An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Mark Eyking  Liberal

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

Status

Not active, as of April 25, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment extends the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from fifteen weeks to fifty weeks.

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.

Votes

  • April 25, 2007 Passed That Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be concurred in at report stage.
  • Dec. 5, 2006 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Motions in Amendment
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 9th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-265 introduced by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst.

Employment insurance is a very important part of the social infrastructure of Canada. That is a core belief. It has changed over the years. Today fewer Canadian workers have access to EI in general. Canadian employers and employees have seen a surplus of premiums over benefits paid in the last decade. I think it is time to make some changes to EI. We know that other people believe this. A number of private members' bills have been introduced in the House and have gone through committee, for example Bill C-269, this bill, Bill C-265 and Bill C-278 by the member for Sydney—Victoria, which is a very important bill that would have seen the EI sickness benefit period raised from 15 to 50 weeks. It is an active file. Also, the government recently introduced a proposal to set up an EI crown corporation.

Let us start with a few facts to set the context.

Between 1994 and today there has been a surplus each year in the EI account. From 1990 to 1994 there was a deficit each year, the last time the economy had a serious slowdown. We have seen over the past decade or so premium rates drop significantly. In 1993 employees paid $3 per $100 of insurable earnings and employers paid $4.20. Those have dropped on the employee side from $3 to $1.73 and on the employer side from $4.20 to $2.42.

We saw some changes as well in 2000 and 2004. In 2000 we saw the extension of parental benefits from six months to a year. In 2004 the compassionate care benefit was added. Several pilot projects were introduced in 2005 for things such as going to the best 14 weeks. There were some other changes that were very positive as well, including an additional five weeks for areas of high unemployment. These pilot projects were set up to provide more benefit coverage in areas that specifically needed that assistance. In 2005 a new process was introduced in the rate setting mechanism, whereby rate stability was to be achieved by restricting the rate change to .15, in other words 15¢ per $100 of insurable earnings.

In 2004 the House subcommittee on EI made recommendations, one of which was for a more independent EI board, a commission, with a fund that would operate outside the consolidated revenue fund. It did not recommend total independence but it recommended that step. Many workers and employees felt that would be a good idea.

The EI surplus is a very contentious issue. It is a surplus or a no show surplus, depending on to whom one talks. One thing we know is that it is not theft, as some people would characterize it. The money was kept track of and allocated every year. In fact, interest has been allocated. On the $54 billion, the EI alleged surplus, some $11 billion of that is in fact allocated interest.

It is a contentious issue and I understand that. The money went primarily to pay down debt and perhaps to other services as well but most of that money went to pay down debt. One can agree or disagree with that decision, but that was a policy decision that was made by the Government of Canada.

There are many aspects of EI that need to be addressed: those who are excluded, self-employed people, creators, part time workers who are often women. I believe there is a need to re-evaluate benefits paid to those who already qualify. What we need is a serious debate. We do not need allegations of theft.

We do not need the leader of the New Democratic Party going to a CLC meeting and saying that nobody in the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party cares because they only had five minutes at the finance committee hearing and totally neglected the fact that a Liberal-led motion in the human resources committee evaluated this new EI corporation. If it was not for that, there would be no discussion of this. The government's response was to set up a crown corporation, but how do we know if it is a solution when there is no information available? We have been provided nothing.

We introduced a motion at the human resources committee. We heard from employees, employers, actuaries, labour organizations and business groups, many of whom said that it might be a good idea, but they just do not know and they need more information. That report will be tabled in the House this week. I hope that the government looks at the recommendations of workers as well as employers.

These meetings were public. They asked questions about things such as the size of the reserve, the accountability and how this would affect benefits.

I, like almost all Liberals, feel that EI reform is necessary. We particularly need to look at it at a time when many Canadians are worried about the economy.

Liberals are part of a group which included the NDP member for Acadie—Bathurst, the Bloc and labour groups that looked at a previous bill, Bill C-269, and came to some common ground on it. The common ground was negotiated in good faith and every Liberal in this House supported Bill C-269 when it came for a vote. Bill C-265 shifts that ground considerably.

As an example of what it takes to reform EI, this is a serious business. One proposed amendment to increase the rate of benefit from 55% to 60% would cost $1.2 billion every year. That was an estimate done in 2004. Reform is costly but it must be done. It cannot be done on an ad hoc basis. It is simply too important for that. It must be done by a government that accepts the fact that EI is a fundamental part of the social fabric of Canada that strengthens our communities and our people.

Reform cannot be done by running around and making allegations. We all play the constituencies. That is why it is called politics: to tell disingenuous stories about what is happening in this place when we visit with labour organizations or business groups, or to make allegations of theft and other issues about what happened before.

Changes to EI are needed, but what are those changes and what is the cost? What about the two week waiting period? We think something should be done about that. There is the five week black hole. Should it be the 14 best weeks or the 12 best weeks? What is the solution? Do we go from 55% to 60%? How are part time workers and self-employed workers covered? How is sickness covered? People have said to me that we should extend maternity leave to two years. There is no shortage of ideas. Those ideas will only be turned into action by a government that is serious about EI reform.

The Conservative government is not serious about EI reform. Reform will only be done by a government that accepts EI as a key part of the social infrastructure of Canada that strengthens not only the people and our communities, but all of Canada. It is time for a proactive and positive change to EI for employers and particularly for hard-working Canadian employees.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 8th, 2008 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate. I will be splitting my time with perhaps the foremost expert on economics in the House, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

I thank my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for bringing forward the motion. We come to Parliament, we work with our colleagues and we forge relationships with other members of the House, which can be very productive based on respect. This is the relationship I feel I have with my colleague. I know other members of my family have it as well.

The motion is one that needs to be addressed because it deals with a hugely important issue, Clearly though, and I will say this up front, it is not an issue that Canadians would want and certainly do not expect to be the impetus for a national general election. The motion raises an issue that Liberals, and particularly our leader, have brought front and centre to the national agenda. It will be the centrepiece of our next national campaign, the time of which will be determined carefully and not as a result of the latest move in a game of inside Ottawa parliamentary checkers.

A couple of months ago, the member for York Centre, an outstanding Canadian hero, embarked on a country wide tour focused on poverty in Canada. I think he went to more than 20 locations in this immense country. Canadians will know, knowing the member, that this was not a photo op, but somebody who was trying to find real solutions on poverty.

One of his first stops was in my riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. We thought we would have a decent crowd, but we were all surprised to see over 300 people come out to a church basement in Dartmouth to talk about poverty, its causes and some solutions. We heard from a number of groups and organizations, homeless shelters, youth in crisis workers, food banks, mental health workers and many more, people who combat poverty on a daily basis and try to make a difference in their communities. These groups expect their politicians and their governments to do something about it.

