House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Again, the hon. member is right, Mr. Speaker. Our employment insurance critic, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, addressed this issue on many occasions. He even used unparliamentary language—“to steal”—but he was right.

The government has in fact taken money, which we know belongs to the unemployed workers and the employers who have paid into this fund, and used it to augment its budget and build a huge surplus. It is now tossing that money back in little dribs and drabs to the people of Atlantic Canada and telling them they should be grateful for getting a little back.

Again the member is quite right. It comes down to attitude and sensitivity on the part of government. It should be listening to the people. It should do what is right and do it by the standards which Canadians pride themselves in, which demand respect for each other and our government. In turn, the government should have respect for its citizens.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

It is almost ironic that we are here tonight talking about the Liberals tinkering with the unemployment insurance, given that over the course of the last seven days, day after day, minute after minute, all of us have heard Canadians talking about our former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the legacy he left them.

Although at times not all Canadians agreed with the former prime minister, I think there is a sense across the country that he did believe in justice for all Canadians. What he also taught Canadians was to reach for the unreachable, to touch the untouchable and to dream the impossible dream. In order to do that he taught us to believe in ourselves and that it was the responsibility of the government to empower its citizens, and that it was also the responsibility of the federal government to play an active role in that empowerment.

Now I stand here in the Chamber and ask myself what kind of legacy the Liberal government will leave Canadians. What kind of legacy is the Prime Minister going to leave children, like my 11 year old daughter and my two year old son? Today in the discussions we had some sense of what that legacy is going to be. It is going to be about long waiting lines for health care and people who cannot access critical surgeries they need.

When we talk about the unemployed, what legacy has the government left? Being from Atlantic Canada I have to say it has been very clear that since 1993 the Liberal government has clearly made a frontal assault on not only seasonal workers but on Atlantic Canadians.

As my colleague from Halifax West noted, we have to ask ourselves, why now? Why at this point in time? We know there are a number of members on the opposite side of the House who have urged the government to recognize the problems its changes to EI have made and to effect some change. I guess the question is can we deny that in this bill there is no change? No we cannot say that. There has been some tinkering with the legislation.

The Minister of HRDC stood time and time again in the House and told us that her department was monitoring the changes to the employment insurance. Up until approximately two months ago she continued to tell us that Canadians thought it was working fine. We know that is not a reality.

In my part of the country people are not seasonal workers because they want to be. There is no such thing in the country as a seasonal worker. It is the work that is seasonal. People in my riding want nothing more than to work 365 days a year with holidays and vacations. However, at the hands of the Liberal government they have had difficulty doing that.

Some people on the opposite side of the House talk about the dependency on the government in Atlantic Canada. In my part of the country the dependency was created by the same Liberal government. We had walls which cost Canadian taxpayers over a million dollars. We heard about projects like Scotia Rainbow. Cape Breton Island is full of those kinds of projects. Were those projects initiated to assist people in gaining employment? No, they were not.

The reason for those projects and others was to make sure that the Liberal government could continue to funnel money to its friends and do it on the backs of poor individuals in Cape Breton who wanted nothing more than to get up every morning, go to work, come home and feel good about their ability to feed and clothe their kids.

When we talk about dependency, it has been created by the government. In 1997 less than 20% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 qualified for unemployment insurance. We heard the government stand up time and time again to talk about how good it had been and how much it had done for youth. Today that figure is only 15%. That is the good job the government has done.

Thirty-two per cent of women who are unemployed receive employment insurance benefits. I even have a problem referring to it as the government employment insurance. As we know, it originated as a safety net, as unemployment insurance. We paid into it in the event there was a possibility that some day we might have to take out of that. However, when the name changed the government abandoned the unemployed of this country.

Why change it now? Are we on the eve of an election? Mr. Speaker, you might have more of an inside track than I do, but it sure sounds like it.

In 1995 the finance minister's own words were that any economic recovery would bypass Cape Breton. This is about buying votes. Everyone knows it. Backbenchers on the government side know that is what it is about. This is not about helping the unemployed. This is not about helping seasonal workers. This is about taking money from an individual's cheque for a specific purpose and then using it for another purpose.

I think that is the definition of fraud, when we take something meant for something specific and use it for something entirely different. We have a finance minister who sits in the House and who goes across the country and boasts about his $33 billion surplus. What does this legislation mean in terms of putting anything back? It means 1.5% of that $33 billion.

Do Atlantic Canadians buy this? No way. Do Canadians buy this? No way. We have a Liberal government that talks about values and talks about its commitment to social programs, but Canadians have suffered from the actions of the Liberal government.

