An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system)

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

Yves Lessard  Bloc

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

Status

In committee (House), as of Nov. 4, 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 makes a number of amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. Specifically, it

(a) reduces the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment;

(b) increases the benefit period;

(c) increases the rate of weekly benefits to 60%;

(d) eliminates the distinctions between a new entrant and a re-entrant to the labour force;

(e) eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length;

(f) increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $42,500 and introduces an indexing formula; and

(g) adds a new Part VIII.01 to the Act relating to self-employed persons.

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

  • Sept. 29, 2010 Failed That Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), be concurred in at report stage.
  • Nov. 4, 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.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

May 6th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second and third reports of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute) and Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).

The committee has studied both bills and has decided to report Bill C-395 back to the House with an amendment, and Bill C-308 without amendment.

I wish to thank all the committee members for their hard work and collaboration in getting these bills through.

Business of the House

March 3rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business. Standing Order 86.1 states that all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that have been listed on the order paper during the previous session shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 40th Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

All items will keep the same number as in the first and second sessions of the 40th Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the order paper, but had not yet been introduced, will be republished on the order paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be re-certified by the office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

All items in the order of precedence are deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation. Thus, they shall stand, if necessary, on the order paper in the same place or, as the case may be, referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

At prorogation, there were 11 private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to the appropriate committee. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1: Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Bill C-391, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Bill C-464, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (justification for detention in custody), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Pursuant to Standing Order 97, committees will be required to report on these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, one private members’ bill originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bill is deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House.

Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years). Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted this bill.

As they are no longer members of this House, all the items standing in the name of Ms. Dawn Black, Mr. Bill Casey and Mr. Paul Crête will be dropped from the order paper.

Consideration of Private Members’ Business will start on Friday, March 5, 2010.

To conclude, hon. members will find at their desks an explanatory note recapitulating these remarks. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in the third session. In addition, the table can answer any questions members may have.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Before resuming debate on this bill, I am prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on September 14 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), standing in the name of the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to the bill, the parliamentary secretary noted a number of its provisions which, in his view, infringed upon the financial prerogative of the Crown. Specifically, the bill reduces the qualifying period for benefits, permanently increases the benefit period, increases the benefit replacement rate to 60%, alters the benefit calculation formula, and increases the level of maximum yearly insurable earnings as well as introducing an indexing formula that would further increase benefits.

Furthermore, he pointed out that the bill would expand the employment insurance system to provide benefits for the self-employed.

In support of his contention that the bill requires a royal recommendation, the parliamentary secretary made reference to a Speaker's ruling concerning Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), presented during the 39th Parliament, found at page 4719 of the Debates of November 6, 2006. That bill was found to require a royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas put forth arguments very similar to those put forth in the debate regarding Bill C-269, mainly that the funds in the employment insurance account are paid by workers and employers and therefore do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has carefully examined Bill C-308, and compared it with Bill C-269 from the 39th Parliament and has also reviewed the reasoning in the earlier Speaker’s ruling. The Chair notes that Bill C-269 contained a number of provisions either identical to or substantially the same as those in the bill in the present case.

In my view, it is clear that Bill C-308 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. As for whether the funds in question are government funds, I refer hon. members to the ruling of June 13, 2005 at page 6990 of the debates which stated that:

Sections 71 to 77 of the Employment Insurance Act establish the operation of the employment insurance account as part of the consolidated revenue fund. Amounts are paid out of the consolidated revenue fund and charged to the account--

It is evident that the bill seeks to increase employment insurance benefits, thus increasing the expenditures under that Act. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1).

Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I would like first of all to thank the member for starting this debate.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to his bill, Bill C-308, and I thank the member for putting it forward.

As the House has heard, this bill seeks to make far-reaching amendments to the employment insurance program including reducing the entrance requirements to a minimum of 360 hours of work for regular benefits. Let us put this into clear language. What the member and his party propose is a 45-day work year. Our government believes that the amendments proposed by the bill would be nothing short of a policy catastrophe.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick once said that history is a better guide than good intentions. While I have no doubt about the good intentions of the hon. member, history shows us the components of the bill are nothing more than a return to the Liberal policies of the 1970s. These policies would have the same catastrophic effects on our economy today as they did then. These are not just my words. In using the term “catastrophic effects” I am quoting David Gray, an economist with the University of Ottawa, who clearly articulated these points in early August. This is when the Liberals were still espousing the 45-day work year as a panacea for the entire EI system. This was before the Liberals walked out on the EI working group, abandoning Canada's unemployed.

One of the primary objectives of the EI program is to provide temporary income support to Canadians who are between jobs. In other words, the program is designed to help unemployed Canadians facing transition find employment and reintegrate into the workforce. Shortening the qualification period for EI would be tantamount to encouraging higher employment turnover of workers. The result of that kind of misguided policy would be a permanent rise in the unemployment rate.

Allow me to quote the Canadian Chamber of Commerce from its July 23 press release:

--moving to a national standard of 360 hours or 420 hours of work as the basis for qualifying for EI...would have substantial adverse impact on Canada's labour market -- it would discourage work, increase structural unemployment, exacerbate skills and labour shortages, and stifle productivity.

On August 1, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that the 360-hour proposal was “just ludicrous”.

On the same day, Colin Busby, a policy analyst with the C.D. Howe Institute, said that lowering the entrance requirement “could create seasonal unemployment where maybe it didn't exist before. The consequence of lowering [the minimum threshold]...in places like Alberta from 700 hours in most places to all of a sudden 360...it's likely that you'll create more forms of seasonal unemployment over time”.

On June 3, in the National Post, Jack Mintz said that the flat 360-hour proposal, this 45-day work year proposal, is one of the worst ideas getting serious attention”.

The government is focused on taking prudent action to help Canadians and help them get back to work as soon as possible. Our economic action plan is working on three fronts by protecting jobs, providing income support and helping families and Canadians get the training they need so that they can get back to work as quickly as possible and on to a new career path.

The proposal put forward in Bill C-308 would truly hurt our ultimate goal of encouraging and supporting unemployed Canadians in their efforts to get back to work. The issue is not access but rather duration, duration of benefits and ensuring that people can transition effectively into the workforce.

Let us look at how this government has addressed the issue of access.

According to the results of a Statistics Canada employment insurance coverage survey, among the unemployed who have paid premiums and then been laid off or quit with cause, 82% were eligible to receive EI benefits in 2008. In fact, fewer than 10% of those who paid premiums and lost their jobs lacked the required hours to qualify. Furthermore, since last October, more than 82% of Canadian workers who qualify and are in need of accessing EI do qualify and are receiving the benefits.

As a result of the variable entrance requirement, from October 2008 to September 2009 access to EI became more responsive for workers in 38 of 58 regions across Canada. These include 15 in Ontario, all 6 in British Columbia and all 4 in Alberta. In light of these statistics, I trust the hon. member opposite will appreciate that the variable entrance requirement mechanism far better meets the needs of unemployed Canadians across the country than do changes proposed in his bill to accommodate a 45-day work year.

It is also very important to note that during this period where work has become more difficult to find during this global recession, the duration of benefits has increased. Our economic action plan is now temporarily providing an additional five weeks of EI right across the country.

In regions of high unemployment, we are also increasing the maximum number of weeks of benefits available under the EI program from 45 to 50 weeks. This means that claimants who previously had their benefits capped at 45 weeks can now receive an additional 5 weeks.

Our Conservative government has introduced more measures in Bill C-50 to ensure that Canadians who worked hard and paid into the EI system for years are now provided the help they need while they search for employment.

