An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Gérard Asselin  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of June 17, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Royal Recommendation--Bill C-574
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order regarding Bill C-574, An Act to promote and strengthen the Canadian retirement income system.

Bill C-574 proposes to create a new bill of rights for a retirement income system that would promote the goals of adequacy, transparency, affordability, equity, flexibility, security and accessibility for all Canadians.

Clause 13 of the bill would require the Minister of Justice to examine every bill and regulation to ascertain whether any of the provisions violate, among other things, an individual's right to accumulate sufficient pension income to provide for a lifestyle in retirement that the individual considers adequate, an individual's right to determine how and when to accumulate pension income, and an individual's entitlement to receive investment advice from an advisor free of conflict of interest.

Section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act provides that the Minister of Justice must examine every bill and regulation in light of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights states that the Minister of Justice shall examine every bill and regulation to ascertain whether any provisions thereof are inconsistent with this act.

Bill C-574 would impose an additional obligation on the Minister of Justice that is not currently authorized by statute. In particular, the new functions envisioned in clause 13 of the bill would require actuarial, financial and economic expertise well beyond the current mandate and activities of the Minister of Justice and the Department of Justice.

Precedents indicate that imposing new obligations not provided for in statute requires a new royal recommendation. On page 834 of the second edition of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice states:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered.

On October 20, 2006, the Speaker ruled, in the case of Bill C-286, An Act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act, that Bill C-286:

...extends the application of the program...that does not currently exist under the witness protection program. In doing so, the bill proposes to carry out an entirely new function. .... New functions or activities must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On June 13, 2005, the Speaker ruled on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, that:

...clause 2 significantly alters the duties of the EI Commission to enable new or different spending of public funds by the commission for a new purpose....

On September 20, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-257, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, that:

...the provisions in Bill C-257 which relate to the designation of investigators by the minister do not constitute an authorization for new spending for a distinct purpose. The functions which are already being performed by inspectors would appear to be reasonably similar to the functions envisaged by Bill C-257.

I submit that this last precedent does not apply to Bill C-574 as the functions set out in clause 13 of the bill would significantly alter the functions of the Minister of Justice and the Department of Justice. That is because the new functions in Bill C-574 would require actuarial, financial and economic expertise well beyond the mandate and current activities of the Minister of Justice and the Department of Justice.

In conclusion, the additional functions for the Minister of Justice and the Department of Justice proposed in clause 13 of Bill C-574 are not currently authorized in statute. The bill, therefore, should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Royal Recommendation—Bill C-449
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

November 17th, 2010 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on October 7, you made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about four bills that, in your view, appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown. One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-449.

I am, therefore, rising on a point of order regarding Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors.

Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-449 effects an appropriation by spending or authorizing the spending of public funds in a manner not currently authorized in legislation and, therefore, requires a royal recommendation.

Bill C-449 would allow the Minister of Finance to make direct payments to a trust established to help provinces, territories and municipalities to offer seniors free local public transit, anywhere in Canada, during off-peak hours.

Page 834 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice states:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered.

Precedents demonstrate that a royal recommendation is required for the creation of a new fund outside the consolidated revenue fund.

On June 13, 2005, the Speaker ruled, in the case of Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act , that:

...Bill C-280 effects an appropriation by spending or authorizing the spending of public funds by transfer of the funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to a separate EI Fund with the result that these monies are no longer available for other appropriations Parliament may make. ... Such a transfer...constitutes an appropriation within the meaning of section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and for this reason a royal recommendation is required....

Bill C-449 seeks to accomplish by similar means proposed in Bill C-280, which was found to require a royal recommendation. Therefore, I submit Bill C-449 must also be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Private Members' Business--Bill C-507
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

November 2nd, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on October 7, 2010, you raised concerns about four private members' bills, which, in your view, appeared to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown and you invited members to comment. One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power). I am rising today on a very lengthy point of order regarding that bill.

Bill C-507 would amend section 26 of the Financial Administration Act, which states:

Subject to the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, no payments shall be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund without the authority of Parliament.

In other words, section 26 does not provide authority to make payments out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund but establishes that payments out of the fund can only be made with the authority of Parliament.

Clause 2 of Bill C-507 would add a series of subsections to section 26. A new subsection 26.1(1) would provide that no payment from the consolidated revenue fund shall be made for matters listed in section 92 and paragraph 92A(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867, that are under provincial jurisdiction.

A new subsection 26.1(2) would enable payments to be made from the consolidated revenue fund to provinces which have delegated to the government the power to incur expenditures referred to in subsection 26.1(1) or the responsibility to administer programs associated with those expenditures, or both.

A new subsection 26.1(3) would set out the duration and nature of the delegation referred to in subclause 2(2). A new subsection 26.1(4) would enable the federal government to make a payment out of the consolidated revenue fund to a province where the federal government proposes incurring expenditures or administering a program. A new subsection 26.1(5) specifies that such a payment may be made in the form of a transfer of a taxation field.

The provisions of Bill C-507 have two impacts related to the need for a royal recommendation. The first impact is to alter the terms and conditions of original royal recommendations authorizing existing payments out of the consolidated revenue fund for grants or direct payments to provinces and municipalities.

In the case of grants, under existing statutes, federal grants to the provinces can be either conditional or unconditional. Two examples of conditional grants to provinces are the Canadian health transfer, also known as the CHT, and the Canadian social transfer, also known as the CST.

In order to receive the CHT, provinces must meet federal standards and comply with the requirements of the Canada Health Act in sections 7 to 12. In order for the provinces to receive the CST, grants are subject to a prohibition on minimum residency requirements for social assistance. Bill C-507 would change the terms and conditions of these existing grants or transfer of grants to the provinces by making them unconditional, thereby waiving the conditions related to these transfers.

In the case of direct spending, under existing statutes direct spending in the areas of provincial jurisdiction occurs when the federal government allocates money directly to individuals, agencies or municipalities. An example is the transfer of federal gas revenues to municipalities and the universal child care benefit. Bill C-507 would no longer allow these transfers for direct spending to be made to municipalities but, rather, would only allow the federal government to transfer money directly to the provinces.

This would change the manner in which existing direct payments are made since these payments would no longer be made to the currently authorized recipients but to the provinces. Precedents indicate that changes to the terms and conditions of a royal recommendation require a new royal recommendation.

On June 21, 1972, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-220, respecting regional incentives development data:

...it is not only the amount approved or recommended by the royal recommendation that cannot be changed but there is also a prohibition against a redirection of the amount that is approved or recommended to the House in the royal recommendation.

