Bill C-2 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.
Lucienne Robillard Liberal
Referral to Committee Before Second Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
November 14th, 2011 / 2:35 p.m.
Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages
Mr. Speaker, we are talking here about accountability and the responsibility of the CBC to be in tune with its needs and to be open to the public about the money it receives from taxpayers.
That is what the Parliamentary Secretary is doing and that is what our government promised to Canadians during the last election campaign. We are asking for the CBC's receipts because it must be accountable. It was the same with our Bill C-2, under the former government. The CBC must show taxpayers that it will act responsibly with the money it receives from them.
May 6th, 2004 / 6:10 p.m.
Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this motion on employment insurance reform. This motion asks the government to implement all the recommendations in the report that go beyond Bill C-2, including those that will provide eligibility and increased benefits.
Since many of these would directly affect seasonal workers and the companies that employ seasonal workers, and the communities in which seasonal workers live, I would like to provide a little background on seasonal industries and the challenge they face so that we can better assess how this motion might impact them.
To begin with, this is a particularly important debate since it involves a key segment of the economy that does not always get the attention it should, namely seasonal employment. Seasonal work patterns can be found in most regions of the country, in most industries, and in most occupations.
The economic impact of seasonal work is even greater in some rural regions where seasonal industries often represent the main source of employment. In fact, as I was listening to my various colleagues, every one of them from different regions made sure they put the accent on seasonal work and the impact it has on their own communities.
Some industries rely much more heavily on seasonal work than other industries; for example, mining, forestry, agriculture, hunting and trapping, fisheries, oil and gas exploration, and certainly tourism. All these are vitally important sectors that provide employment for many Canadians. In fact, some would say, in naming these industries, a majority of Canadians.
Thus, seasonal industries have an economic impact far beyond their particular sector because of the additional economic activity performed by a myriad of companies serving them. All these companies, one way or another, contribute to our gross domestic product.
For example, in the forestry sector where the harvesting of trees, which is in itself a highly seasonal activity, provides raw materials for sawmills, pulp and paper, plywood, panel board plants, operations not all are seasonal. Really, the industry itself is far more permanent than some of the employment that constitutes its mainstay. For example, if forestry workers spend time in the forest on an off and on basis, given that logging only takes place at certain times of the year, that does not mean to say that the industry itself is not far more permanent in its scope and operates on a constant basis the whole year. However, for some segments of the workers in that particular industry, obviously they are greatly impacted because their work is purely done during certain periods of the year.
Workers in these companies are in turn served by community businesses which again are far more permanent businesses than the seasonal workers that are in the field at certain times of the year, but yet contribute to the general economy which itself is far more constant and permanent. For example, in a particular community grocery stores, dry cleaners, gas stations and restaurants, all these various industries depend on one community, a central industry, where a lot of workers in that main industry are seasonal workers themselves.
While many of these industries are part of what economists would call the service economy, this does not mean that they are neither technologically advanced nor innovative as shown by the ongoing process of change in which companies are using technology to radically transform their own operations. We can take the example of any major industry, and the same evolution and process of change is taking place at a tremendous rate, in some cases.
At the same time, seasonal industries, by their very nature, are often vulnerable to factors beyond their control: weather, crop conditions, diseases, and global market conditions. We have seen what has happened, for example, in the agricultural industry which employs a great number of seasonal workers. Certain conditions completely extraneous to the process itself have happened without the control of the industry itself and totally outside the control of governments or anybody else.
There is the whole question of the mad cow disease, droughts in the prairies, weather changes, and forest fires. Suddenly, there are all kinds of extraneous factors that could impact on the industry itself, especially seasonal workers who find themselves, from one season to the other or from one day or one month to the other, without any possibility of work because the type of work that they do requires certain conditions which are totally impacted by conditions outside of their control.
All of these various exterior conditions such as weather, crop diseases, and global market conditions can create considerable fluctuations in supply and demand for products and in their costs. To respond to these challenges many companies have modernized their operations and diversified product lines. While these will create new opportunities for these various industries, modernization also displaces workers by reducing the number of seasonal jobs. This is why I put the accent on seasonal jobs which I feel are one of the elements of impact which are the greatest regarding employment generally.
The shift in business activity has also created problems for employers themselves for whom new technology, improved management capabilities, and the development of new products are obviously vital to success. These employers very often find themselves in the paradoxical situation of not being able to get the workers they need even in very high unemployment areas because the workers are not suited to the new technologies that are needed today to modernize industry. This really leads us to the crux of today's debate.
I think we all agree that this motion is well-intentioned. I do not think anybody is questioning the validity of the intent of the motion. The problem is that the focus of the debate is primarily on making it easier to collect EI and increasing benefits.
Instead, we should focus first, on a multi-faceted approach aimed at helping seasonal industries to cope with these new economic realities, some of which I have described. Certainly, the new technological world is changing employment totally. Second, we must ensure that seasonal workers get the education and skills upgrading needed to take advantage of alternative employment opportunities that might come along in a completely different type of industrial economy; and third, we must ensure that communities diversify the economic base as far as is possible.
I realize that this is not always easy, especially in rural areas. Rural areas might be less vulnerable to changes in any one industry or company.
Last year, for instance, I took part--with one of my colleagues, the regional economic minister at the time--in a really almost very sad and terrible circumstance in the fishing industry on the north coast. I became involved in that because most of the employees were English speaking and they wanted some people they could relate to in their own language. Some of them only spoke English. They were affected by the fact that the fishery was stopped in that area.
Suddenly, overnight they found themselves without any economic means of livelihood. Some of them could not even afford food to send with their children to school. It was a drastic situation where the Quebec government and the federal government cooperated in trying to find, overnight, some instant programs to try to fill the gap on an emergency basis to keep them in the support system, at the same time try to provide more long term alternative ways of skill building so that employment could be shifted from the basic and only employment they had, which was fishing, into various other types of livelihood, such as ecotourism, artisan work, wood crafts and so forth.
It is only through this kind of process, where we try to provide alternative skills and employment, that we will be able to target areas where there is one central industry, especially in outlying areas. Any peril or hardship to that industry has a tremendous economic and social impact on the area and affects the livelihood of people.
To create this, it is essential to listen to all the partners involved, such as the seasonal workers and their families who are the first impacted, the private sector, provincial and territorial governments, unions and community groups, to find out how we can best address the needs of workers in seasonal industries in their communities.
This is what we did on the north shore. We worked with the community base. We worked with volunteer groups. We worked with local municipalities. We worked with the provincial government and federal government to see how we together could find ways to create support systems on an emergency basis and then skill training on a more permanent basis.
We should encourage community and economic development so that regions dependent on seasonal work can diversify their economies. I know it is easier to say than to do. However, unless we make an effort in that direction, I think we will always be faced with emergency programs, employment insurance, short term stop-gaps, but the problem will always endure. This means building on existing initiatives, supported by various agencies. We could cite many of these agencies in various parts of the country that are geared principally to help our communities and seasonal workers.
