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 c-50.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think we should be careful when we talk about discrimination. As I said and as my hon. colleague surely knows, this bill does not meet the needs of most of the people he mentioned nor does it help those who work part time. The program is designed to target a specific, well-defined group of people in an attempt to get their vote. Those people live in Ontario. They do not live in Quebec or New Brunswick, they live in Ontario.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question about the dilemma of the bill, in that it does not fix the overall employment insurance program. We know and understand that.

There is discrimination regarding to which target group it actually gets. At the same time, it does plug the gap on some important people, for example, people in the parts manufacturing industry who are counting on this to get an extension in their EI benefits. In fact, several cases have come into my office where people will lose their houses if they do not get this increase in benefits right now.

What would my colleague say to those people? It is great to have the principle to sell them out, I suppose, but what do we do about those individuals who are on the cusp right now, those who will benefit from the bill? They would not receive it if we did not at least target this group. Some of those individuals have paid into the system for decades, but have not received those benefits. This is their time and moment because they need the help right now. Why should they be denied that help?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, they will not get this help now; second, the only real assistance that could be provided would be through a pilot project; finally, we have proposed much more concrete measures for accessibility to employment insurance.

POWA is the program that can best meet the needs of long-tenured workers who today are unemployed. They would not receive assistance for just one additional year, or six months, or five to ten weeks; the assistance would continue until they reached retirement age. That is what they truly need. Not half measures, false measures or smoke and mirrors, but real measures like the ones we have always asked for.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I listen to debates about employment insurance in this House, the words that come to mind are profound injustice. I cannot conceive that a wage loss replacement plan that we have paid into our entire lives is so difficult to access given that it is our due when we lose our employment. This bill applies to only a small group of people and it is truly painful to note that only those who have not received benefits for a certain number of years will be able to access employment insurance. I always find it heartbreaking to make representations on behalf of the people of my riding of Trois-Rivières who, unfortunately, have lost unstable jobs, and to be constantly demanding in this House the employment insurance they deserve.

Does my colleague not see that this government has not responded appropriately to the situation? There was an economic crisis requiring them to take swift and extraordinary action. Once again, they failed the workers. In this House we must take a balanced approach when working for the common good. Not all members are doing that.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Trois-Rivières.

She is absolutely right, as usual. If they had really wanted to meet the needs of all the workers who lose their jobs, they would have done things differently and would have agreed to abolish the waiting period. That is one of the most essential and fundamentals steps to really support workers who have lost their jobs. They would have made sure there was no need to make thousands of calculations. The most demanding aspect of this bill is the need to make so many calculations that almost nobody understands it. On top of having to struggle to maintain one's standard of living, one has to struggle to learn how to juggle figures to try to get five weeks or two weeks more, without knowing what will come of it in the end. Our jobs will not reappear, our plants will not reopen, our forestry companies will not resume operations.

That is what people are calling for, real measures that will ensure that people feel safe and stop being afraid. At present, they are afraid.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her passionate advocacy on behalf of those who are unfortunate to be laid off.

During her speech she made an interesting comment about how she saw folks change in the transition from this side of the House to the government benches. I would like her to comment further on that.

When the Conservatives were on this side of the House, they said one thing about employment insurance and the Liberals were on the other side doing something altogether different. Now the Liberals have come to this side of the House, having been replaced by the Conservatives on the government benches, and now we hear the Liberals saying something altogether different.

It seems that there are only two parties in this House that actually speak for the unemployed on a consistent basis. I would commend my colleague and her colleagues in that party, as well as my own party for standing up for workers.

Would she not agree with us that what really is needed is a comprehensive review of the EI system? We need to undo what the Liberals did during the 1990s to ensure that the unemployed are protected across this country from coast to coast to coast.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague that we should review the entire employment insurance program.

He has, however, left the door wide open for me to say that any party that becomes the ruling party in the House will act the same way as the others. We have already seen what these two parties have done. I do not think that, if it were in government, the New Democratic Party would act any differently from the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and the very good answers she gave to all the questions she was asked.

I am pleased to speak in this House to condemn this bill and show that employment insurance has become a cash cow and a discriminatory system that creates two types of workers: those who are entitled to benefits and those who are excluded.

This supposed improvement in employment insurance will do nothing for workers who are already excluded from the program. We need a comprehensive reform that will correct the injustices committed by the Liberals, who in 1997 turned employment insurance into a tax on workers and employers. EI became PI, pathetic insurance, shafting vulnerable workers, seasonal workers and students. Everyone pays into the plan, but not everyone is eligible for benefits. The unemployed were the real victims of the war on the deficit waged by the Liberal government, which reduced its deficit by excluding workers from employment insurance.

