Bill C-357 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.
Raynald Blais Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Not active, as of Oct. 18, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the method for setting the premium rate in the Employment Insurance Act. It also amends a number of provisions in that Act with respect to the Employment Insurance Account.
This enactment provides that every year the Canada Employment Insurance Commission will set the premium rate and cause a report to be sent to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development who will cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of Parliament.
This enactment provides also that the Employment Insurance Account will no longer form part of the accounts of Canada. The amounts paid into the Employment Insurance Account will become part of the assets of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, and the Commission will manage them in the best interests of the contributors and beneficiaries under the employment insurance system.
At the request of the Minister of Finance, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission may extend a loan to Her Majesty in right of Canada and establish the interest rate and other terms and conditions for its repayment. Conversely, that Minister must extend a loan to the Commission if the Commission is unable to pay the amounts that it is liable to pay.
Under the enactment, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission is composed of 17 commissioners, including a Chairperson, two Vice-Chairpersons, seven representatives of employees and seven representatives of employers. The representatives of employees and employers are appointed by the Governor in Council from lists of nominees provided by representative associations. The Chairperson is appointed by the House of Commons and the Vice-Chairpersons are selected from among the Deputy Ministers or the Associate Deputy Ministers of the Department of Human Resources Development.
- Nov. 28, 2007 Failed 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.
Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
May 8th, 2008 / 5 p.m.
France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the NDP opposition motion. As members certainly know, the subjects mentioned in this motion have always been very important to the Bloc Québécois. I am referring to the problems related to employment insurance, poverty and training. We cannot sit by and say nothing about the Conservative government's obvious incompetence in these areas.
I would like to start with the issue of employment insurance, and more specifically, the people who depend on this plan. As its name suggests, employment insurance is supposed to be an insurance than enables contributors to receive an income when they lose their job. That sounds good. The problem is that the plan has been completely distorted and diverted from its original goal.
For example, the claimant-contributor ratio went from nearly 80% in 1990 to 46.1% today. This means that less than half of those who contribute to employment insurance qualify to receive benefits. Did this Conservative government do anything for the unemployed or for these people who are losing their jobs? Absolutely not.
At the weekly meetings of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, on which I sit, I have even heard Conservatives say that people who lose their jobs in Quebec or elsewhere can simply move to Alberta. I understand the principle of labour mobility, but it is not as simple as that. People cannot be uprooted that easily.
I would like to remind the members opposite that with Bills C-269 and C-357, we in the Bloc Québécois came up with real solutions to help people who lose their jobs. The first bill proposed to improve the employment insurance system, while the second called for the creation of the independent employment insurance fund. The government chose to reject these bills out of hand. What did it do instead? It proposed in the most recent budget to create a crown corporation, the employment insurance financing board.
We have asked questions about this board, and our understanding is that the board's only role will be to adjust the employment insurance contribution rate. The minister himself has confirmed the board's minimal role. This morning, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, one witness mentioned that a 15¢ decrease in contributions would mean approximately $30 more for workers at the end of the year. What a nice gift. This is not exactly what you would call a big help.
The crux of the problem remains. The government has made no provision to improve the employment insurance system and ensure that people who lose their jobs have some income while they are going through a rough time. The Conservative government should have acted. If they do not want to help the unemployed, the Conservatives deserve to be unemployed themselves.
Industries are still in crisis in Quebec. Lumber producers and manufacturers have been affected, even in the ridings represented by Conservative members. Yet the government has not lifted a finger, preferring to help Alberta and cozy up to its friends to the south, the Americans, Mr. Bush's friends.
The manufacturing crisis has had a devastating effect on the Eastern Townships, and it is not over yet. This week, we found out that one of our region's finest, Shermag, has placed itself under the protection of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. Shermag was hit hard by Asian competition and the rising dollar. Between 2005 and 2007, the company closed three plants in my riding, one in Scotstown, one in Cookshire-Eaton and one in Dudswell, which cost our small communities hundreds of jobs.
I mentioned Shermag, but I could just as easily have talked about other Quebec plants and factories that have closed. I do not want to go on and on about the manufacturing crisis, because that is not the purpose of today's motion. I want to get to the point, which is the human side of things.
In 2003, there were about 42,000 industrial jobs in the Eastern Townships. Now there are only about 25,000 left. The manufacturing crisis cost us 17,000 good jobs in a region with a population of 300,000. Those jobs paid at least $20 or $22 per hour. Quebec workers—should they even qualify—are too proud to sit at home, happily taking advantage of the employment insurance program. Workers in the Eastern Townships rolled up their sleeves and found other jobs—jobs that most often paid less than half of what they had been earning before.
This has been a huge loss for these people and for the economy of the Eastern Townships. In four years, we lost 35% of our industrial jobs. This is a real catastrophe. Workers who lose their jobs have to deal with an employment insurance program that does not insure them. Whether they want to or not, they have to take whatever job they can get, even if it is a part-time job for low pay.
It is easy to see what I am getting at. When people's wages drop by $5, $10 or $15 per hour, buying power goes down and poverty goes up. Yet, with its laissez-faire ideology, this government has made it clear that it is not really interested in helping people who really need help.