Many of my colleagues have indicated that this sometimes happens community by community and sometimes regionally in different ways. However, the aim must be to try to ensure that employees and citizens do not rely on seasonal work in one central industry that can be affected by change or situations outside of its control. We need to have alternatives and diversification.
As the Speech from the Throne has outlined, we are supporting the growth of the social economy, the social power of entrepreneurs which has done so much to help communities create jobs, improve skills development and make communities safer and more prosperous. We have to work with all our partners to find ways to help seasonal workers and industries to benefit from new opportunities created by changes in the economy.
I mentioned a number of elements in the employment insurance program that are important to workers in seasonal industries. There is the adoption of an hours-based system. This now means that all the hours of work are taken into account to determine eligibility. This change takes into account the different patterns of work and generally contributes to increase the number of weeks of benefits to which workers were eligible.
Several workers in seasonal industries, who often work many hours during a reduced number of weeks, have benefited from this. This measure has been beneficial to part-time workers, women, seasonal workers. Over 400,000 people, who were working part time or had short-term jobs, were able to receive benefits for the first time following this change.
As for seasonal workers, the length of their benefit period was extended, and their benefits are about 10% higher than those of other recipients.
I will conclude with this, and say thanks.
May 6th, 2004 / 5:40 p.m.
Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC
Mr. Speaker, there is some bad-mouthing going on in the House about the hon. member for Portneuf. I will not tell you what I heard. All I will say is that after the next election, he will be on vacation for a long time. However, I will not say what he is doing today.
I will now remind the House of the motion before us today for this opposition day. It is important that we begin by setting out the main subject of our debate. It is as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.
What the Bloc Quebecois is recommending today is what we have recommended many times since May 2001, and what has been recommended outright when the report was tabled in May 2001, that is an in-depth reform of the Employment Insurance Act and particularly of those parts of the act that penalize contributors to the plan.
For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf in particular, and also for all the people who are listening at home, I will explain how we come up with a committee report that contains 17 unanimous recommendations. First of all, the chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is usually a Liberal. That committee is chaired by somebody appointed by the Prime Minister.
The vice-chair is also a Liberal, and more often than not—and it is okay, I am not being critical here—it is the minister's parliamentary secretary. This person then gives his or her colleagues the information on what will be going on. The majority of the members of the committee represent the governing party, the Liberals.
Therefore, the chair is a Liberal, one of the two vice-chairs is a Liberal and more often than not the parliamentary secretary representing the minister at the committee, and most of the members are from the Liberal Party.
The Bloc Quebecois was there, the Conservative Party was there, and also the NDP. After two or three months of discussions, evidence, research and expertise, the committee submitted a unanimous report.
For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, a unanimous report means that everyone agreed on it. I should add, again for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, that when a report is unanimous and when everyone agrees on it, this means that the Liberals also agreed. They signed the report, along with the other members of the committee. As regards recommendation No. 1, for example, which seeks to end discrimination toward young unemployed individuals, women and new entrants in the employment insurance program, I should point out, for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, that the Liberals agreed with this recommendation. They signed the report after two or three months of work.
The minister was aware of this, because his or her parliamentary secretary was present. Therefore, cabinet was aware. Indeed, and I say this for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, committees do not meet in secret. They send notices. Their meetings are even open to the public. There are committee proceedings and minutes. After hearing witnesses and after examining the issue, the committee produced a unanimous report which says in recommendation No. 1, for example, that we should end discrimination toward young people, women and new entrants in the employment insurance program.
Now, we are asking the members who signed this report if they want to vote accordingly. They are telling us no. They do not agree. They want to review the issue because it is important. They promised to do so in 2000, during the election campaign. They made recommendations in 2001 after reviewing the issue, but now they are not prepared to vote to support these recommendations.
This is what we object to. The Prime Minister talks about democratic deficit. The same Prime Minister told Canadians, in a news release dated March 18, 2004, and I quote:
This government places great importance on hearing from those lives that are directly impacted by our policies, including our seasonal workers. Our Caucus has been extremely active in making the sector's opinions known, and will continue to play an important role in further examining those views.
This was a news release signed by the Prime Minister on March 18.
Thirteen days later, this same Prime Minister voted against a motion and with him an overwhelming majority of Liberal members from Quebec, including the member for Portneuf. This motion asked that a specific status be established for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic area in which they live.
So we were saying that the Prime Minister had made a promise. The Liberals signed a report. Can they now officialize it? When you promise something, when you sign a report to confirm a promise or a commitment, when you go back to the people to say that you applaud such a measure but ask for a little bit more, we say you should make good on your word and put the issue to a vote in the House. Now, they tell us they are not ready to do that.
This is what we object to. Therefore I wish to tell the member for Portneuf about the existence of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, about the existence of a unanimous report and about the fact that this report got the unanimous support of Liberal members. I believe it is important that the member for Portneuf be made aware of those facts before making any more speeches and answering our questions.
Another recommendation of this unanimous report—therefore a report which got the support of the Liberals—was to extend benefit periods in order to avoid the spring gap. This was recommendation No. 3. Since 2001, nothing has been done about the spring gap. The report also talked about implementing specific measures for older workers. Those measures were obviously less generous than the POWA program, but they were still better than the present situation. This was recommendation No. 4.
Recommendations Nos. 8 and 9 talked about the possibility of extending the program to self-employed workers. I am happy to hear that the member for Portneuf agreed with that earlier. I am also convinced that if the motion were introduced today and put to a vote, the hon. member might vote against it, even though he said he was in favour.
Recommendation 16 talks about increasing the amount of benefits by changing the calculation formula.
That is how we, including the Liberals, unanimously agreed to improve the EI benefits scheme.
Why should it be improved? That has been explained very well by my colleagues who spoke today, especially my colleagues from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques and Rimouski--Neigette-et-la-Mitis, who is our critic on this file.
Everybody recognizes that the situation is desperate, especially for seasonal workers and people living in the regions. Everybody recognizes that. However, it is not true only of people living in the regions.
We looked at the results of a study conducted by the CLC, the Canadian Labour Congress. For the benefit of my colleague for Portneuf, the first C stands for Canadian. This study was not done by the Parti Quebecois, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste or sovereignists. The first C stands for Canadian, I want to stress that point.
According to the CLC study, between 1993 and 2001, losses linked to the tightening up of EI eligibility standards were in the order of $3 billion a year in Quebec. If you divide that number by the 75 ridings in Quebec, the shortfall is around $40 million a year per riding.
This shortfall calculated by the CLC—and I repeat for my colleague from Portneuf that the first C stands for Canadian—represents a shortfall not only for the unemployed, but also for the regions. The unemployed do not invest their benefits in Barbados, they put that money directly back into the local economy. Surpluses generated by the EI plan on the back of the regions are put into the consolidated revenue fund, not into the regions.
My riding, Repentigny, is not in a remote area; it is in the suburbs of Montreal. People in Repentigny are not faced with the serious problem caused by the spring gap or the serious problem in the seasonal sectors, as a whole. Some of them, yes, but not across the board.
