Debates of Dec. 11th, 1995
House of Commons Hansard #275 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.
- Quebec's Right To Self-Determination
- Employment Insurance Act
- Voyageur Festival
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- Victims Of Crime
- Canadian Armed Forces
- Sacred Assembly
- The Constitution
- Hmcs Calgary
- Stora Feldmill Ltd.
- Highway 416
- Government Of Canada
- Judge Jean Bienvenue
- Federal Government
- Mouvement De Libération Nationaledu Québec
- LEADER OF THE PROGRESSIVEcONSERVATIVE PARTY
- Justice Jean Bienvenue
- The Constitution
- Tobacco Use
- The Deficit
- Canadian Social Transfer
- National Capital
- Tax Credits
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- The Environment
- Canada Pension Plan
- Bill C-226
- Indian Affairs
- Employment Insurance
- Alliance Quebec
- Canadian Airlines International
- Government Response To Petitions
- Contraventions Act
- Fisheries Act
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Employment Insurance Act
- Constitutional Amendments Act
- Points Of Order
- Constitutional Amendments Act
- Recognition Of Quebec As A Distinct Society
- Employment Insurance Act
Employment Insurance Act
Herb Grubel Capilano—Howe Sound, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak against the Bloc motion being debated today. The reforms of Canada's unemployment insurance are not only overdue. In many ways they do not go far enough and are too complex. While the reforms will impose hardship on some Canadians, they will at the same time bring much larger economic and social benefits to society as a whole.
I make this judgment after much study. In my career as a professional economist I was deeply concerned with the economic and social effects of unemployment insurance. In the mid-1970s I published a number of studies and organized an international conference that examined the effect of the level of benefits and ease of access to UI on recorded unemployment rates in Canada.
A few years ago I published a study that argued the large gap between Canadian and U.S. unemployment rates, which first appeared in the early 1970s, was caused by the increased generosity of our system initiated by Canadian reforms at that time. Incidentally the co-author of this study was Dr. Josef Bonnici, a former student of mine who is presently the minister of finance for the Government of Malta.
In February 1996 I will participate in a major conference of social scientists which will re-examine the issue of Canada-U.S. differences in unemployment rates to be held in Ottawa. My work on the effects of unemployment insurance on unemployment was fundamental economic theory which in turn guided reproducible econometric measurement co-authored by several colleagues and experts in this field.
Our results were verified by the economic council. It is fair to say that today even the left leaning part of the chattering class of academics, journalists and other intellectuals has accepted the validity of the basic premise.
Assar Lindbeck, a famous Swedish economist who is a strong supporter of social democratic policies, recently published a paper in which he noted that social support programs like unemployment
insurance induce the creation of institutions and ethical norms which increase the demand for the support programs.
The chattering classes in the past tended to infer from my analysis that I recommended the abandonment of unemployment insurance. I never did. The policy issue has always been the correct level of UI benefits and ease of access which maximize overall social welfare. There is no doubt the more generous the system is, the higher is the welfare of those receiving the benefits. However, on the other hand, the higher the benefits, the higher the unemployment, the higher the premiums payable by workers, the higher the risk of dependency of habitual users, and a host of other economic and social costs.
For a long time the political culture in Canada has resulted in the denial that these costs exist or, if they exist, that they are largely relative to the benefits received by unemployed.
About 15 years ago I was asked to be a guest on "Cross Country Check-Up". The views expressed during that period on the subject were most extreme. However, most important, as Claude Forget told me after he found that his report on the issue was ignored by the political system, the case for a less generous system has no political constituency quite simply because the economic and social benefits are diffused and poorly understood.
Those suffering from the reduction of benefits are clearly identified and well organized. No political party in Canada could afford to make the system less generous. This was true until recently when the Canadian debt and deficit began to threaten the very existence of all social programs.
The shift in the perceived political payoff from doing nothing and making UI less generous has not come easy to people like the Minister of Human Resources Development who used to deny vehemently even the existence of insurance induced unemployment and other costs. The timid and convoluted reforms to which his ministry gave birth reflect the struggle he had in admitting that these undesirable effects not only exist but are very costly to society.
Let me return to the Bloc resolution being debated today. It is true, as it states, that UI reforms will make some Canadians worse off, especially those in seasonal industries. However, my long and intense study of the UI system has convinced me that these reforms at the same time bring substantial benefits to many other Canadians so that overall welfare has increased. This certainly has been the finding of a number of royal commissions which looked at the question.
A basic theorem in economics is that under conditions like these, where some gain and some lose from a given policy, the government should offer assistance to those who have been asked to carry the burden of adjustment. After all it was a government created system, not their own fault, which caused them to enter these seasonal industries in excessive numbers and at non-economic wages. At the same time the rest of society which benefits from the changes may be expected to pay for easing the costs of transition for those asked to bear them.
For this reason I take the opportunity to urge the government to stick to its reforms and possibly strengthen them while at the same time make more generous provisions to ease the pain of transition felt by those affected adversely and directly by the reforms.
Employment Insurance Act
Maurizio Bevilacqua Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the motion made by the Minister of Human Resources Development to refer Bill C-111 to the standing committee.