To refresh our memories, I could mention that the Conservatives cut the women’s program. They also slashed programs for minorities and they are still refusing to refund money owed to seniors for the guaranteed income supplement. On the other hand, however, they did not hesitate to give tax credits of almost $1 billion a year to the oil companies and corporations, which, as we all know in this House, are “living in the most appalling misery and destitution.”
This week, we learned that the individual purchasing power of Quebeckers has increased by $53 in 25 years. That is another proof of the inaction of governments, both Conservative and Liberal, we must insist. Fifty-three dollars amounts to one dollar a week this year, but in this case it was spread over 25 years.
From the same set of statistics, we learned that the salaries of low income workers decreased by 20% during the same period. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest people increased by 16%, and the number of rich people also grew. Moreover, despite the efforts made over 25 years, it appears that poverty has not been reduced.
Here are some examples of the sad state of affairs. Nearly 900,000 Canadian children still live in low income families. We always say that the reason children are poor is because their parents are poor. The number of mothers in single-parent families who are trying to make ends meet is just as high as ever. Indeed, there is no shortage of examples and all communities are affected.
Before concluding, I would like to sum up the situation. It is very clear to me that the government has done nothing to save jobs in Quebec, to help our workers who are in trouble, to improve the employment insurance plan or to combat poverty. The results are negative. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. Disposable income is stagnating. In other words, we are going nowhere and this government has no vision to offer; it has no plans or ideas to submit. It has only an outdated, backward, regressive and rigid ideology.
The Bloc has given the government an opportunity to act: to reform employment insurance, to help the most needy, to ensure that our industries remain open, and that our workers maintain their dignity and their income. The Conservatives have chosen to fold their arms and do nothing. They had the chance to govern on behalf of workers but they did not act on it.
I must say that I have never had a great deal of confidence in this government, but today it has really lost the confidence of this House. I am convinced it will also lose the confidence of the voters.
December 4th, 2007 / 2:35 p.m.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries is calling on the federal government to immediately establish an independent employment insurance commission. The Institute's recommendation is almost identical to the Bloc Québécois' Bill C-357 defeated by the Conservatives and the Liberals last week.
Will the Prime Minister finally use part of the surplus and respect the wishes of employers and workers and establish an independent employment insurance fund, which his own party supported when in opposition?
December 3rd, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
That at least is clear.
Minister, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister made a commitment to establish an independent employment insurance fund. To a question asked by the Bloc's leader in the House of Commons this past June, the Prime Minister answered that he had the same philosophy as the Bloc leader concerning the employment insurance fund and that his government was going to take a position on it soon.
You didn't support Bill C-205 or C-357, whereas you had voted for Bill C-280.
What is your position today on that?
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 30th, 2007 / 2 p.m.
Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC
Mr. Speaker, the House is well aware that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, since we introduced it. I am referring, of course, to Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).
This bill makes the following changes to the Employment Insurance Act. One, it reduces each qualifying period by 70 hours. Two, it increases the benefit period. Three, it increases the rate of weekly benefits to 60%. Four, it repeals the waiting period. Five, it eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with other at arm's length. Six, it increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $41,500 and introduces an indexing formula. Lastly, the bill enables self-employed persons to receive employment insurance.
In rejecting Bill C-269, the Conservatives are defying the will of this House, of workers, of Quebeckers and of all Canadians.
However, this is typical of how they do things. We are talking about the Conservative government that decided not to include opposition members in the Canadian delegation to the upcoming Bali conference. We are talking about the Conservative government that decided not so long ago to block the work of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which was working on something the government was not happy with. We are talking about the government that abolished the court challenges program, saying that it will not fund people who challenge its laws. We are talking about the Conservative government that changed the criteria of the women's program to prevent groups that defend women's rights from receiving funding. We are talking about the minority Conservative government—and I stress the word “minority”— that is doing everything it can to silence any form of opposition.
These Conservatives are not concerned about the living conditions of the unemployed, minorities and those who need help the most. They are only interested in the Americans, oil companies and big business. They do not care about the difficulties of older workers in the manufacturing and forestry sectors or the problems of women's groups. This is very sad. The Bloc Québécois will denounce this situation in order to bring this government back in line. This Conservative government lacks humanity. It is cold and heartless and the idea of it becoming a majority government one day is very frightening. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that does not happen.
Before the Conservatives formed the government, they supported the idea of an independent fund and wanted, as we do, to put an end to the plundering of the employment insurance fund. That money belongs to the unemployed and it is not to be used at the discretion of Canada's federal government to do whatever it wants. Those who contribute to it are not able to touch 100% of it, which is outrageous. The Conservatives agreed with us on this issue when they were in the opposition. Now that they are in power, there is no difference between a Conservative government and a Liberal government. It is six of one and a half dozen of the other.
Once in power, as I was saying, the Conservatives went back on their word, rejected our Bill C-357 on an independent fund and preferred to let the money that belongs to the unemployed accumulate in the coffers of the big banks. They are taking from the poor and giving to the rich. That is a very familiar story from medieval times: what we have here is the Sheriff of Nottingham's gang.
They are right here. Here they are, doing absolutely nothing to respond to this very scandalous situation.
Employment insurance is no longer an assistance program, but rather a hidden tax.
Under the Liberals, the employment insurance fund was used to balance the budget. Although the Conservatives voted in favour of an independent fund, the surpluses generated remain in the consolidated fund and are used for other purposes besides providing help to those who need it when they find themselves in the vulnerable position of having lost their jobs. They are most definitely entitled, since they paid into it.
