Fairness for the Self-Employed Act

An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act and other Acts by establishing a scheme to provide for the payment of special benefits to self-employed persons who are not currently entitled to receive them.

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.

Notice of Closure
Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Routine Proceedings

December 10th, 2009 / 11 a.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the consideration of the third reading stage of Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, I wish to give notice that at a next sitting a minister of the Crown shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that debate be not further adjourned.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I will share my time regarding Bill C-56 with the member for Terrebonne—Blainville.

When the government introduced Bill C-56 to make it possible for self-employed workers to receive special benefits, we were generally in favour of it. It is an idea that the Bloc Québécois has defended for a long time, that self-employed workers should have access to the employment insurance system, with some restrictions, of course. We imagined it would be much more inclusive, but this seems to be a step in the right direction. That is why we voted in favour of the bill at second reading, to refer it to a committee to be examined further.

Right from the start, however, we felt that the amount of $1.36 for every $100, which is not explicitly stated in the bill, was excessive. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, through the Minister of National Revenue, announced that self-employed workers in Quebec would be asked to contribute $1.36 for every $100 of insurable earnings. Self-employed workers, especially women in Quebec, already have access to parental leave, which was implemented by the Parti Québécois some years ago. This program is very successful, and is partly responsible for the rather impressive and reassuring increase in the fertility rate in Quebec.

We therefore had some apprehensions, but once again, as I said, we wanted to give the government a chance, so we sent the bill to committee. Our fears quickly proved to be well founded. This premium of $1.36 per $100 would be used for two types of benefits: sickness benefits and compassionate care benefits. I would remind the House that we are talking about 15 weeks in the case of sickness benefits and six weeks in the case of compassionate care, if I remember correctly, so these are fairly minimal benefits. In my opinion, very few male and especially female workers in Quebec are going to enrol in this system at a cost of $1.36, even though enrolment is voluntary. As responsible legislators, we cannot accept this approach.

Consequently, in committee, we tried to amend the bill to ensure that the contribution rate for self-employed workers in Quebec would be fair, given the new coverage they were being offered. Moreover, the amendment was designed so that if another jurisdiction in Canada were to offer benefits such as parental or maternity leave or sickness or compassionate care benefits, there would be a formula to reflect that reality and prevent these self-employed workers from having to pay twice for the same type of coverage, either now or in the future.

We tried to debate this in committee, but the Liberals unfortunately did not see things our way, so we will be forced to vote against Bill C-56 at third reading.

In addition, the former EI chief actuary, Michel Bédard, took it upon himself to provide us with his assessment of what the contribution rate should be for self-employed workers in Quebec. He sent an email to my colleague from Chambly—Borduas, basing his calculations on the cost of these special benefits. We are talking about roughly $1 billion for parental or maternity leave. The rest was for compassionate care and sickness benefits. I would like to quote his conclusion:

Quebeckers should pay a contribution rate of $0.41 per $100 under Bill C-56 for sickness benefits. A rate of $1.36 per $100 would clearly be excessive.

The former actuary said that. If I recall correctly, he served in that position from 1991 to 2003, so he has the expertise to make the necessary calculations.

That amount also takes into account system administration costs. The amount the government announced is over three times too high given the new coverage it will be offering to self-employed Quebec workers. We do not want to have anything to do with a Conservative government plan that verges on usurious.

That is why we will vote against this bill. If the bill passes, the Bloc Québécois will take it upon itself to make sure self-employed workers in Quebec know that this plan is a rip-off.

We have to look at things from a broader perspective. We have to say no to this bill because it is just a way to get money from workers whose income is already, for the most part, relatively low. But we think that this scheme is just cover for a Conservative government agenda to bring down the deficit, which is growing on a monthly basis because of the ongoing economic crisis and the recession, which have resulted in lower revenue and higher spending.

Basically, a review of the Minister of Finance's latest documents clearly reveals that the Conservative government will once again use the employment insurance fund as a cash cow to fight the deficit. That is the agenda behind Bill C-56, and we will not stand for it. We did not stand for it when Paul Martin's Liberals used the employment insurance fund—premiums collected from workers and employers, including small and medium businesses—for purposes other than those for which the money was collected.