In spite of that, according to the CLC, since 1993, since the tightening up of the employment insurance scheme, the shortfall in the riding of Repentigny has been $47 million a year for eight years, or $376 million. In the riding of Repentigny, the unemployed, who unfortunately are in a special situation, have been deprived of that money over the past eight years. That has had an impact on the local economy. I remind my colleague the member for Portneuf that that is according to a study conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress.
I think I have been pretty clear about the importance of implementing decisions that have been accepted unanimously, including by the Liberals. Once again, with an election campaign looming, the Liberals are promising to look into it, to think about it, and to eventually move forward and create a committee.
I made a joking comment a while ago to my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. It is just a joke, I have no wish to offend any religious groups. What I said was that God created the world in six days. Before the seventh day, He created a committee, and it took another three billion years before Man and Woman appeared. When the Liberals promise us a committee, I really wonder when we will see a response to this question, particularly since that committee will be made up of nothing but Liberals. I hope they will be signing a unanimous report.
For the benefit of my colleague for Portneuf, if the committee is comprised solely of Liberals, and if they all sign the report, then it will be really unanimous. If that report is then voted on here in the House, and they vote against it, then there will really be some problems. I just wanted to point out to him that there will be no separatists on such a committee.
Today, with an election looming, why the concern about these promises?
There is concern because during the last election campaign, two minor players, among others, formally promised workers they would reform the Employment Insurance Act. I will name only two members, former minister Alfonso Gagliano, who was more concerned about the sponsorships and all that, but who nonetheless could occasionally talk about other things, and our colleague from Bourassa. Again, if my colleague from Bourassa says he did not say that then he needs to inform the House.
This promise had been made on the North Shore and in the Gaspé in the weeks leading up to the election. Now that we think the election might be called tomorrow, there is no talk of the promises that were made this week. Talk is about the promises made before the last election, in 2000, that still have not been kept.
The federal government has never come through on this promise except to pass a bill that was tabled before the dissolution of the House. In fact, it was this bill that made construction workers so angry in that it did not address the main flaws in the program.
Consequently, this is the aspect on which the Bloc Quebecois humbly proposes that the Liberals honour their signatures on a report in which there were 17 recommendations aimed at correcting a distressing situation for workers, for women and youth, and for older workers who lose their jobs.
Thus, we ask the Liberals who made a commitment to the POWA program, who made a commitment to independent workers, who signed, who promised and who said that they were going to reform employment insurance, to keep their word, quite simply. We offer them an opportunity to honour their signatures and, in turn, we will accept only the recommendations they made.
In conclusion, I have a little anecdote about the people who, at the time, were called Alliancers or Reformists, or something like that. Nevertheless, the former Alliance members, the new Conservatives, quoted verbatim the Liberal's 1993 red book about the ethics counsellor. They copied from the Liberal Party's 1993 red book, in quotation marks, a text that went something like this, “We promise to appoint an independent ethics counsellor in the House of Commons,” or something like that. I do not know the 1993 red book by heart—it was not my bedtime reading—but I remember that this promise was in the red book. Consequently, the people who are now the Conservatives took verbatim what was in the red book and submitted it to the House.
For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, the red book was written by Liberals, nothing but Liberals. It was not even a unanimous committee that wrote it; it was only Liberals. Are you surprised, Mr. Speaker, to learn that the Liberals voted it down?
In terms of democratic deficit and lack of respect of the public for politicians, the very best example is to take a promise out of the red book, put it forward to Liberal members and watch them vote against their own commitments.
Today, however, after listening to my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois, I can say that this is the same kind of situation where we tell the Liberals, “You made commitments. You took some concrete action. What we are asking now is that you deliver on your promises. Vote on this motion. Let us make it votable”.
That having been said, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to make this motion put forward by the Bloc Quebecois today votable.
May 6th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the previous speaker both with interest and in amazement. Let me start by the end.
How can someone say that we do not have time? We were elected three and a half years ago and the mandate of the government runs until the fall of 2005. If the government really wanted to change the EI plan, it could very well introduce a bill in the next few days and you could be sure that the Bloc would give its full cooperation to get the changes made. In fact, the report was tabled three years ago.
I would like to give some clarification to the hon. member because he does not seem to understand. There was a vote on Bill C-2. The report was tabled after Bill C-2 and included a recommendation approved by everybody, including the Liberal members, namely the member for Gaspé, a member from Laval, and the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who said that Bill C-2 did not go far enough and that there were 17 other changes to make to the plan. Apparently, these were important changes. But the government did not follow through on the recommendations.
During those three years, the federal government accumulated a surplus of $11 billion in employment insurance premiums. It collected $11 billion more than it paid out in benefits. Could it not have taken half that money and given it to improve the situation of women, to eliminate discrimination between men and women and young people so that the same eligibility rules would apply to everyone? Could it not have set up a program to help older workers? Could it not have improved the situation of seasonal workers? No. It preferred to squirrel away the $11 billion taken out of the pockets of some of society's most disadvantaged.
Should, finally, our colleague not realize that what we have on the table are unanimous recommendations? These recommendations were made three years ago and the government has not followed up.
Why not wait until the Employment Insurance Act is voted on before holding an election? I think that would be the best move this House could make in order to restore some balance, distributing wealth, rather than sharing poverty as has been the case. In a period of very rapid economic growth, the gap between rich and poor has grown as well, which is absolutely unacceptable.
How can the member defend this position, which stands in opposition to that of his own Liberal colleagues who were members of the committee?
May 6th, 2004 / 5:20 p.m.
Claude Duplain Portneuf, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking this afternoon. Given that what we say is often misinterpreted here, let me say at the outset that I will be speaking about the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”This is not to say that everything has been done and that there is no more to do. I would be the first to say that a lot remains to be done and it so happens that we are presently at work on a number of issues in this regard.
I am nevertheless pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the issue of employment insurance, specially with regard to the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”
I will read some brief notes to make sure people are properly informed. It must be said in fact that information given or discussed here is sometimes so skewed, so misinterpreted, that people may be somewhat baffled as to what is going on here.
This government greatly appreciates the work of the Standing committee on Human resource developmentand has examined carefully the recommendations contained in the committee's report. We have always been willing to change to meet the need, as we have shown time and time again with regard to employment insurance.
However, at the outset, I think it is important to mention that the employment insurance program is working for a majority of Canadians. It is there for people who need it and it will remain in place, as it has for 60 years.
Employment insurance is a reliable program that is meeting the needs of Canadians. In times of economic uncertainty, workers can count on employment insurance to help them re-enter the labour force.
It is also a flexible program. Of course, certain regions and certain groups of workers—those we have been talking about these past few weeks—such as seasonal workers, can have to face special challenges on the labour market, which is not always easy. The establishment of employment insurance economic regions ensures that the employment insurance program takes into account the high unemployment levels in some parts of the country, so that all workers have equal access to the program.
The present government has pursued a flexible approach to adjust the employment insurance economic regions in such a way that the workers living in parts of the country where work is mainly seasonal can continue to collect employment insurance benefits.