We should acknowledge that improvements have been made over the years to help Canadians with many major national initiatives such as the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan Act and the Quebec Pension Plan Act, the guaranteed income supplement in 1967, the national child benefit in 1997, which has had a significant impact on reducing child poverty in our country. We implemented personal income tax cuts. We brought forward the plan to strengthen health care, which followed on the 1960s plan to bring a national health care system into Canada.

The member for York Centre understood that among the challenges facing low income families was the lack of affordable and universal access to child care. Our Liberal government signed child care agreements with each of the provinces and territories, agreements that would begin to chip away at family poverty, allowing individuals to work to earn a decent living and support their families. Those child care agreements were one of the first casualties of the Conservative government.

We all know we live in a prosperous country where our standard of living ranks among the best in the world. Despite this success, far too many Canadians are left behind and it should be unacceptable to us all.

Last fall, the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, a man who is serious about solving serious problems, laid out the most ambitious plan to tackle poverty in Canada. This is what we will do when we return to office. It is our 30:50 plan. We want to reduce by 30%, or cut in half, the number of children living in poverty over five years. That plan includes the creation of a making work pay benefit to lower the welfare and to encourage and reward work by Canadians. It includes support for working families to expand and improve the Canada child tax benefit and to help lift the vulnerable seniors out of poverty by increasing the GIS for the lowest income seniors.

I want to talk about another issue that is referenced in the motion, and that is employment insurance. Our government in the last decade reduced EI premiums, both for employers and employees. Since 1994, the EI rate for employee contributions has been reduced from $3.07 to $1.95 in 2005 and for employer contributions from $4.30 to $2.73 by 2005. As a result of these rate reductions, employers and employees paid some $10.5 billion less in premiums comparatively than they would have paid in 1994.

On the benefit side, from 2000 to 2005 the Liberal government invested in the EI program. Parental benefits were extended to one year. In 2004 a new employment insurance benefit, the compassionate care benefit, was introduced. In 2004 a pilot program was introduced to provide workers with five additional weeks of EI regular benefits in regions of high unemployment. Several other pilot programs were introduced, which included benefits for those who were new to the labour market to have access EI benefits after 840 house of work rather than 910 hours. We also went to the best 14 weeks of earnings, not a bad idea for people in high unemployment areas, and we increased benefits for the working while on claim threshold.

However, I think we can all agree, and certainly members of my party understand, that we should do more. We should re-evaluate employment insurance. Members in this House for Labrador, for Madawaska—Restigouche, for Honoré-Mercier, for Beauséjour and from parts of Cape Breton have stood up and have been involved in discussions to make that happen.

As Liberals we have worked hard over the past two years to work with labour groups and other opposition parties to find common ground to improve benefits for EI recipients. We need to evaluate this. We need to look at a number of things, such as the waiting period and what is referred to as the black hole.

How about the expansion of sick benefits, as proposed in Bill C-278? Bill C-278, a private member's bill, was introduced by my colleague from Sydney—Victoria and is supported by members of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society. It is a recognition that the workplace has changed and illness has changed. People are recovering from strokes and from heart attacks, but they need support. This bill was supported by all parties except the government party. It would have been a perfect thing for the government to stand up and do for workers in Canada.

We need to address how EI relates to people who are working part time. Often they are women working in poverty. We need to do more about that.

In budget 2008 the government introduced the idea of a new crown corporation. It may be a good idea. Some people have called for a different agency to look at EI, but there has been no consultation on it, and if it were not for the fact that the Liberals brought forward a motion at the human resources committee, which was supported by other parties, there would have been no consultation on this.

Is $2 billion the appropriate amount of money as a reserve fund? What is the bureaucracy going to look like? Should there not be some consultation and discussion with workers across this country? I think there should be. EI needs to be changed. We need to do it rationally and sensibly, balancing the workers and employers. It is imperative for us to do that.

Over generations, Canada has built a social infrastructure that is designed to help vulnerable Canadians. Improvements have been made, with public health care, pensions, EI and support for children and others, but we need to do more. Furthermore, I believe there is a public appetite in this country for us to do more. However, today we have a government that seems to love power but seems to hate government and sees little or no role for government in assisting those most in need.

Partly through design and, in fairness, partly through incompetence, the federal fiscal framework has a reduced capacity to help, but Canadians want a government with a heart, a mind and a solid plan to reduce poverty in this country. Our leader has put forward such a plan. In the next election the Liberal Party will campaign on that alternative. We are the only realistic alternative to this government.

Poverty in our country is not inevitable, but it will take leadership, energy and national will to make the difference. We should talk about it here in Parliament. I am pleased that we are also studying it at the human resources committee, but to really make a difference we need a government that sees a role for government in standing up for those who need help, a government that balances budgets but not at the huge social cost and huge social exclusion we see now.

I believe the Liberal Party has the leader, I believe the Liberal Party has the plan and I believe the Liberal Party has the team to attack poverty in our country and work for those who most need help.

March 11th, 2008 / 9:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chairman, we're not talking about a minor difference, but about figures that are double the original ones quoted. Minor adjustments have doubled the figures, whereas the main component of the program comes down to two important measures, namely the 360-hour requirement and the best 12 weeks. I'm not saying that you did not do your job properly. I'm simply trying to wrap my head around the issue. I feel that we did a good job in 2004. It's easy to say today that we did a poor job in 2004. Yet, we did take our work seriously. Committee members spent several hundred hours on this task, which led to studies and produced these results.

Today, it's easy to say that all of this was done in haste in two days. If that were true, then we should have been informed at the time, when we made our recommendations based on the information supplied to us. We were never told that these figures might not be quite accurate. We were never told to take them with a grain of salt because the work was done quickly. So, we made some recommendations, a number of which were unanimously endorsed. The report's first eight recommendations were unanimous, while opinion was divided on those made on February 15.

Furthermore, people are acting as if nothing happened in the interim, when in fact several bills calling for either a full or partial reform were tabled by the opposition parties. The Bloc Québécois tabled two bills, namelyC-278 andC-269, both of which called for a complete overhaul of the program.

We cannot merely overlook the situation this morning, Mr. Chairman. Did we base on work over the past three or four years on erroneous information? If we did, then it's a very serious matter. Every time we debated one of the bills in committee, government officials were present. Each time, we used these figures. I'm very surprised to find that the figures quoted to us this morning are double the original estimates in both cases.

Having said that, we're being told that the bill is different from the recommendations. Then show me how it is different. I've looked at it and I've studied our recommendations, and they are virtually identical. When we debated the matter back then, we also examined how these recommendations might possibly interact.

