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.

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 think the member repeated the case that I made during my speech. I believe that the bill does not fairly reflect the fact that Quebeckers are already paying for certain benefits under provincial programs that are available and that the prescribed EI premium for them will be more than it should be.

If members would look at what the current premium structure is between Quebec and the other provinces, they would get an idea of what the differential should be roughly in terms of percentage. We know it has to be lower than that. It cannot somehow be equal; it just does not make sense from a pragmatic standpoint.

What I did see in committee were very sincere attempts to make amendments which were frustrated by government members. I think they were blinded by their wish to have a speedy return of the bill to the House rather than to get the best bill possible. That is unacceptable.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question because it probably is the only issue of concern that has been raised at third reading by hon. members.

This particular bill extends special benefits under employment insurance to Canadians, and that those premiums have to be established relative to the value of those special benefits, such as maternity leave, sickness or compassionate leave, et cetera.

The problem is that in the province of Quebec some of these benefits are already provided under provincial programs and therefore paid for by the residents of Quebec already. As a consequence, the remaining benefits for which they would be eligible to opt in to receive under the EI will in fact be less than the benefits all other Canadians would receive in all the other provinces.

The current premium rate that salaried Quebec employees pay on the EI system is actually already lower now than it is in the rest of Canada because the provincial program provides benefits.

If we have this new provision, where self-employed workers could get some of these special benefits, one would think that the premium levels that are paid in Quebec for these self-employed workers to participate would be less than the rest of Canada on a pro rata basis, or reflective of the economic value of the additional benefits that they would receive.

Based on what happened at committee, there seemed to be some haste to get things done. There were some questions raised about the apparent discrepancy or inequity of the premium structure for Quebec, but it did not get resolved at committee. Now we find ourselves at third reading. I raised in debate that there are some options. We could send the bill back to committee to look at it carefully. We could pass it here at third reading and allow the Senate to look into the questions that have been raised. There is a one year period over which no benefits could be derived under this. The government could at least undertake to review this and, if necessary, bring forward amending legislation.

The government is simply interested in speedy passage of the bill. First, we have to have fairness and equity before we have speed.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I did want to follow-up on what the member for Mississauga South had to say, and also remind him, and he already knows, that this is a voluntary program. It would be better to get as much of the arrangements out of the way in this House first before the bill goes on to the Senate, but at the end of the day, if the program does not have a lot of uptake in the province of Quebec, for example, we will have to find out why and we will have to make adjustments at that point.

I did point out to the member before that in light of the fact that Quebec does have some of the programs, that would be included in this offer, that the people of Quebec have in fact had a reduction in their premiums for the last little while.

It is an optional program and I do not see why the Bloc would not understand that if people do not participate in it, it is obvious that they were right in the first place that the rates were too high, but at least people should be given that option.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member seems to argue that because Quebecers already have a lower premium rate than the rest of Canada on the salary side now, that they are getting some sort of inappropriate benefit.

The fact that Quebecers pay through their Quebec provincial taxes for benefits provided by the Quebec provincial government, they do not need the coverage provided under the EI system federally, and therefore the only benefits they are getting are the ones they do not have. Therefore, their premium rate is currently lower.

If we now apply that system to self-employed workers, similarly we would expect that the differential between what Quebec pays now for salaried employees and what the rest of the provinces pay, should be also reflected--

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for his final comments. I think we can get into some of the issues a little deeper regarding the system as it applies in Quebec.

The member should know that in the Quebec system it is mandatory, whereas this is an optional program that the government has brought in. That will lead us to some other issues about whether or not this particular system can in fact be self-financing and whether or not down the road the government may have to make this program mandatory for self-employed individuals because part of the process of making it optional allows a certain amount of selecting against the program.

If that were to happen and people selected against the program, they would only sign in when they knew in fact they were going to be making a claim. On that basis, the program will definitely lose money and will not be able to run on a break-even basis by any means. At a future point, the government may have to look at making the program mandatory.

At this point in time, I am happy the legislation has reached this point. I admit that the idea of this particular legislation was part of the NDP campaign in the last election, as well as part of the Conservative campaign, so the timing could not be better for the two parties to create a piece of legislation that both of their constituencies appreciated and wanted, and bringing it to the fore.

There has been an explosion of self-employed people in this country over the last number of years. Many of us grew up at a time when self-employed individuals were rather rare. When I was going to school, I do not recall many self-employed people at all. Almost everybody I knew worked on the railways. There were farmers, who are definitely self-employed, but compared to the number of self-employed people now, there was no comparison whatsoever.