The second impact of Bill C-507 relates to how its provisions would authorize payments out of the consolidated revenue fund to provinces that choose to opt out of federal programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

I would note that on April 14, 2010, the member for Saint-Lambert introduced Bill C-507 and stated that the bill would:

...introduce an automatic and unconditional right to opt out with full financial compensation and would establish permanent compensation in the form of the transfer of tax room.

In other words, the bill would provide for the authorization of payments out of the consolidated revenue fund to provinces for purposes not currently authorized in statute. Page 834 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered.

Precedents demonstrate that the Crown alone institutes all public expenditure and Parliament may only authorize spending that has been recommended by the Governor General.

On October 13, 1983, the Speaker ruled certain motions in an amendment at report stage that would have directed the government to establish a system of payments to agricultural producers inadmissible because they imposed a charge upon the treasury.

On May 28, 1990, the Speaker ruled motions in amendment at report stage, which would have substituted a different escalator clause for fiscal arrangements, inadmissible because they infringe upon the financial initiative of the Crown.

On June 13, 2005, the Speaker ruled on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence that:

...Bill C-280 effects an appropriation by spending or authorizing the spending of public funds by transfer of the funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to a separate EI Fund with the result that these monies are no longer available for other appropriations Parliament may make. ... Such a transfer...constitutes an appropriation within the meaning of section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and for this reason a royal recommendation is required....

The precedents have parallels to the impacts of provisions in Bill C-507 for authorizing a new and distinct spending in that Bill C-507 proposes a new scheme for making payments out of the consolidated revenue fund in matters and for purposes not currently authorized by Parliament.

I submit that Bill C-507 would change the authorization for grants and direct payments, as well as payments to provinces that choose to opt out of federal programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction. These changes, in our view, would therefore require a royal recommendation.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act
Private Members' Business

September 20th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order regarding Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, introduced by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood.

I submit that the bill contains provisions which would require new spending for purposes not currently authorized in statute and therefore should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Bill C-300 would add new functions to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act by requiring the ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to establish a new, quasi-judicial function regarding Canadian companies engaged in mining, oil or gas activities in developing countries. Currently, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act does not authorize spending for that new function.

The government did not raise a point of order on the bill prior to second reading. However, during committee consideration of the bill, the issue of new spending was raised, and I now want to bring that to your attention. On December 1, 2009 officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated in committee:

The mechanism itself would require...the set-up of a whole new procedural framework that is not currently in existence within DFAIT and is not foreseen in the DFAIT Act.

Let me explain why this would require new spending. Clause 9 of the bill would amend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act to compel the ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to ensure that mining, oil and gas activities by Canadian corporations in developing countries are consistent with the guidelines in clause 5 of the bill.

Clause 4 of the bill sets out a formal complaints process to require the ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to receive complaints and conduct investigations on whether the guidelines have been contravened.

In a case where the ministers determine that activities contravene the guidelines, the ministers would be required to notify the president of the Export Development Corporation and the chair of the CPP Investment Board that a Canadian corporation's mining, oil or gas activities are inconsistent with the guidelines.

In such a case, the EDC would not be able to enter into, continue or renew a transaction with a Canadian corporation found to have contravened the guidelines and the CPP Investment Board would have to ensure that assets are not invested in any corporations that have been found to be in contravention of the guidelines.

Bill C-300 would alter the terms and conditions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act by adding a new quasi-judicial function. The need for a royal recommendation for a new function is explained on page 834 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. It states:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered.

On June 13, 2005 the Speaker ruled on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, stating:

Second, clause 2 significantly alters the duties of the EI Commission to enable new or different spending of public funds by the commission for a new purpose--

On February 11, 2008, with respect to a new role or function for an existing organization or program, the Speaker ruled on Bill C-474, the National Sustainable Development Act, stating:

Bill C-474 also proposes a new mandate for the commissioner.

However, clause 13 of Bill C-474 would modify the mandate of this new independent commissioner to require, namely, the development of “a national sustainability monitoring system...The clause 13 requirements would impose additional functions on the commissioner that are substantially different from those foreseen in the current mandate. In the Chair's view, clause 13 thus alters the conditions set out in the original bill to which a royal recommendation was attached.

I have explained how the new function proposed in Bill C-300 would alter the terms and conditions of the original royal recommendation for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act.

In keeping with the precedents I have mentioned, I therefore submit that Bill C-300 requires a royal recommendation.

Private Member's Bill C-309
Points of Order
Oral Questions

May 14th, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on February 25, 2009, you made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about five bills which, in your view, “appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown”.

One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario. I would note that in the last Parliament, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming brought forward the same bill as Bill C-499, which the Speaker on June 10, 2008, noted appeared “to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown”.

Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that the bill must be accompanied by a royal recommendation because it would require new spending. Bill C-309 would create a new agency of government and provide for the appointment of personnel. Clause 8 of Bill C-309 establishes the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario as a separate and distinct agency of the Government of Canada.

The requirement of a royal recommendation for organizational changes such as establishing a new agency is referred to in the Speaker's ruling of July 11, 1988, on two motions to amend Bill C-93, An Act for the preservation and enhancement of multiculturalism in Canada. The Speaker said that to establish a separate department of government “undoubtedly would cause a significant charge upon the federal treasury in order for the new department to function on a daily basis”.

When an almost identical bill was introduced in the first session of the 38th Parliament as Bill C-9, An Act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, it was accompanied by a royal recommendation.

The second reason Bill C-309 would require a royal recommendation is that it provides for the appointment of personnel. There are numerous precedents indicating that appointments must be accompanied by a royal recommendation. For example, on February 25, 2005, the Acting Speaker ruled that Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence required a royal recommendation because it provided for the appointment of 13 new commissioners to the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. The parent act specified that all commissioners were to receive remuneration.

Clauses 4 and 9 of Bill C-309 provide for the establishment of advisory committees in the appointment of a president of the agency, positions that do not currently exist. Furthermore, the clauses explicitly state that the remuneration of the appointees shall be fixed by the Governor in Council. Provisions for salaries to be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund clearly impose a charge on the public treasury. I submit that clauses 4 and 9 would therefore require a royal recommendation.

