House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent to split my time with the hon. member for Windsor West.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member for Welland have the unanimous consent of the House to share his time?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Bill C-50 it is always difficult to, as my colleague from the Bloc said, pick winners and losers, and no question the bill does that. There are some winners in the bill and clearly there are those who are going to lose including a lot of my personal friends. They work for the Canadian auto workers in my region and whom I have worked with for a number of years. They will not benefit from this bill. There is no question about that.

Because of what we saw in past years with the number of layoffs and what we have seen prior to the enactment of this bill, they will not be covered. It is just that simple.

In saying that, we do not have unfortunately a sense within the House that we can go back and take a comprehensive look and review the entire system of employment insurance. What has happened is we have been piecemealing the system since it was reviewed in the 1990s. When it was reviewed in the 1990s, it was a review to gut it. That gutting of the employment insurance system, under the Liberal government, has given us what we have today; a patchwork quilt of help across the country that should indeed cover all of us and it does not.

What is happening now is we are adding bits here, adding bits there, we do not like this one, we do not like that one, and people move from this one to that one.

My own private member's bill that would have made sure that severance and vacation pay would have been kept by unemployed workers when they collected employment insurance was defeated by the Liberals. They chose to have that bill defeated.

Yet, the Liberals stand in their place and say that they want to reform the system. When they have the opportunity, they do not take the opportunity, which is really regrettable.

We need a comprehensive review. We need to ensure that employment insurance protects the unemployed. That is what it is meant to do. That is why workers pay the premium. They pay it because they believe, as workers, that if the eventuality falls upon them that they are unemployed, they will be able to collect EI benefits.

The bill will do that for a certain group of workers, but not all workers unfortunately. It will not protect those laid off in 2008. It will not add on those who have unfortunately had the misfortune of being laid off for numerous weeks over previous years through no fault of their own. That is regrettable. No one who is laid off can collect from the system voluntarily because one does not choose to be laid off. Employers choose to lay off workers.

Consequently, if workers choose to leave their jobs, they do not qualify at all. To punish those who are laid off through no fault of their own is erroneous from the get go. It is egregious at best.

One needs to look at EI in its totality, not in a piecemeal quilt but that is what we are doing. That does not serve workers in the country and it does not serve the unemployed.

However, this bill will indeed help some. In my riding John Deere workers were laid off in 2009 when their plant closed and moved to Mexico even though it was a profitable plant. It was making money for that corporation and it just simply decided to get up and leave. Those workers, as they head into 2010 and exhaust their benefits, will be the recipients of the help in this bill. That is a good thing for them.

Unfortunately, the workers at Henniges, which is about two kilometres away, who were laid off in 2008 will receive nothing from the bill. They too would have worked for long periods of time. It was a plant that continued to work for long periods of time and did not experience layoffs, similar to the Deere plant workers.

Unfortunately, we will have on the one hand one group protected and on the other hand one group not protected. That is the difficulty with trying to bring together one piece at a time into a comprehensive melding of things to make this work. That is why it does not.

As we look to ensure that unemployed workers are covered we need to start looking at it from a comprehensive perspective, so that we actually are going to reform the system, not add one layer of complexity on to another and take one out from underneath.

My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley asked a question about $2 billion being put in the fund as we head into this new independent, arm's length body that will adjudicate the fund. Clearly, $2 billion versus $57 billion that was already there is inadequate. That is why we piecemeal systems because we do not fund them appropriately.

Yet workers and employers believe they funded it appropriately. They duly paid their premiums over a number of years and built up that surplus. We saw the surplus evaporate before our very eyes through the Conservative and Liberal governments' mismanagement of that fund. They simply spent it, and now we have to dip into general revenues to pay the unemployed.

I see the parliamentary secretary shaking his head. He is right. General revenue is now having to back up the unemployment fund. The governments had a surplus that was squandered, and I do not say that flippantly. Those two parties decided they would spend it on something other than the unemployed. That money rightfully belonged to the unemployed.

