An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Dick Harris  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended as the result of time spent by the claimant in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution so that they apply only if the claimant is not found guilty of the offence for which he or she was being held or any other offence arising out of the same transaction.

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

  • May 16, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • May 16, 2012 Passed That Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
  • May 16, 2012 Failed That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
  • Nov. 30, 2011 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.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, having followed the right track and gone through this training program myself, I saw how those who had taken the wrong track were exposed to new opportunities through these training programs. I am really worried that the changes in the bill to the Employment Insurance Act which would limit people from these programs would be problematic.

I was in a program where I gained skills. I had good mentorship from people in municipalities, and I became interested in local issues. Not to toot my own horn, but that prompted me to go back to university where I received a bachelor's degree then a master's degree and eventually a Ph.D. I became tenured.

I am not saying that these programs lead to those kind of career paths. However, they do give people a chance to do something different and a chance to look at life in a different way. If we take away that opportunity, as the bill would do for some, that would not contribute to the community as a whole.

There is a lot of value in communities looking at how they treat people. Some people who do bad things in a community should be kept away from the community. But the changes suggested in the legislation would punish people who have done minor things, people who have had some problems at home or were at loose ends and not sure what direction to take, often young people. They then go down the wrong path and are continually punished.

We heard today how those who are incarcerated may have to pay even more money. We should not be marginalizing people in the community. We should be bringing the community together. My grandfathers, one a gunsmith and the other an Anglican priest, taught me that lesson. They managed to get along and we should perhaps be doing the same. We should be bringing communities together. We should not be bringing forward punitive measures that would hurt and divide communities.

I do not support Bill C-316.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I adamantly oppose this bill, Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration).

This bill aims to amend EI qualifying provisions to deny those found guilty of an offence access to employment insurance. Current provisions already allow for the qualification period to be extended if the claimant has spent fewer than two years incarcerated. Those incarcerated for fewer than two years are not hardened criminals. These are people who can be rehabilitated. When they are released from incarceration, they have paid their debt to society. If one thinks about it, incarceration is the penalty levied by the court.

Now the government wants to make them pay twice. I find it is a bit of an overkill. It is a bit cruel and punitive. Many of those incarcerated for fewer than two years are often incarcerated for “poverty related crimes”. For instance, approximately 40,000 Canadians are in provincial corrections facilities at any given time for failure to pay a fine. Imposing fines under provincial acts does not take into account people's ability to pay, and often leads to reoffending and doing more time for the same crime. It becomes a vicious cycle. People cannot afford to pay, so they go into jail, they lose their job, they come back out and they cannot afford to pay fines again.

Three per cent of all people in custody in provincial or territorial institutions, in 2008-09, were incarcerated for failure to pay a fine, women and first nations in particular. According to the 2011 National Council of Welfare report, The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty, 80% of incarcerated Canadian women are there for poverty related crimes; 39% of those for failure to pay a fine.

Seventy per cent of incarcerated women are single mothers struggling with the high cost of living and trying to feed their families. As a result, crimes of desperation are often committed. Many of them have families for whom they are the sole breadwinner. Many have absolutely no choice because they do not have the skills and education to find well-paying jobs.

The United Way of Calgary, in a report in 2008, called Crimes of Desperation, said that,“Incarcerating a woman for a poverty-related crime does punish her”. The report points out that the punishment is for being poor and trying to cope “by using a socially inappropriate but readily available means”. Such means would include stealing or doing whatever she needs to do to get some food on the table. The report suggests that, “Given this, the rates of re-offence are significant and costly”.

The hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George noted in committee that he does not understand how people cannot afford to pay a fine. I think this really only underscores a fact about how out of touch the government and the hon. member are with people who actually live in poverty and who commit crimes of desperation.

It is likely that these individuals, who already have limited incomes before they went into prison, have a hard time getting a job when they come out because of the stigma attached to being in jail. That is a double whammy for these people. Again, researchers found that ex-prisoners who are able to find legitimate jobs are less likely to reoffend than ex-prisoners who do not find jobs.

Employment insurance is not a perk. It is there to assist in the transition to employment. It is not a handout. EI is something one has to pay into in order to be eligible. We are therefore only speaking of people who are eligible who should have access to EI when they get out of prison. Without this insurance, these individuals may end up on welfare. I want to stress this: EI benefits are currently only payable to ex-prisoners upon their release if they are eligible.

This bill is a penalty on top of a court-ordered penalty. Our correctional institutions are not, as the government thinks, the answer to housing, mental illness, homelessness and addiction. They are rehabilitation centres, particularly for those offenders who are incarcerated for fewer than two years. If one believes prisoners can and should be rehabilitated to become positive contributors to our society, then one will agree that support programs both inside and outside the prison system will help them be able to live meaningful lives again.

Finding a legitimate productive job is one of the best ways to ensure an ex-prisoner does not reoffend because of poverty. EI is that bridge that helps them to get there.

I want to say that I oppose this bill. I think it is punitive and unnecessary. I am really sorry to see that it is even being discussed here in the House.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as the sponsor of this private member's bill, C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration).

The opposition members have tried to go a lot of different ways to take the focus off the real purpose of the bill. They have tried to make their presentations a little more believable or palatable as they oppose it. They are getting away from the fundamental purpose of the bill, that is, to take away the favourable treatment under the Employment Insurance Act that a convicted felon has over hard-working Canadians who would find themselves in the same circumstances having to apply for EI.

Let me give an example. We will take person A. Person A has been working for a couple of years and makes a decision to break the law, goes to court, gets convicted, and spends a year in jail. I know that some of the members over there do not understand this. Person A spends 12 months in jail, comes out, goes to work for a couple of months, maybe gets laid off and applies for EI. Under EI, he or she would have had to have worked in the previous 12 months, but in reality he or she only worked for two months.

This is where it is unfair. The year that person A spent in prison is as if it had never existed. It never existed that he or she went to jail for a year because the EI Act says that the period from the time person A was convicted until his or her time of release is wiped out. Whatever he or she did after getting out of prison is just added on to the period he or she had worked before. Therefore, that convicted felon could apply for EI and get it because he or she has had that extension.

Here is person B. This is a true story. This is a young lady who has been working for four or five years and paying EI premiums. She finds that her skill levels put in jeopardy her ability to continue working without fear of being laid off. She makes a personal decision to leave her job and go into a year's training to get an upgraded certification, which she pays for herself. She completes that training. With her certificate she gets a new job that pays better money and has more opportunity. She works for two months. The company she works for has some financial problems and she gets laid off. She goes to EI to collect employment insurance and is told that she does not qualify because she did not work in the previous 12 months.

That is not fair at all. That is what this bill is all about. It is not about penalizing. It is about bringing a sense of fairness to the act. That is the essence of this bill.

If this bill is passed it will change the provision which allows convicted offenders to receive extensions in their EI qualification period and their EI benefit collection period. They can add a year on either side. The average Canadian cannot do that.

Our government believes, and I support, that the right to an extension should be provided only to Canadians who deserve it. It should not be available to convicted felons who become incarcerated. Members must remember that nobody just breaks the law by accident. The culpability lies with the person who commits the act. There are penalties to pay. They pay the penalty. That is fine. They come out and they have paid their penalty to society.

However, they should not be rewarded under the EI Act and given more favourable treatment than ordinary working Canadians who may find themselves in a similar set of circumstances, except for the prison.