Clause 13 of Bill C-309 would also require the appointment of personnel, in this case, the officers and employees necessary for the proper conduct of the new agency. Although clause 13 does not specifically provide for the remuneration of these employees, the Speaker ruled on February 11, 2008 with respect to Bill C-474, the Federal Sustainable Development Act:

Section 23 of the Interpretation Act makes it clear that the power to appoint includes the power to pay. As the provision in Bill C-474 is such that the governor in council could choose to pay a salary to these representatives, this involves an appropriation of a part of the public revenue and should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

These precedents apply to Bill C-309. The bill would create new spending and therefore requires a royal recommendation.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, standing in the name of the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

I would like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform for having raised this issue as well as the hon. Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his comments.

In his presentation, the hon. parliamentary secretary argued that clause 2 of the bill would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund, thus transferring money out of the consolidated revenue fund into the employment insurance account where money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. He further argued that Bill C-357 would change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission by allowing it to deposit assets for the financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return. Finally, he expressed concern that clause 5 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.

The hon. parliamentary secretary claimed that these arguments were supported by a ruling delivered by the Speaker on June 13, 2005, concerning Bill C-280, also entitled An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, and nearly identical to Bill C-357.

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine countered that there is no basis for the claim that this bill would bring about “additional” or “new” expenditures and that the transfer of revenue to an independent fund would not change the circumstances, manner and purposes by which Canada's Employment Insurance Commission will set the premiums and manage its revenue. Although he acknowledged that a royal recommendation would be necessary if the bill were seeking to withdraw revenue from the government's consolidated revenue fund to be used for purposes other than those described in the act, he claimed that this was not the case since the purpose of the bill would not alter anything in the current legislation.

He further argued that having Canada's Employment Insurance Commission invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return did not constitute a new purpose for the fund since the federal government was “investing” these public monies to pay down the Canadian debt.

He concluded by saying that adding 13 new commissioners will be financed by a small increase in expenses, which will no longer appear as an expenditure from the consolidated revenue fund given that the employment insurance fund will no longer be a part of the consolidated revenue fund.

After examining Bill C-357, the Chair was struck, as was the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, by its similarity to Bill C-280. Indeed, the proposed amendments to sections 71 and 72 of the Employment Insurance Act included in Bill C-357 are in many respects virtually identical to those in Bill C-280.

For instance, like in Bill C-280, the proposed section 72 in Bill C-357 would credit moneys from the consolidated revenue fund to the commission, which would then place it into a new and separate account, one that would be outside the consolidated revenue fund.

Today, moneys in the consolidated revenue fund are available for eventual expenditure for purposes of claims under the Employment Insurance Act. With the passage of Bill C-357, these funds would no longer be available because, in effect, they have been spent, that is, transferred out of the consolidated revenue fund to a separate and independent account outside the consolidated revenue fund.

When the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities sought clarification regarding the provisions of Bill C-280 as it related to the royal recommendation, the Chair ruled, on June 13, 2005, that:

Such a transfer, in my view, constitutes an appropriation within the meaning of section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and for this reason a royal recommendation is required in respect of clause 2 of the Bill.

The Chair sees no reason to reach a different conclusion on this provision of Bill C-357 than the one that was reached at that time on Bill C-280.

In relation to the argument that the proposed change to subsection 72(6) of the Employment Insurance Act found in Bill C-357 creates new duties for the commission in terms of managing and investing amounts paid into the employment insurance account, the Chair does not accept the argument put forward by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine that the federal government's use of moneys in the consolidated revenue fund to pay down the Canadian debt constitutes an authority to spend funds for a new purpose.

In addition, the Chair is of the view that the bill's proposed alteration of the duties of the EI Commission to enable the spending of public funds by the commission, namely, the investment of public funds to achieve a maximum rate of return, is a new purpose and requires a royal recommendation.

Finally, the increase in the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen also clearly requires a royal recommendation. Although the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine contended that these expenses would not come from the consolidated revenue fund but rather from the newly created employment insurance fund, clause 5 of the bill clearly calls on the governor in council to appoint these new commissioners. Given that the current commissioners are remunerated, it follows that the proposed new commissioners would also be paid. As such, the addition of these new commissioners would involve an additional appropriation of a part of the public revenue.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

However, the debate is currently on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

Bill C-357—Employment Insurance Act
Point of Order
Routine Proceedings

October 23rd, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor. As I am sure you recall, a few days ago, I informed you that the Bloc Québécois intended to respond to the Conservatives' request concerning Bill C-357. They called for a royal recommendation concerning the creation of an independent employment insurance fund. I will now raise a few points that will surely enable you to make an informed decision about this issue.

I would like to bring to your attention our argument against requiring a royal recommendation to pass Bill C-357, to create an independent employment insurance fund. That is why I am addressing you today.

At the outset, we recognize that the content of Bill C-357 is very similar to Bill C-280, as introduced in the 38th Parliament. It is clear that the Speaker's ruling on June 13, 2005, included a number of elements that were open to interpretation. The Conservatives are referring to those very elements to support their assertion that the bill now before us requires a royal recommendation. That is why we must take the time to review the Conservatives' arguments point by point.

First, the Conservatives claim that passing this bill would lead to additional expenses. That is totally false, because the current legislation already provides for fluctuations with respect to premiums and conditions of eligibility, which determine the fund's revenues and expenditures that go through the government's consolidated revenue fund. This bill is not designed to change these provisions, so it is not true that the bill would engender additional costs. Therefore, there is no basis for the claim that this bill would bring about “additional” or “new” expenditures.

The Conservatives are saying that the appropriation of public revenue will be altered depending on the circumstances and the way it is managed. The current legislation provides for a contribution to be deducted from every pay cheque and it is understood that this money will be used to ensure supplementary income to contributors who need it because of their own economic circumstances. The eligibility criteria for employment insurance and the premium rates that determine the revenue and expenses of the fund, will serve the same purpose and use the same mechanisms when this bill is enacted. I would add that a change to the eligibility criteria would still require a legislative change. Let us be clear, not only does this bill not require additional expenditures, but what is more, the purpose of and reason for these public funds will not change in any way.

We acknowledge, as the Speaker said on June 13, 2005, that it does involve transferring public funds to an independent employment insurance fund, but royal recommendation is not needed for two reasons. The Speaker himself said, on May 9, 2005, that:

The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill.

Although there will indeed be a transfer of revenue to an independent fund, the circumstances, manner and purposes by which the commission will set the premiums and manage the revenue will not change at all. Furthermore, the spirit of the current act will be better protected since the revenue generated by the premiums will no longer be used to serve interests other than those defined by the act, namely those of the workers. Using revenues that should go into the fund, but instead are taken into the consolidated revenue fund for purposes not listed in the act, will no longer be possible.