The Auditor General's report of November 23, 2004, reported that the government continued to plunder the employment insurance fund, despite the will of parliamentarians—we keep doing the same thing—and that the powers of the Employment Insurance Commission, whose membership includes contributors, would apparently be suspended for yet another year—and that is still the case. How is it that a government, a political party, once in power, could become such a bully towards those who pay into a fund that should be theirs—it should belong to the workers—and that should not be used to serve the ideological ends of the party in power?
The Conservatives voted at second reading against the idea of improving the employment insurance system through Bill C-269 proposed by the Bloc Québécois, and that shows the true colours of this government.
The 2006 Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report indicates that 44.8% of the unemployed have access to the system even though 100% of them paid premiums. Not only did they pay into the fund, but so did the employers. The federal government did not contribute a single nickel and it does what it wants with this money. That is outrageous.
The Bloc Québécois tried to have the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities adopt a report in February 2005 on the reform of employment insurance and continues to call for its implementation.
The Bloc Québécois is speaking out again against the looting of the fund and proposes concrete action such as: creating an independent fund and employment insurance commission, making the government repay the misused funds, having the Employment Insurance Commission set the premiums, and improving the system's coverage for workers in vulnerable situations.
Over the past two years, the Bloc Québécois has worked tirelessly to improve the system.
Employment insurance contributions are currently being used as a tax, not a contribution. That is unacceptable. The Bloc Québécois believes that we must clear up this misunderstanding and return the system to its original purpose, which was to insure workers who lose their jobs, not to tax work.
We have to think of the different kinds of people who collect employment insurance. I am thinking of the workers in my riding, in the Gatineau region, in the greater Outaouais region. Right now, jobs are being lost in paper mills and in forestry. The Minister of Labour, who is from the Pontiac region, should understand these sectors. I understand the paper mill workers who suddenly find themselves jobless because of downsizing.
We do not have adequate programs to help older workers from these mills, especially if they live in the city, as is the case in my riding. We do not have specific programs to help them bridge the gap between their years of seniority and retirement, when retirement is just a few years away.
Right now, the government could not care less about workers in vulnerable sectors, such as manufacturing and forestry, not to mention Ontarians working in the auto sector and the economic slump they are about to face.
The government says that there are more jobs today and less unemployment. But look at how poorly the new jobs are paid compared to those that have been lost.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 28th, 2007 / 6 p.m.
The House resumed from November 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 22nd, 2007 / 6:05 p.m.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the people of the riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I am pleased to speak today to this private member's bill, Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
The bill calls for the creation of a separate EI account, an expanded EI Commission and changes to the rate setting mechanism.
I want to state from the outset that this government supports the principle of a separate EI account that has been put forward in the bill. The people in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke have much in common with the people of the Gaspé, which is the area represented by the separatist member who has proposed Bill C-357.
I can tell the member that many of the challenges facing the forestry industry and the workers who rely on the working forest for a livelihood in his riding are the same challenges facing the workers in my riding. This is particularly true in the seasonal nature of this type of employment. The same can be said for the tourism industry.
Those facts alone make me very attentive any time I hear of possible changes to employment insurance and how this program is administered. Our challenge as a national government is to bring forward programs that will benefit all Canadians, that take into consideration all differences and to administer such programs in a way that all Canadians are treated equally, regardless of where they live.
I know members of my party, for example, have raised the issue of older workers, an issue that is not confined to one province but to many regions of the country, including the province of Ontario. I am pleased to confirm that, in response to our concern for older workers, the new Conservative government responded by announcing a targeted initiative for older workers, a national program intended to benefit all Canadians.
I mention the targeted initiative for older workers as this $70 million program is directed to individuals who are either not eligible or have exhausted employment benefits or other support measures that would be available through EI. It is targeted to smaller communities like Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, if it were available.
For reasons that I have not been made aware, the province of Ontario, unlike nearly every other province in Canada, including Quebec, has refused to commit that it will participate. This leaves constituents in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who would benefit from this initiative, to assume that Ontario does not care.
This two year program was announced last October. It is a year later and still no action. The Liberals in Toronto are indifferent to the plight of older workers. To date, 40 projects have been approved, including 13 in Nova Scotia and 20 in Quebec, projects that are expected to assist over 1,400 unemployed workers. The benefit of programs developed by the federal government is that they are national in scope. This benefit is lost when sometimes other agendas are put forward ahead of the Canadian workers.
Canada's current employment situation is relevant to any discussion of the EI program. So far in 2007, employment grew by more than 200,000 jobs. In addition, the average hourly wage rose by 2.4% in the first quarter of this year alone and the unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest point in 33 years at 5.8%.
We have a labour market where more Canadians are working than ever before and the demand for labour is strong. Opportunities for work are abundant, especially among the skilled trades which are currently experiencing labour shortages across the country. The economy is booming.
This government and the Minister of Finance have created the winning conditions so that more jobs, better wages and a brighter future can be delivered to all Canadians.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 22nd, 2007 / 5:55 p.m.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Vancouver Island North for the quality of her speech and the soundness of her remarks. Bill C-357 aims to amend the Employment Insurance Act regarding the employment insurance account and premium rate setting. The bill's provisions aim to correct not merely a mistake, but what is practically a serious misappropriation.
