An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (increase of maximum number of weeks: combined weeks of benefits)
Chris Charlton NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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Helping Families in Need Act
November 8th, 2012 / 10:35 a.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House again to continue the debate on Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations. Although the title itself does not tell us much, the bill would make a series of improvements, most of them through the employment insurance program, to Canadian families that desperately need the support of their government. For that reason, as I indicated at second reading, my NDP colleagues and I are pleased to support the bill.
However, we take our role as the official opposition seriously. We hold the government to account and even when we agree with the intent of a particular piece of government legislation, we will work hard to ensure it is the very best bill that it can be.
To that end, we went into the committee hearings on Bill C-44 hoping to make the process work. Committee is where we have the opportunity to go through a bill clause-by-clause to question the minister, or in this case ministers, responsible for the bill and to hear testimony from both experts in the field and from individuals who would be impacted by the proposed legislative changes. We then go through the bill with a fine tooth comb to address concerns because, with the current government in particular, the devil is often in the details.
Because we support Bill C-44, we went into committee hoping that a spirit of co-operation would prevail and that we would collaborate to make the necessary improvements to give parents of critically ill, murdered or missing children the support they so desperately needed. I cannot tell members how profoundly disappointed I was when the government members on committee reverted to the old caricature of themselves and refused to entertain a single amendment proposed by opposition MPs. Honestly, it was a disgrace.
I will give one example of an area where we could have made an important improvement to the bill.
In order for parents of murdered or missing children to receive the government grant, they would have to have earned $6,500. Presumably, that threshold was set to show some kind of attachment to the labour force. Leaving aside the broader question of whether it is necessary to prove such attachment in the first place, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development in committee why she chose to adopt a threshold based on earnings as opposed to hours worked. Obviously, under her rules, somebody who worked for minimum wage would have to work many more hours to qualify for the benefit than somebody who made $150 an hour. Why would we create such an unequal threshold when people at the lower end of the wage scale would likely need the financial support even more than those at the higher end?
I encouraged the minister to explore other ways of proving attachment to the labour force. The minister responded by saying that they could not use hours worked to prove attachment to the labour force because:
—that would not be compatible with the eligibility of self-employed workers who have opted into the EI system. Their eligibility for EI special benefits is based on financial figures, on dollars earned, because we cannot measure their hours. There's no way to validate that.
Really? We do not trust the self-employed to report accurately, so we will punish those workers who earn minimum wage or work part-time because the government cannot create a nuanced enough system to ensure that the bill is fair to everyone. Really? Is that what the government is saying to parents of murdered and missing children?
We in the opposition could not move the necessary amendments in committee because they would have been ruled out of order. However, the minister had, and still has, the opportunity to right this wrong. Changing the eligibility criteria is the right thing to do and it would not throw the government into financial crisis.
Let us be clear about the numbers here. According to the Canadian Police Information Centre, there were 25 abductions by strangers in 2012. Helping 25 families will not break the bank, but even if it did, it is absolutely the right thing to do and the minister should not be creating artificial barriers by means testing eligibility for support. The Conservatives' failure to reconsider these provisions is an absolute disgrace and belies the spin that they are sincere about wanting to help families in crisis.
I would say the same thing about the other amendments my NDP colleagues and I were pushing for in committee. I know I will not have time to repeat them all in the House today, but let me continue to highlight some of the most obvious areas where we could and should have found common cause.
I will begin with the most egregious example where the Conservatives' strict adherence to talking points trumped common sense. Clause 5 of Bill C-44 states that leave for critical illness would end on the last day of the week that the child died. New Democrats tried to move a modest amendment that would have extended that leave for another two weeks after the child's death to give the parents time to grieve and to bury their child.
Our proposed amendment was supported by the Canadian Association of Social Workers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Canadian Labour Congress. Fred Phelps, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Social Workers was almost incredulous when he asked the committee, “would compassion not dictate that families require time after death to mourn and bury their child?” For most Canadians, the answer would have been a resounding yes, but sadly, compassion does not appear to be the government's forte and the bill is proceeding unamended.
Let me give another example. The bill as it currently stands defines children as those under 18 years of age. Why is that? In many cases children are defined not by age but by their dependency on their parents. For example, many dental and health insurance plans cover so-called children until they reach the age of 18 or they complete school; 18 is not a hard and fast cutoff. I would argue that this should be the case in Bill C-44 as well. Particularly, it is essential that the definition of child be expanded beyond the age of 18 for disabled children.
As the minister herself acknowledged, the criteria she used were emotional dependency and emotional maturity. Clearly, those criteria would apply to some disabled Canadians who may well be over the age of 18 but for whom the emotional attachment to their parents is every bit as real as for those children who fit the current definition in the act.
As Tyler Hnatuk, representing the Canadian Association for Community Living made clear at committee:
...caregiving responsibilities for parents of children with disabilities often continue much longer in life than for other families, and so certainly I want to recognize the need and the duties that carry on throughout a lifetime.
The parenting of a child with a severe disability is a lifetime commitment.
It would have been easy for us to allow for the expansion of the definition of the word “child” in this bill. That is why the New Democrats on the committee moved an amendment that would add child to the list of terms that could be defined through regulations, which would allow the government to expand the definition to include dependent children over the age of 18. Again, we are talking about a very small number of families who would be impacted, but for those families the concern is very real.
It is not good enough for the Conservatives to vote no just because the amendment came from the NDP. The Conservatives should have put partisanship aside and acted in the best interests of Canadians. That is what they were elected to do, but if they cannot even do it on a bill that has all-party support, how are we ever going to make the committee process work on the more contentious matters that are referred to our committee? Is it really that foreign a concept to the government that detailed scrutiny of its bills may actually lead to better legislation? Committee work used to be an integral part of the legislative process under governments of all stripes, but under the Conservative Prime Minister, that work is wholly devalued.
Here is another example. Clause 6 of the bill provides leave for the parents of murdered or missing children. We all support that provision, of course, but would it not make sense to allow parents to take that leave on a flexible basis rather than mandating that it be taken in consecutive weeks? We were not suggesting that the total number of weeks be increased. We simply wanted to allow parents to apportion their leave to suit their personal circumstances. Oftentimes their dealings with the judicial system occurred months down the road. Why would we not allow them to use some of their leave time during that critical time? Again, that flexibility found broad support among the witnesses who gave testimony before our committee.
Let me give a sampling from the very people whom this bill is intended to help. When asked whether it would be helpful to create flexibility with respect to the leave provisions of the bill, here is what they said.
Mr. Bruno Serre, whose daughter Brigitte was murdered in January 2006 at the age of 17 during her shift at a gas station in Montreal, said:
I think that would be a very good thing.
For example, if this happened to someone and, after 10 weeks, they felt ready, they could return to work. In my case, I went back after five weeks, but I wasn't really capable.
So it would help to have hours or weeks banked. Five probably would have been used and then there would be 30 left, which could be used over the years. But there should be no expiry date. For example, it could be decided that the recipient would have one year to use these 35 weeks, as is sometimes the case in the government. Instead, this should be spread out over two or three years. Some trials can take place three years later.
If someone has used all the weeks and the trial comes up, that person will relive the tragedy. When the trial comes up, you relive the day when you learned about the death of your loved one. So there are other steps to take. If the person doesn't have any weeks left, he or she will have to go through the same situation again that happened at the very start. That person will be lost and unable to work.
Being able to bank the weeks for later would be a very good solution.
Christiane Sirois concurred. Ms. Sirois' son was kidnapped on November 1, 1984, when he was 8 years old. When asked about the desirability of creating greater flexibility she said:
My answer is yes, without hesitation. I support what Mr. Serre said: there should be banked hours, should a person need them.
This doesn't apply for me. I haven't found my son, but I can put myself in the shoes of people who have found their child. I do not dream about finding him alive after 28 years, you can be sure. But I understand. I am suspended. What will happen when I find his little eight-year-old body or what's left of it? This will happen one day, for sure. I will relive 28 years stored up in my memory. It is important to be prepared for this, that is certain.
That is why it is crucial that these victims have a minimum amount of financial assistance to help them survive. Because listen carefully: you don't really live with this, but you survive.
Lastly, let me add the words of Ms. Céline Hotte, whose life changed forever when her daughter was murdered. Here is what Ms. Hotte told us in committee:
For 10 to 17 years after the events, I had to deal with the perpetrator's parole requests and the issue of halfway houses. To contest these requests, you need to put together a file. This takes signatures from people in the village where he lived. This isn't easy to do. You also have to read about everything he did in prison. This isn't easy. You cannot talk to him—that's not what I want to do anyway. You have to read the reports. He never followed the recommendations. Each time, it put me right back into the situation I had gone through.
Clearly there is widespread agreement that every circumstance is different and that there must be enough flexibility to allow for accommodation.
That is certainly the conclusion drawn by Canada's Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who in her testimony also encouraged the government to allow for flexibility. She focused particularly on the administration of justice and the court process:
We know that if there is a murder, the court case may be several years down the road, so to provide an option and some flexibility—for example, a parent may choose to take a certain amount of time at the time of the crime, and then, if the criminal court process is two years down the road, they may need to have time then as well. Also, in some cases the person responsible may not be apprehended for a while. I'm just saying adding that flexibility would provide parents of murdered and missing children an opportunity to take the time when it's appropriate for them, when they need that time.
Clearly, there was broad-based consensus about what needed to be done to make Bill C-44 as effective as possible for the people it was intended to help. The only people offside were the members of the Conservative caucus, presumably at the direction of the minister responsible and the Prime Minister.
I make these points more in sadness than in anger. We had the perfect opportunity to improve a bill that we all agree is worth supporting. This did not need to be an exercise in rigid partisanship, where the Conservative members of the committee automatically oppose anything proposed by the NDP. Frankly, the victims of crime deserve better. The parents of critically ill children deserve better. The Canadian public deserves better. They deserve a concerted effort from all their elected officials to make Parliament work. In this instance, on Bill C-44, the Conservative members on the human resources committee let Canadians down.
Now at this point members may well wonder whether we will continue to support the bill. Let me reassure them. My NDP colleagues and I will of course vote in favour of Bill C-44. My point is simply that we could have achieved more, that we could have improved the bill in meaningful ways, but that we failed to seize that important opportunity.
That does not mean that baby steps in the right direction are not worth taking.
First, one of the proposals included in the government's bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow mothers and fathers currently on parental leave to access EI sickness benefits if they fall ill during their parental leave. This is a welcome and long-overdue amendment. There are few Canadians who would disagree that new parents who are very often already stretched both physically and financially should not be penalized if they become ill while on parental leave.
I am a little puzzled, though, as to why the minister would have stopped short of extending this benefit further. If she appreciates the injustice of denying sickness benefits to those whose circumstances change while on parental leave, then why did she fail to apply the same consideration and logic to workers who are laid off while on parental leave? Why would we solve one injustice and at the same time wilfully ignore the other?
My bill does take that extra step. It would fix that wrong. It recognizes that those on parental leave, the very same physically and emotionally drained new parents who sometimes become ill while on parental leave, can find that they have been downsized or laid off, through no fault of their own, while on parental leave.
As it currently stands, parents in that situation are denied benefits. Inexplicably, the government is content to leave them twisting in the wind, unsupported by even the meagre support provided by EI.
On the upside, my private member's bill also includes provisions to cover the self-employed in this benefit arrangement. I am pleased to see that the government has at least adopted them.
I do want to reflect for a moment on whether the EI program is the best vehicle for delivering the larger package of supports contemplated by Bill C-44. As members can tell from my phrasing, I obviously do not think it is. It bears pointing out that at one time the government agreed with me.
As recently as 2011, the Conservative Party platform stated, “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”. The Conservatives were right to adopt that approach. Whether one is a waged worker, senior manager, professional or stay-at-home parent, the devastation of a critically ill child is the same. All Canadians who find themselves caring for their seriously ill child are incurring a myriad of expenses that go beyond lost wages, and they all deserve our support.
What happened to make the government change its mind? The grant for parents of murdered and missing children will be paid from general revenues and not through EI. However, with respect to critically ill children, the Conservatives have ignored their election promise and are paying for their commitment through EI. I don't need to remind anyone in the House that the EI fund is not the government's money. It is a fund to which only workers and employers contribute. Therefore, for the government to draw on that pool of money to create a photo op on a policy announcement, no matter how positive, is surely beyond the pale.
I know my time is almost up, but I ask that the House indulge me for one more minute so that I can make a final point.
New Democrats support the bill. It is not a question of ideology or partisan politics; it is about assisting families in their time of need. However, let us be clear. The bill does not go far enough to help the families of missing and murdered children, nor the parents of kids who are critically ill.
Also, the bill does not go far enough in making reforms to EI. These measures completely fail to address the greatest challenge with EI, which is the lack of access for unemployed Canadians.
The bill will clearly pass, and by all means let us do it quickly, because we have to get on with tackling the larger question of comprehensive EI reform. We must make EI accessible and effective for all Canadians. Nothing less will do.
October 30th, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC
I have a quick question for you.
Are you familiar with Bill C-362 introduced in Parliament by my colleague Ms. Charlton, who spoke to you earlier? In cases where individuals lose their job during or after a parental leave, the bill provides for the extension of the benefit period to a maximum of 121 weeks.
Helping Families in Need Act
September 26th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, the member points to one of the most serious flaws with our current EI system.
As I mentioned in part of my speech, I introduced Bill C-362, which we have called “EI for moms”. The member is quite right, we cannot currently stack EI benefits. If individuals are on maternity leave and their company closes down, they are no longer eligible for EI as their colleagues would have been.
It is not just true for maternity leave and regular benefits, it is also true for sick benefits, for all special benefits: none of them can be stacked. It is one of the most serious flaws in the EI program. I am really appreciative that my colleague pointed out the particularly discriminatory impact of those policies on women in our country.
We had incredible support for Bill C-362. As I said earlier in my speech, the minister has poached some parts of that bill and incorporated it into Bill C-44. I would strongly encourage her to also adopt the rest of the bill.
Helping Families in Need Act
September 26th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations.
Bill C-44 would provide a series of improvements, most of them through the employment insurance program, to Canadian families who desperately need the support of their government. For that reason, we are pleased to support this bill.
In fact, some of the provisions of the bill were lifted straight out of my private member's Bill C-362, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I will consider myself flattered. Let me review which parts of Bill C-44 were lifted from my bill.
First, one of the proposals included in the government's bill would amend the EI Act to allow mothers and fathers currently on parental leave to access EI sickness benefits if they fall ill during their parental leave. This is a welcome and long overdue amendment. There are few Canadians who would disagree that new parents, who very often are already stretched both physically and financially, should not be penalized if they become ill while on parental leave.
I am a little puzzled though as to why the minister would have stopped short of extending this benefit further. If she appreciates the injustice of denying sickness benefits to those whose circumstances change while on parental leave, then why did she fail to apply the same consideration and logic to workers who are laid off while on parental leave? Why would she solve one injustice and at the same time wilfully ignore the other?
My bill does take that extra step. It would fix that wrong. It points out that those on parental leave, the very same physically and emotionally drained new parents who sometimes become ill while on parental leave, can through no fault of their own find that they have been downsized or laid off while on parental leave. As it currently stands, parents in that situation are denied benefits and, inexplicably, the government is content to leave them twisting in the wind, unsupported by even the meagre support provided by EI.
On the upside, my private member's bill also includes provisions to cover the self-employed in this benefits arrangement, and I am pleased to see that the government has at least adopted that.
Let me move on to special benefits that Bill C-44 would provide for parents caring for a child with a critical illness or injury.
While support for these parents is important and, frankly, long overdue, I am concerned that parents are only eligible if they have worked a minimum of 600 insurable hours over the past year. More than anything, this raises the question for me of whether the EI program is the best vehicle for delivering this parental support.
I would point out that at one time the government agreed with me. As recently as 2011 the Conservative Party platform read, “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”. The Conservatives were right to adopt that approach.
Whether one is a waged worker, a senior manager, a professional, or a stay-at-home parent, the devastation of a critically ill child is the same. All Canadians who find themselves caring for their seriously ill child are incurring a myriad of expenses that go beyond lost wages, and they all deserve our support.
What happened to make the government change its mind? The grant for parents of murdered and missing children will be paid from general revenues and not through EI, but with respect to critically ill children, the Conservatives have ignored their election promise and are paying for their commitment through EI.
I do not need to remind anyone in the House that the EI fund is not the government's money. It is a fund to which only workers and employers contribute, so for the government to draw on that pool of money to create a photo op on a policy announcement no matter how positive is surely beyond the pale.
As tempting as it is for me to go on about that theme at greater length, let me leave the Conservatives' partisan antics aside and return to the policy itself.
Mercifully, I have never experienced the anguish of parents whose child is diagnosed with a serious illness. I can scarcely imagine how difficult and frightening it must be. It is precisely at life-altering moments like those that we all need not just our friends and families, but our communities and our government as well. At the very least, government must ensure that their burden is not increased by adding financial worries to the heap. Surely that is one of the principal ways in which government directly serves the needs of the community, of people, of taxpayers.
I am pleased that the government has finally moved to provide a basic level of financial assistance for those Canadians. It is not enough of course. Families going through serious illness incur enormous expenses, and EI benefits are a maximum of 55% of income, but it is a start.
Having said that though, a few other questions must also be addressed.
The government says that it intends to make these benefits available to the parents of children who are “critically ill or injured”. I am deeply concerned about how the government intends to define “critically ill or injured”.
As it stands now, compassionate care benefits have been available to parents of a child who faced “a significant risk of death within 26 weeks”. That incredibly cold and narrow definition of serious illness will certainly keep program costs down, but it fails a huge number of the very same Canadian families the government says it wants to help.
Serious illness just does not work that way. Health care does not work that way. Families do not work that way. The Canadian Cancer Society points out that parents of critically ill children have been reluctant to submit claims for financial support because they did not wish to acknowledge that their child had a significant risk of dying.
Of course, through the advance of research, survival rates are, thankfully, increasing. For example, over the last 30 years, childhood cancer survival rates have improved substantially. They have gone up from 71% in the late 1980s to 82% in the early 2000s, and the five-year survival rates have increased for several types of childhood cancers.
Obviously, I am not a health care professional, but I cannot imagine that the government's insistence on a formal declaration of near imminent death is medically wise, never mind emotionally tolerable. Rarely are parents or doctors comfortable being so categorical about a child's prognosis, and to put parents in the position of requesting such a declaration so they can access desperately needed financial assistance is, to me, unconscionable.
In reality, many childhood illnesses that were considered terminal even five years ago are no longer so. Childhood cancers are notorious for peaks and valleys, remissions and recurrence, and increasingly, cure. The current black and white definition of critical illness means the parents of the child that faces a difficult and uncertain course of chemo or an organ transplant, but whose child has a reasonable chance of survival cannot currently access this benefit. Surely the minister appreciates that those parents need support too.
It is a situation that the minister must ensure is remedied in the regulations attending this bill. The definition of “critically ill or injured” must not be conflated with “significant risk of death within 26 weeks”.
Let us move on to some of the other provisions in the legislation before us.
Bill C-44 provides for changes to the Income Tax Act that will facilitate a direct grant to the parents of missing or murdered children in Canada. Importantly, there is a caveat. The missing child must be missing on account of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code.
A couple of concerns come to mind immediately. First, while this grant is unique in the legislation insofar as it is not part of the employment insurance system, it is nonetheless tied to the income of the parent. In order to apply for the benefit, a parent must have earned a minimum of $6,500 in the last calendar year. I wonder what the government has in mind with respect to stay-at-home parents, for example, whose child is missing as a result of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code. That parent, who may have other children to care for, who may be a caregiver for an elderly parent, who undoubtedly has responsibilities in his or her own home and community, has no access to this benefit.