As well, convicted felons can double the qualifying period when hours are counted to determine benefits or they can double the period for which benefits are taken. The average hard-working Canadian simply cannot do that.

As the act now stands, these conditions are certainly more favourable to the released offender than they are to a majority of EI claimants, and that is most unfair. That is what the bill is all about. We could nickname the bill the EI fairness bill to bring fairness to the EI system.

Under the standard system of EI rules, for law-abiding citizens to be eligible for EI benefits they must have paid premiums while they were working, they must be available for work and they must have accumulated a certain number of hours work within the qualifying period. I want to go over this again just so folks get it. People must have worked within the qualifying period, which is normally 52 weeks, before they lost their job through no fault of their own. That means, generally speaking, if they have been out of work for more than 52 weeks they are not eligible to receive EI benefits. Those are regular hard-working Canadians who lose their job through no fault of their own.

These same rules do not apply to someone who has been working, commits a crime and goes to jail. The rules are much better for them than they are for the first person I described.

The EI program does make exception for people who are not able to accumulate the required number of hours within the 52 week qualifying period because of circumstances beyond their control, not because they committed a crime and went to jail. That was within their control. These are circumstances beyond their control. The EI program will extend the qualifying period for up to two years for people who cannot work because of special circumstances beyond their control, such as pregnancy, illness, injury or quarantine.

After an EI claim is established, a person normally has 52 weeks to collect the benefits. This is referred to as the “benefit period” and may be extended to deserving people up to 104 weeks for similar reasons that I have just mentioned.

Qualifying and benefit extensions apply to both regular and specific benefits, which are maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.

Under the current act, claimants may also have their qualifying or benefit period extended beyond the usual 52 weeks for each week they are confined in a jail, in a penitentiary or a similar situation. The EI Act puts in the same box people who have had circumstances beyond their control, such as pregnancy, illness, injury or quarantine, in the same category, the EI Act unfairly puts them in with a convicted felon who goes to jail. Now that just does not seem right.

Do members know what? Since the bill was introduced, I have had so many calls asking what the bill is all about. When I explain the bill to folks and tell them about the favouritism that a convicted felon gets over a hard-working Canadian, the most common response is, “You've got to be kidding. I could not imagine that provision exists for someone who commits a crime and goes to jail”. They say, “Well, good for you. Get your bill through and we'll take that out of there”.

What we are trying to do with Bill C-316 is get rid of the favouritism that is extended to convicted felons and we want to bring some fairness back to the way people qualify and receive benefits if they are unable to work.

It is very simple and I ask all members in the House to support the bill because it is really important.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 7 p.m.
See context

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to rise today to say, on behalf of the NDP, that we completely refuse to support Bill C-316.

It is not favourable treatment, as the hon. member said. A prisoner who is serving a sentence of less than 52 weeks is there because of a minor crime. He is not there because he killed someone or committed a major crime. He is in prison for a minor offence.

Suppose the person worked for 15 years and was then sentenced to less than 52 weeks in prison for committing a minor crime. Under the current legislation, that person can claim employment insurance benefits when he gets out of prison because he has to return to society. Suppose that person served a sentence of 30 weeks in prison. He has to return to society.

How would such a person reintegrate into society? How would he go about looking for employment? How would he approach different workers in a small or large business, depending on his occupation and training? This person was in prison for a certain period of time and therefore has to reintegrate into society. In all likelihood, he will have a lot of difficulty doing so because people do not want to have anything to do with former inmates.

Someone getting out of prison receives EI benefits in exactly the same way as everyone else who is entitled to receive EI benefits after having worked for a certain amount of time, and this period during which he receives benefits will allow him to find a job and return to society.

If this person is not given this time to reintegrate into society, he will not be able to earn a living and there is a good chance he will return to petty crime, which would only send him back to prison. This person, therefore, has a right to a period of EI benefits.

This bill would repeal the provisions that extend the EI qualifying period and the payment of EI benefits to a claimant who has been in jail or prison or any establishment of that sort. This is completely discriminatory and does nothing to address the real flaws in the Employment Insurance Act.

To understand the negative impact of these amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, we have to look at the facts.

Currently, the legislation stipulates that where a person proves that the person was not employed in insurable employment for one or more weeks during the qualifying period because the person was confined in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution, that qualifying period is extended by the same number of weeks during which he or she was detained and was thus unavailable for work, to a maximum extension of 52 weeks. The maximum qualifying period, as we know, is 104 weeks.

Having spent 52 weeks in prison, a person applies and is entitled to 52 weeks. All the other measures are applied as well, but it depends on the unemployment rate in the region and the number of weeks worked before going to prison. This measure does not, of course, apply to inmates who are detained for more than a year.

I want to come back to the story of the woman who prompted the hon. member to introduce this bill. She went to the member's riding office and told him her story. She told him that she went back to school after having worked for 15 years. Then, when she was looking for work, she became sick and was diagnosed with cancer. She went back to see her MP to find out whether she could get employment insurance benefits.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Instead of dealing with the woman's request properly and helping her find a solution, and instead of introducing a bill to amend employment insurance, the member combed through the bill for something else he did not like. He discovered that a prisoner can have spent time in jail, be released, claim employment insurance and be entitled to receive it. The member figured that was not fair, but the two scenarios have nothing to do with each other. As I said, two wrongs do not make a right. The two have nothing to do with each other. He is mixing up two completely different issues.

What the member should have done was introduce an amendment to the bill to enable the woman to collect sickness benefits during her cancer treatment, then, once she recovers, to collect employment insurance benefits so that she can reintegrate into society because she is unable to work.

It is abundantly clear that this bill is a badly disguised attempt to further restrict access to employment insurance for people who have paid into the system, and this at a time when fewer Canadians than ever before are eligible.

Furthermore, if these former inmates are denied employment insurance to help them get out of the cycle of poverty and petty crime, they will be forced to turn to social assistance.

This downloads the cost onto the provinces, and the provinces will have to foot the bill when these people are released, if they are not given access to employment insurance.

When I first became aware of Bill C-316, my first thought was this: who on this planet could possibly oppose the rehabilitation of our most vulnerable citizens? Who could possibly oppose the rapid reintegration of people into the labour market?

When he appeared before the committee, the member for Cariboo—Prince George explained what led him to create his bill. During his testimony, the member said he had been informed of an unfortunate situation facing one of his constituents, as I said earlier.

As he was reading the legislation to try to help his constituent, the member for Cariboo—Prince George learned of the measures that are available to inmates and he was outraged.

It should come as no surprise that I do not believe that this way of doing things serves any purpose or is constructive in any way. A society makes progress by constantly improving its legislation and not by regressing and bullying more and more people.

The Employment Insurance Act does have shortcomings that this government should hasten to address in order to make the system more accessible and fair for everyone, particularly for unfortunate people such as the one we just spoke about or for women who lose their jobs when they return from maternity leave.

What is even worse is not that the government is doing absolutely nothing to resolve the shortcomings in this legislation and to help Canadians; the worst thing is that this government prefers inflict more pain on other people who have certain rights.

Why not find positive solutions and introduce a bill that would extend the qualifying period and the benefit period for people who are not covered under the current legislation, such as the woman who wanted to upgrade her skills but fell ill?

In the end, we must simply conclude that, when people go to a Conservative office to ask for help, they come away empty-handed. I am certain that the woman who, one day, asked for help from her Conservative member was not thrilled to see that this government has done nothing to resolve her problem and that it now wants to do away with the special provision for inmates—in the interest of fairness, or so it claims.

