Remembering Joyce Fairbairn

Yesterday, March 29th, the Canadian literacy community lost their greatest champion. Senator Joyce Fairbairn passed away in her hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta.

Senator Joyce Fairbairn was the first to initiate a debate in either House of Parliament on the issue of literacy over 35 years ago. Instrumental in making the case that the federal government had a role to play in improving the literacy skills of Canadians, she played a significant role behind the scenes in the development of the National Literacy Secretariat in 1988, a role that was acknowledged by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney when he announced the National Literacy Program.

When the Liberals became the government in 1993, the Senator was named Minister with Special Responsibility for Literacy. This was the first and only time that such a post was part of the federal cabinet. She stayed in that position until 1997 when she became the special advisor on Literacy to the Human Resources Minister, a role she played until 2004.

I had the privilege of working with Joyce for the 14 years I worked at the National Literacy Secretariat. She was a strong advocate for literacy and knew the issues inside out. She traveled extensively, meeting with literacy organizations, business groups, labour and, what gave her the most pleasure, literacy learners.

Always dressed in red, Joyce would grab the podium on either side in what we called her gunslinger pose, to speak from the heart about what she called the cause of her life. As she once promised, “we will succeed, and I will march with you every step of the way.” (Second Canadian Conference on Literacy and Health, October 17-19, 2004.)

She and I spent many hours traveling together. We often tussled about the best way for her to deliver her message. She was feisty in arguing for her approach while I was stubbornly trying to make my point, both of us seeking the same objective of “spreading the message.” Despite our differences, she called me “an honest and professional critic of my own words!” She once wrote about a speech she delivered which I had helped with, “…the speech rolled out with high emotion. Tears were shed even by a ‘tough nut’ like yourself which was the best accolade I could ever receive.” Those words hang framed on a wall in my house.

The senator lost her husband in 2002 and then in 2013 she retired from the Senate having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a condition from which her mother had also suffered. A cruel irony for a woman who made her career using words, networking, being independent.

I hope her legacy lives on. She was the driving political force for literacy in Canada. We need to remember and celebrate her efforts.

I have talked, in every corner of Canada, in other countries as well, about giving each and every individual a fair chance. A chance to fulfil their utmost potential. My friends, our country, our world, is far too precious to become somewhere that people merely cope. It must become a place where people have a fair chance to contribute and participate, and have a job and a decent wage to provide a vigorous future for themselves and their families. This is not about special treatment. This is not about privilege. It is about glorying in the knowledge that not only puts bread on the table, but entertains and comforts and enhances the soul.

Posted in Federal Government and Literacy, National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), Senator Joyce Fairbairn, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Claudette Bradshaw’s literacy legacy

The Honourable Claudette Bradshaw, who passed away on Saturday March 26th, played a significant role in advancing an adult literacy strategy for Canada.

Minister Bradshaw served as the Minister of State for Human Resources Development from 2004 to 2006. On November 1, 2005, she appointed the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Literacy and Essential Skills. Its mandate was “to offer the Minister of State advice informing the development of a comprehensive literacy and essential skills strategy.”

The Committee was co-chaired by the Movement for Canadian Literacy and the Fédération canadienne pour l’alphabétisation en français. Sixteen additional members represented business, labour, Indigenous groups, francophone organizations, national, provincial, and community-based literacy organizations, colleges, and learners. Over the course of three weeks, the committee crafted its report. Its recommendations are still relevant today. Here is a precise of those recommendations:

  1. The Government of Canada should adopt the vision statement.
  2. The Federal Government should articulate a set of measurable and attainable goals as the initial ten-year objectives for the Pan-Canadian Literacy Strategy.
  3. A set of Principles should be adopted to inform the development of the Strategy.
  4. The Federal Government should negotiate bilateral “Literacy Accords” with each of the Provinces and Territories based on the proposals in this Report.
  5. The federal government should strengthen and expand the role of the National Literacy Secretariat.
  6. The Federal Government should model the literacy principles and practices that it promotes in its own workplace and in clear communications with the public.
  7. The Federal Government should invest in the direct delivery of literacy programmes.
  8. Through these Accords the Federal Government should work with the Provinces and Territories on the establishment of a coherent national Adult Learning System.
  9. The Accords should provide core, stable and sustainable funding for long-term literacy programme delivery to meet the goals for literacy mentioned above.
  10. Accords should be designed to encourage and support the development of community based and locally based literacy action plans as well as community activities that encourage the development of literate environments in families, communities and workplaces.
  11. The Accords should encourage horizontality across all levels of government so that the literacy issues of target groups can be met holistically and without conflicts between jurisdictions and programmes.
  12. The literacy and language training needs of immigrants to Canada should be a high priority in the development and implementation of the comprehensive Pan-Canadian Literacy Strategy.
  13. The Committee suggests the creation of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Literacy and Essential Skills.
  14. The Committee suggests the appointment of a Minister Responsible for Literacy and Essential Skills as an on-going Cabinet position.
  15. That the Minister Responsible for Literacy appoint a Pan-Canadian Literacy Advisory Committee with the resources and capacities it needs to do research, monitor progress, and engage new partners as required to achieve this Strategy.