This bill will provide between 5 and 20 weeks of additional benefits to long-tenured workers should they need the extra help. This is an important step for Canadian workers who have worked hard and paid into the system all their lives, but because of the global recession and through no fault of their own have found it difficult to get back into the workforce. In these challenging economic times, these measures are giving hard-working Canadians who would otherwise have had to use up all of their benefits more time to find a job.

We have also said that we will be introducing further legislation to help the self-employed. All of these things are good for Canadians.

While the current economic environment is very challenging, under the prudent management of this Conservative government we are seeing progress. The economy will recover. This is why we have proposed that regular EI and long-tenured workers measures that enhance the system will be temporary. One of the reasons for these temporary proposals is that we were facing a labour shortage before this economic downturn and we will be facing the same challenges as the economy begins to recover.

That is why we acted early to help the hardest hit. That is why we expanded work sharing, which is now protecting over 164,000 jobs, making sure that shops do not lose their workers and workers do not lose their skills. This action by our government will help Canadian businesses gear back up when times are better.

To ensure that Canadian workers have the skills that our economy needs, we have increased training programs. We have helped people to transition back into the workforce with the best skills so that they can compete not just with their neighbours but with the whole world.

While I thank the member for putting forward this matter for debate, I respectfully suggest that it is a bad proposal and I will be voting against it. However, I will continue to support our economic action plan which helps people who are going through hard times get back on their feet.

When this global recession is over, Canada will emerge stronger than ever.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy this afternoon to speak to Bill C-308, introduced by my colleague for Chambly—Borduas. This bill contains a host of measures for employment insurance. I will have the opportunity to talk about some of them.

First, I would like to talk about the provisions which would reduce the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work. I must say that it is completely absurd and distressing to hear the comments from the Conservative members, in particular the comments from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. When we hear their comments, whether they are quoting other people or not, we can see clearly that, in their minds, people who work 360 hours are people who do not deserve employment insurance benefits or people who do not want to work. Some Conservative members should visit rural areas where work is seasonal. Perhaps they would see that the situation is different from elsewhere in the country.

I hope I will not hear, in this House, any more such comments from Conservative members. I invite them to visit a riding such as mine and many other rural ridings, where seasonal work exists and where people have recourse to employment insurance, not because they voluntarily leave their job, but because there is no more work.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister said that this could increase the number of seasonal workers, but one must understand that, under the Employment Insurance Act, people who voluntarily leave their jobs are not eligible to receive employment insurance benefits. How is it possible that more people would receive benefits under a 360-hour rule? It is impossible. People who voluntarily leave their jobs are not eligible to receive employment insurance benefits. How could this measure worsen the employment insurance program as it is today?

We must also look a little further. A threshold of 360 hours was chosen because we want to make sure that workers will be eligible. At present, people from all over the country are not eligible for employment insurance because they do not have enough hours, specifically because of the economic crisis.

I would like to come back to the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, who was talking about the action plan. The action also serves to ensure that people who lose their jobs will have an income. But let us be clear: that income would be negligible. These people will not get rich with employment insurance.

We have seen some alarming statistics this week. People are losing their jobs, are no longer entitled to employment insurance or have never received it, even though they paid into it. They have to turn to income support. They are forced to do so, because the program is not what is needed in the current crisis.

Our position is very clear: the eligibility threshold should be 360 hours, as my colleague from Chambly—Borduas indicated in Bill C-308. The eligibility threshold should be 360 hours in order to deal with the economic crisis, to ensure that those workers who need it, the most vulnerable workers, can continue putting food on the table for their families. I do not think this is particularly difficult to understand. If we took away some members' salaries for a few weeks or a few months, perhaps they might realize that putting food on the table is a real challenge for some people. I would guess that this is not the case for the members of this House.

It appears that the members on the other side of the House believe that people just want to receive employment insurance and not work for the rest of the year. It is not their fault if they need employment insurance; they lost their jobs. They did not leave their jobs voluntarily. If that were the case, they would not be entitled to employment insurance. When I hear such nonsense in the House, I can only hope that one day, this will be clearer in the minds of many members.

Other factors are aggravating the situation.

The Conservative government seems to be saying that it is there to help. That is what it seems to be saying, but where is it helping? When it introduced Bill C-50 it talked about long-tenured workers. According to the Conservatives, seasonal workers are not long-tenured workers. But they are. They worked for 10, 15, 20, 30 or 35 years not only in the same industry, but in the same company. However, at some point during the year, they must cease working. It is not because they want to. It is not voluntary. They do not want to stop, but that is the reality. However, according to the Conservative plan, all seasonal workers, people who work in forestry, fishing, agriculture, road building, construction or tourism are not eligible for a single cent. There is absolutely nothing for them. That is why we wonder who will qualify for a single cent under this bill.

There is worse. A student who has completed his or her university degree and has worked for one or two years and who unfortunately loses his or her job will not be eligible for those additional weeks of benefits. A mother who decides to stay at home for a few years to take care of her children and who loses her job after having been back at work for a few years will not be eligible for any additional weeks of benefits, contrary to what the Conservatives would have us believe.

In the end, on EI issues, the Conservative program is certainly not a good one. We get the impression from them that people just do not want to work. But there is worse than that, a lot worse. They are proposing a new tax in the form of additional contributions. The Conservatives want to raise annual EI contributions by $600 for each and every worker. That is not money the workers will receive but extra contributions they will have to pay to be eligible to benefits. For businesses, it would be $840 per year.

The government talks about employment insurance, but it tries to take as much money as possible out of workers' pockets. That is what I call a tax on workers, or a tax on work. On the other hand, the government is making sure that workers cannot qualify for benefits after working 360 hours. I am convinced that the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas does not stop at this 360 hour threshold. I am sure he agrees with people working 450 hours, and if they have the opportunity to work 700 hours, he will be happy for them, just as I would be happy if people in my riding could work 700 hours. However, that is not always the case, and the situation is not the same everywhere in Canada. So, why not ensure that, in a time of economic crisis, people can qualify for financial assistance?

We also have to be realistic, whether or not we are going through an economic crisis. When someone has money in his pockets, he is going to spend it. He is going to pay for his basic needs, such as shelter, heat, transportation, gas and groceries. That is the reality. If a person does not have money, he cannot spend. And if that person does not qualify for EI benefits, he is not getting any money at all, and he simply cannot spend.

In the context of economic recovery, if someone has money, he will make sure that he can pay for his basic needs. So, making people eligible for EI benefits allows them to have some money. They are not going to invest that money. They are not going to follow the Prime Minister's advice, who once said that when the stock market is experiencing some turbulence and people are losing their pensions, that is the time to buy stocks. That is not the point. If people have money in their pockets, they will be able to buy groceries. If they have more money, they will be able to buy other things.

These are all basic needs, but the government must show compassion. The system must be a compassionate one, but members of this House must also show compassion. All MPs must realize the importance of maintaining the EI program, and of looking at eligibility, so that nobody is left out. In doing our job here, we are supposed to behave like good fathers. Therefore, let us make sure that we do not forget anyone. Let us make sure that we look forward and that we provide the necessary tools and incentives to workers and their families, so that they will feel their government is a good government. Right now, they cannot feel that way.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to speak to Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).

I listened carefully to my hon. colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche who just spoke. I think that he has superbly summarized the very real difference for a seasonal worker who, because of where he lives or his line of work, has to make use of this employment insurance system.

I also listened carefully to what the member for Nepean—Carleton said, despite the fact that he had a very hard time with the word “exacerbate”. In fact, I would suggest that he listen to the recording; he will understand why some members in the back were chuckling. He was trying to entertain us with notes prepared by the Prime Minister's Office. This is quite natural, given that he is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.

In real life, people who are deprived of employment insurance visit our constituency offices. I find particularly contemptuous the way the member for Nepean—Carleton attacked the unemployed and the idea of providing them with more assistance. As the member for Madawaska—Restigouche just pointed out so aptly, this is money that is going straight back into the economy. Instead of playing favourites, the best way to jump-start the economy is to put money into people's pockets so that they can spend it in their local communities. The issue having been covered from other angles, I will give a concrete example, then provide an analysis of how this disastrous situation with the EI account came about.

This is the type of real life situation we encounter in our riding offices. A young teacher came to see us last summer. He was to teach a summer course but it was cancelled because not enough students enrolled where he was teaching. He had been a supply teacher during the year and accumulated 896 hours of employment. I remember the figure. The number of hours would normally have been enough; however, he actually needed 910 hours. That is the reality. It is difficult to accumulate 910 hours as a supply teacher. That is real life. During the summer he had to support himself and was struggling.

Let us now examine what the Conservatives have done with the employment insurance fund since coming to power and what the Liberals had started doing before them. This fund had accumulated $57 billion in premiums paid by each and every employee of all companies. It did not matter whether the company made money, broke even or lost money because every company and every employee had to contribute to the employment insurance fund. This money was set aside to help workers cope with the predictable cyclical nature of employment in Canada.

To create tax room and give the richest companies a gift, they plundered $57 billion from the employment insurance fund. Then they created $57 billion in tax room. In fact they gave $60 billion in gifts to companies. How did they do that? They transferred the moneys from the employment insurance fund to the government's general revenues. Some may say that it is not a big deal because it was always the government's money. However, it is a big deal because these moneys, as I just explained, were paid by all companies, even those not turning a profit or losing money.

Who got the $60 billion? By definition, if a company does not make a profit, it cannot benefit from tax breaks because it does not pay taxes.

So who got the money? Oil companies like EnCana in Alberta in the Prime Minister's backyard. EnCana received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers' money. That money was paid directly to EnCana. The Conservatives raided the employment insurance fund and put the money into the government's general revenue fund. Then that cash was given to the richest companies, oil companies and banks. That is the Conservatives' fiscal policy. Never mind other issues, their jokes about a 45-day work year and so on, that is the sad truth about what the Conservatives did.

Then, because all that cash was given only to the companies that had made the most money, economic sectors that were already struggling, such as the forestry sector in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick and the manufacturing sector, got nothing.

Since the second world war, Canada has managed to build a balanced, stable economy. We are the second-largest country in the world, and we have barely 30 million people. It took a lot of doing to occupy all that land and make it productive. But it also took some planning and an understanding of resource sectors, such as forestry and mining. The same goes for the processing sector, as well as the service sector, which is providing more and more value to our economy.

Their policies have completely destabilized the balanced economy that Canada has enjoyed since the second world war because they have given all of the money to western Canada, specifically to the oil and banking industries. Well before the current crisis that hit Canada 13 or 14 months ago, during the first two and a half years of their minority government, the Conservatives caused the loss of over 350,000 jobs. Those job losses occurred mainly in Quebec and Ontario in the forestry and manufacturing sectors.

That is the Conservatives' sorry track record. Their economic approach is so ideological that it is practically dogmatic. Everything is fine as long as it is in their interest. The rest of the time, they say that people who want the government to play a role in the economy are out of line because they are trying to decide who wins and who loses.

In reality, they were the ones who determined the winners and losers in advance. They were the ones who decided that the big oil companies and the banks would be the winners. They took money from workers and businesses and transferred it to the winners they had already chosen. That is how their dogma. The hypocrisy here is that they lecture us about the free market, as though a true, clean, free market were the decider of all things. That is absolutely not the case.

They also intervene as much as anyone who came before them, except that they systematically intervene in favour of the rich. That is the difference between this side of the House and the Conservatives. When they have a choice to make, instead of deciding to help the least fortunate, to help those who need it most, their first instinct is to talk down to them, as the Prime Minister's parliamentary assistant just did, to make fun of the unemployed, not to help them, and to say everything is just fine. Everything is fine because they stole money that should have gone to the unemployed, and they gave it to their buddies, the oil companies and the banks.

That is the Conservative approach. By not taking into account the real environmental impact and environmental costs of the oil sands, they are making things worse. The Canadian dollar is on the rise, making it increasingly difficult to export our manufactured goods. The main reason for our high dollar—obviously we have become an oil powerhouse—is the arrival of petrodollars from the United States.

We export crude oil from the oil sands, and we also export jobs: 18,000 jobs were directly exported to the United States. We do not even do the pre-processing here. What is even worse is that with this year's $60 billion deficit, we are racking up debt for future generations instead of leaving them clean, renewable energies.

The Conservatives are passing down the opposite of sustainable development to future generations, and they will be very harshly judged. They love to get their pictures taken with future generations. It is time for them to start taking action for these future generations.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas for introducing Bill C-308, which seeks to make badly needed reforms and improvements to the employment insurance program.

It is imperative to restore the true purpose of the employment insurance program, which is to give workers the assurance that they will have supplementary income if they lose their job.

Here is some background for those who have forgotten the real mission of this program. When employment insurance was created in 1940, eligibility was based on the number of weeks an unemployed worker had worked in a previous job. Since 1996, eligibility has been based on hours worked during a given period, regardless of the number of jobs a person has held. This change meant that more workers could contribute to the plan, including part-time, temporary and seasonal workers and students. But these workers, in addition to being vulnerable, had a hard time qualifying for benefits because the minimum number of hours of work needed to qualify was increased.

Coverage started with the first hour worked, and the eligibility threshold was based on hours, not weeks of insurable employment. The eligibility threshold for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour force was raised from the equivalent of 700 hours to the equivalent of 910 hours.

New contributors became the first victims of this new rip-off by the Chrétien government, because the vast majority of them were now excluded.

The government brought in a new measure: the intensity rule. Under this provision, benefits rates varied from 50% to 55%. The rate went down as the number of weeks of benefits received during a five-year period went up. This reform gradually reduced the maximum benefit period from 50 to 45 weeks. The government initially provided that, after five years, those who were subject to this rule would no longer be eligible for benefits. To justify their action, the Liberals claimed it was an incentive to work longer.

I should also mention that the government has not paid a single cent into the EI fund since 1990. Only workers and employers pay into the fund. But that has not prevented the government from raiding the EI fund and stealing money from the unemployed.

We can see the sort of consideration these members had for workers in regions where employment is often seasonal in sectors such as tourism, fishing and agri-food.

It is worth reminding the government that an insurance premium is not a tax. The government seems to forget that. Using the employment insurance fund to reduce the deficit and finance other general expenses is a departure from the principle and the purpose of this insurance plan. The unemployed have been the real victims of the war against the deficit waged by governments, who have reduced their debt at the expense of those who needed that money. By abusing this fund, the government has turned employment insurance premiums into a new tax. Employers are subject to a supplementary tax to provide employment and workers are taxed for going to work. This strategy is an abusive use of that money, and I would go so far as to say that it is the theft of the century.

Even during this economic recession, the government was not justified in attacking the unemployed instead of unemployment. Now, this $54 billion surplus must be used for its original purpose: to provide financial support for the unemployed. We have to restore a law that fully plays its role of protecting all workers. Anything else is embezzlement.

The Bloc Québécois believes it is important to clear up any misunderstandings and reinstate the original intention of the plan as an insurance program for workers who lose their employment and not a tax on employment.

By making this draconian change to eligibility for employment insurance, the Liberal government, and the Conservatives today, have contributed to making workers poorer and are the architects behind the increased level of unemployment and the slow recovery of the economy. What is more, by helping themselves to the surpluses generated by this fund, the governments have behaved like true white collar criminals. In the private sector, if entrepreneurs or administrators acted that way with the insurance fund, they would have all been thrown in jail.

The changes to employment insurance changed the ratio of claimants to unemployed from 84.5% in 1989 to 46.1% in 2006. Under the Liberals, when the surplus in the employment insurance fund reached its peak, insurance coverage under the plan had never been more restrictive.

Access to employment insurance dropped from 57% in 1993 to 43% in 2006. Today, with Bill C-308, presented by the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas, we want to correct past wrongs and give this social plan its original purpose back.

Here is what the Bloc Québécois is proposing: lower the eligibility threshold to 360 hours, and not only in times of crisis, which is what the Liberals are proposing; increase the duration of benefits; increase the weekly coverage rate to 60%; eliminate the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm's length; increase the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $41,500; and introduce an indexing formula. Finally, the bill would also allow self-employed workers to access employment insurance.

The Conservative government now has a golden opportunity to help the victims of the economic crisis and make a significant contribution to economic recovery. For the Liberal Party, this is an olive branch, an opportunity for them to clean up the mess they made with their previous reforms.

If the Conservative members vote once again against these employment insurance reforms, they will be demonstrating once again that their political party is antisocial and anti-Quebec, and that they prefer to maintain their actions and their reforms for the benefit of wealthy people and for Ontario. In sum, they will be demonstrating that their party caters to big business, especially big oil.

Who will pay for this? Once again, the Quebec nation. When the government refuses to help workers who have just lost their jobs, those people have no choice but to dip into their savings, and finally, to turn to social assistance as a last resort. Once again, Quebec is left to take care of these people who need help, although that money should come from the federal government. It is important to say so. Once again, the government is transferring one of its responsibilities. It is transferring this financial burden to the Quebec nation. We will continue to denounce this.

I will close by saying that the money that belongs to workers should be given back to the workers. Furthermore, the fact that this government refuses to help workers is undermining our economic recovery, because they are not injecting any money into the businesses that need it.

The Conservatives are giving everything to Ontario and nothing to Quebec. Most of the workers in the Quebec forestry industry have lost their jobs. This government has another opportunity to help businesses become viable and reduce the number of people who will lose their jobs. Once again, the government prefers to help wealthy people and to help Alberta by giving oil companies tax breaks, instead of helping unemployed workers who have paid their premiums and whose money is being stolen from them.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

I did not make that noise, it was our Conservative colleague. It bothers him to hear that and for good reason. If I were in his shoes, I would be ashamed to have to maintain that position. That is enough to make him do what he just did.

Bill C-308 contains measures that do not have the budgetary impact or require the financial commitment indicated by the Conservative government. The Conservatives have a tendency of inflating figures. For example, at some point they stated that the bill would cost $4 billion and later it was $7 billion. They are like someone who wants to put down his dog and, when he does, blames it on rabies. When they want to kill a bill they say that it will cost $7 billion or $8 billion.

The costs are very limited because there are two measures that are may require spending. On the one hand, we have the 360 hours; on the other, lengthening the benefit period. The benefit period has already been increased to 50 weeks. We just have to keep it the same.

We are at a point, especially during this economic crisis, where we have to recognize the damage we have done to the system and the impact it has on the unemployed.

I invite all my colleagues in the House of Commons to vote for this bill, which will restore some dignity to those who lose their jobs.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On June 2 you made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about three bills that appear to impinge upon the financial prerogative of the Crown and invited the comments of members of the House.

One of the three bills you mentioned was Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system). Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-308 contains provisions that would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act, would require new spending and would, therefore, require a royal recommendation.

Bill C-308 includes the following provisions that would require new government spending.

First, Bill C-308 would reduce the qualifying period for employment insurance to a minimum of 360 hours of work compared with the current variable interest requirement, which varies from 420 to 700 hours, depending upon the unemployment rate of the region.

Second, Bill C-308 would permanently increase the benefit period by five weeks.

Third, Bill C-308 would increase the benefit replacement rate to 60% of insured earnings from the current rate of 55%. The bill also proposes to change the benefit calculation from the best 14 weeks of a claimant's earnings during a 52-week period to the best 12 weeks of a claimant's earnings during a 52-week period.

Fourth, Bill C-308 would increase the level of maximum yearly insurable earnings from $39,000 to $42,500. It would also introduce an indexing formula that would further increase the level of maximum yearly insurable earnings every year.

Finally, Bill C-308 would add a new part to the Employment Insurance Act to expand benefits for self-employed persons.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that the measures contained in Bill C-308 would cost as much as $4.3 billion per year.

Mr. Speaker, in previous rulings, you have ruled that other private members' bills on employment insurance were out of order because they would increase government spending and therefore require a royal recommendation. In particular, I would draw the attention of members to a November 6, 2006 ruling on Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), where the Speaker stated that Bill C-269 would reduce

the qualifying period for benefits...increases the weekly benefit rate...repeals the waiting period for benefits...increases the yearly maximum insurable earnings and...extends coverage of the Employment Insurance Plan to the self-employed. ... I have concluded that all of these elements would indeed require expenditures from the EI Account which are not currently authorized. I note as well that the summary of the bill lists three further ends which, at first glance, appear to me to involve other increases to expenditures. Such increased spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation.

I must rule that...Bill C-269 requires a royal recommendation.

Bill C-308 includes provisions similar to those in Bill C-269 from the 39th Parliament, which was found to require a royal recommendation. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that Bill C-308 must also be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

No, Mr. Speaker, I do not. We will invoke our right of reply another time because this morning we are just getting started with the debate on Bill C-308.

If we may, we will address the government's claims later on.

What a happy coincidence that we are debating Bill C-308, employment insurance reform, as the session begins. As everyone knows, people have been talking about this issue all summer and even earlier this year.

Before I begin, I would like to salute the people of my riding, who are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Champlain's arrival in the Chambly-Borduas area via the Richelieu River. This summer was full of festivities marking the event.

I would also like to salute my House of Commons colleagues, and I hope that we can get off to a positive start this session.

This summer, people were talking about a 360-hour provision for employment insurance benefits. We believe that this is only part of the solution to the problems plaguing employment insurance. It is time for a comprehensive overhaul of the employment insurance system, and that is why we have tabled Bill C-308.

This bill includes a number of changes to the current system, including reducing the qualifying period to 360 hours—I will discuss costs related to these measures shortly; increasing the benefit period, which is currently 45 weeks but has been temporarily increased to 50 weeks—we believe that should be a permanent change; and increasing the weekly benefit rate to 60% from 55%.

For those who did not tune into this debate the first time around, I want to point out that this bill would eliminate the presumption that persons related to one other do not deal with each other at arm’s length. Right now, people working for an employer who is also a relative must prove that they have an arm's-length relationship with company administration.

I would also note that a temporary measure was recently brought in to increase the maximum insurable earnings to $41,500. We believe that this measure should be permanent. This bill would also enable self-employed workers to qualify for employment insurance benefits.

That is an overview of the measures in Bill C-308.

Some will focus on the other measures that are not in the bill. But we have planned separate initiatives, and we have not neglected these measures, such as the waiting period, the abolition of the two-week waiting period, which is being examined in Bill C-241, introduced by my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi.

In addition, regarding the increase in the number of weeks for individuals who are on extended leave because of a serious illness, epidemic or quarantine, we would like to increase the number of weeks from 15 to 50. This bill was introduced by my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, who has left this House, but the bill was saved by a motion from the House Leader of the Bloc Québécois, the member for Joliette, so that it can be put to a vote in the House.

Motion M-285, moved by my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, would reinstate a program for older worker adjustment, for which the provinces would provide 30% of the funding and the federal government would provide 70%. This would ensure that those aged 55 and up who are not able to find new jobs receive an income until they reach the official retirement age, when they will receive income security.

The fourth additional measure is addressed in Bill C-395, introduced by our colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé. This bill would protect workers who are affected by a prolonged labour dispute—more than 103 weeks—and would ensure that these workers, who have often been paying into employment insurance for 25, 30 or 40 years, are eligible for EI benefits when their employer shuts down the company after the 103 weeks. These are the other measures we have planned in addition to Bill C-308.

Since this time last year, we now have 500,000 more unemployed workers, including 70,000 in Quebec. Nothing has been done to help these people, although we are aware of all of the problems with the current system, which already excluded nearly 60% of unemployed workers from the possibility of receiving employment insurance benefits. We all saw the show put on by the Liberal-Conservative coalition this summer about the 360 hours. In a heartfelt speech, the member for Bourassa told us in June, here in this House, that if the Conservatives did nothing, it meant they were abandoning the workers and that these workers would starve. To ensure that this would happen, the coalition set up a bogus working group that has been recognized as such and that has produced bogus results.

Today, we need to debate this issue in this House. Are the parliamentarians here aware of the problems the crisis is causing for people who lose their jobs? These are problems faced by all the families who have seen their income drop because of job losses. The crisis also means a substantial shortfall for the regional economy. Many of these people will soon be dependent on provincial programs. Quebec, of course, has programs to help people in need.

The show we witnessed this summer is a non-starter. No one from the government or the official opposition is willing to say that they are going to stand up for the unemployed and correct the situation. The department's own figures show that in 1990, nearly 84%—83.82%—of people who lost their jobs could expect to receive employment insurance benefits. Today, 46% of people can expect to receive these benefits. This means that 50% of people have been deliberately excluded. The Liberals, followed by the Conservatives, created this economic tragedy for the unemployed, while managing to produce an EI surplus of between $3 billion and $7 billion year after year.

In the past 12 or 13 years, $57 billion has been diverted from the employment insurance fund.

Where will the money come from to pay for the improvements to the system? From worker and employer contributions. Instead of using this money for other purposes, the government should have put it toward the fund's stated objectives.

This opinion was shared by all the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I would remind this House that just four years ago, in February 2005, that committee made 28 recommendations to the House of Commons, in keeping with its terms of reference. The first eight of those 28 recommendations were unanimous. In other words, the four parties in the House of Commons represented on that committee had unanimously agreed to recommend that an independent employment insurance fund be created to prevent the government from dipping further into the fund. The committee recommended that the fund be used only to cover the costs of employment insurance. It also recommended that the money that had been diverted be transferred gradually to the employment insurance fund, as the Auditor General had called for. The committee further recommended creating a premium rate stabilization reserve, to provide for sudden increases in the number of unemployed workers; introducing a mechanism to stabilize premium rates; giving the government the power to set a statutory rate and implementing a $3,000 yearly basic insurable earnings exemption.

These recommendations were all unanimous. I would also remind the House that all three current opposition parties—the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—also unanimously recommended amendments that correspond exactly to Bill C-308. It will be interesting to see if the Liberals support that, if this time, they will remain true to the work they did with other members of the House, and if they will support their own recommendations in the House of Commons.

These amendments are: a permanent, rather than temporary, maximum duration of regular benefits of 50 weeks; that is, extending benefits by five weeks. We no longer hear the Liberals talking about that; now it is the Conservatives. At that time, the Conservatives also voted in favour of calculating benefits based on the 12 best weeks. The amendments also provided for an increase in the rate of benefits from 55% to 60% of earnings between periods. Once again, the Liberals agreed with us. The other measures included allowing self-employed workers access to the EI system, removing the arm's-length relationship—this is all included in Bill C-308—and eliminating the waiting period for those engaged in approved training.

We are very curious to see how our colleagues will vote. Of course, we encourage them to vote in favour of the bill as it was introduced, which would allow them to honour their commitment in this House. The Conservatives also voted for some of these measures back when they were in opposition.

As a final point, one might wonder whether the money is there. Yes, it is there. The cost is not as high as the Conservatives are claiming. We saw that in relation to the 360 hours. This measure will not cost $4.5 billion, as the Conservatives would have us believe.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer did an approximate calculation and estimated the cost at $1.2 billion.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / 11:30 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, it is good to be back in the House after spending the summer seeing our economic action plan create jobs.

With respect to this bill, to put it quite simply, and with deference to my colleague, the bill is not sound policy. It is therefore unsupportable. It proposes a significant number of changes to the EI system, a veritable laundry list of the oppositions' demands with respect to the system.

Among many other changes, this bill proposes a flat 360-hour national entrance requirement, and a permanent flat 360-hour requirement at that. Not only would this bill be unaffordable and irresponsible now and in the short term, but it would also be increasingly unaffordable, irresponsible and economically damaging over the long term.

As this proposal is a big ticket item in this bill, I would like to take time to discuss it in some detail. I know my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre noted the substantive cost to it. My learned colleague started in the low billions and then added to that list.

This bill would permanently reduce the EI entrance requirements to only 360 hours of work for regular benefits. Let us be perfectly clear about what this means. Three hundred and sixty hours is 45 days of work, just nine weeks. In reality this is a proposal for a two-month work year supported by the Liberal opposition, specifically the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. This program's history shows us that the 360-hour idea is nothing more than a return to the failed Liberal policies of the 1970s.

On August 1, in The Canadian Press, referring to this time and these negative Liberal policy effects, University of Ottawa economist David Gray said, “What happened in '71 to my mind was a policy catastrophe”. To repeat it today, he said, “would just be catastrophic for the Canadian economy”.

Shortening the qualification period for EI would be tantamount to encouraging a higher turnover of workers. The result of that kind of misguided policy could be a permanent rise in the unemployment rate.

Others agree, and I will quote the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's July 23 press release. It said:

moving to a national standard of 360 or 420 hours of work as the basis for qualifying for EI would have substantial adverse impact on Canada’s labour market--it would discourage work, increase structural unemployment, exacerbate skills and labour shortages, and stifle productivity.

All those are not acceptable. Simply put, they are ill-advised. Those are the not the sorts of policy outcomes the House should be pursuing.

Allow me to quote a few others. On August 1, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that the flat 360-hour proposal was “just ludicrous”. It really sums it up.

On June 3, in the National Post, Jack Mintz, now the Palmer Chair in Public Policy at the University of Calgary, said that the flat 360-hour proposal is “[one] of the worst ideas...getting serious attention”. He said that, “shortening drastically the qualification period [for EI] would encourage greater turnover of workers, result in a permanent rise in the unemployment rate and impose a high economic cost”. It becomes quite clear what sorts of problems this 360-hour proposal carries with it.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development calculated the cost of this sort of proposal, and to put it mildly, it is costly. A 360-hour national entrance requirement including new entrants and re-entrants to the workforce, which this bill would do, and including the costs incurred by making the 360-hour standard permanent, which this bill would do, and including the related behavioural or dynamic effects of this permanent change, brings the cost of this policy alone to $4 billion. My learned colleague speaks in billions of dollars as well.

In addition to that, we would have to provide for the costs of all other changes proposed in this bill. This could be in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. This would not be responsible at this time.

Where do these many billions of dollars come from? They come from Canadian workers and employers; eventually that is where they come from. But the immediate effect would be to further increase the federal deficit. I think it should be clear to everyone that this 360-hour, two-month work year proposal is a very costly and irresponsible policy.

The proposals put forward in the bill would truly hurt our ultimate goal of encouraging and supporting unemployed Canadians in their efforts to get back to work. The two-month work year proposal is unacceptable as policy and unacceptable to hard-working Canadians. It is a policy change this government will not be pursuing.

I know the opposition has been talking about access to EI. I would like to point out that EI access is high among those persons for whom the program is designed. According to Statistics Canada's 2008 employment insurance coverage survey, 82% of the unemployed who have paid into the program and have either lost their jobs or quit with just cause were eligible to receive benefits. In fact, fewer than 10% of those who have paid the premiums and then lost their jobs lack the required number of hours to qualify.

These high rates of access are due in large part to the variable entrance requirement. As of September 2009, 38 of the 58 EI regions have seen their entrance requirements decrease and their benefit durations increase. That is the way it was intended to work. During this same period, more than 82% of Canadian workers gained access to EI.

Right now, the duration of EI benefits is something very much worth addressing. Bill C-308 does propose a change of duration. It proposes to make permanent the temporary five extra weeks of EI benefits this government introduced as part of Canada's economic action plan. Our government implemented this measure because we recognize that during these challenging economic times people need more time to find employment. We also temporarily increased the maximum duration of benefits available from 45 to 50 weeks. As of August 30, close to 289,000 Canadians had already received additional benefits and both of these measures will be in place for new claimants until September 2010.

While our government firmly believes that these measures are providing immediate support to workers and their families right now, we anticipate that these measures will no longer be needed a year from now when they are scheduled to lapse. Making these additional weeks of benefits permanent, as this bill proposes, may hinder economic recovery by contributing to disincentives to work and labour shortages when the economy rebounds. We do not think this policy proposal is a responsible measure to take.

Of significance, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has announced that she will be introducing more measures shortly to ensure that Canadians, who have paid into the EI system for years, are provided the help they need while they search for employment. This will be an important step for Canadian workers who have worked hard, paid their taxes their whole lives, and have found themselves in an economic hardship that they did not create.

Our government has already made a number of improvements to the EI program to support unemployed Canadians to help them get back into the workforce. We are providing five extra weeks of benefits. We made the EI application processes easier, faster and better for businesses and workers. We have increased opportunities for unemployed Canadians to upgrade their skills and get back to work. We are assisting businesses and their workers experiencing temporary slowdowns through improved and more accessible work sharing agreements. More than 160,000 Canadians are benefiting from work sharing agreements that are in place with almost 5,800 employers across Canada.

We believe it is important to ensure Canada's workforce is in a position to get good jobs and bounce back from the recession. Career transition assistance is a new initiative that will help an estimated 40,000 long-term workers, who need additional support for retraining, to find a new job. Through this initiative, we have extended the duration of EI regular income benefits for eligible workers, who choose to participate in long-term training, for up to two years. We are providing Canadians easier access and training that is tailored to the needs of workers in our country's different regions.

Our government is focused on what matters to Canadians: finding solutions to help long-term workers who have worked hard and paid into the system for years but are having trouble finding employment through no fault of their own; extending benefits to self-employed Canadians; and getting Canadians back to work through historic investments in infrastructure and skills training. The temporary measures under Canada's economic action plan are well suited to respond to the economic situation.

Our plan provides support to unemployed Canadians over the short-term. It is designated to meet the needs of the current economy and to help Canadians get the skills they need for the jobs of the future.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, here we are back in Parliament in the fall, again speaking about employment insurance. It is almost as if we never left.

Much has happened over the summer but little has changed. We still have a Conservative government that puts politics before people, that does not see EI as the fundamental and critical part of our social infrastructure that is so necessary at a time of difficulty, but rather a government that sees EI as a political tool, a blunt instrument to divide Canadians, to divide Parliament, as part of a strategic ploy hatched to distribute false and misleading information to Canadians.

This is a government that uses false statistics and never allows facts or truth to get in the way of its goal to divide this country. These are the traits, indeed, this is the character of the government. Employment insurance is but one example.

Today we look at the work of my colleague, the distinguished member for Chambly—Borduas in Bill C-308, who today introduced his bill in this Parliament and is worthy of consideration. One of the most important things in his bill is the issue of a 360-hour national standard for eligibility. This is something that has had a lot of attention, not just from members of the House but from people across the country.

Let me just give a couple of quotes from people who might be recognized across Canada.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said in August, “What we’re really saying is Canadian workers, whether they live in the Maritimes, the West or North or Ontario, we should treat them the same way”.

Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, said “Instead of 50-plus different treatments for the number of qualifying hours, we need to dramatically reduce that”.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said, “An unemployed family, whether they live in Nova Scotia, Quebec or Alberta, are equally unemployed”.

The TD Bank, in July, said, “The truth of the matter is that during an economic downturn, it is no easier to find a job in a region with lower prevailing unemployment than in one with a higher unemployment rate”.

Pierre Fortin, economics professor, said of the Leader of the Opposition that his proposal of 360 hours was not a problem. It was just and it was fair.

The Star Phoenix in Saskatoon said, “Clearly, EI services should be equally applied across the country. Isn't that what being a nation is all about”?

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who my colleague, the parliamentary secretary referred to, said:

A measure to improve the equity of the EI system that would be consistent with longer-term smart policy aimed at improving labour mobility and flexibility would be to immediately and permanently make the duration of, and access to, benefits equal--

How about this one: “An unemployed worker is an unemployed worker and deserves to be treated the same, regardless of region of residence. We will urge the immediate elimination of discriminatory EI elements such as regional entrance requirements”. This was said in the Reform Party of Canada platform statement authored by the now Prime Minister of this country. Let me repeat the last bit, “We will urge the immediate elimination of discriminatory EI elements such as regional entrance requirements”.

Here we are. We resume Parliament more or less where we left it off in June. As the session ended last spring, we all remember that we were on the verge of an election. It was averted when our leader and the Prime Minister agreed to a joint committee that would spend the summer looking at improvements to EI, specifically two things: regional fairness, which was our issue, and the Prime Minister added the issue of the self-employed. That was the proposal from the Conservatives, part of which they had promised in the last election but had not acted upon.

We had these meetings. I was there along with my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Kevin Chan from our leader's office, and three members of the opposition. The meetings were difficulty but I do not suppose that this particularly relevant. People do not care how we spend our summer time.

The bottom line is that the Conservative members of this committee stalled, delayed and brought nothing to the table, absolutely nothing serious. I do not believe this was unintentional. The Conservative members broke confidential protocols. It had been decided that there would be certain protocols about confidentiality. At almost every turn the Conservative members prevented departmental officials from giving information that we had all agreed to, including the Conservative members. That is unbelievable.

The Conservative members leaked a document that they themselves indicated should not be leaked. I am looking at it. It says “Employment insurance working group--not for distribution”. The members brought that to a meeting. The only problem was, it was already given to the media. Why would the Conservative members do that?

Mr. Speaker, I can see you are shocked. The Conservative members did it because there was false and misleading information in that document. They increased the cost of the Liberal proposal for regional fairness by over 400%, not a little bit.

I took the decision to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer, an independent officer of this House, to review the government numbers. We now know the result of that.

The PBO, appointed by the government, came back and said, yes, the government inflated the cost and, in fact, indicated that the actual cost of our 360-hour temporary proposal was slightly under the cost proposed by the Liberals.

This is some of what the Parliamentary Budget Officer said in his report:

The government's total cost estimate overstates the cost of the proposed 360-hour national standard. The Parliamentary Budget Officer believes that the government's dynamic cost estimate is flawed. More important, the PBO also believes that only the static costs should be considered in costing the proposal, given the structure of the program and that the proposed change to the EI system is in effect for one year only. This is the independent officer of this House and this is what he came back with.

The response from the government was that it did not change anything. The government first ignored it, then continued to mislead and still used, as recently as Friday, the $4 billion, even though everybody knows that it was discredited.

That is how the summer went.

I was asked many times by people across the country, including people in my own caucus and in my riding, “Why do you keep going to these meetings? You know that the Conservatives are not serious. They have not presented anything. Why would you keep going back?” We went to every scheduled meeting, to try to find a consensus.

Canadians have more important things on their minds than to follow what is happening with an employment insurance working group. However, to the extent that they paid attention, who could blame them for saying that that was just an extension of a dysfunctional Parliament? Who could blame them for saying, “You have just dragged question period throughout the summer. You guys can't get along in the House of Commons and you can't get along in the summer”? Who could blame them for saying, “He said this and she said that; you're all equally to blame”?

We tried to make it work. We went to those committees to try to make those committees work. Yes, we had an opening position, supported by many people across this country: economists, labour leaders, anti-poverty groups, even business people, and premiers of provinces who have many representatives on the other side of this House. We had that position, we presented it, and we all agreed that we would go away and get that costed. When the number came back, it was distorted.

However, beyond that, we also asked other questions. These are the questions we tabled to the group on July 23.

What is the current deficit in this year's EI account?

What are the components of that deficit? There was no answer.

How many Canadians have seen increased access to EI by region?

What would be the incremental cost of having a 360-hour national standard for eligibility?

We also asked, at that same meeting in July, what would be the cost of a 395-hour standard and a 420-hour standard?

We asked, how many Canadians draw benefits for the maximum duration?

What percentage of claimants are expected to draw the maximum weeks? Perhaps extending benefits further is a very sensible thing.

We did not get answers to all of those questions.

We also asked, in areas where the unemployment changes the eligibility criteria, how does the time lag between job loss of people becoming eligible for benefits go into the issue of a three-month average versus a one-month average to determine eligibility?

We asked all those questions.

We followed the protocols of the working group. We established the working group, we established protocols, we followed those protocols, and we expected answers. We were told we would get answers.

At the last meeting of the group, the minister told us that he told the department not to even bother with that, not to even bother with the stuff that we all agreed with.

Many of us in this House come from backgrounds in business or labour organizations or other non-for-profit organizations. We do negotiations as a way of doing business to make perfect not be the enemy of better. However, we all know, whether we are in labour or management or any other organization, it takes two to make something happen.

Employment insurance to the government is a ploy. It is part of the game of politics.

Here today, as Parliament resumes in the fall, we are where we left off in the spring, and for the government the games continue.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-308 introduced by the member for Chambly—Borduas.

It is common knowledge that this bill is very important to me, just as it is to a great many workers throughout the country. This is a bill that the NDP has proposed quite a few times in the House of Commons.

Some people may not know or may have forgotten that in 1997, when I was elected, the same changes were being studied. Cuts to employment insurance were initiated by Brian Mulroney and continued through Jean Chrétien's tenure. In 1996, employment insurance cuts were disastrous for the country and for the workers.

I feel obliged to start off with a few comments. The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is trying to tell us that the Liberal Party—I do not know if the members have seen the light at the end of the tunnel—wants to be the saviour of employment insurance.

At the same time, the Liberal Party is saying that this is temporary. That worries me. What does “temporary” mean? I heard the leader of the official opposition, the Liberal leader, say that temporary means “as long as there is an economic crisis”. As soon as the economic crisis is over, this temporary measure will be terminated. We are already hearing on the news that the crisis may soon be over. But we do not really know how long it will last.

The bill will set 360 hours as the number of hours required to qualify. I have a problem with the Conservatives' position on 360 hours. It is as though they have always said that it would cost $4 billion and that too many people would receive employment insurance. To hear them talk, only 15% of workers are not eligible for employment insurance. According to their data, 85% of workers pay premiums and are eligible for unemployment benefits and only 15% are not. It is as though all of Canada were applying for benefits. Come on. There are 33 million workers in Canada.

What an insult to the workers when we say to them that if we bring it down to 360 hours, they will all get on EI and they will be on EI instead of working. What an insult to working Canadian men and women and the people of Quebec. What an insult.

I was in France not too long ago, and I asked how much people were getting paid for employment insurance. It was 80% of their wages. I used the Conservative argument and asked whether they thought that at 80% of their wages, people would want to be on EI instead of working. The representative of the government said that their people love to work, that they want to go to work, but that in the meantime, they do not want to punish the family of the person who has lost his or her job, and that they invest the money in the community. That is good for the economic crisis.

When I went to France, I asked the question. People can check if they want. In France, employment insurance recipients receive 80% of their wages. I asked a question that could very well have been asked by the Conservatives or the Liberals: do you not think that people who get 80% of their wages in EI benefits would want to be on EI instead of working? The government representative said no, that people want to work and are eager to work. It is their own employment insurance system, paid for by employers and employees. He said that they are proud of the fact that they have a good income because they can spend that money within the community, which is good in tough economic times.

The government and the Liberals are saying that people are lazy, that they do not want to work. About the 360 hours, where is the government taking its figures when it says that it will cost $4 billion and that nearly everybody can get EI benefits already? This obviously makes no sense whatsoever.

I listened to what the government representative was saying earlier. The parliamentary secretary was saying that all the changes proposed by the Bloc Québécois would cost more than $4 billion. There are several changes: 360 hours; increasing the benefit period; increasing the rate of weekly benefits to 60%; eliminating the distinctions between a new entrant and a re-entrant to the labour force; eliminating the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length; increasing the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $42,500 and introducing an indexing formula; and adding a new part VIII.01 to the act relating to self-employed persons.

Now they are changing their tune and saying that it will cost $4.1 or $4.2 billion. And they are also saying at the same time that reducing the number of hours to 360 will cost $4 billion. Which figure is the right one?

What is the right number? The 360 hours are supposed to cost some $4 million, and the parliamentary secretary of the Conservative government said that all the changes of the Bloc would cost $4 million. I would like to hear the right number.

The real figures indicate that it would cost $1.4 billion. That money belongs to workers in case they lose their jobs.

I heard the Liberals say that it was terrible. I read in BC newspapers that people in that province should be treated the same way as those in Atlantic Canada, in Regina and across Canada. The 360-hour rule should apply to everyone. It was the Liberals, supported by the Conservatives, who established the varying threshold, increasing the number of hours from 420 to 700 and then to 910. That is why we are saying that there is not much difference between the Grits and the Tories. They all take their orders from Bay Street. That is where the decisions are made.

However, for those workers who lose their jobs, the decision is made on Monday morning when they no longer have a job to go to and wonder how they will support they family. They wonder whether they should get EI benefits or welfare benefits. That is where it hurts.

When people say that the country will go into debt if changes are made to employment insurance, which debt are they talking about? The former Liberal government and the current Conservative government stole $47 billion from the EI fund that belonged to workers. So we should be able to say that there is a fund with surpluses and to use that money.

We must study the possibility of making changes to EI. It is a serious issue. We must ask ourselves what we can do to help workers. People must stop telling tales and giving false figures.

It has always been said—and experts said it—that only 38% or 42% of people who contribute to EI are eligible for benefits.

Therefore, since the Conservatives keep telling us that this is false and that 85% are eligible, why are they so afraid of the 360-hour rule and why do they think that the whole country will receive EI benefits? Why are the Conservatives so worried? A mere 15% is not that much, if I am to accept the government's arguments.

It is the same thing with the workers referred to in the bill put forward by the Bloc member, those who are related to the owner of the business. We want to have small and medium sized businesses and promote them. That is the right thing to do. To build a business, one starts by hiring family members, and then, as the business grows, they start hiring outside the family. It is discriminatory to deny benefits to contributing employees when they are laid off because they are related to the owner of a business who pays his or her taxes. It is discriminatory because the decision is simply based on the fact that a family relationship exists. They have to be treated like any other employee. If they did their job, worked the hours, paid their premiums and lost their job, that is what matters. The current approach is totally discriminatory. And there are such cases.

