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 ei.

Topics

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question but we are talking about a previous Parliament. In this Parliament--

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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Say you're sorry.

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

All I receive, even now, is heckling on compassionate care. Not once in the House have NDP members supported our call for the government to permit family members to take care of a dying loved one. Not once.

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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Wrong, wrong.

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Maybe there is going to be a start, but I would appreciate it if they would stop the heckling. Let us do something to keep Canadians together.

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the employment insurance fund.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, I have had the opportunity to participate in many discussions and debates about the EI fund, how it has ended up in the situation it is in today and how we might fix it.

It is important for Canadians to realize that the largest problem in EI today is the fact that the Liberal government for almost 10 years has deliberately overcharged employers and workers in Canada. The premiums have been too high. I have had some debate with some of my colleagues from the NDP on whether we should cut rates to bring it back into balance or whether we should increase premiums. That has been an honest discussion. There has been no discussion between us that the Liberals have been deliberately overcharging Canadians, running up a large surplus in the EI account year after year and using that money to pay for other general government expenses.

Here we are today with a $46 billion surplus in the EI account. As many Canadians may have heard, in Ottawa this is what is euphemistically called a notional surplus. For those who are not familiar with the concept of a notional surplus, it is a whole series of IOUs totalling $46 billion.

Last year, in reply to the government's Speech from the Throne, amendments were brought forward by my leader and were agreed to by the leader of the NDP and subsequently agreed to by the government. A commitment was made that we would revisit the EI process, that it would be put back in the place where it should have been all along, and that is with balanced finances; money coming in is equivalent to money going out. A commitment was made to stop the Liberal practice of deliberately overcharging and running surpluses year after year and throwing IOUs into the EI notional account and taking that money for other purposes.

We are faced with the issue of a $46 billion surplus. Earlier today I sat at committee and heard Liberal members suggest that we could not possibly repay that $46 billion into the EI account without it causing some sort of fiscal catastrophe. It sounded to me that the government was suggesting that if it were to move on with EI, that $46 billion would be written off and it would start with a fresh sheet of paper.

The $46 billion that ought to be in that account is the property of workers and employers in the country. It is not the property of the government. Nor is it up to the government to decide how to spend it. That money rightfully belongs to workers and employers. One way or another, sooner or later that money needs to be put back into the account, and workers and employers should benefit from those dollars.

One of the ways to address the imbalance is to look at premium rates. We in the Conservative Party have said all along that EI is essentially a payroll tax. Everyone, including the current Prime Minister when he was finance minister, acknowledges that payroll taxes kill jobs. If payroll taxes were reduced, employment opportunities would be increased. More Canadians would be given the opportunity and the honour to hold a job. Surely the best employment insurance scheme for all Canadians is an actual job. For those who are unable to find a job or who cannot keep a full time job throughout the year, programs like EI are meant to help them.

It is also important for us to remember that changes to the EI formula are complicated and will result in changes in terms of the amount of surplus or deficit in the future. I have had this discussion with the member for Acadie--Bathurst in committee a few times and with the member for Sault Ste. Marie. We have agreed to agree that the Liberals are stealing money from employers and workers. We have agreed, in some cases, to disagree in terms of how that balance should be re-struck

I think the first and most important point for all of us in this House and all Canadians to remember is that this government, when pushed if not forced by the three opposition parties, has agreed to fix EI. There is a discussion going on about setting up a separate bank account so that all the money does not go into one place in the consolidated revenue fund.

I know the government loves the consolidated revenue fund because it maximizes flexibility. It maximizes the Liberals' ability to shuffle things around where nobody can see them, to spend dollars here or there where they want to but not actually make sure that people get those dollars.

In my personal life I have a bank account into which I deposit my paycheque and out of which I pay several things, but I also have a retirement savings account that is segregated. It is set aside and I know that the dollars I put in there will stay there until I need them later in life. I also have registered education savings plans for my children and those dollars are set aside in such a place that they are and will be there.