We have every reason to move forward with a thorough examination of this bill by a committee of the House. We have every reason to allow an early public review of its provisions. We have no reason to hold back and nothing to gain by preventing the broad consultations necessary with such an important piece of legislation.
All members of this House recognize that this is a very important bill. It has been the subject of vigorous debate and intense questioning from all sides, yet throughout the debate we have seen something very rare: the unanimous agreement on the central point of this legislation. We all agree that we need to reform the old UI program. Throughout all the debate and questioning, no one has suggested that the status quo is acceptable. No one has suggested that we can afford to leave things as they are. Everyone has spoken of the need to find a better way to help unemployed Canadians.
This rare unanimity reflects a broad consensus throughout the country. More than 100,000 people who took part in the consultations said we need a better jobs system for Canadians. Almost nine out of ten Canadians told us we need a fundamental overhaul of the old UI program to make it work. Provincial leaders, business groups, professionals and community organizations have spoken clearly over the past weeks about the need for change. Bill C-111 presents a clear and progressive agenda for change.
Now we have an opportunity to hear from Canadians about this agenda. Members of the House have an opportunity to subject the bill to the rigorous examination of standing committee hearings. We have an opportunity to use our time well over the coming weeks to make the debate on Bill C-111 more inclusive, to open up the process, to consult and to listen before we proceed with the legislative process when the House resumes.
It would be inexcusable to delay these consultations. Every day we delay we put jobs and hope for thousands of Canadians on hold. Every day we delay we are perpetuating a UI program that is not only out of date but is actually hurting the people it is supposed to help. We are perpetuating a system that leaves too many Canadians
stuck in the past when what they need is a springboard to help them change, adjust and adapt to the future.
The new jobs system, employment insurance, will make it easier for people at risk to work longer and encourage employers to keep people in their jobs longer. Think about what that means. Think about what it means to the 400,000 Canadians right now who find themselves stuck in a constant rut of getting from one benefit program to another.
If the new system can get those people just one additional work week, we will save the entire system $50 million, money we can plough back into the system to turn that one extra week of work into two, two weeks into four, four weeks into eight. Instead of a cycle of joblessness we can create a new cycle of employment and hope for almost half a million Canadians who want to work and deserve an even break.
That is what this new jobs system is all about. Think what it means for the thousands of people who can move into new jobs created by small businesses across the country. Right now the old UI program is killing those jobs every day. A survey of small businesses in Atlantic Canada tells us that employers just cannot compete with the UI system for workers.
With our new jobs system we will cut insurance premiums, the tax on jobs, to assist them. We will create a system that supports employment and job creation instead of one that perpetuates unemployment. Think of what it means to the hundreds of thousands of job seekers who will get direct help through new employment benefits, help that is more effective, that is more flexible, that will get results faster than anything they can get now.
With wage subsidies, each year we will be able to help some 65,000 people get off benefits and into jobs. Studies show that these subsidies can help each one of these people increase their income and gain an average of 17 additional weeks of employment each year.
With earnings supplements we can help make work pay for some 75,000 workers each year, people who deserve more than the old UI treadmill. We know from joint pilot projects with New Brunswick and British Columbia that these supplements get results and help people secure their place in the workforce.
We will help thousands of Canadians each year create their own jobs through self-employment, a key driving force for job creation and growth in the new economy. Studies show that by providing the right kind of support at the right time, people who were without work can create businesses that last and create new jobs by hiring employees.
We can create new job creation partnerships, mobilizing the resources of the provinces, community groups and organizations across the country to help people adapt to the demands of the new workplace, increase their earnings and gain the independence that only a job can provide.
We can work with the provinces to help individuals through skills loans and grants, giving more opportunities for people to make a real investment in their own future, to get the kind of skills required to enter the job market of the 21st century from a position of strength.
We can make this kind of assistance, all of these employment benefits more accessible to more people: to some 500,000 part time workers who are not even covered by the UI program; to people who have simply been abandoned by the old system, marginalized by a system that does not reflect the realities of the 1990s.
Employment insurance is not just another version of the old UI program. It is truly Canada's jobs system for the 21st century. It is part of this government's agenda for jobs and growth. This agenda for jobs and growth is on track and it is working. We are getting the deficit under control in reality, not just in rhetoric. By 1997-98 the government's new borrowing requirements in relation to the size of the economy will be at the lowest level since 1969.
We are matching deficit reduction with an all out drive for job creation. Over the past year we generated almost half a million full time jobs, more than in any year since 1987. That is what this government was elected to do. We were given a mandate to get Canada and Canadians back to work. Bill C-111, employment insurance, is part of our agenda to fulfil that mandate.
Canadians need the opportunity now to review Bill C-111 through the kind of forum that only a standing committee of the House of Commons can provide. We can give them this forum now. We have no reason to put this very important review of an extremely important piece of legislation on hold. We owe it to Canadians to move forward. I urge all members of the House to support this motion so that we can look to the future.
Employment Insurance Act
Jean Landry Lotbinière, QC
Mr. Speaker, I feel that it is my duty to take the floor today to support the motion put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Mercier.
We are now seeing the aftermath of the Martin budget presented last February. As we feared, and it is even worse in the opinion of many, the unemployment insurance reform hits the most vulnerable among us.