I do not wish to belabour the point, but I am very surprised to hear this argument this morning.

March 11th, 2008 / 9:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First of all, I want to thank you for coming here this morning. You have helped shed light on the current situation. However, I must say that I'm a little surprised by your answers this morning. Not that I doubt you, but I am worried about what has transpired. We produced a report, as you know. Part 1 of this report was adopted on December 16, 2004 and Part 2, on February 15, 2005. The committee's report was entitled “Restoring Financial Governance and Accessibility in the Employment Insurance Program“. The report consisted of parts 1 and 2.

Recommendation 10 in the report called for the following:

[...] that the government implement a uniform 360 hours qualification requirement, irrespective of regional unemployment rates or the type of benefit. This would establish a qualification requirement based on a 30-hour week over a 12-week period.

Recommendation 14 also contains a reference to the best 12 weeks, something that we also see in the bill now before the committee.

These are the two main measures proposed in this bill. They are found in the recommendations adopted by a majority of committee members. Our colleagues Mr. Godin and Mr. Cuzner also sat on this committee. If memory serves me well, they worked on this report from September to December. From the outset, we asked for an estimate of the cost of implementing all of these measures, and specifically these two measures, namely the best 12 weeks and the 360 hour qualification requirement. The result was the report prepared for us by Mr. Malcolm Brown, Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. That was the department's name at the time.

You're telling us this morning that the report was drawn up in two days. Perhaps you had only two days to prepare it, but we worked on this for several weeks and each time we asked, we were told that work was progressing.

First of all, I have to question your explanation as to the difference in the numbers and your claim that you had little time. That could be a plausible explanation, but we understood at the time that the work was being done over a longer period of time.

Secondly, not only were we given an estimate in the millions of dollar, we were also given an estimate of the number of unemployed workers who would be affected. The 360-hour requirement represented a cost of $390 million. Mr. Brown informed us at the time that an additional 90,000 unemployed workers would be affected, which explained the figure quoted of $390 million. He also said that the best 12 weeks measure would cost $320 million and affect 470,000 unemployed workers.

I now have to wonder if all of the work that was done at the time was based on false information. Is the information we're being given today incorrect? As parliamentarians, I have to say that we did some serious work. Since then, the Bloc has tabled two bills, that is billsC-278 and C-269. The NDP has proposed some measures and tabled some bills. A tremendous amount of work has been done.

I have to say that I am quite concerned about the possibility that all of our work was based on false information.

March 6th, 2008 / 10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Okay. I'll come back to this when I get a chance. Perhaps I won't.

The issue is that I believe we need to do something on the benefit side of EI. The question I asked Monsieur Godin in sincerity related to a number of things that we need to do. Bill C-269 was one that eliminated the two-week waiting period, the five-week black hole on the other end, and did a number of things. It increased the rate from 55% to 60%.

You can look at the benefit period. We had Bill C-278, which was a Mark Eyking bill, to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It was supported by both the Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, realizing people are living longer now and recovering from illness.

We have the arm's-length provision, the best 12 weeks, and hours worked. There are a number of things that we need to do on EI. I'm trying to come to terms with whether this bill, as it is, is entirely the best one.

Monsieur Céré mentioned some of the discussions that have happened. We are trying to figure that out; I don't think I have time to ask for a comment.

Thank you.

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.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

October 19th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take the back end of the ship with my colleague from West Nova. His speech reminded me of a time when Nova Scotia had a regional minister who actually stood up for our interests and put Nova Scotia's interests ahead of Canadians' interests.

I want to talk about the Speech from the Throne. Some of the things that my colleague spoke about I may touch on, but for me it was a disappointing document, a leaflet really, more for what is not in it than for what is in it.

We just had a question from a western Canadian about the Atlantic accord saying that there was a lot of miscommunication. I remember when I was in the House back in the spring when it was apparent to most people in Canada, and certainly to all people in Nova Scotia, that the Atlantic accord was torched. A member from Ontario asked a question saying that it had not been torched and it was still there. That was obviously not the case. I pointed out to the member at the time that he would not know the difference between the Atlantic accord and a Honda Accord, and that is still the case. There is a lot of confusion.

The Atlantic accord is gone. If it were not gone, we would not have seen the scrambling to try to fix it. The fix is not a fix that Nova Scotians would stand up and give any resounding approval to. It is not a fix at all. If it were, the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley would be back on that side of the House from where he was kicked out not too long ago.

It is one issue that all Nova Scotians, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will stand up to be heard on.

Last week I had a public meeting in my community. I invited people to tell me as their member of Parliament what they wanted to see in the throne speech. The government had prorogued Parliament and would bring in a throne speech. Whether I agreed or disagreed, we discussed a number of things. We discussed poverty, Afghanistan, the Atlantic accord, as we might expect, students, seniors and veterans.

One issue that came forward, as one would expect, was the issue of crime. In my community of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour we have had more than our share of violent crime, which is a big concern.

At that meeting, two people whom I had not known before spoke at that meeting in a very personal way about their experiences with two sons from two different families. They had been beaten up and bullied and they did not feel safe in their community. They came with an open mind about what could be done, but they wanted to see changes in the Youth Criminal Justice Act to address their specific case.

When members of Parliament hear these stories, they want to do the right thing. In Nova Scotia last December Justice Merlin Nunn came forward with a report on youth crime in response to a specific incident in Nova Scotia, which was quite appalling. The report was long, detailed, well thought out, well argued and well presented.

When the Minister of Justice came to Halifax, he referenced the Nunn Commission report. All members should go to www.Nunncommission.ca and have a look at this report. In the report it refers to problems with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It indicates particularly that repeat offenders are not dealt with effectively enough and makes recommendations. It also suggests that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is sound legislation and that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

When the Minister of Justice refers to the Nunn Commission report, I hope he does not just take a little piece of it, on which I agree with him, but looks at the who report in context and adds into that the need for mental health services for kids in our community, boys and girls clubs, breakfast programs and stay in school programs as well, which will also do more to reduce crime.

Yesterday the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development spoke on the throne speech. He was one of the first government speakers. It was an amazing spectacle. He gave a 20 minute speech without talking about human resources. He talked about one specific issue, and that was the crime issue, which the government is pounding away trying to get people to believe that its members are the only people who want to act on it.

The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development stood in the House of Common, and he is a good guy, but he did not talk about human resources. Why? Because there is nothing in the throne speech on human resources of which to speak. We heard about employment insurance. It states:

Our Government will also take measures to improve the governance and management of the Employment Insurance Account.

There are people across Atlantic Canada whose knees are shaking when they read that piece. Does that mean the government will make it better, as my colleague from West Nova optimistically points out?

