations that are trying to help the vets with their transition, so that’s one aspect of it.
Another aspect of it is that if someone is being released for medical reasons; as I said, there are subsidies available. One of the subsidies allows them now to get into vocational rehabilitation, in other words, looking for a new career. We have a number of people who come to us who fall into that category who are being let go involuntarily for medical reasons, whether it is physical, mental or both. They do have funding available but they are not always sure what to do with it.
When they come to us and they say they want to be an electrician, then we will actually look at their military personnel record resume and see what they do have by way of qualifications and their academic background and whatnot and what would help them better get into the field of electrician. So if there are any shortfalls, for instance, if they do not have Grade 12 Math then we will encourage them to go and complete their Grade 12 Math through night school, before they leave the military, using this funding mechanism that is available.
In some cases we will set them up for an internship wherein they will actually go and work in a union but without being paid by the union because they are still being paid by Her Majesty. That gives them an opportunity to see for themselves what that particular trade field is like. That may include going into a workshop with Black and McDonald for instance, if they are an iron worker, so it gives them that kind of exposure. That’s available to them.
Another thing we have developed as well is a mentorship network which I think is fundamental to success. What that is - for anyone who has come through our program, we stay in touch with them and we say, would you like to now be a mentor if another vet is looking to leave the military and do the same thing as you? Would you mind talking to them and telling them about your own journey? So we tap into that as well, to help our vets who are going through the process.
Beyond that, a lot of it comes down to the individual. Some land on their feet, some of them are very proactive before they leave the military - they go out and they do all kinds of educational upgrading, they get an MBA, they get post-nominals, like P. Eng. and all that kind of stuff. Unfortunately there’s a lot in the combat arms who do not do that because they don’t really have much of a basis to build on. That’s why we end up supporting them so much. Does that kind of answer your question?
MR. JESSOME: Yes, it does. Thank you, sir.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That ends my list for now, sir. Any other questions from anyone? Does anyway want to ask a question? we’ll start with Mr. Wilson, go for it.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Maloney - is he still involved in the organization?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: Mr. Maloney is still very much involved. He is the founder and he is also the Chairman of my Board of Directors and I have 13 people who I report to on the Board of Directors.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Excellent. Well send him our thanks, as a committee.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: I will and he will appreciate that.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Often we do make motions in the committee. Should I make a motion now or do it afterwards, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You can make it now.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I’d like to make a motion that the Veterans Affairs Committee write Minister Furey and request that he look into your request of recognizing the training and experience that veterans have in driving for potentially crediting Class 1, and Class 3 drivers’ licences here in Nova Scotia. (Interruption) Is it MacLellan now? It was Furey, because it is a provincial thing. So that’s the motion, just a little bit on the motion, so it is recognized provincially.
I know I recently wrote the minster. Often jurisdictions and provinces have recognized other jurisdictions. I think right now they’re looking at Taipei, Taiwan, so that those residents who have a driver’s licence there can come here with no requirement to rewrite their licence and stuff. I make that motion, hopefully I get the support of the committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Seconded by Mr. d’Entremont. Any discussion of the motion?
Okay, seeing no further discussion, I call for the vote. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The next on the speakers list, we have Mr. Irving.
MR. IRVING: It’s slightly off topic but given your experience and kind of understanding, I just wanted - I’m always trying to understand these things - how do we have in this country 800 vets homeless? Do you have an answer to that?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: I don’t have an answer, but I do have insight. What we often see is the following, the first thing - when someone leaves the military they find it a daunting task to try to get employment in the civilian world. When I say “they” let me focus now on the combat arms trades, 85 per cent who come to us - so people who are infantry, they’re armoured with tanks or they’re artillery or support trades with the army - they don’t have a lot of marketable skills so they find it a daunting challenge. The reason for that is when you join the military, you are recruited. It’s not the same as interviewing for a job, hoping to get a job. They are trying to entice you as an individual to join the military.
So the whole interview process, the application process is very daunting and quite often very impersonal, it’s done online. If they do get an interview quite often it’s an initial phone interview, often with someone who doesn’t have any understanding whatsoever of the military. In five minutes they’ve got to try to give an elevator speech explaining why driving a tank should get them a job working as a welder at Black and McDonald - very difficult.
As a result, what we see time and again is a number of vets, within the first five years after they leave the military, they will probably go into three different jobs. The reason for that is because they’re going to get under-employed, often in precarious employment and when I say precarious I mean no benefits, no job security, low pay, low satisfaction and they feel awful about themselves. Here they were serving their country putting their lives on the line and now they’re working at McDonalds, okay. So they will go from job to job, so their self-esteem has already taken a bit of a kicking. If they have any issues whatsoever coming out of the military, particularly psychological issues and there are quite an awful lot that are unreported and PTSD comes in every flavour of the month, but the point is it results quite often in depression and lack of self-confidence and those two are mutually destructive.
What will happen is that they already feel bad that they can’t really get the job that they had aspired to and they’re already fighting their own issues internally so, quite often what will happen is that the spouse now is going to end up finding it difficult to remain with the military member, arguing over finances, arguing over stress, over whatever, okay and so now you have a split of the family and that unto itself compounds upon the stress, depression and anxiety. On top of that they will sometimes self-medicate - and I’m being very generalized here, I’m just painting a broad picture - they’ll start to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, very much like after World War I and World War II, not indifferent. Then they miss a couple of days of work and then they get fired. So now they don’t have the support system of their spouse, they miss their kids, they don’t have a job, they feel terrible about themselves and before you know it they just end up in the streets because they run out of money because they didn’t get EI, they don’t have a pension, they have no severance pay, nothing. To make matters even worse, they blame themselves.