The people in my riding, Lotbinière, already have an axe to grind against the Minister, Mr. Axworthy, who, with his reform, has
deprived them of the services of the Victoriaville employment centre. In the middle of July, thousands of my constituents were by my side in an effort to save personalized services near their homes. We got the assurance that that minimum would be maintained.
However, since then, the minister has been avoiding me and any opportunity to meet with me in order to settle the issue. I can tell you this was a prelude to the harmful effects of the Liberal government's reform.
People were afraid, and rightly so, that their employment centre would become a mere booth, which would have forced them to drive over 100 kilometres to get person to person services; you can imagine their reaction now that the reform is truly coming to light.
Before dealing with manpower development, I would like to warn people against the series of measures that, for the most part, are to come into force on Canada Day, the 1st of July. It is already a sad day, the government chose the date well. The Axworthy reform will hit those most in need hardest-
Employment Insurance Act
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Order, please. I can understand that it is a slight oversight, but we must always refer to our colleagues either by their riding's name or the name of their department, not by their family name. I would simply ask the hon. member for Lotbinière to abide by that rule.
Employment Insurance Act
Jean Landry Lotbinière, QC
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. An impact study by the federal government demonstrates that people whose income is under $25,000 will be those hardest hit. This shift in policy by a supposedly Liberal government follows the lead of the Ontario and Alberta governments. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that the people opposite are not Conservatives.
The government resorts to policies that smack of the Reaganism of the 1980s, and are still being advocated by the American right wing. Apparently, some Canadians have been contaminated.
It is an understatement to say that the most disadvantaged among us will be affected. Women, young people, and part time workers will be subjected to a treatment that is far from benign. Considering that 1.5 million part time workers are women, that women make up 70 per cent of the part time working force, that one third of them would prefer to work full time, that 40 per cent of part time workers are under 24, you can tell which groups the Liberals are targeting. Eligibility criteria will drive them onto welfare.
The qualifying period will be increased from 12 to 28 fifteen hour weeks, or from 180 to 420 hours. Part time workers working from 15 to 35 hours a week will be hardest hit. This new eligibility criterion will impact most on women, young people and new UI claimants, that is those asking for assistance for the first time.
These people will have to work 26 thirty-five hour weeks, or 910 hours. In fact, eligibility requirements will triple for those who are filing their first application. As I said, this will greatly impact on women and young people, whether at the end of their schooling or when they return to the job market after a long absence.
Moreover, while the government is trying to make us believe it is ready to withdraw from any direct commitment in manpower training, it is in fact ignoring the consensus reached in Quebec about the transfer of federal resources and powers.
The minister and his leader claim they are withdrawing from manpower training, but in fact they are once again suggesting what the then Quebec premier, Daniel Johnson, a Liberal, had described as a bargain agreement back in 1994. Under the bill introduced last Friday, if there is no agreement with a province, the money invested in training could be given directly to individuals.
How can Quebec adopt an efficient manpower policy- which is what everybody wants, even the National Assembly, unions and employers-when Ottawa could go over its head and get away with it?In the previous legislation, the minister did not have the power to make agreements with one province or a group of provinces. From now on, it will deal with anybody it chooses. Provinces will be considered in the same way as municipalities or local organizations. Previously, under the national legislation on training, the minister had to consult with provinces before launching a program in this area of jurisdiction. Now, no limit is placed on federal actions. The sky is the limit.
If we look at the way the federal government does things, it seems highly improbable that it will eliminate overlap and duplication in the area of manpower training. The 1994 offer provided for the withdrawal of the federal government with financial compensation.
Under the Training Loans and Grants Program, Ottawa will bypass the Government of Quebec by giving directly to the unemployed funds that used to be transferred to the provinces. André Bourbeau, the Quebec employment minister in 1991, has condemned this tactic, declaring that what was unacceptable was that this approach was a total improvisation despite the fact that more than ever before government actions regarding manpower training must be planned and based on priorities.
Two years earlier, the Forum for employment had been a decisive step in the claims of Quebec regarding the transfer of responsibilities in manpower training.
As I said earlier, it was at that time that partners in the Quebec labour market, namely unions, employers and the government, agreed to ask that Ottawa hand over all of the responsibilities regarding manpower training.
No later that last week, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed a resolution asking for the withdrawal of the federal government and repatriation of funds invested by Ottawa in manpower training.
Yet, both governments agree that changes are needed to manpower training programs. Minister Axworthy did declare, on page 30 of his discussion paper on the social program reform, the following, and I quote: "However, the system now is too hit-or-miss. That's why the results have been inadequate-There are too many mismatched programs, with inconsistent rules and too much red tape-Programs offered by different levels of government are often not coordinated. In short, the system must change."
In fact, the control that the federal wants to keep is only a pretext. Ottawa wants to use the $5 billion UI fund surplus to meet its deficit reduction targets. This clearly means misappropriating premiums paid by employees and employers, nothing more and nothing less.
Last Friday, the Conseil du patronat du Québec, whose members are definitely not sovereignists, asked Ottawa to leave manpower training to Quebec. So, if one considers what has been happening in the past few years, one realizes that men and women from all parties, of all political stripes, are demanding control over manpower training. I say it once again, I believe that Quebec or the Yukon, or any Canadian province, is in a better position to really know what is needed.
