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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10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the points raised by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. Seasonal workers are faced with situations that are out of their control, situations having to do with the working conditions in their area. I find it very appropriate that we address this issue today.

But at the same time, I am wondering why this proposal should apply only to those areas where the unemployment rate is greater than 10%. I think this is creating unnecessary inequity. The member estimated the cost of this measure at $320 million for all affected workers. Incidentally, this was one of the 28 recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

I would like him to tell me: How can he justify creating unfairness, from one area to the other? In areas where the unemployment rate happens to be slightly lower than 10%, the workers would not benefit from this proposal which will mean so much to others.

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for this very important question concerning the percentage. I want to put it all together so that we have the best chance of eventually getting the 12 best weeks, as announced. That is why I say that the committee has to continue its work on this.

Nothing, however, can stop the government from changing its mind, listening to the arguments raised in the House of Commons, deciding that the 10% cutoff is unnecessary and eliminating it. But, after the budget was tabled, the minister announced that calculations will be based on the best 14 weeks of 52 in areas where the unemployment rate is 10% or greater. So, I figured, why not 12 weeks, since there had already been a recommendation made about a 12% rate?

So, I did it this way to make sure the odds were in our favour for getting this motion passed. We shall see what Parliament decides and what we can do in committee to restore justice in every area where there are problems with employment insurance.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the debate that is scheduled for later this day on the motion to concur in the third report of Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and I believe you would find consent for the following:

That the debate on the motion to concur in the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, moved by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, be deemed to have taken place, the question deemed to have been put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

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10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Does the hon. government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

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10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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10:40 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal

Madam Speaker, as the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, I am proud to be responsible for a department that touches the lives of so many Canadians. Programs that support employment, workplace skills and learning, such as employment insurance, the Canada student loans program and the Canada education savings grant, are all part of this mandate.

These programs all aim to help improve the standard of living and the quality of life for all Canadians by providing workers the support they need to find and to keep work. As such, any motion that deals with helping unemployed Canadians make the transition into employment is of great interest to me and the department that I represent.

Before going into this debate on today's motion, let me underline the overall labour market picture and the tremendous gains Canada has made over the last few years.

Canada's 6.8% unemployment rate is well below its peak of 12.1% in 1992. The good news is that all regions of this country have seen a falling unemployment rate. The rate in the Atlantic provinces fell from 15.7% to 10.4%. Quebec's rate fell from 14.3% to 7.9%. Ontario's rate fell from 11.5% to 6.8%. The rate in the western provinces is down from 10.2% to 5.1%.

We now have less long term unemployment than any other G-7 country. Canada has enjoyed significant job growth, faster than any other G-7 country. In 2004, and so far in 2005, the level of employment has risen by close to 280,000 jobs. The Atlantic provinces created 13,000 jobs, Quebec created 51,000 jobs, Ontario created 107,000 jobs and the western provinces created 108,000 jobs.

The labour market is inclusive. Canada's 67.2% labour market participation rate is at a near record level and above the U.S. rate of 66%. The foregoing statistics, in my opinion, are a tribute to all Canadians. As the Government of Canada, we are only one player in the whole labour market equation.

At the same time, we must not forget those areas of the country and those Canadians who are not benefiting to the same extent from the expansion in our economy. As Canadians, we are a much stronger country when we are all pulling together. That is why employment insurance is a valuable program and the reason today's debate is important.

Employment insurance matters to Canadians. It plays an important role in our labour market for millions of Canadian workers, employers and communities across Canada. The EI program provides workers with temporary income support while they look for another job. It also helps clients who cannot work for reasons of sickness, childbirth or parenting, or need to take time off work to provide care and support for a gravely ill family member.

The employment insurance program also provides for active re-employment measures to help clients acquire the skills needed to return to work quickly and to stay employed.

In 2004 and 2005, approximately 635,000 Canadians participated in employment program interventions and a further 50,000 young Canadians participated in the summer career placement program. Over 220,000 Canadians found employment or became self-employed through these measures.

The government is committed to ensuring that EI remains relevant to the needs of Canadians. Let me give some context.