If the government wants to make it better, it could look at some private members' bills that have come from all parties in this Parliament: Bill C-269, Bill C-265 or Bill C-278 that my colleague from West Nova referenced, which would extend sick benefits under EI from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Who could oppose that?

It is a reaction to a very significant issue in Canada, which is that people who used to die of heart attacks, strokes and cancer in a lot of cases now are surviving. That is good news. The bad news is they cannot go right back to work and the EI system is the perfect way to address that need.

I want to applaud the member for Sydney—Victoria, who brought forward Bill C-278, costed it and did a lot of work on it. He got the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Cancer Society to say that it was the kind of legislation we needed, and the government refused a royal recommendation.

This document has one very brief mention about education, saying families worry about the rising costs of higher education. That is not a stunning revelation. They do. We all hear that as well. We need to help them. One does not tax cut one's way to a better education. One invests, particularly for low income Canadians, persons with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians. We should be investing.

In the late 1990s, when the government wrestled the deficit under control, we invested in things like the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which is now at a precipice in terms of whether it can continue if it does not soon get a nod from the government that it will put money back into it, Canada access grants, learning bonds and a number of other things.

If we are to address productivity, there are a number of ways we should do it. We should be reducing taxes, not throwing $6 billion out the window on a GST cut, particularly for Canadians who need it the most. As a start, we should go back to the Liberal cut of the economic update of 2005, which the government reversed the following year. That is a start, raising the personal exemption.

I am fully in support of lowering corporate taxes. The countries in the OECD that have done that are doing very well. The lowest economic groups in those countries are doing very well also.

There are things that we can do, such as replenishing the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The Canada summer jobs fiasco, which we dealt with last year, was pretty clear. It was a mistake by the government. It tried to rectify it. Some organizations, due to pressure from this side of the House, got their funding but many did not. There are things we can do now to ensure that fiasco does not happen again next year.

I want to talk about manufacturers and exporters. There is a crisis in manufacturing in Canada. We need to have mechanisms in the employment insurance system through Human Resources Canada to deal with that.

In my riding the Hershey Moirs plant announced in the spring that it would close in December. Six hundred people will be out of work. There is a program designed to help those people through Service Canada. I have been at transition team meetings with the union, which is working very hard. It is not happy about it at all, but realizes it has to now ask what it will do with the people. It is working with the plant and with Service Canada on a program that provides assistance to people who will lose their jobs.

Guess what? There is a limit of $100,000 per project. I asked Service Canada if it had implemented this project somewhere else and it said, yes, that it was great. I asked how many employees were affected and it said one. One person gets laid off and it can spend $100,000, 500 or 600 people get laid off and it can spend $100,000. Surely the funding should be by person, not by project.

I want to mention that I spoke directly to the minister about that. I appreciate the fact that he took the time to talk to me about this case. I am very hopeful he will intervene to make sure that what needs to be done gets done. However, there was no mention—

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

October 17th, 2007 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

We now have some amount of money every year that is considered surplus. It does not get carried from year to year. It comes out of the consolidated revenue fund. In my view it is time to look at that system and say, “Now that we have made the system sustainable, we should be doing more to help the people who need help”.

In 2004 we started some pilot projects so that we extended benefits to people who actually needed them. Over the 10 years between mid-1990 and mid-2000, we drastically reduced premiums for those who pay premiums. The system is actuarially evaluated every year, but we still have a surplus. I think we should look at that surplus. It is an insurance system. To me, what we put in and what we pay out should balance.

There is an opportunity for us to do something. The bill is part of that. It is not the only thing. Part time workers, low income workers, and persons who are self-employed, including many in our artistic and cultural community, do not and cannot apply for employment insurance. We should look at doing more to increase the productivity of Canada.

We support the bill. It is not the only thing we should do, but in my view it is one of the things we should do to fully recognize that people who are receiving employment insurance are doing so not because they want to but because they have to.

In Canada we have built up a social infrastructure that makes us unique in some ways. I am proud of that social infrastructure. Large parts of Canada need that social infrastructure. In fact, at a time when the economy is doing well, having been turned around in the 1990s, it is now the time to reinvest in a lot of programs. We should be doing more on poverty and we should be doing more to help people get educated, but we should also be doing more to ensure that people who need help because they have been thrown out of work through no fault of their own have access to the money in the EI system.

Liberals supported Bill C-269 along the way. We worked with our colleagues in other parties and with labour unions and organizations throughout Canada to make this bill palatable and to make sure that it meets the needs of Canadians. I think it is an improvement.

We are proud to continue to support Bill C-269. We wish the government would give it a royal recommendation. We wish government members would open their eyes and look at bills like Bill C-278 as well, because it makes Canada stronger, not weaker, when we help those who actually need help the most.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 17th, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the final hour of debate on Bill C-269, an act to make improvements to the Employment Insurance Act.

Members will recall that last May the entire Liberal caucus stood in the House to vote in support of Bill C-269 at report stage. This followed significant Liberal efforts at the human resources committee along with our colleagues in the Bloc and the NDP to make this legislation better.

During that period we worked cooperatively with other opposition parties on amendments that we thought would improve the main elements of this bill. We negotiated not only with colleagues in this House, but also with organizations and unions that have long sought changes to the employment insurance system. At committee all parties, except the Conservative Party, supported our efforts to improve the EI system.

I would like to mention some of the colleagues on my side of the House who have worked so hard to see improvements in EI. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche has been a champion of EI reform since he was elected in 2004. The members for Cape Breton—Canso, Sydney—Victoria, West Nova, our very quiet member for Labrador and the member for Beauséjour have championed changes as well.

We had hoped that the bill would go to third and final reading and then to the Senate for deliberations there, but unfortunately that was blocked when the government refused to give royal recommendation. It does not want to give any more money to improve employment insurance.

Many of us wonder why the government would reject outright the effort of all opposition parties to make improvements when there is a $14 billion surplus in Canada. If last night's throne speech is any indication, we should be concerned. In the throne speech, one sentence referenced employment insurance where it said:

Our Government will also take measures to improve the governance and management of the Employment Insurance Account.

Uh-oh, that is not good news. The knees we see shaking are those of Canadian workers, because most Canadians know that when Conservatives mention that they are looking to “improve” a social program such as EI, it is usually the opposite. In many cases the Conservatives tend to slash the program because of their ideological distaste to help those who need help the most.

What they said in the Speech from the Throne was a vague statement that is worrisome. It is certainly worrisome in my province of Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick, throughout rural Canada and Quebec and large parts of this nation where employment insurance has become a very important part of our social infrastructure. I would not be surprised to see this be the thin edge of the wedge, so to speak: maternity benefits, sick benefits and using EI as a tool to send more Canadians, Atlantic Canadians, out west.