People who should be protected by the government regarding the management of their employment insurance fund are not being protected. Not only are they not being protected, but they are the victims of what I would call reprehensible management of their own assets. Indeed, it is workers and employers who pay into the employment insurance fund. This should not be considered a hidden tax. The employment insurance fund should be used exclusively for its intended purpose, that is, to ensure benefits, and therefore an income, for people who have the misfortune of losing their jobs.
There are four parts to this bill. As for the employment insurance account itself, it should no longer form part of the accounts of the Canadian government. It should be withdrawn and should become a specific account to be used for that purpose, managed and administered by those who pay into it, that is, employers and workers.
Most members of the commission should come from these two groups that pay into it, along with the participation of the Canadian government, of course. The bill recommends the following ratio: seven representatives of employees, seven representatives of employers and three representatives of the federal government. These administrators would be appointed based on recommendations from the groups involved, and the recommendations would be submitted to the minister.
It also deals with premium rate setting. At present, under the auspices of the government, three administrators who are advised by a chief actuary set the contribution rate, which has been steadily reduced. Nevertheless, surpluses continue to be recorded. Why? For the reasons indicated earlier by my colleague from Vancouver Island North: because access to employment insurance is limited to the utmost and as many unemployed as possible are excluded from coverage. In fact, more than 60% of the unemployed are excluded. That is very serious. They pay premiums to ensure they will have some income if they are unfortunate and lose their jobs. As my colleague pointed out, women and youth are even worse off. Only 32% of women and 17% of youth have any hope of receiving employment insurance benefits. This is quite tragic and things must change.
I am surprised to see that very few parliamentarians, other than Bloc and NDP members, are concerned enough to oppose this situation. If this is how any other program in support of individuals were managed—whether a home insurance policy or any other group program—the administrators would be quickly condemned, because it is literally tantamount to a misappropriation of funds.
My colleague touched on the misappropriation of funds. In the last 12 years, $54 million has been withdrawn from the employment insurance fund, resulting in significant cuts to the EI program.
This deprives families, workers and communities. For the provinces concerned, such as Quebec, it is a huge loss for the regional economy, families and so on.
The fourth measure in this bill is therefore to gradually restore all the amounts that have been misappropriated, at the rate of $1.5 billion a year. Who set this amount? It was set on the advice of an assistant deputy minister. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Disabled Persons asked to see all the studies. It determined that, without compromising Canada's budget, the misappropriated amounts could be restored to the fund at the rate of $1.5 billion a year, as a loan that had been made to the Canadian government over 32 years.
Not only am I calling for this, but the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Disabled Persons unanimously recommended it on December 5, 2004. On February 15, 2005, the committee again called for the money to be restored. The first eight of the 28 recommendations in the committee's report focused on the need to create an independent fund. This was a unanimous decision by the committee members, including Conservatives and Liberals, who had also literally stuck their hands in the fund for money they could use for other purposes. The members unanimously acknowledged that a grave injustice had been done to the unemployed and their families. The money must therefore be restored at this rate.
When the committee made this recommendation in 2004, $46 billion had been taken out of the fund. Today, the total has risen to $54 billion. The government is continuing to pump money from the fund while it deprives people of income in the form of benefits if they are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs.
Poverty does not come out of nowhere. It is often the result of bad economic policies and bad social safety nets. We have a secure social safety net but it may be the result of the government's misleading practices. It is bad to have to say that here, but I am saying it. It is a misleading practice because the purpose of this fund is not to reduce the deficits of the Canadian government or anything other than to meet the needs of employment insurance.
There is a problem now. The Speaker has ruled on the matter of a royal recommendation for this bill. It is a technical matter, but a highly important one. Legislation provides that when the bill has an impact on the Canadian budget, approval by cabinet, called the royal recommendation, must be given. Naturally, cabinet refuses to provide this recommendation.
With all due respect Mr. Speaker, we differ in opinion as far as the ruling is concerned. This fund should not be recognized as a source of revenue for the Canadian government. It must be set aside to be used to manage an employment insurance fund. The Speaker made his ruling and we will comply because we have no choice.
Nonetheless, I invite all our parliamentary colleagues to strongly encourage the Conservative government to provide this royal recommendation. It is the least we can do for the people we represent in every one of our ridings who are suffering because they are not receiving the income they are entitled to when they lose their employment. It is bad enough for them to lose their employment without being denied their own benefits, to which they have contributed their entire lives through their employment insurance contributions.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 22nd, 2007 / 5:45 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-357. This is a subject matter that I think was part of the first bills I recall back in 1993 when I became a member of Parliament. The debate has always been around what was already referred to as the notional EI account. It is something that probably most members are not aware of or did not exactly understand.
Many Canadians would believe that the EI program is operated similar to the Canada pension plan, where it is a separate account with money, that it is managed by a separate group of people, and it is there to earn a return on its investments and be able to pay over the term of its obligations all the benefits which have been earned by Canadians. That is not the case with regard to the so-called EI fund or the notional EI account.
Back in the years of--
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 22nd, 2007 / 5:35 p.m.
Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-357, presented by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. This bill proposes significant changes to the financing and governance of the employment insurance program.
Allow me to begin with a brief overview of Canada's current employment situation.