Today, the $54 billion that was stolen from workers must be used for the purpose for which it was intended, which is to provide the unemployed with financial support. The government must restore legislation to protect all workers who pay into the plan. To use this money for any other purpose is embezzlement. The changes in EI eligibility, which the Bloc Québécois condemned at the time, have had the expected effect. The percentage of benefit recipients dropped from 83% in 1989 to 42% in 1997. Whether the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development likes it or not, that numbers are still the same today. If the Conservatives and Liberals set out to dismantle the system, they can say “mission accomplished”.

With Bill C-50, the government wants to accentuate the discrimination against workers by allowing only a portion of them—the ones known as long-tenured workers—to receive between 5 and 20 additional weeks of benefits. Oddly enough, when we look closely at the eligibility criteria, we see that this measure will benefit workers in the automotive sector in Ontario.

Furthermore, this same government would have us believe that 190,000 unemployed workers will be eligible for benefits. Once again, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are trying to pull a fast one on us. That is nothing new. We are rather used to it. The Prime Minister told this house that if the EI qualifying period were set at 360 hours, claimants would receive 52 weeks of benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth. That same Prime Minister estimated that such a change would cost $4 billion, while the Parliamentary Budget Officer put the cost at $1,148,000,000. Obviously, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will repeat the same old nonsense we hear from her Prime Minister to anyone who will listen .

I wonder if the minister truly understands the act she is supposed to administer. On May 5 of this year, I sent her a letter regarding the intolerable situation facing workers of Beaulieu Canada, in my riding. In my letter I said, “If you refuse to acknowledge the figure of 40% eligibility, why are you preventing your officials from disclosing the number of people who apply for employment insurance benefits compared to the number who qualify to receive them?”

I will read the response I received from the minister on September 21, 2009. By the way, you better not hold your breath when waiting to hear back from this minister.

You claim that only 40% of people who apply for benefits are entitled to them. It is important to note that this number includes people who are outside the parameters of the employment insurance program, such as people who have never worked, and therefore have never paid employment insurance premiums; people who have not worked in the past year; people who left their employment without just cause; and self-employed workers, because they do not pay premiums.

Why not add members of Parliament, senators, and even the Governor General to the list of groups that are not entitled to employment insurance?

Does the minister know many people who have never worked or many self-employed workers who try to file an EI claim? In my riding, and in any other Bloc Québécois riding, I do not know a single one. People who have never worked know they are not entitled.

Because the Minister does not know the categories of workers who pay into employment insurance, I am going to educate her by describing those who make up the 60% who are not eligible. They are workers in unstable employment, a majority of whom are women; seasonal workers in the tourism industry or the fishery; agri-food workers; and students. These are the workers who are not eligible, the same ones the Liberals excluded with the pathetic insurance their reform produced. These are the same workers that the minister has excluded, not to mention the workers in the forestry industry, who have endured repeated layoffs in the last several years because of the inaction and incompetence of her government, a government that creates unemployment and poverty.

This government has deliberately chosen to exclude the victims of the economic crisis. The Bloc Québécois advocates a realistic recovery plan. Our party is proposing several changes to employment insurance: a new approach that assumes claimants are acting in good faith and speeds up delivery of the first cheque; eliminating the waiting period, which is immediate help for workers who have lost their jobs; a 360-hour eligibility threshold that allows access to employment insurance for part-time workers; increasing weekly benefits to 60% from 55%; increasing insurable earnings to $42,500; calculating benefits on the basis of the 12 best weeks, which would benefit seasonal workers; establishing an income support program for older workers that would bridge the gap between a layoff and payment of their pension; expanding a claimant’s right to receive benefits while taking training courses; and expanding and adjusting the job-sharing program.

The measures the Bloc Québécois has proposed would allow workers who have lost their jobs to deal with the crisis and receive the support they need while they wait for the economic recovery.

Older workers are at risk of ending their lives in poverty with the measures the Conservative government is proposing. When they were in opposition, the Conservatives talked about bringing back the program for older worker adjustment or POWA. A program like that would enable people over 55 to receive income until they retire. Instead of that, the government is pushing people who lose their jobs and find themselves with no financial resources into poverty; they will have to liquidate their assets before they retire, and they will receive the guaranteed income supplement, leaving them below the poverty line.

That is not a very nice way for people to live out their later years. This government would also prefer to keep seniors in a state of perpetual poverty rather than act on Motion M-300, which I moved last spring, and which received majority support in the House of Commons. Need I say who opposed the motion? It is not hard to guess.

