House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add to the debate on this very serious piece of legislation.

As always, I tend to speak about what I am familiar with, and those are the communities in my riding of Nunavut.

I have serious concerns about some of the elements of the legislation, in that I do not believe some of the harsh handling of young people fits the crime in most cases.

I am not against justice. I am not against the real sentence for very violent crimes, but putting everyone in the same category and assuming that they are all dangerous criminals is very scary to me, especially when I know that many of these young people in my riding of Nunavut commit these acts of crime because they are hungry or because they have difficulties at home. They see violence in their homes that I feel can be prevented through other measures.

Unfortunately, they may have FAE or FAS and do not realize the consequences of their actions. We put them into a system with which they are totally not familiar. We sometimes do not have enough preventive programs. I, for one, am a very strong advocate for prevention.

It is truly a sad moment when some of our kids end up in the criminal system and stay there when we have the opportunity to take them to that fork in the road and turn them one way or the other. We hope that in most cases they choose the road to good living. They have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and apologize for their actions and then go on to lead a meaningful life in our society.

What I want for all of the kids in this country is to have a meaningful, healthy, happy life. It is not any different for us in our aboriginal communities and, in my case, Inuit communities in Nunavut. We have many opportunities for our young people but, due to many different circumstances, sometimes they do not always take advantage of that opportunity.

Some of my colleagues already talked about many of the preventive measures we could take, whether it be sports, arts or programs as simple as breakfast at the school. As I said, many of our kids who enter the young offenders system do it because they are hungry. They break in and steal food from homes or steal things that they can sell for money.

In a country as prosperous as Canada, it is truly a sad state of affairs when we have young people committing petty crime in order to feed themselves or for warmer things to wear in my part of the country. The more that we do in prevention, the more I think we can keep some of these kids out of the system.

The other problem for these kids is that some of them are being taken away from their homes. They end up in foster homes. We could do all kinds of things on the social side. We could have programs to keep more kids at home and to have better home situations so they do not need to turn to petty crime in order to survive.

I truly believe that with programs for crime prevention, we would be able to help communities come up with their own programs that could help kids at home before they ever enter into a life of crime.

Some detention centres are trained to run on the land programs. However, a lot of these kids, unfortunately, come from single mother homes with no fatherly influence and, therefore, are not able to participate in some of the livelihood that we still have in our communities. We still have many people in our Nunavut communities who participate on the land, whether it be for subsistence hunting or for other activities. Even though we are now very much in the workforce like everyone else, we still maintain a very close connection to the land.

What we have seen in some of the successful communities are programs to try and work with the young people either through the school or, for kids who are not always in school, through other programs. This is proving to be very beneficial, not just to the students and young people involved, but to the whole family and to the community as a whole.

We are still in some way trying to come to grips with the new way of doing things in our communities. We have people who are caught in between our traditional way of life and the new way that is among us today. However, we have been very successful as a people to blend the two worlds together and to give an opportunity to young people to learn to appreciate the land and what is around us again.

As I mentioned before, many of these young people are in a one parent home and that is becoming the reality with a lot of families in this country. We need to do more to support that because some of them live on a very low income and the parent, usually a mother, cannot provide other activities for her children as much as she would like.

The community and the social fabric of this country needs to take up that void where kids do not have the same opportunity as other kids in being able to have different activities that can take up idle time, which, in a lot of cases, ends up with bored kids looking for something to do.

I really want to see programs where the community has an opportunity to help with the upbringing of children because not every young family is able to do that on their own anymore, not with the high cost of living that we have in our part of the country. Even programs that help people to feed a healthy diet to their family is another angle that we can look at.

We do have food mail for many parts of the north, but even being able to provide a healthy diet for a young family is getting to be very difficult. As I said earlier, some of these kids are just looking for something to eat. When we take it down to that type of basic cause of why some of these kids commit crime, then having very serious consequences for these young people does not meet the crime.

We need more programs that help some of these young mothers, and some single dads too, or even young couples who need parenting skills, not having had the opportunity because they started a family very young. Those are the types of programs that we would definitely support in our communities.