The Minister of Finance's documents are very clear: over the next few years, more than $15 billion will be taken out of the fund to pad the government's coffers. We find that deeply unfair and unproductive. Everyone knows that employment insurance premiums are an employment tax.

Proportionally speaking, what kind of businesses hire the most workers? Small and medium businesses. That is why this bill will perpetrate an injustice not only on workers, but also on the entrepreneurs who create the most jobs in our economy. That is especially true for Quebec.

We refuse to be complicit in another misappropriation of the employment insurance fund for other purposes. I would also remind the House that the Liberal government diverted somewhere between $55 million and $57 million for other purposes. Furthermore, two-thirds of the money used to pay down the deficit and create a surplus came from the employment insurance fund, and the rest came from unilateral cutbacks in federal transfers to the provinces. If memory serves, there was a surplus of approximately $67 billion from 1998 until the end of the Liberal reign.

We are now witnessing the same scenario. It is a case of déjà vu. We simply cannot support this completely unfair practice. It is unwarranted, because there are other ways to balance the budget. Bill C-56 demonstrates the Conservative government's willingness to use the employment insurance fund to tackle the deficit. It has other means at its disposal. Perhaps those means may require public debates. Perhaps it is easier for them to use, in an underhanded way, the EI fund and the premiums that workers and employers have to pay. Maybe this prevents them from having to hold public debates.

That said, it would be in line with the Conservative way, which involves concealing information and imposing its vision for socio-economic development. And I am not even talking about environmental and cultural decay.

By stating here today that we will vote against Bill C-56, we are sending a clear message that we do not agree with this method of tackling the deficit.

As I said, there are other ways, including taxation measures, for example, particularly in the highest tax brackets. We have seen some bureaucratic spending and spending on federal government propaganda, which have been of no use whatsoever, either economically and socially. Our finance critic presented a plan a few weeks ago.

Accordingly, it will come as no surprise that we cannot accept this bill and that the Bloc Québécois will be voting against Bill C-56.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a feeling that the Bloc's research department should take a second look at this issue. It is supposed to have a very good research department, but I am not so sure it is right on this one.

For example, in this particular bill, this is optional. No one has to buy into this program. If individuals can find benefits that are cheaper in the private sector and insurance market, they are free to do so or they are free to do nothing. Second, the member said that the government would be using the EI surplus to pay the deficit. In fact, this program is not going to produce any surplus at all. There will be a deficit unless it is made mandatory.

I think the Liberal member had it tied down pretty good the other day. She suggested that she could not see how it could possibly make money because it would be selection against the EI system when it is made voluntary. It would have to be mandatory to break even. That is another issue. I would ask the Bloc member to comment on those items. I just think it has it wrong this time.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am always stunned to see how naive the NDP can be. It regularly buys into the Conservative rhetoric for populist reasons. That may be the one thing that the NDP and the Conservative Party have in common: they base their arguments or their strategies on populism.

Our research department had nothing to do with it. The figures were validated. It was the former chief actuary for EI, Mr. Bédard, who did the calculations. Self-employed workers in Quebec will have to pay $1.36, as opposed to $1.73 for their Canadian counterparts. That is a difference of just 43¢, but self employed workers in Quebec already pay 88¢ for every $100 of insurable earnings for parental leave. Therefore, self-employed workers in Quebec will pay $2.22.

First, this is extremely expensive considering what the real coverage is. We are not comparing this to the private sector. That has absolutely nothing to do with it. We are comparing this to how much it is costing the government to offer this new coverage and how much self-employed workers should be paying. Actually, they should be paying 43¢ for that coverage.

Second, Mr. Bédard told us that by 2014 the EI fund will have a $100 million deficit on the Canadian side and a $70 million surplus on the Quebec side. This means that self-employed workers in Quebec will pay for their counterparts in English Canada at a rate that I think is totally disproportionate.