It is shameful that the unemployed are now asking why the system is not working for them. I do not think it does not work for them because people are trying to be nasty. The refrain is we do not have enough money, although we used to have enough. Someone decided to spend it elsewhere and that is regrettable. We have a premium freeze for the next little while and as we head out of it, we will ask workers to pay more.

My hope is that by the time they are asked to pay more, they get a comprehensive review of the system so if they are eventually laid off five years after paying their money, the money will be there again for them, not squandered like it was the last time.

As we can see, the bill will cover some workers. The number is 190,000. The numbers and dollar figures are bandied about. Is it $935 million? Is it $1 billion? No one knows for certain. Certainly the department and the commission are making some sense of what it might be and who it might be cover based on some other statistics. We will not know until the uptake. What we do know is workers out there need the help.

Most economists say that we may see a jobless recovery into 2010. If that is the case, we know people will be unemployed. Those who started their unemployment this year will be unemployed next year. How many is the debate. We do not know. I think that all of us in the House could agree on one thing. If it is not 190,000, but 150,000 or 100,000 because the other 90,000 have work, that will be a good thing. I do not think any of us in the House would say that is a bad. We will know they have jobs. They will be earning a living, putting money into the community and looking after their families. No one really wants to collect unemployment insurance.

When one thinks about it, workers only get 55¢ on the dollar. I am certain most members in the House would not want to make 55% of their wages. That is what the unemployed get when they are laid off. No one wants to be unemployed to make less money. They would rather work.

As we work through this system, this will help a certain segment of workers across the country. There will be regions, and the Bloc quite rightly points out that there are sectors within Quebec, that will not get covered. The forestry sector has been taking a hit for a long time. The vast majority of those workers will not be protected. The vast majority of auto workers in Ontario will not be protected either because of what they have suffered.

However, workers across the country may not always be in all of our ridings. There may be a few here and a few there. I am fairly certain there are a few workers in every riding. There will be pockets throughout the country that are larger than others. This is a national program. This is meant for all of us. This is meant to ensure we get protection across the country, no matter where.

Workers can be laid off in one region and move to another to try to seek work, while they collect unemployment insurance. It is a national program that we all used to cherish. We want to cherish it again as workers. We need to work hard in this place to ensure the system, as it goes forward, works like it did before the reforms came in the 1990s under the Liberal government. We need to ensure it works for workers and protects workers in their time of need. We need to ensure it is no longer what it is today, which is a patchwork quilt of protections across this land.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a very brief question for the member. He speaks about how the bill will not help certain segments. Would he elaborate on that?

Many corners of the country, including mine, have seasonal workers. I am thinking of the announcement of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans at the wharf in Escuminac, when only three of one hundred and fifty eligible lobster fishers were eligible for the program.

There are great gaps in coverage with respect to seasonal workers. Could he elaborate on how we must do more to protect their needs and guard their expectations for a reasonable livelihood in the far corners of our great country?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is absolutely right. There are gaps in the system. I hate to be redundant and repeat myself, but it was his party, when in government, that actually gave us the gaps we see today. If we are to pretend that somehow the gaps materialized because of Bill C-50, then we are mistaken. At best, this is trying to paper over a small piece of a large gap.

What needs to happen is what I said earlier, and I have said this before in the House. We need review unemployment insurance, now called employment insurance, from top to bottom. At the end of the day, if we do not, we will be constantly trying to paper over the gaps. There will be losers across this land and we will never get to the root cause in the sense of being able to effect and help those who are unemployed.

Papering over the gaps will not work. We simply need to continue to work to ensure the system works for all Canadians.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear a bit more about the John Deere situation. It is an interesting situation. It reminds me of some of the poor planning that has happened in the manufacturing sector and the vulnerabilities that we currently still have.

Could the member for Welland elaborate on the John Deere situation because good jobs have now been lost?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. When it comes to industrial policy in the country, we saw a manufacturer that was making money and a union that bargained a collective agreement that took into consideration where the dollar was heading, which was an upward spiral at the time, to ensure the company would remain profitable.