As of 2008, there are some 2.6 million Canadians reporting income from self-employment, and for a large majority of them it is the sole source of the income. The share of self-employed in the labour force now has been relatively stable over the past decade at 15% and I dispute that figure. I am not certain that is the case and believe that in fact the number of self-employed people actually increases year by year.

People have this romantic idea that if they become self-employed, they become their own boss, and they can deduct all of the expenses they incur while attempting to earn income. And that in actual fact they will throw off the chains associated with a wage job and will be better off for it. The statistics are rather grim.

The fact of the matter is that a very large percentage of small businesses fail within the first five years. Those that continue beyond the five-year mark, many of them into the 10- or 20-year mark, if they are still in existence, basically live hand to mouth, just meeting their expenses.

The bottom line is that by and large they do it because that is what they are used to doing or because they find what they are doing self-fulfilling. Perhaps they have that optimism that things will get better, just as the farmers of this country are optimistic that there will always be a better year to come, that next year will be better than this year. That is a large group of self-employed people in this country.

There is another group. I do not know what percentage of the total 2.6 million people it might be. It is a substantial group of people who have become self-employed not by their own choice. They became self-employed because their companies went bankrupt or their companies left town, moved to Mexico, and left them here. They had no choice but to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, as the right-wing Conservatives are always prone to say. They have become self-employed.

There are other people who have, by mutual agreement, become self-employed. After working for a company for a period of time, they have decided to retire from the company, but they return and work for that company in a self-employed capacity.

The income tax department accepts that as long as they are earning income from more than one employer. They have to find another one or two people to pay them. They cannot be taking direction from any one employer. They need a contract drawn up to indicate that they are truly self-employed people, that they are serving more than one client, and that they are not taking direction from the client. On that basis, they are able to deduct their expenses.

The tax department, of course, is very suspicious about arrangements like that. It is very vigilant and watches very closely that people are not simply leaving their employment because of an agreement with the employer that it will keep paying them and they will keep doing the same job. In that way the employer would escape paying the benefits and they would be self-employed and would be able to deduct all their expenses for travel, for their basement office and for all sorts of other things.

The picture I am painting here is that these self-employed people are not the millionaires that a lot of people think they are. Just because they are tagged as self-employed does not mean they are earning double the money of salaried employees. In some cases, they are earning less. These people have had a tough time of it. Now, they have to go out and make a go of it for themselves.

What these people find out is that they are not eligible for a lot of the benefits they were getting as salaried employees. They may have had a pension plan. They may have had a group plan. They were covered under workers compensation. They were covered under the EI system which gave them benefits. Now they find themselves without these benefits. That is why the business organizations have been lobbying the political parties. I personally have not been lobbied, but I know there has been a lot of lobbying going on to try to convince the parties to get onside with this particular issue.

Once again, we are not offering full EI benefits here. We are only offering the extra benefits, the compassionate care benefits, the maternity benefits, the parental adoption benefits, the sickness benefits. Those benefits are the only ones that are being offered under this program.

I know my office will be getting phone calls from self-employed people over the next number of weeks saying that they heard or read my speech in Parliament and when can they apply for their employment insurance benefits. Of course that is not part of this system.

Furthermore, it is not a mandatory program. We know that Quebec has extremely good programs. I am very proud of Quebec for having anti-scab legislation since the days of René Lévesque. It has a day care system for $7 a day. It is the best in the country. It is no surprise to me that Quebeckers have some of these compassionate care benefits provided by their province. Those are mandatory benefits. They are required. Everyone in the province is required to contribute.

What we have here is a voluntary system. People do not have to sign up. If they want to try the system out and they are residents of Quebec, they can sign up. If they do not think that they are going to benefit from the program, they do not sign up.

Anywhere in the country, self-employed people can look to the private insurance market for these sorts of benefits. Let me say that I have not met a life insurance agent yet who was not very eager to sell people products. If there is a way for them to find out how to do it, they will certainly do it. A lot of self-employed people now go to Blue Cross and buy benefits for their families. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago they could not do that. It just was not available because insurance companies were only interested in large groups of 50 or 100 before they would give quotes on benefits. That is the only way the insurance company could actually make money because it needed a large pool from which to work.

Over time we have seen that the market has segmented itself and there are companies that are available to give quotes on groups of 10 people, and then groups of 5 people. The reality is that the rates are a lot higher because once again, they do not have the pool to work with.