So, I wish that one day the federal government, as well as the hon. members opposite, will understand that not only manpower training, but also all related areas should come under Quebec jurisdiction. Money should not be given directly to the unemployed, but, for the sake of a consistent policy, we should be given all necessary tools and levers. When I say tool chest, of course I mean all the tools we have inside it as well. Not just the box, but the contents, are needed for the thing to really work. Like the tools in their chest, people too need to find a fit within a province, whatever the province.
Whether that province is Quebec or one of the maritime or western provinces, I think we are all grown up enough to do our homework on our own. Only this past week the Conseil du patronat du Québec submitted a document, the stated purpose of which was to prove that federalism can work very well with decentralized manpower training. I am not worried in the least; over time the federal government will learn, and our friends across the way will realize that there is a place for everyone. Let us give to each his due. Then those with jobs, those without jobs, everybody will be happy.
Employment Insurance Act
Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC
Mr. Speaker, I stand today to oppose Bill C-111 because I see this as the government playing political football with the UI system.
I had the opportunity recently of doing a householder questionnaire in my riding with regard to UI. Out of 1,110 replies, 608 said the government should get out of UI and turn the entire program over to joint management, as it is already being funded by employers and employees.
I have to go along with that when I look at the cost of administering the unemployment act today: $1.2 billion taken right off the backs of the working people. It is too unmanageable.
If there are concerns in terms of the unemployment insurance program, it should be left up to the people who are contributing directly to it, the workers and the employers, not the government. This government, along with the other governments, has done absolutely nothing with regard to correcting unemployment.
Out of that survey, 436 or 39 per cent said to tighten up and streamline the existing programs; 675 said to give employers and employees greater say in how it is run; 633 said to have the same qualifying period across Canada and forget all these differences; 628 said to shorten the period people can collect; 608 said to establish a separate fund for fishermen outside of the UI program; 569 said there should be a longer qualifying period but only 369 or 33 per cent out of 1,110 said to lower the amounts people can collect.
From this survey there seems to be a widespread awareness with regard to seasonal workers. In my constituency there are a number of seasonal workers in agriculture, tourism and forestry. These are the three biggest areas in my constituency. These are the three biggest contributors to the UI program. They see nothing here that would do anything to help that situation in order to collect.
Families are hard pressed in Canada today. We look at what is going on. We wonder what has really happened here. We have forced both parents out into the work world in order to pay rising taxes. We have lost the total concept of family unity because of government policies.
I regard this tax grab by the government as just another policy, another penalty to put on the working people, another way to keep the government satisfied with the way it lives and not the way the working people of Canada have to live.
Why are so many people unemployed? What has the government been doing for two years? This is the question out there. We can
talk to educated people coming out of our universities. They are the people looking for work. What has the government done? Its fancy spin doctors put in all kinds of things they have done, this and that, but the bottom line is the unemployment level is still there and the people on welfare are still there.
There is a mine waiting to come into production in northern B.C. It is called Kemess. There has been a large amount of money spent on the exploration work of this mine. There are a lot of people waiting, a lot of jobs waiting. They went through the whole scenario, through the provincial jurisdictions. They went to every office they had to go to.
The province passed the environmental part of it. It passed everything. It signed off. It told these people to go ahead. Now comes the federal government. Here comes this caring, sharing, worrying federal government. It says: "We checked this lake out and there are nine pair of bull trout and so this mine cannot go ahead". Five hundred jobs this caring, sharing government has put on hold; $350 million. It means nothing to the people in the House sitting over there. Do we really have much faith in any program regarding unemployment which the government can bring in? I think not.
Where has industry gone? What has happened to our jobs? We spend too much. The government spends too much so it has to raise taxes. When we raise taxes we drive industry out. When we drive industry out we have high unemployment.
We listened to the government. It made promises in its beautiful fancy red book. It was presented on a platter for the people to look at so they could judge the government. This was before the election. It mentioned the GST. The GST has hit employers something fierce. They spend a lot of their time after hours trying to collect taxes for the government while not getting paid for it.
They have no more holidays like they used to have. Again it takes away one or both from the family so the government can feed off the taxpayer. The government promised it was to get rid of the GST. Liberals stood on the platforms all across the country. They swore to the people out there because they wanted their votes. They said the GST will be gone within two years. If I remember correctly the Deputy Prime Minister offered to resign; another unkept promise and the GST is still there.
The big fear now is maybe the Liberals will try to introduce something else twice as expensive. They say they will change the name: UI to EI, unemployment insurance to employment insurance. I ask the hon. members on the other side, what is the cost to the taxpayer of the government's changing a lousy name in order to introduce this?
Why could you not still call it unemployment insurance and make your changes, because one of you wanted to get a little star on a book beside your name? That will cost us another million dollars or so. You think people out there are stupid. They are not stupid. They know exactly what you are doing.
Employment Insurance Act
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
I hesitate to interrupt any member at any time but I ask members for their co-operation to direct all their interventions through the Chair and not directly across the floor at one another.
Employment Insurance Act
Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC
Mr. Speaker, I ask members on the other side if they really think the people out there, the taxpayers, the working people, the people who have to give up their home lives in order to support the government, do not know what is going on. I think they know full well what is going on. The government will have to answer to them in a few years, unfortunately. In Canada that is what it takes, years and years of trial and error.
Here is another example of government regulations. The cost of logging on the British Columbia coast has gone from $67 per cubic metre in 1992 to over $100 per cubic metre today. Does government, federal and provincial-we might as well throw it in because it is one and the same-forget these people have to be competitive in the world market in order to sell their product? I think it does. When jobs shut down, when companies shut down we have unemployment.
It is nice to sit here and talk about how concerned we are for the Canadian people as we chase their jobs out through regulations, through overtaxation. We can sit here and pat ourselves on the back and say what a wonderful country we have. It really makes one wonder what a wonderful country we have.
We have a government that does not know how to live within its means. It can only raise taxes in order to survive. It says "this is a big deal, we are cutting here. The employee will not have to pay as much". It forgets it jacked the prices up for two years running. It jacks them up 7 cents and cuts back 5 cents. It is a five-year increase no matter how one looks at it. However, the government thinks we will overlook it because of the 5-cent reduction. People have a long memory and the government will have to answer to them at the next election.
Employment Insurance Act
Andy Scott Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB
Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion to refer Bill C-111 to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.
While the proposals to reform the UI system contained in this bill will impact on all parts of Canada, it is widely recognized that the new system will have a significant impact in the Atlantic provinces.
By referring the bill to the standing committee, members of the House and many other concerned Canadians will have a full opportunity to review and discuss the legislation. For my part, I believe it is important that the special needs of Atlantic Canada be considered and understood and that the capacity of the measures presented in the bill to meet these special needs be understood. The standing committee will offer the appropriate forum to do that.
I am convinced that as Canadians better understand the new approaches being presented and the special employment generating measures contained in the bill, they will recognize that there are substantial advantages to be gained from this legislation, both individually and collectively, for our region. At the same time, the committee offers an opportunity to bring all our unique perspective to this debate to make sure that these changes look after the interests of Atlantic Canada and Atlantic Canadian workers.
In moving the new employment insurance act from the House to the standing committee, and in considering how we can best serve the needs of Canadians, there are a number of points that should be kept in mind by our colleagues in the House, by the members of the committee and by all concerned Canadians affected by this legislation.
To begin with, we should recognize the important role the Minister of Human Resources Development has had in developing this comprehensive new program. In particular, he should be congratulated for having already given Atlantic Canadians his full attention in these matters. He has taken the time to meet with us in the Atlantic Canada caucus. He has met with the provincial premiers. He has met with business and labour leaders from Atlantic Canada. He has met with many others who have asked to have their special needs considered.
There has been no shortage of consultation between Atlantic Canadians and the minister and his officials as they grappled with this very complex situation. I can only say that the minister's office has replaced my wife's phone number on my speed dial as the first call that I make for the last three weeks.
The minister has consistently shown a personal willingness to consider various and often directly conflicting points of view with an open mind and has demonstrated a capacity to understand and integrate them. It is my personal impression that he has shown a great deal of integrity in dealing with these issues and that he realizes there is a special concern for unemployed people in Atlantic Canada.
I would like to identify some of the very specific benefits of the new EI bill. First, the new bill will give broader coverage. According to the department as many as 500,000 more people will have access to employment insurance than had access to unemployment insurance. That is a huge improvement that comes as a result of the shift from weeks of work to hours of work as the measure to establish eligibility for benefits.
Atlantic Canadians have a short season where people can find large numbers of hours of work. Therefore, it is very important that all of those hours receive credit when establishing eligibility for benefits. By using hours rather than weeks, all of those hours will count in establishing the minimum requirement for benefits and also in establishing the duration of benefits. That is a big improvement.
We also have low income protection so that those people who, through no fault of their own, cannot find enough work in the course of a year to establish an income that would sustain a family can get relief. This new legislation on the threshold of the child tax credit offers the opportunity for up to 80 per cent in replacement income which is another significant improvement over the unemployment insurance program of the past.
Also, there is going to be a clawback on the high income side. I am very supportive of this. Employment insurance is designed to meet two needs, to serve two purposes. First, if one loses a job, employment insurance is designed to give income while one seeks employment. A second function is performed by employment insurance. It sustains a workforce in many communities-and many of them are in Atlantic Canada-where there is not sufficient income through employment to keep a family year round. Through the employment insurance program incomes have been supplemented to keep that labour force in place and keep those communities alive.
The argument for income supplements cannot be applied to high incomes. It does not serve that function. Therefore I am very supportive of a graduated clawback and I am pleased to see it in the new bill.
The employment benefits that are unrelated to the income benefits of which there will be five replacing 39 will be locally administered. The department in Ottawa will not be deciding on a whole series of programs, budgeting for those programs and then sending the package, in my case, to the local office in Fredericton. Rather it will be determined what are the criteria for those five programs and the local office can decide which of those five programs makes the most sense in my community and in my region. That is a big improvement. It will mean a lot more flexibility for the local office.
Another important point is that by distinguishing between eligibility for income benefits and eligibility for employment related benefits, many people who were ineligible for benefits in the past will be eligible if they have been on employment insurance over the last three years or the last five years in the case of maternity benefits. This is a big improvement.