A royal recommendation would be necessary if the bill were seeking to withdraw revenue from the government's consolidated revenue fund to be used for purposes other than those described in the act. In this case, it is clear that the purpose of the bill will not alter anything in the current legislation. On the contrary, it will allow the spirit of the act to be respected and prevent the misappropriation of funds that the Liberals and Conservatives are known for.

Fourth, the argument cited on June 13, 2005, that the investment of public monies by the Commission represents new or different expenditures, must have workers seeing red.

The federal government continued to invest—or, in other words, spend—the public monies from the fund to pay down the Canadian debt, which violated the spirit of the law. It clearly did not act in the interests of workers, who watched these monies—that they, with their employers, had paid to ensure themselves against economic downturns—disappear. It was the government, not this bill, that invented a new purpose for the fund and its surpluses.

Finally, adding 13 commissioners will be financed by a small increase in expenses, which will no longer appear as an expenditure from the consolidated revenue fund, given that the Conservatives recognize that the employment insurance fund will no longer be a part of the consolidated revenue fund. Since the Conservatives no longer know how to oppose an idea that they supported in the past for purely populist considerations, today they are attempting to use procedural arguments to avoid openly declaring themselves against a bill that is necessary and that contributors have demanded for many years. Only their neo-conservative ideology, hidden behind a populist facade, can justify such deplorable actions.

With that, I conclude my presentation.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 19th, 2007 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, in May I rose to speak to important issues put forward in Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, but unfortunately we ran out of time. I would now like to take the opportunity to finish what I have to say on the bill.

From the outset, let me state that the government supports the principles behind the creation of a separate EI account, but there are many aspects of the bill that we cannot support.

On Tuesday, the Speech from the Throne outlined the government's priorities going forward. Rest assured, the changes to the EI program to make it more responsive to the needs of Canadians is one of those priorities.

I note the opposition has proposed several changes to the EI program during the course of this Parliament, often without supporting evidence or clear objectives on what the proposed changes were supposed to address. This is not something in which the government will engage. We will only put forward measured changes backed up by evidence and supported by Canadians who pay for this program with their hard-earned money.

It is important to get these things right. Canadians depend on us to ensure that the EI system remains a system, one that is effective, sustainable and reflects the needs of all who need it. The proposals put forward here put the future of the EI system at risk.

There is a reason we need to have a debate on a separate EI account today, and it is simple. It was mismanagement by the previous Liberal government and it was allowed by the Liberal government over a period of 10 years, a $51 billion surplus to accumulate in what many in the House have called the EI account.

The $51 billion was not government revenue. It was the wages of workers and the contribution of employers. We have always maintained that these were supposed to be used for benefits or premium reductions. Instead it was used for program spending in countless other areas and some of it was lost to fiscal mismanagement.

During study of the previous incarnation of this bill, Bill C-280, during the last Parliament, my colleague from Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock stated during committee study, “the Auditor General surely did not foresee that the government could continuously and deliberately overcharge employers and workers and allow this massive surplus to build up”, but they did. The Liberals allowed the surplus to grow and they became addicted to it.

Liberal mismanagement comes as no surprise to anyone in the House. We have seen the billion dollar HRSDC boondoggle under the Liberals watch. We have seen a $2 million gun registry turn into a $2 billion gun registry. We have seen $51 billion in workers' and employers' money spent in other areas with no explanation and certainly with no apologies.

As important as the principle of a separate account is to our government, it is nevertheless important that we not look at the EI program in isolation, that the opposition's vision for employment insurance must be examined in its entirety. We must get a picture of what the opposition expects from this program and if it is a realistic vision.

The facts will show that the opposition's vision is anything but realistic. There is currently an incoherent array of 19 opposition private members' bills related to EI on the order paper, with a combined cost of just 10 of these at well over $11 billion annually. This glut of opposition bills exemplifies the ad hoc and inefficient approach to EI reform being proposed by all opposition parties. The sheer magnitude of the changes being proposed to this valuable program leads one to believe that these changes have been proposed for political reasons because all these changes together do not make any sense. Yet the opposition has so far supported them all.

The opposition ad hoc approach to EI reform is telling of a larger problem.

Let us just examine a few of the other bills that the opposition has put forward in this Parliament.

Bill C-269 sought to drastically alter the administration and objectives of the EI system. It proposed a flat entrance requirement, a requirement designed to maximize labour market participation at a time when we had more jobs than people. It proposed vastly expanded benefit terms that were designed to provide a balance between adequate temporary income support and incentives to return to work.

These proposed changes would cost the EI system billions of dollars a year and have not been supported by a stitch of evidence.

Bill C-278 proposed a wide-sweeping change to the EI program by raising the sickness benefits from the current 15 weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks, all this despite the fact that all the available evidence indicates that the current system meets and even exceeds the needs of the vast majority of people who use the system.

There has been no study for either of these bills, which would $4.8 billion annually in new spending on benefits.

We know the people who pay premiums, both employers and employees, have asked for some consideration, especially given this hot job market. They would not get it with either of these bills.

Why does the opposition insist on proposing changes to the program when the evidence does not support these changes? Could it be particularly for political purpose?

I believe that Canadians rejected this type of governance. Almost two years ago, Canadians elected a Conservative government, a government that would restore some accountability to the way things worked in Ottawa.

We cannot and will not make wide-sweeping changes to programs without proper evidence. Without understanding the full implications of these changes, we certainly will not enact these types of changes unless they are in the best interest of all Canadians.

The government will not act like the last government. We have a broad based labour market approach to the EI program. We have aimed our changes at providing opportunities for all Canadians to participate in our healthy and growing economy. This approach is outlined in our economic plan called “Advantage Canada”.

The government has already taken action to address the quantity and quality challenges laid out in “Advantage Canada” by creating the apprenticeship incentives grant as a follow-up to the 2006 budget, working to improve foreign credential recognition and launching the targeted initiative for older workers and an expert panel to conduct a feasibility study on older workers.

We will continue to monitor and assess the EI program. We have made changes to the EI in the past year and we will consider further changes when it is justified.

One of the main reasons we initially advocated for a separate EI account was the previous government's inability to keep premiums in line with benefits.

The EI commission has set the 2007 rate at $1.80. This will save employers and employees $420 million a year. When combined with the increase in the maximum insurable earnings, this is the lowest rate in 14 years, all the while we have acted to maintain and in many instances increase benefits for unemployed Canadians.