As the House has heard on many occasions recently, the Canadian labour market is continuing to perform exceptionally well. In fact, according to Statistics Canada data, the unemployment rate reached the lowest level in 33 years in October, hitting the 5.8% mark.
During the first quarter of 2007, employment grew by an estimated 158,000 and the good news is that these jobs are paying more than ever. The hourly wage rose by 6% between August 2006 and August 2007.
The economy is booming. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have created winning conditions so that more jobs, better wages and a brighter future can be enjoyed by all Canadians, and we are beginning to see the results.
Even given our strong current labour market, Canada's EI program continues to help Canadian workers adjust to labour market changes, and balance work and family responsibilities. I can assure the House that this government is committed to ensuring that the EI program continues to serve Canadians in an effective and efficient manner.
We have clear evidence to this effect from the Employment Insurance Commission's 2006 EI monitoring and assessment report tabled in the House last April. That report demonstrated and confirmed that EI income support and employment assistance is there for Canadians who experience periods of temporary unemployment. It also demonstrated that the EI program is effective in meeting most claimants' needs in terms of both the amount and duration of benefits.
We recognize that the best solution to unemployment is economic growth, a priority that this government is dedicated to pursuing through our economic plan, “Advantage Canada”.
That said, our government has not hesitated to take action on issues specific to the EI program by doing several things: further reducing the EI premium rate in this fall's economic update; expanding eligibility for compassionate care benefits; launching a pilot project to examine the effects of providing additional weeks of benefits to those in high unemployment regions; and extending EI transitional measures for two regions in New Brunswick and Quebec until the conclusion of the national review of EI boundaries.
The 2007 EI tracking survey, which asked Canadians across the country for their views on the EI program, indicates the majority of Canadians agree that the EI program is working well, which shows that Canadians support this government's approach to managing the EI program.
In addition to EI income support, our government continues to invest over $2 billion per year in active employment measures funded under part II of the Employment Insurance Act, and in partnership with provinces and territories to support the transition to skills training and new jobs for Canadian workers experiencing unemployment. What I have just highlighted is the overview of a program that is without doubt serving Canadians extremely well and responding to new and pressing issues as needed.
Bill C-357's proposals would result in a fundamental shift in how the EI program is managed. For example, the bill proposes significant modifications to the size, composition and mandate of the Employment Insurance Commission.
Under Bill C-357 the commission would increase from four members to 17. The expanded roles and responsibilities of these members, as proposed by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, would not only become costly and unwieldy, they would also hinder the government's ability to manage and maintain the EI program and make the kinds of improvements that I listed a moment ago.
Moreover, Bill C-357 would result in a broad change to the balance of responsibilities for setting direction on changes to the EI program. Essentially, the bill would place decisions regarding a critical support program for Canadians in the hands of individuals outside government.
If the balance of decision making authority were in the hands of independently appointed commission members, the government's ability to make timely changes to the EI program as needed would be greatly reduced. This shift in the balance of decision making authority could have important consequences for a program that all evidence indicates serves Canadians quite well and, of course, matters would be made more complex given the difficulty of achieving consensus among as many as 17 individuals.
Allow me to remind the House that the current four member commission is composed of two senior public officials, along with one member representing employers and another who represents employees. I should add that only one of the two senior public officials gets a vote. This mechanism provides balanced representation among the EI Commission's members.
The two commissioners for employers and workers also establish and maintain consultations and working relationships with a variety of private sector organizations and individuals who are clients of, or affected by, HRSDC programs and services, particularly in regard to EI.
These relationships fulfill the representational responsibilities of the commissioners and enable them to reflect the concerns and positions of workers and employers regarding the administration, as well as program implementation and delivery.
Bill C-357 also proposes changes to how the EI premium rate is set. In essence, the hon. member's proposals would return the rate setting mechanism to a former process judged by a wide variety of stakeholders to be vague, unsustainable, and the cause of the EI surplus in the first place.
The current rate setting mechanism gives the commission full authority to set the rate and it incorporates a consultation process with employers and labour.
One of the main objectives of this government, when it called for the implementation of the new rate setting mechanism, was to ensure that revenues and expenditures are closely matched. I believe that it is important to give this new rate setting mechanism some time to see if it is working.
I want to emphasize that the EI commission has set the 2007 rate at $1.80, which will save employers and employees $420 million when combined with the increase in the maximum insurable earnings. This is the lowest rate in more than 14 years, while benefits have been maintained and even expanded in many areas.
In determining the rate under the new measure, the EI commission takes into account three factors: the principle that the premium rate should generate just enough premium revenue during the year to cover the payments expected to be made during the year; the chief actuary's report; and, any public input, including results of the consultation session with representatives of business and labour.
Any change to EI financing would of course need to take into account the impacts on employees and employers, beneficiaries, the economy and the EI program itself. These are obviously major considerations on which the health of our economy and our society depends.
That is why our government is committed to ensuring that all EI program changes are founded on sound analysis of evidence, with careful consideration of potential labour market impacts and the cost to individuals.
As I have demonstrated, the changes proposed by Bill C-357 could have very important consequences for our economy and the well-being of Canadians who expect the EI program to serve them in a timely and effective manner when they need it.
For all these reasons, the Government of Canada cannot support Bill C-357 at this time, but we look forward to meaningful study of this bill at the committee stage. Perhaps there are aspects of this bill that can be implemented when this government continues its improvements to the EI program that were committed to in the Speech from the Throne.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
November 22nd, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.