In the past people would exhaust their benefits while they were in a training program, or in some other kind of a program and they would no longer be eligible. Now they will be eligible for the duration of that program.
In many cases the workers exhaust their benefits before their seasonal jobs start again. If someone is working in a park, in the woods or in a fish plant and draws a certain duration of benefits those benefits are exhausted but the fish plant does not open again for three weeks, four weeks and in some case ten weeks. Those people will now be eligible for the employment benefits in the package. They will have the opportunity to receive other kinds of programs that will allow them to supplement their incomes and therefore not have to go on income assistance.
Probably most important is that all members will have the opportunity to speak to additional improvements to this legislation. That is why I believe it is going to committee before second reading, so we can express to the committee the needs of Atlantic Canadians. I would like to speak specifically to the question of consecutive weeks as the method by which the rate of benefit is calculated.
I would make the suggestion to the committee when the bill gets there that all the weeks where work is involved should be considered when establishing the rate or the income level against which the benefit should apply. It is very important to recognize that in Atlantic Canada very often work comes in pieces. There are spaces in between those pieces of work. People could work in the spring, have the summer off and then work again in the fall. All of that work should be considered. Otherwise many people will be paying premiums on employment that will not be factored in when calculating income to establish benefits. That is very important. I hope the committee will be sensitive to this issue. I understand the minister made reference to it when introducing the bill. I see that as a good sign. I hope the committee will take it under consideration and make that improvement in the bill.
Employment Insurance Act
Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take part today in the debate on the second reading of Bill C-111, an act respecting unemployment insurance in Canada. I should point out immediately that I and the rest of the Bloc will be voting against this bill, which is underhanded, unfair, regressive, anti-social, anti-worker and above all anti-unemployed.
This new program will be called employment insurance instead of unemployment insurance. It could just as well be called poverty insurance, or destitution insurance. The government has finally tabled its unemployment insurance reform, which it kept hidden until after the Quebec referendum on October 30.
Basically, as a result of this bill, eligibility criteria will be much stricter and frequent users will be severely penalized. The first
victims of these cutbacks will be young people, women, seasonal workers and immigrants. Program cuts will total two billion dollars annually, including $640 million in Quebec.
The bill, which is to come into force on July 1, 1996, is worse than was implied in the leaks that appeared in the media. It is particularly hard on part time workers, in other words, individuals who work fewer than 35 hours per week. These wage earners will now have to work from 420 to 700 hours to be entitled to benefits or 910 hours for first-time recipients. I was a referee with the Unemployment Insurance Commission for eight years, from 1984 to 1992, and people kept telling me-benefit recipients, the unions and counsel-that the Unemployment Insurance should be improved, not dismantled as the Liberal government is doing today.
As a result of this bill, the number of people eligible for benefits will be considerably reduced. Consequently, the number of people on welfare will continue to rise over the years to come. In fact, stricter eligibility criteria result in a transfer from unemployment insurance to welfare. In Quebec, more than 40 per cent of new welfare recipients have a connection with unemployment insurance. They are on welfare because they are not eligible for unemployment insurance or because they have already exhausted their benefits.
The maximum duration of benefits will be reduced from 50 to 45 weeks. This measure will further accelerate the shift from unemployment insurance to welfare. I repeat, the federal government is offloading its responsibilities on the provinces. And I may add that since this Liberal government was elected on October 25, 1993, the number of welfare recipients in Quebec has increased by nearly 50,000, which means more than 800,000 altogether.
In my own riding, Bourassa in Montreal North, one third of the population is either on welfare or on unemployment insurance. Nearly 70 per cent of part time workers, in other words, 1.5 million, are women. I may point out that one woman out of three who works part time would rather work full time. Almost 40 per cent of part time workers are under 24.
As we might expect, the reaction of the union movement was quick, critical and utterly opposed to this bill.
The CSN and the FTQ, the two largest union federations in Quebec, launched a strong appeal to union members and the public to mobilize against the social upheaval currently taking place in Canada.
They criticized the bill in the following terms: "It is no reform, it is the blatant destruction of the thin net of this social protection plan. The situation is now very clear. Workers in Quebec can expect nothing more from the federal government, which has axed one of the main tools for distributing wealth in Canada. Ottawa is now making those in the most precarious situation, women and young people, bear the burden of deficit reduction. The worst and
most unacceptable part of this whole destruction operation is that it will not resolve Canada's financial problems. Enough is enough".
The two federations are demanding Ottawa return to Quebec its share of the unemployment insurance fund and they are asking Quebec to take every possible measure to recover all of its jurisdiction in the area of unemployment insurance. They point out that, since the federal government's withdrawal in 1990, the unemployment insurance fund has been financed solely by the contributions of workers and employers.
The FTQ and the CSN have decided to organize resistance and a strong and solid fight against this reform together with community and popular groups and in co-ordination with the union movement in Canada.
I take this opportunity to salute the thousands of workers in London, Ontario who are striking today to protest against the cuts proposed by the Harris government.
According to the CLC, unemployment insurance changes promote a low wage economy. Executive vice-president Nancy Riche said: "The federal Liberals are bent on dismantling and destroying our unemployment insurance program and they do not care what happens to thousands and thousands of unemployed Canadians".