We support the principle of solidarity within a society, but not at the expense of fairness and justice. This bill is unfair to the self-employed workers of Quebec.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the Bloc is taking such an opposing view of this legislation. I think the Liberals and the NDP as well as our government realize that this is landmark legislation. It has never been offered before. This is something that is going to level the playing field as far as employment benefits for both workers and the self-employed.

If one does not try something new, one will never succeed in perfecting it. If we get this legislation through, we can take some time. If there are some areas that the opposition may feel need to be touched up a little bit, we have the committee to do that. As we go along with this program, which is new and innovative, we are going to see amendments that perhaps can make it better.

Let us understand that the self-employed business person in Canada plays a very key role and should have the opportunity to purchase this extra bit of protection. I am surprised that the Bloc is so opposed to it. Get with this legislation. It is—

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, we tried to amend the bill. The Conservatives, together with the Liberals, refused to hear our amendment, which was a formula that would have provided equity for all workers in Canada and Quebec, if such a program were made part of employment insurance. We are talking about parental leave. We tried to improve it, but they refused. That is why we are voting against this bill.

Secondly, Michel Bédard, the former chief actuary of the employment insurance fund, was prepared to testify. He was even in the committee room. We suggested listening to what he had to say. Again, the Conservatives, together with the Liberals, refused to listen to Michel Bédard and hear the truth.

In closing, as I was saying, the reduction for Quebec, which the Minister of National Revenue is boasting about, is 37¢ from $1.73. That represents 21.4% of the estimated cost of maternity leave benefits and parental leave, which, in fact, amount to 75%. Therefore, a 75% rebate should have been given instead of 21.4%

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are here this morning to discuss Bill C-56, to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

The Bloc Québécois simply cannot support this bill because, once again, Quebeckers will be paying for the rest of Canada.

We are used to paying for the rest of Canada. We have always paid. We have paid for Alberta's tar sands development because the federal government, with our taxes, has injected money into this sector. We have also paid for various Canadian structures. Now we will be paying once again to improve the employment insurance fund, which soon will be in the red.

The Bloc Québécois really cannot support this bill because it will penalize Quebec's self-employed workers. My colleagues in this House really have to think about that. Once again, the self-employed workers of Quebec will pay for measures that they can already access practically free of charge and will pay for those workers who do not have access to them. That is insulting.

This bill amends the Employment Insurance Act to establish a scheme that will pay special benefits to self-employed persons. The bill will amend certain sections on special benefits. We do not agree with this.

These special benefits are maternity benefits for a maximum of 15 weeks. As for parental or adoptive benefits, Quebec already offers these two types of benefits. We want to be clear about this: in Quebec we already pay for these benefits. Therefore, we do not need the benefits that will be included under employment insurance. Sickness and compassionate care benefits are acceptable.

The bill will give the self-employed voluntary access to special employment insurance benefits. Their premiums will be based on their tax returns. They will need to have earned a minimum of $6,000 over the preceding calendar year to be entitled to benefits equal to 55% of their income. They will have to opt into the program one year prior to claiming benefits. For example, they will have to sign up in 2009 to receive benefits in 2010, and contribute for one year before having access to these benefits.

We have been told that this measure could be in place in 2010 with benefits based on the previous year's income, which would allow self-employed workers to sign up now.

However, once self-employed workers receive special benefits they must continue to pay premiums and cannot opt out. Of course, they will not be paying regular employee premiums.

Self-employed workers in Canada will pay $1.73 per $100 in insurable earnings to have access to the four measures. Self-employed workers in Quebec will pay $1.36 per $100 in insurable earnings to have access to two measures, which are the least expensive ones for the government.

It is as though I had four candies: one for $1, one for $2, one for 50¢ and another for 50¢. I make a deal and sell them for $2. But I keep the first two candies in my pocket. So you end up paying $2 for two candies worth 50¢. It is exactly the same thing.

What is shocking and insulting is that the government did not take into account that Quebec is proactive and already has measures to protect our self-employed workers. If they want to be fair and equitable, they should take that into account.