Today's debate is timely as it follows the tabling of the government's response to recommendations by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities dealing with this important national program which have provided us with considerable food for thought. It comes on the heels of the release of the most recent EI monitoring and assessment report that provides us an annual snapshot of how the program is performing.

Given the size and the complexity of the program and its impact on individual workers, communities and our economy, care must be exercised in implementing any changes to employment insurance. A balanced approached is called for so Canadians can have adequate benefits and reasonable entrance requirements while avoiding any changes that could jeopardize our labour market, economy and sustainability of the program.

An excellent way of getting feedback on specific issues is for annual EI monitoring and assessment reports. We need to ensure that EI can continue to serve Canadians in our dynamic labour market as well in the future as it does now.

As we know, the Employment Insurance Act allows the government to implement pilot projects to test new approaches before deciding whether to implement them nationally or permanently.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has proposed that we calculate EI benefits based on the best 12 weeks of earnings over the past 52 weeks. In fact, on February 23, the Government of Canada announced enhancements to the EI program that take into account many recommendations that were brought forward concerning EI. Indeed, one of the pilot projects that we announced in February aims to address the same issue as the best 12 weeks proposal. However, we do not support the motion because we feel the government's approach of a best 14 weeks benefit rate calculation balances the need to ensure income adequacy while maintaining work incentives.

The best 14 weeks pilot project aims to ensure that EI benefit levels are more reflective of full time work patterns for workers who experience weekly changes in their hours of employment and earnings. It is designed to test whether this benefit rate calculation will encourage workers to accept work that could lower their weekly benefit rate and they may otherwise refuse.

The new enhancements also include two additional pilot projects in areas of high unemployment that will test the labour market impacts of reducing the hours new and returning workers need to qualify for EI from 910 hours to 840 hours when linked with employment measures and increasing the while-on-claim threshold to encourage more people to accept work while collecting EI benefits.

At the same time, we also announced extensions to a pilot project that provides five additional weeks of EI benefits which is designed to help address the annual income gap faced by workers with limited work alternatives and transitional boundary measures in EI economic regions at Madawaska-Charlotte, New Brunswick, and Bas-Saint-Laurent-Côte-Nord, Quebec, until October 2006, pending a boundary review.

These enhancements demonstrate the government's ongoing commitment to meet the needs of Canadian workers and regions while maintaining sound management of the program.

These latest enhancements build on past adjustments based on ongoing monitoring of the program to identify areas where some fine tuning may be required. A good example was the elimination of the intensity rule in 2000, which was not working as had been originally intended.

Another example involved the modification of the clawback provision to make it fairer to low and middle income claimants.

We also adjust to the changing trends in the labour market.

In December 2000 we enhanced EI's ability to help parents balance family and workplace demands by doubling the duration of maternity and parental benefits from six months to one full year, a move that resulted in a significant increase in the number of parents accessing parental benefits.

Alongside our efforts to make adjustments to EI that meet the needs of Canadian workers, premium rates have been reduced for 11 consecutive years.

In 2005 the EI premium rate was reduced to $1.95 for $100 of insurable earnings, compared to a rate of $3.07 in 1994. As a result, employers and employees now pay $10 billion less in premiums than would have been the case using the 1994 rate.

Our goal is to maintain the sound management of the EI program while ensuring that it remains responsive to Canada's labour market.

We also have to be proactive in meeting the challenges of today's economy. Just the past week, I helped open the Newmarket Human Resource Centre of Canada for Students . I was impressed by the enthusiasm of our young people and our partners in the community, including employers, to help open the doors for young Canadians to help them get over that incredible challenge to finding work, with no experience.

I only point this out because in each community each Canadian is faced with the challenge of accessing and creating opportunities for employment.

Human Resources and Skills Development has been active on many fronts. We know that today's labour market requires Canadians to hone and sharpen their skills so they can remain engaged in the workforce. We know that lifelong learning is a key for each and every one of us.

What about those Canadians who are in seasonal economies, whose jobs are essential for our economy and their skills crucial? The same learning principles apply to all Canadians. The fact is, people change and industries change. Nobody can afford to pretend a situation will remain static.

However, there is another challenge that faces us. What about those Canadians who feel they have been left behind and who perhaps do not have the strong foundations that will allow them to absorb new training? Indeed, the Government of Canada is working with the provinces, the territories, employer groups, labour and the non-profit sector to develop a comprehensive strategy to support learning, literacy and essential skills development.

My colleague, the hon. Minister of State for Human Resources Development, will be a major force in this endeavour, along with the National Literacy Secretariat which is investing $30 million in collaborative efforts to enhance literacy and essential skills in communities across Canada.

HRSDC has also put in place the aboriginal human resources development and the aboriginal skills and employment partnership to enhance the skills of Canada's aboriginal workforce.

If we accept the need for lifelong learning, it follows that skills development must continue on the job to meet that need. That is why the Government of Canada is also developing a workplace skills strategy aimed at ensuring the Canadian workforce is highly skilled, adaptable and resilient.

By shaping a labour market that is flexible and efficient, the strategy also responds to the needs of employers for productive, innovative and competitive workplaces.

With those objectives in mind, Budget 2005 invested another $125 million over three years to strengthen apprenticeship programs in Canada, to test new workplace skills development initiatives and to spur discussions on skills issues among business, labour and training leaders.

As a government, we are committed to maintaining and raising the skills level of Canadians. We see this as critical for two reasons: to help individual Canadians find stable and well paying work, good quality, high paying jobs to improve their standard of living and to take part in society; and to secure Canada's economic competitiveness, productivity and prosperity, especially at a time when other leading industrialized nations are investing heavily in the literacy and essential skills of their citizens.

Clearly, we cannot do this alone. We have worked and will continue to work with the provinces and territories as well as stakeholders in the public, private, non-profit and voluntary sector to further boost the literacy and essential skills of Canadians. Literacy and essential skills are nurtured in families, in schools, in the workplace and in communities, with special recognition for the voluntary sector.

As we can see, a great deal has been done across the board to ensure that we are responding to the needs of unemployed Canadians while at the same time looking ahead to the future to ensure that Canadians have the opportunity to develop their skills for this new economy.

While much has been accomplished, still a great deal more needs to be done. Therefore, I call on the members of the House to work with the government as it seeks to ensure that EI can serve future generations of clients as well as it does the current ones. It is only by working together that we can ensure the responsiveness and relevance of this important national program will continue to help Canadians build their skills for a better future and for a better quality of life.

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10:50 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pretty discouraged with the position of the government. I thought it understood the problem, after it made the decision to send the committee across the country to look at the problem affecting our workforce and seasonal workers. When the committee came back, it recommended paying benefits for the best 12 weeks of income.

I am waiting to see the result of the vote on Tuesday. I am waiting to see if Liberal members will vote for the motion to save their seats in the Atlantic provinces while the rest of them vote against it as they have always done.

The member of Parliament for Beauséjour said in a newspaper article on January 29, 2003:

Rich people hire lawyers and accountants to manipulate the Income Tax Act and poor people manipulate the Employment Insurance Act...These people are at the bottom end of the economic ladder.

Let us be honest here. In the riding of Beauséjour, 1,500 people violated the Employment Insurance Act. Now have to pay the government back. To pay benefits for the best 14 weeks helped the member of Parliament from Beauséjour, but it did not help workers across the country. Everybody knows that.

Will the minister do what she has to do now? She is responsible for the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Will she apply the laws of our country? Will she go into the riding of Beauséjour and charge the 1,500 people who violated the law?

I had no intention of bringing this up in the House today, but this is not fair. What the Liberal Party did with the best 14 weeks only protected their ridings. It is wrong. I hope the government thinks about this from now until Tuesday. I hope those members change their minds and help working people instead of only helping their own people. Their reputation is on a thin line right now. Why do they not try to save it a bit?

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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the sincere passion and concern the hon. member has shown for people in his community. I take his comments very seriously.

There has been a lot of consultation over the past while and extensive work has been done by the committee. A report was tabled recently in the House, which the department looked at seriously. A number of improvements have been made.

It is important to look at this in a broader context.

We understand that this is a sensitive issue and that there are areas of the country which have different issues that need to be addressed and we need to be more sensitive to them. It is for that reason that a number of measures have been put in place over the years, but most recently in 2005. We have come up with a strategy which tries to deal with the issue of the best weeks. We have decided that 14 weeks makes the most sense. It is a balanced and fair approach given the fact that this is a new pilot program. We will be testing it over the next three years with a view to looking at how it works and to making improvements.

EI used to be calculated by using the most recent 26 weeks. By going to the best 14 weeks, we feel that it is a balanced approach and that it will address the needs of seasonal workers who face more sporadic working conditions. It is a fair approach.

That is not the only thing we are doing. We have looked at other enhancements. In fact, we announced enhancements to look at this in a more comprehensive way. We have made it easier for new workers to reduce the number of hours they must work before qualifying for benefits. We also have taken a look at allowing people to work while on a claim. Therefore, they are encouraged to take up new work. This will allow them to work while receiving benefits.

There are a number of things that we have done. It is important to take a look at the overall package.

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10:55 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for her speech and particularly for the sensible approach she has taken since her appointment as minister to studying this entire file, which she has said is a complex one.

My colleagues have spoken with the minister on several occasions, and we are very pleased at her understanding of seasonal work and seasonal business. I would like to congratulate her and thank her for that.

In my constituency, as the member for Acadie—Bathurst noted, we celebrated the pilot projects that the government announced in February. The seasonal workers and local officials had a party to celebrate this great victory for seasonal employees and employers. The one concern we have is with the implementation date.

There is a great concern that these important measures, all three of them which were included in the budget in February, will not be available in time to benefit workers this season. We were hoping they would all be in place and available to benefit workers in October of this year and not later, as some people had suggested. Could the minister update us on when we can expect to see these three pilot projects fully implemented?

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for giving me the opportunity to address this question and again to demonstrate how sensitive we are to the issue. We want to ensure that we look at it in a comprehensive way and focus in on the best 14 weeks program. We are strongly committed to an October implementation date. We are doing everything possible to meet that date. That is how committed we are.

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11 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, I find it unbelievable that the new minister comes strutting into this House to tell us how pleased she is with the new EI reforms. These new reforms represent $300 million, whereas $46 billion has been snatched from the EI fund. I do not see where this is any improvement. I do not understand how anyone can be boasting about reforms that will begin in October. I do not find it pertinent.

There were 28 recommendations. Why are we only discussing a single one today? Why the reduction in numbers?

I cannot understand, either, the attempt by my colleague for Acadie—Bathurst to get the minimum, in keeping with what the Liberals want. We do not want to give them what they want; we want to see the people get what they want, because this is all about their own money. It is not the Liberals' money, but the money of the workers and their employers. The Liberals are helping themselves to the fund in order to reduce the deficit they themselves created. I am not in favour of that.

On the other hand, it must not be a matter of scattering money left and right and trying to improve the system, while boasting of making improvements when these are made with other people's money. That is perfectly obvious.

Can the hon. member opposite tell me who contributes to the EI fund? Is it the government, or is it the workers and their employers? When someone gives me money, I handle it how I please. But when it is other people's money, I handle it with care and think things through before I use it.

The measures the Liberals plan to put in place are not specific, so I will ask the new minister the following question. Are they going to address all 28 recommendations and not just three? Will the minister settle for scattering a bit of money around in order to show Canadians how nice, how bright, how lovely she is, in hopes that they will behave if they get a little money given to them? A total of $46 billion has disappeared. Will it be used to create an independent fund?

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, the member expressed that I was satisfied. This is a process of continuous improvement. We have been consulting, looking at ways to improve, and we will continue to do so in the future. A number of very good improvements have been made to strengthen the program. I would be happy to receive any good ideas the member may have and I look forward to working with him.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 2nd, 2005 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, further discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the debate that is scheduled for later this day on the motion to concur in the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the debate on the motion to concur in the Third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, moved by the Member for Kitchener—Waterloo, be deemed to have taken place, the question deemed to have been put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is it agreed?