House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was insurance.

Topics

Alleged Misleading Information
Privilege
Oral Questions

March 5th, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in relation to the misuse by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans of her office to allow for the dissemination of misleading information for partisan purposes by a Conservative senator.

My privileges as an MP have been compromised by the actions of the minister, the department and a member of the other place. If there is one thing we can always be proud of in Canada, it is the impartiality of our public service. As an MP, whether in government or in opposition, I felt we could always count on that.

I would contend that the responsibility of the minister is to ensure that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans adheres to the provisions as set out for departmental use of its media resources for departmental purposes. This has not been done in this case.

According to Treasury Board, the communications policy of the Government of Canada states:

It is the policy of the Government of Canada to:

Safeguard Canadians' trust and confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Public Service of Canada. Canadians value an independent, professional Public Service that treats individuals with respect, fairness and integrity. The value and reputation of public institutions must be honoured. Public service managers and employees are expected to provide information services in a non-partisan fashion consistent with the principles of parliamentary democracy and ministerial responsibility...

Section 23, on advertising, states:

Institutions must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party.

The communications function, under the stewardship of heads of communications in all institutions of the Government of Canada, includes the following:

providing communications support and advice to ministers and senior officials on (non-partisan) government matters, including the preparation of speeches, news releases, briefing notes, presentations, memoranda and correspondence;

It is my contention that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, by allowing the department's letterhead and website to be used in such a partisan attack as by someone with no affiliation with the department, has violated the provisions as outlined by Treasury Board, in terms of communications, and, in so doing, has violated my privileges as a member of Parliament by this misuse of the department for partisan purposes.

To my knowledge, Senator Manning is not a staff member of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and is not officially designated as a spokesperson for that department.

On March 3, the minister allowed her department to issue a press release by Senator Fabian Manning, in which he was designated as the Government of Canada, which contained statements that were a complete fabrication and distortion of the position of the Liberal leader and the Liberal Party.

Mr. Speaker, if you find a prima facie case, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Alleged Misleading Information
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Malpeque for his diligence in checking out this matter. I will review what he had to say and possibly have an opportunity to see the sites he is complaining about and get back to the House in due course in respect of this matter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this motion. It is important to talk about employment insurance and the issues around it.

I will be splitting the time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I am very happy to do so as he has spoken many times about the issues of trade that affect our country, as well as issues related to the manufacturing and forestry sectors wherein we see a high degree of unemployment.

I want to look at this current situation through the lens of a working class town. Windsor has been very much a part of the economic hub of Ontario and Canada for many years. It has contributed to the coffers of this nation for a number of different generations, quite successfully, through hard work, innovation and as leaders in auto manufacturing. We have also participated in the tourism economy and other types of economies.

We have paid significantly into the employment insurance program over the years. It is important to note that now the tables have turned, we see a problem with the overall economy in the world. Because of that we are suffering from high unemployment. We raised the alarm bells for a long time, back in 2007 and 2008. We clearly indicated to the government that there was a problem.

Astonishingly the Prime Minister and his think tank around him, which is very much a shallow pool, denied there was a problem. We remember quite clearly that during the election the Prime Minister pontificated not only that the economy in Canada was fine and it would improve, but he also said that there would be growth and surpluses. On top of that, he suggested that during the instability with the financial markets, there would be a lot of deals to be had. He even stated that Canadian property owners would not see a depreciation of their properties. Over a number of years we had told the government and the previous administration that this would not be the case.

It is important to acknowledge that as we saw the tightening around the competitiveness issues in the automotive sector, the Canadian auto workers, the men and women who got up every day, even the non-unionized ones, did a significant job to ensure their productivity value was extremely high. In fact, it compared favourably to Japan, Germany and other nations. They provided a number of different savings prior to going into this crisis. In fact, negotiated agreements from the CAW resulted in close to $1 billion in savings to the company.

Those are the types of things that have happened over the years, even we have had new plant procurement during these difficult times. It is interesting because there is the new SS engine, one of the bright sides of things, and hopefully that will come to fruition.

