An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Carol Hughes  NDP

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

Status

Report stage (House), as of Nov. 5, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment

(a) by lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, makes special benefits available to those with that level of insurable employment;

(b) sets the weekly benefit payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest-paid 12 weeks in the 12-month period preceding the interruption of earnings; and

(c) reduces the qualifying period before receiving benefits and removes the distinctions made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

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

  • June 16, 2010 Passed That Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), be concurred in at report stage.
  • June 10, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-280--Employment Insurance Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

November 5th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, on June 3, 2009, the Deputy Speaker ruled on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), as follows:

Bill C-280...proposed changes to the employment insurance program that include lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, setting benefits payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks....

It is abundantly clear to the Chair that such changes to the employment insurance program...would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

On June 10, 2009, Bill C-280 was adopted at second reading and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

On November 3, 2009, during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill the member for Chambly—Borduas moved an amendment to clause 5 of Bill C-280 to increase the weekly benefits payable to a claimant from 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings to 60% of the average weekly insurable earnings.

A further increase to the benefits payable from 55% to 60% of the average weekly insurable earnings would require a royal recommendation and therefore is out of order.

That is why when the amendment was moved to the chair of the committee the committee chair stated:

[T]his...money...would normally require royal recommendation. This would be out of order but...we're going to vote on this anyway because it's come before us.

The amendment to clause 5 was adopted.

Page 655 of Marleau and Montpetit states that amendments requiring a royal recommendation are not admissible in committee.

In particular Marleau and Montpetit states:

An amendment must not offend the financial initiative of the Crown. An amendment is therefore inadmissible if it imposes a charge on the Public Treasury, or if it extends the objects or purposes or relaxes the conditions and qualifications as expressed in the Royal Recommendation.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that the amendment should be struck from the report and the bill should be deemed to have been reported from committee without amendment.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2009 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Before resuming debate on this bill, I would like to issue a ruling.

On May 7, prior to the second reading debate on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) standing in the name of the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, a point of order was raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to the effect that this bill requires a royal recommendation.

The parliamentary secretary argued that Bill C-280 would result in significant new expenditures by lowering the threshold for eligibility for some claimants and changing the formula for the calculation of benefits.

He further noted that Bill C-280 was virtually identical to another private member's bill introduced in the last Parliament, Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), which had been found to require a royal recommendation.

In replying to the parliamentary secretary's point of order, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh expressed the opinion that a royal recommendation was not required since any new expenditure would be covered by contributions from workers and employers and not by the government.

I have examined the bills carefully and found that as the parliamentary secretary noted, Bill C-280 and Bill C-265 are indeed virtually identical. They both contain proposed changes to the employment insurance program that include lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, setting benefits payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks in the 12 month period preceding the interruption of earnings, and reducing the qualifying period before receiving benefits and removing the distinctions made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

On March 23, 2007, in a ruling on Bill C-265, on page 7845 of the Debates, the Chair had concluded that:

It is abundantly clear to the Chair that such changes to the employment insurance program, notwithstanding the fact that workers and employers contribute to it, would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

Therefore, it appears to the Chair that 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.

Having heard no new compelling argument to reach a conclusion that is different than the one concerning Bill C-265, I will decline to put the question on third reading of Bill C-280 in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

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

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook has seven minutes remaining in his time slot.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2009 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the first hour of debate on the bill, I spoke briefly about some of the substantive measures this government is taking to help Canadians get back to work and to train for the jobs of the future. I also mentioned some of the actions we have taken to protect Canadian jobs.

One of the highlights of our job protection efforts is our improvement of the work sharing program. We have extended the duration of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development shared with the House late last month, over 110,000 Canadians are benefiting right now from our expansion of the work sharing program. Those are jobs that are being protected.

The bill of course deals with the employment insurance program. As discussed numerous times before in this place, this is an area where our government has taken significant action to help Canadians through our economic action plan.

To help Canadians through the challenges posed by the current economic situation, we have extended EI benefits by five additional weeks through a national expansion of an existing pilot program that was focused in areas of high unemployment. These five weeks will help unemployed Canadians who need it most.

We have also increased the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. Further to this, we are introducing a new initiative for long tenured workers who are taking training, allowing those workers to receive EI benefits up to a maximum of 104 weeks while they pursue their training.

As the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said during the first hour of debate on Bill C-280, the proposed NDP legislation before us has not been costed and it does not take into account the future potential unintended consequences on the labour market that these proposed changes may have.

Any proposals for reform to the EI program need to be considered comprehensively within the context of who is going to pay for these changes while also taking into account what impact these proposals would have on helping Canadians get back to work so they can get jobs to put food on the table and provide for their families.

I want to reiterate that our government recognizes the challenges faced by those who have lost their jobs in these difficult times. That is why we want to ensure that any action we take is effective in both the short and the longer term.

That is also why we are monitoring the effectiveness of our measures, to make sure that the EI system is working and responding effectively to the evolving economic circumstances.

What we will not do is implement this Liberal-NDP 360 hour, 45 day work year idea.

The opposition can say what it wants about this scheme, and we know that it will. The fact is that this irresponsible proposal would result in a massive increase in job killing payroll taxes that would hurt workers and businesses alike, at a time when they can least afford it. This irresponsible proposal certainly would not help Canadians find new jobs or get new skills. It would simply add billions and billions more to the tax burden on Canadians.

Members do not have to take it from me. Let us see what others are saying about this Liberal-NDP plan.

The sponsor of the bill herself, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, said on Monday, in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, that “a payroll tax increase may be necessary”.

The Liberals realized this when they stated in a press release back in October that the NDP proposal would result in an “employment insurance premium hike”. They seem to have forgotten that now. It is striking that the Liberal Party would be honest with Canadians when it is looking for their votes during an election but would change its tune now.

It should also be noted that on April 11, 2008, the Liberal EI critic, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, a colleague of mine on the HR committee, said in committee:

It's my view that if you get rid of the regional rates and there are changes forced on the EI system because of the economic circumstances, those in the [high unemployment] regions will be hurt disproportionately.

He also said that the “cost is pretty significant” to do this 360 hour, 45 day work year plan. He said we should “keep the regional rates to protect those people in high unemployment areas”.

He said that just a year ago.

Let us see what others are saying about the Liberal-NDP 45 day work year proposal.