The committee’s report, Towards a Fully Literate Canada, was greeted favourably by the literacy community and its partners.

Unfortunately for the report’s future, two months later the federal election saw a change in government from the ruling Liberals to the Conservatives. Beginning in 2006 until the change of government in 2015, the federal government moved away from a focus on adult literacy, disbanded the National Literacy Secretariat, and eliminated funding to national and provincial literacy organizations.

Towards a Fully Literate Canada is an important legacy of Minister Bradshaw. We wish her family, friends and colleagues are condolences.

Posted in ABC Canada, Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Francophone literacy, Frontier College, Literacy and Essential Skills, Literacy Policy, National Literacy Secretariat (NLS) | Tagged | 2 Comments

Understanding social and emotional skills

Late last month Paul Brinkhurst of FutureWorx presented a session on Understanding Social and Emotional Skills in Life Learning and Work. Paul and his organization have a long history of teaching and evaluating social emotional skills.

Social and emotional skills are the new additions to the Skills for Success model. FutureWorx was highly involved in the development of the skills definitions for Skills for Success. This session gives a good overview of those skills and how to go about enhancing them.

You can access the recording of this workshop at:

The workshop was sponsored by Calgary Learns as part of its professional development series.

For a deeper dive into the subject and more information about FutureWorx’s Employability Skills Assessment Tool (ESAT), there will be a Zoom session on Friday, April 1st from 1:00 to 2:30 MST. You can register by following this link:

Posted in Calgary Learns, Futureworx, Skills for Success, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Proposals – Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program

Last week, Employment and Social Development Canada released a call for proposals under the new Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program (SWSP). This program is a successor to the Sectoral Initiatives Program to which I know quite a few literacy and essential skills organizations applied for funding.

The call is for projects under three priority areas:

  • Building talent for the clean economy: to support workforce development needs in sectors that contribute to the low carbon economy, protect the environment, oceanic or aquatic ecosystems, and/or manage natural resources.
  • Supporting demand-driven solutions for sectors hardest hit by the pandemic and those key to recovery: to support activities that can be launched quickly to address the changing labour supply, skills and employment needs of workers and employers hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • Investing in the health care sector: to address the challenges faced by in-demand health care occupations, including skills and labour shortages, labour mobility, workforce mental health needs and integration of internationally trained health care professionals.

Eligible activities are:

  • Training and reskilling to help workers gain skills for the changing needs of industries, including helping workers seize opportunities for in-demand jobs in growing sectors;
  • Providing solutions for employers to develop a skilled and resilient workforce and workplace;
  • Offering creative solutions to develop and implement new ways of addressing labour market issues in key sectors and/or occupations; and
  • Establishing sector-wide standards and tools to help all stakeholders identify and address specific skills, needs and trends.

The deadline is March 18, 2022. Application and other material can be found at:

Posted in Call for Proposals, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program | Leave a comment

ABC Life Literacy Canada welcomes new Executive Director

Alison Howard has been appointed the new Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy Canada. When I was with the National Literacy Secretariat, Alison was part of the team from the Conference Board of Canada who worked on the many projects we sponsored. She has a good understanding of the literacy issue and its impact on society, economy and community. As well, because she has worked at the national level, she appreciates the diverse nature of the country and its people. I’m looking forward to seeing Alison take on this important role.

You can read ABC’s press release about the appointment here:

Posted in ABC Canada | Leave a comment

Call for Proposals – Skills for Success Program

The Office of Skills for Success issued a call for proposals for the new Skills for Success Program. The final deadline for applications is March 9, 2022.

The call involves two streams. The first, Training and Tools, has the objectives of:

  • Objective A: Design and implement training to support individuals to improve their foundational and transferable skills and be better prepared to meet on-the-job demands
  • Objective B: Develop assessment tools and training resources

The second stream, Research and Innovation, invites proposals that support research and innovative projects to identify better ways of helping persons prepare for, return to or keep employment and be productive participants in the labour force.