This last series of cuts will reduce UI benefits by $2 billion, in addition to the $5 billion already chopped by the federal government.
The vice-president of the CLC went on to say:
"This legislation will take money from unemployed workers and put it directly into the pockets of business. It is an obvious response to business demands for lower unemployment insurance premiums".
The percentage of unemployed Canadians receiving UI benefits has fallen dramatically over the past five years. In 1990, 87 per cent of unemployed workers were eligible to benefit. In 1993, after the changes made by Mr. Mulroney's Tory government, this percentage was 64 per cent. When the Liberal Party came to office, this percentage dropped again to 50 per cent. With this reform, the CLC estimates that two thirds of the unemployed could be deprived of their right to collect UI benefits.
It must be noted that the UI program is fully self-financed. The federal government does not fund this program in any way. Furthermore, the UI fund runs very large annual surpluses. The accumulated surplus will reach $7 billion to $8 billion by the end of the next fiscal year.
Nancy Riche stated: "This legislation is just a way of robbing Canadians of their unemployment benefits. The finance minister wants to meet his deficit target and he wants to do it on the backs of the unemployed. It is all quite dishonest and very, very heartless".
For all these reasons, I am opposed to this bill and will vote in favour of the motion tabled by the Bloc Quebecois.
Employment Insurance Act
Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB
Mr. Speaker, the government has tabled two bills amending the Unemployment Insurance Act. It is trying to make it better, trying to improve it to make it something that holds hope for all Canadians. The government is trying to show Canadians that it is being responsible.
In my role as an opposition member and as an individual who has employed a lot of people and has seen how the unemployment insurance system works, I am sorry to report that upon evaluation of all the items, clauses and elements in the bill, basically the minister of human resources has taken a 12 or 15-year old idea, brought it to the surface and finally has his way. Instead of making it simple, he has proceeded to make it even more complicated, more confusing and more convoluted than the Income Tax Act. He has done nothing to make it sound and appear in language that people can understand. He had a choice between using the KISS method in accounting, keep it simple stupid, as opposed to what he has done.
I have a number of concerns about this. The minister had the opportunity to make unemployment insurance truly a program for which it was designed: an insurance program against the time when someone is unemployed. The payments should be equal between employer and employee. I do not know why the minister has allowed the practice to continue where an employer has to pay almost 1.4 times that of an employee. This is what kills jobs. This is why payroll taxes are called job killers. The minister has not listened to this.
If this were a true insurance program, there would be no need for the minister to use moneys from UI for five development tools; $800 million for targeted wage subsidies; targeted earnings supplements; self-employment; job creation partnerships; skills loans and
grants. This is nothing more and nothing less than a vote getting method of spending money. It is old style politics. It reeks of self-service, reeks of missing the point.
The money should go to reduce UI payments for both employer and employee instead of being used for these programs. Then if we want job training programs or to subsidize businesses to hire people, it should be a separate envelope and spending should be made visible instead of invisible.
We are giving the human resources development minister$19 billion to play with when all we are spending on UI benefits is $11 billion. All the other programs amount to approximately$3.1 billion and there is still a slush fund of about $5 billion left over. Why?
We could lower taxes, offer tax relief to the Canadian public through relief of payroll taxes. Employers and employees would be happy with that. But no, the minister wants to be king. The minister wants to hold out a carrot on a stick to say that he is going to help all the unemployed people.
I do not understand why there are different rates of payment across the country for people who collect benefits. Why did he not address that problem? In an area of high unemployment, 16 per cent or higher, why do people get more for staying there than if they moved to an area where there is low unemployment of 6 per cent or less, and get less money for staying there? People are not being asked to look for a job. They are being paid to stay put and are paid more money to stay put than to go and look for a new job. That does not solve the problem. It adds to it, just like the Minister of Finance keeps adding to our debt by setting targets which add to the problem instead of solving it.
The name change is serious. Changing the name from the unemployment insurance program to employment insurance program is really serious. What does that mean to the Canadian taxpayer? People are going to say that they paid into it and when they are unemployed they expect to get their money from unemployment insurance. Fine, they get it. Some people have abused the system and we are trying to weed them out.
If the name is changed to employment insurance people are going to think: "I am paying money into a program which will guarantee me a job if I lose my job". That is what employment means. The minister is toying with people's minds. He is toying with a name change which will have a serious impact. The people will be disappointed if they do not get what they want. It is ridiculous. Once again it is all about politics.
Why not address the problem and solve it? Let us use the unemployment insurance program as such. We should not use it for other things which will increase the costs and allow the minister to waste taxpayers' money. It should be used for the purposes for which it was intended: strictly for payment when people are unemployed.
Supposedly somewhere along the line the minister tested a trial balloon on a voucher system. If the provincial governments do not offer training the way an unemployed individual would like it, if they want to be retrained, if they want to receive an income supplement, if they want to become self-employed, if they want a loan or if they want to create a partnership, they can go to the federal government with the voucher and it will give the individual what they want. Does that not add to the problem? Is that not overlap and duplication of services? Is that not what we are trying to avoid with decentralization?
