House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

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 third time and passed.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to read a quote from the hon. member for Saint-Lambert. She said in March, “I think offering self-employed workers the opportunity to contribute to employment insurance on a voluntary basis is long overdue”. That is what this government did.

I wonder how the hon. member reconciles with her constituents, the people she represents, that that party has voted against all the measures that we have brought in on employment insurance? How is she able to go back to her constituents and say that she is trying to help those who are unemployed?

The member voted against the five extra weeks. She is voting against this bill. She is voting against up to 20 weeks for long-tenured workers who need the support the most and freezing EI rates at $1.73 for this year and next. All these measures the member has voted against but at the same time she is saying she is working for the interests of those who have lost their jobs. She voted against the infrastructure stimulus funds and all the community adjustment funding. Yet the member stands in the House and says that she is working for those who are unemployed.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my committee colleague for his question.

In fact, the Bloc Québécois has always voted in the interests of Quebeckers. I repeat, the government's employment insurance measures do not meet the needs of Quebeckers. The program for long-tenured workers does not apply to Quebec forestry workers but is designed primarily for workers in the automotive sector.

The five additional weeks are only temporary and are not a permanent measure. Self-employed workers in Quebec already have access to parental leave. They now have access to compassionate care and sickness benefits. They will be paying three times too much. I do not believe that these self-employed workers, even if the program is voluntary, are interested in covering the entire cost of this project across Canada. It will take a much lower amount, a fairer amount, say 41¢, for them to be interested in signing up for employment insurance benefits for the self-employed. In fact, I am not sure that our Quebec workers are interested in paying for all other workers.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier I had asked a question of the parliamentary secretary with regard to the Quebec rates. The parliamentary secretary's response concerned me a little bit. He indicated that it was set at a rate that was lower than private rates available in Quebec.

Considering the range of benefits that are being provided under this bill, I would think it would be extremely difficult to do a very accurate assessment of what a group rate might be. I also understand there were questions about the rate at committee, yet I notice there have been no changes to the legislation to speak of.

If this matter is serious enough, should there not be an undertaking by the government to do an immediate review of the proposed rates to determine whether or not there is a necessity to bring forward an amendment, either in the Senate or subsequently given review of other aspects of the bill?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his interesting question.

At the last committee meeting, we indicated that we wanted to meet with the former chief actuary, and the Conservatives refused this request. We wanted to hear what figures the former chief actuary could give us to justify and explain why Quebeckers will be paying far too much. I do believe that we will be meeting with him next week.

We also proposed an amendment before voting on this bill, an amendment that did not receive a majority vote, that would have also called for the government to review the amount paid by Quebec compared to the rest of Canada. When the bill is sent to the Senate, we will have to propose an amendment to look at the calculations of these costs to ensure they are fair.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Saint-Lambert.

I understand the position that the Bloc Québécois is taking. The Bloc Québécois is saying that the way the premiums will be paid is not right. A member talked about what would happen, but I will not repeat what was said.

But this is a voluntary program. So she is saying that the Bloc Québécois is making this decision for the people of Quebec, but they are not required to contribute. They say that they already have a program. Why prevent other Canadians from having access? Why prevent Quebeckers from making a decision for themselves? Why prevent a hairdresser or an artist from making a decision regarding sickness or compassionate care benefits? Why make that decision here, and not let the people of Quebec decide for themselves?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, in fact, we already have the Quebec parental insurance plan.

We agreed with the principle of this bill. I do not see why workers in Quebec should not have access to special benefits. But can we hope to have a plan that is fair to Quebec as well? Why should we accept a bill that asks Quebeckers to pay three times what they should?

We can review these costs, especially since the former chief actuary has stated the costs and confirms what we are saying: Quebeckers will be paying three times what they should.

As a government, we must review the calculation so that it is fair to Quebec as well.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, concerning self-employed workers.

I would like to begin by saying, as I have said during other speeches on the subject, that I toured the country to meet with workers across Canada. I went to Gaspé, to Montreal, and to Rivière-aux-Renards. I should mention to the member for Saint-Lambert that her riding is a very beautiful place. I visited all of the provinces—Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and so on—and I went all the way to Vancouver.

That was back in 1999. The Liberals were elected in 1997. I want to emphasize that because earlier, the Liberal member said that the Liberals were the ones who worked on the self-employed workers file. In 1999, I made a proposal to the House of Commons. I would like to read from the record:

The EI program, as it exists, does not take market realities into account. More workers are described as “self-employed”, which is not quite the case. A growing number of businesses are laying off people and then hiring them as self-employed workers in order to avoid having to contribute to EI or to a pension plan. Self-employed workers are not entitled to EI and are practically without social protection. We must take a closer look at what is really happening on the new labour market and explore ways to help so-called self-employed workers contribute to and benefit from the system.