Let me give a few examples. Workers in the Lower St. Lawrence and North Shore area of Quebec need 70 hours less than do workers in areas with low unemployment to qualify for EI benefits.
The plan has been designed to adjust quickly and automatically to changes in the labour market. The variable entrance requirement is reviewed every four weeks on the basis of the latest unemployment statistics. In other words, if unemployment goes up in any area, the requirements are automatically adjusted to permit easier access to the program. Therefore, people in areas with higher unemployment need fewer hours of work to be entitled to benefits over an extended period of time.
Access to EI is easy. The Monitoring and Assessment Report indicates that 88% of Canadians who are salaried employees could eventually be eligible if they lost their job.
Moreover, the switch in 1996 to an hour-based system and first dollar coverage means that each hour of work is included in the EI coverage. This change has meant easier access to the plan for seasonal workers, part-time workers and those with multiple jobs.
The employment insurance is a system that is in constant evolution. When we adopted the EI reform in 1996, we made a commitment to control and evaluate the system. We have kept our word. We were and still are committed to ensuring that EI continues to serve the needs of all Canadians. Whenever changes were justified, we have made them.
Since the EI reform, we have made various adjustments, including the improved parental benefits and the integration of the small weeks provision which is now permanently included in the employment insurance system and applied nationwide.
There is also the abolition of the intensity rule, the change to the payback provisions, changes to the rule on undeclared earnings, the introduction this year of a new six-week compassionate benefit for eligible workers who will be looking after a seriously ill parent, child or spouse.
Many of these adjustments were brought specifically in response to the needs of seasonal workers, part-time workers and multiple job holders.
The passage of Bill C-2 illustrates the adaptability of the EI program. This bill speaks to the day to day realities of Canadians.
For example, the intensity rule was designed to discourage the use of employment insurance from one year to the next. We realize that this rule was ineffective and, frankly, punitive; so we abolished it. Seasonal workers were often among these recipients that the intensity rule was affecting. Over 900,000 Canadians received retroactive payments following the abolition of this rule.
We also changed the rule relating to people returning to the workforce. Recipients who leave the workforce and re-enter it are often parents who must balance professional and family responsibilities. Before Bill C-2, these people were considered as new entrants in the workforce, which meant that they had to accumulate more insurable hours of work before being eligible for benefits. Now, parents are eligible for regular benefits, as other workers, when they re-enter the workforce after an extended absence during which they were raising their children.
On the most important measures that the government has taken since the EI reform to respond to the concerns of seasonal workers is the small weeks initiative.
Since it came into effect, this initiative has made the workforce more effective by encouraging Canadians to accept part-time and temporary work, which has helped to make up for short-term manpower shortages that employers had to deal with, particularly in the seasonal employment sector.
The short week provision also helps part-time and seasonal workers to retain their connections with the job market. Our evaluation shows that claimants worked an average of two extra weeks. Across Canada, more than 185,000 Canadians benefited from the short week provision.
We have improved the short week characteristics to better harmonize them with the realities of job market. A combination of regular weeks and short weeks might reduce the rate of benefits the next time a claim is made. By increasing the short week threshold from $150 to $225, we provide workers with greater flexibility to accept short weeks without a reduction in their future benefits rate.
These measures taken by the government clearly show that we intend to adjust employment insurance to the reality of the job market. We will continue to make the necessary changes.
That said, while it is important to understand the unique challenges faced by seasonal workers, it is equally critical to recognize that employment insurance is only a part of the solution. Canadians told us that they do not want to claim employment insurance benefits. They want to have jobs. The answer to that is to develop community capabilities and to strengthen local economies, in order to offer sustainable employment opportunities.
Our goal is to encourage Canadians to work and help them rejoin the workforce. True income security starts with a job. We established local committees in Quebec and in New Brunswick to consider ways to help workers affected in those regions. With our partners, we are pursuing several approaches to address the issues concerning seasonal workers, based on the recommendations made by local committees.
The employment insurance program is effective and is there to help workers in need. We continue to implement control and evaluation measures of the program to make sure that it continues to answer the needs of Canadians.
In conclusion, I will say that committees who travelled across Canada are still doing a lot of work to make a recommendation to bring new faces and to give an up-to-date picture of what is happening in the regions of Quebec and in all of Canada. We must bring about changes to make the situation even better.
Some opposition members say that we are delaying calling an election while others say that we want to call the elections too fast. I for one think that now is the time to help those in need in the regions of Quebec. They are expecting specific measures. I do want these measures to be taken.
We could do as the Bloc is asking and do an in-depth study of EI. We will not have time for that. The fact is that the changes must be made by regulation and we will not have time to make extensive changes. Things are being done however. We can act now while at the time taking a closer look at what could be done.
May 6th, 2004 / 4:35 p.m.
Stan Keyes Minister of National Revenue and Minister of State (Sport)
Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but want to comment just one more time on the hon. member's dissertation following my question and his resolve that it is just up to the House of Commons committee to make a decision to pursue what it is the government has concerns about.
That is the way democracy works. The hon. member for the Bloc knows full well that there is a process by which we do things around here. He asked to be at the committee. It was the human resources and skills development committee. A committee is the master of its own destiny. He brings that idea forward to committee. Then the committee makes a decision on its priorities on the issues that it wants to deal with as a committee. It has nothing to do with this House or votes or the government's moving in on a committee.
The first thing the member would do if the government or the House of Commons started intruding on the business of independent committees would be to get on his feet in a second and say, “How dare they intrude on the business of the committee. The committee is the master of its own destiny and we shall choose whether or not we discuss this issue or that issue at committee”. The hon. member has to be completely open and honest with the House and his constituents back home.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in on the debate on the member's motion to review further proposals to reform employment insurance.
I would like to begin by saying that the government is committed to ensuring that EI is there for Canadians. It is our commitment to make changes to the EI program when the need for change is clearly demonstrated.
Ever since the new employment insurance program was introduced back in 1996, the government has shown a willingness to listen to Canadians. We have made adjustments to the system based on sound evidence in order to ensure that EI is there for Canadians when they need it and that the program continues to be responsive to changing circumstances in the labour market.
Moreover, the record shows that we are working diligently to make sure the EI system is responsive to the needs of all Canadians, including those living in Quebec.
When the government brought in a new employment insurance system in 1996, we were determined to ensure the long term viability of Canada's employment insurance system. We also committed to monitoring and assessing the program to see how individuals and communities were adjusting. Where evidence has shown that adjustments are needed, changes have been made. These objectives have guided our approach to EI reform in the past and they will continue to guide us today.
By most accounts, this approach to EI is serving Canadians well. Today we have a program that is financially stable. Premiums have declined from their historic high levels of $3.07 in 1994 to a low of $1.98 this year. An estimated 88% of Canadian workers would be potentially eligible for EI if they lost their jobs today.
We also have a program that is evolving to respond to changing needs. The government recognizes that some regions and groups of workers, such as workers in certain seasonal industries, can face particular challenges as they seek to adapt to changing labour market realities and the new economy.