So they might go to Veterans Affairs, and 70 per cent of the time Veterans Affairs will actually say yes and help them out, it’s only the 30 per cent that we hear about that they don’t, but nonetheless, when they hear no they go okay, it’s no, I’m not allowed. So they don’t blame anyone, they just try to make the most of it. Quite often, this can happen within one year of coming home from a mission, they’re in the street, homeless. The 850 number I gave you was for the City of Ottawa, not for Canada.
I’m involved with this group called Soldiers Helping Soldiers, a grassroots program where they literally go out with the support of the City of Ottawa Police and they go into homeless shelters trying to find vets. One of the individuals, Captain Vicki Ryan - she’ll wear a uniform and that unto itself acts as a magnet because people will see her in uniform and you can see immediately the military response. We have another lady there with PTSD that brings a comfort dog and that kind of calms down the situation if there’s any anxiety. They want to pet the dog when they see the uniform and through this and going through these homeless shelters we’re able to identify vets. We get their social insurance number or we get their service number and find a little bit more about them and then you repeat this on several occasions and you’re able to build a casefile. We try to get them in with the Legion, recognized by Veterans Affairs, try to get them out of the homeless shelter into low-cost accommodations and try to get them on the road to recovery.
I come into this when it’s an individual who is willing and able to go back to work, then I try to get them into a new career. That kind of is the sad story. They don’t blame anyone, the situation drives them into the situation that I just described of homelessness because they don’t have any funding, and they just accept that it’s their fate.
MR. IRVING: Thank you, helpful insights. I was visiting a constituent two days ago with PTSD. He just needed somebody to talk to kind of thing and that’s the MLA’s job sometimes. If we know this and we have these insights that this is a pattern that is very, very real, is the military doing enough or should it be doing more or should we be resourcing the military more to be preparing the exit? Are we dropping them off - turn in your uniform and good luck, or do we have a program within the military saying this is what you’re going to feel coming out, in these kinds of generalities? These are the coping mechanisms, these are the resources that are out there, because I think you alluded to that sometimes you don’t know where to turn.
Can the military, with the support of funding from the federal government - you know we’re great at recruiting and we put money into recruiting, and we’re great at providing jobs and wages and supports while in the military but that final phase, that last year as they exit, could we be doing more there?
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: I think you can always do more but I wouldn’t put the blame or the burden on the military. I know the chain of command personally, the new Chief of Defence Staff, Jon Vance, and I went to Royal Roads Military College together. I know the senior leadership in the military - their heart is in the right place.
MR. IRVING: I’m not questioning that.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: These are soldiers that they have served with, they’re not going to throw them under the bus. Quite often it’s just the circumstances that lead to these outcomes. I talked about the Secondary Career Assistance Network, they do talk about some of these issues that people may face. They invite the spouses to come to this to advise them as well. These are some of the signs you might see in your spouse. It might be five years after the fact but they could develop signs of PTSD.
I don’t think it’s a question of throwing money at the problem, I think it’s more one of just recognizing within our communities of communities that we have a lot of homeless vets, and if we want to do something about it, let’s address social issues for what they are. You know, the current government is tough on crime; why don’t we try to be tough on the causes of crime? The causes of crime include homelessness, because people are desperate to get food in their mouths.
There’s no real easy answer to it but turning a blind eye is not one of them. Veterans Affairs will not recognize the number I just gave you because it’s an astounding number. If you multiply that across all the cities and towns across Canada, it would just blow my mind how many homeless vets there are out there. I met one who was 80 years old, by the way. He was an airborne trooper, served after World War II, trained by someone who dropped into Nijmegen, Holland, in 1944. This individual is homeless, he’s 80 years old; he can barely walk. That’s how we thank our vets.
Pardon me for being passionate but someone has to do something, and I appreciate your interest in it, but throwing money at it is not necessarily the solution. The solution is complex and it starts at home, within the communities within the province, and goes from there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Irving. That ends my speakers list but I’d like to give you a few moments to make some closing comments.
BRIG.-GEN. MATTE: I don’t really have anything more to say other than, once again, thank you for your interest in this program, thank you for your interest in our vets, and thank you for taking the time to listen to what I had. I found it to be a very engaging discussion. Thank you, Mr. Wilson, for the motion. I hope as a follow-up, if nothing else, that we can get the DND 404 military driver’s licence recognized between here and Christmas - wouldn’t that be a wonderful Christmas present? Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: On behalf of the committee, thank you for all you do for the veterans here and across the country. We really appreciate you coming here today, it was a great presentation and with your guest, Mr. Smith, thank you for being here today to support the program. So thank you very much.
We’ll take a five-minute recess before we get into committee business. Thank you.
[10:05 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[10:14 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the meeting back to order. We are now on to committee business. I just wanted to say thank you, everyone, for your feedback and your questions and your conversation with the last presentation, I thought it was great.
Committee business, the first item was from May 14th, a clarification from MLA Eddie Orrell. Eddie is not with us today so we can decide . . .
MR. D’ENTREMONT: I would say we just stand that and deal with it when he’s here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure, okay. Next we have correspondence. The first one is from the Royal Canadian Legion, it was information requested at the June 11th meeting. Are there any comments or questions regarding that correspondence? No.
The next one was from the Minister of Veterans Affairs in response to a committee letter from the May 14th meeting as well. Are there comments or questions on that? Okay.
That concludes our committee business. We have the next meeting date scheduled for Thursday, October 8, 2015, and our presenters will be the Pictou County Heritage Military Museum. So if there’s no further business, thank you everyone.
The meeting is now adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:15 a.m.]