I have no doubt that the government should never under estimate Atlantic Canadians. Atlantic Canadians sent them a clear message in 1997 and said “No more. You are not going to use us any more”. Atlantic Canadians will say that again.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. I have here an OECD document entitled “The OECD Jobs Strategy”. It makes several recommendations. Some of these recommendations are to make work schedules more flexible, and to review unemployment packages and related benefits.

The report says further:

In order to bring more flexibility to the labour market in a number of countries, it was essential to make unemployment packages and other social benefits less generous, to tighten up eligibility rules.

The following quote can be found further in the report:

Canada is the only country which appears to have implemented the recommendations regarding the reduction of the level and length of benefits made as a result of the first set of studies.

Does this mean that the government is implementing international strategies dictated by the OECD in the belief that if benefits are too generous, workers will become lazy and will no longer want to work? People do not want handouts; they want work. That is abundantly clear.

We have seen the government make indiscriminate cuts without a care about their impact on families. I have people coming to my office who in February will experience the spring gap. They will not qualify for social assistance and their unemployment benefits will run out. What are they going to live on? Thin air? I believe the government is completely out of touch with the harsh economic realities in certain regions. It makes no sense whatsoever.

I ask the government to go further with this bill, it can do it. All summer long, we heard it say it could not do anything without introducing a bill. Here is that bill, but it does nothing. It is totally absurd. I am looking forward to my colleague's remarks on this.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is a doubt in anybody's mind how much more difficult the government has made it for Canadians, whether it is people trying to access health care, whether it is people trying to access unemployment insurance or whether it is our youth who are trying to access a quality education, one they can afford.

Tonight there will be 1.5 million Canadian children going to bed hungry. The reality is very clear, especially to the people in my part of the country. This is about an election, not about the unemployed. What a legacy for this Prime Minister to leave Canada: 1.5 million Canadian children who will be going to bed hungry tonight. Children are not poor. They come from poor families.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak in the debate this evening. Before I get into the substance of my speech, I want to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Cumberland—Colchester.

Atlantic Canada has a big seasonal economy. We have a lot of seasonal workers in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. As we are all very well aware, the first set of changes brought in by the Liberal government a few years ago had the effect of making life totally and completely miserable for seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada.

We should be under no illusions. The changes that the Liberals are bringing in today in Bill C-44 will not make life any better for seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada. As a matter of fact, they will make very little change at all because most of the changes coming forth under Bill C-44 are really only cosmetic changes.

There are a a couple of changes to the clawback provision and the intensity rule. It also makes it a little bit easier on folks who are on maternity leave to get back into the system again. We fully intend to support these kinds of changes but we have to make it perfectly clear what Bill C-44 does not do. Bill C-44 will be looked at for what it does not do more than for what it does.

We have to stress that the new rules will not change, in any way, shape or form, the qualifying time for a seasonal worker. It will not change the number of hours that a seasonal worker will need to qualify for employment insurance.

The new rules will not change the duration of time that an individual can draw employment insurance for.

The new rules, believe it or not, will not do a single thing with respect to the devisor rule, which is a millstone around the neck of a seasonal worker because it lowers the benefits of seasonal workers by as much as $100 or $120 a week.

For the last two and a half to three years we have been screaming for those kinds of changes and we have not been able to effect these changes. However, the Liberals have brought in a couple of cosmetic changes that they feel will get them through an election campaign over the next couple of months.

The net result of all the various cutbacks the government has made over the last three and a half year period to employment insurance has been that only 35% of people who get laid off actually qualify for benefits. Because women happen to be in a different work pattern than men, maybe it is because of family—

Business Of The House
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize for interrupting the hon. member's remarks.

There have been consultations among political parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion in order to permit consideration of the veterans bill tomorrow, which only came through committee today. I move:

That notwithstanding Standing Order 76.1(1), the House authorizes the consideration of Bill C-41 on Friday, October 6, 2000.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the motion as presented by the government House leader. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business Of The House
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

October 5th, 2000 / 5:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying a moment ago, only 30% of the women who get laid off in this nation will qualify for benefits. That is absolutely horrendous for seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada.

I do not know if all members of the House fully realize and respect what seasonal workers go through in Atlantic Canada. We have a big seasonal economy in Atlantic Canada. We have a lot of fishermen, loggers and construction workers, people who make a very valuable contribution to this country, and that contribution is not recognized.

I was appalled a few days ago when I heard the member for Calgary—Nose Hill make the statement that the government is changing the unemployment insurance rules when seasonal workers are already making a comfortable living. She is saying this to the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, who a couple of days ago informed the House that 75% of the seasonal workers in New Brunswick make less than $10,000 a year. I would imagine that these numbers also apply everywhere in the Atlantic region, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island: 75% of seasonal workers make less than $10,000 a year.