The Prime Minister promised the province of Quebec that he would transfer manpower training to it. With this bill he has not let go of the strings. He has not let Quebec take care of manpower training. With this bill he is still involved in job training. He is still looking after the training of the people of Quebec. That does not solve the problem. Once again it is adding to the problem. I do not see the difference between job training and manpower training. C'est la même chose, n'est-ce pas?
Where would we go? What would the hon. member for Calgary Centre do if he happened to be lucky enough to have the job of the Minister of Human Resources Development a couple of years from now? With all due respect to our current critic, the hon. member for Calgary Southeast who is looking forward to that job, I do not want it. However, if I had the job the first thing I would do would be to make it a true insurance program. I would establish matching funds for employers and employees, not accelerate the payments made by employers. That might create tax relief which might enable companies to hire more people.
The second thing I would do would be to have everyone pay the same rate, qualify the same way and receive the same amount of money wherever they are. I realize there are some differences. Perhaps in tougher areas they might be allowed an additional week of benefits, but that would be it. Everyone would receive the same benefits. That would make people move around the country to find jobs, rather than staying put, staying cushy and saying thank you very much.
I would also change job training. I would not have human resources development looking after job training. The hon. member for Calgary Centre would have the Minister of Industry look after job training, if in fact we wanted to offer job training to people and if in fact the industry was reluctant to provide opportunities for people to learn, to obtain jobs and to become skilled.
The government should get out of the business of being in business. It should lower government spending to the point where it is only collecting money to do the things which Canadians want. This is not a program which Canadians want; this is a program
which the human resources development minister and his bureaucrats want.
We are collecting $5 billion more than we need. It might be more than $5 billion because there are other programs we could abolish. We might be collecting $6 billion or $7 billion more than we need. That is why our taxes are so high.
It used to be that the bureaucrats in unemployment insurance who worked in the towns and cities across the land helped the people who were unemployed. They would look in the papers, they would get on the phone and they would find employment opportunities. There was a three-strike rule, which is something the minister has not addressed.
For example, a plumber is out of work and cannot get a job. He collects unemployment insurance. The agency in the old days when it wanted to help, would say: "We cannot get you a job in your trade right now, but there is an opportunity over here. Would you like to learn something new? Would you like to try something else?" The plumber would reply: "No. I want a plumber's job". The second time it was: "We have something over here working in a school. If you are on the spot and the pipe bursts you might be lucky". The reply was: "No, I don't want that". The third job they offered was paying relatively the same amount of money he was making or something close to it. Even if it was not close to it, they told him to take the job because he is the available person who has some skills they need.
Many jobs are going unfulfilled. We talk about our high unemployment levels but we never talk about the number of available jobs. We never correlate the two. I believe the three-strike rule should be reintroduced as well.
Employment Insurance Act
It being 2 p.m. we will now proceed to Statements by Members.
Statements By Members
Ronald J. Duhamel St. Boniface, MB
Mr. Speaker, like every year, I would like to invite all my colleagues to attend the Voyageur Festival in St. Boniface next February. This festival celebrates the history, traditions and culture of the French and Metis people.
We offer an impressive line-up of activities such as exhibitions, dancing, singing, music and theatre, all in French. Thousands of people from all over the world come to the festival to witness this joie de vivre. This year, the Voyageur Festival was voted one of the best 100 tourist destinations by the American Bus Association. It is the second time that the largest winterfest in western Canada has received this honour. The Voyageur Festival was also awarded three prizes by the international association of festivals and events.
I therefore invite you, Mr. Speaker and all my colleagues, to be our guests at this festival showcasing the tenacity and richness of the French and Metis cultures.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Statements By Members
December 11th, 1995 / 1:55 p.m.
Gilbert Fillion Chicoutimi, QC
Mr. Speaker, the steam roller of cuts imposed by the federal Liberal government, that posed not so long ago as the great defender of culture, is on the move. The first target is unquestionably the CBC and Radio Canada International.
Over the weekend, more than 600 layoffs were confirmed at the CBC. These layoffs are to be distributed equally between the French and the English networks, which is unfair.
Last week, the Prime Minister said that there was no Quebec culture. So why protect it then? That seems to be the reaction of CBC senior management, even though the French network has demonstrated that it is more efficient, popular and costs less than its English sister network.
And what about Radio Canada International, which they are about to wipe off the face of the earth without even waiting for the Juneau report?
These cuts will have a devastating impact on the people and artists of Quebec and Canada.
Victims Of Crime
Statements By Members
Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB
Mr. Speaker, the justice minister stood in the House when Reformers demanded recognition for victims of crime and told all how he listened to victims groups, police associations and chiefs of police. He has heard from every victims group in Canada, from police officers, police associations and chiefs of police that section 745 of the Criminal Code reducing parole eligibility for murderers should be repealed.
Angry Canadians have told me this justice minister rams through legislation that divides Canadians, but when it comes to legislation that would unite Canadians like repealing section 745 he does nothing.
A private member's bill is languishing in committee because the justice minister does not have the courage to follow the wishes of every victims group, police and the vast majority of Canadians.
The justice minister will prorogue the bill that will repeal section 745. He will allow first degree murderers a statute of limitations on their heinous crimes. He will continue to follow the wishes of a few instead of the many and will continue to divide Canadians instead of unite them.