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

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, back in January when the budget was introduced following the disastrous economic update statement in November, there were some measures in it for EI. I do not think anybody outside the Conservative caucus would indicate that they were enough, but they did in fact add five weeks of EI for everybody who was on EI, which is a fair way to do it.

The minister, in her introduction to the estimates, actually boasts about that fact when she says that they have included extending five extra weeks of benefits, which is now only available in some regions, to all Canadians. She saw that as a step forward back in the spring, and now she has brought in a bill that clearly discriminates against people and decides who is deserving and who is not deserving.

How does the member juxtapose those two positions, and why has that changed from the spring to the fall?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I just referred to Craig Riddell, the University of British Columbia professor and member of the Expert Panel on Older Workers, who indicated that those who are having greater difficulty are the long-tenured workers, and they are the ones we specifically want to help.

What I find difficult to understand is how the member and the Liberal Party have chosen to turn their backs on the most vulnerable and the unemployed by walking away from the committee that was studying additional benefits that had to do with what might go forward into the future. They abandoned that track and allowed us to introduce this specific legislation and what we are proposing also for the self-employed. Then they had the audacity to vote against the bill and every clause of the bill as it proceeded through the House and through committee. They voted against 190,000 potential workers who could benefit from this program.

How does the member square that? What does he tell them? How does he look them in the face and say that he opposed this legislation and that if he had his way, they would get nothing?

I do not understand that. It makes absolutely no sense to me. No matter what other benefits we could provide, this is a particular benefit of almost $1 billion over three years. Why would he not support it?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have to compliment the parliamentary secretary on his speech. It is very exciting to hear of the possibilities that can happen in this country during a time of economic downturn.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary to expand on the benefits for long-tenured workers, who have had jobs and paid EI premiums over a number of years. Perhaps he could expand on the training aspect, the opportunities those workers have that will help support them during a time of stress, but also their hopes for the future.

Could he go over some of the programs that have been put in place by our government?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I get into the skills upgrading program, I would like to mention one of the other initiatives we took, which was the work-sharing program which allowed people to keep their jobs.

There have been many quotes from a number of industries stating that it was a win-win situation for employers. They were able to retain the workers they needed the most because it would be difficult to get trained staff when the economy recovers. Workers were able to continue their jobs. A significant number of workers, 167,000, were helped with this program.

We have targeted $60 million specifically for older workers for skills training. These workers have a lot to add to our society given their wisdom and their age.

Our government has invested $500 million in training to help about 40,000 long-tenured workers participate in these programs so they will be upgraded. Some of these programs last 104 weeks, that is almost two years, a significant period of time.

We have provided $1.5 billion to the provinces and territories under existing labour agreements. They have the infrastructure to do something with this money. It can get out there very quickly and it allows them to manage it.

When we add all this together, we have made a significant effort toward helping those who are most vulnerable and in particular need because of the economy as it is now, but not only for now but into the future as well.

Employment Insurance Act
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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague describe the whole fabric of interconnected programs and how Bill C-50 is just one part of a comprehensive package to help workers. I just sit here in puzzlement. I would ask my colleague to explain why there might not be unanimous endorsement in the House

Employment Insurance Act
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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I quite frankly cannot understand it. I do not know what the Bloc would have against older workers or the vulnerable. I do not understand that. With regard to the Liberal Party specifically, I have no idea why those members would turn their backs on the most vulnerable and the unemployed. They walked away from having any input in the system, and then when we brought forward a program, they vote against it.

The only rationalization I can see is that the Liberal leader, in his own self-interest and for his own personal reasons, would like to have an opportunistic election that no one else in Canada wants. Not one Canadian can understand why he would want an election, why he would oppose a bill simply to bring us down even if it would help those who need help the most. It is not--

Employment Insurance Act
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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity again to speak to Bill C-50 in the House. We spoke to it when it was introduced and we have dealt with it in committee.

We had a vote on an amendment yesterday that Liberals supported. One of our key concerns about this bill, shared even by those who have agreed to go along with this bill, is that it already disenfranchises so many workers. We did not want to see further workers disenfranchised because this bill has to work its way through Parliament.