That is what the idea of setting up a separate account for EI is all about. It is to take these dollars that employers and employees contribute to this fund and set them in a place where the sticky fingers of this government cannot get at them. That is what we have had for too many years: the sticky fingers of this government pulling those dollars over into the general account and spending it on a whole host of things. We have spent much of the last month learning where billions and billions of dollars have gone.

I agree with my colleague from the NDP that we need to fix the EI fund. We agree that the money needs to be set aside. We agree that it needs to be in balance, that the payments going out actually must match the revenues coming in.

In our most recent report, we have agreed on a whole variety of changes that need to be made. The ball is now really in the government's court. The government is going to have to decide whether in fact it will respect the wishes of our committee and whether it is going to respect the wishes of this entire Parliament when it voted last year on the Speech from the Throne to actually put EI on the right footing.

That is the job before us. We have a variety of remedies. The resolution before us today may be one part of it. I agree with one other NDP member who said that we cannot do everything at once, but I think it is important that we move forward and balance EI. We have to put it at arm's length from this government, which so obviously cannot be trusted with it. This stack of IOUs worth $46 billion is ample proof of that.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this today. I look forward to questions from my colleagues.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask my colleague a question. I am pleased to see him actually move to an area of debate that I think is much more thoughtful than that his previous colleague who was giving misinformation about previous work that a member of this House had done and tabled here, specifically, and was well known.

I congratulate the member for moving the debate back to an area of debate that is very important. We are talking about a program that has a significant impact on the lives of people across this country.

I have a simple question in terms of his speech. I know that this is a simple step forward for this particular issue. It is something we would like to see happen because we know there is a lot of controversy in this House with regard to how the program should be completed at the end of the day in terms of there being a renewal or it having some type of structural change that can be agreed upon.

We selected an item that we were hoping would have some degree of consensus and fairness about it, which all members could support. Could the hon. member tell us what would be his next suggestion for reformation and fairness past this point in the order?

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

First of all, Mr. Speaker, I think it is important that EI is set up in a separate account. It appears we may be moving in that direction, notwithstanding some of the efforts by government members on our human resources committee to punch some holes in Bill C-280.

Bill C-280 actually states that the government should repay the $46 billion. We have heard all kinds of excuses as to why that cannot happen immediately and we have heard about all the problems that would ensue. They almost make it sound as though the government actually has no intention of ever repaying that $46 billion.

I would be glad to work with opposition members from all parties to hold the feet of this government to the fire and make sure this money does not disappear. That is probably the biggest piece of this puzzle. As I said earlier, we can debate how we should bring this fund back into balance in terms of the amount that comes in and the amount that goes out, but I think the first and absolutely the most important point is to get this government to recognize that the $46 billion belongs to workers and employers.

Let us get that resolved. At that point, we can then have an honest discussion about how it would be divided.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague demonstrates a good working knowledge of the whole EI program and a genuine interest. There is a report here with 28 amendments. With 99 members of Parliament, his party as the official opposition gets a great number of opposition days on which it could in fact move any one of these recommendations and substantially improve the EI program.

Can he tell me why his party does not use its political advantage and political leverage for something useful and put forward a motion to amend EI at its very next opportunity on the next opposition day?

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree that this is an important issue and that using opposition days to move one's agenda forward is one tool, but there are others. In that report my colleague references, there were certain recommendations that all opposition members in the committee agreed to and others that we did not agree to.

I can tell him what my concern was at that time. We were provided with what was essentially a laundry list of different changes that could be made to the EI payout schedule: that people would work fewer weeks, or that the percentage of income would be increased by 5% or 10%, or that the eligibility criteria would change.

Of course each of these changes would carry some cost. While we want to see the fund brought back into balance, I was personally concerned that we could go the other way. I actually moved a motion in committee to get the Ministry of Finance to cost each of these different ideas, including the one on the order paper today, so that at least we would have the information and know how much each of these changes would add up to. Then we could make reasonable and responsible decisions.

I said that if there is a $6 billion surplus, it is not just having 10 options that cost $1 billion each and picking the six we like most, because there are interactivities between these different functions. We would have to look at a package and have someone with an econometric model actually price it out.

I put forward that motion in committee. The NDP member of the committee voted against that motion. At that point, it raised the question in my mind as to whether there was genuine concern in terms of bringing this into balance or whether this was maybe more a political exercise in terms of driving the agenda. My interest is to bring it back into balance. I hope the NDP will work with us to get the right information so we can do that.

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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton Centre.

I want to start by referencing the terms of what we are talking about in the motion. What we are looking at is a very modest change to the Employment Insurance Act, so that those workers who are at their most vulnerable in key strategic areas receive some type of assistance and stability.

That is important to acknowledge, because we are not talking about doing this across the country. We are talking about doing it in areas that geographically or systemically have greater than 10% unemployment. It is very important to recognize that point, because it limits the scope of where we are going to be addressing the issue to start with.

We are going to acknowledge those areas that have a significant bump of unemployment, where there seems to be something happening in those regions that is causing a greater impact in those communities. Those regions would be able to access a fund that is a little more flexible for the families of the workers who are in trouble because there is something happening in those regions.

Those significant unemployment bumps could be caused by anything. In Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, they could be in the fishing industry. Or in my area of Windsor, Ontario, for example, we are concerned about an automotive downturn, which could peak things up at certain periods of time.

We know that certain sectors and certain parts of our country have some very unique challenges. That is what we are talking about: a very focused first step to address this. It is very important to acknowledge that the member for Acadie—Bathurst who has brought this forward has done it so he can be inclusive of the House. That is the intent here. It is not to try to take such a position on a very divided issue. We have taken some criticism that I think is very unfair, because we have taken a position whereby we can at least reach out to all members of the House to provide a simple change in our system that will cost only approximately $20 million.

That cost is going to go back to workers and their families. It is going to go back to them to make sure their mortgages and car payments get paid. It will make sure that they can put food on the table. It will make sure that they are able to get retraining and get back on their feet much more quickly.

We are not talking about $20 million in terms of a corporate tax cut or something which might have the money squirreled away somewhere outside this country. By the way, we still have not fixed that.

We are talking about $20 million that gets injected back into the hands of people who have already paid this out. They have paid for it through their benefit contributions on a daily basis, matched by their employer. That is what the whole insurance issue is about: we will have that coming back and we are looking at moving it from 14 weeks to 12 weeks.

Quite frankly, I am disappointed about the attacks saying that we have not included all these other things. We know that there is no consensus on this issue, so what can we do as a logical first step to make a difference, especially with the twilight of Parliament and this session and the threat of a looming election at any time? What can we do to allow those people and those geographic regions to have better benefits, for their own stability? At the end of the day, it will help those communities. It will change things. That is why the member for Acadie—Bathurst brought this forward.

There are a number of different issues on employment insurance that we can really relate to what is happening here. I want to touch on a couple of issues and one in particular that I have seen. It relates to going from 14 to 12 weeks. Some people in different occupations cannot deal with the way this is now. The member for Winnipeg Centre talked about carpenters and skilled trades. They work so much to get a job done and often are under a lot of pressure to get that job done quickly. Sometimes they actually have to work overtime and pay higher premiums and greater taxation, but at the same time, they are closing their working weeks down.

I can relate to that in regard to the persons with disabilities I used to support prior to coming to the House. Many of them, for their long term health and well-being, could not work at a job for 35 or 40 hours a week. That became problematic. Generally speaking, in Windsor West, even if someone had a good stable job the threshold to collect any type of employment insurance was often far too high.

When some of my clients, who were in occupations for years, diligently paying their taxes and watching it come off their paycheques, found themselves unemployed due to circumstances beyond their control, for example the employer had to lay them off or the company closed, they found nothing there for them. People were immediately removed from that system and put into the welfare system.