Again, in speaking about the people in my riding, the real key for our communities is to be able to give everyone a proper start in life, and that includes having the support of community programs.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. I very much appreciate what she said, because she knows what she is talking about. She lives with the people of the far north, she comes from there and she knows all about the situation of the people she represents.

Yesterday, I was reading in a report that a woman in the far north, where women's economic security is extremely fragile, chose to call a women's shelter and say that she had been beaten, because she had no place to live. This happens frequently, because there is no affordable housing in the far north, where she comes from.

I wonder whether what is happening in the far north right now could be called a crime. The federal government has responsibility for the Innu, but it is not doing its part. It is not meeting the needs of the people in the community and is not addressing the extreme poverty that exists there.

Should we put all the Conservative members in prison because they are committing a crime of omission?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I would go that far, but certainly we need to bring attention to the real causes of crime. In many cases, yes, it is because there are so many people living in one home. We cannot afford to have homeless people. I was just up in my riding, where it was -30° on the weekend. We cannot have people living on the streets in that kind of temperature.

One of the initiatives we could do as a government and as a country is make sure that basic needs are met. In my riding of Nunavut, one of the biggest needs right now relates to the shortage of housing and the fact that there are so many social consequences of people not having a basic home. People are ending up in shelters, yes, and some people are going from community to community, home to home and house to house, which I think creates a lot of situations where crime can happen.

One of the things we need to address is the lack of social housing and affordable housing for people in my riding and other parts of the country, because that seems to be the problem that is at the root of a lot of our difficulties.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak today, because I have a personal interest in this bill. You have been in this House for a long time, longer than I have, and you will remember the pitched battle we fought against the Young Offenders Act. Once again, the government is treating us like children by introducing a bill that will require judges to enforce this legislation.

I would like to talk a little about young people. I have two children, and one of them went through a more difficult adolescence than the other, because I was raising them alone. My son had many more problems during adolescence than my daughter. We have to remember that during adolescence, young people change dramatically. A young person is no longer a child, but is not yet an adult, even though he or she is becoming an adult. Often, because of the extreme hormonal changes adolescents are going through, they want to be loved by everyone, they seek attention and they want to have a lot of friends. As a result, they may fall in with the wrong crowd and find themselves in situations they would not have chosen.

That does not make them dangerous offenders. We should not be deprived, therefore, of our parental role. Even if we are deprived of our role as responsible parents, and even if it is a single-parent family, that does not prevent us from being very close to our children.

In Quebec in particular, we have a lot of resources for our young people. That is what I wanted to tell the House about. In my view, we should make use of all these resources before deeming a young person incorrigible. I have rarely seen young people who are really incorrigible.

I have often been asked to go to schools and meet with young people. In Quebec we have centres for young people 13 to 17 years of age. They go to these centres in groups and are supervised there by adults who show them the right path. These adults arrange presentations and tell the young people about the various services available to them. They also arrange group activities, discussions and exchanges. This is very important for young people. They make friends here. There are a lot of youth centres in Quebec. We do what we can to help these youth centres survive.

My children went to youth centres as adolescents and it was very good for them. It is best, though, to start very early. We must not necessarily think that it starts in adolescence.

Poverty exists, and we need to deal with it. It is often the reason why young people do not eat breakfast, why there is no food in the home, why they are poorly housed and do not have clothing. They are laughed at in school because they are not stylishly dressed like the other students. These are all reasons why young people may get involved in criminal behaviour.

In Quebec we have the breakfast club for children in primary school. All the children in the class are given breakfast without exception so as not to discriminate. This enables children who did not get breakfast at home to have one like everybody else but not be identified as unusual. It is very important to include them rather than exclude them. It is when children are excluded that problems start.

Sending young people who are 14 to 17 years of age to prison means sending them to a school for crime. Studies have shown it. These young people try to make friends in prison, but they do not have the maturity and knowledge to handle an environment with which they are not familiar. So they are dropped right into a criminal milieu. It is totally unacceptable. These young people are deprived of their lives. They are deprived of a chance to become functioning adults some day. Rather than trying to rehabilitate them, we are putting them in prison where they have to get by on their own. They get no help or support.