It is impossible to look at Bill C-50 without considering the context, the situation that this country is in, what we have gone through in the last year and a half in Canada, and the economic crisis that the bill is supposed to address. The background, as we know, is that the crisis started last year. Questions were raised as far back as last spring in the House and outside the House about the potential for Canada facing some economic difficulties. Of course, the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and everybody else told us not to worry, but to be happy. They told us that the sky was not falling and that Canada was not in any kind of trouble.

I have an article here from the National Post, a great Liberal institution, dated May 30. The headline is “[Finance minister] denies Canada headed for recession”. He goes into his thing about the economic fundamentals being strong. He said that we should not worry and that Canada was not heading into a recession. He also told us not to worry and that Canada would never go into a deficit. We were doing great, living off the strong fiscal management of the Liberal Party. The finance minister told us that we did not have to worry and that we could not mess it up that badly.

On September 27, in the middle of a federal election, when Canadians were worried about what was happening with the economy in Canada, we already had action in the United States from then-President Bush and incoming, soon-to-be-elected President Barack Obama, who said that we needed some stimulus and activity.

On September 27, the headline in the paper said “[Prime Minister] says Canada not in deficit, despite opposition claims”. The Prime Minister said:

The opposition tries to tell people that we’re in deficit when we’re in surplus. Tries to tell people we’re in recession when our economy is still growing. Tries to tell people we are losing jobs when actually more people are working.

That was only a year ago. The Prime Minister assured the people of this country that they should not worry, that people were working, that we were not in deficit, that we were not going to go into deficit, that we were not in recession, and that we were just fine. Then, we came back after the election.

The Prime Minister used a strategy to address this issue with Canadians. First, it was to tell them that it was a buying opportunity when their stocks went down. Second, it was to bring in an economic update that did nothing except throw political tricks into an economic update. Third, it was to prorogue Parliament. Fourth, it was to conjure up separatist-socialist coalitions. Finally, in January, prodding by the Liberal Party made the government say that it will try to have a look at this. It finally brought forward the budget in January of this year.

There were some things in there. Nobody would suggest it was enough. In fact, if one were to look at the reports that came out from the Caledon Institute, the CCPA, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, labour union groups and other social policy networks, they said that this would not be enough to help Canadians. However, at least there was that five extra weeks.

Everybody who was unemployed and had a claim was eligible. It did nothing to increase eligibility, which was and continues to be the number one issue with employment insurance, but at least it offered five weeks. It offered those five weeks to everybody. I have asked two members of the Conservative Party if they could explain the juxtaposition of the Minister of Human Resources who, in talking about those extra five weeks in her own estimates tabled here, said:

--including extending five extra weeks of benefits, which is now only available in some regions, to all Canadians.

That was one of the boasting factors that the Minister of Human Resources talked about from the January budget. She said that Canada has projects where people get an extra five weeks and that five extra weeks of benefits is something that was always part of private members' bills, initiatives and proposals put forward by other people. That is not a panacea, but she is saying that the government has taken it and given it to all Canadians. One would assume that she said that because she felt proud of it.

It is almost as if she believed in equality. It is almost as if she felt that everybody was equally deserving of assistance. Now, we are debating a bill that goes in exactly the opposite direction. It divides Canadians into those who are deserving and those who are not deserving. That is a very significant contradiction in view, expressed over a period of a few months.

We have had employment insurance bills in the House for some time that talked about reforming EI. In the last Parliament they were Bills C-265 and C-269. We looked at those bills. What did they ask for? They consistently asked for the elimination of the two week waiting period. As people know, when they get their employment insurance, it is not really a waiting period. My colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor would agree with me that people who lose their job do not wait two weeks; they wait a lot longer than two weeks. In some cases they wait two months. The standard for Service Canada is that 80% of people get their claim processed in 28 days. We brought that to this House of Commons 12 months ago and the minister denied there was a problem. Then in the spring, she admitted there was a problem and she spent $60 million hiring people, but eliminating the two week waiting period is a possibility.

Increasing the rate of benefits is a possibility. It is now 55%. A number of private members' motions, opposition motions, social policy groups have indicated that should be 60%. The way we calculate benefits, perhaps going to the best 12 weeks is another way of looking at this; increasing the maximum insurable earnings. If somebody is making $70,000 and loses their job and they qualify for EI, they do not get 55% of their salary of $70,000, they get 55% of the maximum insurable earnings, which is in the low forties.

There are a number of ways we can change EI if we are serious about reform. Who else was talking about that back in the spring, and what were they talking about? “To be locked into a system which has 58 separate employment insurance regions, where one Canadian gets treated dramatically different than another Canadian, it doesn't seem right to me”. That was British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, who supported the call of the Leader of the Opposition for a national 360 hour standard of eligibility during the period of the recession.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said, “Here is an example where the recession's impact in Canada has moved from east to west, and we are feeling the effects”. Brad Wall supported the call of Mr. Campbell for some kind of national standard for employment insurance eligibility.

Again, Premier Gordon Campbell on May 29 called on the federal government to have one employment insurance standard throughout Canada. The Premier of Ontario had a position that said we should have one national standard across Canada, and 360 hours made sense. That is what people called for. Maybe it is 420 hours, which is the lowest eligibility, but the point is, we should have some equality in the system.

Premier Campbell is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “The federal government needs to overhaul a clearly discriminatory employment insurance system to help the swelling ranks of the jobless in western Canada”.

The Premier of Ontario called for a national standard of employment insurance. It was not just the premier. Christine Elliott, who was at the time I believe running to be the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, had some pretty sharp words for the Minister of Finance, with whom she enjoys a particularly close relationship, saying, “Ideally, the federal government will quickly reform EI to better meet Ontario's needs. The federal EI program is unfair to Ontario”.

Premier Stelmach said, “Alberta has complained about varying eligibility rules”. Premier Stelmach weighed in as well, so every western province has indicated that there was a problem. This was not the Liberals, the NDP or the Bloc saying that there was a problem. These were Canadians from coast to coast to coast suggesting that there was a problem.

We had an opposition day motion on March 5 brought forward by the New Democrats which called for a number of changes: eliminating the two week waiting period; reducing the qualifying period to 360 hours; allowing self-employed workers to participate, and we will have a look at that in the next few days as the government unveils its plan; and raising the rate of benefits to 60% and basing those benefits on best 12 weeks. Those were all things that were mentioned.

I mentioned Bills C-265 and C-269 in the last Parliament. There is Bill C-280, which we have debated in this Parliament and which we will be looking at today or Thursday in the human resources committee. It calls for 360 hours, increasing the weekly benefit, and reducing the qualifying period.

The member for Brome—Missisquoi brought forward Bill C-241 that we looked at in committee last Thursday. It will be coming back to the House. It calls for the elimination of the two week waiting period. There was another bill brought forward by the NDP member for Welland, which referred to severance payments and how they are treated in EI.

There were a number of changes across the board, some of which are very standard, that people were calling for. Primarily, they wanted a national standard of 360 hours for EI eligibility and a two-week waiting period. They wanted to take a look at the rate of benefits, the maximum insurable earnings and how benefits are calculated. Those are all things we have talked about. I have not seen any academic, social policy expert, anybody, suggest that the answer to the crisis was to further provide benefits and then to limit those benefits to only a few people.

In the spring the leader of the Liberal Party made his point clear, that we would call for a national standard of 360 hours for employment insurance eligibility. That was the call of the Leader of the Opposition, supported by many people across the country.

Our proposal was that it would be temporary in nature during a difficult period of time. One thing that often gets lost in this debate is the importance of EI as a stimulative measure to the economy. Those people who get EI need EI. Those people who get EI spend that money on food and shelter, things that they need for themselves and their families. That money goes back into the economy. This is a country that went crazy for stimulus back in January and February. Everybody was calling for stimulus. Those who evaluate stimulus said that the best stimulus is to invest in social infrastructure, particularly EI because that means the money will go into the economy. The second best stimulus was in infrastructure. The third best stimulus was tax cuts, particularly tax cuts that do not disproportionately put money into the hands of those who need it the most, low-income and middle-income Canadians. It is a very important stimulative effect.

What was the government saying to all this at that point in time? It was discouraging.

The Minister of Human Resources was quoted as saying, at the end of January, after the Conservatives brought forward the budget and were being criticized for not having addressed the key issues of EI:

Our goal is to help people get back to work, and get back to work quickly in jobs that will last. We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it--

That quotation was never retracted. It raised the hackles of people across the country, particularly those who are on EI, not because they want to be on EI but because they have to be on EI.

There was a running smear campaign against people on EI, that it was a nine-week work year, as if people would find a way to get fired from their jobs. Members must keep in mind that people cannot collect EI if they quit their jobs. That is a change that was made. The minister's suggestion was that people would be rushing out, trying to find a way to get fired so that they could go on EI for a maximum of 55% of what they were earning in their job for a maximum of anywhere from 19 to 45 weeks, or 50 weeks with the extension, most of them at the low end of that. It does not make any sense. Who would do that? It is an insult to Canadians who lose their jobs.

She changed her tune a bit in June. The minister was quoted as saying, “There is no need to change the threshold for employment insurance eligibility because as the economy worsens, more and more Canadians will find it easier to qualify”. She also said, “If the unemployment rate goes up in a given region, then it gets easier for people there to access EI for a longer period of time, and most of the regions around Canada now have become easier to access”.

Let us think about that. The United States has Barack Obama's version of hope: equality for all; benefits for those who need them. Canada has the Conservative government's version of hope: “Don't worry. Things are getting worse. We are not doing anything to help you. But you will find it easier to get EI because more of your friends and neighbours will be unemployed and then the unemployment rate will go up in the region and it will be easier to qualify”. That is what passes for hope from the Conservative government, “Wait. Don't worry. Things are getting worse. It is good news for you, but bad news for your neighbours, bad news for your friends, bad news for Canadians”. That is what we heard from the government.

A very important report was released in June by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The committee held hearings specifically about how EI affects women. I do not think it is much of a secret that with the system as it currently exists fewer women qualify for EI benefits and they get less payments. That is an inherent problem with EI that needs to be fixed. It is a problem which the Leader of the Opposition addressed when he called for a 360-hour national standard. That would have helped women and part-time workers.

He also called for an overhaul of the EI system. That is what is needed. We cannot do it piecemeal. There are things that we should do in the time of a recession. We do need an overhaul of the employment insurance system.

Changes came in. People were hurt. The economy was different. We were coming out of a time of recession and into a period of a long sustained recovery under Liberal governments. We are now back into a Conservative recession. Things have changed. That is just a fact of life. The circumstances are different now than they were in the 1990s. I could debate with colleagues in this House about what happened in the 1990s to no effect, but what we can do is impact people today who need help at a difficult time.

The status of women committee heard from a number of people. Richard Shillington testified at the committee hearings. He said:

Think of EI as a series of hurdles. To be eligible for your benefit, you first of all have to have had paid employment.... You have to have a certain number of hours. You have to have left your job for the right reason--you can't be fired; it has to be a lay-off.

We heard in the spring that 80% of people who were eligible were getting EI. That is incorrect. There was testimony from another witness who indicated:

The government likes to argue that 80% of all currently employed workers would qualify for regular EI benefits if they were to lose their jobs. However, this ignores the fact that job loss particularly affects those with unstable patterns of work, such as workers on reduced hours before a layoff as well as part-time, temporary, and contract workers. It also ignores the fact that many unemployed workers qualify for EI for a shorter period of time but quickly exhaust their benefits.

Those people would not be helped by Bill C-50 in the least.

There were a number of recommendations, a whole host of them which I will not read but I recommend this to all members for their consideration. One of the recommendations is that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada implement a uniform 360-hour qualification requirement. There is another about increasing the maximum benefit entitlement. There is one about the two-week waiting period. There are some recommendations about self-employment which I think we will be looking at in the next few days to see if they meet the needs of those who are most in need.

We had the EI working group over the summer, in which I took part. I have talked about that in this House on many occasions. I do not want to belabour people with that process, or how I spent my summer vacation. It was a discouraging time.

The government came up with numbers that were patently false, indicating that a 360-hour national standard would cost $4.4 billion. A week later the government said that it had made a bit of a mistake, that it would cost $2.5 billion. The actual cost as verified by the Parliamentary Budget Officer was $1.2 billion, but there still are government members, including the Prime Minister, who stand in the House and use the $4.4 billion figure. Unbelievable. There was documentation given to the committee that was marked “not for distribution” which had already been given to the media. That documentation showed those false numbers.

That is what we dealt with over the summer. I have talked about that before. It was a frustrating time.

I believe Parliament can work. I believe Canadians want Parliament to work. I had hopes that if we got together away from question period and used the strong resources of the human resources department that we could have effected some change. We could have all taken a little bit of water in our wine and come up with something that would have helped Canadian workers, but that was not to be, which is too bad.

The government came back in the fall and introduced Bill C-50. That is the bill we are talking about today. The fundamental problem with Bill C-50 is that it is discriminatory. Even the government would have to acknowledge that it picks winners and losers. It determines who is deserving of benefits. The minister has used this terminology herself, even at committee, “helping the most deserved workers”.

It is a discriminatory bill. Imagine a government coming forward with a health care system and saying, “We have a great new health care system. The only hitch is that if you have ever used the health care system, you do not get that health care. It is only for the deserving ones who have never used health care in Canada”. What would the outcry be to that? The outcry would be that that is clearly unacceptable. That is not what governments do. Governments do not pick winners and losers. Governments are governments for all the people.

Bill C-50 does not meet the needs of most Canadians. It does not meet the needs of most unemployed Canadians. It does not even meet the needs of most characterized long-term unemployed Canadians. It is a bill that is flawed. It is a bill that does nothing to address the number one concern of Canadians, which is to increase access to employment insurance for those who need it.

The bill does nothing to help seasonal workers who through no fault of their own work in the fishery, the forestry industry, or the tourism business. It does nothing for part-time workers. It is not a bill that we can support.

Employment Insurance Act
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10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour on his speech.

I must admit that his speech was more reassuring than what we have heard from his party in the past since he recognizes that the policies implemented by the Liberal Party were bad policies that hurt the unemployed. I will come back to that later in my own speech.

Now I have a question for my colleague. I will say at the outset that I find it encouraging indeed to hear that the member and his party want to improve our employment insurance system. I know that my colleague is very sincere in that regard. Yesterday, they voted against Bill C-50, just like we did, but they did vote in favour of the amendment.

I would like to hear what he has to say on the amendment, more precisely on Motion No. 1, subparagraph (a)(i). Because of this provision, entire regions are excluded with each day that passes, starting this week.

Have they had the opportunity to look at that provision? If they have, do they understand it the same way we do?

Employment Insurance Act
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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the work my colleague has done for the people of his province on employment insurance.

Bill C-50 is going to pass this House probably today. We are opposed to the bill. We do not like the bill. If we look at what a government should be spending, the money that is available in its envelope, this is not a priority. We think most people who have looked at this in a learned way would agree.

One of our major concerns about the bill is that not enough people are covered. By fixing a start date of January 4 on the bill it means that some people will be covered by the bill who might not otherwise be covered as it works its way through Parliament. The amendment may be far from perfect, but at the very least the bill is going to pass. We do not want to disenfranchise people who will get help. We do not think people are not deserving. We just disagree that the people who are excluded are not deserving. We want to make sure that people at least get coverage from the bill. We do not think it is the right way to go forward, but we do not want to see people get hurt as the bill works its way through Parliament.

Employment Insurance Act
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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour--or Sydney Crosbyville as I and many people like to call it nowadays--on his work.

During the summer, after the working group was set up, there was a miscommunication, and I am putting that mildly, regarding the numbers that were put forward by the government, on the issue of 360 hours, as to how much the program would cost compared to what the Parliamentary Budget Officer said it would cost. I would like the member to tell that story as he was closely involved with it. The Conservatives brought up an issue of voting against that because it helped out x amount of workers. In 2005 when we put in a measure that extended weeks for workers, the member will never guess what the Conservatives did: they voted against it.

In that vein at some point I would like to see some honest, earnest effort by the government to practise what it used to preach, which would be the orders of the day given that in the past the Conservatives railed against any of these extensions, and now all of a sudden it becomes our responsibility to vote for this because it helps out so many. This just does not go far enough. I would like my hon. colleague to comment on that and especially on his work with the working group.

Employment Insurance Act
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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to give an opinion of what happened in the working group. I have made that statement in the House. I will just deal with the facts.

The working group, not just Liberal members but Conservative members together agreed to ask the department to give a price on a 360-hour national standard. We also asked for a price on a 420-hour national standard. We received a cost for a 360-hour national standard that was clearly inflated, that indicated if we brought forward a 360-hour national standard for one year it would increase the unemployment rate in the country by 2% which was laughed off the table and the Conservatives had to retract.

In the 1970s when EI made its big change from what it had been in the 1940s until 1970, it is said that there was a 2% increase in unemployment because of EI. I do not know if that is true or not, but I know back then people could quit their jobs and collect EI. There were a lot more ways that people could collect EI. To suggest there was a labour market impact of 2% is an absolute travesty.

The Conservatives changed their view a week later. We went to the Parliamentary Budget Officer who confirmed the Liberal Party's estimates, the TD Bank's estimates, CCPA's estimates, CLC's estimates, everyone's estimates of somewhere between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion. The government still uses the old number. So far it has not apologized or retracted that and I think that it should.

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10:55 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my friend, which consists of two points.

The notion of a special committee set up over the summertime was a bit of a failed legacy. It put things on time delay more than anything else. The prospects of getting together and having some sort of agreement between his party and the Conservatives on something like EI was very unlikely, at best.

I have a question about the transfer and the creation of this independent body from government, which is employment insurance now. When the transfer was made, some $2 billion were provided. One of the concerns we raised at the time was it would not be enough money in the event of any type of recession or downturn in the economy.

The employment insurance fund had been robbed of more than $50 billion over the years, over-collecting employment insurance premiums. Then when the government created this new entity at arm's-length from government, it did not transfer more than $50 billion. It transferred a couple of billion dollars.

It did not feel like insurance at all for workers in case something were to go wrong and the government seemed to lowball what might be required to be paid out. Now we have this hodgepodge measure where we have to force the government to come back to the table with more support for the unemployed.

I come from a region that has been very hard hit for a number of years, more and more unemployed in the forestry, fishing and mining sectors. I know he is familiar with such similar circumstances. Was it right for the government to have created this body and seed it with so little money compared to what the government had extracted from it? It was so ill-prepared for any hard times down the road?

Employment Insurance Act
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10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is not correct. Two billion dollars clearly is an insufficient amount of money.

I remind my colleague it was Liberals who demanded that the committee have a look at the new CEIFB, the Employment Insurance Financing Board. It was Liberals who raised the issue of how suitable that would be. It might be that a body like this might do some good work, but there were absolutely no stipulations provided about this board, except that it would get $2 billion.

The actuary, as I recall, said in committee that it required at least $10 billion to $15 billion and the high side of that. The first thing the government did was freeze premium rates, which was the number one purpose of the board in the first place.

The concern people have, not just workers but the CEIFB and others, is that we will now have to raise payroll taxes. Payroll taxes will have to go up as a result of what has happened under the government. That is not correct.

In terms of the EI working group, I do not apologize for trying to get something done. I do not apologize for making the effort. It took my summer and the summer of others to try to make things work. In other places in this world people can make things work. We were prepared to do that. The government clearly was not. It never came forward with ideas. It is introducing a self-employed piece today. It could have brought that to committee and we could have looked at it.

There was never an intention from the government to make this work. It does not mean that as parliamentarians we are not obliged to do everything we can to try to make Parliament work, even if it has to take place outside the walls of this institution.

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11 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill at the third reading stage. As others have already said, this bill is supposed to help long-tenured workers. I said “supposed to”, because few long-tenured workers will be helped by this bill. I will explain.

This is a smokescreen to make us forget that the Conservatives, just like the Liberals, do not take care of the unemployed. As I said earlier, I am happy that the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said what he did, because I think he is sincere. Could his party vote at all stages of bills, like Bill C-241, which deals with the removal of the waiting period? I hope so. I know that is his goal. This is a bill from my Bloc colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi, which would ensure that people are not penalized when they join the jobless market. I call it the jobless market, because it has practically become a market for the government, as it saves money on the backs of the unemployed, with the EI fund as it is.

The Bloc Québécois is against the bill for long-tenured workers. The Bloc is against it because it is a discriminatory bill. The bill picks and chooses good and bad unemployed workers, as well as being a terrible bill in and of itself. That is why we are not the only ones in Quebec who are against it. The major unions are against it. These unions, in Quebec alone, represent more than 1.5 million workers out of the 4.5 million people who are of working age. There is a reason they are against it. Unemployed workers themselves and the organizations that represent them in Quebec are against it. The unemployed, the major unions, the churches, and in some areas, groups in some municipalities that cut across all social lines known as the Sans-Chemise—these people and organizations are against it.

Some of the industries that have been hardest hit by the economic crisis and by job losses have spoken out against it. The forestry industry is against this bill. They have their reasons. One of them is that this is a terrible bill. This bill creates a smokescreen to try to mask this government's weaknesses and its abandonment of the unemployed.

I said this was an exclusionary bill. Why exclusionary? Because to benefit under this bill, you must have worked for at least seven years, and in those seven years you must have contributed at least 30% of the maximum annual employment insurance premium. As well, during those seven years, you must not have received employment insurance for more than 35 weeks. There again, it is five weeks more and it will gradually increase based on the number of years you have worked, up to 15 years. It makes no sense whatsoever.

This is discrimination based on time worked, premiums paid and use of the scheme. One of my colleagues said in this House that it was as if we were telling someone they will not be entitled to get health care under a health insurance program because they have already used it in the last seven years. They are not entitled to it again. They had access for a certain number of weeks and so they are no longer entitled. It is the same principle. This is insurance that people have paid for in case they lose their jobs.

The bill is also discriminatory in that it directly targets people for exclusion. Even if someone has worked all those years, and I note again, in order to be eligible, they have to have worked at least seven years.

Even if an individual has worked seven years or more, if they are employed in precarious work, for instance seasonal work, or part-time, or on call—and we are now talking about a majority of people in society—they will be excluded, because in all those years they of course turned to employment insurance. So each time that individual was laid off, they were probably entitled to employment insurance. Now, if that individual was not entitled to claim, they will no longer be entitled now, because that means that the individual did not meet the eligibility criteria. So here we see everyone we are excluding. In addition to excluding a large number of people to start with, we are also targeting people who have precarious jobs for exclusion.

As I said when I started to speak, this bill is terrible, because it makes a law that assigns status to people based on their being bad unemployed workers or good ones. People do not decide on their own to be a bad unemployed worker. worker? It is the law that excludes them based on the length of time they have worked, paid premiums or received employment insurance benefits.

That makes no sense. In that respect, this bill is terrible. It creates a principle in a law that is completely appalling. As well, it is misleading in its very form, as well as in the words of the government and its ally the NDP. The government claims that it will affect 190,000 unemployed people, and pay out a total of $930 million. The NDP says it is more than that; it says it is $1 billion. The NDP says this is what it asked for and it is happy with the result. We have to be straight with the people we represent. We owe them the truth. Are they covered or are they not covered? We have to tell them.

The residents of the Gaspé peninsula and the Acadian peninsula need to know whether they are covered. Yesterday, in the remarks I heard, people mentioned companies that should be insured but that will not be. I looked at who those companies were and most of the employees have claimed employment insurance benefits in the last seven years. They will therefore not be affected by this measure. We have to tell them that.

They say that 190,000 unemployed will be affected. But in the study of this bill, the government and its ally, the NDP, were utterly incapable of explaining how they arrive at this conclusion. Neither the public servants, the minister or the secretary of state could tell us. If we take their figures and do the math, it turns out that 6% at most of the unemployed all across Canada would qualify. Again, this is at most, and it would amount to about $300 million.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst says that even if it is not much, it is something. I can understand that. If it were shared equally, dished out objectively to ensure fair, equitable treatment, I would agree with him. I would say at least we got that much. These people have been eating poop for ages because of government decisions. I say eating poop because there are people who are literally forced into poverty when they lose their jobs. Even if they are entitled to benefits, they do not get any. The eligibility criteria have been tightened up so much that they do not qualify.

I would agree with him if it were done fairly and equitably. But that is not the case. All Quebeckers, everyone who represents workers, the unemployed and sectors that are supposed to be targeted, are unanimous in their opposition, because this is basically a bad bill, that creates unacceptable precedents. We cannot accept the unacceptable.

What is unacceptable is creating categories of good and bad unemployed and excluding people on the basis of the sector in which they work and sometimes even their gender. We know very well that the precarious jobs that will be excluded by this measure are filled mostly by young people and women. That is why we are unanimously opposed.

If we were hearing anything different, we would take note. We have been all through it and cannot understand why Parliament would accept a bill like this.

Remember the government’s inability to explain exactly how it arrives at the figures it uses. This is a lost political cause that betrays the unemployed. It is a smokescreen. As an FTQ representative from the Eastern Townships said, it is nothing but a smokescreen.

To add insult to injury, the bill even excluded people as well on the basis of the time we would take to debate it and pass it in the House. We said that did not make any sense because we needed time to study it. The minister agreed to change this provision and give the House time to study it before it was duly sent to the Senate.

The amendments are accompanied by provision (a)(i) in Motion No. 1 to this very effect. For claimants, "the number of weeks of benefits set out in the table in Schedule I that applies in respect of a claimant is increased as a result of the application of any of subsections 12(2.1) to (2.4), in which case:

(i) in respect of a benefit period established for the claimant on or after [not “on and after”] January 4, 2009, that has not ended on the day on which this subsection is deemed to have come into force—"

What does this mean? As of this week, the regions have fallen, if I may put it that way. Automatically, they are no longer eligible. As I am speaking, Quebec City and Hull may not be eligible. Next week, it will be the turn of south central Quebec and Sherbrooke. It will continue this way so long as the bill is not passed. In saying that this bill will help people, one must be very careful. It probably will, but it will help very few and at what cost? At the cost of legislation assigning people a status and enshrining principles that are totally unacceptable. Even Quebeckers who might find it of benefit say it is unacceptable.

I will give forestry as an example, because it is a good one. There are two examples, one involving Canada's position and one involving Quebec's. So let us take the case of forestry. Representatives of the Canadian forestry manufacturing industry testified in committee that they supported it, while the Quebec forestry sector does not. Did they consult the people in the rest of Canada? I do not know. I do know that in Quebec, however, they were consulted. That means that it is not the same position. Just as the Conservatives and the NDP have decided to ignore Quebec, there are sectors of activity doing the same thing. And yet, the representatives of the Canadian forestry industry acknowledged that Quebec did not agree. However, they were speaking for Canada as a whole. Fortunately, they were asked to specify. The same thing happened at the Canadian labour congress, which is made up of people I highly respect, who do an exceptional job representing workers. The president and other representatives said they supported the bill, while acknowledging its many weaknesses.

In Quebec, however, their affiliate, the FTQ opposes it, for the same reasons we do.

Some things need to be examined very carefully. Does it help people and whom? If it does help, under what conditions, at what cost and is it worth the cost?

What should and must happen is an in-depth reform of the employment insurance plan. It has been rewritten over the past 14 years by the Liberals and now the Conservatives so that as many people as possible are excluded. Of all the people unemployed, some 54% are excluded, as the department acknowledges. And yet, they paid their EI premiums all their life, and when they have the misfortune to lose their job, they have no income. Their money is in Ottawa, and the provinces and Quebec have to meet their needs with welfare, the last resort.

The government is impoverishing the workers along with their families, the regions and the province involved and this adds to the fiscal imbalance. This is how the government amassed surpluses in the amount of $57 billion over the past 14 years and then used them for other purposes.

To restore the employment insurance system, we have to come back to more reasonable qualifying requirements. This refers to the 360 hours for which there is consensus support in the opposition—and the Conservatives were also in favour when they were on this side—taking into account, of course, the regional variations based on the unemployment rate. Raising the number of weeks of benefits to 50 is also being considered. This currently applies to workers, but this is a temporary measure that should be made permanent. In addition, the rate of benefits should be raised from 55% to 60%.

Most claimants are often low-wage earners, the vast majority of whom barely make minimum wage. This means that they receive 55% of the minimum wage. That is really not a big income. It would therefore make sense to raise the benefit rate to 60%.

What is needed is a comprehensive overhaul, including the elimination of the two week waiting period. It is wrong to penalize workers because they have lost their jobs. This two week period should not be tagged on at the end. The idea is to enable people to start receiving benefits immediately following a job loss. That is often when the shock is the greatest, because facing ongoing financial obligations can be difficult while trying to adjust to the loss of an income.

The self-employed should also be included. Thankfully, we are told legislation to that effect is forthcoming. We will review it. Unless we find unpleasant surprises in it as we did in Bill C-50, or something showing a lack of respect for everyone, if we find something good in the proposed legislation, we will support provisions to include self-employed workers.

How can all this be done? By changing the discourse and, more importantly, changing the political will so that we can make things better for the unemployed. This will require unfreezing premiums. The government padlocked the plan by freezing the rate of premium at $1.76, when the problem is not premiums but benefits, that is, the benefits payable under this plan.

I am running out of time. I will therefore conclude here and try to come back to the situation of older workers during questions and comments. In conclusion, two things are needed. One is to unpadlock the plan, and the other is to make sure that we have in this place a debate on a real, comprehensive reform that will be respectful of the unemployed, their families and all our different regions as well, by actually providing unemployed workers with benefits so that they can regain their dignity, even if they have lost their jobs.