The government of the day had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in an election period time, to come up with a low interest loan for the industry, which it would pay back. That is different than in the United States where it has opened court and has procured the plants.

What is important to note these things were negotiated from the perspective of the workers increasing productivity and reducing costs in the factories around the country. Long before it became cliche to have energy savings, I remember members of CAW Local 200, in particular, proposing savings at the plants in which they worked and these savings would be passed on to the company.

There was clearly an indication, not only in my home area, but also on the Hill between myself and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, that there was a systemic problem coming forward. Often what has happened is the automotive sector in Windsor, when there has been a problem, has gone into the cycle a little earlier than the rest of the country and has emerged a little quicker.

What we recognized right away was that this was systemic in terms of the history. However, what happened was there would be a restructuring of the industry. This would cause an incredible amount of pain and would involve a lot of planning for a new emerging economy. It was important to see this type of diversification. However, we had a lack of government action.

Employment insurance reform is a huge part of that because it provides the stable source of income so people not only can pay their bills to protect their homes and their investments and ensure their children and their families have food on the table, but also to get the proper training necessary in a new emerging economy.

If we had the proper supports in our area, we would have the opportunity to be part of the wind and solar industry to ensure manufacturing would take place in the future. Ironically, we see that happening in the United States, but not here.

In Indiana a former General Motors plant was turned into a gear box manufacturing plant for wind production, and it has been very successful. We have yet to do that in Canada. A few of us have been trying to get this into place in our regions, but we have not had any support from the federal government.

The classic, ideological arguments of the day have always been if we lower corporate taxes then things will be okay. That has not worked. That has been a disaster. Three hundred thousand jobs have been lost in the last five years between the past two administrations and more people have fallen between the cracks.

As this was taking place, a lot of right wing ideologues were saying that we had to ensure that we moved up in terms of our products and services. We are already there, and I point to the tool, dye and mould making industry. Canada is the best in the world. However, we are losing out because of poor trade agreements and because of our dollar. We are losing out because of the use of oil to pad the government purse for a short period of time. People in skilled jobs were never fully utilized because of the economic conditions that really stunted the development of some of those industries, including the tool, dye and mould making industry and also auto manufacturing in its good days.

Just the other day another 1,200 jobs were lost at a Chrysler plant in Windsor. Another shift has gone down. This was an important plant because it was one of the last plants to operate on a 24 hour cycle.

People now coming off employment insurance have to dip into their savings. This is really hurtful because they have to dip into their capital assets if they cannot find a job.

People do not want to keep their job. Unfortunately the government has said that because employment insurance is available, people are not motivated to get a job. That is not the case. The fact is opportunities are not available. In the last two years the unemployment rate has been around 10%. It is simply not acceptable.

We need to plug the gap immediately. For the life of me I cannot understand why someone who has paid into an insurance program cannot take advantage of it when needed. That is unacceptable. It is not right and it is backward.

The two week waiting period does not make any sense either. The people who were laid off just the other day will need funds right away. Banks will not give them a two week waiting period to pay their mortgages. Credit card companies are certainly not going to give them an extra two weeks to pay their bill. In fact, these companies have been raising interest rates and fees without many consumers even knowing.

The NDP motion would correct some of the injustices in the budget. Budget 2009 does not provide the stimulus necessary for people to protect their incomes, their homes. Nor does it provide them with an opportunity to get some training. That is why we want to see the motion pass. That is why I support it as a New Democrat.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, sometimes there are consequences that we just do not bargain for when we pass legislation in the House.

I see the merit in dropping the two week waiting period. I agree with that. People in my riding used to wait four or five weeks for their first cheque, but that has increased to six and sometimes seven weeks. The waiting period is getting longer as a result of the number of jobs being lost.

If the two week waiting period is dropped, we anticipate increased activity at Service Canada offices. Would one of the unintended consequences be an even greater delay in the processing of claims? Did the NDP think about that when it put this motion forward.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the whip of the opposition party, but I am a little surprised by those comments. Of course the gap can be filled.