I hear my colleagues asking questions in the House and saying that this is a historic bill we could amend. But there is nothing historic about this bill, since Quebec has always paid for the rest of Canada.

My colleagues on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities tried to amend the bill, but no amendments ever passed. An actuary came to explain to the committee how it worked in Quebec, but they were not interested in listening. That is insulting and shocking.

Then, they try to say that the Bloc Québécois is against the bill simply because it is always against everything. Come on. My colleagues need to open their eyes. We have to fix this bill and come back to it, because it is unfair to Quebeckers.

Quebec is unique because the CSST provides some protection for our self-employed workers. It does not make sense that Quebec should always be forced to foot the bill for services provided and measures implemented elsewhere. Self-employed Quebec workers need to know that they are being taken for a ride. Let me be the one to say that this is a dirty trick. My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I will unmask this bill. Why should we have to pay more than anyone else for our penny candy?

In committee, the Bloc Québécois was not very keen on this bill. When the federal government offers what it calls social measures to the rest of Canada, there is always a catch when it comes to Quebec. This is further proof of that. The Bloc Québécois tried to amend the bill, but did not succeed.

Moreover, Liberal and NDP members from Quebec are going to vote for this bill. When will it end? They are going to steal the shirts right off of Quebeckers' backs. That is why this bill is so bad for Quebec. I am quite sure that Quebeckers will not forget this.

This is not unlike what happened with the gun registry. Once again, Quebeckers are falling through the cracks. So many of these bills seem to suggest that the rest of Canada expects Quebec to just suck it up and do as it is told.

I do not want Quebec to be a region. My region—my country—is Quebec, and Quebec is proactive when it comes to implementing social measures well before all of the other provinces.

I have no problem with anyone wanting to copy Quebec's social measures, but it is not right to make Quebec pay the price for the government's failure to come up with its own good ideas.They should have brought in measures to protect self-employed workers a long time ago, like Quebec did. I do not want to pay for the rest of Canada.

I have nothing against them bringing in social measures elsewhere, but I do not want them to tell Quebeckers to foot the bill when the rest of Canada never pays for measures in Quebec. On the contrary, we fight for those measures.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's speech. One thing I am a little saddened by is we are very close to Christmas and she seems so grumpy about this issue.

There are a lot of self-employed individuals in my riding. We have been clear for well over a year that this is one of the policies we would like to implement, and they have called for this change. It is a very positive change that will make a big difference for a lot of self-employed individuals. In Quebec there will be benefits for sickness and compassionate care.

Many associations have come out clearly in favour of the changes in this legislation. I am sure the member is aware of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. It has said:

This is a positive first step by the federal government and so we are urging all parties to support the extension of parental leave benefits to all workers.

How can she stand in this place and say the option should be removed? It is an option that self-employed people can opt into it or not. How can she say she wants to remove a very good option for those who are self-employed in Canada?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I am not grumpy; I am extremely angry about this bill.

The hon. member is hearing complaints from artists and citizens in his riding. He wants to offer benefits to self-employed workers because he seems to have a social conscience and to have social justice in mind.

How can he decide between Paul and Peter? How can he explain that?

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of granting benefits to self-employed workers. However, it needs to be done fairly, and not by making Quebec pay for the other provinces.

If my hon. colleague has a social conscience regarding artists and other citizens in his riding, will he have a social conscience when it comes to Quebec and will he listen to what Bloc Québécois members are saying, because this could involve an injustice? That is what I would like to ask the member.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member and she makes a very important point. We expect the legislation will reflect fairness and equity to all persons and regions. That has to be acknowledged and accepted.

Being at third reading, however, and even if there is a fiscal issue with regard to the premiums to be charged to those who voluntarily take up this benefit, we only have a few options, many of which probably are not too salient right now.

One option would be to refer the bill back to committee so it could look at it more carefully and fix it, if necessary. The second option would be to let it go to the Senate so it could look at it. The third option, maybe, would be to have an undertaking from the government to examine this matter more fully and, if necessary, come back with amending legislation to make it fair and equitable.