We believe this new rate setting mechanism is important. That is why we supported it when we were in opposition.

Canada's new government has shown that we are responsible when it comes to making informed changes to the EI system. The opposition has shown that it is not. I think all Canadians will understand if the government shows a little caution when such broad changes are proposed to a program as important as the employment insurance.

Bill C-357--Employment Insurance Act and Bill C-362--Old Age Security Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

October 18th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to two private members' bills, Bill C-357 and Bill C-362. Without commenting on their merits, I submit that these two bills require royal recommendations.

First, I want to explain why Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting), requires a royal recommendation.

As the Chair ruled on May 9, 2005:

--bills which involve new or additional spending for a distinct purpose must be recommended by the Crown. The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill. What this means is that a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where more money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is being significantly altered.

I would note that Bill C-357 is nearly identical to Bill C-280 in the 38th Parliament which the Speaker ruled required a royal recommendation.

On June 13, 2005, the Speaker stated:

--Bill C-280 infringes on the financial initiative of the Crown for three reasons: first, clause 2 effects an appropriation of public funds by its transfer of these funds from the consolidated revenue fund to an independent employment insurance account established outside the consolidated revenue fund.

Second, clause 2 significantly alters the duties of the EI Commission to enable new or different spending of public funds by the commission for a new purpose namely, the investment of public funds.

Third, as indicated in my ruling of February 8, clause 5 increases the number of commissioners from four to seventeen.

All three of these conditions apply to Bill C-357.

Clause 2 would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund. The bill would transfer money out of the consolidated revenue fund to the employment insurance account and that money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. This would be an appropriation of funds and, therefore, requires a royal recommendation.

However, worthy some aspects of the bill may be, and some aspects of it are, this does not alter the need for the royal recommendation.

Clause 2 would also change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission, including new requirements for the commission to deposit assets with a financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return.

These are new and distinct purposes which have not been authorized and are additional reasons why clause 2 requires a royal recommendation.

Clause 5 of Bill C-357 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.

On February 8, 2005, the Speaker ruled that the appointment of 13 new commissioners to the Employment Insurance Commission in Bill C-280 required a royal recommendation. This is consistent with other rulings where the Speaker found that adding remunerated members to commissions requires a royal recommendation. Given these precedents, I submit that clause 5 requires a royal recommendation.

To sum up, Bill C-357 would require an appropriation, it would alter the purpose of funds covered by the act, and it would require new spending for an expanded commission; therefore, it must accompanied by a royal recommendation.

The second bill I want to draw to your attention is Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act.

This bill would increase old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits by lowering the threshold for eligibility from the current 10 years to 3. This change would result in significant new expenditures.

Under the Old Age Security Act, applicants must have at least 10 years of residence in Canada after age 18 in order to qualify for benefits.

I would further note that partial benefits are paid to applicants who have less than 10 years of residence if the applicant has credits from a country with which Canada has a pension agreement. Residence has been an eligibility criteria since this program's inception in 1952. Reducing the residence requirement from 10 years to 3 years would have significant costs.

Since eligibility for old age security pensions also qualifies for low income recipients to receive the guaranteed income supplement, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that the total cost of reducing the qualifying period would be over $700 million annually.

Precedents clearly establish that bills which create new expenditures for benefits by modifying eligibility criteria or changing the terms of a program require a royal recommendation.

On December 8, 2004, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.

On November 6, 2006, the Speaker ruled with regard to Bill C-269, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Funds may only be appropriated by Parliament for purposes covered by a royal recommendation...New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On November 9, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-284, the bill that enlarged the scope of the student grants program beyond that originally authorized by Parliament, that:

Any extension of the terms of an existing program must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On November 10, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, dealing with employment insurance benefits, that:

--by amending the Employment Insurance Act to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, the bill would require the expenditure of additional funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized.

On March 23, 2007, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-265, dealing with employment insurance benefits, that it was abundantly clear:

--those provisions of the bill which relate to increasing employment insurance benefits and easing the qualifications required to obtain them would require a royal recommendation.

I would also note that when Parliament adopted amendments to benefit criteria in the Old Age Security Act in Bill C-36 earlier this year, this legislation was accompanied by a royal recommendation.

In conclusion, Bill C-362 would increase expenditures for old age security and guaranteed income supplements in ways not already authorized and, therefore, should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 9th, 2007 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to discuss Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act. I would like to thank hon. colleagues from all parties for their contributions on the bill. All of the opinions put forward on the bill are valuable and provide great input into possible reforms to the EI program.

From the outset, let me state that this government supports the principles behind the creation of a separate EI account. I see other proposals put forward in this bill as well. I note the opposition has proposed several program changes during the course of this Parliament, often without supporting evidence for clear program objectives.

It is important to get these things right. Canadians depend on us and particularly their new government to ensure that the EI system remains a system that is effective, sustainable and reflects their needs.

There is a reason we need to have this debate today. The reason is simple: Liberal mismanagement. The previous Liberal government allowed over a period of 10 years a $51 billion surplus to accumulate in what many in the House have called the EI account.

During a study of a previous incarnation of this bill, Bill C-280, during the last Parliament the hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock stated during committee study that the Auditor General surely did not foresee that the government would continuously and deliberately overcharge employers and workers and allow a massive surplus to build up, but it did. It allowed the surplus to grow and it became addicted to it.

Liberal mismanagement comes as no surprise. We have seen a billion dollar HRSDC boondoggle under the Liberals' watch. We have seen a $2 million gun registry turn into a $2 billion gun registry. They ran a rule-breaking sponsorship program. Now we have seen the accumulation of $51 billion in workers' and employers' money with no explanation and certainly no apologies. This should come as no surprise to the party of adscam and sponsorgate, but nonetheless, it is no less insulting to every Canadian.

Mr. Speaker--

November 2nd, 2006 / 9:40 a.m.
See context

Stephen Allen Associate Secretary, Justice Ministries, The Presbyterian Church in Canada

Good morning. My name is Stephen Allen and I serve with the Presbyterian Church in Canada in our national offices in Toronto.

On behalf of our denomination, I thank the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for the chance to be with you this morning and to brief you on our denomination's policy on sanctuary and, as importantly, how our denomination arrived at that policy.

My focus is going to be a little bit different from the presentations you've heard. You have received our statement, which was approved at our general assembly in June 2006. So it's a recent statement and policy by our denomination.

