House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

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The House resumed from October 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on October 7, 2009 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute) standing in the name of the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to Bill C-395, the parliamentary secretary stated that in his view the bill infringes upon the financial initiative of the crown. Specifically, he pointed out that the bill seeks to change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by adding a new provision that would extend the qualifying period for an undefined period in case of a work stoppage caused by a labour dispute. He also argued that by altering the calculation of the qualifying period, the bill would result in increased government spending on employment insurance.

In support of his contention that the bill requires a royal recommendation, the parliamentary secretary made reference to a Speaker's ruling on Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) on March 23, 2007 and a ruling by the Speaker of the Senate in Bill S-207, an Act to Amend the Employment Insurance Act (foreign postings) on January 29, 2009.

Both bills were similar to the present bill in that they sought to modify the employment insurance qualifying period, and both were found to require royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé argued that a royal recommendation is not required since the funds in the employment insurance account are paid by workers and employers and do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has examined the bill carefully and, it is clear beyond all doubt that Bill C-395 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. The argument put forth by the hon. member for Berthier--Maskinongé regarding whether or not funds contributed to the employment insurance fund constitute public revenue is a recurring argument. It has been brought forward during similar discussions on Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) as well as Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) from the previous Parliament. In essence, all monies received by the government, regardless of source, are deposited in the consolidated revenue fund and become public funds, that is, funds of the Crown. The Constitution Act of 1867 and Standing Order 79 apply to these funds. Thus, a bill proposing a new or increased expenditure of public funds, that is, an appropriation, requires a royal recommendation.

The employment insurance program operates under this framework. The funds in question are public funds and their management is subject to the financial initiative of the Crown.

By extending the qualifying period for employment insurance benefits by the amount of time a person was unemployed due to a work stoppage resulting from a labour dispute, Bill C-395 is increasing the expenditures under the act. These expenditures would be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1). Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to debate the merits or demerits of Bill C-395 today.

Let me begin by acknowledging that labour disputes do affect Canadians, and sometimes Canadians do find themselves unemployed at the end of such disputes. My colleague from the Bloc obviously cares about these workers, as do all members of the House. I am sure of this, but we must go beyond good intentions. As the old saying goes, good intentions can lead us down a path on which we would be better not to go.

We must probe the potential policy and legal impacts of these proposed amendments on the Employment Insurance Act. We must ensure that any changes to the employment insurance system are based on hard evidence, and we must look at the practical facts on the ground. When we conduct this investigation, the implications of Bill C-395 become troubling on several levels. Let me discuss some of my concerns.

First, let us deal with the practical facts on the ground. In the history of law and legislation, we have seen that another old saying is also true, that often extreme cases make bad law. I recognize that this bill is intended to protect employees who are caught in a lengthy labour dispute that ends in a firm's closure. This result of course is regrettable and often difficult on the workers affected.

We should view this in context, however. Most labour disputes are relatively short and they rarely end in the closure of a firm. Between 2003 and 2009, for example, a little more than one per cent, only one per cent, of the total number of strikes ended in a firm's closure. Moreover, the average length of a strike that ended in a firm's closure was 110 days. For lockouts, the figure was 116 days. As the parliamentary secretary noted, these figures average out to 16 weeks. That leaves plenty of time for employees to qualify for benefits under the current 52-week requirement.

By these comments, I do not want to suggest that I am or our government is unsympathetic to the plight of the unemployed, far from it. Simply, we need to take account of the facts to inform our decision-making. Here are some of the facts.

The Employment Insurance Act does not preclude workers from accepting other employment during a labour dispute. The act allows employees to accumulate the work hours required to establish a claim for benefits. Specifically, through the variable entrance requirement, employees need between 420 and 700 insurable hours to qualify for regular benefits, depending upon the unemployment rate in the applicant's region.

In other words, using existing provisions of the act, employees in a labour dispute could qualify for benefits by building up their hours through work elsewhere. For this reason alone, the provisions in Bill C-395 are inadvisable.

Let us also recall that the employment insurance system is an insurance-based program. It is designed to provide benefits to workers if they are unable to work, whether because they are unemployed, sick, pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or caring for a gravely ill family member. This regime is supported by the premiums paid by both workers and employers.

When a worker meets the qualifying requirement, benefits kick in. It is that simple. The proposal before the House goes against the guiding principle that the EI program should remain neutral during a labour dispute.

My colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain pointed out correctly that allowing the provision of benefits to workers, paid for in part by employers, during a labour dispute would disrupt the system's balanced treatment, tilting the system in favour of workers in a situation where they are negotiating with management. This bill would make changes such that the negotiating position of unions and workers would be unfairly improved at the cost of employers, who pay 58% of employment insurance premiums. I simply do not think this change is something we should undertake.

There are other related aspects of this bill which I do not think are wise. Specifically, the bill proposes to change how the EI program calculates a qualifying period in the event of a labour dispute that leads to work stoppage. As members know, the qualifying period is the time in which a claimant must accumulate enough hours of insurable employment to establish a claim for benefits.

Currently it is generally the 52 weeks preceding the beginning of a claim. In some cases the period can be shorter when there was a prior claim. The bill would extend the qualifying period to be the same as the period of the labour dispute. This would allow employees to be eligible for employment insurance benefits if they are laid off after a lengthy labour dispute is resolved.

Existing provisions allow for the extension of a qualifying period to up to 104 weeks in certain situations. These exceptions include situations in which individuals are physically unable to work, such as quarantine and sickness. Labour disputes are not considered an exception, because individuals are not physically prevented from working. They could work somewhere else. The proposals in Bill C-395 would therefore deviate from the EI program's basic insurance principle, that there must be a reasonable proximity of timing and correlation of value between premiums paid and benefits disbursed.

These are the reasons I think this bill is not wise. I welcome the chance to speak a little bit about some actions that I do think are wise. Those are the actions of this Conservative government both recently and as part of Canada's economic action plan. Since coming to office and particularly since the beginning of the economic downturn, our government has acted decisively to support unemployed Canadians and help them get back to work, but we have done so based on sound evidence that the changes are in the best interests of all Canadians.

Through Canada's economic action plan, our government has introduced measures that support all unemployed Canadians. Specifically, we have temporarily extended the duration of EI benefits by five weeks. We have made it easier to take part in work-sharing agreements, which are helping to protect the jobs of almost 167,000 Canadians. We are also helping young people get certified in skilled trades, and helping long-tenured workers make the transition into new careers.

We have frozen the employment insurance premium rates for 2010 so they will be at the same rate as this year, which is the lowest level in a quarter of a century, and we are providing an additional $1.5 billion to the provinces and territories to help support skills training. Our government has also recently passed measures in Bill C-50 that will help long-tenured workers who lost their jobs because of the global recession. These measures will now start to help ensure that approximately 190,000 long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for years are provided between five and 20 extra weeks of EI while they search for new employment. Surely we can identify with likely one or two businesses in every riding throughout this House. This much-needed support is in addition to the five weeks of EI included in the economic action plan. This is an important step for Canadian workers who have worked hard, have paid taxes their whole lives and who find themselves in economic hardship.

Our government recognizes that the self-employed are an integral part of our economy. We believe that self-employed Canadians should not have to choose between their family and business responsibilities. That is why in 2008 our government committed to extending maternity and paternity benefits to the self-employed. On November 3, 2009 we introduced Bill C-56, the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act, which provides all EI special benefits, including maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits to self-employed Canadians on a voluntary basis.

We have not just met our commitment to these 2.6 million Canadians, we have exceeded it. Bill C-56 has received a very positive response from a variety of stakeholders: the Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the Canadian Real Estate Association. I could go on and on.

The government has acted responsibly to enhance the employment insurance program, particularly since the global economic slowdown. For all these reasons, I cannot support the proposed amendments, and I urge all members of the House to join me in my opposition to the bill.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-395, the proposed changes to the Employment Insurance Act with respect to labour disputes.

This legislation addresses what I think is a bit of a gap in the EI system right now and in the Employment Insurance Act. The question is: what should be done if the qualifying period for somebody who has lost his or her job includes work lost because of a labour disruption? This bill is a reasonable attempt to address the gap. At the very least, it is worthy of further study at committee, so we can identify whether or not there is more that needs to be done. Also, to some extent, we could perhaps address the issue of what the cost might be. I see that the Speaker has ruled that a royal recommendation will be required.

Let me speak to the issue this bill addresses and how it proposes to solve it. Right now, somebody's qualification for employment insurance is determined by the qualifying period that precedes the loss of employment, and that is 52 weeks. There are allowances for certain instances such as sickness, but not for work time lost due to a labour disruption.