We all know of the significant elements in the Conservative caucus who do not believe that the social programs we have built up are worthwhile. There are a lot of other examples of legislation brought forth by members who want to improve the lives of Canadians but which have been rejected by the government.

The parliamentary secretary who just spoke said that this bill was not based on a foundation, that it was not costed and not well thought out. This bill has a lot of merit, but let me talk about another bill on EI brought forward by the member for Sydney—Victoria.

Bill C-278 was meant to extend sick benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. That bill was fully costed. That bill was brought forward by the member for Sydney—Victoria with the full support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society and other organizations that realize there has been a changed dynamic in health care in this country. No longer are people dying as much from heart attacks and cancer. That is the good news. The bad news is that they have to live with them. They have to recover. Fifteen weeks is not enough.

The member for Sydney—Victoria brought forward a bill, and that bill did not get the support of the government. That bill did not get royal recommendation. Even members on the human resources committee said it was a well thought out bill when the member appeared at committee. It is a thoroughly necessary piece of legislation.

When bills like Bill C-269 are rejected, it demoralizes Canadians. Employment insurance is set up to help people who need help. It is not the fault of people who are out of work. I suspect there may be government members who still believe that people who are not working are not working because they choose not to work. That is clearly not the case.

Those members on the other side of the House do not believe that government should actually help people. We see that all the time.

Why would they not support a bill that would extend sick benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks for people who have gone through cancer, who have put in the mental and the human resource effort to recover from cancer, but who cannot go back to work right away? They simply cannot do it. There is a gap in the system that has not been addressed.

We worked cooperatively with other opposition parties to make improvements in Bill C-269 as well. In November, Liberal members of the human resources committee began discussions with the Bloc and NDP members, as we are supposed to do in a minority Parliament to make legislation work, to make it more palatable, and to make it more reasonable so that it can come to this place and be defended.

The discussions were focused on making the proposals of Bill C-269 more reasonable. Significant changes were agreed to by the parties. The Bloc and the NDP adjusted their views. So did the labour unions that were part of those discussions.

The original proposal was to lower the qualifying period to 360 hours of work across the board. It was adjusted to a flat 70 hour reduction. For us, we also made a proposal to eliminate the distinction between new entrants and re-entrants. It was amended. We believe there should be some disincentive for people to enter the employment insurance system the first time. If they need it, they should have it, but if it is made too easy, people become dependent upon that system, so that distinction was eliminated.

Other proposed changes in the bill would eliminate the two week waiting period. People need employment insurance because they need it, not because they want it. Why aggravate the situation? Why insult people by saying they have to wait two weeks to get employment insurance?

The five week black hole at the end was also eliminated as part of the bill. I think that makes sense. I wrote down what the parliamentary secretary just said in referring to how people are tired of money disappearing down black holes. Is employment insurance a black hole? Are people who are out of work through no fault of their own a black hole in Canada? Or are they part of the social infrastructure that we are proud to have built up in this nation? I think it is the latter.

There have been a number of private members' bills on EI. Since the 1990s, EI has been put on a solid footing. There were many years in the 1970s and 1980s when income going to the EI fund was in fact less than was paid out. In other words, there was a deficit.

Now, deficit or surplus, it all goes into the consolidated revenue fund, but for many years we were paying out a lot more than we were paying in because of the economy. The Liberal government of the 1990s fixed the economy so more money was being paid in than paid out.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 17th, 2007 / 7 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-269, a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act, as put forward by my colleague from the Bloc, is a flawed bill and one that we cannot support.

As I followed the remarks of previous speakers, I have to say that I found it a little surprising to hear the Bloc asking us to support the bill. The evidence just does not support such a broadly expanded program.

What evidence shows is that the EI system is currently meeting the demands of the vast majority of Canadians. Eighty-three per cent of unemployed Canadians who have paid into the program qualify for benefits and this rises to more than 90% in areas of high unemployment.

The evidence also shows that even claimants in high unemployment regions rarely use more than 70% of the benefits. Where exactly is the evidence to suggest that the changes in the bill are warranted? It is not just that the bill is not supported by the evidence. We see the opposition asking for support of flawed bills with routine frequency.

What is so surprising is that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are asking for support on a bill that the sponsor's own party and all opposition parties cared so little about that they refused to do their due diligence. They brought forth no accurate costing estimates, had no public hearings, had no consultation with major stakeholders and had no study on the bill's ramifications to Canadians or to the long term viability of the EI program itself.

Canadians sent this Conservative government to Ottawa to clean things up, to provide accountability, sound management and good public policy. The bill provides none of this but our government does.

We cannot support any bill that has been given so little oversight and so little consideration by Parliament, let alone a bill that proposes such drastic and costly changes to a program as important as this, especially when the changes are not backed by a shred of evidence.

Routine motions and decisions about what to have for lunch are given more serious analysis and debate than the one hour and fifteen minutes Bill C-269 was given by the opposition at committee stage. It is even more puzzling to be asked to support the bill when the Bloc and the opposition parties have been heaping one EI related bill after another onto the order paper asking for implementation of all but prioritizing on none.

The implementation of this bill would cost $3.7 billion, $1.1 billion for Bill C-278 and $1.4 billion for C-265. There are 16 more EI bills to come, 9 of which are too complicated to cost but it is fair to say that they will not be free. It would cost $4.7 billion for the remaining seven bills. The cost of these bills is astronomical and the opposition has supported them all without giving them any careful study.

These bills represent more than $11 billion in new annual spending for the EI account. This would put the program into a deficit within a year and bankrupt the program. Canadians are looking to the government to act responsibly and carefully. They want a government that will ensure the long term viability of the EI system and protect it from a patchwork of proposals made by the opposition, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Canadians expect that if the opposition is proposing to spend billions, it might also spend more than five minutes figuring out whether that much money is needed and where it will come from.

Listening to the public who are affected by these types of changes in policy seems so basic and yet Canadians have not been consulted. Employers who pay into the fund are concerned. Workers who see deductions on their paycheques are concerned and small business owners are concerned but the opposition did not want to hear from any of these groups.

Workers are left to wonder if Bill C-269 is better than the measures that this government introduced to extend compassionate care benefits. Is it better than our pilot projects extending benefits for best weeks and seasonal workers, which Canadians were looking for and this government provided?

The member talked about the forestry industry. We do care and that is why we improved and implemented targeted initiatives for older workers to help the vulnerable workers in certain industries that have been affected by layoff, such as the forestry industry.