Our denomination now has the policy for a congregation to provide sanctuary to a claimant whose claim has been rejected and who faces probable risk of persecution or torture if removed to his or her country. Our policy is rooted in our faith. It's a cautious one, and sanctuary is seen as the last resort.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a master agreement holder. Many congregations have sponsored refugees over the years. Our church, through our programs overseas, supports refugees and also supports internally displaced people, for example, in Darfur.

I need to take a few minutes to explain our decision-making process in our church as a way of underscoring that the issue was not taken lightly by our general assembly in June.

The highest decision-making body or court, as we refer to our structures, is our general assembly. It meets annually. Each presbytery, a cluster of congregations, and there are 46 presbyteries across the country, sends a specific number of delegates or commissioners to general assembly. Commissioners include both laity and ministers, and there are 350 commissioners from across our church at general assembly. They have read this statement.

Our general assembly is responsible for making decisions on a wide range of issues and our assembly receives what we refer to as overtures; that is, recommendations for the church to prepare a statement or a report and bring forward that statement or report to a future general assembly. Overtures can deal with matters such as educational requirements for a minister transferring from another denomination to our denomination, or an overture may request a statement on sanctuary.

The overture comes to our general assembly from a presbytery, and general assembly may or may not approve receiving that overture. In the case of sanctuary, the general assembly in June 2005 received and approved the overture, which then meant that my office was directed to prepare a response for general assembly in June 2006.

So that's our process. It's a very careful process, which takes into account our structures and the courts of our church.

The draft that was considered by general assembly this past June was reviewed by my advisory committee, by the board I'm accountable to. In addition, there were several external reviewers who critiqued that draft, and I had it reviewed by a theologian at Knox College.

Our board approved the statement. It went forward to general assembly, and in March of this year it was sent to all commissioners across the country.

So that's the process and the timeline.

As an executive staff in my denomination, I am expected to spend the whole week at general assembly, but, unless requested, staff are not permitted to speak or participate in the deliberations. This is the time for commissioners. Again, that reflects the nature of the church's polity.

The debate considered various dimensions of the statement--the theological and ethical dimensions, the international convention, the Canadian context, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the recourses available to failed claimants, and the legal consequences that you've heard about already. The section entitled “A Matter of Conscience and Faith” reviews church doctrine and church polity--that received the most attention in the debate--and then guidelines for congregations and the recommendations that you have before you.

The debate was prayerful. It was thoughtful and at times it was passionate. I have two examples to share with you.

A commissioner—a lay person, a retired member of the Ontario Provincial Police—stood up. This was his first general assembly. He was terribly nervous. He reminded the general assembly that providing sanctuary was in contravention of the law. There was silence. A few minutes later, a retired RCMP officer, a minister of the church, stood up and said, “Yes, this is true.” He reminded the church that we are called to obey a higher authority, and that on matters of conscience our accountability is to God.

A second example was an intervention by another minister in our denomination. He had come from a country in Central America over 20 years ago. He had been severely tortured. In his case, the system worked well. He and his family found refuge in Canada and have now contributed to the life of our society. He acknowledged that the system can work well, but the system is not perfect. He said that if there was a probable risk of persecution if a claimant were returned to his or her country, the church has no choice: it must provide sanctuary. He said that one person returned to face persecution and torture is one person too many.

Our general assembly also requested our moderator to write to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration urging the minister to implement the appeal process as provided for in the act.

Many members of our general assembly were astounded that there is no appeal process on the merits of the case. As one commissioner said, I can appeal my parking violation, but a refugee who has faced insurmountable pressures, tortures, and intimidation cannot appeal the merits of a decision.

It seems that in our justice system the right to appeal the merits of a decision is pretty fundamental, and yet it excludes some of the most vulnerable people on our planet.

I hope members of this committee will support Bill C-280, the private member's bill that calls for the implementation of the refugee appeal division.

You may recall that in December of 2004 the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration unanimously passed a resolution calling for the minister to implement the appeal or to advise the committee as to an alternative proposal. The appeal process has not been implemented, and no alternative proposals were brought forward.

Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UNHCR have said that the lack of an appeal on the merits of the case is a major flaw in our refugee determination system.

Thank you very much.

Human Resources and Skills Development—Main Estimates 2006-07
Business of Supply
Government Orders

November 1st, 2006 / 8:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to use my time as follows: I will speak for three or four minutes, then I will ask some questions.

I plan to use my first three or four minutes to bring another perspective to the debate. The minister painted a rosy and sentimental picture of what is actually a dramatic situation. It is deplorable that a person in her position, with enormous responsibilities—as she stated earlier—takes those responsibilities so lightly.

I would remind the members that in the matter of employment insurance, fewer than 40% of people who lose their jobs are eligible for employment insurance benefits.

I would remind the members that older workers find themselves in a terrible predicament as the job losses add up, especially in the softwood lumber and textile industries, to name just two. The minister has not yet responded to this situation by providing income support to older workers.

Poverty has escalated dramatically. The Canadian Association of Food Banks says that over the past year, child poverty has increased and in Canada, 880,000 people—including 314,000 children—regularly rely on food banks.

If so many of the poor go to food banks for their food, it is not because they have decided to change restaurants. It is because poverty is a reality and one of its causes is that the social safety net for individuals who have the misfortune of losing their jobs, among other things, is falling apart. The last two parties in power played a major role in this.

Even more serious is the fact that the money to support these individuals was available. The employment insurance account, funded by employee and employer contributions, generates surpluses year after year. This year they will total more than $2.15 billion. Over the past 12 years, more than $50 billion has been diverted from the employment insurance account and used for other purposes. It is a reality that the minister is ignoring and which she does not wish to address here.

I will appeal to the compassion and a certain sensitivity of the minister so that she gives the real answers to our questions.

One of the ways to solve this problem is to give back control over their money—money that belongs to them, the employment insurance account—to workers and employers.

I am getting to my questions.

The rules of the House state that the answer must be no longer than the question. My questions will be brief and explicit and I hope that the minister's answers will be brief, explicit and clear. And now for my questions

Last year, the Conservative Party voted in favour of the Bloc Québécois' Bill C-280, to establish an independent employment insurance fund. The minister voted for the bill last year. This year, does she approve of the bill that we tabled in order to establish an independent fund?

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us, I will recall for the benefit of the people watching us today, increases from 15 to 50 the maximum number of weeks during which benefits may be paid for illness, injury or quarantine. Actually part of the title of this employment insurance bill is “benefits for illness, injury or quarantine.”