They also know that, particularly when it comes to dental plans, the companies get selected against. People join the plan when their teeth are not in good shape and of course they hit the plan big time the first year. The group plan can sustain that when there are 500 employees. They can take on new employees. They can pay for all these dental benefits in the first year. Once they are paid, they are done, so they will recoup their costs over the next 10 years that the people are in the plan. That is known as selecting against the company. If a woman knows she is going to become pregnant and she signs up for the program, automatically the company knows it is going to be paying out the benefits. A company cannot possibly make money in a system like that.

That is why I found it just amazing that somehow the government thinks it is going to be able to have a voluntary program where it is going to get selected against on a constant basis, and then if people do not draw the benefits, they can get out of the system, otherwise they have to stay in forever. A lot of companies are not going to last forever.

I do not know what the uptake is going to be in the first place, but let us say it is reasonable. We are going to find that the system is going to lose money and they are going to have a make a decision after two or three years to go with a mandatory program.

The Liberal critic is closer to the truth here than maybe even she knows. She was talking about her experiences at committee. The committee had an actuary come in and the members questioned the actuary.

I have not been able to get information from the government about what its projections are. One would think if the Conservatives are bringing in a government program they would have projections about how many people they expect to uptake on the program and the rollout of the program. I asked them questions and I could get no answers from them.

It sounds as though they are operating on a wing and a prayer. They are going to roll out this program with lots of advertising and get as much bang for the buck as they can. They will tell people it will be good old Conservative economics, sort of Grant Devine economics, that this system is going to be self-sustaining when they know that is not what is going to happen. They are going to get selected against in the early stages big time. They are going to have losses. Then they are going to have to come around and say they will have to make it mandatory and that is something that will be dealt with when the time comes.

The point is it is a good program. It is a good idea and we have to ease our way into it. That is why I suggest that the Bloc should have a little more patience on this issue as well, because once again, it is voluntary. There is no one saying that people in Quebec have to buy into the program.

Why should the Bloc say as a party that others cannot do it, that the Bloc is not going to give others the option at all? The Bloc members should be saying that they recommend that people not do it because the premiums are too high or whatever the reasons there are and try to make improvements to the program. That would be the most sensible thing to do rather than to say they just do not like what they see of it so far and they will be voting against it because they do not even want to give people the option and they feel there are not enough redeeming features to the program that it cannot be changed. I do not think that is necessarily the best approach, but once again, I am not in charge of the Bloc.

The fact of the matter is there is a good system in Quebec. We admit that. The Quebec government is on the ball there as it is with a lot of other social issues. It has brought in a system that works well for Quebeckers.

My notes say with regard to Quebec that there is an adjustment made for the fact that since 2006, the Quebec parental insurance plan, QPIP, provides maternity, paternity, parental and adoption benefits available to all workers, salaried or self-employed. Participation is mandatory. There is no voluntary participation at all on these programs. With this measure Quebec's self-employed will be eligible to opt in to claim sickness and compassionate care benefits that are currently unavailable through the QPIP. QPIP offers some of the benefits, but not all of them. Quebec's self-employed who opt in would pay the same premium rate as Quebec paid workers, 1.36% in 2010 which is reduced to account for the existence of the QPIP.

That tells me there is an adjustment. If that is not true, then I certainly apologize to the members for misrepresenting those facts. I want to be on their side on this issue. I think the Bloc members should be giving this program a proper hearing. It will not be good for the Bloc's political prospects in Quebec when the other parties start sending out materials to the artists in Quebec saying that the Bloc had an option to give these benefits and it said no. What are the self-employed real estate agents in Quebec going to say when they get their letter from the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party saying there was a program that agents could have participated in, but no, it was taken away by the Bloc MPs who voted against it. We all know what the Conservatives are doing with their ten percenters and how they personalize them. I can just imagine what sort of write-ups we are going to see on this program.

I have to tell the government members that what goes around comes around. We can come up with some really good ten percenters on their vote against the air passengers' bill of rights. They are going to look every bit as good in their ridings as those gun registry—

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the NDP member opposite and his party for supporting this great bill. It is a landmark bill, as I mentioned earlier.

If I may mention, because this is all about jobs and employment, there were 80,000 new jobs created in Canada in the month of November. That is five times as many as were expected. A lot of those jobs will be because of the small- and medium-sized businesses, self-employed business owners who deserve to have a program like this to draw on for their benefits.

I am sorry to say, with all due respect to the Bloc members, that their argument is simply more about politics than this program, this legislation itself. The reason I say that is because the more they see their fortunes slipping in Quebec as a separatist party and the more they see the resurgence of the Conservative Party in Quebec and it becomes a political threat, the more they are going argue against good Conservative legislation like this bill.