Since the Conservatives came to power, Quebec's economy has come under attack by a series of regressive measures: cuts to equalization payments, a $2.6 billion shortfall in the GST harmonization file, cuts to culture, the projected relocation of the securities commission to Ontario, which Bill C-50 just happens to support, and the planned parliamentary reform that will reduce the Quebec nation's political weight. The Conservatives' real priority is to strengthen their political base in Ontario and consolidate their votes, just like they did in Alberta.

Once again, Quebec workers, who have already suffered because of the economic crisis and this government's incompetence, are being left out. It sure looks like this government's priority is to impoverish Quebec and its workers.

We will not let this oil-soaked government reduce Quebec to a second-class state in a completely chaotic Canada.

If the Conservatives made this big a mess with a minority government, imagine what they would do if they had a majority.

We are fighting this battle alongside groups working to protect the rights of unemployed workers, such as the Sans-chemise, Mouvement Action Chômage groups and major unions. We want the $54 billion stolen from the employment insurance fund to be given back to the workers who contributed.

When the time comes to vote on this bill, I will stand with the members of the Bloc Québécois and vote against Bill C-50. That is what we will do for any bill that is not in Quebec's best interest until the day we achieve full independence as a country.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for her fine speech.

Ultimately, the primary objective of Bill C-50 is to protect long-tenured workers, that is, workers who have received fewer than 35 weeks of employment insurance over the last five years. I wonder if she could give a general description of our industries in Quebec: forestry, agriculture, tourism, fisheries. these are industries that often provide seasonal employment to workers who are long tenured in those industries, whether in agriculture, forestry, fisheries or tourism.

I would like her to elaborate on this.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his excellent question.

Indeed, the measures set out in Bill C-50 will not do enough to help workers in Quebec. For many years now, the government has been neglecting the forestry sector. A few years ago it also turned its back on the textile sector and all areas of the manufacturing sector. Many businesses cut back on production and had to resort to temporary or permanent layoffs. We saw many workers lose their jobs and turn to employment insurance. The measures the Conservatives are proposing at this time will not provide enough assistance for those who have had to rely on employment insurance in the past five years.

I gave a list of measures that would be helpful for the workers of Quebec and Canada who work in jobs that are unstable. When we talk about workers in the textile, fishing or tourism industry, those jobs are seasonal, yet crucial. We cannot say that those jobs should be eliminated. Nor can we penalize the workers who work in those sectors, because they are important sectors for entire regions of Quebec.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

We will now proceed to statements by members. The hon. member will have seven minutes remaining for questions and comments when the debate resumes.

Auditor General's Report
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before we go to statements by members, I have the honour to lay upon the table the fall 2009 report of the Auditor General of Canada.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), the report is deemed reported permanently to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I also have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 23(3) of the Auditor General Act, the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the House of Commons for the year 2009, with an addendum on environmental petitions from January 1 to June 30, 2009.

This document is referred permanently to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Health
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the past few months there has been a significant focus in preparation for the H1N1 pandemic and more currently on the rollout of the biggest mass vaccine campaign in Canada's history.

With the natural concern that we all have for our family and loved ones, it is easy to lose perspective on our significant accomplishments that would have been unheard of during our grandparents' time.

In a matter of months we have developed a safe, effective vaccine. We currently have more H1N1 vaccine available per capita than anywhere else in the world, and in the next months it will be available for the entire population.

My congratulations to the Minister of Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the provinces and territories who are working very hard to face this extraordinary challenge. My special thanks to all the front line health care workers who, with dedication and hard work, are staffing the clinics, emergency rooms and hospitals.

We truly are fortunate to live in a time when we are able to mount a significant response to emerging viruses that threaten our communities.

Billings Estate Museum
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on October 28 the Billings Estate Museum celebrated a very important anniversary.

The 1829 Billings House, the oldest frame building in Ottawa and a designated national historic site, turned 180 years old. It was the third home of Braddish and Lamira Billings, pioneer settlers who opened up the area in 1813.

Key players in the development of an early Ottawa bridge, owners of a prominent timber business who converted much of the area's forest into farmland, Braddish and Lamira Billings and their seven children stand as a testament to the dedication and perseverance which helped to build this modern capital city.

The museum is a prominent member of the Ottawa Museum Network, which works to strengthen our 11 local museums by collectively telling the greater Ottawa story.

I am very proud to have the Billings Estate Museum in my riding of Ottawa South and I encourage all members to visit this national historic site. It represents the epic story of one of Ottawa's founding families and the evolution of the surrounding village. We stand on the shoulders of the Billings family and so many other founding families.