The workers, by the company's own admission, were the best in North America. That is what the CEO told me. Yet at the first opportunity, the plant was moved, lock, stock and barrel, to Mexico, minus the hoops of one barrel on its way past Wisconsin. It simply dropped off there. It laid off 800 workers in Welland from a place that had been there for almost 100 years. It was nearing its 100th anniversary. It was well known and well renowned for its quality, craftsmanship, price and competitiveness, but that was left behind.

That multinational corporation walked away from the community because we lacked an industrial policy that spoke to those corporations in a meaningful way, a policy that told them they must adhere to the rules of the game in Canada and that they could not simply walk away because they thought they could.

That was the unfortunate eventuality for those John Deere workers who had never been laid off. In fact, in our region it was one of only a few bright spots. It was hiring folks nine months before the closure announcement.

It is regrettable we do not have an industrial policy that ensures those sorts of things do not happen. However, notwithstanding it has now happened, we need to ensure we have protection for those workers so they are covered by employment insurance. We need to ensure, as they head into uncertain times, that they will be covered, that they will be protected and that they will be able to stay in their communities and continue to raise their families in those communities that they so cherish.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to participate in the debate on Bill C-50.

The employment rate in my riding of Windsor West in the last two years has lead the nation. It had historically high amounts prior to that. For many years, I have raised alarm bells in the House, both with the previous Liberal administration and now the Conservatives, that the lack of auto policy would cost my region jobs. We saw an erosion in the auto industry. Now it has totally dropped off the cliff, with Canada moving from first in auto assembly to tenth.

Bill C-50 will not particularly help the auto sector and workers, as the member for Welland noted quite correctly. However, I will support the bill because I know what it is like for families when they run out of benefits and do not have the necessary supports. The effect it has not only on families but communities is terrible and it can be avoided.

The bill has some positive elements. If we can cover 150,000 or 190,000 people for $1 billion, which is the estimated cost, or whatever it might be, then I am willing to vote for it. I and people in my community do not want other people going through what we are going through right now.

We are faced with even greater complications. Not only do we have the loss of jobs, but also the loss of an industry due to a lack of policy. In my opening comments I noted that Canada did not have an auto policy. The minister is convening a meeting with CAPC this Friday, which is a good move. There will finally be some action there.

The actual competition, which is the United States, has sprinted almost to the finish line with a new energy economy. In fact, George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, set up a $25 billion fund for the U.S. auto industry prior to the sector's fallout and the repercussions from that. As a consequence, Michigan, for example, will get two new car factories and four new battery factories because it has been very assertive in procuring the technology, development and evolution to ensure things happen.

There are congratulations to extend to Ken Lewenza, president of the CAW, but there are also some difficulties. Once again, he has negotiated an investment in Windsor, Ontario for a new engine. Unfortunately, the St. Thomas plant in the London area will be closed, I am very concerned about the workers there. London is now quickly approaching the Windsor numbers for unemployment insurance, at 11%. I am worried people will continue to fall off the system.

The bill will help those who in the past have not had claims in the system. It targets some older workers and that is very important. I have seen the fallacies of some policies, especially with older workers. The government has claimed that they need retraining, that everything will be fine and that the market will settle itself.

My region has a mould, tool and die manufacturer, which is the best in the world, hands down. It has engineered change to the industry and has led the world for many years. However, now jobs are being shed because of trade policy and the lack of enforcement of a number of trade issues, such as dumping and the whole procurement process that leaves Canada many times outside the door.

I would point to one in particular. The Department of National Defence shamelessly out-sourced a contract to Navistar International. It is building Canadian vehicles for our military in Texas, instead of Chatham, Ontario doing it. Canadian men and women could have been working building those vehicles and we would have been paying less unemployment insurance than retooling the factory, which was a small undertaking. Ironically, while those trucks are being built in Texas, our workers are sitting at home. It is unacceptable that this policy continues.

That procurement was allowed under our current trade agreements, but we are the only nation that does not do it. The United States does this on a regular basis and it is unacceptable.

I want to briefly talk about what we can do for employment insurance by increasing the benefits and what it means to individuals. They are able to save their homes, ensure their kids continue to go to school, pay their bills during difficult times and there is a sense of stability. We are making choices about how we want to use our resources.

This government and the previous administration had an EI surplus windfall of $57 billion provided by the workers and the actual companies and their contributions. To take that money away is nothing more than thievery. It is a slap in the face to all those who have paid into the system, especially when they need it at a time when we have an economic downturn as we have right now.

Ironically, this downturn was not brought on by workers' wages and pensions. Rather, it was brought about by greed and mismanagement, often incubated in the U.S. housing market and other markets. It has now been turned on its head to be an attack on workers' wages and benefits, and is now what the new benefit descriptions have called a legacy cost, which is absolute nonsense.

When people sit down at a table and work with an employer and negotiate a pension instead of a wage increase, instead of a benefit increase, that is a deferred wage that they are entitled to, that they should have. It is something they have actually sweated for and is something they actually deserve to have for themselves and their family later. It is important for this country to continue to work on its pensions. As a New Democrat, I am glad that we have been able to move the ball on this issue as well.

What could we do in terms of economic policy to change things around now, to provide the resources to expand the employment insurance system to make sure that people can continue to have their homes and be able to move forward and get some new employment?

One thing that has been missed in the public debate, and it is very interesting, is that this country has been making large corporate tax cuts since the year 2000. I commissioned a paper, because as things stand right now we are going from about 29% down to 15% by 2012.

Independently of doing my own research, I had the economists and other supports through the Library of Parliament, which every member of Parliament here is entitled to, run the numbers on estimates of what corporate tax reductions have cost from the year 2000 to today and then, on top of that, what they are going to cost from today to 2012 in order to bring us down to the 15% mark.

Interestingly enough, the first wave, from 2000 to about two months ago, represents $85 billion in terms of overall revenue that we have forgone as a country, which we no longer have to put towards a number of different measures. Now, the second wave, which is still coming up, is going to cost us $86 billion. Another $86 billion is going to be necessary for that.

What is interesting is that right now the government is borrowing money from future generations to provide a corporate tax cut for the oil and gas companies, some of the pharmaceutical companies, and the insurance companies, profitable industries that do not need this type of incentive and that will not change the way they conduct their operations in the market.

That loss of revenue means not only that we do not have that money to spend currently on targeting different industrial areas, but also that we will have to pay it back with interest. We are borrowing at record low rates right now, 0.25%. It is going to be interesting later on, over the years, when we pay this off, especially if we are in a structural deficit, which I believe we are, because we have gutted our capacity to get out of this economic downturn quite significantly.

All we have to do is point to the fact that everybody is hoping for a market recovery and for shares to go up based upon speculation on the price of oil and other things, but our unemployment rates still climb.

We have seen some recovery, in things like the Ford plant and the new investments that were made by the CAW during negotiations at the table. These things have been done in isolation; the government was not there. They have been able to increase the numbers of jobs but not to the level that historically we would have had to pull ourselves out of the system.

For the automotive sector in particular, this is a structural change. It is not a cyclical one. We are going to see some problems in terms of the overall recovery.

Canadians want to know right now why on earth we would continue to have large corporate tax cuts at this point in time. Seeing as we have shed record numbers of manufacturing jobs across Ontario and Quebec, obviously lowering corporate tax rates has not worked. Obviously those industries that are under attack because of the economic and trade policies of other countries are not preserving actual jobs. The numbers of jobs are shrinking anyway.

We need to turn that around and have good sectoral strategies. One of the things we can do is invest in green technology, not only for the consumer element but also for research and development. That is going to require investment. Where does that come from?

I would suggest that one of the first things we should do is stop borrowing from our children to provide corporate tax cuts to the corporations that do not need them right now. Let us instead put that money back into their future, so that they can actually be part of the solution instead of dealing with this continued policy of the problem.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his great speech.