In his testimony in committee, again to explain the merits of his bill, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George said that it was completely unfair to grant favouritism to someone who has committed a crime but not to someone who has gone back to school to upgrade her skills.

I would like to remind the House that this information is false and borders dangerously on misinformation. Inmates are not granted any favouritism when they receive employment insurance benefits. They are simply on standby to receive their benefits because they worked before going to prison.

If the inmate is eligible for benefits, it is because he—out of his own pocket—and his employer contributed enough to the employment insurance plan for a specified period of weeks.

If a person who wants to upgrade his skills or go back to school in order to enter the labour market falls ill, then that person does not have access to employment insurance benefits because he did not contribute to the plan for the number of weeks or hours required. It has nothing to do with the fact that the person was an inmate but everything to do with whether that person worked the number of weeks required to be eligible.

It is important to remember that when a law is amended it must be amended for the better.

Motions in Amendment
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

, seconded by

, moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 1.

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 2.

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 4.

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 5.

She said: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend from Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia for seconding these amendments.

Bill C-316, a bill put forward by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, I believe has a lot of people confused about the nature of employment insurance for people who have been incarcerated. There has been a lot of media coverage of this and I will just summarize it before I explain why I have put forward these amendments.

The media coverage and the comments from Conservative members of Parliament have tended to be of the nature that average Canadians are shocked to find that people who have been incarcerated get better employment insurance than law-abiding Canadians. If that were true, I would be shocked and I would also support any efforts to take away preferential treatment for people who have been incarcerated.

However, when we look at the act, that is not the case. I have before me the Employment Insurance Act, particularly subsections 8(2) and 8(6). What these subsections do is to establish when people are entitled to their employment benefits. They have to have, of course, an adequate number of weeks of work. They have to show that they are unemployed and, at that point, because they and their employer have paid into the system, they are entitled to collect benefits. However, they are not entitled to sit back and wait, not work for a while, and then go for their benefits later. Instead, they have to apply immediately.

Now, there is an exception to this qualifying period, and it can be extended. According to subsection 8(2) of the Employment Insurance Act:

A qualifying period mentioned in paragraph (1)(a) is extended by the aggregate of any weeks during the qualifying period for which the person proves, in such manner as the Commission may direct, that throughout the week the person was not employed in insurable employment because the person was

(a) incapable of work because of a prescribed illness, injury, quarantine or pregnancy;

(b) confined in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution;

(c) receiving assistance under employment benefits; or

(d) receiving payments under a provincial law—

—relating to danger to an unborn child, et cetera.

Therefore, let us just be clear on what the current state of the law is.

People in jail do not get to collect employment insurance benefits. They are, by definition, not searching for work, not capable of work. They are in jail. When they leave prison, do they get better benefits than anyone else? No, they do not. This piece of legislation only says that for the people who are entitled to their employment insurance benefits because they have worked and are unemployed, if the period of time in which they could normally have applied for employment insurance was interrupted by illness, pregnancy, and a number of other conditions, including if they happened to be in jail, their qualifying period will be extended.

Most of us hope that we will never be in jail; we are all law-abiding citizens here. However, let us imagine the kinds of situations in which we would now deprive people of the employment insurance benefits to which they are entitled.

Believe me, as I stand here speaking against Bill C-316 and calling for the amendments that we have put forward, which would, to be clear, eliminate the entire bill, I am aware that my position could easily be mischaracterized as though I wanted people who have gone to jail to get preferential treatment, as though I am not siding with law-abiding Canadians against people in jail.

However, let us look at the public policy question here. If someone is incarcerated for more than two years, this act would not help that person. The employment insurance regulations or the current status quo would not extend benefits for so long that someone who has gone to jail for a serious offence could get out of jail and then apply for employment insurance. That would not work.

By definition, the extension of their qualifying period, not an extension of cheques or any additional money, would only apply if they had been incarcerated for a year or less. That applies to certain types of offences.

Under the new omnibus crime bill, that would potentially apply to someone who had grown six marijuana plants, or, to use a real-life example from this chamber, to someone who had refused a breathalyzer test, for example, and might be sent to jail for a year or less.

Let us then imagine the public policy implications of what is essentially punishing this person again. In this light, I would like to read into the record some of the testimony given in committee by a representative of the John Howard Society to explain why it opposes these measures.

Let me commend the committee for the amendment that clarified that the first version of the bill would have applied to someone who was awaiting trial and then found innocent. We now have an amendment, which certainly improves the situation, that says people will only be deprived of employment insurance opportunities, in other words their entitlements, if they have been in jail because they were found guilty of something.

Let me read into the record what Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, said at committee. She stated:

—Bill C-316 would disentitle people to the benefits of an insurance scheme to which they and their employers had contributed. It would create unfairness for claimants...For those convicted and sentenced in a criminal court, it would amount to an additional ex post facto penalty to a criminal sentence that is dubious in law and could lead to a disproportionate penalty.

She continued:

It would also undermine public safety by jeopardizing employment prospects and denying insurance payments to a vulnerable group as they seek to successfully reintegrate into the community. For these reasons, the John Howard Society of Canada urges you to oppose Bill C-316.

The Elizabeth Fry Society did as well, pointing out that there were a disproportionate number of marginalized people in jail, particularly low-income women, first nations, et cetera.

I would like us to step back and reconsider. It may be fun to pretend that our current employment insurance scheme gives a disproportionate benefit to criminals. It does not. It might be fun to let people think that people in jail collect employment insurance cheques. They do not. All I am saying is that if people go to prison, they have, in the words that we are so used to hearing, paid their debt to society. Now we are going to say no, that they have not quite finished paying their debt to society and we are going to pull the legs out from under them. If they were entitled to employment insurance benefits to help them get back on their feet, to help them find work, to be meaningful members of our society, we will kick them while they are down and say that they will not get employment insurance even if they or their employers have paid into it.

There are some crimes that one might describe as victimless crimes, particularly crimes that would apply to this legislation, where people were in jail for one year or less. The trend of the current flood of legislation in the House that seeks to punish people who have made mistakes, that says they can never pay their debt to society, or get back on their feet or be given a chance is worrying. The employment insurance scheme is for people who have been incarcerated for a year or under, maybe for shoplifting, which is not commendable. Driving under the influence and refusing a breathalyzer is not commendable, but we have to give people a chance.

When they have paid their debt to society and get out of prison, they are entitled under the current statute to, at that point, put in their claims. They will not get any more money than others who find themselves unemployed. They simply have the opportunity to have their qualifying period extended. If people were entitled to employment insurance when they went to jail, they are entitled to employment insurance when they get out. They can get back on their feet, hopefully find jobs and swear off whatever it was they did wrong in their lives. Goodness knows, a lot of good people can make mistakes and end up in jail. We ought to give them a helping hand and not pass additional punitive legislation that takes away their right to employment insurance.

With that, I would ask all members of the House to give serious consideration to the amendments we have tabled today.

Motions in Amendment
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to these amendments, but I am not pleased to support them. Neither would the member for Cariboo—Prince George, for sure. By amending each of the five clauses in the bill, by deleting them, it takes all the provisions out of there and only the title and the enactment provisions will be left, and I suppose that would go as well.

It is fair to say that the government will not be supporting these amendments for the reasons that are obvious, based on what I just said.

Last year, our government passed legislation to prevent federal inmates over the age of 65, who were sentenced to prison for more than two years, from collecting old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. This relates to the qualifying period, and I do not think the legislation pretends to say it deals with receiving or not receiving employment insurance while in prison. It deals with extending the qualifying period and the benefits period.

