House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

October 4th, 2000 / 4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-De-La-Madeleine—Pabok, QC

Madam Speaker, I know that we have a staunch defender of the victims of unemployment in the hon. member who has just spoken, a staunch defender of seasonal workers. I know that the hon. member has studied the employment insurance legislation in depth. The proof is that he has travelled throughout Canada to give people the chance to express their opinions on this.

I would like to ask a question of my colleague as an expert and a neighbour of my riding in the Gaspé. Can he confirm to this House that the Liberals already possess, in the 1996 legislation, a clause that makes it possible to reduce to zero, or close to it, the 5% increase connected with abolition of the intensity rule?

I will give an example, that of the dividing factor. In the crab fisheries, in certain cases—decided upon by the federal government—the fishery is closed, sometimes after seven weeks because of biological factors. Sometimes people manage to accumulate the 420 hours in those seven weeks. However because of the dividing factor, they divide by 14 the benefits these people get, not by the actual number of weeks. Hon. members will agree with me that 7 divided by 14 is 50%.

By abolishing the 5% intensity rule today the minister is only offering seasonal workers 2.5%.

Does my colleague intend to support the amendments the Bloc Quebecois would like to present, for example those concerning the definition in the act of what constitutes a seasonal job?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. He is my neighbour on the Baie des Chaleurs. I come from the Acadian peninsula, and he comes from the Gaspé.

It is surprising to see that the same problem occurs right along the Baie des Chaleurs. We share the same problem in my region and in his. I am happy he asked me this question. It gives me a chance to explain this part.

With the dividing factor, the necessary hours can be accumulated over 52 weeks. It is possible to go back 52 weeks in order to qualify for employment insurance. That means that someone who works 420 or 450 hours can go back 52 weeks. But when it comes to money to be paid out, it is possible to go back only 26 weeks.

If most of the hours worked are at the start of the season, for example, 400 hours worked at the start of the season, and the individual is without work mid season because of fishing quotas—and this applies to factory workers and loggers—and then works only 20 hours at the end of the season, the hours are calculated over 52 weeks. In other words, the person qualifies for employment insurance, but the benefits are calculated on the 20 hours worked. Accordingly, the person could end up receiving $38 a week.

In the report about my tour across the country on the human impact of EI, I provide examples of this. People wrote me saying “I earned an average of $400 a week, and I am getting only $38 or $50”.

The Liberals' paltry 5% does not go far. It means absolutely nothing. This is why I said that Atlantic Canada could not be bought for 5%. It is not for sale. They are not crazy back home. There is television. Tonight they are watching the news and I am sure they are watching our debate. We are not for sale.

We supported the Liberals and the Conservatives for the past 100 years, and we are the poorest in the country. They never managed to create jobs, and today they tell fine tales saying they have again created jobs. It reminds me of Les Belles histoires des pays d'en haut . It does not work this way in Atlantic Canada.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, Bill C-44 calls itself an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act. I think the Liberals should be honest. They should call it what it is. It is an act that is intended to tinker with the EI system so that they can buy back some of the votes of the millions of Atlantic Canadians who abandoned the Liberal Party out of rage and fury for the Liberal Party abandoning them. Pre-election cynicism is what it really is. It is no wonder that Canadian voters get cynical about the electoral process. They can surely see right through this.

Bill C-44 is an insult to Canadian workers. It is an insult to building trades workers, Atlantic fisheries workers and forestry workers all across the country. Workers should be offended. They are calling my office and telling me that they are offended because the Liberal Party did not listen to the experts on this issue. The experts are there. The experts have done the research. They have made that research available and the Liberals have chosen to ignore it.

Nobody in the country knows more about EI than the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst who did a cross-country national tour consulting with Canadians. The Liberals chose to ignore that. The national building trades council has studied every aspect of unemployment insurance and made reasonable, balanced recommendations and the Liberals ignored that. The Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Manufacturers Association, industry representatives from labour and management have told the government that the EI system is broken, the wheels have fallen off and it does not work anymore and the Liberals still have chosen not to fix it.

If the Liberals were honest they would change the name of the employment insurance fund because to use the word insurance is fraudulent in itself. The word is misleading and deceptive. It should really be called the Liberals' big cash cow because that is what it has been in the years since they made the devastating changes to it. What were the changes?

In my riding alone, $20.8 million a year has been sucked out. Already it is the third poorest riding in the country just because of these EI changes. What happens to these people? They get pushed on to provincial welfare. It is a way for the federal government to offload its responsibilities to provide income maintenance and insurance on to the provinces which then have to pay city welfare. It is no wonder people are furious.