I cannot understand how the member for Calgary—Nose Hill could say that fishermen make a comfortable living. Sure we have some fishermen who make a comfortable living but, for the most part, most of them do not. What about the loggers in—

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member knows that the member for Calgary—Nose Hill clarified what her remarks were. He is deliberately misrepresenting—

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

That is not a point of order. That is debate.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, we know what the reform alliance said about Atlantic Canadians and what its attitude is toward employment insurance. It has been documented. It has been in the press a great deal. I know those members are very sensitive about that but they will have to live with it.

The member for Calgary—Nose Hill feels that the fishermen, the loggers and the construction workers in Atlantic Canada are making a comfortable living and says that we should not be giving them employment insurance. I was astounded to hear those kinds of remarks. It shows the blatant ignorance that the Alliance Party has of Atlantic Canadians.

I do not see any changes in this bill with regard to easing the qualifying requirements for regular benefits or anything that increases the time that an individual can draw benefits. Seasonal workers often refer to that time as the black hole, the time when they run out of employment insurance benefits and the time when they will be starting their seasonal job. They often find that employment insurance runs out about half-way through. They may have to go to welfare or to savings that they have accumulated over a number of years in order to get by until the seasonal job starts again.

It is terrible the way government has treated seasonal workers. It has not recognized the kind of valuable contribution that seasonal workers make to the economy.

Can we do without fishermen? No. Can we do without loggers? No. Can we do without construction workers? No. We in this House have to recognize the kind of contribution that seasonal workers make not only to Atlantic Canada, but to Quebec, to northern Ontario and to Alberta. Virtually all of Canada has, to some extent, seasonal employment in certain parts of various provinces.

It is no wonder the government has a $32 billion surplus.

I went to a briefing a couple of days ago over at HRDC and I asked the question “How much money do you have in surplus in the EI account?” They gave me the official numbers, “$32 billion”. I said “How much are you going to spend on these changes?” They said “$500 million”.

What we find is that the federal government is giving back 1.5% to the seasonal workers of Canada, who depend so much on a decent employment insurance system to see them through.

I am terribly disappointed that the cabinet representative for Newfoundland has not spoken to the bill and has not spoken about employment insurance in the House over the last three and a half years that I have been here. Virtually none of the Liberal members from Newfoundland have had anything to say about seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada or in Newfoundland and what changes should be made to the Employment Insurance Act to make it a little bit better for these people.

I am terribly disappointed the Liberals have decided to abandon the seasonal workers in Newfoundland and the rest of Atlantic Canada. The growing reality is the pending federal election and it has finally gotten to the Liberals to make these few cosmetic changes. They could have easily made these changes three months ago, or three and a half years ago when they were elected.

These changes could have been made but now with the pending federal election they want to give the impression to the seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada that they are doing something substantive to help them. They are doing absolutely nothing. The Liberal Party has not yet found its social conscience. It did not rediscover its social conscience.

I have a few words to say on EI as it pertains to women in the workforce. I said earlier that only 30% of unemployed Canadian women actually qualify for benefits these days.

In the spring budget the Liberals made much of the fact that EI maternity benefits would be extended from six months to a full year. Given the fact that 30% of women qualified for benefits and given that it is harder to qualify for maternity benefits in this day and age, much more difficult than for regular benefits, only a political party with the gall of the Liberal Party would boast about the improvement it has made to the maternity benefits. However, I cannot pursue this subject because my time has expired.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech made by my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party.

In a few days, we will have the march of women. Women have a lot of demands with regard to poverty. The majority of self-employed and part time workers are women. These jobs pay less for women.

We would have thought that, on the eve of the march of women, the government would have been more open to the demands of women in Bill C-44. Unfortunately, it chose to turn a deaf ear. The Prime Minister also refused to meet with them.

Can the member from the Progressive Conservative Party tell us what the government should have done in this bill to counter rising poverty for women in modern society?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am very well aware of the problem the member raises with respect to women looking for that meeting with the Prime Minister. Only yesterday I contacted the Prime Minister's office on behalf of women to request that he meet with them when they come to Ottawa.

The government has done very little for women with the employment insurance changes. We are all very much aware of what the statistics are. Thirty-five per cent of people nationally qualify for employment insurance when they are unemployed but the figures are a whole lot worse for women. Thirty per cent—and I think a member a moment ago said 32%—of women qualify for employment insurance.

With a $32 billion surplus the government could have made it a little better on everyone, including women, great numbers of whom are in the seasonal workforce, especially in the tourism industry and what have you. The Liberals have neglected women and Canadians generally. I think they will find that people will not treat them kindly when the election is called.