We brought forward the previous legislation because Canadians told us it was not fair that criminals could collect retirement benefits while they were incarcerated, especially since their living expenses were already covered by taxpayers. We are supporting this further reform to our social programs in the interest of fairness and justice for law-abiding Canadians.

Under the Employment Insurance Act as it now stands, people who have been in jail can get an extension, as the member has mentioned, of up to 52 additional weeks of their employment insurance qualifying and benefit periods. We think this EI extension is unfair as it provides preferential access for convicted criminals to benefits over law-abiding citizens.

Let me outline how employment insurance works.

Employment insurance is intended to provide temporary income to replace lost wages while the claimant looks for a job. To be eligible for EI regular benefits, people must have paid EI premiums and have worked a certain minimal number of insurable hours, depending on the region of the country in which they live. They must have worked those hours in the 52 weeks before the interruption of the earnings. This is what is called the “qualifying period”.

When people qualify for EI benefits, a 52-week benefit period is established during which they may collect EI benefits to which they are entitled. Normally claimants must be able and willing to work. However, the qualifying period or the benefits period may be extended for up to two years for people in special situations. People who are unable to look for work because of illness, injury, pregnancy or quarantine are given an extension or they may apply for an extension so they do not lose their right to EI benefits because of the special circumstances or situations that are beyond their control.

To be clear, we are all in agreement that extensions to individuals should be granted for life circumstances beyond the control of the individual, such as injury or illness. However, this is not the case with the person who commits a crime.

To be convicted of a crime, an individual makes a choice resulting in a criminal act. This choice is within the control of the individual. However, the current EI legislation treats imprisonment as a circumstance beyond a person's control. This logic does not follow. It does not make sense to most Canadians who feel this is not fair because people do not commit crimes by accident.

Going to prison is not something that just happens to a person. It is a matter of bad choices, perhaps a series of bad choices. It is not like getting a serious sickness or disease or being involved in a car accident. It is something that people bring on themselves by the actions they have taken. These are people who are convicted and the view is that they should not be given preferential treatment or access over law-abiding citizens who are limited to 52 weeks instead of 104 weeks. As a result, there would be an increase in the cost of the program to ordinary working Canadians if the extension were not removed.

Extensions of the qualifying and benefit periods are not available to most EI claimants, and that is an important distinction and something at which we need look. Why should there be an available extension to someone who is a prison inmate?

That is why I would urge the House to support Bill C-316, which will correct this aberration, and not support the amendments which would take that away.

Now, some will argue that amending the Employment Insurance Act to remove the right of inmates to an EI extension would be unfair to innocent people who have simply been detained before trial and were eventually not convicted. That is a fair point and we agreed with it.

This is why the government moved amendments to the bill that would allow qualifying and benefit period extensions for people who were on remand prior to a verdict, but who were ultimately found not guilty. We have said that just the fact of being in prison or incarcerated is not going to disentitle someone, but actually being convicted will. Anyone who was in prison but not convicted would still be able to apply for the extension.

An extension may be granted for the time spent incarcerated if the person is acquitted, the charges are dropped or there is a mistrial. This is because individuals were unavailable for work because they were charged with a crime they were not guilty of, and it was not something of their choosing. These individuals could apply to Service Canada for an EI extension as long as they could prove they were found not guilty of the offence for which they were detained.

Another objective I have heard about the bill is that denying EI benefits to prisoners is cruel because it leaves them with nothing to live on when they are eventually released. That may have been the case in days gone by, but there are halfway houses now. There are programs in place on which they can rely.

Our government supports legislation to fight crime and improve security for all Canadians. To that end, we believe our initiatives ought to highlight responsibilities as well as rights. People who break the law should understand they are accountable for their own actions.

Bill C-316 should be supported by all members of the House to improve fairness in the EI system.

In previous debate on this bill in both houses and in the committee, I heard the opposition go to great lengths to defend this distinction. I think it is one that most Canadians would not want us to defend.

In other cases, like paternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits, our government has gone further in helping Canadians balance their work and family life and responsibility.

That is why, for the first time ever, we have granted access to EI special benefits to hard-working people who are self-employed as well. These EI benefits come from premiums that are paid employers and employees. Every time there is an extension, it costs the program and it relates to the premiums that are paid. People want to be sure, as we do, that those premiums will result in benefits that can be justified.

We also wanted to be fair to members of the Canadian Forces who were ordered to return to duty while on parental leave or whose parental leave was deferred as a result of a military requirement.

Our government introduced measures to extend the time that EI parental benefits could be taken for these families. We wanted to be fair to people who could not work because they were caring for loved ones or who were seriously ill. That is why we modified the eligibility criteria of the EI compassionate care benefits to broaden the definition of family members.

This is the type of legislation that Canadians want us to proceed with, but they do want to be sure that where the system is found not be fair and equitable that corrections are made. They want to be sure that those discrepancies are taken care of.

It is not fair to say that those who are incarcerated by acts of their own choosing should somehow have an extension to their benefit and qualifying period by an additional period of time when ordinary Canadians do not benefit from an extension such as that.

There is a clear distinction between getting a special benefit or being able to apply for a special benefit when people have been met with circumstances beyond their control and getting a special benefit in a situation where they do have control and their action caused them to lose the ability to make that application.

I think most fair-minded Canadians would say that if individuals have committed a crime, they should not, because of that, be entitled to some kind of special benefit that other Canadians who have not committed crimes are not entitled to. That is the logic and that is why it is important to for us to correct the system. Even though it would result in millions of dollars of savings, it is the principle behind this that most Canadians would find offensive, which is why they want us to take action.

We will take action, which is why we proceeded with this bill. I would ask for the support of all members of the House.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I have spoken to Bill C-316. Before I begin my speech I would like to say that the NDP is often accused of protecting prisoners, but we agree that someone who commits an offence should be incarcerated and pay his debt to society. That is a principle of justice. That is the world we live in.

However, we must not forget that we are dealing with human beings. Our duty in the House is to ensure that these people are rehabilitated and that they have the opportunity to find a job. Some have had hard luck in life. That does not make them hardened criminals, as I have been hearing in speeches in the House over the past few months.

There are two types of criminals. There are people who are in prison for stealing food. Many single mothers with no income get caught stealing food and end up in prison. We have to give people like that the chance to rehabilitate and not kick them while they are down. We live in a society. We have a duty in this House to help these people.

The Conservatives are claiming that inmates can be granted privileges and receive benefits for 52 to 104 weeks. Pregnant women do not have that right. That is why I am rising in the House. The hon. member explained that this represents a minimal cost. Since this privilege represents a minimal cost, rather than getting rid of it, we would be better off extending it to pregnant women who lose their jobs or who become ill and are not entitled to employment insurance benefits. It is true. That is the reality right now.

Rather than also extending this privilege to pregnant women, which would be the logical course of action, the Conservatives would prefer to take it away from inmates. Is this not a good example of the lack of vision or the wilful blindness of the government, which is motivated by its own ideology rather than by common sense?

First, I would like to explain the reason for these 52 weeks. The hon. member explained it very well earlier, as my other colleagues in the House have done. People are entitled to these 52 weeks in accordance with their qualifying period and the unemployment rate in their region.

The Conservative members are simplifying the facts and distorting reality. Inmates are not eligible for benefits while they are in prison. These are privileges that people are granted. Inmates do not have rights in prison.

The people who benefit from this special measure are those who worked enough hours to obtain benefits. They deserve to get them when they get out of prison since they contributed to the employment insurance program. It is workers and employers who contribute to this fund. It is not the government. The government simply manages it. The government has managed the money in our employment insurance fund so well. We can see what is left today.

That being said, Bill C-316 seeks to repeal the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended as the result of time spent by the claimant in a jail, a drug treatment centre or another similar institution. When someone goes to a drug treatment centre, it is because he needs help. If we kick him when he is down, we just make matters worse. It will make it harder for him to get back on his feet.

The Conservatives want to abolish the exceptional provision that encourages former inmates to rejoin the labour force and regain their self-confidence. If my memory serves me correctly, it was even the Conservatives who introduced the 52 to 104 weeks in the 1960s. They did so to help people find a job, get training and receive benefits in the meantime. When people get out of prison, that does not look good on their CVs. That is why it is difficult to find a good job after serving a prison sentence. Things are not easy for these people. Rather than helping them, we are digging them a deeper hole. We are penalizing them. We are penalizing them instead of giving women this right. If we were to give women this right, it would cost between $70 million and $75 million, according to our estimates. Pregnant women would be entitled to these privileges when they lose their jobs or fall ill after a pregnancy.

The Conservatives are abolishing an exceptional provision that encourages inmates to rejoin the labour force, regain their self-confidence and have access to paid training. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have failed to come up with any solutions to help pregnant women who are the victims of injustice in this area.

We in the NDP want this to apply to pregnant women.

Can the Conservatives tell us how they intend to assist pregnant women in this area?

Personally, I get the impression that the Conservatives would prefer to waste energy and punish everyone, and that the injustice of this bill is only a pretext for a government that is intent on being tough on criminals, come what may. This bill is a good, though pointless, example. We need to stop it from spoiling the future of thousands of Canadians who would benefit from a second chance.

Sometimes, in life, we are out of luck. Someone here might enjoy a cocktail or two in company. Instead of having two cocktails, that person might have three, and get caught.

That does not make us hoodlums or hardened criminals.

This bill is not good enough for Canadians. The question is not about equality for Canadians with regard to the employment insurance system, nor is it about the alleged favouring of prisoners in the employment insurance system. It is about making the necessary changes to an unfair piece of legislation, and rectifying a situation that is unfair to women on maternity leave. It is my duty to highlight the Conservative government's incompetence in this area, despite the fact that the Conservatives consider themselves the standard-bearers of family values.

The Conservatives do not distinguish between different types of crime. They do not give rehabilitation a chance and their only strategy to prevent repeat offences is to throw people in prison. Yet, in Canada, the figures show that our social rehabilitation system works well and that the crime rate is steadily falling in most provinces.

Regardless of what the member for Cariboo—Prince George says, helping inmates escape the cycle of crime has always worked well in Canada, and we are currently reaping the benefits of this system. It is thanks to these measures, some of them exceptional ones like the one we are debating today, that we have been able to build a solid system. It may be imperfect, but is well intentioned, and it suits us. It is our duty in this House to look after people by making decisions on their behalf. That is the duty of parliamentarians.

In general, former inmates have a lot of trouble finding work after they get out of prison, and their time in jail has a lasting negative impact on their income. Of course, when you have bad luck and you lose your job, when your CV says that you spent six months in prison for stealing a litre of milk from a corner store, it is not very good when you are looking for a job. However, these people deserve a second chance, especially since former inmates are more likely to be unemployed or to hold jobs that pay less than the jobs they held before they went to jail.

Someone who has spent more than a year in jail cannot receive benefits until he has accumulated enough insured hours of work after leaving prison, while if he spends less than a year in jail, he can qualify for employment insurance because of the hours he worked during the extended qualifying period. Employment insurance also provides access to vocational training and to officers who provide job-search support. In a number of cases, the employment insurance program has changed lives in a positive way.

There is a major problem with this ridiculous bill. We must point out that an innocent person may be in jail while waiting for a verdict to come down that clears him. That could be detrimental and costly, and the person could also be refused access to employment insurance.

The solution to the inequities in the employment insurance program is not to abolish an exceptional measure that provides assistance to inmates, but to make a clear-cut change to the legislation in terms of the maximum number of weeks of regular and special benefits.

The Employment Insurance Act must allow new mothers as well as workers who have lost their jobs to receive sickness benefits when they need them. It must allow a mother who is on parental leave to benefit from the same extension of the qualifying and benefit periods as an individual who has been in prison, not the opposite. In this case, the government is taking something away from inmates and not looking after mothers. It would be better to keep what is left for inmates, because it does not cost too much. They said it. They were not even able to give us the real numbers. It would be much better for us to take care of our people.

Moreover, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development acknowledged that there was a problem with the interpretation of the Employment Insurance Act with regard to women on maternity leave and access to the special sickness benefits and regular benefits. She must now make a commitment to rectify this situation, which is unfair to Canadian working women, rather than looking for feeble solutions that are only good for pleasing people who support the Conservatives’ hard line on crime.

It is quite clear that this bill does not reflect the values of Canadians. It does not represent the views of Canadians, and the government must recognize that a mistake is about to be made. We cannot let this bill go forward; it is harmful and adds absolutely nothing useful to the employment insurance system. We must concentrate on the real priorities of Canadian families: jobs, health care, quality of life and workers' rights.

I oppose this bill. We want to correct a situation that we think is unfair. These people have paid in and they are going to have that money taken away. But if we do that, it will not mean that we can give this money to women on maternity leave. We must be fair with everyone and apply this to women on maternity leave, so they are at least entitled to employment insurance if they become sick or lose their job when they return to the work force. That is social justice. That is what it means to help people, to work together and take care of people. Here in the House, we are supposed to make decisions to take care of Canadians.

We in the NDP oppose this bill because it punishes people and takes things away from them, without being able to help others. On the contrary, we should be able to give this to women on maternity leave who still have rights. They will have less to worry about when they go back to work and if they lose their job when they do go back.

The NDP will be voting against this bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak, but I am not very pleased to speak to this bill because it is Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, which would seek to further penalize individuals who find themselves in jail as a result of the commission of an offence, or perhaps they are awaiting trial and may even be acquitted of the offence.

The hon. member opposite has seen fit to take a piece of legislation that is designed to ensure that people who have earned through paying premiums the right to employment insurance and deprive them of some of those benefits in addition to whatever penalty they receive.

In fact, what it says is that there are two people who are equal before the law, one of whom happens to qualify for EI and the other does not. It wants to make the system work as follows. If people happen to be in receipt of EI, they are going to be punished differently and more heavily than another person who is not in that circumstance--

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member was listening carefully but I said that it was an act that would amend the Employment Insurance Act.

This is a matter for debate, but I have no doubt that this legislation would further penalize people who have either committed an offence or may be only awaiting a trial to determine whether they committed an offence. Bill C-316 would unfairly add additional penalties on people and treat them unequally. An individual who may have paid the premiums and was collecting employment insurance would lose that benefit instead of having it postponed, the way it is now. It is an unfair bill.

What is really unfair about the bill is that it is so contrary to the notion of members opposite who talk a lot about their concern about crime and victims of crime, never mind the Christian charity or any other kind of charity toward people. One would think that the Conservatives would be concerned about the rehabilitation of offenders, particularly the kinds of offenders we are talking about here, most of whom serve a sentence of less than a year for some first offence or minor offence. One would think they would want them to be rehabilitated so they could get back into the workforce to be able to support their families.

What are we saying here? Do we want to ensure that people who happen to be in jail for six weeks or three months are deprived of the ability to collect employment insurance when they get out of jail? Who depends on that employment insurance? It is the individual and his or her family. Are we going to deprive the family of three months of employment insurance income because someone went to jail? The individual may have been deprived of income while in jail but that is part of the consequence of being in jail.

I do not know who will vote for this legislation. I did not hear the minister get up and say that they will vote for this because it is a government measure. However, we will find out how mean-spirited, negative, uncharitable and uncompassionate those members are if they support the member's bill. The member did a disservice to his party by bringing the bill before the House. This measure would further penalize individuals who commit crimes for which they are serving usually relatively minor sentences in jail.

We know that many former inmates have considerable difficulty finding work after release from prison, which is why we have the John Howard Society. I do not know if the Conservatives are against the John Howard Society helping prisoners to reform themselves and rehabilitate themselves, something that society wants and desires and we should be encouraging.

We should be encouraging that for two reasons. First, because we want everybody to be a good citizen, even people who have committed an offence. We want them to have an opportunity to reform. Second, because we want to protect society. We want these individuals to be productive members of society so they do not commit further offences and create further victims. I think that is a common goal. I do not know why anybody would want to turn the screw a little tighter, hurt them and their families, and deprive them of a benefit that they are entitled to under law because they paid their premiums. Instead, the government wants to turn the screw a little tighter.

We know that incarceration has a lasting negative effect on how much an individual earns, lowering his or her average annual income already. The average income of a household with children and a parent in prison declines by 22% over the period of incarceration and after the parent is released from prison the household income remains 15% lower than before that parent was committed.

What are we doing here? Are we saying that we will penalize not only the individual but the family even further? What would be gained by that? Is that a deterrence? No. It is a continuation and enforcement of misery on somebody who is already poor. Is that what the government wants to do? I do not know if the government is going to support the bill but we will find out.

That, obviously, is what the member wants to do. Maybe he has talked to his colleagues or maybe has not. I have not heard all of the speeches here. However, it will be a very sad day if the government passes this legislation. I do not think people on this side will support. There are some in that corner. I see one hand in the Conservative corner that is voting with the government.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-316. I have really enjoyed the robust debate we have had in the House. We have good speakers in favour and against the bill, and this is what Canadians of the House, to have motions put forward, to have good debate and, in the end, for members to vote the way they feel is right.

To start on a positive note, I applaud the member for attempting to reform the act. There are a lot of changes that need to be made to the EI system in Canada. We on this side of the House have mentioned it a number of times. The government and private members will bring forward their own ideas about how we might amend the Employment Insurance Act and a number of other acts.

Unfortunately, after reading the bill, which is quite short, the act needs to be reformed in different ways and perhaps slightly more meaningful reforms, not the ones being forwarded by the member for Cariboo—Prince George.

However, I do applaud the member for Cariboo—Prince George for pointing out the problem that pregnant women have in terms of accessing EI. My colleague mentioned that earlier today and that is perhaps a reform that the government or a private member might want to bring forward in terms of how to ensure that women are not excluded from this very valuable social safety net that has been in Canada forever.

Again, I applaud the member for bringing up those ideas for change and I encourage him to bring those forward and perhaps steer his efforts in this direction.

While I am thinking about private members' bills and other bills that are coming up in the House, I think about whether a bill will be good for our community. If it were put in place, would our communities be better places in which to live? That is not only Canada as a whole but also individual communities.

My mind goes immediately to my constituency of Burnaby—Douglas but also drifts back to the community in which I grew up just outside Wolfville in rural Nova Scotia. The communities have quite different circumstances. Burnaby is a land of opportunity. It is the best managed municipality in Canada. We have industry, universities, all kinds of ample opportunity and all kinds of jobs can be attained there.

However, where I grew up in rural Nova Scotia there is not so much the same kind of opportunities. In fact, that is why I moved. My mind goes back to the point when I was growing up in rural Nova Scotia and starting to make my way, the opportunities I had and the people I hung out with, my friends and colleagues.

I grew up in quite a poor area of rural Nova Scotia where individuals went on one of two paths. One path was where they made their way along, usually with some kind of family support, and they socialized with people who were good influences. On the other hand, there were people who went slightly down the wrong path. When I go back to Nova Scotia to visit, we talk about people who went down one path or the other path.

I will get back to this when I have my second five minutes to talk about whether these kinds of acts good for the community. In the second half of my speech, which I am sure all members will be keen to hear, I will allude to how I was on unemployment insurance in Nova Scotia. I looked for work, could not find it and eventually I got on what was then UI, which I was able to transfer out to Vancouver.

The valuable part of being on EI was the job retraining. What really changed my life was being able to access a very small amount of employment insurance. However, employers at that point could top up people's EI and train them. That really started me down the right path. I look forward to explaining more about that in a couple of weeks.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

moved that Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move Bill C-316, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration).

Simply put, the bill would ensure that a convicted criminal would not have preferential access to EI benefits compared to law-abiding Canadians. The bill would remove the extension to the qualifying period and the benefit period under the employment insurance program that is currently equal to a time a convict spends in prison.

As we speak, convicted felons have the ability to extend their qualifying and benefit periods up to a maximum period of 104 weeks as opposed to 52 weeks for a law-abiding citizen who is out of work. People out there do not know this. It is a section of the Employment Insurance Act that must be changed. Given these extensions are not available to law-abiding claimants who are actively looking for work, this is simply not fair. Bill C-316 would remove the extension of the qualification and benefit period for the time someone spends in jail.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has indicated that the government would like to move two friendly amendments, and I certainly support these amendments.

The first amendment would ensure that my bill would only remove the extension of qualification and the benefit periods for individuals who have actually been convicted of a crime and are in jail. This would ensure that individuals held in pre-trial custody but who are subsequently found innocent would not be affected by this bill.

The second amendment would have the bill coming into force on a Sunday. This would align the implementation date of the bill with the employment insurance calendar, which works in two week increments starting on a Sunday.

I will quickly reflect on how the current employment insurance system works and what motivated me to move the bill.

Currently, when an individual applies for employment insurance they are evaluated as to whether they have worked enough hours in the qualifying period to receive benefits. The standard qualifying period is 52 weeks in length. The qualifying period can only be extended under four circumstances under the act and can only be extended only to a maximum of 104 weeks. I will read them to give some context as to why I feel the exemption related to prison must be removed.

The first extension for being incapable of work is because of prescribed illness, injury, quarantine or pregnancy. The second extension is being confined in jail, a penitentiary or a similar institution. The third applies if one receives some assistance under employment benefits, such as a plan from one's previous employer. The fourth relates to receiving payments under a provincial law on the basis of having ceased to work because continuing to work could result in danger to an unborn child or a child for whom a woman might be breastfeeding.

It is the second provision related to jail that I am seeking to amend because it relates to circumstances under the control of the individual. I will provide an example of how the exemption works.

Under our current legislation, a convicted criminal could be in jail for one year, come out of jail, apply for EI and the hours worked in the last two years would be considered qualified for employment insurance. A law-abiding citizen who applied at the same time would only be able to count the hours worked in the last year. In other words, a convicted criminal who spent a year in jail would have 104 weeks to apply for a 52-week qualification period. It is as if the prison time simply did not count. However, a person who took a year off for family reasons or to pursue some other interest would only have a 52-week period. This is not fair.