During a labour dispute, employees cannot draw EI. They can, in some cases, receive strike pay. Or they could, conceivably, go out and get another job, although it is a very difficult circumstance in which to look for a job when one is hoping to go back to a job that one currently holds. If one gets strike pay, of course, it is different from having insurable earnings for EI.

It is always difficult to determine costs when we are looking at employment insurance. It involves very complex calculations. This year, we had the issue of what it actually costs in another area of qualification, the 360-hour national qualifying standard. Just over a year ago, last spring, because of a request from the committee looking at a private member's bill, the HRSDC department had estimated that cost at somewhere around $600 million or $700 million. The exact figure does not come to me, but it was in that range.

Other people have estimated it will cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year. That would make sense, because there are more people unemployed now than there were last spring, and there has been a slight escalation in cost. As a result of a request from the employment insurance working group established by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, we had the outrageous guesstimate, we might call it, of over $4 billion. They came back and said this would cost over $4 billion.

That did not make any sense. Everybody knew that was nuts. In fact, the government itself came back a little bit later and said the cost was actually about $2.5 billion. We asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer and he came in with a cost of about $1.1 billion, which notionally makes sense and obviously was statistically backed up. But that is why we have issues with costs when we start looking at employment insurance.

We have the same thing when we look at two-week waiting periods. What is the cost of a two-week waiting period? It is not really a waiting period; it is an out-of-luck period for a person who loses his or her job. What is the cost of that? The estimates have varied a bit on that, as is the case with this bill.

This bill does indicate that if a job is lost following a labour disruption, allowances can be made. It is very difficult for people and families who are already suffering from being unemployed because of a labour disruption when, all of a sudden, they come back and within a short period of time they are laid off completely and find out that their qualification for EI has been affected.

In essence, this bill will simply extend the qualifying period by the length of time of the labour dispute. As I have indicated before, qualifying is a huge problem in this country. It has been identified as the number one problem with the EI system. Many solutions have been proposed over the last number of years, and specifically in the last year.

We have had private member's Bill C-269 and private member's Bill C-265 from the member for Acadie—Bathurst and the member for Chambly—Borduas. In this session, we have looked at Bill C-241, Bill C-280 and Bill C-304. These are serious attempts to have a look at what the gaps are in the EI system, particularly at a time of economic difficulty.

We are still in this; we are still seeing job losses. We saw the numbers that came out the other day. There are still people in Canada who are losing their jobs. The economy needs a little bit of help. Everybody talks about stimulus. From any reports I have seen, the best stimulus is to invest in people who have lost their jobs or are in economic difficulty, because they will in fact put the money back into the economy, which is what stimulus is supposed to be all about.

We have heard from many people, including all the premiers from Ontario to the west, who normally have not spoken out much on employment insurance. All of the premiers of varying political stripes have said that we need to look at the issue of accessibility. We need to have a look at these variable entrance requirements, particularly at a time of economic difficulty, to see if they still make sense, because they are hurting the provinces. We heard that from the Minister of Finance's wife, when she was running for the leadership of her party in Ontario. We heard it from Premier Stelmach and Premier Campbell, and every premier, including Premier Brad Wall in Saskatchewan.

We have heard it from social policy groups. We have heard it from economists. We have even heard it from organizations that one might not normally think would call for such a thing. TD Economics has called for it. The Chamber of Commerce urged that we have a look at a couple of things in its prebudget submission this year, including entrance rates, but also at the two-week waiting period. These are all things that can be done to improve the system right away.

We have to have a look at what has the government done for employment insurance, recognizing finally that we are in a period of economic distress. As the House will recall, last November when the United States was already looking at proposals to assist people who were unemployed, we had an economic update that offered nothing.

In January, when we came back after Parliament was prorogued, EI was addressed in a specific way by adding five weeks of eligibility, which was a step forward in my view. If we look at the private members' bills that we have seen in the House over the past few years, the extra five weeks was always a small piece of it.

Of course, there was nothing on the two-week waiting period, nothing on accessibility, and nothing on increasing the rate of payment from 55% to 60%, which is called for a lot. But the five weeks were helpful and they were particularly helpful because they affected all Canadian workers; they did not pick winners and losers.

That is why the five weeks was a good piece of public policy at the time, but they are nowhere near to being enough and did not address the issue of accessibility that the 360-hour national standard would address. But the five weeks were something for all workers in Canada.

This fall we had a couple of pieces of legislation, one of them being Bill C-50, which would extend benefits from 5 to 20 weeks, but only for a select few, the fortunate few, in this country.