I gave that speech quite a while ago. The NDP will support the bill currently before the House of Commons. In my opinion, it is time to support our self-employed workers, such as artists in Canada and Quebec, hairdressers in Canada and Quebec, and massage therapists, to name but a few. There are countless other categories of self-employed workers who need our help too.

Consider for example parental leave or sick leave. A hairdresser from my riding came to my office and asked how she could take advantage of the employment insurance system. She is a young woman who would like to start a family, but since she is self employed, she will not receive anything. She does not have the financial resources to start a family.

Finally, a bill has been introduced here in the House of Commons today. This bill aims to support people who need maternity leave or parental leave.

I applaud Quebec, which has had a program like this for several years now. It is time for the rest of Canada to have the same thing, through the employment insurance program. This is what people want. Some of the witnesses we heard from in committee even suggested having a separate fund, apart from employment insurance. We heard various proposals in committee.

The unfortunate thing is that the Conservative government introduced a bill for long-tenured workers without allowing us to make any amendments. It is all or nothing, which is unfortunate. Why bother having a Parliament and parliamentary committees and examining bills if the government refuses to be open to amendments and refuses to listen to the people?

This is how Parliament normally works. The government introduces a bill, which is studied in a parliamentary committee. For example, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities would study the bill. The parliamentary committees' raison d'être is to allow Canadians and Quebeckers the opportunity to testify before the committee and share ideas that could inspire changes in order to create a better bill.

But the Conservative government arrived with an all or nothing proposal. Can we call that democracy? The government will say yes to avoid saying no. If we say no, we are saying no to all those workers who would have had a chance to have a program to help them.

I find that a bit sad. That is their business. The Bloc Québécois wants to vote against this bill. The Bloc members will do what they want, but I am sad for the workers in Quebec, the hairdressers and massage therapists and all those people.

Artists, whom we defended so ardently in the last election, will not be able to decide themselves whether they want to contribute. This is a voluntary program. We have to give other Canadians the opportunity to have it. We can do this together. People should exert pressure. I am sure that the Government of Quebec would know how to tell the Government of Canada that its premiums are too high and should be reduced, as they have been in the case of parental and maternity benefits. It is true that they pay lower premiums than others because part of the program already exists in Quebec.

I sympathize with what members are saying today, but I believe that the bill should be passed.

The government has also truly closed its mind to any change. The reality is that this program is going to cost money. According to the figures we have, there will be a $48 million surplus in 2010. I do not know whether it is million or billion, but it makes no difference, it is still money. We are talking about $57 billion. There will be a $48 million surplus with this program, because in the first year, 2010, people will pay into the system, but will not get any money in return, because they will not be entitled to receive benefits until 2011.

In 2011, a $24 million deficit is anticipated. In 2012, the deficit will be $39 million. In 2013, it will be $56 million, and in 2014, $78 million. These are the figures we have been given.

That is why we proposed that within six months of the coming into force of this part, the minister appoint a group of experts to study the effect and application of this part, or this act. Every year for a period of five years, the group of experts would consult the Canadian public and present to the House of Commons and the Senate a report of its findings and recommendations.

We are not asking for the world. We are just saying there is a new program, we are willing to vote in favour of it, but we just want to be sure there is follow-up to see if we are on the right track. This was supported by the Canadian Labour Congress. It was refused by the government. The Conservatives completely rejected this proposal. They said we needed royal assent. The answer therefore was no.

We asked for something else. I think this should be addressed. They say they want to help self-employed workers. That is what the government was saying earlier. I was listening carefully to the parliamentary secretary, who was saying that her government wanted to help self-employed workers. If that is the case, we had another proposal for being fair to those workers and supporting them.

I was saying earlier that the labour market has changed and that today there are more self-employed workers than ever. There are even more today than there were in 1999.

We made another proposal. Self-employed workers are not entitled to regular benefits. They are not entitled to receive regular employment insurance benefits. That is what it says in the act. Let us say that for more than a year, the worker earned 95% of his income from just one client.

An employee who is fired because his employer wants to avoid paying him benefits, and who is subsequently retained as a self-employed worker, should be recognized as a regular worker for the purposes of employment insurance, and be entitled to benefits, if he has worked 95% of the time for that employer. In this case, the commission would consider it to be equivalent to an employer-employee relationship.

Once again, the Conservatives said no. And yet they claim they want to help the self-employed.

There are two things that would have truly helped the self-employed. The latter are asking that a task force, in the next five years, report to both Houses given that the cost will increase. Even self-employed workers stated that they were not aware it would be so costly. It will cost them $78 million in the next five years. They would like to be given the facts and hear what we have to recommend.

We wanted to amend the bill in order to allow a self-employed worker who worked 95% of the time for a single client to be considered a regular worker. We are not talking about 50% or 25% of the time. If he were to lose his job, he should be entitled to employment insurance benefits.

Once again the Conservatives said no. I find that unfortunate. We have to adapt to the new labour market.

That is clear in the government report. It states that, in 2008, 2.6 million Canadians declared they were self-employed. For a vast majority, it is their sole source of income. That is a large number of people. It means that 2.6 million Canadians and Quebeckers do not have a safety net if they lose their employment, even during an economic crisis such as the current one.

The Conservative government would like Canadians and also Quebeckers to believe that the program they are presenting is the best in the world. It has overlooked a fair number of things. We must do more.

Earlier the Liberals were bragging about the fact that they were trying to help self-employed workers. They were in power for 13 years. From 1999 to 2005, they had enough time to implement a program, but they did not.

When a bill was introduced in the House of Commons to consider the best 12 weeks for workers, the Liberals, while they were in power, voted against that measure. Now that they form the opposition, they are saying that the 80% of women in the workforce benefit the least from employment insurance when they are the ones who need it the most.

Only 32% of women are eligible for employment insurance because the Liberals made major cuts to the program in 1996, when they were in power. That is when they decided that to be eligible for employment insurance, a person needed to have 910 hours of employment. They are the ones who have prevented a great number of women from being eligible for employment insurance.

The Liberal member said that, at the time, the economy was doing well and that only about 6% of the workforce was receiving employment insurance benefits. If the economy was doing well, then why did they make cuts to the employment insurance program?

When they made those cuts, the economy may have been doing well in Toronto, but it was not doing well in Atlantic Canada. Fish plants were closing and there were other closures in the forestry industry. There were closures everywhere. That is when the loggers had to leave the forest.

Back in the days of Liberal spending cuts, the unemployment rate out east was around 20%. They could not have cared less about people in the Atlantic provinces.

Better yet, a former Liberal minister—my predecessor, as it happens—told the Globe and Mail that the government would tame Atlantic Canadians. He called them shiftless and lazy. The Conservative member from Nova Scotia said something similar a few weeks ago—or was it last week—when he said that lazy, no-good bastards in Halifax do not want to work. That was almost the same thing. The Conservatives and the Liberals have the same attitude toward workers.

Today, the government said that it would freeze employment insurance contributions until 2011. But look out, because in 2011, rates will go up. In 2011, there will still be a $57 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, a surplus that was stolen by the Liberals and the Conservatives. There is money in the employment insurance fund. It is not as though it is empty.

Why will premiums have to go up in 2011 despite the surplus in the employment insurance fund? It is funny to hear them talk. The Liberals dipped into the fund and spent the money over a series of budgets. The government paid off $92 billion of the national debt, but $57 billion of that was taken from workers who lost their jobs.

The Conservatives say that the Liberals were the ones who did it. But they cannot lay all of the blame at the Liberals' feet, because they have been in power since 2006. Who passed the bill in the House of Commons? There is a new commission, but it is only getting $2 billion. The Conservatives passed the bill, but the Liberals were the ones who supported it.

In the end, both parties stole the $57 billion because they legalized the theft. That is what happened. In last year's budget, $2 billion was deposited in the employment insurance fund. Now they say that it will not be enough come 2011. They say that they will have to raise contribution rates and make workers pay yet again for the debt acquired by the two parties that were in power.

They could do something else to help workers in Quebec and Canada. For example, the employment insurance calculation could be changed to be based on the 12 best weeks. Better yet, it should not even have a divisor, because under the EI regulations individuals already receive only 55% of their income in benefits. Even if an individual earned $1,000 a week, the 55% calculation would not be based on the $1,000, but on an amount of approximately $750. So the individual would only receive 55% of that amount.

A motion was moved in the House of Commons regarding the 12 best weeks, but once again, the Liberals and Conservatives voted against this motion, just as they voted against a bill for a 360 hour threshold when it was introduced.

