House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

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3:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I can hear the member clearly, but of course the member would know that he is not allowed to address people in the first person. If he could address them by riding names or by their titles that would be fine.

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3:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry. I think I am getting better, but I do not have it down just yet. However, I accept that and I will do my best to continue to stop presenting things in a way that is unacceptable to you. However, the anger I suppose is part of it and I appreciate the tenor that you took in slapping me on the wrist.

My point was we just went through an exercise of $100 billion, the biggest tax cut in the history of Canada. The Liberals had enough care about corporations that it found $100 billion. All we are asking for is $20 million to give some scared, frightened, decent Canadians a bit of a hand. Do we not owe them that? Is that not the least we can do?

I grant that this will not change the world and it is not a huge thing, but that is the whole point. We are trying to make Parliament work. We have brought in a motion that is very small and narrow. I know there are a lot of activists in the EI community and in the labour movement who are somewhat concerned that it does not contain more. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I would say to them very directly to take a look at how much trouble we are having getting support for this little piece. It will give them an idea of how tough that battle is.

In trying to make the minority Parliament work, we decided we would take one chunk of these recommendations. Keep in mind that we tried to make it part of the deal, the new better balanced budget we negotiated with the Liberals, but we did not get it. That is why we are bringing it in this way.

For the life of me, I truly cannot understand how members of the Liberal Party can stand behind their colleagues who voted in committee for this very recommendation. Yet when it is time to put their money where their mouth is, they are nowhere to be seen. It is totally unacceptable.

I urge the members of the Liberal caucus, enough of them at least, to reconsider their position on this. It is not that much to ask.

What more do the unemployed have to do to get a decent shake around here? The government stands by and lets Wal-Mart use economic terrorism in Quebec to stop unionization. It seems the Liberals do not want unions to do well in Canada. Again, the Liberals talk a good story, but look at what they did or in this case did not do. They have stood by and done nothing as Wal-Mart marches across not just North America but the world now, putting hundreds of thousands of people who have small businesses out of work.

I am approaching the one minute mark and that is a shame because there is so much to be said.

Why are the smallest things always the biggest fight? We are talking about $20 million that could make the difference between someone being able to put food on the table or not, or to buy a nice dress for their daughter's prom or to ensure that their son has the fees to be involved in local sports.

We are talking about that. It is not billions and billions of dollars. We are certainly not talking about envelopes stuffed with cash, like we have seen in the sponsorship scandal. All we are asking for is a measure of decency for people who have worked hard their whole lives and who through no fault of their own find themselves unemployed.

The least we can do in one of the richest, most generous, nations on the planet is provide some modicum of support while they go through this crisis. That is not asking too much as a Canadian citizen.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I do not want to interrupt the debate, but there have been discussions among all parties and I think you would find unanimous consent to deem the ways and means Motion No. 9 tabled earlier today concurred in on division.

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3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the consent of the House?

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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3:40 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's discussion about EI and the suggestion that in some way the EI program was lacking in generosity, that we only needed another $20 million and that this would have some effect. I feel obliged to put some things on the record.

The first one is that in the budget, Bill C-43, which is before us and which I know he and his party are supporting, there are $300 million in new investments in the EI program which shows that the government is putting in money. They include the three new pilot projects which will benefit 220,000 people each year and will run for three years in regions where there is 10% per cent or more unemployment.

These programs will enable individuals new to the labour market or returning after an extended absence to access benefits up to 840 hours of work when linked with the employment program. They also will allow the calculation of benefits based on the best 14 weeks over the 52 weeks preceding the claim. I know we are discussing a change in the 14 weeks.

Also included in the $300 million is increasing the working while on claim threshold to allow individuals to earn the greater of $75 or 40% of benefits in an effort to encourage people to take work without a reduction in their benefits.

This is a figure we also should put against the $20 million which the member mentions. We have lowered premiums every year for the last many years. The result of these rate reductions for employers and employees means that in 2005 they will pay $10.5 billion less in premiums than they would have under the 1994 rates, which are at the beginning of the period that we are discussing.

Could my colleague comment on the fact that it is a generous program, attempts are being made to improve it and that although he is talking about $20 million, there is a lot more than $20 million in play here?