I am trying to get my mind around the Liberal position on employment insurance as an issue. The Liberals took $57 billion out of the system to balance the budget a few years ago. Now we are finding that on a measure such as this, which we agree is a very important measure but certainly not and all-inclusive one, nor one that is going to solve the entire problem, the Liberals are speaking against it and are planning to vote against this particular bill.

Could the member help me sort out in my mind what is wrong with the Liberal position on this whole area of EI?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if it is continued arrogance or just not understanding or appreciating what Canadians are going through. It does not make any sense.

However, he is correct in noting the $57 billion that was in the fund. Now, according to the CFIB board, as an unfortunate repercussion of the government's new policy and a $2 billion fund that is already exhausted, we are going to see payroll taxes increase. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has already determined that. The member for Outremont did a good job for our side on that.

I spent some time talking about the corporate tax reductions because, ironically, what we are going to have, when the auto sector has been reeling and will not benefit right now from this type of policy, is this payroll tax which will be an additional tax on those companies that are struggling right now. The forestry sector, the auto sector, the manufacturing sector, and any of those sectors that are struggling right now will have a new tax introduced on them so that they are actually going to be subsidizing, once again, the banks, the oil industry and the other types of institutions that are doing quite well.

It makes no sense to bring in this type of policy at this point in time because it will actually further prohibit economic development.

I can tell members that the investors for the auto sector and for the manufacturing sector are looking at these types of policies. They are not necessarily looking at the overall corporate tax reduction. I mentioned Michigan and how the Americans have been procuring plants much more significantly than we have here.

The finance minister can brag all he wants about having the corporate tax rate down to 15% by 2012 and say that right now we have a better rate than the United States does, but the reality is that jobs are going somewhere else.

In fact, in Michigan, they have also done a number of things in their sector.They are now competing for our film industry. They have made an old auto facility into a mecca for the film industry. That economic development is going to be quite significant. It is going to compete against Toronto.

There are a number of industries in which we are losing out because other types of programs and services are being offered by our competitor to the south. All we can do is say that we have a lower corporate tax rate and they should come here.

The reality is that they have actually been getting the rebound and we have not. That is very troubling because some of the stuff that is actually developing, for example, in the auto sector is new technology. There is not only the overall assembly of that new technology at the high level, at tier one, in the actual production of vehicles, but also a changing industry for the parts and supply development of this new technology. The clustering of those new facilities will often go around the new development, or facilities might go there instead of retooling in Canada, which would be necessary for them to service this new type of investment that is happening in the United States. Often, in the past, if a plant went to the United States, we in Ontario would at least be able to feed off it by supplying parts and services along with Ohio and Michigan.

However, now, with some of the new technologies emerging, my concern, and it is being validated, is that the parts sector will be more vulnerable than ever before because Americans are looking at whether they should retool or just actually build new facilities in the United States to supply these new plants. If that happened, it would cost Canadian taxpayers significantly and communities very significantly.

One only has to look at the corridor or region from London to Windsor, Ontario. As I noted, London is up to over 11% unemployment right now. We have to ask those members where the policy is. We have been pushing for this policy all along. Once again, I do thank the minister for at least convening CAPC on Friday, but it is not enough.

The U.S. has a $25 million policy of low-interest loans. In Canada we will match that with a $50 million policy over five years for $250 million. Ironically, the industry knows that money came from a new tax that the government put on the auto sector. A new tax provides for the incentive that they put out there, and at the end of the day they do not accept that at all.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, as does the member for Windsor West, I have some experience in the automotive sector and the automotive parts sector. Of note, the commitment of the government to cut taxes is significant. The commitment to cut corporate taxes is significant, so that global corporations and Canadian corporations make that commitment to choose Canada as their first place to do business. Just this year we saw one of Canada's most iconic corporations make the decision to move back to this country, due in large part to the commitment to reducing corporate taxes.

The member for Windsor West see the situation as the glass being half empty. We on this side of the House see it as the glass being half full.