The EI system is responding to special circumstances like these in appropriate ways. Indeed, a look at the records shows how the government has already made program changes to reflect the changing needs of Canadians since 1996, including the needs of seasonal workers.
Bill C-2 that was passed by the House in 2001 is a good example. It included a number of significant changes that are relevant to today's debate. There is the elimination of the intensity rule so that frequent claimants would not be penalized; a better targeting of the clawback to ensure that first time claimants, claimants collecting special benefits, and claimants in lower and middle income families would no longer have to repay their benefits; an adjustment to ensure parents re-entering the labour market could qualify for benefits on the same basis as other workers.
Since Bill C-2 was passed, the government has also improved the EI system in other ways, such as through changes to the small weeks provisions. Originally introduced as a pilot program in 1998, the small weeks provisions are designed to help seasonal and part time workers maintain their attachment to the labour force and therefore their eligibility for EI by encouraging them to accept work with lower earnings without reducing potential EI benefits.
Now a permanent part of EI, the small weeks provisions have allowed over 185,000 individuals to earn both higher incomes while working and an average of $12 more in weekly EI benefits than would have been otherwise done.
Another good example relates to the economic regions set up under the EI program in the year 2000 to take into account the higher unemployment rates that exist in some parts of our great country. We know that some workers in some areas, particularly seasonal workers, need more time to adjust to the changes made in 2000 and we have shown flexibility in our response to regional concerns.
For example, in the Bas-St-Laurent-Côte Nord region in Quebec and the Madawaska-Charlotte region in western New Brunswick, a special transitional period has been put in place. This means claimants in these regions require fewer hours to qualify for EI benefits and can receive benefits for a longer period than they would have without the transitional period.
In addition, we have changed the way that undeclared earnings are calculated to make it easier for employers and fairer for claimants. Apprentices are now only required to serve one two-week waiting period during the duration of their training. Quality of service continues to be the focus of significant ongoing work and we have taken concrete steps to prevent and respond to fraud and abuse.
The government is continuing to work with local committees in the regions and others to monitor the situation. It is prepared to make other changes where evidence indicates that it is appropriate.
To sum up, a careful look at the government's record on EI illustrates that the government is listening and is willing to make changes that are in the best interests of Canadians and the long term sustainability of the EI program.
One of the strengths of our EI system is its adaptability. It means that we can adapt to the evolving needs of Canada's workers and changing labour market conditions, but it does not mean accepting every change that is proposed.
The government is clearly committed to ensuring EI remains financially viable for the long term. It is equally committed to ensuring that the system is responsive to legitimate needs that do arise.
The record shows we have done the right thing in the past with EI. I know that we will continue to do the right thing in the future.
May 6th, 2004 / 4 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is obviously a pleasure for me to speak on this Bloc Quebecois motion which reads—and I shall take the time to read it so that everyone in Quebec and everyone in Canada listening to us, even the Liberal members and members of the other parties in this House, understands the meaning of the words:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.
I took the trouble to read the motion aloud because many of the Liberal members in this House, and others, have made speeches that tried to make us believe—especially those from the government side—that this good government is making or has made all necessary efforts to find a solution to the problems of people who have trouble collecting employment insurance benefits, particularly seasonal and other workers.
This is quite difficult. Once again, we are having this debate just before an election. It was right after the election in 2000 that a committee studied the whole issue, and it reported in May 2001. In 2000, all those elected and all the candidates of all parties—especially the Liberal Party—who travelled throughout Canada could obviously feel how disgruntled Canadians were with the employment insurance plan.
People were very unhappy because since 1996, when the then finance minister and present Prime Minister decided to change the plan, the federal government has not put any money into the EI fund. Only employers and workers are contributing. This should be an independent fund.
All those who contribute think that, if they are the ones who pay, they should manage the plan. But with the EI plan, it is just the opposite. Employee contributions are deducted from the paycheque, and employers also make their contribution at the same time. The federal government does not put in any money, but it is managing the fund and, to make things even worse, it takes the surplus, puts it in the consolidated revenue fund and uses that money.
During the 2000 electoral campaign, the Bloc Quebecois candidates across Quebec decided to fight a merciless war against the Liberal Party and said “Look at the astronomical surplus that you have built up with the EI fund. You have not given the money back to the workers who needed it, especially the seasonal workers, and to the self-employed workers”. There was an important debate on that issue.
The public then realized that the figures given have never been challenged. Since 1996, the government helped itself to $42.5 billion from the EI fund surplus. The government took $42.5 billion from the money that the employees and the employers had paid into that fund.
Many terms have been used to describe what the government did. Many come to mind, but there is only one reality. This is why the Liberals insisted, after the 2000 election, that the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities study this issue, and it produced a unanimous report.
I am amazed today—because I was only elected in 2000—to see members of the Liberal Party give speeches in this House and tell us, “You know that the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities was one report among many”.
Members of the Bloc Quebecois who are chosen to sit on a committee are experts; they are the best. Theoretically, if I use the same reasoning, the Liberal Party should have sent to this Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities its best people, the men and women who are the most able to find a solution.
All of us, in the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Alliance, the NDP, everyone made 17 unanimous recommendations. Once again, three years later, we are debating these recommendations, which should have been approved immediately after May 2001. We should not be discussing this today in the House. Why? Simply because the Liberal Party, which accumulates billions and billions of dollars, is not in a rush to deliver the goods or to increase its expenditures in the employment insurance program.
People are again upset across Canada and across Quebec. Everyone is upset. It is not the employee's fault if he works in a seasonal industry. There are many in my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. Tourism, agriculture and forestry are all industries that, because of the weather, have many seasonal jobs.
If, tomorrow morning, it was decided that there would no longer be any seasonal work, imagine the impact on the economy of the regions of Canada and Quebec. This is more or less the message that the Liberals have been sending over the past three years. That message is “If some are not happy, then they should change jobs”. Quebeckers are proud people. They want to continue to work in their regions. We would like to be able to occupy the whole territory and to continue to have regions that develop and that are economically strong. This is why employers and employees have an employment insurance fund, pay premiums and expect to be able to negotiate the content.
The hon. members who sat on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made those 17 recommendations after hearing all the stakeholders, including employers and employees from all types of industries.
The reason the Bloc Quebecois is tabling this motion today is because these 17 recommendations were not accepted by the Liberal government.
What we find difficult and hard in the Liberal discourse is to be told “We will make proposals”. First, it will not be those 17 recommendations. Everyone realizes that. It is clear to those who have been listening to us today that the Liberal government will not propose these 17 recommendations. Otherwise, what would the Liberals have done? We asked that our motion be a votable item. Therefore, they would have voted and they would have supported our motion today. But this is not what they have decided to do.
There will be some changes before the election. We will be happy to see some things done. But we want the EI problem fixed. We in the Bloc Quebecois are here, in this House, to fix problems, not to fix them partially or put the whole thing off.
The government is getting richer and in the meantime it is dragging its feet and putting it off for another two or three years once again. The government keeps on getting richer on the backs of workers and the unemployed. Once again, it is going to try to drag things out because, in the meantime, it can use the money for something else. We have heard all kinds of comments in the House today. Some Liberal members told us “We put that money into health care”.
But that is not what workers wanted when they allowed part of their paycheque to go to the EI fund. It does not say “medicare premium”, or “pharmacare premium”. It says “EI premium”. That is the reality. That is why workers pay into the fund. Employers pay the premium to get a service they do not get.
The reality behind the Canadian Labour Congress figures is that, since the Liberals came to power, fewer people have been getting benefits and their overall income has been dropping. In 1993, 57% of people without a job received EI premiums. In 2001, it was only 39%.
So, since 1993, 22% fewer men and women have been eligible for EI. Moreover, for women the change is even more significant as the percentage has dropped to only 33%. The average is 39% and only 33% of women receive EI benefits.
The government tried to give us all kinds of explanations, telling us that when the Canadian Labour Congress carried out its study, it calculated that among the unemployed, there were some who did not contribute. One of the recommendations is to allow self-employed workers to pay into the EI fund and be able to receive benefits since they are contributing and paying taxes in Quebec and Canada. They would like to contribute to the EI fund also.
The Liberal government is opposed to that, once again, because those additional expenses would lower the $42.5 billion surplus it has been accumulating in the fund over the years. Sadly, the scheme we have currently has created gaps in various regions, especially in the spring.
That means that for seasonal workers, families go for 8 to 12 weeks without any revenue according to where they live.
Some will say that each province has its income security scheme. However, that is not real income security because when someone applies to the income security program, there are further delays. Households can be another month and a half without any money coming in.
That does not bother Liberal members in this House. That is the problem. We are creating poverty, when the Chrétien government had declared in 2000 that it would reduce child poverty. What is being created right now are families in need. The government is creating poverty by leaving families without any revenue for 8 to 12 weeks.
Creating poverty in Quebec will never be acceptable to a Bloc member, be it the member for Laurentides, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques or myself. All Bloc members will fight to the end to avoid the creation of pockets of poverty in Quebec and in Canada, and we are proud to do so.
Bloc members do not fight only for Quebeckers. We also fight for Canadians who pay their EI premiums and do not receive what they are entitled to in return but are caught in the gaps if they work in seasonal sectors like tourism, resorts, forestry or agriculture. It is the same thing for self-employed workers, whose number is always increasing.
That is what Canadians and Quebeckers expect from us when we come to this place to represent them. They want us to work on changing the legislation, and that is what the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development did in 2001. All political parties adopted a unanimous report. I repeat that I personally consider that the most competent of Bloc members on the issue sat at the committee and I assume that all parties sent their best people.
They came up with 17 unanimous and very important recommendations, the precise purpose of which was to use funding to establish a little more social justice in Quebec and in Canada. As I said, since 1996, since the Prime Minister, then Finance Minister, cut off the federal share, this program has been financed solely by employers and workers. Not one cent comes from the federal government any more.
The only problem for workers and for the unemployed is that the government is administering the fund as if it were the owner. It has helped itself to the contents and spent them on other things than solving the problems of the unemployed.
What the committee wanted to do with its 17 recommendations was to improve a harsh reality. That is also what the Bloc Quebecois wants to do, and the reason behind our motion today. We do not want piece-meal reform. That is true. What we want, before the election, is to solve, for once and for all, the problems raised by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.
We cannot be accused of partisan politics because, once the problem is solved, the Liberals will be able to go about claiming that they are the ones who did it. That is what they will do: claim they have partially solved the problem. The Liberal members have already started saying that not everyone will be satisfied, that this is not what people want, that the government cannot afford it, while it is squirrelling away billions of dollars in surplus funds.
Next year's surplus is estimated at $5 billion. We are already estimating for next year, because an $8 billion surplus was accumulated this past year. Once again, close to one-third of the federal government's surplus comes from the employment insurance fund. It is a kind of tax in disguise taken from the paycheques of workers, and from the revenues of their employers, in the form of EI contributions, but not returned to the men and women who need it so badly.
It is interesting to see what this EI fund surplus can represent on an annual basis per riding. In my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, it represents $35.7 million annually.
It is a riding with about 100,000 inhabitants. For the riding as a whole, the unemployment rate is about 9.5%, but in certain areas, certain regional municipalities, it is over 10 or 12%. That means $35.7 million, after all.
For my colleague in Laurentides, it is $62.5 million that is not being returned to the working people each year. Imagine if each riding had an independent fund that managed this money for the well-being of the workers. Imagine what could be done, what kind of a system the workers could have, if they could manage that.
For the riding of Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, the amount is $48.2 million. That is the riding of my wise colleague taking the lead on this matter today, who has worked hard and prepared our arguments. In the Lower St. Lawrence region, there is not the kind of wealth found in downtown Toronto. The same is true of my riding. In the Laurentians, it is the same thing. We have a lot of seasonal workers in fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism.
Obviously, that is the picture for every area outside urban Quebec and urban Canada. That is what regional Quebec and Canada look like. That is most of the ridings in this House. The members here are affected by this reform.
Today, I was blown away to see the Liberals get up and ask us to agree that they are not insensitive. They are not insensitive; they are simply confident that they can take the money in the fund and do other things with it than what the people have paid for. It is as simple as that. They are not insensitive; they are profiteers. I would go that far. There are other words that cannot be used because they are unparliamentary. We will admit that you profit from the system; you profit from the workers and from the EI premiums deducted from their pay.
As I said earlier, I was blown away by remarks to the effect that the surplus was used to invest in health care. In theory, when this money is taken off the pay cheque, it is under employment insurance premiums. It should go to EI. Only the federal government can help itself like that. As individuals, we cannot collect money and not report it at the end of the year in our income tax return. We cannot establish funds in which to put this money and use it for purposes other than those for which it was collected. Only the federal government can do that.
I could take one riding after another. There are losses in every riding in Quebec. There is a deficit, a financial deficit, resulting in workers not getting full benefits when they are in need after losing their jobs. For seasonal workers, this gap usually occurs in the spring and lasts from 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the region. During this gap, their families have no income, and they are forced onto the provinces' income security systems. That is terrible, of course.
There are self-employed workers, women who have decided to work from home, who created their own business in order to be able to take care of their children, who are unable to contribute. Even if they were willing, the government does not want them to contribute to the employment insurance fund. In fact, they do not want any more claimants. Currently, the system is so profitable they do not want to expand it. They are afraid of losing their cash cow. The Liberal position is as simple as that.
They take money from the fuel tax, but do not reinvest it in the highways. They invest only 25% in the highways. They take this fuel money and put it back in health. In the meantime, they create other infrastructure programs, but they do not want to use the fuel tax revenues because they have already said this tax would not be used for the highways and was allocated for something else.