A similar situation could occur with the benefits period. Typically, an individual can only receive regular employment insurance benefits for 52 weeks after the date of applying. There is an exemption if someone has been in jail or prison, like I just mentioned. Someone coming out of prison would be allowed an extension of 104 weeks in which he or she could take employment benefits. It would be as if the 52 weeks spent in jail did not happen and he or she would start on 52 weeks. That is not fair.

It is particularly unfair because any regular EI benefits that a law-abiding citizen applies for but does not take within 52 weeks of filing disappears once that 52 week period expires. This is in contrast to a convicted felon who could collect benefits for up to 104 weeks after making a claim, depending on the time spent in prison.

This is all in contrast to the law-abiding citizen who started receiving the same length of benefits as the convicted criminal. The law-abiding citizen would lose his or her benefits, while the convicted criminal would retain his or her benefits because of being in prison. It is just not fair.

Someone convicted of a crime should not receive preferential access to employment insurance benefits. Individuals choose to commit crimes. Why should those individuals receive preferential treatment over law-abiding citizens who choose to take time off and as a result would lose the benefit period? It is simply not fair.

It is one thing if someone is unable to work because of sickness. It is another matter entirely if someone convicted of a crime has greater access. That is the basis of my bill. That individual chose to break the law.

To be clear, this is not about punishing criminals further. Our justice legislation is clear about what the punishment for crime should be and thanks to a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government what the punishment will be.

The bill is about ensuring that convicted felons are forced to live by the same rules as law-abiding citizens. What Canadian would agree that a convicted felon should receive preferential treatment with regard to employment insurance benefits? No right-thinking Canadian would support that for a second.

People who choose to break the law and lose their jobs because of it is no different than people being fired for just cause. Those individuals made a choice to act in some way that ended the employment, whether they committed a crime and went to jail, or whether they committed some other offence on the job that caused them to be fired. They made a choice and they should not receive preferential EI benefits over a hard-working, law-abiding Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. It should not happen, and that is the purpose of my bill.

The bill is about fundamental fairness when it comes to accessing employment insurance benefits. Canada probably has the most generous and most helpful employment insurance programs than any other country in the world. We only have to look at the last couple of years when we were going through the recession. One only has to look at the bills our government brought in, such as the extended work benefits and job sharing. We have done everything we can, something unheard of in most other countries. This government believes in fairness. We are being fair to the law-abiding people who work our country. As I said before, the issue is fairness.

Should a convicted felon found guilty of wilfully committing a criminal act be given preferential access to employment insurance benefits simply for being confined to a jail? Members on this side of the House say a resounding no, that this should not happen. As I said, any clear-thinking Canadian would come up with the same response, no.

Therefore, I ask my colleagues in this place to support the bill in principle and pass it at second reading because it is the right thing to do. Who in the House can successfully argue that someone who has wilfully committed a crime and gone to jail should all of a sudden be eligible for preferential treatment under the EI program? I suggest no one can. I am afraid, given the NDP's soft on crime ideology, that there will be some arguments, but it is beyond me how it will be able to justify that.

I am sure that people watching this at home tonight never knew that people who went to jail because they had committed crimes would have preferential treatment. They are probably wondering how that could possibly happen. It happened years ago when the Employment Insurance Act was written. I do not know what government it was under, but somehow the provision was put in that allowed for this.

I ask my colleagues in this place to support this bill at second reading. It is a good bill. It is a bill that needs to be passed to clean up that portion of the act that is simply not fair.

Our government has clearly shown that it cares about people who go through hard times because they lose their jobs. We have expanded the access to Canadians who have found themselves in that position. It is only right for a caring government to do that. This government cares about working Canadians and their ability to provide for their families through their jobs. We will always be there for Canadians, but we must not allow people who wilfully put themselves in positions where they are convicted of crimes and go to jail or who wilfully get fired from their jobs to have preferential treatment over people who are hard working and lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, today, I would like to express my indignation about Bill C-316. I strongly recommend that members of all parties vote against this absurd and completely useless bill.

Hon. members are aware that the public's cynicism about the political work that we are trying to do is growing every day, and this bill simply adds to it. According to the Conservatives' twisted logic, if inmates are entitled to a privilege to which pregnant women are not, then the government should take that privilege away from inmates rather acting in a logical manner and helping pregnant women get access to it. We need to keep in mind that the people in our ridings are not stupid and that they will harshly judge any politicians who cultivate this cynicism by voting in favour of Bill C-316.

I would like to take a moment to explain why Canadians who spend less than one year in prison are entitled to an extension of their qualifying period, which is defined as the period in which a worker qualifies to receive employment insurance benefits. This is the period preceding the loss of employment, during which a person must have worked a certain number of hours in order to qualify for benefits. That number varies depending on the regional rate of unemployment. The qualifying period is usually 52 weeks.

When a worker files a claim and has worked a sufficient number of hours during his qualifying period, the benefits to which he is entitled can be paid over a maximum period of 52 weeks. That does not mean that the person will receive 52 weeks of benefits; it means that he has 52 weeks after losing his employment to receive employment insurance benefits.

The Conservative member is simplifying the facts and distorting the truth. He is giving the impression that prisoners receive benefits while they are in prison, which is not the case. The people who benefit from this special measure are those who have worked enough to qualify for benefits and, as contributors to the EI program, deserve to get those benefits when they get out of prison. This applies only to people serving a one-year prison sentence. Those serving more than a one-year sentence do not receive EI benefits.

Bill C-316 amends the Employment Insurance Act in order to repeal the provisions that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended as the result of time spent by the claimant in a prison, detox centre or other similar institution. The Conservatives are trying to eliminate an exception that helps former inmates return to the workforce, regain some self-confidence and access paid job training. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have not proposed any solutions to help pregnant women who are being treated unfairly in this file.

The Conservatives and anyone who plans to support this useless bill should be ashamed of themselves. The question here is not about the equality of Canadians within the EI system or the supposed preferential treatment of prisoners in the EI system. Rather, it is a question of making the necessary changes to a law that is unfair and correcting a situation that is biased against women on maternity leave. I feel it is my duty to point out the Conservative government's incompetence in this area, even though it claims to stand up for family values.

The Conservatives are blinded by their obsession with law and order, and we absolutely must prevent them from casting a shadow on the future of thousands of people who could use a second chance.

Recently, the Conservatives have been trying to score political points on the backs of offenders by introducing bills that seem increasingly arbitrary, making no distinction between types of crime, leaving no room for rehabilitation and proposing nothing but imprisonment to prevent recidivism. In Canada, however, all the numbers show that our social reintegration model is working and that crime rates are dropping steadily in most provinces.

Despite what the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George might say, helping inmates break the cycle of crime has always worked well in Canada and we are now reaping the benefits. It is thanks to these often exceptional measures—like the one we are debating today—that we have built this solid, yet imperfect, but well-meaning system that is a little like us.

Many former inmates have a great deal of difficulty finding work once they leave prison. Incarceration has a lasting negative impact on an individual's income, to say the least. Generally speaking, a person is sentenced to less than one year in prison because it is his first offence and he deserves a second chance. What is more, former inmates are more likely to be unemployed or hold low-paying jobs than before going to prison.

Extending the qualifying period and the benefit period for workers who spend less than one year in prison helps support the former inmate and his family when he is looking for employment after leaving prison.