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3:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the primary difficulty we have is that we do not agree with the premise that it is generous.

Take a look at what has happened since 1990 under Conservative and Liberal governments. In the 1990s we started with 75% of the unemployed receiving EI coverage. That means 75% of people who were unemployed qualified for some kind of EI. Even that was not ideal but it is certainly was getting a lot closer than where we are today. Thanks to the Conservatives and Liberals, they put it in reverse and put the pedal to the metal. Now only 38% of the unemployed in the country receive benefits. Put another way, two in five of Canada's unemployed receive EI benefits at any given time. It was double that in the 1990s.

When the member speaks about how generous it is and how wonderful things are, I beg to differ. I suggest with great respect that the facts put the lie to the argument that somehow the Liberals and the Conservatives care at all about the unemployed.

I will wait for my opportunity. When the member gives a speech and I will want to ask him a question. That question will be this. How can Liberals stand in this place and say that they care about the unemployed when under their regime, benefits and eligibility to the unemployed have been cut, cut, cut? Yet on the corporate side, there are millions and billions in tax gifts, gifts, gifts. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out who is important to them and who is not.

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June 2nd, 2005 / 3:45 p.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, let us try this again. There may have been some confusion earlier.

Discussions have taken place between all parties. I believe you would find unanimous consent for Ways and Means Proceedings No. 9, for which notice was given earlier this morning, to be deemed carried on division.

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3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the unanimous consent of the House?

Ways and Means
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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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3:50 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga--Brampton South.

I am pleased to join this vigorous debate on EI. It is extremely important that the House, from time to time, devote attention to this very important matter.

In the period that tends to be discussed, 10 or 15 years, there has been an extraordinary change in the nature of work in Canada and the nature of the labour force. The labour force is far more inclusive than it ever was. The percentage of the population which is involved in work, men and women, abled and disabled, increased extraordinarily in that period of time, and this is all for the good. I think it has been reflected in the way the EI program has evolved over those years.

I believe now that in the developed countries, we have the largest percentage of our population involved in the work force, which says something. One of the things it means is that when we say the unemployment rate in Canada is 6.8%, it is 6.8% of a much larger number than what we were talking about 10 or 15 years ago.

For more than six decades, employment insurance has been a mainstay of Canada's social safety net. From its inception down through the years to the present day, governments have adjusted the program in response to changing times. This government has been no exception.

The government recognizes the importance of keeping EI in tune with the needs of Canadians, and my preamble dealt with some of that. Through the budget proposals in budget 2005, which is still unfortunately before the House, on EI rate setting and the subsequent announcement of the enhancements to EI benefits, we have addressed many of the most pressing concerns.

This is the approach that we believe Canadians want us to take: careful study and deliberation in conjunction with sound policy decisions supported by thoroughly tested evidence to support this remarkable program. This is precisely the process the Government of Canada followed in proposing a new EI premium rate setting mechanism.

We recognized that the mechanism set out in the EI Act needed improvement. Therefore, in budget 2003 we committed to undertaking a review of the premium rate setting process and launched public consultations.

We promised the new process would be based on five principles: premium rates should be set transparently, in public; premium rates should be set on the basis of independent advice, not just on the basis of whims of government; the expected premium revenues should correspond to the expected program costs, so there would be a balance each year between the income and the out-pay of the program; premium rate setting should mitigate the impact on business cycles; and premium rates should be relatively stable over time so that employers and employees know what to expect from year to year.

Consultations were held with a wide variety of stakeholders. We heard from business and labour, economists and technical experts, EI commissioners for workers and employers, and individual members of the public.

In budget 2005, which is still before us, the Government of Canada proposes a new permanent rate setting mechanism that meets all five of the principles developed in 2003 and takes into consideration the views of the stakeholders and those of the standing committee, and is consistent with the views of the Auditor General of Canada, which is important.

Starting with the rate for 2006, the EI Commission will have the legislative authority to set the rate. In setting the rate, the EI Commission will take into account the principle of expected premium revenues matching expected program costs, which I mentioned. I also would take into account the report from the chief actuary, whose independence has been increased through a functional reporting relationship to the commission.