The bill tinkers with the EI problems. It does two things. It eliminates the intensity rule. Big deal. The member for Acadie—Bathurst pointed out how insignificant and trivial that is. The bill changes the clawback provision back to where it used to be, not to improve it, not even all the way back. It used to be that EI did not get clawed back unless a person made $63,000 a year. Then it went down to $48,000. Then it went down to $39,000. Now it is being put back up to $48,000 and the government expects us to celebrate.

Two things that really cost Canadian workers are the divisor rule and the eligibility rule. They have been structured so nobody qualifies for EI anymore, but everybody has to pay into it. It is no wonder there is a surplus, a $750 million a month surplus. No, I was not heard incorrectly; that is per month, not per year. The amount of $750 million per month is being taken out of the system by the Liberals and it is not being put back into income maintenance where it belongs. What kind of insurance policy is that?

What if someone were forced to pay insurance on a house year after year and when the house burned down the person had a less than 35% chance of ever collecting any insurance benefit on it? That is no longer an insurance policy.

To deduct something from a person's paycheque for a specific purpose and to use it for something entirely different in the best case scenario is a breach of trust and in the worst case scenario is out and out fraud. The Liberals have been perpetrating this fraud on Canadian people all these years and milking it for every cent it is worth. Thirty-four billion dollars that should have gone into income maintenance for the people who arguably need it the most, the unemployed workers, have gone to pay down the deficit. This is a misuse of funds and a breach of trust. It is dishonest and I say it is out and out fraud.

I do not think I have to explain the divisor rule. Every working person in this country knows the EI system and knows what the divisor rule is. That is what has really cost workers. The dead weeks are factored in when averaging out the benefit. It used to be the benefit would be calculated by averaging out the weeks worked. Now it is averaging out all of the weeks in the previous 26 weeks even if the person did not work in those weeks.

I used to represent the carpenters union. A couple of years ago members of the carpenters union would make $400 or $450 a week as their EI benefit, 55% of their gross earnings. Now with the divisor rule which factors in the dead weeks, the amount is $180 or $220 week, almost 50% less.

With the tinkering that goes on, the Liberals chose very selectively the two things that are not going to cost them squat. The government will still have a gross surplus of funds that will not go into an EI fund because that is a misnomer, but into general revenues for the government to use for whatever it wants. That is where the breach of trust comes in.

My party did a comprehensive brief on this issue. I see it on the desk of the member for Acadie—Bathurst. It is a well developed, comprehensive document that was the result of a national cross-country tour. We received input from concerned citizens from all walks of life, not just labour, but management as well who are very concerned about our dysfunctional, completely broken EI system. The government chose to ignore those meaningful recommendations.

The building trades council arguably has the most knowledgeable people on the EI issue in the labour movement because it directly affects so many of its 400,000 members. It had a good seven point plan with realistic proposals that would have made the system work. In other words, the money taken off paycheques would go toward income maintenance or training, one or the other. None of these things were picked up.

Even the detail about apprenticeship has been ignored by the government. When I was going through my apprenticeship the first two weeks of an EI claim were paid. It was not treated like an unemployment insurance claim; it was a training benefit. That aspect of the EI fund was very beneficial. Using EI money, seats were purchased at the community college. Now apprentices are charged tuition at community colleges as if they were going to university or something.

Again in a situation where the fund is showing a surplus of $750 million a month, how does the government justify squeezing that last little bit out of something like the apprenticeship system? It is unconscionable. I am really horrified by the whole thing.

People thought with some optimism that leading up to an election they could expect some improvement, that the Liberals would make it right again. They thought they could expect the Liberals to use the money that is deducted from their paycheques honestly. What do we get? Instead of real improvements, we get this little package, Bill C-44, with tiny tinkering steps that will not benefit very many workers.

Thirty-five per cent of unemployed people quality for benefits, 25% of women. There is a huge gender bias in the current EI system which the Liberals have failed to address as well.

Less than 15% of unemployed youth qualify for EI, even though under the new hours bank system contributions are credited by hours. Youth working part time have to pay in. They never had to pay in before if they worked under a certain number of hours per week. Now everybody has to pay in but there is a less than 15% chance of ever collecting any benefit.

It ceased to be an insurance program a long time ago. It is dishonest and disingenuous to call it such any longer. Let us call it what it is. It is a cash cow. It is a transparent attempt to buy back some of the votes of the good people of Atlantic Canada who so resoundingly rejected the Liberal Party for being so callous and indifferent to them in the first place.