Below is the information on the funding opportunities, how to apply and an information session.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on Canadian workers and those that are looking for a job. Many have faced job losses and the need to upgrade or learn new skills to re-join the workforce.

To increase the amount of training available to Canadians, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) launched a call for proposals (CFP) for the Skills for Success Program. This CFP is valued at just over $237 million, representing the Government of Canada’s largest investment in foundational and transferable skills training.

The pandemic has been particularly difficult for individuals that are from groups underrepresented in the labour market, such as people with disabilities and racialized Canadians. To help provide the training that they need to get a job, the intention of the call is that 50% of the funding will be directed toward projects that support underrepresented groups, based on the applications received.

This CFP will contribute to the creation of an estimated 90,000 job training opportunities for Canadians and is part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to create 500,000 new training and work opportunities over the coming years.

Please join us in equipping Canadians with the skills they need and help us build a healthy, resilient and inclusive labour market!

Interested organizations are encouraged to review the:

Learn More

ESDC will hold virtual information sessions (online / teleconference) on February 8, 2022 as follows:

11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time: French – LSQ – Simultaneous
2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time: English – ASL – Simultaneous

Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) service will be available during the session in the language of the presentation.

If you are interested in participating, send an email to with your preferred time and please advise if you have any accommodation needs.

ESDC is currently accepting applications from eligible organizations for both streams. The application process closes March 9, 2022 at 3:00 PM Eastern Time.

Questions? If you have questions, please send them to We will answer questions sent before March 7, 2022 at 12:00 PM (noon) Eastern Time.

Posted in Call for Proposals, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Government and Literacy, Grants and Contributions, Office of Skills for Success, Skills for Success | 1 Comment

Recording: Skills for Success Presentations

Last Thursday, Calgary Learns hosted a two-hour session on Skills for Success, the federal government’s new skills framework. Skills for Success is the “modernized” version of the Essential Skols Framework. Panelists included Angela Briscoe, Frontier College, Andrea Horton, Office of Skills for Success, Boris Palameta, SRDC, Tamara Jorgic, AWES and Paul Brinkhurst, Futureworx.

I’m sharing with you the recording of the session and encourage you to take a listen.

Frontier College began with situating the discussion within the context of literacy and the economy. Then the Office of Skills for Success outlined the rationale for the new model, with more in-depth information provided by SRDC, and then laid out an implementation plan. AWES discussed how its workplace essential skills practitioners have been working to integrate Skills for Success while Futureworx presented its experience in providing social emotional skills training.

For me, this was the first time I’ve participated in a live session on Skills for Success and I found the information and the answers to participants’ questions enlightening.

Below is the information to access the recording, the presentations, and the chatbox notes from the online session.

For more information on social emotional skills, Calgary Learns is hosting a session on February 23rd at 12:00 MST with Paul Brinkhurst entitled “Understanding Social and Emotional Skills in Life, Learning and Work.” To register go to:

A big thanks to Calgary Learns, especially Berniece Gowan and Nancy Purdy for putting this session together. They have done a service to those of us who were trying to learn more about Skills for Success.

Posted in Alberta Workforce Essential Skills (AWES), Calgary Learns, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Frontier College, Futureworx, Office of Skills for Success, Skills for Success, SRDC | 2 Comments

Office of Skills for Success Projects

I removed the previous version of this blog post when I learned that my information was not correct; my apologies.

The Office of Skills for Success maintains a list of the 38 projects it funded beginning in fiscal year 2017-2018. The list contains the name of the organization, the project title, a description of the project, and project duration. It does not contain projects funded before that time. See

In 2017-2018, OSS initiated a three-year effort of funding multi-year projects. In 2017-2018, 22 projects were funded; 12 funded in 2018-2019; and 4 in 2019-2020. No new projects were approved under the Adult Learning Literacy and Essential Skills Program (ALLESP) in 2020-2021. These projects account for most of the annual ALLESP spending; there are few projects that began before 2017-2018 which are still being funded.