Why has the government tied this grant to income? Surely all parents of children missing in a suspected criminal case need and deserve the financial support that permits them to focus on the crisis in their family.
Second, and I spoke to this in response to the minister's speech just a few minutes ago, I am still not sure I understand the rationale behind providing support only for parents whose children are missing “as a result of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code”. If I am understanding this right, if a family were to go wilderness camping, say, and their toddler wandered away from the campsite and ended up missing, the parents would not be eligible for any support during their time of frantically searching for their child. Why is that? Why is that awful situation any less worthy of support? Did the government's need to feed the rhetoric of its law and order agenda take precedence over good public policy here? I am simply not understanding why the Criminal Code caveat was deemed necessary to add in this bill.
That takes me to the larger context of the bill. I have acknowledged that the legislation before us today provides a small but important improvement for new parents who get sick while on parental leave. I welcome the additional support for parents of critically ill or injured children and those whose children are missing or murdered. Those are indeed positive changes, and I am pleased to see that the government is taking steps, tentative though they are, toward developing an understanding of working Canadian families and the struggles that they face.
What the legislation does not do speaks volumes about the government's view of the appropriate use of the EI fund. At a time when at least 1.4 million Canadians are out of work, the government crafts EI legislation that provides a benefit only for people who are not, in fact, unemployed. How ironic is that?
While the official number says unemployment sits at about 7.3%, we all know that the number is much closer to 14%. The government knows that as a result of its policies, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are not included in that number. Those no longer looking for work or who are employed in part-time, temporary or casual employment are not counted in the official figures.
The real unemployment rate is a frightening indictment of the government's failed economic policies. The fact is that 300,000 more Canadians are unemployed today than during the recession. This is a government with no industrial strategy and a government that is overseeing the decimation of the manufacturing sector.
The fact is that Statistics Canada pointed out last spring that there were almost six unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. The fact is that the government's failed economic policies have devastated workers and families across the country. Its economic action plan is comprised of little action and lots of advertising.
To add insult to injury, while Canadians continue to suffer the consequences of the Conservatives' discredited and ineffective trickle-down policies, the government has moved to restrict and undermine the very social safety net that was designed to help families weather such economic downturns.
Less than half of unemployed Canadians now qualify for EI benefits. Fully 60% of unemployed men and 68% of unemployed women get no support whatsoever from EI and 870,000 Canadians have no access to EI benefits, despite the fact, again, that employment insurance is a program entirely paid for by workers and employers, a program funded without a nickel from the government's treasury. That is an historic low.
No doubt the government is proud of successfully shutting more than half of unemployed Canadians out of the insurance system for which their own hard-earned wages have paid. It hurts workers, small businesses and communities, but it helps build that EI surplus, which successive Liberal and Conservative governments have raided to the tune of $54 billion to pay down their debts and to finance more corporate tax cuts.
The government has no understanding of the devastation that job loss can bring to a family. There are 1.4 million Canadians officially out of work. Those families are on the knife-edge of poverty. They are losing their homes and savings. Their kids cannot join sports teams or travel with the school band or, far too often, start the school day with a decent breakfast.
However, the Prime Minister betrayed his lack of compassion and understanding for unemployed Canadians when he told the American Council for National Policy, in 1997:
In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
Who knew that when Mitt Romney accused 47% of Americans of being work-shy layabouts, that he stole the line from the Prime Minister? Not to be outdone, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it”.
With that kind of cabinet leadership, it is no wonder that the prevailing attitude of Conservative backbenchers toward the unemployed is, in the now infamous words of the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's, they are “no-good bastards'”. What a way to blame the victims for the government's failed economic policies.
The Conservatives say that they are focused like a laser on jobs, but clearly their focus is on job cuts not job creation.