In Ontario, under the Harris regime, it was brutal. I remember supporting clients at that time who had to sell their cars or their life insurance policies. It was unbelievable. One client in particular had to sell the policy and dispose of it before going on social assistance. However if a person passes away, the state has to pick up that cost anyway, so there is actually a double cost on it. Those are the types of things people are made to do before they can actually receive some type of assistance. What happened was people would go into turmoil and it undermined their being able to get back on their feet and be successful again.

What is important about the motion is that we are asking that the qualifying weeks go from 14 weeks down to 12 weeks in areas with 10% unemployment or higher and that we have a specific strategy to address this so people can get back on their feet a lot quicker.

I think due diligence is required from the government. We have areas that for economic reasons have higher unemployment or have sectorial problems. We had a good debate the other day on the textile industries, where we know that beyond the control of the workers in this country, and their quality and ethics in terms of producing good products and services, there are other factors, which are beyond anything they can do individually, that are causing their unemployment. We had lots of different horror stories of what happened in that sector either because of things that the government has done in terms of the trade policy or has not done in terms of some of the massive overseas subsidization of other industries that have allowed unfair competitive practices and have thrown those workers out of work. The government has a duty to come up with a strategy to deal with that. We will be voting on that and I would encourage all members to support that effort.

We need to have specific government strategies for areas that are going to be influenced beyond their control in their area of expertise until we can make sure that there is going to be some stability.

I do want to address, in my final two minutes here, the notion that going from 14 weeks to 12 weeks to collect benefits would create an influx of people who cheat the system. Why do we not go after the people in the corporate world, white collar crime, those this country never goes after, those who cheat people out of their pensions, their savings and their earnings, with the same type of vigour? Why is it always on the backs of the workers as being victims first?

It is unacceptable. Nobody wants those cheaters and we should go after them if they are going to do that, but the government cannot get away with not doing anything about white collar crime and the looting of pensions and at the same time not do a little bit for workers and have an excuse--

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1:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the member but we are moving to statements by members.

Mélanie Bérubé
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate Mélanie Bérubé, a clinical nurse specialist, who won the Florence 2005-Relève award. This is the highest award of the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec.

Ms. Bérubé, who lives in Sainte-Dorothée, in the riding of Laval—Les Îles, has made an outstanding contribution to the development and implementation of continuous quality improvement initiatives. She has worked in the intensive care unit at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal for the past five years and also teaches at the Université de Montréal, specializing in intensive care.

Ms. Bérubé is devoted to people and advocates greater recognition for nurses.

Without a doubt, Ms. Bérubé sets an example and is a role model for the next generation.

Once again, congratulations to Mélanie Bérubé.

Conservative Party of Canada
Statements by Members

June 2nd, 2005 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party works for Canadian unity. Conservatives believe our nation's strength is in our diversity.

Conservatives celebrate and work side by side with atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Protestant and Catholic Christians, Mormons, Hindus and those who practise native religions. Canada's might is found in new Canadians and established families who centre their lives on eternal values.

We recognize that government involves moral and ethical challenges. Canadians do not expect MPs to check their religious beliefs at the caucus door because governing is not done in a vacuum of values. We welcome MPs who bring their world view to the table when we discuss economics, a city agenda or world trade.

Liberals consistently conjure fear of Canadians who hold religious values but Canadians are becoming tired of the Liberals' fearmongering and are looking to a party that celebrates strength. I am proud to be a Conservative because the Conservative Party works for Canadian unity.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, May 31 was a historic day for relations between the Government of Canada and Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis.

Cabinet ministers and the leaders of five national organizations participated in a policy retreat which marked a new way of doing business, a new partnership based on respect and coexistence.

The signing of a joint accord with each of these organizations underlines the commitment of all parties to move forward together on policy priorities that have been jointly set from the ground up.

I believe this partnership is an achievement that is in the interest of all Canadians. It helps ensure an inclusive approach where real progress can be made in closing the socio-economic gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

The policy retreat has resulted in strengthened relations and has put us well on our way to achieving concrete results.