Evidence of meeting #4 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was billion.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Pierre Céré  Spokesperson, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses
  • François Lamoureux  Assistant to the Executive Committee, Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)
  • Danie Harvey  Executive Member, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

Merci beaucoup.

We'll now go to Madame Beaudin, please.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Mr. Lessard, it is an honour for me to ask you questions on this bill today. My first question will be simple. I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify some comments we've been hearing over the last few weeks, or even months, before prorogation. We often hear this in the House during questions asked by our Conservative colleagues. They regularly say that a 360-hour qualifying period amounts to 52 weeks of employment insurance for recipients. I would like you to clarify this information.

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

I think the Conservatives should have verified this information for reasons of rigour and intellectual honesty. In response to questions asked by Liberal members, the Prime Minister on two occasions referred to different figures. First of all, he said that with respect to the 360-hour qualifying period, people would no longer need to have worked 45 days to receive 52 weeks of EI benefits. Later, he referred to 60 days in order to get the 52 weeks.

There is a serious lack of rigour here. The rigour that is being used to best determine how to help the affluent is not being used to help those that are less well-off.

One just needs to think of the unemployment rate rule, for instance, which would apply here. If there is an unemployment rate of 6% on the basis of 360 hours, that would give an individual in the region 14 weeks of employment insurance benefits. If there is an unemployment rate of 16% in another region, another person will be getting 36 weeks of benefits.

As a general rule, we can say that the number of weeks entitling unemployed people to benefits would fall within this bracket. If they go beyond 36 weeks, there would be specific measures for the regions, and those would be exceptions.

When people say so flippantly that working 360 hours entitles people to 52 weeks of employment insurance benefits, it is misleading and absolutely frivolous.

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Let's get back to these 360 hours. Our committee is currently working on a poverty study. We know that a number of women work part-time. Seventy per cent of part-time workers are women, in fact.

Would this 360-hour qualifying period make EI more accessible... and help pull segments of the population out of poverty, including women? Could my colleague elaborate on how this employment insurance accessibility measure could help in the fight against poverty?

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

It is a powerful lever in the fight against poverty. We've seen that in the study we've been carrying out for the last two years. We have covered almost all regions of Canada. We know what the situation of women is in terms of employment. We have also examined it in the course of another study, one on employability, in fact. I have the document here. The committee recommended that the government revise the definition of “insured participant” that can be found in section 58 of the Employment Insurance Act, so as to broaden eligibility to employment insurance benefits and support measures. That is one of the sectors of employability which is affected and includes women in short-term employment. HRSDC indicates that 54% of the non-working population is not receiving employment insurance benefits. In other words 46% do receive them.

If we look at women, we see that 36% of them receive benefits. To get to 46%, the rate for men would have to be slightly higher, they are in their early fifties etc. So, under the plan, there is discrimination towards women and young people. These are the people that are holding precarious jobs. This is why, along with our colleagues, and I was referring earlier to Mr. Godin, Ms. Folco and Mr. Komarnicki who were there at the time, we made these recommendations in 2005 and we used them again in the report on employability. This is why we are preparing to reissue them in our poverty report.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you very much.

Do I still have some time left?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

You have one minute.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

So much is being said about what is being done now. But these measures deal more with extending the duration of employment insurance benefits. Well, first, one would have to be eligible for these benefits to have access to these measures. You believe that these measures are bypassing an entire segment of the population, in other words women, students, workers who earn low wages, may lose their jobs and become unemployed again, part-time workers and seasonal workers. You believe Bill C-308 will have a major impact on all of these workers who paid employment insurance premiums when they were working.

March 17th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Yes. Bill C-50, for instance, which has become law, provides for an additional benefit period for long-term workers. This legislation targets one or two areas of activity but also the regions, including Ontario, although that province is not satisfied with the situation. Yet, it is a temporary measure, which has no effect on women, for one. In fact, as of next year, it will no longer have any effect on anyone.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Candice Bergen

Thank you very much.

Mr. Godin.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to thank my colleague Mr. Lessard for this bill on employment insurance. It has been before the House for a number of years. A great deal of work has been done in collaboration with a number of groups. Later on we will be hearing from the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the CSN. The CLC has appeared a number of times to discuss bills. Construction worker representatives, in fact all those who represent the labour movement support this bill. Would you agree with me on that?

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Yes.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

It is as though the current government and the previous Liberal government believed that receiving employment insurance benefits was basically a sin. Today in the House of Commons, Ms. Beaudin asked a question and the Prime Minister responded by saying, in so many words, that all employment insurance recipients were paid to stay at home. That is basically what he meant. I do not know if you share his view, but I simply would like to know what you think about this matter.

Do workers throughout Canada and Quebec really want to stay at home, or do they have higher ambitions? Is it not rather that they want to work, but that there is a problem with the job situation? Under the plan, employers make contributions so that the needs of these workers' families are met.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

At the beginning of my presentation, I said that the lack of access to benefits resulted not only in a greater rate of poverty for workers who lose their jobs, but also for their families, their region and their province. What is unfortunate, within the system, is that over time the original purpose of the plan has been hijacked, and as a result, today, a worker who loses his job and applies for benefits is considered as acting in bad faith. In fact, the legitimacy of the application is even questioned, and this happens in many ways. In my view, we are going through one of the worst periods ever. There are constraints in the regulations and there are restrictions in the application process.

Do people really want to be unemployed for a long period of time? No. They are entitled to 55% of their previous income which, in most cases, was already quite low. So if these people receive employment insurance benefits, they will be in a position to look for work. However, some of these workers do not even have enough money to take the bus.