The stark reality is that unemployment in Canada is unacceptably high and access to employment insurance benefits is at a record low. When one of the 40% does manage to jump through the myriad of hoops designed to disqualify people from benefits, they can only get benefits that max out at $485 per week and are available to them for shorter and shorter periods.
I will remind members again that all of that must be seen in the context of one overriding truth, and that is the employment insurance system is 100% funded by employees and employers. Indeed, the Conservative fondness for Tea Party politics is evident again.
EI begins to look more and more like U.S.-style private health care coverage. Sure, companies offer insurance, provided people are young, healthy, have no pre-existing condition and are statistically unlikely to ever claim a nickel from them. So it goes with Canada's EI.
Sure, we have employment insurance. Individuals and their employers will have to fully finance it with significant premiums, of course. However, goodness, if they ever actually want to use the safety net they paid for, the government will throw up as many roadblocks as it possibly can. They have to wait two weeks without any money, even after filing their claim, and they cannot get benefits if they have not worked immediately prior to their claim, even if they have paid into the fund for many years. If they somehow manage to clear those hurdles and they do get benefits, it is only 55% of their wages. Retraining for a transitional economy, new skills? Oh dear, no, the government does not do that.
Where is the comprehensive study of the employment insurance program? Where is the strategic analysis and the comprehensive reform the system so clearly needs? Where is the jobs strategy, the skills training, the second career program, the forward-looking, aggressive and progressive programs to get Canadians' skill sets renewed and retooled and to get Canadians back to work? Where is the vision? Where is the leadership? In fact, there is none in the bill, not from the government.
We have before us a bill that provides important support to, by the government's own admission, perhaps 6,000 Canadians. However, we are puzzled. None of those 6,000 Canadians are actually unemployed. Do they need and deserve government support? Absolutely. Can I remind the minister of the very first line of the Service Canada website, which stipulates, “Employment insurance provides temporary financial assistance to unemployed Canadians who have lost their job through no fault of their own while they look for work or upgrade their skills”.
The bill before us today would do absolutely nothing to support that mission statement. It would provide financial assistance to not a single, unemployed Canadian. It fails completely to address the urgent needs of the at least 1.4 million Canadians without work, without a paycheque and, increasingly, without hope.
On this file, the only leadership is coming from this side of the House of Commons under the leadership of the member for Outremont, the leader of the official opposition. We are the only party that offers policies to extend access to EI benefits, not to limit it further.
When will the government listen to Canadians, as we have done, and undertake a strategic review of the entire program, with a view to: extending EI stimulus measures until unemployment falls to pre-recession levels; eliminating the two week waiting period; returning the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment; raising the rate of benefits to 60%; and improving the quality and monitoring of training and retraining?
That is the kind of support unemployed Canadians, and the Canadian economy, needs from the government.
Employment Insurance Act
November 28th, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (increase of maximum number of weeks: combined weeks of benefits).
Mr. Speaker, all too often the government pays lip service to supporting women without taking any concrete steps to improve the lives of women and girls. Offering posters and platitudes simply is not good enough.
We need to take action now. That is why I am pleased to reintroduce legislation today that would make the employment insurance system fair for working mothers. One of the many barriers that prevent women from accessing EI entitlements is the anti-stacking provisions in the Employment Insurance Act. For example, these provisions prevent mothers who have secured maternity and parental benefits from accessing regular EI benefits in the event that they lose their jobs during these officially sanctioned leaves.
With layoff announcements still coming daily, new mothers often find that their workplaces are closing during their maternity leave, or they return to work but lose their jobs soon after. Shamefully, they find that they no longer qualify for the employment insurance benefits for which they have paid.
My bill would bring fairness to working mothers by eliminating the 50-week cap and changing the qualifying period so individuals could access their maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits without worrying that if they lost their jobs in the interim they would be left without EI.
Working moms deserve the support of this House. I urge all members to give unanimous consent to pass this bill now.
Finally, I want to thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for seconding this bill and for her continuing support of this initiative. I know that when that bill comes before her committee, she will lead the fight for fairness for working mothers.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)