The Liberals take money off a worker's cheque for heaven's sake and use it to pay down the deficit or to give tax breaks to the wealthy. As I have said before, it is like some perverted form of Robin Hood, to rob from the poor and give to the rich. That is what we are witnessing here. Incredibly that is what we are watching the Liberals do but we will not stand by idly. Fortunately I think we are going into an election and that will give us a platform to expose those guys, to expose this travesty, to expose what they have done to Atlantic Canada and what they seek to do again by buying these votes back. The electorate is very knowledgeable these days. People read the newspapers and watch television. People pay attention to their paycheques first and foremost. They know what is going on.

When I was a practising carpenter I paid $45 every paycheque to EI and my employer paid 1.4 times that amount. That is a lot of money. Of every paycheque, $80 or $90 was being paid into the fund on my behalf in case of the unfortunate situation that I would become unemployed and would require income maintenance.

Where is all that money going? The Minister of Finance stands and crows about paying down the deficit. He is paying down the deficit on the backs of unemployed workers. Are the Liberals proud of that? They will not be for long. As soon as we get on the doorsteps in the coming election they will not be proud of that. We will ram it down the Liberals' throats, especially in Atlantic Canada. I almost wish I were running in Atlantic Canada. It would be a cakewalk. It would be fun to remind people of what those guys have done to them over and over again. People will not need much reminding. It is a top of the mind issue. It is first and foremost. The Liberals will pay a political price, mark my words.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member certainly must think there is an election in the air by the way he rambled on. I have never heard such nonsense. Imagine. He is an hon. member who considers—

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member on the Liberal side is saying that the speech I just gave is nonsense. It is unparliamentary—

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

That is strictly debate.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Keyes Hamilton West, ON

Madam Speaker, the member should know it is not a point of order but he has not been around for very long.

The New Democratic Party member was talking about tinkering steps. He said it was little bits. We have premium reductions totalling $1.2 billion, program changes coming up to $500 million, a total of $1.7 billion. I am sure the hon. member could not count to $1.7 billion never mind admit that it is a lot of money for EI.

Here is what his brothers and sisters are saying.

The hon. member has the unmitigated gall to stand in this place and say that this is only vote getting for Atlantic Canada when his own brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO say in today's paper in a full page ad that this is nothing at all about votes on the east coast, that this benefits working men and women from coast to coast to coast.

The Canadian office of the building and construction trades council says that repealing the intensity rule and restoring the single income tested clawback rule is sound policy for all unemployed workers from coast to coast to coast, that taking this action reveals a government with courage to take corrective steps when they are needed at any time during its mandate.

I have a question for the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre. Is $1.7 billion about tinkering? What about his brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO and other Canadian building and trade councils who fully endorse the actions of the government and the Minister of Canadian Heritage?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, this is what is particularly cheesy about Bill C-44. It is frankly forcing groups like our own caucus to vote for Bill C-44. Nobody denies that for a long time we have wanted the intensity rule eradicated. Frankly some of the labour groups likewise have to acknowledge that they have wanted to get rid of the intensity rule for a long time as well. It was one of three or four irritants in the system.

I spoke to the carpenters union today. I spoke to the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades. I spoke to the IBEW and members of the building trades council who are terribly disappointed that nobody touched the divisor rule. Nobody touched the eligibility requirements of 920 hours to qualify and 700 hours to requalify. That is almost double the requirement there used to be to be eligible for benefits.

The proof will be in the pudding on election day because these groups will remember who the advocates for EI were and what party tore the guts out of the EI program to the point where it is dysfunctional and nothing but a cash cow for that party to spend.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, I hope the ceiling does not fall, as I would like to compliment the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his brilliant analysis of the EI rip-off and the multibillion dollar surplus that has built up on the backs of Canadian workers. I deeply appreciate what was said.

It has to be said over and over again, and I hope by all parties, that we cannot balance the budget by setting up a slush fund. That is all that EI has become. It is a slush fund.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate that comment. I think all parties are aware that the EI fund ceased to be an insurance program a long time ago. It is a misnomer. It is actually fraudulent to even call it an insurance program because it is anything but that. It is a cash cow for the Liberal Party to use for anything it chooses, anything other than income maintenance.