The 38 projects were awarded to the following organizations:

Table 1 List of Organizations funded by the Office of Skills for Success – 2017-2024

ABC Life Literacy
Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS)
Alberta Workforce Essential Skills Society
BC Construction Industry Skills Improvement Council and SkillPlan
BioTalent Canada
Bow Valley College
BuildForce Canada
Calgary Catholic Immigration Society
Classroom Connections
Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA)
Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) Restigouche Inc.
Decoda Literacy Solutions
Digital Nova Scotia
Environmental Careers Organization Canada
Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium
Food Processing HR Council
Frontier College
Further Education Society of Alberta (FESA)
Government of New Brunswick
Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services (KKETS)
Le Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences (RESDAC)
LearnSphere Canada Inc.
Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick
Louis Riel Institute
Mining Industry Human Resources Council
Native Education College
Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board/Skanehionkwaioteh Incorporated
NorQuest College
Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre
Pathway to Possibilities (PTP) Adult Learning and Employment Programs
Prince Edward Island Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning – Post-Secondary and Continuing Education
Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC)
Temiskaming Native Women’s Support Group
Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation

Projects were classified as Apprentices, Employers, Indigenous, Job Seeker, Newcomers and Youth. It’s not clear how projects were classified as the classification doesn’t necessarily represent the organization or the project description. For instance, a project by SkillPlan, a union-led organization whose project is aimed at practitioners, was classified as “Employers.” A few projects had two or more classifications. Thirty two per cent of projects were classified as “Indigenous” with 23% classified as “Job Seeker.”

Seven projects funded under the ALLESP in their first year, did not show up in Public Accounts as being paid by ALLESP in subsequent years. This might be due to the projects moving to EI Part II funding which is not reported at an individual project level in Public Accounts. These seven projects also do not show up in the Open Government Database meaning I was unable to find the total amount for each project.

Table 2 – Total ALLESP Project Funding (source: Open Government Dataset, 31 projects)

Name of OrganizationTotal $
Le Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences (RESDAC) $7,578,904.00
Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS) $5,724,514.00
BuildForce Canada $3,975,857.00
Environmental Careers Organization Canada $3,751,754.00
Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium $3,308,213.00
Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) Restigouche Inc. $3,123,680.00
Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board/Skanehionkwaioteh Inc. $2,966,400.00
Government of New Brunswick (virtual learning project) $2,917,477.00
Alberta Workforce Essential Skills Society $2,510,553.00
Digital Nova Scotia $2,496,082.00
YWCA $2,346,672.00
NorQuest College $2,317,193.00
Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre $2,261,184.00
Blueprint-ADE $2,224,609.00
BC Construction Industry Skills Improvement Council and SkillPlan $2,145,012.00
Bow Valley College $2,081,483.00
Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA) (distance ed project) $2,027,171.00
Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) $1,999,641.00
Frontier College $1,982,948.00
Decoda Literacy Solutions $1,969,261.00
Prince Edward Island Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning – Post-Secondary and Continuing Education $1,934,040.00
ABC Life Literacy $1,916,261.00
Mining Industry Human Resources Council $1,899,376.00
Government of New Brunswick (newcomers project) $1,845,663.00
Pathway to Possibilities (PTP) Adult Learning and Employment Programs $1,838,218.00
LearnSphere Canada Inc. $1,601,676.00
Native Education College $1,566,653.00
BioTalent Canada $1,311,185.00
Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA) (tourism project) $   901,266.00
Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services (KKETS) $   777,770.00
Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation $   340,487.00

These are multi-year projects, most spanning 4 – 5 fiscal years, with an average amount of $2.4M.

Eight projects were scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2021 with another 12 scheduled to end March 2022. The OSS website is not updated to reflect amendments to timelines or funding, so some may be continuing after their planned completion date. The last five projects end in fiscal year 2023-2024. This makes it likely that the bulk of the ALLESP budget will continue to be used for these projects for the next year or two.

OSS also has access to funds from Employment Insurance (EI) Part II. The National Essential Skills Initiative (NESI) funds projects that develop and expand literacy and essential skills training. Multi-year funding began in 2017, and in 2019-2020, seven projects were funded. I have not been able to find information about how much was spent under the NESI nor details about the funded projects.

From what I can determine, eight NESI projects were featured in the 2019 Essential Skills Playbook. The Playbook has not been updated since its initial publication.

I learned from the 2019-20 Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report that NESI funded the engagement sessions on the renewal of the Essential Skills Framework and will be used to fund the projects that test, replicate and scale up the new Skills for Success approach.

Posted in Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Office of Skills for Success | 2 Comments

Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program spending 2020-2021

Last fiscal year, 2020-2021, the Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program, administered by the Office of Skills for Success (OSS) (formerly the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES)), did not spend completely all the funds it had available.