However, a person incarcerated for more than one year cannot receive benefits until he has accumulated enough hours of insurable employment after leaving prison, while a person incarcerated for less than one year could qualify for employment insurance with the hours worked during the extended qualifying period.

Employment insurance also provides access to job training and officers who can assist in the job search. In many cases, the employment insurance program changes lives for the better.

It is also interesting to note that a person suspected of committing a crime can be detained pending the outcome of his trial. This means that an innocent person might be incarcerated while awaiting a verdict that would clear his name. Under Bill C-316, a person charged with a crime he did not commit who is imprisoned could not receive employment insurance benefits upon his release. Repealing the provisions that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended does not just concern criminals; it concerns the innocent as well.

The solution to the inequalities in the employment insurance program is not to abolish an exceptional measure that helps inmates, but to make a clear change to the legislation as to the maximum number of weeks of regular and special benefits. The Employment Insurance Act has to allow new mothers and workers who lose their jobs to use sick leave benefits when they need them. It has to allow a mother on parental leave to have the same extended qualifying period and benefit period as an individual who has been incarcerated, and not the reverse.

Instead of eliminating this exceptional measure, why not extend it to others? I would like to add that in our 2011 election platform, the NDP made a commitment to guarantee that parents who take maternity leave or parental leave would not be penalized in terms of benefits once they return to work. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development recognized that there was a problem interpreting the Employment Insurance Act in the case of women on maternity leave and access to special illness benefits and regular benefits. She must now undertake to rectify a situation that is unfair to Canadian working women, rather than seeking out senseless solutions just to please the Conservative hard-liners on crime.

I am asking my fellow members to not pass this absurd and mean-spirited bill, which is not in keeping with the values of the Canadians who elected us. Why harm rather than help? Why penalize rather than support? Let us concentrate on the real priorities of Canadian families: employment, health care, quality of life and workers' rights. Logic dictates that we vote against Bill C-316.

I would like to close by speaking about something that I feel is very important. A person who is incarcerated for more than one year is not entitled to employment insurance. Eighty-eight percent of female inmates are incarcerated for committing economic crimes, most of which are motivated by poverty.

The NDP will be voting against Bill C-316.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2011 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I rise before the House today to support Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), presented by my colleague from the riding of Cariboo—Prince George. I want to commend this member for all his hard work on this bill.

I can also indicate that our caucus will be supporting Bill C-316 with two friendly amendments. The first amendment would narrow the scope of the bill to remove the extended qualifications and benefits period for those convicted of a crime. The second amendment would create a coming into force date on a Sunday to synchronize the bill with the typical administration of employment insurance benefits. As previously mentioned by the member for Cariboo—Prince George, he supports these amendments.

I am pleased to support Bill C-316 because the bill addresses something that is fundamentally unfair, namely that convicted criminals currently have preferential access to employment insurance benefits over law-abiding citizens.

To properly understand the inequity addressed by Bill C-316, we need to look at the context. Under the Employment Insurance Act, prisoners cannot collect EI benefits while incarcerated. Therefore, this bill only addresses employment insurance benefits granted after an individual leaves prison.

The purpose of the employment insurance program is to provide temporary income to replace lost employment income while claimants are looking for work.

The system also provides assistance to workers who are sick, pregnant women, parents taking care of a newborn or adopted child, and family members taking care of loved ones who are seriously ill.

This second group of benefits can largely be summed up as being unavailable for work because of circumstances beyond the individual's control.

When an individual applies for benefits, there are two key time periods: the qualifying period and the benefits period. The qualifying period is a period in which an individual must have worked a minimum number of hours in order to qualify for a benefit under the program. The benefit period is the period of time during which claimants may collect the benefits for which they have qualified. No benefits can be received after the end of the benefits period. Simply put, the benefits period can be thought of as a cut-off date; all benefits must be taken before this date or else be lost.

In most cases, both the qualifying and benefit periods are set at 52 weeks. There are, however, exceptions to the 52-week limit. These allow for the extension of the qualifying period and the benefits period for up to 104 weeks if an individual is on sickness leave or workers compensation. Currently there are also extensions to both periods for the time an individual spends in prison or jail or a similar institution.

The member for Cariboo—Prince George has already gone into some depth about those exemptions and has demonstrated how these benefits predominantly are related to situations out of the control of the individual. This bill deals only with the extensions of the qualifying period and the benefits period for individuals in a prison, jail or similar institution.

Currently the existing extensions ensure that convicted criminals who serve less than 52 weeks in jail merely have their full 52-week qualifying and benefits period interrupted, with no repercussions because of their jail sentence. This potentially allows them twice the period of time available to a law-abiding citizen to collect benefits or to count hours of work to qualify for benefits.

The provisions of the law that set out such measures have been in place for some time, but they are creating a rift. They favour some people, at the expense of the majority.

Convicted felons should not receive preferential access over law-abiding citizens and as a result increase the cost of the program to hard-working Canadians. To be clear, we are all in agreement on the extensions individuals should be granted for life circumstances beyond their control, such as illness or injury. However, this is not the case with crime. To be convicted of a crime, an individual made a choice to commit that criminal act. This choice is within the control of the individual.

Why should inmates have privileges that the rest of the population cannot have? To us and to all hard-working, law-abiding Canadians, this does not make sense.

As a government, we understand the importance of providing former inmates with every opportunity to reintegrate into society. Correctional Service Canada already offers a number of programs to inmates during their incarcerations that are aimed at helping them reintegrate into society by providing them with employment training and helping them to acquire the skills they need to improve their employability. Correctional Service Canada also offers employment services that help prisoners find a job once they are released. Finally, Correctional Service Canada works in partnership with community colleges and industrial organizations to offer a large array of certification programs and works with recognized employers and industry associations.

These measures do not reward crime. They help people get back on the right track.

Canadians have a right to expect that their government is just and fair when defining and adopting laws that govern our lives. It is a fundamental principle of democracy. This bill would ensure that convicted criminals have to play by the same rules as law-abiding citizens. If their EI benefits lapse because they are in jail, that is not the responsibility of Canadian taxpayers to fix; it is the responsibility of the guilty party for making the choice to commit a criminal offence.

It is a matter of justice and fairness.

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

October 3rd, 2011 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration).

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Barrie for his support and seconding this bill, my Ottawa staff for help they provided in putting this together and my wife, Annie, for the support she gives me and, indeed, on this private member's bill.

I believe that most Canadians, maybe as high as 99%, maybe a vast majority of members of Parliament and maybe yourself, Mr. Speaker, do not know that going to prison could allow someone to double the amount of time they can apply for and receive in employment insurance benefits. Sections 8 and 10 of the Employment Insurance Act currently allow for prisoners to receive the same level of opportunity as hard-working Canadians who are in need of employment insurance. My bill would repeal those provisions in the Employment Insurance Act so prisoners would no longer be able to apply for an extension to their employment insurance benefits simply because they were in jail.

Why should criminals receive the same level of treatment as hard-working Canadians who are pregnant, or suffer illnesses or injuries? As an example, a mother in Quebec was denied employment insurance after her place of employment went out of business because she had just returned from maternity leave and had not worked enough hours in the previous year. If she had been in prison, however, instead of on maternity leave, she would have been able to receive the extended benefit. This is crazy.

Thus, quite simply, the bill would change the EI Act so that those who serving time for crime no longer would be able to receive preferential treatment over hard-working Canadians, who deserve and need this kind of help. This bill is all about fairness for hard-working Canadians.

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