Could the member comment on what approach we should pursue?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have always had a great deal of respect for the member who just asked me this question. I see him in this place all the time. We have even agreed on certain bills that have been extremely important to us, in terms of social justice. I continue to have a great deal of respect for him. He mentioned three options.

The first option would be to send the bill back to committee for amendments. That is in fact what the Bloc Québécois wanted. My colleagues who are members of the committee that deals with employment insurance proposed some amendments, which were flatly rejected. This is no joke. The actuary even came to explain the monetary implications of the bill, but no one would even listen to him.

Second, we cannot always count on the Senate to do our work for us. As members of Parliament, it is our duty to consider all aspects of a bill and examine it carefully.

Third, regarding an undertaking by this government, is the hon. member joking? In my opinion, when a government is not even open enough to listen to an actuary, it would never honour such an undertaking.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to listen to the debate when it commenced and a couple of items did strike my attention.

We are dealing, as we know, with Bill C-56. I believe this bill in principle has the support of the House, being passed at second reading and because it provides special benefits on an opt-in basis under the employment insurance system to self-employed persons.

I listened to the minister introduce the bill and I thought that the minister carefully framed the issue before us when she said that Canadians should not have to choose between the family and their business responsibilities. We all know that many people choose self-employment because it gives them the flexibility to take care of family responsibilities. Some are self-employed because they have lost their jobs but still have to work, and they have to scramble to make ends meet. There are a variety of other circumstances that may put people in situations where they must be self-employed.

The employment insurance system provides benefits for employed persons who, for a variety of reasons, may have to leave their jobs to get benefits. In addition to those, though, there are a number of special benefits that are attached. I have a particular interest in this act, because one of those benefits has to do with maternity leave under EI. Some years ago I was very pleased to be able, through one of my private member's bills, to get maternity and parental leave benefits extended to a full year from the then six months. I believe that particular change to the EI Act was very well received by Canadians. I would note that in France now, maternity and parental leave benefits are for a full two years, recognizing the research and studies done on head starts for children and how important it is that parents have the opportunity to determine when is the right time for their child to access day care or child care, or when the child needs their parents to be home. The bill will go part way in that regard for self-employed persons. However, I fear it will probably not be enough and I hope that we will be pursuing this area of benefits for families with children. For me, it is so very, very important for families with children.

The minister also wanted to advise the House that self-employed workers in Canada are often the innovators in our economy. They are people who contribute their creativity, courage and capital in pursuit of a better life. They strengthen our communities, and it is the communities that make a strong country.

The minister also wanted to inform us that there are 2.6 million Canadians who are self-employed, and they account for about 15% of the working population. It is clear that this segment of our population faces circumstances that many people do not, or will never in their lifetimes, but it provides specific challenges. The difference for the self-employed is the fact that if they do not go to work or do the work, they do not get paid. There is a lot of work involved, but people make this sacrifice because it provides them with the flexibility to, among other things, make sure that the needs of their family, particularly their children, are taken care of.

Self-employed workers have been asking for these benefits for a very, very long period of time. The case has been well made, and self-employed Canadians do come from a broad range of situations and incomes. Some are professionals, scientists or technicians. They could be tradespeople or retailers, or they could simply be involved in a very small business where they are taking advantage of certain skill sets or abilities they have to provide goods and services. Thus it is an important segment of our economy that we really need to address.

About one-third of all self-employed women are also of child-bearing age, and many of them are choosing self-employment because it does provide the flexibility to combine a career with the responsibilities of raising a family. Obviously in these tough economic times, self-employment does offer a way for laid-off workers to stay active in the labour market and do their share in our economic recovery and, of course, to provide for their families.

Finally, with regard to the minister's comments, I thought that overall, the special benefits for the self-employed would mirror those of salaried employees. Under the EI program, the contributions and benefits for the self-employed would be comparable whether earnings came from self-employment, salaried employment, or a mix of the two; but clearly the overall goal was to make these special benefits for the self-employed the same as those for salaried employees, recognizing that some adjustments might be necessary. Those in fact have come to light in some of the statements made this morning and by the member for Laval—Les Îles, who raised the issue at the commencement of third reading.