There was another point that came up. The hon. member over there mentioned the $500 million in savings. That $500 million per year in savings by eliminating the intensity rule and the change in the clawback provisions accounts for 1.5% of the $34 billion that the Liberals have taken out of the fund, with no excuse. Thirty-four billion dollars compared to $500 million is 1.5%, and the Liberals will pay a political price for it. I guarantee it.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I am certainly pleased to add my voice to this debate for my party. What we have in Bill C-44 is plainly an admission of guilt. What the government is admitting is that for the past four years Canadians throughout the country have suffered. They have suffered because of the reforms to employment insurance.

People have suffered in British Columbia. People have suffered in Alberta and throughout western Canada. People have suffered in northern Ontario. People have suffered in the province of Quebec and people have suffered in my home of Atlantic Canada. It is not just a question of Atlantic Canada. This is a national question and the government is a national disgrace.

In the 1997 election, people were not afraid to express their feelings about the government.

I listened carefully to my colleagues on the opposition side and I want to congratulate them for the excellent comments they brought to this debate.

I also want to say a few words about the comments made by members of the Canadian Alliance. For some time now, we have been hearing members of the Alliance say that the Canadian Alliance is a national party, that they are there for all the provinces. Yet they have the audacity to say that seasonal workers are well paid, when we know that a significant percentage of these workers earn less than $10,000 a year. We hear comments from Alliance supporters saying that the people in Atlantic Canada are lazy.

Recently we heard the comments of the Alliance pollster who said that anybody with vision in Atlantic Canada moved away. That is a disgrace. In this day and age we should be talking of uniting the country, not dividing it, not pointing the finger at a region of Canada. That does nothing to unite the country. We have a lot of work on our plate in order to do that. The comments coming out of the Alliance do nothing for that.

We see surplus after surplus in the EI account, a total accumulated surplus of over $35 billion. This year we see the Government of Canada wanting to move a certain way, wanting to rectify the wrongs of the past, but it is a wrong that represents only $1.7 billion of that $7 billion surplus this year.

The member from the Liberal side said a while ago that we were doing wonderful things. In reality people are suffering. Children are suffering throughout the country. More could have been done and they did not do it. The Liberals had a golden opportunity to do it and they did not.

As I said earlier this week, what the government sees is not light at the end of the tunnel. It sees an election. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac.

What they have demonstrated is their inability to govern. Canadian taxpayers will decide who is best to govern, who approaches the country in a tolerant way, including every province of Canada.

Seasonal workers play an important role in Canada's economy; they play an important role in the maritime provinces, in Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario and western Canada. These people must be recognized once and for all.

They play an important role in the forest industry. I can tell you that, without our seasonal workers, without those people who go out each year to plant trees and to guarantee the future of the forest industry, the most important in my riding, we would be in serious trouble.

These workers play a role that is vital to our economy throughout Canada. And, once again, this government is turning a deaf ear.

There have been demonstrations over the last months, but they were totally justified. People came to my office, dignified people with great qualities who could no longer plan their future. Some of them had children.

Once again, the Liberal government did nothing to relieve these people from this incredible burden.

There is a perception that seasonal workers do not want to work. That is totally false. That is so false and so far from the truth that it is not even funny.

What has to be done is that these economies have to be developed. I agree, but if I take a person that is planting trees this year, move him out of there and bring him into the company, who will plant the trees next year? There is a dynamic here that has to be understood. These people are not lazy. These people work hard every day, put in long hours, and guarantee the sustainability of our economies.

I will not put up with this. I will use my voice to defend these people every time anyone in the House of Commons or anywhere in Canada strikes them.

People want hope. They want to know that their children have a future. This bill does absolutely nothing to give them hope.

The government also tells us that it wants to reduce EI premiums. But considering the size of the surplus in the EI fund, it could reduce them even more.

People are also asking for a tax break. There has to be that balance. The government could have gone further and it has not. It has not gone there. These industries and these workers want to have that break in order for industries to hire more people and in order for these workers to have more money to put away for their children's education. The bill does absolutely nothing to address this issue. Hopefully we will have a reasonable debate in the House.

The Liberals are ranting. She is the only one here but hopefully we will have reasonable debate.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

May I remind the hon. member that we are not to mention whether members are here or not.

Unfortunately, there is no more time left for comments. When the bill returns to the House, the member who just spoke will have approximately five minutes for questions and comments if he so desires.

The House resumed from September 28 consideration of the motion

Privacy Commissioner
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It being 5.30 p.m., pursuant to order made Friday, September 29, 2000, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on Motion No. 12 under government orders.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 1394
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.