What this means is that for the first time the chief actuary who does the calculations of these things will be mentioned in the legislation. This is a step forward.

The commission will take into account input from the public and, as needed, the services of those with specialized knowledge in rate setting matters. Gone completely will be the requirement for the Government of Canada to improve this rate. We are talking about an independent, logical, transparent rate setting mechanism.

These new measures address issues raised by stakeholders and in the standing committee's reports by increasing the independence of the EI commission in EI rate setting and strengthening the transparency of the process.

With respect to EI benefit enhancements, the Government of Canada has taken a similar approach by considering the recommendations of a variety of stakeholders, coupled with the results of ongoing monitoring and assessment. The recent announcement of about $300 million, which I mentioned, in new targeted EI benefit enhancements reflects this process and addresses some of the standing committee's recommendations.

In conjunction with budget 2005, the government has announced three pilot projects to respond to the most pressing challenges facing Canadians who turn to EI for assistance. When fully implemented, these projects will be in effect across the country in regions of high unemployment.

The pilot projects are designed to test the effects on the labour market of the following: first, enabling individuals new to the market or returning after an extended absence to be eligible for EI benefits after 840 hours of work, rather than 910, when linked to EI employment programs; second, calculating EI benefits based on the highest 14 weeks of income over the 52 weeks preceding a claim, thus better reflecting individuals' full time work patterns; and, third, increasing the working while on claim threshold to allow claimants to earn the greater, as I mentioned, of $75 or 40% of benefits in an effort to encourage people to take work without reducing benefits.

These things are being tested so that we can see what their effects are and what the benefits truly are to the people involved with the program.

In addition to these new pilot projects, the government also announced in the budget the continuation for a second year of the pilot project to provide workers in high unemployment regions with five additional weeks of EI regular benefits. This particular pilot helps to address the annual income gap faced by workers with limited work alternatives.

As well, the government has extended until October 2006 the EI transitional boundary provisions in two regions in Quebec and New Brunswick, pending a review of the EI economic boundaries.

These measures demonstrate the government's commitment to ensuring that EI remains responsive to the needs of Canada's workforce.

This approach has worked well. Successive monitoring and assessment reports indicate that overall the labour market is strong and the EI program is working well for the majority of Canadians. The government will continue to monitor and assess the program to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of Canadians.

Our response represents a balanced, grounded approach, one which includes the feedback of stakeholders, is supported by evidence and enhances the independence and transparency of the mechanisms that govern the EI program.

It is an approach that we will continue to follow because this government is committed to ensuring that the EI program remains responsive to the needs of the labour market and all Canadians.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague from Peterborough. How can he make such a speech in the House of Commons when he sat with me on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and recommended the best 12 weeks option?

Before the 2004 election, the Liberals went across Canada. After the election, they kept going. They came to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and recommended this best 12 weeks option.

Today we have a motion in the House of Commons on the best 12 weeks. I want to know how my colleague from Peterborough can get up in front of Canadians and say what he is saying when he was in the committee on EI and he recommended the best 12 weeks. He has a report in the House of Commons in which he recommends the best 12 weeks. He did it on Bill C-2 in 2001. He did it twice. How can he get up today and say the government is doing the right thing? He is saying two different things. I want him to get up in the House of Commons and tell me that. How could he do it?

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4 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is true that I am a very proud member of that committee and I appreciate the work that the committee has done.

I was talking about a balanced approach here. It is a balanced approach to a program which affects millions of people and which involves billions of dollars. The balanced approach includes appreciating that fact and appreciating that the millions of people involved, the people who are working and the people who are not working, because it includes both, deserve management decisions on the commission and for rate setting which take into account all the variables.

My colleague is perfectly right that the standing committee recommended a whole variety of things. There was something in this part of the EI program, something in that part of the EI program and so on. By the way, each one taken by itself has a benefit, but in the end if one is in government one makes decisions based on the whole thing. For example, over the years there has been an extension of maternity and parental benefits to a year in Canada. This is something that was not necessary 10 or 12 years ago, but we need to have it now. There is the new compassionate care benefit and so on.

My short answer to my colleague is that given the balance of all the changes and all the variables in the EI program, I believe the 14 weeks should be given a chance to run. Let us see what the effect is.