I indicated a while ago that we are delighted that a Liberal member of Parliament has tabled this bill. This shows some progress concerning the understanding of the issue and probably the degree of compassion we may feel for people who are victims of illness, a work accident or quarantine for contamination or some other reason.

The Bloc has worked constantly with a view to improving the employment insurance program, as our colleague indicated awhile ago. Since 2005, many measures have been proposed in the House, most of which have been rejected, particularly by the government then in place. We were hoping for progress of course with this new government in order to improve the situation of people who have the misfortune of being away from work because of illness, accident or quarantine.

One of the proposed measures appears in the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, namely recommendation 27. It reads as follows:

The Committee recommends that the government study the possibility of extending sickness benefits by 35 weeks for those who suffer from a prolonged and serious illness.

In other words, with an extension of 35 weeks beyond the 15, we get the 50 weeks proposed by our colleague in his bill.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Liberals are suddenly becoming concerned about unemployment. I do not particularly wish to attack the member, because he took this initiative, but my earlier question was to this effect: how is it that once a party in government is defeated it suddenly becomes sensitive to such situations? Actually the context, that is, the workers’ situation, was the same barely a year ago, when we submitted this recommendation to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The Bloc Québécois has always been in favour of a substantial improvement to the entire employment insurance program, which of course includes amendments to the number of weeks of sick leave for absences caused by illness, accidents and quarantine.

The following is a history of the last two years. I want to remind the House briefly to provide some context.

On November 15, 2004, our colleague, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, introduced Bill C-278 proposing those improvements to the system. The party in power at the time, the Liberals, opposed royal assent.

On December 13, 2004, Senator Pierrette Ringuette, a member of the Task Force on Seasonal Work appointed by the Prime Minister of the time, issued her dissenting report entitled “Dissent and Distress”, a very meaningful title in view of the situation facing the unemployed.

On December 16, 2004, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities issued the first part of its report with the recommendations I just mentioned. This report was completed on February 15, 2005 and contained 28 recommendations.

On February 23 of the same year, the then Minister of Human Resources announced three minimal new measures to try to mitigate the problems facing regions that suffer from what is commonly called the seasonal gap or black hole.

Finally, on April 15, 2005, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, which my colleague from the Basse-Côte-Nord sponsored. The purpose of this bill was to create an independent employment insurance fund.

I remember the Conservatives promising during the last election campaign to create this independent fund, but they still have not done it.

In May of this year, the Bloc introduced Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), to change employment insurance. I hope that our colleagues will vote in favour of this bill, and I hope that the Conservatives will not invoke royal assent this time.

More recently in October, this week in fact, we introduced Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence to create and establish an independent fund.

As can be seen, the Bloc has never stopped demanding improvements to the independent employment insurance fund. But all we have ever received are systematic refusals from each succeeding government.

I would like to return to how much we need the bill we are discussing and describe the situation in which people find themselves when they must be absent for the reasons covered by the bill.

In 2004 and 2005, the number of applications for sickness benefits increased by 0.1% to reach 294,350. Total sickness benefit payments increased by 4.5% to reach $813 million, while average weekly sickness benefits were $285. Hon. members talked about the costs earlier, although they have not changed very much.

People do not live very comfortably and do not go to restaurants very often on this amount of money. There was a 1.7% increase in comparison with 2003 and 2004. The average number of weeks over which sickness benefits are paid has remained relatively stable over the last few years.

During the years I mentioned, claims for sickness benefits have decreased among men. This is interesting to note because it allows us to see who ends up in certain situations and who has to stop working because of an illness or an accident. Those who are most vulnerable—either in terms of the insecurity of their employment or their working conditions—are women and older workers. During that time frame, this decreased by 1.2% in men and increased by 1.1% in women, even though the proportion of women who filed claims for sickness benefits remained relatively stable in 2004-05.

Women continued to file the majority of the claims for this type of benefit, at 59%. Claims for sickness benefits decreased by 2.8% among young people 15 to 24 and by 2.9% among workers 25 to 44, whereas they increased by 3.5% among workers 45 to 54 and by 7.1% among workers over 55. This confirms what I just said: certain categories of workers are more vulnerable than others because they are put in more precarious situations to do their work.

In closing, since I have just two minutes remaining, I want to reiterate that the bill currently before us is important. I am calling on the Conservative Party, which is now in power and whose attitude toward workers has been consistently insensitive, to take the next step.

This time, at least let the House vote on this bill without demanding a royal recommendation.

Unemployment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2005 / 7:35 p.m.
See context

Scarborough—Agincourt
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal

Mr. Speaker, the employment insurance program is one of Canada's largest and most visible programs. It matters to Canadians. Everyone wants to ensure that this program is one that Canadians can continue to count on.

Bill C-280 proposes amendments to the Employment Insurance Act and recommends key actions by Parliament.

It calls for the Employment Insurance Commission to explain the rationale for the premium rate and to present that rationale on an annual basis in a report that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development would table in Parliament.

It recommends that the employment insurance account be reconstituted as an independent account under the control of a new tripartite commission.

It also proposes that a new independent EI account begin with a balance equal to the current accumulated surplus that has been credited to the EI account over a period of 10 years through contributions from the consolidated revenue fund.

Having read and considered Bill C-280, I must say that I have strong reservations about the proposed legislation. This bill raises some very important issues.

Budget 2005 responded to many of the points raised in Bill C-280. My concern is whether the proposed amendments will help to improve this program. Canadians expect their government to run programs as efficiently as possible. EI is no exception. The bill would be costly to taxpayers, employees and employers.

The proposed legislation would require the government to contribute a cash amount equivalent to the current accumulated surplus credited to the EI account, in equal amounts, over 10 years, as soon as the bill becomes law. This change would present itself on the Government of Canada's ledger as a new and very substantial fiscal liability.

The existing federal fiscal framework would be affected and would require new money to fund it. An immediate consequence of Bill C-280 would be that the Government of Canada could lose a significant measure of control over the way employment insurance is managed and EI programs are maintained. Many aspects of EI would become the purview of an independent commission, as proposed in the bill, which would raise questions about accountability.

Changes in these areas ultimately limit the government's ability to deliver important benefits to Canadians. This would limit the significant progress that Canada has been making over the past decade.

Let us consider what EI has been able to achieve over the last 10 years.

Canadians called for a better balance of work and family responsibilities. Our government responded through EI by extending maternity and parental benefits for one full year.

We also introduced a new six week compassionate care benefit so that eligible workers can take a temporary leave of absence from work to provide care or support to a gravely ill or dying close relative.

Canadians wanted more support for acquiring skills and experience. We have eliminated multiple waiting periods for apprenticeship training programs.

In addition, the Speech from the Throne contained a commitment to review the EI program and ensure that it remains well suited to the needs of Canada's workforce. To this end, on February 23 of this year the government announced enhancements to the EI program that take into account the many recommendations put forward concerning changes to EI.

To give some examples of the action we are taking, I would like to describe the three new pilot projects announced for areas of high unemployment.

Through these projects, we are testing the labour market impact of: enabling access to EI benefits after 840 hours of work rather than the present 910 when linked with EI employment programs for new or returning entrants to the labour markets; calculating EI benefits based on the best 14 weeks of earnings over the 52 weeks preceding a claim for benefits; and increasing the working while on claim threshold to allow individuals to earn the greater of $75 or 40% of benefits to encourage individuals to take work without a reduction in their benefits.

The enhancements we are putting in place are possible thanks in part to the Government of Canada's ability to ensure that EI's policy and program framework remains responsive to the labour market needs of Canadians.

I am further concerned that Bill C-280 may not be effective in achieving positive changes in the way EI operates.

The legislation calls for the creation of a separate EI account that is not consolidated with the government's budgetary revenues and expenditures.

To do this, careful consideration would be required to change the elements of appropriate comptrollership and financial responsibility that exist, in particular, how they would correlate with measures put in place to respond to concerns expressed by the Auditor General of Canada. Since 1986 the EI account has been consolidated with the accounts of government.

Under our current system, EI program revenues and costs are tracked in the EI account and paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. The accumulated EI surplus is notional and not supported by any other assets--

Unemployment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2005 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Manicouagan for the bill he introduced and for his speech, which sums up the situation quite well. Today, we can debate it while receiving the amendment for concordance with the legislation that was passed in June.

I also want to add that I share the opinion of the hon. member who just spoke with great ardour. He made it quite clear that workers are outraged at the injustice against them. It is totally unacceptable to leave these people in misery when they paid for insurance to avoid being in such a situation, if ever they had the misfortune of losing their job.

The basic reason for Bill C-280 is indeed to take away a fund that does not belong to the government and hand over its administration and management to its rightful owners. That way, we will be sure that its original purpose is being met.

This is not unlike what is happening with investment management companies. Over the past two years, we have seen scandals at Norbourg and Enron in the United States. Now that we know that collective assets belonging to the average citizen, to the workers, are mismanaged and misappropriated, we make sure that a regulatory body is in place to protect this fund. What do we do with people who were responsible for administering the fund, but misappropriated the money? First, we take the fund away from them. If it turns out that they misused it, they can end up in prison.

That is what is happening here with the employment insurance fund. We certainly cannot put the government in prison for its management as such, but we can at least question the legitimacy and honesty of what the government does. That is what we are doing now.

This has been going on since 1994, when the current Prime Minister took his post as finance minister. Is that a coincidence? Since 1994, in good years and bad, the fund has been generating surpluses of over $3 billion, which have been used for other purposes.

In her annual report last year, the Auditor General indicated that, in the past eight years, the government had accumulated a $46 billion surplus, by misappropriating funds. That was the amount as of March 31 of last year. By now, this figure is several billion dollars higher. We now estimate it to be $48 billion in funds that belong to the workers and employers who contributed to the EI fund.

How have these surpluses been generated and misappropriated? By slashing EI benefits to the unemployed and tightening up the eligibility rules so that people no longer have access to employment insurance. In 1994-95, 88% of those contributing to EI were entitled to receive benefits. Today, the Canadian Labour Congress estimates that only 38% of contributors qualify. The fund's chief actuary sets that number at 46%. Even it was 46%, that would mean that 54% of all workers contributing to EI are excluded, due to unacceptable rules.

This money is being used to generate these surpluses and is the reason why the government is patting itself on the back and saying that it is dedicated to sound fiscal management and able to pay down the debt.

Last year, of the $9.1 billion surplus in the general fund, the Consolidated Revenue Fund, $3.3 billion came from the EI fund. That is more than one-third.

In the meantime, the unemployed no longer have any income. My colleague said it perfectly earlier, it is making families poor. It is causing family crises. Some people are even committing suicide.

Today, we heard from five groups representing workers who were laid off when their plant closed in the past two years. They had been working in the textile, softwood lumber and electric stove manufacturing industries. There were five different groups.

These people said that the older workers have been unable to find other employment. In 1997, to save money, the government passed a motion eliminating POWA, the Program for Older Worker Adjustment. It did this to save money. As a result, once these people reach the age of 55, they can no longer receive EI, but have no income until they are eligible for the Quebec pension plan. In 1986, a program serving that purpose was created, but the current government abolished it in 1997.

What happened to all the workers who have been unable to find other employment since? The government did not bother finding out.

Today, we have heard testimonies. In one plant, there has been five suicides over the past year. In the last 30 months, 15 suicides were reported in another plant. That kind of information is not publicized. There is a sense of decency among people. Workers are embarrassed to find themselves without an income after working in a plant for 30, 35 or 40 years and contributing to the EI fund during all those years. They bought insurance for themselves, figuring that it would at least enable them to have a decent income to support their families with, should they be so unlucky as to lose their jobs. Let me qualify this notion of decent income. At present, it represents 55% of insurable earnings. That is not much. That is what was taken away from them.

Workers who are laid off find themselves with nothing. They have no choice but to eventually go on welfare, but they first have to use up whatever they had saved. When you have worked all your life and end up in such a predicament, you are not only insecure, you are also embarrassed, afraid of what tomorrow may bring, and you feel excluded from the labour market and cheated from recognition for a lifetime of work. This is all very serious, and that is what drives people to commit desperate acts like the ones I mentioned earlier.

On the other side of this House, they are insensitive to such a situation. Remarks like the ones we heard earlier are unacceptable. All they care about is lowering premiums. As my hon. colleague pointed out, that is not what the people who pay the premiums are asking for. The government has not invested a cent in that fund since 1990.

The word theft was used. I know that the word is unparliamentary, but there are ways around it. In the private sector or anywhere outside this House, that is how the actions of anyone with a similar behaviour would be described.

That is why Bill C-280 has to be passed. We must put an end to this injustice.