As well, young people are often the ones who are abused in prison. Because they are young and have little knowledge, they are treated horrifically. When they get out of prison, then we can say they are real criminals, because that is what they have become. No one has looked after them and no one has tried to rehabilitate them instead of sending them to prison.

There are a lot of services in Quebec and that may be why we are so different from the rest of Canada. One of the things I want to talk about is the services in my riding. There is a centre called La Parenthèse. It is a youth centre. Young people go there voluntarily. When a problem arises at home, if a young person is using drugs or alcohol and wants to stop, a discussion is held between the parents and the young person, who can leave and live elsewhere, at this place, which is called La Parenthèse.

There are specialists at the centre who work with the young person to get him or her back on the right path and rehabilitate him or her. These young people also have chores to do in the house. They each have their own responsibilities. So they are required to take responsibility and an effort is made to help them break their abusive patterns. This is on a voluntary basis. It is excellent and it has a high success rate. Young people can rehabilitate themselves.

In my riding there is a huge secondary school. In the police services, we have trained police specialists to work with adolescents, with the problems of adolescents. They are not treated like criminals from day one for a first offence or a stupid mistake. We try to guide the young person. The parents are informed. The police sit down with the family and try to find solutions to rehabilitate the young person. This is extremely important.

There is also the entire question of where our parental authority comes into it. As I said earlier, this is extremely important. Personally, no one can take away my right to act as a parent with my child. No two children are identical. There are some children who are more difficult than others. There are children who are not necessarily living in poverty but who will have other kinds of problems.

I had problems with my own son, who is now 20 years old and on the right track. When he was a teenager, however, everything fell apart. Why? I could not say. He lost his father at a very young age and it was only in adolescence that it all came out. He began to stray off track, but we managed to get him back on the right path. I worked very hard with him. Our parental rights must be maintained. We must use the tools available to us in Quebec society to help us rehabilitate them. It can be done. Help can be found at CLSCs and other organizations.

There is an arts centre in my riding that brings young people in off the streets and helps them get by through art. The name of the organization is ICI par les Arts. This may seem quite simple to us, but I can assure this House that these young people do some extraordinary things. They create things with all sorts of materials. They produce art, which directs them away from their negative thoughts and misconduct.

In Quebec, there are also street outreach workers. They are not there for nothing. There are young homeless people and we must be able to help them. These street outreach workers work directly with young people to guide them, talk to them and help them find a place to sleep, if they are found on the street at night. It gets very cold in the winter and we do not want to leave our young people on the street. All these services exist. There are other services, but I cannot name them all.

I am being signalled that my time is running out. It is extremely important to think about rehabilitation and not criminalization. I care deeply about this. All Bloc Québécois members, including myself, oppose this bill, because it will simply increase crime rates among young people, not reduce them.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Rivière-du-Nord for her very sincere and genuine speech. On the one hand, it gets us thinking about this terribly inappropriate bill. She has every reason to remind us of the fight our parliamentary team led in 1999, when we submitted 2,700 amendments in parliamentary committee. This led the Chair to make a ruling—a debatable one, I might add—limiting the possibility of amending a bill in committee at report stage.

On the other hand, the member for Rivière-du-Nord reminded us about finding the balance between work and family. I applaud her for remaining a committed and active mother. I have known her since 1993. Although we would be hard-pressed to find any signs of aging, since the member for Rivière-du-Nord has remained dazzlingly beautiful, it is true that I have known her since 1993. I know that she has always been very involved in the life of the Bloc Québécois as a party. Despite everything, she has managed to balance her political activities with her obligations as a mother. She has also experienced personal hardships, such as the loss of her husband. She should be thanked for continuing on in public life.

Perhaps my colleague could remind us how important it is to trust in the family. Perhaps she could remind us that when it comes to preventive detention, the subject of this bill, it would be a mistake to at times remove young people from a meaningful community or family setting. Her words must make the Conservatives think twice.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for Hochelaga. I too have liked him since meeting in 1993.