All of those initiatives have been implemented since the previous Parliament, which was when the Bloc last proposed this bill and the Liberals last opposed it. Does the Bloc want to scrap all these initiatives in exchange for its bill?

Canadians appreciate that their new government is getting things done for them in a measured but meaningful way and they expect the same from all the parties in House. However, they are getting the same old, same old from the Bloc Québécois because the same old, same old is all it ever has to offer.

One does not have to look further than the recent byelection results in Quebec to know what Quebeckers think about the Bloc's proposals for this country. Canadians are shocked to see the Bloc propose the same types of changes it has been proposing for more than a decade. It is becoming increasingly clear to the people in Quebec that the Bloc has simply run out of things to say.

We know what Canadians have to say about the Liberal practice of spending public money with little or no oversight. One can imagine the reaction of all Canadians to find that the Bloc now wants to travel down that same road.

We are all tired of seeing public funds disappear into black holes, only to be explained as a mistake or worse, as the Auditor General described, “a rule-breaking sponsorship program, a scandal of major proportions”. Canadians want better oversight when it comes to their money and they want better long term planning. This bill goes against all of those principles.

We have all watched the cost of the Liberal programs balloon to billions of dollars. We must be very leery of the Bloc's untested assertion that Bill C-269 will cost just over $1 billion to implement when all outside estimates put the real cost at triple or even quadruple that amount.

Who is right in their figures? Is the sponsor of the bill correct when she says that it will cost $1.7 billion or is the Conseil du patronat du Québec and others right in pegging it at $3.7 billion? This would have been a prime question for the committee to have considered but unfortunately they did not bother seeking the input of witnesses like the Conseil du patronat, hard-working Canadians or even the Department of Human Resources and Social Development.

How can Canadians have confidence in this bill when they were completely cut out of the process by the opposition? A true and meaningful inquiry into Bill C-269 and the many unanswered questions around the bill would have gone a long way toward giving Canadians and this government confidence in a bill like this. Unfortunately, the opposition did not care enough to do its due diligence.

When the Canadian public went to the polls to choose a new government, they elected a Conservative government because they knew that we understood accountability. We know that accountability does not just mean explaining money that was spent last year. It means being able to plan expenditures before they go out of control.

We are asking the questions Canadians want asked because we know that the answers are important. However, without those answers and without the confidence of Canadians we cannot support this bill.

This government's record of measured improvements to the EI program proves that we have made EI a priority by our approach. However, our approach will not be piecemeal. We will look at the entirety of the EI program and not just one small aspect of it. Canadians expect more from this minister than that. They want him to properly manage a program that benefits the whole country.

Last night's Speech from the Throne outlined this government's priorities and reconfirmed our commitment to make the EI system responsive to Canadians' needs. We will continue to take measures to improve the governance and management of the employment insurance account and we will ensure that these changes are measured and responsible. I look forward to the minister's next steps in improving the EI program, which I am sure will be presented in the House in due course.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

This is a very important proposal and I would hope, as the member for Sydney—Victoria pleaded earlier, that a royal recommendation might be forthcoming from the government to deal with this important legislation.

The legislation, as we have heard, would extend the possibility of EI benefits in the case of illness from a maximum of 15 weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks. That would be a very important improvement to our EI program.

We need to make those kinds of improvements to our EI legislation. We know how many Canadians depend on EI at some point or other in their working lives. We know how important it is to people from coast to coast to coast in Canada.

I found it passing strange that the parliamentary secretary argued that somehow passing the bill would be a detriment to new Canadians, to new immigrants in Canada and that somehow they would not benefit from this kind of legislation.

I do not think anything could be further from the truth. Many new immigrants, new Canadians, and many people new to the workforce in Canada would directly benefit from the provisions of the legislation. I do not for a second understand why the parliamentary secretary would suggest otherwise.

In fact, many new Canadians have come to Canada because of Canada's social programs. They know Canada is a society that shows concern for all of its citizens and seeks to work together collectively to help citizens over difficult periods in their lives. Legislation like the EI legislation is exactly one of the things that makes Canada attractive to people considering immigration.

We must make improvements to the EI legislation. This has not been done for many years and it needs to be undertaken. We have heard many times, and I will repeat, that there is a $50 billion surplus in what is collected from workers and employers for this program. There is far more money taken in by the government in terms of the EI check-offs that both employers and employees pay than is spent on delivering the program.

We do have the ability to fund improvements. The money that is collected from the EI contributions workers and employers should be used for the program. This is particularly important for workers, but I know that employers also recognize the importance of our EI program.

The ongoing debt that Canada experiences should not be paid on the backs of workers who need the support of the EI program. That $50 billion we talk about sometimes is an EI fund. The Conservatives in the past have even talked about formalizing it as an EI fund. That money should be used for employment insurance programming, and the bill would go some way to ensuring that would be done.

As a member of Parliament and as a constituency assistance, I have spoken to many people in the almost 21 years that I have served in those capacities. They face terrible hardship because of the limitations on EI, especially when combined with the length of time it takes to qualify for CPP disability benefit and with the generally low levels of social assistance.

I do not know how many times I sat with people who faced the end of their medical benefits and who were still unable to return to work. The pressure of that moment was unbearable for many of them and for their families. It was often one of the most difficult moments when I had to stand in solidarity with someone who came into the office in which I worked or into my current office.

We know that economic security can be a factor in recovery from a serious illness or injury. The stress of being unable to pay our rent, or to buy food or to provide for our children does nothing to help anyone recover.

I am convinced that the bill might even lessen health care costs by helping to ensure better conditions for recovery from a serious illness or injury.

We know that often people are forced to consider long term disability when, if only a slightly longer recovery period had been available, they would have been able to return to work. They would have been able to see their recovery out and get back to their jobs. We know it is much harder to get back to the workforce from CPP disability or from any disability program than it is from EI medical benefits.

It would be a great personal benefit to Canadians who become ill or are injured in their recovery and return to work if the provisions of this bill were implemented in Canada. It would be a great benefit to our society. I believe it makes sense to take the actions necessary to get people back to work rather than have them just get by on welfare or have to claim CPP disability.

We know the recovery time for serious diseases is often longer than the 15 weeks that are now possible for an EI medical claim. Cancer patients, breast cancer patients and leukemia patients in particular can require 9 to 12 months to recover. We also know that when someone returns to work too early after a serious illness the consequences can be both serious and expensive.

That is why organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and the Lung Association of Nova Scotia support this legislation. Representatives from both of those organizations testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that was studying this bill.

Mr. Kenneth Kyle, the director of public issues at the Canadian Cancer Society, provided the standing committee with five reasons that the Cancer Society supported this particular legislation.