From one mistake to another, we ended up taking $40.5 billion out of the workers' pockets. As I said, the federal government, since 1996, since this Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, decided that the federal government was no longer contributing to the EI fund, all workers and employers have been paying higher premiums. In the last ten years or so, $42.5 billion have been paid in excess to the federal government. This is the harsh reality we, as members of the Bloc Quebecois, have to live with.
The members on the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development were not only from the Bloc Quebecois. Most of the committee members were Liberals. In fact, for those who would not know, all committees of the House of Commons are controlled by a majority of government members. That is the way things are and we do not have anything against it.
Except that, in this case, even the Liberals who were in a majority voted unanimously with the opposition parties in favour of adopting those 17 recommendations; and today they refuse to adopt them. They will not dare tell us it is because they lack the funds. Forget that. It is not that there is not enough money. That fund generates a $2 to $3 billion surplus each year. So the reason is not a lack of money.
The reason is they simply put that money to other uses. That is what they should tell us right now. They should tell workers: “Yes, we are punishing you, we are not giving you the benefits you deserve; yes there are families without income for eight to twelve weeks because we have decided to use the money for other purposes”. That is the harsh reality. They should also tell the independent workers: “You will pay income tax at the end of the year but you will not be eligible to employment insurance benefits. If you lose your job, you will not have access to that income because we refuse to give you the money. We have other things to do with it”.
That is what most of the Liberal members should have done today. They did not. They will deny that fact of course, because the election is fast approaching.
I will repeat why the committee met in May 2001 to prepare its report. After the 2000 election, cries were heard from people in the regions all over Quebec and the rest of Canada; they wanted the government to stop taking money from workers because it did not fix the problems experienced by families when the wage earners lost their jobs. So this committee was created. Great things were expected from this committee.
I remember the pressure that was put on the committee. We produced a unanimous report, and the pressure fell on the Liberals who formed the majority and who adopted the report unanimously. However, today, some Liberals are opposed to this motion. Furthermore, when the motion was presented in the House, some Liberal members of the committee voted against it even if they had adopted and signed the report. Of course, these members will have to live with their conscience. It is as simple as that.
It has been a pleasure for me to take part in this debate. I hope that we will have succeeded in moving things forward, and, above all, in convincing Quebeckers that one must never stop applying pressure. Of course, the best way to do it is to vote for the Bloc Quebecois in the next election.
May 6th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
As my Bloc Quebecois colleague is pointing out, they also controlled the rate. But that happened later on. I do not think it was in that bill then. But they did take control of the rate and the amount a long time ago.
I remind the House that members--who should remain nameless--had made promises throughout Quebec during the election campaign They kept saying that more changes were coming. In the House of Commons, these same members said, “Do not move any more amendments. We need Bill C-2. People are struggling, and they need this piece of legislation. Bill C-2 should be passed right away.”
We went along and passed Bill C-2. I have always said in the House of Commons that I would support any bill that brings something positive for workers. I have kept my word until now, and I intend to do the same in the future.
Yet, at the same time, the Liberals promised to strike an all-party parliamentary committee to make recommendations to the government. Its unanimous report was entitled “Beyond Bill C-2”, and it contained 17 recommendations that had the support of all political parties.
Since no election was in the offing, the Liberal government forgot to make these changes. It just forgot. It ignored our recommendations.
Time goes on and people are still struggling. In southeastern New Brunswick, 1,500 people are under investigation and could be accused of “banking hours”, as it is called.
Well, it was a Liberal riding so a solution had to be found the solution. I would like to say to the people listening in from southeastern New Brunswick that the solution offered by the minister cannot be found in writing. With regard to the promise he made to you, I would be somewhat apprehensive if I were you, because you just might get a bill in the mail after the election.
I can say that we saw the same problem in my riding. There were 11 people in the same situation. Those eleven got caught with extra hours. However, it would seem that people have reached an agreement in Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, whereby they are released from their payback obligation, given that the employer will be made to pay. The government, on the other hand, is not sure that the employer will pay.
I am asking the government to state in writing whether employees will be made to pay or not. I can tell you that I asked twice in the House of Commons if people in the southeast of the province would be treated the same way as those in the northeast. The answer was yes.
Yet I can tell the House that this week Michel Guérette, a worker in my riding, got a bill from Human Resources Canada indicating that he owes $4,823 because he banked hours. This is the case that was taken to the Bathurst office, and do you know what the response was? In Beauséjour—Petitcodiac 1,500 people broke the law, and this affects the entire community. In Acadie—Bathurst, there are only 11, and they are spread around a number of different places, which is why they are being made to pay, and the others are not.
The message from the Government of Canada is this: “If you want to break the law, then do so along with 1,500 or 2,000 other people and you will get away with it”. Is that what the government is telling people? I find it deplorable that the minister has stood up in this place twice to state that any Canadian anywhere in this country would be treated the same way in a case like this, and yet today people are getting billed. They are panicking because they do not have the money to pay those bills.
The government recognizes the problem of banking hours. What we will see in the weeks to come is that the government will say that maybe it will take the 14 best weeks so as to try to get rid of the problem it has created in southeastern New Brunswick.
In the meantime, families are hurting. In 2001, even in the southeastern part of the province, in the area of Richibucto or Kent, hundreds and hundreds of people had to pay fines because of the same problem. The government refused to address the problem at the time and still refuses to retroactively reimburse these people for the fines they had to pay.
We now have before the House 17 recommendations. The federal government made two changes in 2000 dealing with EI and a couple of changes to do with parental benefits between 2000 and 2004. Because of the upcoming election, the federal government now wants to buy votes, so it has announced two additional changes. At that pace, it will take 32 years and 8 elections to reform the employment insurance plan.
A few weeks ago, I went to a place near Forestville, in Quebec, where people took to the streets to protest. For the benefit of the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, it was not the CLC, but rather workers, businesspeople and even the priest who were protesting, asking the federal government to stop stealing money from the workers. This is no longer a political issue, it is a human issue. People are hurting.
The rest of Canada needs to understand that the people who work in the forest or lumber industry are seasonal workers. Consumers are quite happy to buy fish and 2x4s. What we are saying is that we will stay in our region. We have no intention of moving to central Canada. We have no intention of moving to Calgary with the Conservatives who, every time they rise in this House, try to reduce EI premiums and put more money back into the pockets of the employers, but not the workers. They should be ashamed.
Hopefully the election will take place soon and Canadians will remember what the Liberals did. They drove families out of the regions. I get calls to my office from women who tell me they want to commit suicide. You should know that the suicide rate in the Acadian peninsula has gone up as a result of the changes to employment insurance. You should know also that when it was in the opposition, that party, through Doug Young and Jean Chrétien, said that we had to deal with the economy. In this respect, if you do not want people to be on EI, create an economy that works. Put people back to work instead of forcing them to leave the rural regions to go to major centres. That is what should be done.
I want to express my gratitude for the fact that this motion was moved here in the House of Commons, allowing us to stand up for workers. The CLC has done a good job. The FTQ has done a good job in this respect, and so has the CSN.The trade unions have represented workers while the federal government has stolen their money. That is regrettable.
May 6th, 2004 / 12:35 p.m.
Yolande Thibeault Saint-Lambert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to take part in the debate on the member's motion and further examine proposals to reform the EI plan. I would like to start by saying that this government's commitment to making sure that EI helps Canadians cannot be doubted. Neither can our determination to change the EI plan when there is a clearly proven need to do so.
Since the new EI plan was put in place in 1996, the government has shown that it was willing to listen to Canadians. We made adjustments to the plan, in the light of established facts, to make sure it meets the needs of our fellow citizens and keeps on adjusting to the changing circumstances of the labour market.
A quick look at our record will clearly illustrate what I am saying. You will see that we are working hard to make sure the plan meets the needs of all Canadians, including those who live in Quebec. When the government introduced a new EI plan in 1996, it was with a view to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the EI plan in Canada.
Also, we committed to tracking and assessing the performance of the plan to see how people and communities would react to it. When the need for adjustments is obvious, the necessary changes are made. Those goals guided our approach to reforming the EI plan in the past, and they continue to guide us today.
Most people agree that this approach to EI meets the needs of Canadians. Today the plan is financially stable. Premiums went from an historical high of $3.07 in 1994 to a much lower rate of $.98 this year. Currently it is estimated that 88% of Canadian workers would be eligible to EI were they to lose their job. I will add that the plan evolves to meet changing needs.
The government recognizes that certain regions and certain groups of workers, including those in some seasonal industries, may have to meet specific challenges to try to adapt to the changing realities of the labour market and the new economy. The EI plan adequately accounts for these exceptional situations.
Our track record is clear: since 1996, the government has already made changes to accommodate the changing needs of Canadians, including seasonal workers. Bill C-2, enacted by the House of Commons in 2001, is a good example of that.
It included a number of significant changes with regard to today's debate. We eliminated the intensity rule to avoid penalizing frequent users. We targeted the clawback clause so that it would not apply to first time claimants, those who receive special benefits and low and middle-income claimants. We made adjustment to ensure that parents re-entering the labour market enjoy the same eligibility to benefits as other workers.
Since Bill C-2 was passed, the government has enhanced the EI plan by amending the small weeks regulations. First implemented as a pilot project in 1998, the small weeks regulations were aimed at helping seasonal and part-time workers retain their connections with the job market and hence their eligibility for EI benefits, by encouraging them to work for less and ensuring that those small weeks have no impact on their eventual EI benefits.
Thanks to the small weeks provision, which is now an integral part of the employment insurance plan, over 185,000 people were able to earn more money and enjoy a $12 increase in their weekly EI benefits.
Let me give you another striking example. In 2000, EI economic regions came into effect in order to take into account the high unemployment rates in some regions of the country. As we know, some workers in some regions, especially seasonal workers, need more time to adjust to the changes made in 2000, and we showed some flexibility in addressing their concerns.
For instance, the government has set up a special transition period for the Lower St. Lawrence/North Shore region as well as the Madawaska-Charlotte region in western New-Brunswick. The claimants in these regions need fewer work hours to become eligible for EI benefits and they receive benefits for a longer period of time than they would have without a transition period.
We have also changed the way undeclared earnings are calculated to make life easier for the employers and treat workers more fairly. The apprenticeship trainees are now subject to only one two-week waiting period during their training program. Quality service continues to be one of our main goals and we have taken steps to prevent and fight abuses.
In cooperation with local committees, the government will continue to monitor the situation in these economic regions and elsewhere, and is also willing to make additional changes if need be.
In a nutshell, if we take a close look at this government's record on employment insurance, we can see that it understands the need to listen and to make changes in the best interests of Canadians and of the long-term sustainability of the employment insurance system. Flexibility is one of the strengths of our system. This means that we can adapt to changes in the needs of Canadian workers and in the labour market situation. Still, not all changes are acceptable.
The government is clearly committed to ensure that the employment insurance system remains financially sustainable in the long term, and has also promised to make sure that it meets legitimate needs that might arise. All appropriate measures were taken in the past, and I know that we will do the same in the future.
May 6th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak today in the debate on the motion by my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.
I would like to take a few seconds to sort out some figures. I hope that the parliamentary secretary is listening carefully. It is rather strange to see the government strutting out a meaningless figure.
When people lose their job, the first thing they do is to check whether they might qualify for EI benefits. They are told that they have accumulated enough hours and that they qualify. This is the famous 80% or so of workers that the government is talking about.
When we talk about the 40% or so of workers who lose their job and who receive EI benefits, we are telling the truth also. It is the same reality that they are talking about.
In fact, a young worker, for example, cannot qualify if he is let go after having worked 800 hours at a first job. He would have needed 910 hours. With their 80%, they forget these people. And what about the woman who comes back to the labour market and does not have the required number of hours and then loses her job? She is not included either in the 80% the government is constantly bragging about.
The much vaunted 80% has to do with people who qualify for EI. But what about young people, older people, women and others who do not qualify? When one stops to consider what they have really put in place, it is a plan where only 40% of unemployed people qualify for benefits. They should stop saying that it is 80%. That is not the right figure. It is not 80% of the unemployed who get EI benefits; it is 40%. Possibly 39% or 41%, but somewhere close to 40%. So let us stop trotting out that figure, because it is a false one.
For the last eight years, we have been hearing the same old song from the government that does not understand a thing. I remember when Lloyd Axworthy was minister. He is the one who launched the reform. For at least two years, he rose to answer questions put by my hon. colleague from Mercier, who thought the reform did not make any sense and went as far as predicting the problems the reform would bring on. During two years, the minister told my colleague that she did not understand anything, that she did not know how to read and that she had not bothered reading the documentation. He kept saying that for two whole years. That is the only thing he told my colleague.
According to the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, they are aware of the problems, they realize that changes are needed; some have already been made here and there and they will make some more. But that is not what he used to say when he sat on this side of the House as a Conservative. He thought the reform brought forward by the Liberals did not make any sense.
We can only hold people hostage and play them for fools for so long. This is probably the last time I have the chance to speak in this House. So, please allow me to thank each and every one who helped me do the work I really enjoyed doing for the last 11 years.
However, the Parliament of Canada needs to come up with answers for the people. Whether the government is red, blue or any other colour, it needs to respect the people and stop lying. There is just so much we can take. Things are getting out of control. The employment insurance reform is a complete disaster.
During the 2000 election, I remember quite well the member for Bourassa, president of the Privy Council and the member for Outremont, who was then a minister, traveling across Quebec and saying: “Please, stop your demonstrations, do not demonstrate. We will take care of you after the election”. We had to wait to be on the eve of an election again for this government to decide to take care of those workers who have lost their jobs. This is nonsense. We are fed up with this system. People are fed up.
During the next election, people will send a clear message to the Prime Minister. In Quebec, at least, they have understood. I hope that in the rest of Canada people will also understand that it makes no sense to be governed by arrogant and incompetent people who line their pockets and empty those of the public. They are the ones who force people into unemployment, into a gap situation and who say that they will make small reforms and that they have already made some, as the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was saying. This is truly an aberration...