It certainly is not easy to reconcile family and work, particularly with the work we do here and the schedule we keep, but it can be done. Had I lost my parental rights because my son had problems, I would have fought with all my might. I sought out the assistance needed to help him get out of the slump he was in and to leave behind his bad thoughts and bad ideas. I succeeded and he succeeded. Today, he is happy. He is a wonderful 20-year-old man who has a good job and functions well in society. That was made possible by rehabilitation and the agencies that helped me. They worked with Patrick, and also with me, because we worked together. I did not always do everything right. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We targeted shortcomings on both sides and we tried, with help, to fix things.

That is very important. It is much more important than this bill, which treats us like children. I detest the fact that we are treated like children. It is another useless bill. It would be better, with our billions of dollars in surpluses, to invest in our existing agencies and to create new ones if need be.

I am certain that the Conservatives have similar problems in their ridings. They may not say so, but obviously problems do not exist in just our ridings. They are everywhere. However, I believe that the percentage in our ridings is lower than in theirs because we have agencies, we invest in our youth and we love them. Extraordinary work is being done in our society and everyone is working together. That is very important.

Rather than criminalizing a young person, let us try to help them turn the corner. We have to try to see how, as parents, we can help our young people grow up and become adults, fine adults who will function well in society.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and I appreciate what she had to say about her own personal situation and her family, but one of the things that I am challenged with is this: what about the victims?

I must say that one of the saddest things I have done as a member of Parliament is attend an anniversary service with the mother of an 18 year old son who was murdered by another 18 year old known to police. Her son was shot. The perpetrator was a young person who continually found himself in trouble with the police. He was in trouble over and over again.

We are not talking about little offences in this bill. We are trying to look at serious offences and what we are going to do to protect our citizens. That is the role of government. We are talking about proposed amendments that make sense for somebody in the situation in which that mother found herself. The person who shot her son was in trouble over and over again. There was no deterrence. That guy felt that that what he was doing was okay. He never got a slap on the wrist. He never got anything from the system.

Deterrence means--

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Oshawa, but we have about one minute and we will give the hon. member a moment to respond.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, we cannot lump all young people together. Instances such as the one my colleague mentioned are extremely rare. They are so rare that we do not need a bill like this one. The police can do their job. If they did not, that is another story.

Most young people will not offend to that extreme. There may be one out of who knows how many thousands or millions. But we must not lump them all together and penalize the others. On the contrary, we must help them rehabilitate, as I said earlier.

We have been very successful in Quebec, and we will continue to be.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, standing in the name of the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

I would like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform for having raised this issue as well as the hon. Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his comments.

In his presentation, the hon. parliamentary secretary argued that clause 2 of the bill would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund, thus transferring money out of the consolidated revenue fund into the employment insurance account where money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. He further argued that Bill C-357 would change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission by allowing it to deposit assets for the financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return. Finally, he expressed concern that clause 5 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.

The hon. parliamentary secretary claimed that these arguments were supported by a ruling delivered by the Speaker on June 13, 2005, concerning Bill C-280, also entitled An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, and nearly identical to Bill C-357.

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine countered that there is no basis for the claim that this bill would bring about “additional” or “new” expenditures and that the transfer of revenue to an independent fund would not change the circumstances, manner and purposes by which Canada's Employment Insurance Commission will set the premiums and manage its revenue. Although he acknowledged that a royal recommendation would be necessary if the bill were seeking to withdraw revenue from the government's consolidated revenue fund to be used for purposes other than those described in the act, he claimed that this was not the case since the purpose of the bill would not alter anything in the current legislation.

He further argued that having Canada's Employment Insurance Commission invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return did not constitute a new purpose for the fund since the federal government was “investing” these public monies to pay down the Canadian debt.

He concluded by saying that adding 13 new commissioners will be financed by a small increase in expenses, which will no longer appear as an expenditure from the consolidated revenue fund given that the employment insurance fund will no longer be a part of the consolidated revenue fund.

After examining Bill C-357, the Chair was struck, as was the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, by its similarity to Bill C-280. Indeed, the proposed amendments to sections 71 and 72 of the Employment Insurance Act included in Bill C-357 are in many respects virtually identical to those in Bill C-280.