First, he noted that diagnostic times are often long for full cancer diagnosis and there are often waiting times between surgery and treatment, making the 15 weeks a serious limitation.

Second, he noted that treatment and recovery are often spread out over many months for cancer patients.

Third, he noted that collateral financial stresses, the costs of uninsured treatment and drugs, travel costs for specialized treatment, special diets, those extras that occur around the time of a serious illness, particularly with cancer, are also a hardship that this bill would serve to relieve.

Fourth, he said that chemo patients can be immune suppressed for a period of time and need to remain segregated from groups, thereby requiring longer than the 15 week period to ensure their recovery to full health and the ability to work.

Fifth, he noted that the lingering effects after treatment with chemotherapy are sometimes difficult to document, including issues like chemo fog, fatigue, personality changes, things that often make a return to work difficult in the parameters that are currently envisioned under the Employment Insurance Act.

Those are all excellent reasons that we should be giving serious consideration to this legislation and that the government should be giving serious consideration to ensuring there is a royal recommendation for it.

I want to point out that doctors would still be required to provide a medical certificate so that the decision about EI medical benefits, even if it is extended to the 50 weeks, would still be made on the basis of medical evidence, which is as it should be.

We also know that currently the average EI medical benefit claim is for 9.5 weeks. This would be a significant improvement and would allow others to take advantage of that important option.

We had a debate this afternoon about the estimates of the cost of extending this benefit. In committee, testimony was given that it would be around $250 million a year. The parliamentary secretary said this afternoon that her estimate was closer to $1 billion a year. I hasten to add that it is clear we have a $50 billion surplus in the EI fund that would allow us to undertake this kind of important change to the EI legislation. I believe this is an affordable course of action to take, but more than that, I also belive it is the right thing to do.

I will conclude by again calling on the government to ensure that a royal recommendation is possible for this legislation so that we can ensure that Canadians who face a serious illness or injury have the appropriate length of time to recover, get back into the workforce and not have to take other measures that are less desirable both for them personally and for society as a whole.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak today to Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine). I take this bill very seriously, as well as the fact that I have the honour to speak to this issue.

This bill extends the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 to 50 weeks. I believe this is a very laudable principle and the Bloc Québécois supports it wholeheartedly.

To put things in perspective, I will say that the Bloc Québécois worked hard at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to get a report on EI reform through in February 2005, and that it continues to ask for its implementation. In the past two years, the Bloc Québécois has worked relentlessly on improving the system. This bill builds on the spirit of recommendation 27 made in the February 2005 report, which says:

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.

The bill is totally in this spirit.

The Bloc Québécois has always been in favour of substantial improvements to the EI system and while the Bloc intends to vote in favour of the bill, the House must nonetheless remember that the bill introduced by my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle is more comprehensive than that of the Liberals, who still do not propose a fundamental reform of an EI system that is ill adapted and inaccessible for 50% of those who should be insured. For the benefit of this House and of all those interested in the issue—who are many in Quebec and Canadian society—I will read some of the 28 recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

First, the committee recommends the creation of an independent EI fund.

Second, on the administration issue, the committee recommends that the money in the fund be used only for EI purposes and not to pay back the federal government debt. That money comes from employers and employees. It must be used as employment insurance for employees who, at some point during their career, find themselves in need. EI benefits then become a solution for them. The government, be it Conservative or Liberal, should not be allowed to help itself freely from the fund to finance its expenses. Workers in need deserve the respect of the government.

The committee also recommends the following: that employers be reimbursed overpayments of premiums—what else would it do?—; that a standard eligibility period of 360 hours be established throughout Canada and Quebec; that the maximum period of regular benefits be increased to 50 weeks; that the benefit period be extended by five weeks in order to cover what is known as the spring gap, the period of about one and a half months where there are no benefits before seasonal work begins again. This would provide seasonal workers with income needed for their families rather than having them live with considerable uncertainty.

We are also asking for additional benefits after the 50 weeks for workers who are 50 and over, especially for those having difficulty finding work because of their age, for those experiencing a form of discrimination I would say.

The benefit calculation should be based on the 12 best weeks of insurable employment. This will provide a more decent income for our citizens who need it. Therefore, the calculation should be based on the 12 best weeks and not on the 12 last weeks.

The rate of benefits should increase from 55% to 60% of their earnings.

Finally—this is the last item that I wanted to highlight from the list—we are asking that the waiting period be eliminated for persons in approved training programs, so that they are not sent on training without any income. That is a bit of a contradiction. We want them to be trained in order to return to the labour market. However, if they do not have any income, they are not interested in training because they will not have any money to meet their needs during the weeks of training approved by those responsible.

This bill highlights the importance of reforming employment insurance. As such, we hope that parliamentarians, my colleagues here, will vote in favour of the real improvements proposed in Bill C-278. I would like to go through my list of these major improvements, which is similar to the one given earlier.

First, we must reduce the minimum qualifying period to 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional unemployment rate. Second, we must increase the benefit period by five weeks. Third, we must increase the weekly benefit rate from 55% to 60%. Fourth, we must eliminate the waiting period. Fifth, we have to eliminate the distinctions between new entrants and re-entrants to the work force. Sixth, we have to eliminate the presumption that people who are related to one another do not deal with each other at arm's length. Seventh, we have to increase the maximum annual insurable earnings from $39,000 to $41,500 and introduce an indexation formula. And finally, the benefit calculation must be based on the 12 best insurable weeks.

It is important that we all support this bill because it offers solutions to problems experienced by vulnerable people who lose their jobs. As someone said earlier, that is the heart of the matter. This affects people who are sick and need their benefits extended. In that respect, we must consider a universal 360 hour requirement to receive employment insurance benefits.

I see that my time has run out, but I would just like to add that it was important to me to talk about this bill. We must go forward with this kind of bill. We have to think of the people whose employment situation makes them vulnerable. That is our duty, and we must fulfill it.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to also join the debate on the third reading of Bill C-278, the bill that calls for EI sickness benefits to be extended to a maximum of 50 weeks.

Our new government understands the importance of supporting our friends and neighbours who face illness and disability. Canadians have seen our budgets. They appreciate the action that their new government has taken for them over the past 15 months. They know who is standing up for them.

They have seen us introduce the new registered disability savings plan to help parents and others save money to care for family members with disabilities.

They have seen a Canada disability savings grant of $1,000 annually to promote the financial security of children in lower income families.

They have seen a $30 million investment in the Rick Hansen “man in motion” Foundation, which will help transform research into actual benefits for Canadians living with spinal cord injuries.

They have seen a $45 million new enabling accessibility fund to help Canadians who are recovering from or dealing with challenges to participate in their communities.