They should be ashamed of themselves for playing politics with a bill that is going to help the self-employed in their province.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, that is a real tough question that the member asked me here.

If there is a fundamental flaw in the program, it is the whole issue of it being a voluntary program. The Liberal critic seemed to be on to something when she said, “Well, we went to committee and we had the actuaries there. The actuaries kept saying that this thing could not possibly be self-sustaining on a voluntary basis.”

That is all because of being selected against. The people will join it when they know they are on the verge of making a claim. It just makes sense. It would be like an insurance company, when someone knows they are going to die in a month and they go out and buy a $1 million insurance policy. That is called selecting against the company. There are procedures in place to make sure that does not happen.

The problem is solved by having it mandatory. The Quebec program is a mandatory program.

I am not saying we go there right now. We have to move one step at a time. This is a good bill for this time. It is a first. We have to support it, but I think over time we are going to find that it is not going to be self-sustaining as the governments says and that—

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my NDP colleague's speech. The same argument was repeated over and over, namely that it is no big deal if Quebec workers are cheated, ripped off, pay premiums that are three times those of other workers because it is not a mandatory program. To avoid being cheated, all they have to do is not opt in.

Let us suppose that employment insurance premiums in the Atlantic provinces were tripled but that it was no longer mandatory to pay into the plan. Would my colleague vote for such a measure?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the point here is that it is a voluntary program. It is as simple as that.

Across Canada, if there is no uptake in this program, the Conservatives are going to have an embarrassment on their hands. They are going to have to explain why nobody took up the program.

If they get selected against and the program loses millions of dollars, we will be holding them accountable, asking what kind of an incompetent government could have conceived of a program that came up with so many losses in the first year or the second year of the program.

That is why at this point we have to, at a certain point, accept the figures that we are given. We are taking the government's figures but we are just saying that it stands to reason that unless there are huge numbers joining up, we are going to be looking at losses, and we are going to have to be looking at making the plan—

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I think the member needs to go back and look at what the bill does. He is concerned about whether it is going to be self-sustaining. He says that when people think they are going to be ready to use it, they are going to just opt-in and get the benefit. However, the bill does say that one has to be in for a full year beyond one even qualifies for any benefit. I do not know. Maybe he has to read the bill again.

The issue here has nothing to do with whether it is voluntary or not. It is all going to be part of the new EI commission. All premiums go into the pool and all benefits come out. That is the way it is. One cannot say whether it is voluntary or whatever that it is going to matter. The issue here, which has been raised by a number of members, is whether or not fairness and equity have been achieved in terms of the prescribed premiums.

It appears based on what exists now and what is proposed. The differential has gone askew. It is out of line and that is the issue. I would ask the member to please ensure he understands that it is voluntary, but that one cannot just opt-in when one gets sick.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member should listen to his own critic. She was the one who was bringing up these questions last week. She had gone to committee and she had talked to the actuary. The actuary was bringing up these questions. She was saying that this was a little bit confusing to her, but she obviously should have received advice from the member for Mississauga South. He would have straightened her out on this issue.

The fact of the matter is that this is the Liberal Party that stole $56 billion from the EI program, put it into general revenues—

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I think the member for Elmwood—Transcona made the point very well that these EI changes are so long overdue. I know New Democrats have called for years for these changes to be brought about to help self-employed people with employment insurance.

It strikes me that this is a much bigger issue in terms of social programs in general. I wonder if the member would comment on the fact that the NDP has been the champion of trying to make sure that these programs are actually there for Canadians. Whether it is EI, child care, social housing or our health care system, we are so far behind on everything.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question. We had a Liberal government in power for a 13-year period that never came up with a solution like this. The numbers of self-employed people were growing at huge rates. It is funny that, at the end of the day, it took a Conservative minority government and an NDP opposition to put this together. Maybe that is why the Liberal Party is so sour at this time of year over an issue like this.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
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Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, the member for Mississauga South raises an awful lot of cautions and concerns. He says that he has been here 16 plus years and that he would not want to rush this kind of legislation. He says we need to really consider these things and give them a lot of thought. How much longer than 16 plus years does he think we should consider legislation like that? I would like to know.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, as our House leader has said, this legislation is long overdue. It is time we got with it and brought it in as soon as possible. Let us get it through the Senate. Let us hope that the Liberals do not tinker with it over there. Let us get it into law so that people can start realizing the benefits of our hard work here.