In the spring the government was saying that it was going to offer extra benefits to everyone, and then in the fall it said it was going to go back to a small percentage of the unemployed. One may qualify for between 5 and 20 weeks, but if one has drawn on EI before, too bad. If one happened to be a seasonal worker in northern New Brunswick, or in the fishing industry or the tourism industry, or others like that, one did not qualify for the extra 5 weeks.

That kind of discriminatory approach flies in the face of what the government was proposing to do at the beginning of the year, which was to provide equality in the employment insurance system, at least on the extension of benefits, if not in actually going to the number one source of irritation for Canadians, for workers, public sector unions, social policy groups, economists, think tanks, premiers and the wife of the finance minister. They were all saying that the system is not fair and that we have to fix it.

The reason it is not fair is that accessibility requirements range too much. At a time of economic difficulty, we need to do something to assist all Canadians and we need to make sure that people who lose their jobs do not feel like the government has forgotten them.

I would remind members that earlier this year the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was quoted as saying she did not want to make EI too lucrative. I remind the House and the millions who are watching at home that average employment insurance benefits are somewhere in the range of $330 a week. There are not that many people in the House who would want to work for $330 a week, or would feel very excited about losing their job so they could get $330 a week. I think the maximum is $440 a week.

EI is far from being a lucrative proposal for anyone. We have to keep in mind as well that people cannot draw EI in Canada if they voluntarily quit their jobs. If they quit their jobs, they do not get EI. They are told that they do not qualify. They can appeal it and they might be able to make their case, but they cannot quit their jobs and get EI.

Therefore, for an individual to suggest that EI is lucrative and that anyone would deliberately try to qualify for it, the individual would have to suggest that the person find a way to lose his or her job without quitting it. That person would have to get the employer to let him or her go so he or she could make 55% of his or her previous earnings.

Bill C-395 is worthy of consideration. I congratulate my colleague who brought it forward. We think it addresses a gap in the system. We think that at a time of economic difficulty, this is when we need to invest in employment insurance, because employment insurance assists Canadians when they need it the most, through no fault of their own from a work stoppage. It should not be made harder because of a labour disruption in the previous qualifying period.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today in support of the bill introduced by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, which would amend the qualifying period for individuals during a labour dispute. As it stands now, workers who are involved in a strike or lockout that lasts 52 weeks will not receive EI premiums during this time and will not therefore qualify for extended EI benefits.

The whole point of workers contributing to the EI program is so that when a person loses his or her job, he or she can access these funds. However, as the system currently stands, far too many people cannot receive EI even though they have paid into the fund.

According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada figures, more than half of unemployed workers do not have access to employment insurance because they do not qualify under the current rules. The NDP has put forward a number of bills to amend the current EI system to ensure that it offers proper support to everyone who has paid into the system.

For example, Bill C-242, introduced by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, would increase the percentage of income claimed through employment insurance to 60%. Bill C-244, introduced by the member for Nickel Belt, would remove the waiting period for EI benefits. Bill C-280, introduced by the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, would, among other things, lower the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours.

However, I welcome the bill introduced by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, which addresses another major flaw of the employment insurance system. The NDP is committed to working with other political parties to support legislation that strengthens social security policies in Canada, and I would like to congratulate the member for this bill. Why should workers who are involved in a strike or lockout not be covered by employed insurance?

The right to strike is an important one and, as it stands, people are penalized for exercising this right. Employers have the right to lock out workers and are not penalized by the government for doing so. Yet if a union votes to go on strike, it is penalized by the government through the flaws in the current EI system. In fact, as it stands, the government penalizes workers if they are locked out by their employer and it penalizes them if they go on strike. The government seems to support a lose-lose situation for workers.

In Sudbury, over 3,000 steelworkers at Vale Inco have been on strike since July 13. Today is the 126th day of that strike. Every day I speak to people affected by the strike: workers, their families and friends, small and local businesses in Sudbury. All these people want is a fair deal from Vale Inco.

Think of the consequences for Sudbury if this strike went on for a year and then these people were laid off. There would be over 3,000 people who would not only lose their jobs but also the employment insurance they paid into throughout their careers. There would be 3,000 families who would struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table. Think of the effect this would have on Sudbury's economy.