In looking at the bill, I found it difficult to go through it because it has consequential amendments to a number of acts. There are also a number of exceptions. For instance, if one is self-employed and ill and wants to receive benefits, there is going to be a test whether one would be classified as self-employed without that illness. That is as simply as I can state it, but if we look at that in the act, it is not as clear as it would seem to indicate.

From the various conditions and exceptions, it looks as if there will be cases where it is going to subject to interpretation, and I only wish that this had been a little simpler. I wish the bill had been more focused on the requirements of people accessing these benefits and that it had relied more heavily on regulations, which allow a government the flexibility to make modifications by using formulas and regulations or by listing the certain kinds of things that would be there.

When we start to put everything in the bill and try to craft editorial remarks or prose around what our intent is, there is a risk of missing something. As I indicated earlier in response to the question by the previous speaker, we are at third reading now. This bill has received approval in principle and it cannot be changed in its macro sense. We can tweak it, but the only way to tweak it at third reading is either to refer it back to committee, or to pass it at third reading and let it go to the Senate and maybe it can help to clarify the bill or, if necessary, correct a problem.

Since these benefits subject to a voluntary opt-in will not kick in for a year, I guess there is time to deal with it in an amending piece of legislation, if we could do that. However, I have to say that when I looked at the minutes of the committee meeting, I appreciated what members had been saying about rushing through proposed amendments. As I read this last night, I see that it took a long time for the committee members to grasp the points that were being made in some of the amendments. There seemed to be a little too much pressure to deal with it quickly and get it out of committee.

That is a risk committees take when they simply take things on their face value. I say this with regard to the issue the previous speaker raised in the House, and also the member for Laval—Les Îles, because there seems to be a problem with the benefits and the premiums proposed for residents of Quebec.

Bill C-56 would amend the act to establish a mechanism to provide payment of special benefits, not the labour-related EI benefits that one can get as a salaried employee if one loses a job. There are other things, including maternity benefits, sickness benefits, compassionate care benefits, and parental or adoptive benefits. These are important to Canadians. We have a system that I believe provides adequately for those who are salaried, but not for self-employed persons.

In all provinces other than Quebec, these kinds of special benefits are not provided by provincial governments. Someone who wishes to have such coverage would have to get it through private insurance.

The Province of Quebec is different. The Province of Quebec already provides some of these benefits, which are included in the provincial tax on residents of Quebec. These benefits are extended to Quebec residents, but they have a real cost for the people in Quebec.

However, in looking at the discussion in committee and also at the representations of previous speakers, there seems to be something wrong. If we compare what benefits someone would get in another province of Canada if he or she opted into this plan with the ones that he or she would need, the differential in the premium a self-employed individual in Quebec would pay and someone in any other province does not seem to match up clearly with what one would reasonably expect in terms of a pro rata cost per $100 of earnings. That is an issue that some members have raised.

We have a situation where the standard of fairness and equity does not seem to have been met for all persons in all regions. Ensuring so is one of our critical responsibilities.

I am not going to go into the mechanics of the premiums, but just so that members are aware, I will say that self-employed workers in Quebec already have access to Government of Quebec benefits for parental leave, sick leave and compassionate leave to care for family. This means that self-employed workers in Quebec should not have to pay the same premiums as Canadians in other provinces, because they already receive some of these benefits, not from the Government of Canada but from the Government of Quebec. Therefore, it seems clear to us that the calculations have to reflect that.

I do not have the precise numbers, but let me give the House a broad indication of them. Since Quebec already has a parental insurance program, all regular employees and self-employed Quebeckers pay into that plan. In recognition of that fact, the general employee EI premium is $1.38 per $100 of income in Quebec versus $1.73 in the rest of Canada. Because Quebec has a provincial plan that overlaps what is otherwise available in EI and the residents of Quebec are already paying for these benefits, the current EI premium structure reflects that reality. Thus we can see the differential in premiums, taking into account the cost of programs that Quebeckers already have.