The Public Accounts of Canada 2020, the federal government’s audited statements, issued in November 2021, reported for 2020-21, ALLESP had a budget of $19,104,580 as approved in the Main Estimates and spent a total of $17,751,792. This is a difference of $1,352,788.

This comes after the past two fiscal years (2019-20 and 2018-19) where almost 100% of the funds were spent. As you may recall, this program lapsed millions of dollars between 2006-07 and 2017-18.

A million dollars is a significant amount not to spend. I hope last year was an anomaly and that OSS does not return to the practice of lapsing large amounts of funds. The program’s resources have declined since 2000 while the need for literacy and essential skills efforts has not.

Posted in Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Grants and Contributions, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Office of Skills for Success | 2 Comments

Mandate letters for federal ministers

The Prime Minister released the mandates letters today for all Cabinet ministers. Mandate letters outline the overall approach of the government and lay out specific objectives for each minister.

This time, the mandate letters have been delayed. Fifty days have passed since the PM announced the new cabinet. Previously, mandate letters followed closely after the Cabinet appointments were made. Prime Minister Trudeau is the first to make these mandate letters public, beginning the tradition in 2015.

All letters follow the same format. They begin with recognizing the impact of the pandemic and how building towards a healthier, more resilient future is the top priority. Climate change is positioned as an existential threat with the government’s intention to build a cleaner, greener future.

The letters emphasize the importance of reconciliation, asking each minister to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to advance their rights. To overcome systemic inequities, ministers are encouraged to incorporate the views of diverse groups. A gender-based analysis continues to be an important lens.

I’ve scanned the letters,, and found several items of interest for the literacy field.

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, is responsible for the department housing the Office for Skills for Success and for workforce development transfers to provinces and territories. Her to-do list includes working with provinces and territories to train up to 50,000 new personal support workers (PSW). Many literacy and workplace essential skills programs already provide literacy support for PSW training, so this might be an opportunity.

Minister Qualtrough is asked support efforts to transition to a low carbon economy. Specifically, she is to “launch a Clean Jobs Training Centre to help workers across sectors upgrade or gain new skills so as to be on the leading edge of the zero-carbon industry.” Along the same lines, the Minister is to address gaps in training and upskilling for workers to take advantage of sustainable battery industry opportunities. Decoda Literacy has been leading a major project on displaced workers testing models. Literacy and essential skills upgrading is critical to successful re-training of those displaced by a move to a green economy.

The Minister has been directed to redesign and implement the Canada Training Benefit. This refundable tax credit is supposed to help with the cost of tuition, with an annual limit of $250 and a lifetime maximum of $5,000. Other than the Future Skills Council’s recommendation that the government find ways to encourage people to take advantage of the benefit, I could find no other information about this objective.

Greater take-up of apprenticeship training is to be achieved through a doubling of the Union Training and Innovation Program, along with support for a national awareness campaign to promote the trades among youth and diverse populations. The Minister is asked to make it easier for women and vulnerable groups to access training by requiring businesses supported through the Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program to include wrap-around supports. Finally, modernization of the Employment Insurance (EI) system is an expected outcome. This will likely involve examining EI Part II which funds training efforts at the national and provincial and territorial levels.

Families, Children and Social Development

The mandate letter for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Karina Gould, mentions establishing a National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Child Care along with the full restoration of resourcing and operations of the Federal Secretariat on Early Learning and Child Care. These moves could be an opportunity to put family literacy on the agenda. The Minister is asked to continue advancing the Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy. You may recall that OLES at one time had taken a lead role on social financing in the non-profit sector.

The Minister is directed to advance the implementation of the Community Services Recovery Fund. Created earlier in the pandemic, the fund supports charities and non-profits to adapt and modernize as they recover from the pandemic. This fund will be of interest to all literacy organizations.

The PM asks the Minister to continue leading the implementation of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The key tool to do this is the delivery of Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Recent efforts such as Frontier College’s work on literacy and essential skills as a poverty reduction strategy and Calgary Learns’ Community of Practice on literacy and poverty have drawn attention to what everyone in the literacy field already understands.

As I mentioned above, literacy and essential skills are not mentioned in the mandate letters. No mention was made of second language training. The pandemic, climate change, shifting to a green economy are the overarching themes.

Posted in Calgary Learns, COVID-19, Decoda Literacy Solutions, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Mandate Letters, Frontier College, Future Skills Council, Indigenous People, Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Not-for-profit organizations, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Office of Skills for Success, Poverty Reduction Strategy, Skills, Sustainable Development Goals, Workforce Development Agreements | Leave a comment