I am thinking of the Liberals, the so-called saviours of EI. I am sorry, but that makes me laugh. They are the ones who, in 2005, voted down a motion I had put before the House of Common, asking that the 12 best weeks be used in calculating benefits in order to help the workers. The Liberals did that. They also increased to 700 the number of hours of work required to qualify and established requirements that vary across the country. To listen to some people, 360 hours is the end of the world. One should remember that all that was required previously was 150 hours.

The myth about these 360 hours allowing individuals to receive benefits for one year is fallacious, because people are entitled to benefits for a given number of weeks.

Let me conclude by saying that we will certainly support the bill from the Bloc Québécois.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / noon
See context

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am especially happy, for at least two reasons, to have an opportunity today to rise on Bill C-308, introduced by my colleague from Chambly—Borduas. The first, of course, is that I am deeply concerned about the flaws in the current employment insurance system and the proposals for remedying them. The second is that the Conservatives and Liberals set up a phoney committee to discuss these issues behind closed doors and it is wonderful to finally have a chance to hear the positions of all the parties in the House.

There are many problems with the current system, but we are very familiar with them all because they have been pointed out repeatedly by the various stakeholders. As early as February 2005, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities produced an exhaustive report with no fewer than 28 recommendations to reform employment insurance from top to bottom.

But it remained largely a dead letter. Both the Liberals and Conservatives ignored its conclusions, even though they were very reasonable and appropriate. No one should be surprised, therefore, that we in the Bloc Québécois took a rather jaundiced view of the announcement that a secret committee on employment insurance would be quickly and quietly convened to save face in view of the thousands of unemployed people who would have been able to take immediate advantage of the measures in Bill C-308.

This bill does not reinvent the wheel. All it does is pull together the best proposals for finally improving the accessibility of an employment insurance system that has been strait-jacketed for far too long by the restrictive changes introduced by the same Liberals who say now in public that they are outraged but then vote in favour of a budget that does nothing.

The most shocking thing about this refusal to finally re-open the eligibility requirements is the ideologically driven insistence on seeing all unemployed people as potential cheats. The government’s way of thinking was on display as recently as last Friday in the report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer when it estimated the cost of a standard eligibility requirement of 360 hours.

The government assumes in its calculations that, in addition to the 166,000 existing unemployed, more than 180,000 people would qualify under the new standard and would try to take advantage of it by voluntarily quitting their jobs, with the connivance of their employers, after accumulating enough hours to qualify. As we know, voluntary departures have not been covered for a long time by the current system.

It is only in this way that the government is able to conclude that changing the minimum requirements would cost about $2.5 billion, or more than twice the estimate of the parliamentary budget officer. It is hard to imagine a government with more contempt for its own citizens. It is especially sad to think that this contempt and these suspicions are penalizing people who have had the misfortune of losing their jobs. The government is basically treating 180,000 Canadians, and therefore more than 40,000 Quebeckers, as potential liars and scam artists.

I have a question now for the government. If the intent to commit a crime is just as punishable as the crime itself—as it is in the Canadian Criminal code—perhaps the government thinks that it should rush out and arrest these people who might commit fraud? Let us make no mistake. This is the exact same logic behind the government's imposition of a two week waiting period. The same logic applies to people who do not deal at arm's length with the employer. It is up to them to prove beyond a doubt that they have no intention of defrauding the plan. This does not take into account the fact that the procedure can take a number of months, even a year, before the applicant is deemed to be acting in good faith. All this cynicism is extremely discouraging.

Perhaps we should remind the government of the principle underlying the seven measures proposed in Bill C-308—attempting to help the unemployed by increasing benefits and eligibility does not amount to promoting unemployment. On the contrary, these measures have a single aim—to enable the unemployed to retain some dignity despite the difficult times they face.

Let us review these measures here, one by one. The first, and perhaps one of the most important, is to introduce a standard qualifying period of 360 hours across the board. Despite the claims of the Conservatives, who clearly have not taken the trouble to study our proposal seriously, there is absolutely no question of granting the maximum number of weeks of benefits to anyone who has worked 360 hours. This is misinformation, as my colleague has just said.

One need only consult schedule I of the bill. An individual who has worked 360 hours would be entitled to between 14 and 36 weeks of benefits. Entitlement to 50 weeks, the maximum under this bill, would require over 1,115 hours of work and residence in a region with a level of unemployment over 16%.

If this measure were passed, it would substantially reduce the phenomenon known as the spring gap, the period in which many seasonal workers receive neither income nor benefits.

The second measure in Bill C-308 concerns the weekly benefit rate. At the moment, as everyone knows, the rate is set at 55% of insurable earnings, to a maximum of $41,300 a year. This bill proposes to increase it by 5% to set it at 60%.

Over 166,000 Quebeckers—nearly two thirds of whom are women—earn minimum wage, which is currently $9 an hour. This means that these workers can earn a maximum of $173.25 a week or $9,000 a year. Clearly that is far too little to live on decently.

The third measure in this bill, which perfectly complements the previous one, is to increase the maximum insurable earnings to $41,500 and introduce a guaranteed annual indexing formula. This increase would generate additional revenues and thus fund some of the improvements proposed by this bill. According to the figures of the human resources department, this increase would lead to additional revenues of $420 million and spending of $245 million resulting in a credit balance of $175 million.

Fourth, the bill also proposes finally eliminating the discrimination facing people who are entering or re-entering the workforce—the Liberals put forward that distinction in 1996. Those individuals are unfairly penalized, especially women who often leave the workforce to care for their children. That is why, according to a study by the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec, only 16% of young unemployed workers under 25 years old are receiving EI benefits, while in the early 1990s, that proportion was 52%.

The fifth measure aims to correct the problem I mentioned earlier, namely, the presumption that workers who do not have an arm's length relationship with their employers are basically guilty until proven innocent. Of course, this goes against the presumption of innocence that is pivotal in all modern judicial systems, and enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and its Canadian equivalent.

Sixth, Bill C-308 amends the formula used to calculate insurable earnings; the calculation would be based on the 12 best weeks in the 52-week qualifying period.

Lastly, this bill opens the door to the possibility of self-employed workers taking part in the EI system on a voluntary basis. According to the most recent numbers, over 16% of Canadian workers are self-employed at this time, and that number has risen recently particularly because of the recession. It is high time we offered them the opportunity to enjoy some sort of income security.

These seven measures would undoubtedly correct many major deficiencies that exist in the current employment insurance system—first, by improving it, but also by removing certain provisions originally put in place to address the terrible suspicions that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have seemed to harbour against unemployed workers.

In closing, losing one's job is rarely a joyous occasion. Having to prove to the government that one is not trying to cheat the system is even more humiliating. Workers who find themselves in that situation are reduced to begging the government for assistance that they rightly deserve, assistance that they themselves have paid for, day after day, week after week.

That is why I invite all parliamentarians to look at this bill not simply as a way to improve the system, but as a way to correct certain glaring injustices.

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

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

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my hon. colleague from Saint-Lambert for seconding this bill.

This bill is without a doubt extremely important for unemployed workers, since it improves the employment insurance system. The priority remains improving access to the system, since over 55% of unemployed workers are excluded from it at this time. We would therefore like to reduce the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work.

We would also like to increase the benefit period, which is currently 45 weeks. The budget increases that period by five weeks, but we would like that increase to 50 weeks to become permanent. The bill also increases the rate of weekly benefits to 60% of a claimant's revenue.

In addition, we hope to eliminate the distinctions between a new entrant and a re-entrant to the labour force. Those distinctions are completely discriminatory. We must also eliminate the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length, and increase the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $42,500.

The bill also adds a new part to the act relating to self-employed persons, including them in the employment insurance system.

As I said, it is an extremely important bill. All parties in this House have agreed that access to the employment insurance system and the benefits themselves must be improved. Our bill aims to do just that. I encourage all members to support it.

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