I was encouraged yesterday to hear the quarterly reports from Ford, an automotive manufacturer, a member of the sector the member for Windsor West alluded to in his speech, saying they made a $1 billion profit in the latest quarter. I am sure doing business in Canada is looking more favourable every single day.

However, I am not here to speak about the auto industry per se, I am here to speak about Bill , C-50, and I would like to begin, if I may.

I rise again to discuss Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits. We have an opportunity today to help experienced workers who have lost their jobs because of a recent downturn in the economy. This is an important time. Our economy is still fragile and a recovery is still in its infancy. It is important that we take prudent, responsible and affordable action to ensure our recovery blossoms and Canadians benefit in both the short and the long term.

Bill C-50 is legislation that will temporarily extend employment insurance regular benefits to unemployed, long-tenured workers so they have more time to look for a new job. It is prudent, responsible and affordable.

Who are these long-tenured workers? They are Canadians who have worked hard, paid their taxes and their employment insurance premiums for many years and have never or rarely collected employment insurance regular benefits. Then suddenly, they have lost their jobs and they have to start over. In times like these, in a time of a changing and recovering economy, such a prospect can be tough to handle.

We are concerned about all unemployed Canadians, but we are focusing now on long-tenured workers who have been particularly affected by the recent downturn in our economy. We know that Canadian workers work hard. We know they are prudent and care for themselves, their families and their communities. We know they want to get back to work when they find themselves without work to go to. Canadians work hard and want to help themselves, but we still have a responsibility to help them over the current hurdle.

We want to make sure that the employment insurance system, which Canadian workers have paid into, is flexible and responsive to their needs. After all, workers pay into the system and employers pay into the system, so the system should work for them when they need it. Bill C-50 is a temporary measure that will help workers who have never or rarely collected EI regular benefits.

Bill C-50 will provide from five to 20 weeks of additional benefits, depending how long an individual has been working and paying employment insurance premiums. Once a person meets the criteria of a long-tenured worker, the calculation is simple: the longer a person has worked, the more weeks of extended benefits they will get. The more they have paid into the system, the more they will get out of it. That applies to workers who have paid at least 30% of the annual maximum employment insurance premiums for seven out of ten calendar years.

Most workers working full time or close to full time for many years will have no trouble meeting this threshold, and we are making allowance for their having received up to 35 weeks of regular benefits in the past five years.

This part of the bill recognizes that workers from some industries, including manufacturing and forestry, have used EI during temporary shutdowns. This is just a natural part of our economy and it needs to be recognized. I think it is a prudent measure in the bill.

Adding to the prudence of the bill, we have made sure that the use of the special benefit aspect of employment insurance, like maternity and parental benefits, compassionate care and sickness benefits, will not affect a worker's eligibility, so let us be clear on that one.

Workers who have taken time off and used these special benefits will not be negatively affected in the application of the bill. They will be just as eligible as a person who has not used these benefits.

Another prudent measure is the coverage this bill would have throughout our economy. Our minister and her officials have estimated that up to 190,000 Canadians would be able to benefit from the measures contained within this bill. That is a large group of Canadians and a very large portion of the unemployed due to this recession. As such, this bill would be a huge help to Canadians and Canada as a whole.

Long-tenured workers come from all sectors of the economy, not only forestry and manufacturing, but also technology, the trades and the service sector. They also come from all across Canada. There is not an area in Canada which has not been touched by this recession, and there is not a corner of the country where we cannot find long-tenured workers who have been laid off and are having a tough time in this tough economy.

Within my great riding of Huron--Bruce there are many long-tenured workers who would benefit from this bill. That is why I am very passionate about it and the details that lie within it.

As many of my colleagues have said already, approximately one-third of those who have lost their jobs across Canada since the end of January have established an EI claim for long-tenured workers. Specifically, this new measure would provide continuing support to these workers while they look for jobs in our changing and recovering economy. For example, under the legislation, workers who paid premiums in seven of the past ten years would get five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. For every additional year of contribution, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to a maximum 20 weeks.