Maybe one day workers—if there are any watching us at home—will realize that the Liberals and Conservatives are not their friends. Maybe one day they will realize. They will say that they are not receiving EI benefits because the Liberals and Conservatives made cuts.

They would have us believe that someone who goes to the employment insurance office to receive EI benefits does not want to work. I think that is shameful and unacceptable in our society.

In France, employment insurance recipients receive 75% of their income. The Government of France says that it pays that percentage because it is the workers' employment insurance program, and it injects money into the economy and the community. It does not label those people as lazy slackers, as the Conservatives and Liberals do. It does not do that.

The NDP will support this bill, but we believe it does not go far enough. Other changes need to be made to EI, and the $57 billion must be handed back over to the workers who have lost their jobs. It should not go to paying down the government's deficit.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right with regard to the surplus that was accumulated under the EI system. Indeed, it still is owed to workers and to employers. In fact, under the rules guiding it, it has to be disposed of by either lowering premiums or by expanding benefits, and the member is well aware of that.

Does the member realize that under the last budget, the government will set up a separate commission where it will get $2 billion as seed money and then subsequent to that, all premiums will go into the separate commission and all benefits will come out, but the balance of the $50 billion will never be accounted for ever again. This is where the stealing is happening.

Why did the auditor general tell the Government of Canada, Brian Mulroney of the day, to put the EI operations in the government as an indication of its operations, but the current government has not done that and has put it outside again so it can seize the surplus moneys?

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the only thing the member has to realize is this. The reason the budget went through was because the Liberals voted with the Conservatives. The member asked me why the government did that. It did it through a budget for which the Liberals voted.

Many times I hear Conservatives say that members of the NDP is against the employment insurance because they voted against the EI bill. What we voted against was them taking the $55 billion and putting it in a new account. When the train came through Ottawa, they jumped on it, took the money and put it against the deficit, and the Liberals were part of it.

I think the member did not think about the question he asked me. He has to remember that was in the budget and the Liberals voted for it. He asked why the Mulroney government took the money and put it in the general fund. The Liberals had 13 years to take it out of the general fund and give it back to the workers, but they did not do that.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question since he spoke earlier of unfairness and injustice. I would like to ask him the question he asked me. Is the wrong made right because this is a voluntary program? That is my question for him.

Earlier, the member said that because the bill is voluntary we should let self-employed Quebeckers make that decision. I will ask him the following question. Is the wrong made right because this is a voluntary program? Is it not the job of parliamentarians to ensure that a bill is just and fair for everyone?

In my opinion, this bill needs work to do just that. It is not the Bloc Québécois that should bear the blame but the government because it did not support the amendment proposed by the committee members. The amendment only proposed making this a just and fair bill.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about the Government of Quebec. I commend that government for creating a program granting maternity leave and parental leave for self-employed workers. A certain amount of money was taken from the employment insurance fund in order to make that possible. The other workers never had that. It was not fair for them. Personally, I do not think we should turn a blind eye when a self-employed worker does not have the resources to start a family. We cannot ignore things like that.

I can understand the member who said that her party's only concern is Quebec. However, there is more to Canada than just Quebec. I have no doubt that Quebec will find a way to negotiate with the government to obtain its fair share. The Government of Quebec is very good at that. In the meantime, can we prevent self-employed workers from receiving the benefits they have so long been seeking? I do not think we should do that. If the Bloc wants to vote against the bill, that is their decision and I respect that. However, the Bloc members will have to say to the hairdressers and barbers and artists of Quebec that, if they get sick, it was the Bloc Québécois that did not give them the chance to make their own decision. That is what it comes down to.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Acadie—Bathurst said that it was the work the NDP did that led to this bill. I would like him to tell us exactly why the NDP fought for this change that is going to help workers.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the reason is simple. When I said earlier that I had made a national tour, that is what I did. I was elected to the House of Commons because the people in my riding decided to send me here to speak for them. We had the biggest demonstrations about employment insurance. That was in Campbellton, where the four nations met. When I say the four nations, I am referring to Quebeckers, aboriginal people, Acadians and anglophones. The four nations stood together to say that there needed to be changes to employment insurance.

When I did my tour and I arrived in Parliament—I went everywhere—self-employed workers were saying that they wanted to be part of the EI program in order to have the same protection and assistance as other workers. Some say that becoming a self-employed worker is an individual choice. But that is not true, because some people did not choose to become self-employed workers. They had no other work and had to create their own job. Often, I heard them say that they were forced to do so because they had been cast aside. Today, we can give these people an opportunity to receive the same benefits as other workers, or some of the same benefits.