It is not just my riding of Sudbury that would be affected. Communities all across Canada are suffering. In Ontario alone, there are five more labour disputes currently taking place. At CEP Local 2003 in Toronto, 61 members were locked out in June by their employer, Cadillac Fairview, and then terminated one month later. At CEP Local 37 in Timmins, 95 members have been locked out by their employer, Grant Forest Products, since September 2006 and have walked the picket line for 39 months. At USW Local 271G in Erin and Cambridge, 44 members have continued to strike against Guardian Fibreglass Inc. since June 2007 for 29 months on the picket line. At USW Local 1-500 in Brantford, there have been 75 members on strike against ECP since August 2008, or 15 months on the picket line. At USW Local 9511, there have been 590 members on strike against DriveTest since August 2009, or four months on the picket line.

What is worse, as if the economic crisis had not brought enough hardship to these communities, is that many companies are using the situation for their own gain as to cause them to renege on agreements they made in the past. It is downright shameful. So many are using this economic crisis as a justification to roll back and renege on collective agreements. Workers should not be punished twice for standing up for the rights and benefits their brothers and sisters worked hard to obtain. This bill would fix that.

This bill would allow the extension of the EI qualifying period beyond the stated limit of 104 weeks for workers affected by a labour dispute, so that the extension of a qualifying period could equal the duration of the period of unemployment caused by the strike or the lockout.

This bill, if passed, would also be deemed to have come into force on January 1, 2008. This would mean that labour disputes which are affected by the current economic climate or brought on by companies exploiting the economic crisis for their own gain would be retroactively covered by this bill. It would also mean that members of the United Steelworkers Local 6500 in Sudbury would also be covered by this legislation.

This bill is not just about fairness for the workers on strike, it is about fairness for the communities they come from. One thing is certain, strikes do not just affect workers, they affect entire communities.

If 3,000 workers lose their salary and their EI benefits, it is not just 3,000 families that will suffer, it is the entire community; small businesses that rely on these workers and these families to spend their money; restaurants; and local charities. I will use the United Way in Sudbury as an example. It relies on the United Steelworkers in Sudbury for a significant portion of what it raises.

Entire cities will be affected. With a decreasing tax base, it means less revenue for cities, which is less funding for city infrastructure, services and so on. Families will break apart and parents will move to new areas to find work with no support networks.

As the representative of these workers and the citizens of Sudbury, a city that has been hurt deeply as a result of this strike, I am very proud and glad to voice my support, and will be voting in favour of this bill.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today.

The excellent bill introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé is designed to fill a major gap in the legislation that hurts workers. The bill seeks to benefit people who have worked for 15 or 20 years in a business where a labour dispute occurs. It may be that the employer has locked out the employees or that the union has decided to go on strike. It is impossible to know how long a dispute might last, but one thing is certain: conflicts at the federal level last the longest. Why? Because there is still no anti-scab legislation. The Bloc Québécois has tried for years to have such legislation passed so that no one can replace workers who go on strike. It is always easier for the employer to find managers to replace workers during a labour dispute, and that is why disputes are becoming longer and longer.

My colleague opposite said that this was not important because less than 1% of the population was affected. I would like him to go into the ridings and tell those people that this is not important, that there are not enough of them and that they will not get anything, even if they have paid employment insurance premiums for 20 years. This is the big problem this bill seeks to address. If someone has worked for 52 weeks before a dispute, he or she would, in theory, be entitled to another 52 weeks of employment insurance benefits.

It is impossible to know how long a dispute will last. If it goes on for 52 weeks and the employer decides the following week to close the business because of a lockout or for some other reason, someone who has worked for 20 years will not receive any employment insurance benefits. Have the members opposite thought about that? Someone who has worked for 20 years will not be entitled to EI because he or she has been on strike or locked out. That makes no sense.

The champions of repression on the other side of the House are doing everything they can to send people to prison for any reason they see fit. Inmates are luckier than honest workers. An inmate is entitled to a qualifying period of 104 weeks, twice as much time as an honest worker. I cannot understand how the Conservatives can change their tune when it comes to workers. Why does the government not give workers the same 104-week qualifying period as inmates? It makes no sense.

I hope that anyone listening to us this morning will be able to see that this makes no sense. The Conservatives keep introducing bills to impose two-year prison sentences for people who steal a car or what have you. But when it comes to workers, the government says they are not important, and that they represent less than 1% of the population. The Conservatives need to stop making publicity out of the big cheques they sign. With that money alone, they could pay workers after the 53rd week.

They should start thinking about why their spending with taxpayers' and workers' money is systematically out of control, and why they promote themselves on the backs of these people. A worker covered by a collective agreement has one opportunity to stand up for himself.