For instance, like in Bill C-280, the proposed section 72 in Bill C-357 would credit moneys from the consolidated revenue fund to the commission, which would then place it into a new and separate account, one that would be outside the consolidated revenue fund.

Today, moneys in the consolidated revenue fund are available for eventual expenditure for purposes of claims under the Employment Insurance Act. With the passage of Bill C-357, these funds would no longer be available because, in effect, they have been spent, that is, transferred out of the consolidated revenue fund to a separate and independent account outside the consolidated revenue fund.

When the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities sought clarification regarding the provisions of Bill C-280 as it related to the royal recommendation, the Chair ruled, on June 13, 2005, that:

Such a transfer, in my view, constitutes an appropriation within the meaning of section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and for this reason a royal recommendation is required in respect of clause 2 of the Bill.

The Chair sees no reason to reach a different conclusion on this provision of Bill C-357 than the one that was reached at that time on Bill C-280.

In relation to the argument that the proposed change to subsection 72(6) of the Employment Insurance Act found in Bill C-357 creates new duties for the commission in terms of managing and investing amounts paid into the employment insurance account, the Chair does not accept the argument put forward by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine that the federal government's use of moneys in the consolidated revenue fund to pay down the Canadian debt constitutes an authority to spend funds for a new purpose.

In addition, the Chair is of the view that the bill's proposed alteration of the duties of the EI Commission to enable the spending of public funds by the commission, namely, the investment of public funds to achieve a maximum rate of return, is a new purpose and requires a royal recommendation.

Finally, the increase in the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen also clearly requires a royal recommendation. Although the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine contended that these expenses would not come from the consolidated revenue fund but rather from the newly created employment insurance fund, clause 5 of the bill clearly calls on the governor in council to appoint these new commissioners. Given that the current commissioners are remunerated, it follows that the proposed new commissioners would also be paid. As such, the addition of these new commissioners would involve an additional appropriation of a part of the public revenue.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

However, the debate is currently on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-357, presented by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. This bill proposes significant changes to the financing and governance of the employment insurance program.

Allow me to begin with a brief overview of Canada's current employment situation.

As the House has heard on many occasions recently, the Canadian labour market is continuing to perform exceptionally well. In fact, according to Statistics Canada data, the unemployment rate reached the lowest level in 33 years in October, hitting the 5.8% mark.

During the first quarter of 2007, employment grew by an estimated 158,000 and the good news is that these jobs are paying more than ever. The hourly wage rose by 6% between August 2006 and August 2007.

The economy is booming. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have created winning conditions so that more jobs, better wages and a brighter future can be enjoyed by all Canadians, and we are beginning to see the results.

Even given our strong current labour market, Canada's EI program continues to help Canadian workers adjust to labour market changes, and balance work and family responsibilities. I can assure the House that this government is committed to ensuring that the EI program continues to serve Canadians in an effective and efficient manner.

We have clear evidence to this effect from the Employment Insurance Commission's 2006 EI monitoring and assessment report tabled in the House last April. That report demonstrated and confirmed that EI income support and employment assistance is there for Canadians who experience periods of temporary unemployment. It also demonstrated that the EI program is effective in meeting most claimants' needs in terms of both the amount and duration of benefits.

We recognize that the best solution to unemployment is economic growth, a priority that this government is dedicated to pursuing through our economic plan, “Advantage Canada”.

That said, our government has not hesitated to take action on issues specific to the EI program by doing several things: further reducing the EI premium rate in this fall's economic update; expanding eligibility for compassionate care benefits; launching a pilot project to examine the effects of providing additional weeks of benefits to those in high unemployment regions; and extending EI transitional measures for two regions in New Brunswick and Quebec until the conclusion of the national review of EI boundaries.

The 2007 EI tracking survey, which asked Canadians across the country for their views on the EI program, indicates the majority of Canadians agree that the EI program is working well, which shows that Canadians support this government's approach to managing the EI program.

In addition to EI income support, our government continues to invest over $2 billion per year in active employment measures funded under part II of the Employment Insurance Act, and in partnership with provinces and territories to support the transition to skills training and new jobs for Canadian workers experiencing unemployment. What I have just highlighted is the overview of a program that is without doubt serving Canadians extremely well and responding to new and pressing issues as needed.