The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, standing in the name of the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
I would like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform for having raised this issue as well as the hon. Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his comments.
In his presentation, the hon. parliamentary secretary argued that clause 2 of the bill would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund, thus transferring money out of the consolidated revenue fund into the employment insurance account where money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. He further argued that Bill C-357 would change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission by allowing it to deposit assets for the financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return. Finally, he expressed concern that clause 5 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.
The hon. parliamentary secretary claimed that these arguments were supported by a ruling delivered by the Speaker on June 13, 2005, concerning Bill C-280, also entitled An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, and nearly identical to Bill C-357.
The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine countered that there is no basis for the claim that this bill would bring about “additional” or “new” expenditures and that the transfer of revenue to an independent fund would not change the circumstances, manner and purposes by which Canada's Employment Insurance Commission will set the premiums and manage its revenue. Although he acknowledged that a royal recommendation would be necessary if the bill were seeking to withdraw revenue from the government's consolidated revenue fund to be used for purposes other than those described in the act, he claimed that this was not the case since the purpose of the bill would not alter anything in the current legislation.
He further argued that having Canada's Employment Insurance Commission invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return did not constitute a new purpose for the fund since the federal government was “investing” these public monies to pay down the Canadian debt.
He concluded by saying that adding 13 new commissioners will be financed by a small increase in expenses, which will no longer appear as an expenditure from the consolidated revenue fund given that the employment insurance fund will no longer be a part of the consolidated revenue fund.
After examining Bill C-357, the Chair was struck, as was the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, by its similarity to Bill C-280. Indeed, the proposed amendments to sections 71 and 72 of the Employment Insurance Act included in Bill C-357 are in many respects virtually identical to those in Bill C-280.
For instance, like in Bill C-280, the proposed section 72 in Bill C-357 would credit moneys from the consolidated revenue fund to the commission, which would then place it into a new and separate account, one that would be outside the consolidated revenue fund.
Today, moneys in the consolidated revenue fund are available for eventual expenditure for purposes of claims under the Employment Insurance Act. With the passage of Bill C-357, these funds would no longer be available because, in effect, they have been spent, that is, transferred out of the consolidated revenue fund to a separate and independent account outside the consolidated revenue fund.
When the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities sought clarification regarding the provisions of Bill C-280 as it related to the royal recommendation, the Chair ruled, on June 13, 2005, that:
Such a transfer, in my view, constitutes an appropriation within the meaning of section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and for this reason a royal recommendation is required in respect of clause 2 of the Bill.
The Chair sees no reason to reach a different conclusion on this provision of Bill C-357 than the one that was reached at that time on Bill C-280.
In relation to the argument that the proposed change to subsection 72(6) of the Employment Insurance Act found in Bill C-357 creates new duties for the commission in terms of managing and investing amounts paid into the employment insurance account, the Chair does not accept the argument put forward by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine that the federal government's use of moneys in the consolidated revenue fund to pay down the Canadian debt constitutes an authority to spend funds for a new purpose.
In addition, the Chair is of the view that the bill's proposed alteration of the duties of the EI Commission to enable the spending of public funds by the commission, namely, the investment of public funds to achieve a maximum rate of return, is a new purpose and requires a royal recommendation.
Finally, the increase in the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen also clearly requires a royal recommendation. Although the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine contended that these expenses would not come from the consolidated revenue fund but rather from the newly created employment insurance fund, clause 5 of the bill clearly calls on the governor in council to appoint these new commissioners. Given that the current commissioners are remunerated, it follows that the proposed new commissioners would also be paid. As such, the addition of these new commissioners would involve an additional appropriation of a part of the public revenue.
Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.
However, the debate is currently on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.
The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Bill C-357—Employment Insurance Act
Point of Order
October 23rd, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor. As I am sure you recall, a few days ago, I informed you that the Bloc Québécois intended to respond to the Conservatives' request concerning Bill C-357. They called for a royal recommendation concerning the creation of an independent employment insurance fund. I will now raise a few points that will surely enable you to make an informed decision about this issue.
I would like to bring to your attention our argument against requiring a royal recommendation to pass Bill C-357, to create an independent employment insurance fund. That is why I am addressing you today.
At the outset, we recognize that the content of Bill C-357 is very similar to Bill C-280, as introduced in the 38th Parliament. It is clear that the Speaker's ruling on June 13, 2005, included a number of elements that were open to interpretation. The Conservatives are referring to those very elements to support their assertion that the bill now before us requires a royal recommendation. That is why we must take the time to review the Conservatives' arguments point by point.
First, the Conservatives claim that passing this bill would lead to additional expenses. That is totally false, because the current legislation already provides for fluctuations with respect to premiums and conditions of eligibility, which determine the fund's revenues and expenditures that go through the government's consolidated revenue fund. This bill is not designed to change these provisions, so it is not true that the bill would engender additional costs. Therefore, there is no basis for the claim that this bill would bring about “additional” or “new” expenditures.
The Conservatives are saying that the appropriation of public revenue will be altered depending on the circumstances and the way it is managed. The current legislation provides for a contribution to be deducted from every pay cheque and it is understood that this money will be used to ensure supplementary income to contributors who need it because of their own economic circumstances. The eligibility criteria for employment insurance and the premium rates that determine the revenue and expenses of the fund, will serve the same purpose and use the same mechanisms when this bill is enacted. I would add that a change to the eligibility criteria would still require a legislative change. Let us be clear, not only does this bill not require additional expenditures, but what is more, the purpose of and reason for these public funds will not change in any way.
We acknowledge, as the Speaker said on June 13, 2005, that it does involve transferring public funds to an independent employment insurance fund, but royal recommendation is not needed for two reasons. The Speaker himself said, on May 9, 2005, that:
The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill.
Although there will indeed be a transfer of revenue to an independent fund, the circumstances, manner and purposes by which the commission will set the premiums and manage the revenue will not change at all. Furthermore, the spirit of the current act will be better protected since the revenue generated by the premiums will no longer be used to serve interests other than those defined by the act, namely those of the workers. Using revenues that should go into the fund, but instead are taken into the consolidated revenue fund for purposes not listed in the act, will no longer be possible.
A royal recommendation would be necessary if the bill were seeking to withdraw revenue from the government's consolidated revenue fund to be used for purposes other than those described in the act. In this case, it is clear that the purpose of the bill will not alter anything in the current legislation. On the contrary, it will allow the spirit of the act to be respected and prevent the misappropriation of funds that the Liberals and Conservatives are known for.
Fourth, the argument cited on June 13, 2005, that the investment of public monies by the Commission represents new or different expenditures, must have workers seeing red.
The federal government continued to invest—or, in other words, spend—the public monies from the fund to pay down the Canadian debt, which violated the spirit of the law. It clearly did not act in the interests of workers, who watched these monies—that they, with their employers, had paid to ensure themselves against economic downturns—disappear. It was the government, not this bill, that invented a new purpose for the fund and its surpluses.
Finally, adding 13 commissioners will be financed by a small increase in expenses, which will no longer appear as an expenditure from the consolidated revenue fund, given that the Conservatives recognize that the employment insurance fund will no longer be a part of the consolidated revenue fund. Since the Conservatives no longer know how to oppose an idea that they supported in the past for purely populist considerations, today they are attempting to use procedural arguments to avoid openly declaring themselves against a bill that is necessary and that contributors have demanded for many years. Only their neo-conservative ideology, hidden behind a populist facade, can justify such deplorable actions.
With that, I conclude my presentation.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2007 / 2:20 p.m.
Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act. First of all, I would like to congratulate and thank my colleague, the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, for having introduced and so rigorously defended this bill. He can always be counted on to defend the citizens of his riding. The Bloc Québécois is equally committed to defending the interests of all Quebeckers.
With this bill, we are defending those citizens who are struggling with employment insurance problems. People need employment insurance for all kinds of reasons: because they are facing company closures, because they work in seasonal jobs or because a factory might eliminate certain jobs, for example. People can thus turn to employment insurance. However, for the past several years, this assistance has been reduced. Access to the program has been limited for many men and women in Quebec and throughout Canada. It is shameful. As we all know, the employment insurance fund has accumulated more than $50 billion. Today, we hear it might be as high as $55 billion. This bill is important, because it aims to establish two fundamental principles to meet the needs of workers who must receive employment insurance.
Since I was elected in 2004, the subject of creating an independent employment insurance fund has come up regularly in this House. We have also talked about an independent commission made up of workers to oversee it.
In their speech, the Conservatives said that they supported the idea of an independent employment insurance fund. A short time ago, when they were in opposition, they not only supported the idea of implementing an employment insurance fund, they wanted to create such a fund. Now they support the idea, but nothing is for sure. The Speech from the Throne mentioned a few things about this, but only one thing is clear: the surplus in the employment insurance fund has grown since the Conservatives came to power. They are doing exactly what the former Liberal government did. They should be ashamed.
Even though the employment insurance fund now has a $55 billion surplus, the government is restricting access to it and reducing the eligibility of citizens who work very hard and sometimes under difficult conditions. These people are under a lot of pressure, just as we all are. We are under pressure because of our families, our financial obligations, responsibility for our children's education, and obligations with respect to access to health services that, like it or not, cost money. But we are not helping these workers. We strangle them and bleed them dry, and then we tell them that we cannot help them, we can no longer support them despite the $55 billion surplus made up of their own contributions and those of their employers. That is shameful.
I have been here since 2004, and I have always found it surprising to observe the political games that go on here between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Now that the Conservatives are in power, we are seeing their true colours. They are doing the same thing. They do not care about the less fortunate or people in need in our society.
I listened to the Conservative members talk. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made 22 recommendations to improve the employment insurance system. A number of measures were recommended. My Conservative colleague said that all these measures would cost about $1 billion. Still, investing in people is better than investing in the military. We are talking about a program of military spending. The government plans to invest $17 billion in the military, in arms and submarines, over the next five years. But it has difficulty investing in people in need.
Not only does the federal government have a $55 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, but it also has a $14 billion budget surplus.
This $14 billion surplus is tax revenue from individuals and companies. What is the government doing? It is saying that it cannot help the unemployed, it is slashing funding for literacy groups and women's programs, it is cutting the court challenges program and it is making it more difficult for people to qualify for employment insurance. Sometimes, seasonal workers need only a few more weeks to qualify for employment insurance, and they have to go on welfare to make ends meet at month-end and year-end. It is shameful. These governments seem insensitive.