He cannot do this while the collective agreement is in effect; only when the agreement has expired. The only point at which a worker can tell his employer that he will go without a raise, will go without pay, is during the collective bargaining process. That is the only time he can stand up for himself. He has the right to tell his boss that he would rather go without pay, because he does not agree with the new collective agreement; he can walk out and assert his rights. This individual is using the right to strike given him by the province. He is using that right. But if the strike lasts more than 52 weeks, he will not be entitled to anything, as I have already mentioned. That makes no sense.

When it comes to employment insurance, there are a lot of things the Conservatives do that do not make sense. Last week, we spoke about Bill C-50, which provides an additional 5 to 20 weeks for workers who have worked seven of the last ten years. This bill should not even have been introduced here. The government could have simply created a pilot project. There was no need for all the readings, the speeches and the committee stage. A pilot project would have served the purpose.

I suppose that, with this bill, the Conservatives wanted to restrict the rights of workers and bring them to their knees again. That is all they want to do. They do not want to help workers who pay taxes, thereby ensuring that the government has operating funds. When it comes to giving something to these people who are more often than not referred to as the middle class, there is never anything for them.

Had the Conservatives really wanted to do something for these workers, they would not have given them 5 to 20 additional weeks of benefits. They would have restored the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, or POWA. It would have been fair for a 55-year-old worker who lost his job because of a plant closure to have access to such a program.

That being said, I fail to understand, once again, why the Conservatives do not help these workers. When businesses are in trouble, the government is first in line to give them the money everybody wants in order to save them. We saw that with the auto industry in Ontario. Billions of dollars started pouring into this industry. The government had no problem giving money to those companies.

Tomorrow, we will be debating the Canada-Colombia free trade bill. What does this government want to do? It wants to help mining companies take control of Colombia and ensure that workers over there have no rights. Not only is the government stripping away the rights of workers here, but it wants to do the same in another country. It does not want Colombian workers to have any rights. I find it despicable that the government would give more rights to prisoners than to workers.

I hope the Conservatives will change their minds and vote in favour of this bill which, I can assure members, is an excellent piece of legislation.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the hon. member for Shefford for his excellent speech on Bill C-395. In his many years at the FTQ, the member was an advocate for workers facing health and safety issues. It is clear that he is very concerned by what people affected by problems in the workplace, work accidents or a layoff are experiencing.

Of course, we are at the end of the study of the bill at second reading. The bill's objective is to improve the situation of workers affected by a labour dispute or a lockout. However, as my colleague so eloquently explained, if the qualifying period exceeds 52 weeks, people lose their entitlement to EI even though they worked for 20 or 30 years. That is shameful.

I have been here since 2004 and during that time, we have had many debates on EI. Many bills whose objective was to improve the EI system have been introduced in the House.

It is important to remember that workers and employers are the ones who contribute to the employment insurance fund. Over the past 15 or 20 years, the fund accumulated a surplus in excess of $57 billion. The government got that money from workers and employers. The government does not contribute to the employment insurance fund.

Here in the House, the government has restricted access to the employment insurance program. It started with Paul Martin's Liberal government and continued with the Conservatives. Despite the economic crisis, nothing is being done for workers. The government is investing huge sums of money in the military and is spending billions to support Alberta's oil industry, which is polluting our whole planet.

The Conservative government really does not care about workers, nor does it support them. During election campaigns, the Conservatives try to manipulate public opinion by saying that they want to help workers and people struggling with various issues. But here in the House, I have no doubt that the Conservatives will vote against this bill even though I hope they will not. From what the Conservative member said, I gather that they will be voting against this bill. That is shameful and senseless.

This is a simple bill. It states that people who have worked the required number of hours during a 52-week qualifying period and who have been involved in a lockout are entitled to employment insurance even after 52 weeks or following a prolonged strike.

In closing, I urge all members of the House to really give this some thought and vote with their heart and their conscience when the time comes to vote on Bill C-395 at second reading. When voting, we should keep in mind workers who have taken a stand to protect their rights and who, because they do not have access to employment insurance, cannot support their families when their employers lock them out following a prolonged dispute.

I also urge all members of the House to think about all of the bills introduced by the Bloc Québécois, such as eliminating the waiting period and improving the employment insurance system. They should think about voters who have so often been denied access to benefits when they lose their jobs or are involved in a prolonged labour dispute.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

And five or more members having risen: