House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was special.

Topics

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are taking time today to mark Remembrance Day. It is very important to remember the men and women who fought and those who never came home to their families.

The first world war ended on November 11, 1918. Canadian soldiers had participated in one of the most devastating conflicts Europe had ever seen. Many took part, and too many died. After the armistice was signed in 1918, Canada decided to designate a day for remembering the soldiers who fell at the front.

Ever since, we have paused on this date to remember our armed forces. Everyone in this chamber knows the difficulties they must overcome and the efforts they make. They accept the most perilous of missions without flinching. Their reward is the appreciation and gratitude of their fellow citizens. When we gather each year to honour the memory of those who fell, it is our way of saying a collective thank you. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for your devotion to duty.

The people themselves make this very clear. They remember well. One need only look, year after year, at the younger generations that take the time to remember all that the veterans did. Every year, November 11 is highlighted. Some people journey to attend ceremonies and parades. Others wear the poppy. But all remember.

How can we forget the courage and valour of the women and men who donned the uniform and risked their lives for their missions? They are the ones who went up to the front to defend the values on which our societies are based. When we talk about democracy, liberty and equality, these soldiers endured everything to ensure that those fundamental values are respected.

Human solidarity is on display whenever the time comes to help other people in their struggle to gain and preserve liberty and respect for basic human rights. Canadian soldiers are on the front lines defending these values, and we should never forget it.

They accept all their missions with humility, determination and courage. We have a collective duty to remember that.

We remember, too, the men and women who took part in these conflicts out of uniform.

We also remember the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends of these soldiers. We remember the families afflicted by the loss of one of their loved ones. This day is especially important to them, and we should underscore their sacrifice.

We remember the cities, towns and countryside devastated by conflicts and wars.

We remember our soldiers’ determination to accomplish their mission, restore the peace, and secure areas in order to help the civilians living there.

When talking about our veterans, we should save a special thought for the men and women currently serving in Afghanistan. Regardless of what we might think about this mission, the soldiers from Canada and Quebec who are serving there do their jobs with the greatest professionalism and devotion to duty. We should value their work and their sacrifice. Never forget that the soldiers of today are the veterans of tomorrow.

Present and future generations are all indebted to our veterans. They are the ones who sacrificed so that we and our families can live in a world of peace and freedom.

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I cannot begin to describe what it is like to stand in the Chamber where the decision to send Canada's young men and women overseas into battle took place.

From the Boer War to World War I to World War II to Korea to peacekeeping conflicts, and to our current mission in Afghanistan, we, the members of Parliament and those in the Senate, get the opportunity because of their sacrifices to debate the future of those conflicts. That is an honour that only soldiers can give us in a democratic society.

This year's campaign poster from veterans affairs is extremely poignant. It asks every Canadian “How will you remember?”

One way that I plan to remember is something that Canada's current Minister of Veterans Affairs said in a speech not too long ago. He said he was looking at some gravesites and the names on those gravesites, and instead of just reading them in his own mind, he said them out loud. In many cases the names that he spoke out loud were probably spoken for the first time in many years.

When my father passed away, a person who was liberated in a war camp by the Canadian military and its Allies in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944-45, my mother said, “He's up in heaven keeping an eye on me until it is my time to go and join him”.

We have almost 118,000 young men and women who are up there right now looking at all of us and keeping an eye on our current military personnel and their families. I would like to mention out loud some of the names of those who are still with us.

The great John Babcock, 109 years old, Canada's last surviving World War I veteran, and one of the very few left on this planet. May God give him many more years of a healthy lifestyle because he is the last vintage hold onto that World War I battle.

Jack Ford of Newfoundland and Labrador, the world's last surviving prisoner of war during the bombing of Nagasaki. He was in slave labour at the Nagasaki shipyards when the Nagasaki bomb went off. He, by the grace of God, is still with us in the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador. A poignant, humanistic story that the minister and I and others got to share.

On June 6, 1944, five miles off the coast of Juno Beach, a young naval officer by the name of Murray Knowles from Halifax stood there, ready to aim the guns to protect our soldiers as they went into battle on Juno Beach. What was happening at the same time he was on that ship protecting the world, his son was born in the Maritimes on June 6, 1944. And 65 years later, all of us in Canada witnessed Murray Knowles at age 92 and his son at age 65 standing shoulder to shoulder on Juno Beach.

That is the human element of what our men and women went through, and the glory of God to allow them to have shared that moment 65 years later.

I would also like to mention the great Helen Rapp. Those who know Helen know she is a staunch defender of the women who served in our military. She deserves our undying gratitude for the tremendous work that she does.

I just had the distinct pleasure of going to the Amherst Legion Branch 10 recently, and I met three fantastic unbelievable World War II veterans, Harold Ettinger, Lyon Kaufman and Allison Chapman. These three men are working in their legion in their very late stages of their lives to do one thing, to preserve the memory of those who never got a chance to come back, to preserve the memory of the stories, to tell them to future generations, and to show support to those current men and women serving overseas and their families. They deserve our undying gratitude for never allowing the flame of hope to be extinguished.

One of the ways of how we will remember is by asking exactly why did these men and women go overseas in the first place?Well, there was a sign in Ypres that I saw a few years ago, written by a Canadian, I believe a family member of a Canadian who came over. On that sign it said, “We left our country so you could live in yours”.

I think that says it all right there. Why would a 14-year-old kid from the Prairies or from a fish plant or from the woods lie about his age, join the military, and head over to the battlefields of Europe?

It was not just for excitement. It was because of an undying Canadian attitude that when the bell gets rung, we answer the call. To those 133 brave men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, they did not die in vain. Their families and children, some of whom we have all met, are the heroes of our generation today because they keep their memories alive. They left this country, so that the people of Afghanistan and other conflicts in the world can live peacefully in theirs.

If we keep that memory alive for all future generations, our children and grandchildren will always remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. There are those who are part of an aging society right now, where memories come back to haunt them because they are infirm. We need to do all we can to ensure that their memory is never extinguished.

As the Legion says, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”. However, we also ask God to care for them, whether they pay the ultimate sacrifice or whether they come back broken, wounded or psychologically damaged in any way. We know that all 33.5 million Canadians, in their heart of hearts, love our military, love our veterans, and respect and love the family members and friends of those veterans.

Without them, I and the rest of us could not stand in this Chamber and be able to debate the important issues of the day. I stand here proudly to salute the men and women of our armed forces who have served.

May God bless all their memories and may God take care of their families.

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all parties and I think that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That this House recognize the extraordinary contributions made by millions of Canadians serving in the Boer War, two World Wars, Korean War, and many missions since, and urges all Canadians to heed the call of The Historica-Dominion Institute to return to the initial practice of taking two minutes of silence (“two minutes to remember”) at 11 a.m., on Remembrance Day, November 11, to remember the sacrifices courageously made by our servicemen and women at home and abroad to guarantee the peace, rights and freedoms that we Canadians enjoy today.

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Veterans' Week
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I now invite the House to rise and observe one moment of silence to commemorate our war veterans.

[A moment of silence observed]

Message from the Senate
Routine Proceedings

November 5th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing the House that the Senate has passed the following bill: Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits.

Introduction of Bills--Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to make a couple of rulings that I know members are dying to hear.

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 27, 2009, by the hon. member for Joliette alleging the premature disclosure of the content of a government bill to the media prior to the bill’s introduction in the House.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Joliette for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. Minister of Public Safety, the hon. member for Wascana, the hon. member for Vancouver East, the hon. member for Beauséjour, and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for their comments.

In raising his question of privilege, the hon. member for Joliette claimed that a breach of the privileges of the House had occurred as a result of the public disclosure of the content of Bill C-53, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

The member argued that the Minister of Public Safety in a press conference and through a press release and backgrounder on the bill had disclosed its essence and content to the public and media before it was introduced in the House on October 26, 2009, and that this amounted to a contempt of the House. It was his contention that, “The issue is not the quantity of details but the quality of details—”. He pointed to the importance of the confidentiality of bills prior to their introduction, saying that he always advises colleagues to hold press conferences on their bills only after their introduction.

Likening this situation to the question of privilege he raised on October 22, 2009, concerning the disclosure of details of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud), prior to its introduction, the hon. member for Joliette wondered if there was no longer any reason for him to apply the rule of confidentiality of bills on notice so strictly.

During the interventions of the hon. member for Wascana, the hon. member for Vancouver East and the hon. member for Beauséjour, the seriousness of this issue was raised. The chair was urged to consider whether this was becoming a pattern and to give clear direction to the House on the rules that apply in this respect.

Following question period on October 27, the Minister of Public Safety rose to address the issue of whether the contents of Bill C-53 had been improperly disclosed prior to its introduction in the House. The minister noted that the rule prohibiting disclosure of the content of bills prior to their introduction arises out of a 2001 Speaker's ruling. The minister noted that the ruling limited the time period in question to the time between the bill being put on notice and its actual introduction in the House. He argued that the underlying principle is that the text of the bill should be made available first to members of Parliament.

Citing the 2001 case, in which the justice minister had actually circulated to the media a copy of the text of the bill and provided comment on it, the Minister of Public Safety acknowledged that the text of a bill cannot be disclosed to a select group ahead of parliamentarians seeing it. He then went on to accuse the opposition of looking to expand this rule significantly, effectively prohibiting the government from ever discussing any policy that might, in the future, be the subject matter of a bill before the House.

In his comments, the minister argued that the purpose of the rule is not to stifle discussion or debate or an exploration of policy issues but to restrict the actual disclosure of the text of a bill. That is only partly correct. The purpose of the convention is also to ensure that members are not impeded in their work by being denied information that others have been given.

The minister also noted that the time period in question is limited only to the time between a bill being put on notice and its actual introduction, and in this he is correct. Prior to giving notice of a bill, a minister or a private member developing a legislative initiative is of course free to discuss the proposal with anyone, but the House has the right to have first access to the text of the bill once it has been placed on notice. The specifics of a bill, once it has been placed on notice, should remain confidential until the bill is introduced.

In the case before us, the Minister of Public Safety differentiated between his own conduct and prohibited actions, stating that he did not disclose the contents of Bill C-53 but rather discussed an existing policy problem and the intention of the government to solve it. He provided neither a specific explanation of the government's solution nor an indication of what the text of government legislation in this regard would be.

As members have indicated, it has been a long-standing practice that the content of all bills on notice is confidential until they are introduced in the House. As I mentioned in my ruling of March 19, 2001, referred to by the Minister of Public Safety, at page 1,840 of the Debates:

The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent role which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.

I went on to say that:

To deny to members information concerning business that is about to come before the House, while at the same time providing such information to media that will likely be questioning members about that business, is a situation that the Chair cannot condone.

In the 2001 case, the Chair ruled the matter to be, prima facie, a case of privilege, and it was ultimately referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

In the committee's report on the matter, presented to the House on May 9, 2001, this important principle was reiterated. Following a commitment by the then Minister of Justice to establish protocol governing the processes for bills prior to their introduction, the report stated, in part:

The Committee believes that the protocol of the Department of Justice whereby no briefings or briefing materials should be provided with respect to a bill on notice until its introduction in the House of Commons should be adopted as a standard policy by all government departments. We believe that such a policy is respectful of the House of Commons and its members. It recognizes the legislative role of Parliament, and is consistent with parliamentary privilege and the conventions of Parliament.

While an attempt has been made to liken the situation surrounding Bill C-53, the case before us today, to the disclosure of the details of Bill C-52, clearly the circumstances of these two situations are not identical.

In the case of Bill C-52, specific details of the bill were released to the media and the public. On October 26 and 27, respectively, the Minister of Justice and then the Minister of Public Works and Government Services apologized to the House and made commitments to ensure that their actions concerning Bill C-52 would not be repeated. Their apologies put an end to the matter, as I indicated at the time. However, the House—and in particular ministers—should note that had it not been for the apologies of the ministers, the case might well have had a different outcome.

However, in the case of Bill C-53, the Minister of Public Safety categorically assured the House that, “none of the provisions, none of the potential mechanisms, none of the solutions, let alone the specific text” were divulged prior to the bill's introduction in the House.

While, by his own admission, he discussed in broad terms the policy initiative contained in the bill, the Chair is satisfied that the Minister of Public Safety did not disclose the details of the measures being proposed in the bill. The Chair is also satisfied that there has been no contempt of the House as a collectivity nor of any member individually as members were not denied information they need to perform their duties as parliamentarians.

Accordingly, the Chair finds no grounds for declaring a prima facie question of privilege in this case.

I wish to thank the House for its attention to this ruling on a matter of considerable importance to us all.

Disturbance in the Gallery—Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 27, 2009, by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons regarding the disturbance in the public gallery that occurred during Oral Questions on October 26, 2009.

I wish to thank the government House leader, the hon. member for Mississauga South, the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, the hon. member for Vancouver East, and the hon. member for Langley for their interventions.

As members will recall, during Question Period on October 26, a disturbance occurred while the leader of the New Democratic Party was asking a question. Several persons were shouting in the public gallery and the House had to interrupt its proceedings for several minutes while the gallery was being cleared by our security officers.

In raising his question of privilege, the government House leader charged the member for Toronto—Danforth with contempt, alleging his involvement in this incident. The substance of the government House leader's allegation, a version of events supported by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, is summarized in the following paragraph of his intervention, found on page 6240 of the Debates of October 27, 2009:

The leader of the protesters is the political events organizer of the NDP. His group gained access to the parliamentary precinct because of the leader of the NDP. The leader of the NDP provided a practice room for this group. The group was allowed to go from its practice to the galleries where it obstructed the proceedings of the House and intimidated some members.

The government House leader explained that it had been reported to him that members had felt uncomfortable and had feared for their safety.

In reply to this very serious allegation, the House leader of the New Democratic Party emphatically denied that the member for Toronto—Danforth was involved in the protest that occurred in the public gallery. She indicated that he was simply doing his job by meeting with the group as did other members of Parliament, but that he had no knowledge of the planned protest.

This morning the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth assured the House that he was not aware that a disturbance had been planned by the visitors with whom he met on October 26. He denied being involved in any way and expressed dismay that such allegations were made.

At the outset, the Chair wishes to state that it views the disruption of the proceedings of the House as a very serious matter, and as has been noted by the government House leader, House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 84 states:

Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference.

Some members may recall that the House experienced two gallery disturbances in 1990; both instances are most instructive in dealing with the case at hand. The first occurred on April 10, 1990, when two visitors disrupted the proceedings of the House by throwing papers from the galleries onto members in the chamber. The next day, a member raised a question of privilege charging another member with contempt of the House, alleging that he had provided passes for the protesters and had prior knowledge of the protest. On April 27, as reported on page 10760 of the Debates of the House of Commons, the member thus charged denied such prior knowledge, thereby settling the matter.

The second case happened on October 17, 1990, when again, objects--in this case macaroni and protest cards--were thrown onto the floor of the House by protesters in the galleries. A question of privilege was raised the next day, as reported on pages 14359 to 14368 of the Debates of the House of Commons, in which a member charged another member with knowing in advance about the demonstration and doing nothing to prevent it. He contended that the member was thereby an accessory to a contempt of the House. The member who was the subject of the charge denied his involvement in the matter. In his ruling delivered on November 6, 1990, Mr. Speaker Fraser stated that as the member had denied his involvement, that matter was at an end.

In the case presently before the House, the allegations made about the involvement of the member for Toronto—Danforth in the gallery disturbance of October 26 have been categorically denied. In keeping with the precedents outlined above and with the long-standing tradition in this place that we accept an hon. member's word, the Chair accepts the statement of the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth that he was in no way involved. Accordingly, I will therefore consider the matter closed.

Having set aside the question of privilege raised by the government House leader, the Chair wishes to stress that it continues to have serious concerns about the gallery disturbance itself. The actions of the sizable group of individuals in using subterfuge to gain admittance to the galleries and then to disrupt our proceedings are totally unacceptable, and do them and their cause little credit.

They were less than frank about their intentions, and the aggressive behaviour of a few individuals as they were escorted out was particularly provocative. If anything, this incident graphically illustrates the extent to which members can be vulnerable and must be vigilant to avoid being dragged into situations when their guests abuse their trust.

Before I conclude, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the House's security personnel for their work during the incident on October 26. Their swift action in clearing the public gallery under difficult circumstances allowed the House to resume its work with a minimum of delay.

I would like to thank all of my colleagues for their attention.

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by 32 minutes.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before the debate was interrupted, the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park had the floor. There are 14 minutes in the time allotted for his remarks.

I therefore call upon the hon. member for Edmonton--Sherwood Park.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, before question period and before the great tributes to our veterans by all parties, I talked about a promise our Conservative government made to self-employed Canadians to set up a system to allow self-employed Canadians to collect EI special benefits for the very first time.

It is not surprising that many self-employed Canadians have been calling on the federal government to open up EI special benefits to them. They want fair treatment from their government, and we agree. We do not want them to have to scale back or stop work when faced with a joyous event, like the birth or adoption of a child, or difficult personal or family challenge, like a serious illness or family crisis.

This was underlined by recent public opinion research which found that 86% of self-employed persons polled supported access to sickness benefits, 84% to compassionate care benefits and 64% to maternity and parental benefits. Those are overwhelming numbers. While I realize it can be easy to get overwhelming numbers of people who say yes to money, and let us be clear, these numbers are yes to money numbers, the overwhelming number of people responding to these questions are self-employed.

They are entrepreneurs, they are business owners, they are service providers who only get paid when they work, when they show up or when their shop is open. This is a demanding life. They know the value of a dollar and they also know the value of each dollar they earn. They know the value of work because they do not get paid unless they work.

They also sometimes just think that life could be made just a little easier. They do not want a handout. They are not looking for free money or special treatment. They want to be treated fairly just like other Canadians, and we can do that.

They know that this opening of access to those benefits is not free. It is not without cost. This system will be largely, if not entirely self-financing. This means that the money for these benefits will come from the self-employed. They will pay in and it will pay out to them.

An overwhelming number of these self-employed Canadians want access to a structure that facilitates the provisions of these benefits to them and they know perfectly well where the money will come from. It will come from them. These numbers tell us that they are willing to pay out that money. The opt-in rates for this system, once it is set up and running, will tell us how much they are willing to pay.

The choice is up to them. The opportunity is theirs. We as a government simply know that it is fair and right to give them that opportunity.

Self-employed Canadians want access to these special benefits so they do not have to make a difficult choice between work and family or their own health and so years of work spent building up a business or professional practice are not lost by life events that, in many cases, are foreseeable, if not close to certain.

As I said, we can make things just a little easier without giving anyone special treatment.

Our Conservative government has listened and is prepared to act by recognizing that such a move is not only the compassionate thing to do, but also the smart thing to do since it will strengthen and support families, which are, after all, the foundation of our society, and allow the self-employed who might otherwise have to leave the workforce to stay fully engaged, keep their skills up-to-date and continue making their own special contribution to the prosperity and competitiveness of our nation and its economy.

Now that we have introduced this bill, here is what Canadians are saying about it. On Tuesday, Richard Phillips, the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada said that this legislation was very welcomed. He said, “This has huge potential for quality of life in rural Canada”.

He also said this:

—could be the difference as whether one member of the family has to seek off farm employment because now families will have a choice. With over 200,000 farms in Canada, if even 10 per cent of them choose to take advantage of these programs, this could help ensure another 20,000 more young families staying on the land.

Therefore, it is good for farmers. We know our farmers feed our cities. In fact, they feed the entire world. This is something we can do to help them even just a little more.

It is good for small businesses. Do not take it from me, take it from the president of the CFIB, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It is one of the main voices for the self-employed and small business owners.

On Wednesday, Catherine Swift said:

—the initiative fills a “glaring gap” for people running their own business, especially women. We have a lot of women members. They'd like to have a child and yet abandoning your business is not (an option)

That point is very important. More than full one-third of self-employed Canadians are women. Many self-employed women want to have families, and that number is growing. Women are starting more businesses, owning more businesses and continually increasing their strength of their numbers within the self-employed. The bill would help them.

On Tuesday, Philip Hochstein, the president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association, said:

Many independent contractors work as owner operators, from truckers to drywallers to painters, and with these challenging economic times, the extra security offered with extending EI special benefits is welcome.

On Tuesday, Dale Ripplinger, the president of the Canadian Real Estate Association, applauded the government for taking action to address many of the inequities in the Employment Insurance program faced by self-employed Realtors. He said:

This is an important step to level the benefits playing field for self-employed Canadians....We look forward to working with the government to ensure access to EI benefits for REALTORS(R), which can help balance career and family life.

In a welcome call, Stephen Waddell, the national director of ACTRA, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, called on the opposition to support our government's efforts to pass the bill. He said:

This legislation is a question of basic fairness and equal treatment for Canadian workers. We're calling on the, Liberals, NDP and the Bloc to avoid an election and get this initiative passed into law.

David Quist, the executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family, welcomed the plan, saying that it would allow more parents to be involved in their children's lives.

This is a big part of why we are doing this. Self-employed Canadians want this bill. They want fairness and we are going to deliver it for them.

What are the proposals contained in the bill and why are they so important to entrepreneurs who find themselves in this situation? Basically, it comes down to this.

Under this bill, our government is proposing to do the right thing by giving the self-employed the ability to voluntarily opt into the EI program to be able to receive EI special benefits, which include maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.

Self-employed residents in Quebec are already covered by the Quebec parental insurance plan for maternity and parental benefits provided by the government of Quebec and they would continue to be. They could opt in to take advantage of the sickness and compassionate care benefits to be offered by the Government of Canada through the EI program.

Under the legislation, special benefits for self-employed individuals would mirror the current EI program with similar benefit duration periods, income replacement rates, maximum insurable earnings, treatment of earnings and waiting periods.

It is clear that some aspects of the program will have to be adjusted, given the unique circumstances of the self-employed. A good example is eligibility will be determined by a minimum income threshold of $6,000 per year rather than the current 600-hour requirement for those working for an employer.

Should they opt into the program, their EI premiums would be collected by the Canada Revenue Agency, along with their income tax. They would have to pay EI premiums on an ongoing basis for at least one year prior to receiving EI special benefits and these would mirror the relatively low rate currently paid by salaried employees across the country.

Equally important is the fact that, unlike the current practice with the Canada pension plan, self-employed contributors would not be required to pay the employer's portion of the premium, 1.4 times the employee rate, in part to reflect the fact that they would not have access to EI regular benefits.

Self-employed Canadians who begin paying premiums may choose to opt out of the program at the end of any tax year as long as they have never claimed benefits. Once they have made a claim, they must continue to make contributions on their self-employed income.

The changes contained in the bill represent just one element in a much larger, overall effort by our government to ensure the EI program continues to serve Canadians in an effective manner.

A number of EI measures have been implemented through Canada's economic action plan, which seeks to help Canadian workers and their families cope with the impact of the current world economic downturn. This has resulted in a number of improvements to EI involving longer benefits, more efficient service and more support for training.

These measures include providing five extra weeks of EI regular benefits, increasing the maximum duration of benefits as well as protecting jobs through extended and more flexible work-sharing agreements. In addition, the career transition assistance initiative is providing assistance for long-tenured workers who need training to transition to a new industry.

We introduced Bill C-50, extended weeks of benefits for those long-tenured workers, which passed through the House earlier this week.

This is proof positive of the government's commitment to ensure that EI programs will continue to provide Canadians with the temporary income support needed to make ends meet, while they look for another job, and help workers adjust to labour market changes and balance work and family responsibility.

These are some of the measures being taken up by this government to help Canadians cope with the unprecedented world economic downturn.

Recognizing the importance of this issue, fairness for the self-employed, I will vote for the bill so self-employed Canadians can get the assistance and support they need. I urge other members of the House to do likewise.