That is the new government's vision for meaningful ways to improve EI. The Liberals, by contrast, including the sponsor of Bill C-278, voted against each of these measures.

While the member who sponsored this bill is no doubt well-meaning when he comes to ask the House for support, I am not sure where his support went when it came to supporting the same people through several of this government's budget initiatives, which I have just outlined.

Like me, many Canadians may also wonder why he and his Liberal colleagues never did a study, passed a motion, or proposed this legislation in the 13 years that they were in government.

However, the Liberals' touch and go interest in sickness and disabilities and their spotty record alone are not reason to question this bill.

Canadians want to know how effective a new benefit will be. Is it suitable for the problem? Is it appropriate for the benefit to come from this revenue source? Canadians want to know what assurances are being offered that the benefit and the revenue source are sustainable.

When the Liberals were on this side of the House, effectiveness and sustainability were principles to which they at least paid lip service. With some programs on their watch, however, they low-balled estimates of cost. and later Canadians were left holding the bag after costs spiralled out of control.

Canadians know that our concern is not about questioning a gap that exists for some. It is about finding the right solution. It is about affording the right solution. It is about sustainability.

What is the vision of the Liberals and the opposition? It is a bit of a patchwork and not really much of a vision at all.

The Liberals would have Canadians think of and look at the bill as a one-off reform to EI, yet they have voted with the NDP and the Bloc to support several EI bills. That is their true package of reforms.

The cost of the three EI bills they have proposed as an alternative to our vision would add $6.2 billion in new annual costs to implement them. That amount of $6.2 billion in new annual costs would bankrupt the fund in very short order.

How much time and study did the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP put into making sure that these new costs were warranted and that the benefits would address what they were intended to address? It was a little over an hour of study per bill, plus about an hour each for clause by clause review. That works out to over a million dollars of new spending per second of consideration by the committee.

Canadians expect their elected representatives to have a little more respect for them and the public's money. On this side of the House, that is what we do, and so it is that we remain ready to support worthy initiatives and solutions.

Bill C-278 proposes a solution. It remains to be see whether this is the right solution coming from the right program. It remains to be seen whether it is affordable. It remains to be seen if it is sustainable. We may be ready to sign on if the member Sydney—Victoria provided government with answers to the questions the Canadian public has about his proposed solution.

Canadians are wondering if EI is the right program to expand for this new benefit. It is simply not enough to eyeball the fund's surplus and suggest that it drive a solution. Solutions need to consider the Canadian public interest. They should determine whether the need is limited merely to those who pay into EI or if it is broader, and I do not suppose that all members were able to review the transcript of the committee's proceedings at clause by clause review.

One of the fundamental shortcomings of expanding EI for the new benefit identified is it does nothing for a vast number of new Canadians. New Canadians disproportionately start their own businesses rather than being employees. They and others who are entrepreneurs run their own businesses and do not pay into EI. Why not a plan that helps them, too?

In fact, the solution the bill proposes stands to make things worse for some new Canadians. The private health and life insurance that they are able to purchase depends on a stable relationship with public insurance. Bill C-278 introduces a major change in the relationship between public and private insurance. It does so without any analysis of the impact being offered.

Will private insurers, which often cover a higher percentage of wages and for longer periods, cease to offer products that are used by the new Canadians and other entrepreneurs as a result of Bill C-278?

The House just passed Motion No. 243, which proposes that the human resources committee do a study of CPP disability this fall. Ought not this program, which is more broadly available to Canadians, be considered as one way to catch those who do not benefit from an EI program? Do Canadians not deserve a chance to reflect on their options, be consulted and provide their input?

EI sickness benefits have been structured to complement a range of other supports available for long term illness and disability. These include benefits offered by employers, private coverage held by individuals and the long term disability benefits available under the Canada pension plan and provincial programs.

However, there was no study, so no consultation and no answers for new Canadians, who the government wants to welcome and encourage to come here. There were no answers for all of us who may be called upon to fill the space that may be vacated by private insurers whose richer benefit programs are rubbed out.

Canadians are also asking about cost. Without deciding whether EI is the right program for this new benefit, how much will Bill C-278 cost?

During his appearance at the human resources standing committee, the member for Sydney—Victoria testified that the bill would cost approximately $250 million a year. Estimates from the department, however, suggest it would be more like $1.05 billion a year, four times the member's estimate.

Canadians will still recall that numbers were never the Liberals' strong suit when they were government. Now that they are opposition, not much has improved.

The discrepancy between $250 million and over $1 billion raises more questions than it does answers. Where did the member get his numbers? What did the human resources standing committee have to say to reconcile the huge and costly difference? Nothing. At the end of the day, the discrepancy went unanswered.

The member and the opposition, which is supporting the bill, are so quick to support an idea, which is long on good intentions, that they are forgetting public trust requires us to do due diligence.

Canadians made it clear in the last election that it was not acceptable for their government to be sloppy with public funds. They are tired of well-intentioned programs running out of control.

Canadians continue to have some questions about this bill, which have not been answered by the member for Sydney—Victoria. They have not been answered by those who are supporting the good intentions of the bill.

It is precisely because the duration of sickness benefits is such an important issue for all Canadians that our government believes this matter deserves very careful consideration. It is because it is important that we want to find a solution that is sustainable, smart and effective.

Members may in fact recall that Conservatives on the human resources committee supported the notion of studying the potential extension of EI sickness benefits, as proposed in the February 2005 HUMA report.

As Canada's new government, we acted on that by asking officials in the Department of Human Resources and Social Development to gather the facts and evidence that would inform us all in how to build the right solution. Their work in this regard is underway.

The member for Sydney—Victoria and the opposition are putting the cart ahead of the horse. They are not looking for the facts from the department. They passed on Motion No. 243, presented to gather the facts themselves. The opposition did not want to listen to any of the people who helped contribute to the public and the private insurance programs.

Let me tell the House what we do know about how the current maximum 15—

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the third reading debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-278, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act. This bill, if adopted, would extend the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks.

Unfortunately, our rules in this House dictate that unless this bill gets the necessary royal recommendation from the Conservative government the question on the motion for third reading will not be put. In other words, the bill will die.

I cannot understand why the Conservative government will not allow this bill to proceed, as the majority of members in this House have supported this bill at second reading and have endorsed it again at report stage.

The Conservative government is aware that we have received support from across Canada and from all 308 ridings. The Conservatives all realize there is support from across Canada for this bill. We have received support from doctors, nurses, oncology departments, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and, most importantly, from constituents all across Canada who are battling illness and whose EI benefits have ended.

I am pleading on behalf of all those people across this country who need our help and I am asking the Conservatives to find it in their hearts to do the right thing and give this bill a royal recommendation.