Bill C-357's proposals would result in a fundamental shift in how the EI program is managed. For example, the bill proposes significant modifications to the size, composition and mandate of the Employment Insurance Commission.

Under Bill C-357 the commission would increase from four members to 17. The expanded roles and responsibilities of these members, as proposed by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, would not only become costly and unwieldy, they would also hinder the government's ability to manage and maintain the EI program and make the kinds of improvements that I listed a moment ago.

Moreover, Bill C-357 would result in a broad change to the balance of responsibilities for setting direction on changes to the EI program. Essentially, the bill would place decisions regarding a critical support program for Canadians in the hands of individuals outside government.

If the balance of decision making authority were in the hands of independently appointed commission members, the government's ability to make timely changes to the EI program as needed would be greatly reduced. This shift in the balance of decision making authority could have important consequences for a program that all evidence indicates serves Canadians quite well and, of course, matters would be made more complex given the difficulty of achieving consensus among as many as 17 individuals.

Allow me to remind the House that the current four member commission is composed of two senior public officials, along with one member representing employers and another who represents employees. I should add that only one of the two senior public officials gets a vote. This mechanism provides balanced representation among the EI Commission's members.

The two commissioners for employers and workers also establish and maintain consultations and working relationships with a variety of private sector organizations and individuals who are clients of, or affected by, HRSDC programs and services, particularly in regard to EI.

These relationships fulfill the representational responsibilities of the commissioners and enable them to reflect the concerns and positions of workers and employers regarding the administration, as well as program implementation and delivery.

Bill C-357 also proposes changes to how the EI premium rate is set. In essence, the hon. member's proposals would return the rate setting mechanism to a former process judged by a wide variety of stakeholders to be vague, unsustainable, and the cause of the EI surplus in the first place.

The current rate setting mechanism gives the commission full authority to set the rate and it incorporates a consultation process with employers and labour.

One of the main objectives of this government, when it called for the implementation of the new rate setting mechanism, was to ensure that revenues and expenditures are closely matched. I believe that it is important to give this new rate setting mechanism some time to see if it is working.

I want to emphasize that the EI commission has set the 2007 rate at $1.80, which will save employers and employees $420 million when combined with the increase in the maximum insurable earnings. This is the lowest rate in more than 14 years, while benefits have been maintained and even expanded in many areas.

In determining the rate under the new measure, the EI commission takes into account three factors: the principle that the premium rate should generate just enough premium revenue during the year to cover the payments expected to be made during the year; the chief actuary's report; and, any public input, including results of the consultation session with representatives of business and labour.

Any change to EI financing would of course need to take into account the impacts on employees and employers, beneficiaries, the economy and the EI program itself. These are obviously major considerations on which the health of our economy and our society depends.

That is why our government is committed to ensuring that all EI program changes are founded on sound analysis of evidence, with careful consideration of potential labour market impacts and the cost to individuals.

As I have demonstrated, the changes proposed by Bill C-357 could have very important consequences for our economy and the well-being of Canadians who expect the EI program to serve them in a timely and effective manner when they need it.

For all these reasons, the Government of Canada cannot support Bill C-357 at this time, but we look forward to meaningful study of this bill at the committee stage. Perhaps there are aspects of this bill that can be implemented when this government continues its improvements to the EI program that were committed to in the Speech from the Throne.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-357. This is a subject matter that I think was part of the first bills I recall back in 1993 when I became a member of Parliament. The debate has always been around what was already referred to as the notional EI account. It is something that probably most members are not aware of or did not exactly understand.

Many Canadians would believe that the EI program is operated similar to the Canada pension plan, where it is a separate account with money, that it is managed by a separate group of people, and it is there to earn a return on its investments and be able to pay over the term of its obligations all the benefits which have been earned by Canadians. That is not the case with regard to the so-called EI fund or the notional EI account.

Back in the years of--

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The Chair is informed, unless hon. member insists to the contrary, that the hon. member spoke in the first hour of debate on this bill. Therefore, he is not eligible to speak.