Under this new bill, self-employed Quebeckers would pay the same $1.38 in premiums. That just does not make sense. If they already have some of the special benefits, why would they pay the same premium after this bill passes as they pay now before it is passed?

Apparently the government has not taken into account in the bill the fact that there is this exception. It is a clear exception. It is not debatable; it is a fact.

Something needs to be done. I asked a government member where the government got the numbers. I think it was the parliamentary secretary who responded that the premium that is going to be charged to Quebeckers is going to be lower than the charge from private insurers. That may be true.

It depends, however, on what assumptions we make about the group which has been covered under a private insurer. It depends on the size, stability and all other good things. I have been involved a little in employee benefits. I am pretty sure I could go to different areas of the insurance system and find a range of premiums based on what one must take or cannot take or cannot opt in, and maybe a plan will not even be customized.

I am not sure it is good enough to say that it is generally lower than what private insurers charge. We need to be more specific. It has to recognize how much it costs for the benefits they already get, and if the premium is going to be adjusted, the cost should probably be deducted. We know what the cost is. There is another way to come at it, from the reverse side rather than to try to build it up.

I wanted to raise that because I do not like to see us get into these situations where a bill is at third reading and it is very awkward, cumbersome and maybe unacceptable for the government to move in one of the directions to make a change now. It would appear to me that there is time, because this program is voluntary, people can opt in, and benefits cannot be claimed until they have been in the program for a full year.

I urge the Minister of Human Resources and the parliamentary secretary to go back and look at what the experts and the witnesses have said. People have expressed a sincere concern. It is about fairness and equity for all Canadians in all regions. In the case of this bill, it would appear that is not the case.

I want to thank the hon. members who have raised this issue. It gave me an opportunity to look at it. I agree with them wholeheartedly that there have to be some changes here, simply from the standpoint of fairness and equity.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the member and on the one hand I think he is supporting the bill and on the other hand he is not supporting it. The time has come, perhaps, for the member and his party to decide whether or not they are going to support this bill and its speedy passage.

There are certainly a number of groups such as the Grain Growers of Canada and the Real Estate Association that have said they want to see action to address the many inequities in the employment insurance program faced by self-employed realtors. The director of the Grain Growers of Canada said that the legislation is very welcome, that it has a huge potential for quality of life in rural Canada, and that this could be the difference as to whether one member of a family has to seek off-farm employment because now families will have a choice.

The time is coming when that party will have to decide what it is going to do. It needs to pass the bill here and in the other house. There are important deadlines, such as January 1 when the contributions must commence. People have to decide whether they want to opt in.

Will the member support this bill? Will his party support moving this legislation forward so many people can be helped, and not oppose it as the Liberals did with the extension of the EI benefits from five to twenty weeks for long-tenured workers because they wanted to force an election? Is that party going to get behind this bill and behind us to ensure the bill passes in a timely fashion so self-employed people can actually opt in as soon as possible?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I said at the beginning of my speech that I and the Liberal Party support this bill. I gave the reasons and even cited the reasons laid out by the minister.

I do not know why the parliamentary secretary even wanted to go there. He did use two words which I think are indicative of the reason I wanted to rise to speak. He talked about “speedy passage”. In my 16 years of experience in this place, when we try to do things quickly, we sometimes make mistakes.

I think a number of members have raised the issue that in this case there is a small item, being the premiums to be charged. The bill is at third reading. We want to pass the bill. What I want to know is whether or not the parliamentary secretary, the minister and in fact the government are going to undertake to correct the mistake that they made.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the member that if Quebeckers choose to take advantage of what is a voluntary program, they will pay the EI premiums at the same rate as employees in Quebec where the rates have already been adjusted downward to take into account the existence of provincial maternity and parental benefit plans which have been there for a while.

In addition, self-employed Quebeckers would pay the same premium rate as Quebec paid workers, which is 1.36% in 2010 which is reduced to account for the existence of the QPIP.

Does the member have any comments about that piece of information?