Harvey Enchin said in the Vancouver Sun on May 26:

The Liberal option not only seems illogical but it would raise the federal deficit--and probably taxes--while doing nothing to address the fact that many of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back. The Conservative government is right to reject it.

The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training and transition programs.

Here is what Don Martin, of the Calgary Herald, said on the same day:

But just 360 hours to qualify? For a benefit payment period that’s just shy of a year? That’s a bit rich, even for Liberals.

Yet there are many better ways to reform the system, starting with the Conservative’s reannounced $500-million to stretch benefits for long-term workers....

I agree with that and I think a good many Canadians do as well. Unlike the opposition's rhetoric and irresponsible plans, our government's economic action plan is helping Canadians get new skills for new jobs and is helping Canadians through these tough economic times. Unlike the opposition, on this side of the House we will not force all working Canadians and businesses to pay more taxes for this proposal.

Our government is helping and will continue to help Canadians get the training they need for the jobs of tomorrow. We will continue to help preserve jobs so that hard-working Canadians can continue to pay their mortgages and provide for the needs of their families. Our economic action plan is providing additional support to Canadians in a responsible, coordinated way, and we will continue to do so.

The proposal before us is not responsible and that is why we on this side of the House cannot support it .

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Siobhan Coady St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-280. The issue of employment insurance is critical and impacts every community in our country. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the need for changes to this critical component of our social infrastructure.

Since the economic crisis began, more than 300,000 Canadians have lost their jobs. Our system of employment insurance, designed more than 60 years ago, was simply not structured to effectively manage a national crisis of this scope.

More than 40% of unemployed Canadians who have paid into employment insurance do not qualify for benefits because of where they live. This is a serious concern and one the bill takes steps to address.

Employment insurance rules have not kept pace with the changing work environment. Current restrictions on claiming employment insurance benefits are preventing workers who have paid into the program from claiming money to support their families now when they need it most.

Across the country, 58 regional standards govern which Canadians are eligible for temporary assistance when laid off from their jobs and which Canadians are left to fend for themselves. This means that while most of us pay into the employment insurance program for most of our lives, we may never be eligible to receive employment insurance if we happen to lose our jobs through no fault of our own.

This assortment of regional standards is clearly not meeting the needs of the unemployed. We are seeing cases, for example, where two workers are laid off in the same factory and have paid the same amount into employment insurance but are now receiving different levels of assistance because their town just happens to straddle the border of two employment insurance regions.

In my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, I recently heard from a young professional woman who in my riding found herself applying for employment insurance for the very first time because she was laid off from her job as an occupational therapist. Her hours had already been scaled back and she was working mostly part time in the months leading up to the permanent layoff. As a first time filer in my region, she needed 840 hours to qualify for benefits. The reduction in the hours over the previous months left her with only 581 insurable hours, not nearly enough to qualify.

I also think of fish plant workers, for example, from Petty Harbour who work side by side doing the same work for the same number of hours with someone from the community right next door. The person from Petty Harbour needs 630 hours to qualify and his fellow worker living nearby in the next community needs 420 hours.

In this economic situation, the employment insurance system is not right for the times and needs to be adjusted.

I believe that a temporary national 360-hour standard of employment insurance eligibility should be introduced for as long as this economic crisis in Canada persists. This would set a temporary consistent standard across the country and make it easier for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own to qualify for benefits during this crucial time.

This proposal would not only mean 150,000 additional unemployed Canadians would have access to benefits, but it would also inject much needed spending in some of the hardest hit communities. Families spending money on food, rent and transportation translates into one of the most immediate, effective and direct ways to get desperately needed stimulus money flowing into our communities.

During this time of record job losses, we need to help unemployed Canadians. Implementing a national 360-hour standard to qualify for employment insurance would provide benefits for thousands of Canadians who have paid into the system and who now need help to support their families.

As we pull through this difficult economic time, it will be crucial to ensure that areas facing chronically high levels of unemployment are helped by the development of consistent standards for employment insurance and are not made to meet unreachable targets that would be impossible in other areas.

Most stakeholders strongly support the creation of a 360-hour standard for employment insurance. Social policy organizations across the country, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Labour Congress and many unions, have all advocated for a national standard.

Provincial political leaders are also calling for changes to the employment insurance system. Several premiers, including Premier McGuinty, Premier Stelmach and Premier Campbell, have all called for a national standard for employment insurance. Unfortunately, the government would rather leave Canadian families to fend for themselves than fix this crucial program.

Rather than opting to inject stimulus funding into local economies through increased employment insurance eligibility, which vulnerable families spend on groceries, transportation and housing, the government has characterized employment insurance as being too lucrative. This characterization by the minister is insulting to the thousands of Canadians struggling to make ends meet while they search for new meaningful jobs, and it is simply not true.

Families are burdened with enough concerns during these troubled economic times without adding additional confusion and apprehension about whether or not they will be able to qualify for employment insurance should they lose their jobs. I am hearing calls for clarity from workers in my riding in advance of this summer's closure of a telecommunications company in Mount Pearl, Teletech.

My constituents are concerned about whether they will qualify for benefits and would like to know if they will actually have access to some of the training programs. Clarity on qualification standards would go a long way to answering some of the many questions workers face when they know an eventual layoff, plant closure or restructuring at their place of employment is on the horizon.

Last week, in an attempt to convince Canadians her government would be taking badly needed action on this issue, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development simply repeated a part of the budget in place of announcing some kind of plan. The minister's reannouncement of funding for employment insurance training programs does nothing to help the thousands of Canadians who have not been lucky enough to qualify for employment insurance benefits in the first place. Not one new worker will qualify for employment insurance or benefit from this training program. These programs apply only to those who qualify for employment insurance already, leaving thousands of Canadians out in the cold.

Funding for training, while a crucial component of a strategy to address retraining and chronic unemployment, is not the full answer to this problem. If Canadians cannot qualify for this assistance in the first place, these training benefits are of no use.

In response to a question I recently asked in the House, the minister responsible for employment insurance indicated that it was becoming easier for people to access employment insurance, backing up this claim by pointing to regions of the country where so many workers have lost their jobs that the eligibility standards have changed. In her response, the minister stated, “The worse the situation gets, the easier it is for people to collect benefits”. Is that not unbelievable?

It would seem that the government's solution to the employment insurance crisis is to wait for more businesses to close, more companies to fail and more Canadians to lose their jobs so that the threshold for that region would change. This is a staggeringly inadequate strategy.

There is a clear need to undertake an intensive review of employment insurance and to carefully consider the changes that will make employment insurance more accessible during this economic crisis. Employment insurance rules have not kept pace with the changing work environment and it is time to address these shortfalls. Restrictions are preventing workers who have paid into the program from claiming benefits now to support their families when they need it most.

The government has a responsibility to help, especially during this economic crisis. It is time for the government to actually do something to help the unemployed.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2009 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this bill, a very important bill, even though we see some flaws in it. I will follow up on the comments of my hon. colleague and address the accessibility of EI.

Seeing that my hon. colleagues from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and Saint-Lambert, with whom I work on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities are both here, I will take this opportunity to remind the House that the committee is currently carrying out a study on poverty in the country. One point that everyone appearing as witnesses on behalf of their various groups is making is that the restrictions to the EI program put a terrible burden on individuals, make them poorer and make things worse for them. They are unable to have access to benefits despite the fact that, in many cases, they have contributed to the program for weeks and months.

We know that many steps were taken over the years to exclude as many people as possible from the program and that, as a result, a minority of those contributing to EI actually receive benefits. Previous speakers, except for those from the Conservative Party of course, recognized that this is a major problem that has to be addressed.

We are delighted that the Liberal Party now agrees with us and recognizes the need to implement measures as soon as possible. Such measures will help those who are losing their jobs, of course, but they will also contribute to the economic recovery.

Bill C-280, which was put forward by my hon. colleague from the NDP, calls for a minimum of 360 hours of work to qualify for benefits. Adding five weeks of benefits is another measure. Some might say that those five weeks have already been granted in the last budget, but I should point out that this is a temporary measure designed to get out of the current crisis.

Missing are a number of measures we would have liked to see come about. We would have liked benefits to rise from rise from 55% of insurable earnings to 60%. The same for the two week waiting period. I will come back to that later, when the bill put forward by the Bloc Québécois, a more comprehensive bill in my opinion, comes up for consideration.

We will also have some questions for our NDP friends about how the rules will be relaxed during the economic crisis, including new criteria for people who received employment insurance overpayments previously or who have received a penalty. The rules are not quite clear. I think that when we study this bill in committee, we will have an opportunity to go into detail in this area, which is still a bit vague.

All the same, we have to be realistic about the work that needs to be done. Earlier, I mentioned that our Liberal friends had expressed their intent to vote for this bill. However, we need to know their precise intentions. The only measure the Liberal Party has proposed so far—a proposal it has made over and over—is the 360-hour rule. The Liberals think that it is a way to help us get out of the crisis. But this bill includes a permanent rule that will last as long as the House believes it to be appropriate given the state of the economy.

That is the only measure the Liberals have discussed and debated up to now. For Bill C-280 specifically, we have to urge the Speaker of the House and the Prime Minister to have a vote on this bill at third reading. Will they vote at third reading? Voting at second reading is a much smaller commitment when the Speaker announces that he does not intend to authorize third reading unless the bill receives a royal recommendation.

There is another important issue with respect to the credibility of the proposal. We have to remember that the system is what it is right now because of the previous government. The current government is making a mistake by keeping these bad measures in place. But it was the previous government that passed Bill C-17 in 1994, Bill C-12 in 1996, Bills C-32 and C-2 in 2000, Bill C-49 in 2002 and Bill C-23 in 2005.

That does not mean much, because they are just numbers. But each of those bills, which were passed and became laws, represent measures to limit access to EI as much as possible. According to the Department of Human Resources and Social Development, about 44.6% of all people who claim EI can expect to receive benefits. That is quite serious, because it affects not only those losing their jobs, but also their families, the local economy, the regional economy and the economy of the provinces concerned.

We know that someone who does not receive EI benefits will eventually find themselves on welfare, which is administered exclusively by the provinces, even though this person made contributions to the EI system and the EI fund. But the Canadian government does not contribute one cent to this fund. I would call that a serious economic crime, because access to EI is being compromised. We know now that there was a surplus of about $57 billion that the government spent on other things over the past 12 years. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of families who have suffered because of these measures, some of whom have been plunged into poverty.

The Bloc Québécois has consistently brought forward bills that, every time, have been fought by the two big federal majority parties.

In conclusion, if the Liberal Party wants to be credible—because the Conservatives are hopeless, and this is clear from their right-wing measures that take away all the means to support the economy and especially the poor—it must first vote in favour of Bill C-280. It must in particular, as of June 19, join us in studying and debating in favour of Bill C-308, which I introduced on behalf of my party. This bill of course brings back the 360 hours and the 60% of income earned, eliminates the distinctions, eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length, and bases the calculation of benefits on the 12 best weeks.

This is my invitation to my colleagues here in the House. The time has come to fix the employment insurance system.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2009 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-280, which was introduced by the NDP member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. I want to thank her for putting this bill forward. There is some controversy around it, as we have heard from the Speaker, about the cost factor.

In the midst of this recession, where so many workers who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves unemployed and today quite desperate, Bill C-280 would begin the process of setting right those aspects of Canada's employment insurance system that have been shut down for so many Canadians since the 1990s, as we heard from the previous speaker.

On first examination, Bill C-280 appears to be relatively simple legislation, but I will remind members present that it has two significant objectives. The bill would create a uniform level entry for every person who made a claim for EI benefits by lowering the threshold hours for qualification to 360 hours for people in every region of Canada.

We hear from various media outlets that the Liberal leader is proposing the same 360 hours for qualification for EI benefits, but I would point out that the Liberal leader is in fact proposing only a temporary fix to the qualifying hours for just one year.

I want to be clear. This NDP member's bill, Bill C-280, proposes a permanent change to 360 hours for qualifying for benefits. In addition, Bill C-280 would ensure benefits to people based on their best 12 weeks of earnings in the year prior to their claim. You will know, Madam Speaker, that this would be a marked improvement over the current 14 weeks that are considered to set benefit levels today.

It appears from the comments of the Leader of the Opposition that current Liberals are actually interested in reforming employment insurance. We in the NDP have called for this for years. In fact, I would say the Liberals have a particular understanding of the current EI rules because much of what we need to repair today comes from the damage that they themselves inflicted on the system in the 1990s.

We will also recall it was during that period that the Liberal finance minister, later prime minister, the former member for LaSalle—Émard, not only changed the eligibility rules for employment insurance but the very name of unemployment insurance was changed to employment insurance. Those changes included a change of philosophical view regarding the contributions of workers and employers, that they now be viewed not as premiums for insurance but as being payroll taxes. The contribution/premiums acquired then could be directed to general revenues and debt reduction.

Turning EI into a tax on working people, fed Liberal surplus budgets and helped the Liberals justify implementing corporate tax breaks. Of course this was a passion shared by their friends of the day, the Progressive Conservatives. However, in fairness, I am pleased that the Liberals have done a 180° turn and now, apparently, at least as a temporary measure, share the our goal to see the threshold for benefits lowered to 360 hours.

Bill C-280 would put an end to the regional disparity in the qualifying period. This NDP bill would ensure the flow of EI dollars to more Canadians, who so desperately need them right now.

The existing EI rules set nine different sets of criteria in terms of hours worked for nine different ranges of regional unemployment rates. Workers in Canada may be required to have anywhere from 420 to 700 hours of eligible work to become a claimant for this benefit. This inequity is not suited for the kinds of job losses we see in Canada today. Regional unemployment rates are in flux and shift from day to day and week to week. EI must be better able to respond to this challenge. Common sense should dictate this, but I find common sense just is not common in the halls of the current government, or the preceding one, for that matter.

We are hearing support for changes to EI from some non-traditional places, such as the TD Bank and the Caledon Institute, both of which are saying that lowering the number of hours needed to qualify for employment insurance is the right thing to do to further combat the global recession.

These two particular groups clearly understand that EI not only serves the individual, but serves the communities' well-being and that of our nation as a whole. They understand very well that if we hang our workers and communities out to dry, it is not only bad for business but bad for the future of our country as a whole.

Across this country, Canadians will tell us very quickly there is much more to an economy than balance sheets and mathematical equations. For instance, Canadians know that the economy is only as secure as the lives of the people who make up our country.

The TD Bank and the Caledon Institute have taken a view of our economy that is both one for the long term, as well as for the short term. They recognize that one important economic measure that will help support a hurting economy in an almost immediate way is an employment insurance system that catches more people in a safety net, not fewer.

There will be those, and even some in this place, who will contend that we cannot afford to make employment insurance more accessible.

After years of building up a $54 billion EI surplus, the Conservative government wrote it off the books last year. The government owes Canadians the EI protection that they have paid into for years. Canadians have played by the rules, and now the federal government must set EI rules that protect them.

I can hear it now, like an echo in this place, how the government has already expanded the number of weeks a person can remain as a claimant. Yes, this is certainly true. However, those five weeks mean nothing to a person, to a family, when the person does not even qualify for benefits in the first place. And those extra weeks are only a temporary stopgap added to the end of a benefit period, where statistically people are even less likely to claim them.

The NDP has told the Conservative government repeatedly how it is critically important to remove the two-week waiting period for new claimants at the front end if we want to help a majority of claimants right now.

What is clear is that we have the opportunity to not only do the right thing at a time of national need, but we clearly cannot afford to miss this opportunity to fix a discriminatory and close to dysfunctional system.

The current Conservative government often looks to the U.S. to see its experience in any given matter. I offer the chief economist for Moody's credit rating service as an example. He testified before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business last July that apart from U.S. food stamps, the best bang for the government buck was to ensure that unemployed workers had access to employment insurance benefits.

To determine the effectiveness of differing stimulus measures, he compared their multipliers, an equation that gives a dollar amount to the economic activity created by a government dollar spent to stimulate the economy. His conclusions, for some, will be shocking.

A typical right-wing solution, such as a permanent tax cut, came in as a loss, a negative equation, that saw the dollar spent fizzle to half of its value. His opinion was that they were drains on the economy.

Infrastructure spending was quite good, with a multiplier of $1.59 for every dollar spent. In his view, again, the problem with infrastructure spending is in the amount of time it takes to have the money flow to the economy, which is exactly what we are living in Canada today.

His suggestion was that the better way to get money into the community immediately was through increases in spending on unemployment insurance. With a multiplier of $1.64, that would get the job done.

I will close by saying that our first best chance to help Canadians directly and in a tangible way is through Bill C-280. I ask members to join the NDP and support this bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

June 3rd, 2009 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-280.

In the current economic situation, our government is taking unprecedented action to help Canadians adjust to the changing economy and acquire the skills required for the jobs of tomorrow, as seen by our government's economic action plan.

One of the things we are doing to help and protect Canadians during the economic downturn is investing $8.3 billion to the Canadian skills and transition strategy. We are providing unprecedented support for workers to train and acquire new skills. Our plan will invest an additional $1 billion in funding over the next two years for training delivered under the EI program through existing labour market development agreements. This funding will help the provinces and the territories train an additional 100,000 EI eligible claimants.

To help Canadian workers who are not EI eligible, we are also providing $500 million to establish the strategic training and transition fund to support their training needs. To help workers while they are looking for work and who have been unemployed for longer periods, our plan provides nationally an extra five weeks of EI benefits. That was offered as part of a pilot project that had previously only been provided in regions with high unemployment. We have also increased the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program by five weeks, raising it from 45 to 50 weeks.

This government is pursuing a broad-based labour market approach aimed at helping Canadians through this economic downturn. We are doing this by helping them upgrade their skills to get new jobs, while injecting significant economic stimulus into the economy.

With respect to the bill that we have before us today, there are, however, many problems. First, this legislation fails to consider how changes being proposed would impact the EI program as a whole. It fails to consider what the impact would be upon labour markets, and it fails to consider how much it would cost, a particularly important consideration during tough economic times.

Any responsible proposal that seeks to make permanent changes to the EI program needs to consider how the proposed changes would be paid for, who would pay for them and how these changes would help Canadians get back to work so they can provide for their families.

As mentioned earlier in remarks, our government is doing many things to help those in need, but what it will not do is implement the Liberal-NDP 360 hour, 45 work days a year idea. This is what this bill seeks to implement.

We are not the only ones who believe this bill is an ill-conceived idea. On April 3 of this year the Scarborough Mirror reported that the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood said he was “hesitant” on the 360 hour threshold, saying that nine weeks of work seemed “low” Commenting on the impact that this legislation would have on the labour market, here is what Jack Mintz said in the National Post:

--shortening drastically the qualification period would encourage greater turnover of workers, result in a permanent rise in the unemployment rate and impose a high economic cost.

Mr. Mintz also addressed the opposition's position on EI, saying:

But, one should be careful not to come to quick conclusions about access to EI.

He then referred to a study by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development that said:

...shows that eligibility is not a problem for many hardworking Canadians who have recently lost a long-term job.

The fact of the matter is hard-working people who have just lost a long-term job and who have paid EI for years are some of the people who are hurting most right now. This proposed legislation does absolutely nothing to help them.

Commenting on the Liberal-NDP 45 day work year proposal, this is what a Vancouver Sun columnist said:

The Liberal option not only seems illogical but it would raise the federal deficit--and probably taxes--while doing nothing to address the fact that many of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back. The Conservative government is right to reject it....

The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training and transition programs...

The fact of the matter is that this proposal would result in a massive job-killing payroll tax that would hurt workers and businesses at a time when they can least afford it. It would do nothing to help workers get new skills and new jobs.

The hon. members of this place should understand that the people who will be most directly impacted by this payroll tax hike will be the working poor, people earning between $15,000 and $40,000 a year, people who work for minimum wage. Many members of this House have not worked for minimum wage month after month. I have. It is those people most of all, along with small businesses, who need to be protected from this cash-grab payroll tax hike the opposition is proposing.

It should also be noted that this bill will make the proposed changes permanent. There are no temporary measures here. Let us not be fooled in this regard. On one hand, they say that temporary changes are favoured, and on the other hand they say they support this bill that would make a 45-day work year permanent. The Liberals cannot keep their stories straight. Let us take a trip through some of their flip-flops.

The NDP sponsor of this bill, herself, said in the StarPhoenix on June 1, “A payroll tax increase may be necessary”. The Liberals, however, realized this back in October, and they said so. They said the NDP plan would result in an employment insurance premium hike. I guess this is one of the ways the Liberals will have to raise taxes. Now the Liberals will deny that they will need to raise EI taxes on lower income workers. Well, which is it?

I know the Liberal member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and the official opposition EI critic had much to say on this issue. He continues to ask why we are sticking with the regional rates and are not implementing this Liberal-NDP job-killing 45-day work year idea.

Well, I can tell members by using the words of the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour from April 1, 2008 in committee,

It's my view that if you get rid of the regional rates and there are changes forced on our EI system because of the economic circumstances, those in the regions will be hurt disproportionately.

He also said that the “cost is pretty significant” to do this 360-hour, 45-day work year idea. He said that we should, “keep the regional rates. This is to protect those people in high unemployment areas”. He said that barely a year ago.

On May 13, 2005, the former Liberal government also said in its response to the human resources committee:

--significantly reducing entrance requirements...is not likely to equate to substantially increased EI coverage, particularly for the long-term unemployed.

Now they do not seem to agree with themselves.

I am loath to quote Liberal members opposite who now seem bent on implementing irresponsible and ill-conceived policies, but I must say that on past occasions they did occasionally talk some common sense. But where has that sense gone?

If we are trying to help others, I think the Liberals, especially the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, should try to help themselves. They should listen to what they themselves had to say in the past. They might learn a few things.

While the opposition continues to propose irresponsible and ill-conceived ideas that will only increase taxes by billions of dollars, Canadians can rest assured that our government has taken unprecedented and effective action to support workers to get through these difficult economic times.

This government will not raise payroll taxes on working Canadians, on low income Canadians. We will not target small business and the workers of this country.

The proposals in Bill C-280 would result in a massive increase in a job-killing payroll tax that would hurt workers and businesses at a time when they can least afford it. These proposals would also do nothing to help hard-working Canadians who have paid into EI for years and years, and have just lost their job.

It is for these reasons and the reasons I mentioned earlier that I cannot, and I will not, support Bill C-280.

Private Members' Business--Bill C-280
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

May 7th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, on February 25 you made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about five bills that, in your view, appeared to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown. One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-280.

I am, therefore, rising on a point of order regarding Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits).

Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-280 contains provisions that would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act, which would require new spending and, therefore, would require a royal recommendation.

Bill C-280 would lower the threshold for becoming eligible for employment insurance benefits. The bill would introduce a new benefit rate calculation method of the best 12 weeks in the past 12 months, reduce the qualifying period before receiving benefits and remove the distinctions made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that the measures contained in Bill C-280 would cost a minimum of $2.3 billion per year.

Precedents demonstrate that the proposed changes in Bill C-280 would require new spending for employment insurance benefits not currently authorized under the Employment Insurance Act.

On March 23, 2007, the Speaker ruled, in the case of Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), which is identical to Bill C-280:

...the changes...envisioned by this bill include lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, setting benefits payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks of the 12 month period preceding the interruption of earnings, and removing the distinctions made to the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate. ...would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures...in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

In the same ruling, the Speaker concluded:

...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.

Bill C-280 is identical to Bill C-265 from the 39th Parliament, which was found to require a royal recommendation. Therefore, I submit that Bill C-280 must also be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Private Members' Business--Bill C-280
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

May 7th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two points I would like to make. First, as you are more aware than I am, your pattern of ruling on these motions by the government with regard to the royal recommendation is to wait and see the outcome of the bill or motion as it passes through second reading here. I would argue that you should pursue that same practice in the case of Bill C-280.

In addition, with regard to the issue itself, there is a very strong argument to be made that a royal recommendation is not necessary here because the funds that we are talking about are not government funds. They belong to the employers and the workers of this country and they are not revenue from the government in its traditional manner of looking at revenue.

Mr. Speaker, for that reason, there is no need for the royal recommendation and I would urge you to make that ruling if you are so inclined.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 7th, 2009 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

moved that Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand here today and deliver a piece of legislation in my name that will have a great effect on the lives of hard-working Canadians who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves unemployed. It is people like them who define some of the most difficult challenges we are facing in Canada given the current difficult economic times.

My bill attempts to set right parts of Canada's employment insurance system so that people will be eligible to collect benefits and those benefits will better suit their needs.

Bill C-280 is a relatively simple piece of legislation with two major objectives. It seeks to create a uniform level of entry for a person to make a claim of EI benefits by lowering the threshold to 360 hours for people in every region of Canada. And it seeks to award people benefits based on their best 12 weeks of earnings in the year prior to their claim instead of the current 14 weeks that are considered to set a benefit amount.

This week I had to pinch myself to see if I was actually dreaming when I heard the Liberals say over and over again that they are now interested in reforming employment insurance. We actually welcome their attention to this issue. They are uniquely positioned in this debate, since much of what we are attempting to repair is the damage that they inflicted on the system during their string of three majority governments in the 1990s.

That period is when their finance minister turned off the tap on employment insurance and turned EI into a tax on working people that fed their surplus budgets and helped them implement corporate tax cuts, a passion which is shared by their soulmates, the Conservatives.

I must say that I am overjoyed, as I am certain many unemployed workers are, that the Liberals have done a 180 degree turn and apparently now share our goal to see the threshold for entry lowered to 360 hours. This would end the regional distinction in the qualifying period and help EI flow to more Canadians who truly need it right now.

At present there are nine different sets of criteria in terms of hours worked for nine different ranges of regional unemployment rates. Workers in Canada may require anywhere from 420 to 700 hours of eligible work to be able to become a claimant of this benefit. This inequity is not suited for the kind of job losses we are seeing in Canada today. Regional unemployment rates are in flux and shift from day to day and week to week. EI needs to be able to better respond to this challenge.

We are hearing from groups as diverse as the TD Bank and the Caledon Institute that lowering the number of hours needed to qualify for employment insurance is the right thing to do to help us combat the global recession. They understand that employment insurance does not only serve the individual but the community and the country as well. They understand that there is more to an economy than balance sheets and mathematical equations. They know that the economy is in fact the people who make up our nation, our communities and our households. They view the economy in both the long and the short term, and they have come to recognize that the economic measure that will help support our goals and dreams for a better future is an employment insurance system that catches more people in its safety net, not less.

There will be those less enlightened perhaps, but not actually malicious who will contend that we cannot afford to make employment insurance more accessible. Of course we know this is not true. EI is actually running a big surplus which should be used to improve the program and ensure people have access to benefits. It is not meant to be used and should not be used to pay off the government's debts or deficits, contrary to the Conservatives' and the Liberals' beliefs.

There will be those who will argue that the government has already expanded the number of weeks a person can remain as a claimant in a direct response to these challenging economic issues. We know that these extra weeks that the Conservative government continues to trumpet have been put in place as a temporary stopgap and have been added to the end of the benefit period, where they are less likely to be collected. We have said in other debates that it would be better to remove the two week waiting period for new claimants and use two of those five weeks right away, but that is for another debate. What is clear is that we cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

There are plenty of left-wing supporters for this motion that we are debating today, but I am also interested in those who would not be considered of the left who are calling for the expansion of employment insurance as a means of stimulating the economy.

When the chief economist for Moody's credit rating service testified before the U.S. house committee on small business last July, he showed that apart from food stamps, the best bang for a government's buck was to ensure that unemployed workers had access to employment insurance benefits. To determine the effectiveness of differing stimulus measures, he compared their multipliers, an equation that gives a dollar amount for the economic activity created by government spending to stimulate the economy. His conclusion was shocking.

Typical right-wing solutions such as permanent tax cuts came in as losses, negative equations that saw the dollars spent fizzle in half or more. They were in fact drains on the economy. Infrastructure spending was quite good, with a multiplier of $1.59 for every dollar spent. The problem with infrastructure is the amount of time it takes to have the money flow through the economy.

The best way to get money into the economy immediately was through increased spending on employment insurance, believe it or not. With a multiplier of $1.64, it is a measure that performs well and what is more, it is an efficient stimulus. It flows directly to those in need and to the communities most affected by job losses.

New Democrats could not agree more. What we are saying here in Canada is similar. Our government is not hearing anything new from us today and we know that as a fact. The government received a prebudget submission which outlined these very points. It was not from the Canadian Labour Congress or some like-minded group that the government is accustomed to dismissing out of hand either. It was from the director of the MBA program of the Sprott School of Business.

This shows that the government is hearing calls for improvements to employment insurance from all sides of the debate. It is, interestingly enough, a unifying concept. Apart from increasing the number of people who are eligible to receive EI, this bill also hopes to improve the benefits received by people, such as seasonal workers, by reducing the number of weeks used to calculate the level of benefit from their best 14 weeks to their best 12.

This is a small change that will really help people who make most of their money in short periods of time. Seasonal workers are especially vulnerable to longer sampling periods to set their EI rates. Often they have short, intense periods of work during which they make the majority of their money. They may, however, work many more weeks at their jobs doing the maintenance work that is required to be able to engage in the short but lucrative periods that make these jobs worth doing.

This measure sets out to help recognize the special needs of the workers who do these types of jobs. It will help smaller and rural communities keep in place a workforce that allows them to employ people during their boom periods and weather the lean periods in between.

I have mentioned that I am pleased to see that the Liberals are now calling for the same entry threshold as I have set out in this bill and for which the New Democrats have been championing for many years now.

I can only hope they are not playing games with those who find themselves in hard times and that they actually will support this very legislation that reduces the qualifying hours to 360 and removes regional differences. However, I remain leery of commitments from that party, given the fact that I originate from the labour movement and I remember the Conservatives' about-face on anti-scab legislation. This very issue still resonates not only with me but with the thousands of brothers and sisters in the labour movement.

As for the Conservatives, it is hoped that we can hold them to their word when they made the commitment to make necessary changes to address the economic crisis as things evolve.

Given the number of job losses, sadly a number that keeps growing, is it not time that, contrary to the beliefs of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, the government needs to recognize that EI benefits are not lucrative and that it needs to take immediate action to rectify the problems the system has in terms of access to benefits for those who pay into it?

There is something fundamentally wrong when 1.4 million people are out of work and only 43% of them are able to receive benefits. Shame!

Given the way our manufacturing, forestry and mining sectors have been brutalized, surely the time to revisit our response to these challenges is upon us. It is time to recognize the need for fundamental change that will ensure those who have paid their premiums can actually access EI benefits when they fall on hard times.

I hope all parties in the House get behind the bill, as it will set about repairing a very worthwhile social program that has the potential to serve all Canadians at a time when all of us in this place are being looked upon for leadership and solutions to a unique crisis that will define this Parliament.

I would like to add a few of the comments that I have come across since the budget was implemented and the issues about the problems with EI.

I could quote Ken Georgetti, from the Canadian Labour Congress, who said:

People desperately need their government's help to protect and create jobs and to support the unemployed.

Mayor Miller of Toronto said:

We're quite concerned. The fact that the most vulnerable haven't been protected with appropriate changes to the E.I. program is very problematic for all cities.

The mayors and the reeves of these communities have all raised their concerns with regard to the changes to EI that need to occur. They have indicated that currently the fact that only 43% of people can actually have access to EI has been causing grave concern to them with regard to their welfare rolls. If people cannot access EI, they have to access welfare. With the two-week waiting period, those who can access EI actually end up on the welfare rolls anyhow because they are waiting for their cheques to come in.

The government seems to think it is okay to do that, that we can make people suffer at the beginning and just try to increase their rates at the end. However, at the end of the day, normally people will find work within 20 weeks and never have a chance to access those benefits.

I would like to quote a CanWest article, which reports:

Economists at TD Bank said Thursday that the federal government should make it easier for newly unemployed workers to receive benefits and should reverse changes it made to the formula that sets the premiums to be paid by employees and employers.

What is even more interesting is the comment that the article attributes to John McCallum on this very issue:

These are things we've been saying for a long, long time....

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 7th, 2009 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-280. I want to congratulate my colleague for introducing it.

I have a few things I want to say, but I cannot let go unchallenged what the parliamentary secretary has read from his speaking notes, provided by some un-named person in the lobby, which he picked up on the way in here.

He talked about the cuts that were made in the 1990s. He is older than I am, so he is old enough to recall the circumstance of Canada back in 1993, when his former Conservative government skulked out of town with its tail between its legs, leaving a $48 billion annual deficit, a debt that it had built up. When Mr. Trudeau left, that debt was $200 billion. By the time that government was finished, it was $500 billion.

Maybe the people in the lobby are not as good as I thought they were at putting these notes out. He should know that the cuts began with Mr. Mulroney in 1990. It was in 1990 when the federal government walked away from EI and said that employers and employees could carry the whole weight. That government did not want any part of it. That was when those people were building up the deficit.

There are a lot of history books that can tell us the difference between 1995 and 2008, but I will tell the members the difference. Back then we were coming out of a Conservative recession into a Liberal recovery. We are now coming out of a Liberal recovery and into a Conservative recession. Back then there was not one person in the country talking about stimulus. People were talking about debt. We were being called a third world economy because we were so far in debt.

Changes were made. Some of us liked them and some of us did not. The fact is we had a lot of problems in the country that we had to be dealt with and that is what we did back in 1995-96.

Members of his party, his ancestors, including the current Prime Minister, did not think we went far enough. They wanted further cuts. The predecessor to the current Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said the cuts were not deep enough.

Let me come back to today. Instead of people talking about paying down the debt, as they did in the 1990s, they are now talking about stimulus. My colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing mentioned stimulus and Ian Lee from the Sprott School of Business. There are three major ways of stimulating the economy.

I see my colleague from Niagara West—Glanbrook, the very learned chair of the HRSD committee, is nodding in agreement with what I am saying. He is amazed at what the parliamentary secretary said. He cannot believe it.

If we look at the three major ways to stimulate an economy, one is to provide tax breaks. However, tax breaks stimulate the people who do not need the stimulus. According to the Caledon Institute, tax breaks in the last budget will go to people making $150,000, including my colleagues. We will get $483 in tax breaks. A single income person with two kids receives nothing. Is that stimulus? Most MPs do not even know what they pay in taxes except for the very month when they have to file. They are not going to spend the money.

The people who need the money are the people who have nothing else on which to live. They get the money and they spend it, and it is a 1.6 turnover in the economy. That is how an economy is stimulated. It is helpful to the people who need the money as well. It is way better than tax breaks and a much better return than infrastructure.

The parliamentary secretary talked about our leader adopting a new position. From January 29 on, our leader was not even officially the leader, but he was already talking about EI. He said, and I am quoting from the paper now, “If the government fails on these accountability tests, including employment insurance, a confidence vote could trigger an election”. He said that on January 29, some time ago. Now he has called upon the Prime Minister to implement a national standard for employment insurance with a temporary 360 hour threshold for eligibility.

A letter appeared this week in La Presse in Montreal, written by Pierre Céré, who is a champion of workers in Quebec. I will just quote a bit. He said, “The EI system must become a program that provides economic security and thus the dignity of workers who lose their jobs and who are temporarily unemployed. The only partisanship, as we know it, is in that fight. That is why we do not hesitate to acknowledge the position of Mr. Ignatieff and encourage him in this direction”. However. it is not only—

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 7th, 2009 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased to be able to have an opportunity to speak today on C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

As you know, the Bloc Québécois defends the rights of workers who have lost their jobs with unequalled determination here in this House. Our desire to see a thorough reform of the employment insurance system is not, therefore, dictated by circumstances, such as a looming election, but is instead a constant. Since the founding of our party it has been our concern 365 days a year.

The employment insurance program is inadequate. We are not the only ones to say so. The OECD, the C.D. Howe Institute, the TD Bank, all of the labour congresses and workers' coalitions, and many others, are unanimous on the need to reform this program of worker protection, particularly in a period of economic crisis.

By beefing up this anemic program, the government would be killing two birds with one stone. First, it would be helping the hundreds of thousands of men and women who lose their jobs and find themselves ineligible for benefits and are therefore forced into the untenable position of having to find a new job in tough economic times. Second, as if the first point were not sufficient, we need to realize that EI benefits constitute one of the best ways to stimulate the economy, twice as much as any tax reductions, of course. Yet all that would be needed to significantly improve the employment insurance program is a mere fraction of the amount the government has distributed as income tax reductions.

I should make it clear from the start that I am absolutely in favour of the principle of this bill, as my opening remarks ought to have made clear. It contains a number of measures that we in the Bloc Québécois have been proposing for some time. I would, however, like to express at least some of the reservations I have about the bill.

Unlike the motion introduced in this House by the NDP on one of their opposition days, this bill does not include any measures to increase the rate of benefits to 60%, but rather maintains it at 55%. For the Bloc Québécois, such an increase is absolutely crucial and that is why we are suggesting that the committee take a closer look specifically at this matter and that the rate be adjusted to 60%.

In addition, concerning subclause 7.1, the bill refers to a relaxing of the eligibility criteria for people who have violated the rules of the EI system. We are in favour of such a measure, but the new criteria appear rather arbitrary. At the very least, clarifications are needed concerning how thresholds are established in the bill.

Apart from those two reservations, as I was saying, we fully support the principle of this bill. I would like to discuss the measures it proposes one by one.

First, setting the minimum eligibility threshold of 360 hours to qualify for regular or special benefits will be particularly beneficial to the workers who are currently unable to exercise their rights, even though they have paid into the system, day after day and week after week. At this time, that threshold varies between 420 and 910 hours. That is much too high, and that is the main reason why so many unemployed workers are excluded from the coverage offered by the system.

These rules penalize seasonal workers in particular, who experience the spring gap that some call a “black hole”, that is, that time of the year when they find themselves with no income, while they wait for their work season to return. The rules also penalize those who hold unstable jobs or work in non-standard employment. Many such workers are women, including single mothers who already have difficulty making ends meet, and who increasingly bear the brunt of these misguided policies.

With the number of hours set at 360, which the Bloc has long called for, an estimated 70% to 80% of unemployed workers could collect benefits, and the level of coverage would be returned to what it was 20 years ago. It has to be said, the most urgent difficulty with the employment insurance system is the coverage it provides to workers. In fact, in 1989, or 20 years ago, the claimant/unemployed ratio, used by everyone except perhaps the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, was 84%. Today, according to the most recent estimates from the chief actuary of the Employment Insurance Commission, it is 46%. What is the reason for such a dramatic drop?

We have no choice but to lay the blame at the feet of the Liberals who, in the 1990s, literally cut off access to the system by making the eligibility criteria so stringent that almost 40% of workers were excluded. In many cases, it was the same Liberals who today denounce the unfairness and express outrage after finally opening their eyes to the reality that they created. But as the saying goes, only a fool does not change his mind. Popular wisdom will now suggest that the fools have been joined by the Conservatives who, on the surface, despite the combined efforts of the opposition parties, do not seem to see the obvious: the employment insurance system is inadequate.

There are so many problems with the system, and that is why the member for Chambly—Borduas introduced Bill C-308, which would make major changes to the system to turn it back into what it is meant to be: a real insurance plan rather than a tax by some other name, as it was under the Liberals, or a way to punish the unemployed, as it is under the Conservative government.

One of the punitive elements in the system is the waiting period, which is absolutely unjustifiable because it is based on the idea that claimants are all potential fraudsters.

I want to make it clear that eliminating the waiting period would not mean paying out two extra weeks. It absolutely does not conflict with adding five weeks to the maximum benefit period. It would just eliminate the very long and very unnecessary two-week delay before people receive their benefits.

Imagine a worker who suddenly loses his or her job—that is not hard to do—and who has to wait 60 days for the claim to be processed—which happens all too often—and who then has to wait another two weeks before collecting his or her first employment insurance cheque.

The statements made this afternoon in oral question period by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are totally incorrect. It is not true that 82% of contributors to the plan can receive employment insurance. In the latest report on employment insurance coverage, the department's figures were much gloomier. In fact, barely 68% of contributors had access to EI benefits. That is completely unacceptable.

The minister compared the employment insurance system to a private system, which is rather cynical because she reduced the state's role to that of a corporation motivated solely by financial gain.

Following that logic, it would mean that an insurer could decide not to compensate 32% of its clients. Nobody would stand for that kind of attitude. Such a company would be accused of scandal, fraud, theft and mean-spiritedness, and with good reason.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, I can also add that all the witnesses we have heard since I have been sitting on that committee—all of them, without exception—have called for EI reform and a complete overhaul of the system, so that it will actually help them, especially in these tough economic times.

In closing, I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois has once again proposed an economic recovery plan. Our plan is costed, realistic and pragmatic. It would fix the holes in the social safety net, restore confidence, stimulate employment and investment, support Quebec and the provinces and stimulate strategic spending on things like measures to reduce oil dependency.

I invite all parliamentarians to read it. Unlike others, members of the Bloc Québécois do not hide when it is time to take a stand on ways to get Quebec and Canada through the economic crisis.

Our plan will reassure workers who lose their jobs by providing them with a more accessible and generous employment insurance program, and it will stimulate household spending by enabling workers who have lost their jobs to get the benefits they need to keep the economy going.

I believe that the measures in Bill C-280 will help achieve those same goals, so it is my great pleasure to support this bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 7th, 2009 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-280 proposed by the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. The bill seeks to change a number of provisions of the Employment Insurance Act regarding benefit calculations and qualifications.

Before I address the bill, I would like to speak about our government's responsible and substantial actions to help Canadians get back to work through our unprecedented investments in skills development and programs that will help Canadians prepare for the jobs of the future.

As announced in our economic action plan, our government is implementing targeted actions that will inject immediate stimulus to the economy, promote long term growth and directly help unemployed Canadians deal with this economic downturn.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said it best when she recently appeared before the human resources committee and said:

...we're well aware of the challenges that many Canadians are facing in these uncertain economic times particularly as unemployment rises. To address these challenges, our government is making record investments to stimulate the economy, to support the unemployed, to preserve jobs, and to retrain workers for the jobs of the future. With the co-operation of our provincial and territorial partners the federal government's economic action plan will inject almost $52 billion into the Canadian economy over the next two years. We know that jobs are the key to economic recovery and that's where our economic action plan is built on three pillars: creating jobs, preserving jobs, and preparing Canadians for the jobs of the future.

Creating jobs, preserving jobs and preparing Canadians for the jobs of the future, that is what our plan is all about. Among other things, we are providing an additional $1 billion over two years for the provinces and territories through existing labour market development agreements for skills training. This initiative is only one part of our $8.3 billion Canada skills and transition strategy.

This strategy will help Canadian workers through the EI system by strengthening benefits. It is will enhance and increase the availability of training to Canadians who qualify for EI and for those who do not. It will also keep EI premiums rates frozen, ensuring that workers and employers are not further hurt by an increase in EI premiums during this difficult economic time.

We are also acting to protect Canadian jobs. We have improved the work sharing program by extending the duration of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development shared with this House earlier in the week, over 93,000—

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

February 2nd, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits).

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst for seconding the bills I am tabling today.

My first bill that I would like to introduce would be to lower the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, make special benefits available to those with that level of insurable employment, set the weekly benefit payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks in the 12 month period preceding the interruption of earnings, reduce the qualifying period before receiving benefits, and remove the distinction made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)