At this point I would like to address the three amendments that our government made to this bill, amendments that were endorsed by the House just yesterday. They are technical amendments that will further support long-tenured workers and ensure the bill maintains its wide scope.

The first two amendments establish that the measures in the bill now start on a fixed date, that date being January 4, 2009 for eligibility, regardless of the timing of royal assent for this bill, which is very encouraging. This will create certainty for our long-tenured workers. This will also ensure that all long-tenured workers who lost their jobs in 2009 will be eligible for the additional weeks of benefits, regardless of the length of time needed to approve the bill.

As part of these amendments, we have also made sure that Canadians or Americans who work in Canada but live in the United States may be able to receive employment insurance regular benefits. The only restriction is that they must meet the eligibility requirements of the employment insurance program.

Another amendment introduced is a transition provision. This will ensure that claimants have sufficient time within their benefit period to receive all the additional weeks of regular benefits provided by this measure.

These amendments will ensure that all eligible long-tenured workers have full access to the extended benefits. Though technical, they are important for the success of this bill, and I am pleased that the House supported them.

By extending employment insurance for long-tenured workers, we are taking action that is beneficial for our economy and for Canadian workers. With some adjustments, they will make it back into the workforce and continue to be productive.

It is our responsibility to support our unemployed workers as they work to recover from this recent recession just as the economy as a whole must work to recover. We stand behind them. They will get through the downturn, and this Conservative government is helping them.

Bill C-50, a temporary measure like many of our other measures, builds on other initiatives that we have introduced in Canada's economic action plan. It is a temporary measure for a temporary situation.

Most certainly, it is a trying time for those who are unemployed. We have faith that our work as a government will work in concert with the work of Canadians throughout our economy and with people working in other countries to ensure that our economy recovers and that our workforce is healthy, skilled and most importantly, back to work.

I want to cover a few of the measures in Canada's economic action plan just to ensure that all of my colleagues realize all the good things this Conservative government is doing for Canadians. I also want to cover some recent history. I do this not because my colleagues have not heard me and others talk about the economic action plan but because many of my opposition colleagues have a mixed record on the action plan, so they may need a refresher.

First, I would point out that the Liberals across the way supported this Conservative government and its economic action plan before they opposed it. The Liberal leader, in fact, could not find a whole lot to complain about. That was before he decided that time was up and that Canadians needed an unnecessary election. So he opposed the unnecessary election before he supported it. These are not promising signs from the Liberal opposition members. They seem unreliable and unable to make up their minds. They seem unable to decide on a course of action that is best for Canadians. They seem unable to commit. The Liberals seem to act with their own interests at heart. They seem to be in it for themselves. This is unfortunate, not for our government but for Canadians.

What is promising, however, is the support we have gained from our colleagues in the NDP on Bill C-50. Yes, we have had our differences certainly but they seem to be looking out for Canadians in the bill as is our government. NDP members seem to want to ensure that Canadians get the help they need from this bill. We agree that this help should get to Canadians, so we are glad they have decided to support the bill and our government's actions even though they were less supportive earlier in the year.

As for the Bloc, not only can they not deliver for Quebeckers, now they are simply opposing things that are good for Quebec and proposing irresponsible measures this government simply cannot support. As I said earlier, I would like to talk briefly about the measures our Conservative government has taken in the economic action plan to help Canadians.

First among them is an initiative that is complementary to the measures in Bill C-50. I am talking about the career transition assistance initiative in which we are further supporting long-tenured workers by helping them train for future jobs. Workers can get their employment insurance benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake longer term training. They could also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part of their severance package or all of it. I would like to add that some of my former colleagues have actually participated in this program and shortly they will see the benefits of their commitment to their future.

Under the economic action plan we are providing unemployed Canadians with five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. We are increasing the maximum duration of weeks of EI regular benefits from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. We are also providing billions toward skills training both for people who are on EI and for those who do not qualify. We are also preserving jobs through the work-sharing program. We have allowed more flexibility for employers and agreements can now be extended up to 52 weeks. It supports employees who might otherwise be laid off. It allows them to continue working a reduced work week while they receive EI benefits for the days they do not work. Importantly, it will allow firms to recover quickly once demand rises again and I can speak specifically to my own experience.

It is important that we keep these employees who have skills, who are trained in the jobs that they have done for many years, in order to stay within a company so that when the recovery does come, and we are seeing it start already, the company does not have to hire a new group and train them, because we know this is extremely expensive, especially when we start talking about hundreds of employees across a corporation.

As of this week, almost 7,000 active work-sharing agreements across Canada are preserving the jobs of more than 167,000 Canadians. Again, this comes back to the fact that we were the latest to come into the downturn and we will be the first to come out of it. One of the reasons is because we are going to have 167,000 of these long-tenured employees who are currently in work-share programs return right back into a full work week and be able to contribute fully to our Canadian economy.

Let me refer to another program called the targeted initiative for older workers, which applies to people who are 55 to 64 years of age. Under the economic action plan, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years to provide upgrading and work experience to help older workers make the transition to new employment. Further, we have expanded the program so that it extends access to older workers in major communities as well as smaller cities affected by a significant downsizing or closure.

We are also delivering on our Conservative government's commitment to improve the governance and management of the EI fund. We have established the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, an independent, arm's length body that will implement and improve the EI premium rate-setting mechanism that will ensure EI revenues and expenditures break even over time, and set the employment insurance premium rate starting in 2011.

This is important for Canadian workers because it will ensure that their hard-earned EI premiums are used to fund the EI system, and only the EI system, when they need it. EI premiums will not disappear again like they did under a previous government. EI programs will not be used for purposes for which they were not intended and will not be used on political pet projects.

However, let me return to Bill C-50. The purpose of the bill is to help long-tenured workers directly affected by the force and depth of this recent recession. As I mentioned earlier, the bill before us, Bill C-50, proposes a temporary measure that will provide some much needed assistance to long-tenured workers throughout the country. The passage of this bill will make a difference in their lives. It will make a difference in the lives of their families and will make a difference to our economy.

It is the right and fair thing to do for these Canadian workers who have worked long and hard, and who have not asked for much help in return. Let us help them in their time of need and support them while they find jobs.

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12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the Conservative member talk about the choices that his government made in favour of workers that have not received EI benefits in the last five years and in favour of Ontario auto workers. One thing he said struck me. He said that the government has delivered on its commitments. I notice, however, that it is not delivering anything to seasonal workers nor to forestry workers. With Bill C-50, the government chose to help unemployed workers in the auto sector.

Could the member explain why the Conservatives chose to exclude seasonal workers and forestry workers and to help auto workers in Ontario?

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, maybe the member would like to discuss his party's record on its choice for helping unemployed workers.

Our economic action plan provided an additional five weeks of employment insurance and work sharing for 165,000 Canadians. We froze EI premiums for two years. We added an additional $60 million to help older workers. The list goes on and on and on. As well, there will be extra support for long-tenured workers, as we are discussing today, for 190,000 unemployed people which is close to $1 billion. The list goes on and on. There are the moneys that we have invested in the building Canada fund for infrastructure, the infrastructure stimulus fund to help Canadians get back to work as well as provide a cushion for them.

The member has talked about some things. Perhaps we could discuss a private member's bill that was brought to the committee a while ago, Bill C-241. The Bloc members support that bill and I wonder how the member reconciles this. The Bloc voted against every single measure I just mentioned which represent billions of dollars. The bill which the Bloc supports provides nothing to change regional differences. It has nothing to do with eligibility requirements. All it provides is two extra weeks.

How could the Bloc members vote against all the measures I have described but support just two weeks? What the Bloc supports does not add up.

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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am having trouble understanding why my friends in the Liberal Party will not support the bill. I am trying to figure out what principle it offends.

We are talking about five extra weeks for long-tenured workers. We are talking about measures that will affect 190,000 workers in Canada, a billion dollars.

I know the Liberals would like to see more improvements, but why would they vote against this particular bill? I am having trouble understanding that.