What is the purpose of government? To redistribute the taxes and other moneys it collects. The government must be fairer and more just. It must invest in economic sectors that need help. It must invest in people and support their professional development. It must support workers. But that is not happening. We wonder what this government is supporting, exactly. People do not seem to matter to the government. The independent employment insurance fund is proof of that. I hope that this bill will pass at first reading, second reading and third reading and that it will come into law once and for all. If this government has any self-respect at all, it will pass this bill. The Conservatives promised this in their election campaign. They promised to resolve the independent employment insurance fund issue.
It is outrageous that some workers who do not have access to the independent employment insurance fund are also paying too much into it.
It does not make sense that working people who suddenly fall ill—with cancer, for example—can collect only 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits. When people get sick, they have to apply for social assistance because the system cannot meet their needs. That does not make sense.
It does not make sense that someone who works for 10 consecutive months and leaves their job is not entitled to employment insurance, even if they have found a new job and work there for one month. That person is not entitled to employment insurance, even though they have paid into it for a full year. Instead of staying home and relying on employment insurance, they go out and find another job, but the system penalizes them.
There are all kinds of glitches and problems within the employment insurance system. Creating an independent employment insurance fund is crucial, and so is improving the employment insurance system. It is our duty, as elected representatives, to support our workers, especially when the independent employment insurance fund has a surplus of some $50 billion or $55 billion and when the government is predicting a surplus of $14 billion this year. The less fortunate in our society deserve fairness and equality.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2007 / 2:10 p.m.
Denise Savoie Victoria, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-357, which is aimed at preventing the government from stealing money from this account that should be reserved for workers. This is a fundamental element of our social safety net that is wearing thin. Yet with important transformations in our economy and with the emergence of new technologies, it is increasingly important to have this safety net, which can help workers move towards better-paying jobs.
It is true that right now, in this country, there seem to be fewer unemployed workers. The figures come from Statistics Canada and other organizations. However, there is much more poverty. It is obviously more difficult to make a decent living in Canada today.
In fact, it does not matter what kind of difficulty people are in, but the government's approach is that people should pull themselves up by the bootstraps. I am thinking of the difficulties in the manufacturing sector and the difficulties in the Maritimes for seasonal workers where hard-working people are having difficulties making the transition to other employment. There need to be other initiatives to help them. Certainly, employment insurance was one of them. It was a fund used by the current and previous governments.
This government, just like its predecessor, has been helping itself to the EI account, and this must stop. According to the new figures from the Department of Finance, there is currently $54 billion in that account, and there is every indication that the Conservative government continues to use the contributions paid by workers to increase its surplus.
Of course we know that it was the Liberals who designed this plan when they were doing their budget cuts in the 1990s. They changed the eligibility criteria in such a way that, currently, only 38% of men and 32% of women qualify for benefits. It is a shame.
First of all, these cuts made to the EI program were not aimed solely at achieving a balanced budget. The government wanted to create a flexible labour market and eliminate uncertainty among workers through a strategy favouring low-cost labour. Many workers were shortchanged by these cuts.
Of course, because of these cuts in the 1990s, several social programs--and this one in particular--became weaker. These programs were of national importance not only for those affected--and that is what concerns me the most--but also because they were an essential part of what binds us together as Canadians.
Perhaps we should take another look at the definition of insurance. When a worker is having major difficulties, when he loses his job, what happens? The government should be there for him, but it is not. There is a group of people in the government right now who do not believe in government. They prefer to go to the private sector for everything. Privatization reigns and according to those people, the market will solve all our problems.
We have to take another look at what insurance is. I just renewed my home insurance and the terms of it are clear. I read that if I pay my premiums and my house burns down, I will be reimbursed. With employment insurance, it is different. Employees contribute for years and when they need it, the funds are not there. They cannot get the help they should in these difficult times. Employment insurance should make it easier to get back to work, to get back to a good job, but that is not so.
In the Speech from the Throne, we see that the government intends to take measures to improve the governance and management of the employment insurance fund. This morning I heard the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development during oral question period say that he did not really intend to meet the needs of the workers. That is worrisome.
The government seems to be in a hurry to devolve responsibilities for workforce training and funding to provinces with no strings attached. In my area we have seen training contracts given to private American companies at the expense of well established effective community agencies that did that work.
I would like to talk for a few minutes about employability, since the Conservative government has launched a study on employability, and my comments are particularly related to the topic of employment insurance. However, I have only a faint hope of seeing the government recognize the Canadian workforce as people rather than as commodities.
The primary objective of all policies surrounding the labour market and employability, indeed the primary objective of our economy, is how the government seems to see the worker. It is time that the labour market worked for the benefit of workers rather than just for profit as it does now.
The key to our success as a democratic society is to treat hardworking people decently and to give them the opportunity to improve their lives. They need a guarantee that employment insurance will be there for them. They need a guarantee that they will be able to access it in times of need as opposed to having doors shut on them.
As we do this study on employability we should look at employment insurance and the role that it could play. We feel strongly that the government should end the clawback of EI for recipients pursuing training and education.
My last words will deal with education and literacy issues. Nine million Canadians do not have functional levels of literacy and yet the government cut literacy programs last year by $18 million. This is an example of where EI could be used for training to improve those skills. I hope that the government will review its position in this important area.