I worked with HRSDC, the administration component to Jobs Canada. We should not tell people that they cannot have their two weeks because we cannot fill the bureaucratic backlog. I hope it is not the member's suggestion that people should be disentitled to two weeks of employment insurance because we cannot get our act together to get the money out the door.

Coming from a riding that has had high unemployment, we have had delays like the member has indicated. However, if we have the concentration of government services, it brings the weeks back down, but it is political will to ensure the necessary staff is available.

We have to go back to the Paul Martin administration, which cut Service Canada in HRSDC. It gutted that service and there has not been the backfill of those people. This is important because we need to have that bureaucratic structure.

What a stimulus that would be if instead of giving these large corporate tax cuts, which we continue to do right now as part of the budget bill, we a provided some employment for some Canadians to clear out the backlog of employment insurance claims.

The workers are out there. Many contract positions and full-time positions could be filled. There is a mixture of those two things that could happen. I would hate to see Canadians denied two weeks of unemployment insurance because we did not have the will to hire the people to process the applications.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I want to ask my colleague about a particular piece of wonky government accounting. I am reading from the Caledon Institute report, which talks about how the government is saying that by freezing the premium rates, it is actually saying that it is creating stimulus by doing that.

I want to quote from this report:

The government did this in the 2009 Budget by freezing premium rates for the next two years. Ottawa trumpeted this unavoidable ad hoc arrangement as a $4.5 billion ‘stimulus’.

This approach opens up whole new vistas for government stimulus of the economy: Just announce a 100 percent increase in all taxes and then decide not to implement it. Voila! A $236 billion ‘stimulus’ in the form of tax increases that did not occur.

What does he think of that?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, it does not make any sense and it is very frustrating to hear this type of thought process.

I can compare that to another one. I have spoken ad nauseam in the House about the Chatham Navistar plant. There was a $300 million procurement policy for defence by the government, which it tendered out to Navistar. Navistar decided to put the plant money into Texas. We have a plant in Chatham, Ontario that could have produced the same vehicle with an $800,000 retooling, but it is closing down.

The employment insurance bill on that, for all those laid-off and fired workers, is going to be around $19 million. We are going to lose more money from the EI system because the government did not have the capability to say that we would have a defence procurement policy for our country, which the United States does all the time, and we respect that over here.

We are going to pay $18 million more in employment insurance by throwing Canadian workers out the door and moving the work to Texas, giving it the reward that we would have seen for our workers here.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this NDP motion to establish a real social safety net in this country with employment insurance benefits that actually go to most of the people who lose their jobs. Right now Canadians are experiencing the worst economic climate that we have had in more than a generation, the worst since the Great Depression. What they are finding is that the employment insurance structure has been gutted. They are finding that indeed what they have been labouring under is false representation from both the former Liberal government and the current Conservative government, and that when they pay employment insurance premiums and they lose their jobs through no fault of their own, that they will be protected and their families will be protected.

Canadians are finding that is just not the case. In the budget that the Liberals helped support and got through the House this week does absolutely nothing to give an additional worker benefits. Not a single worker, who did not qualify before the budget was put up, qualifies now that the budget has gone through the House. The smoke and mirrors around adding a few extra weeks, for the minority of Canadians who qualify, does not change the fundamental problem that we have in this country: tens of thousands of families losing a breadwinner and tens of thousands of families not being able to access the employment insurance that they paid for, for years.

This is criminal. We are talking about Canadians paying into employment insurance to protect themselves and their families. Yet, with the meltdown we have seen in the softwood lumber industry as a result of the infamous softwood sellout that killed tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and continues to kill jobs across the country, the majority of softwood workers, as is the case in the majority of cases, cannot rely on employment insurance benefits.

We were talking about the shipbuilding sellout, which is the next bit of legislation that the Conservative government has brought in. The shipbuilding workers, who lose their jobs, cannot necessarily depend on having employment insurance benefits there when they need them to pay the rent, to keep a roof over their heads, and to feed their families.

In the meltdown we are seeing in the auto sector, the meltdown we are seeing in the steel sector, in all of these cases the workers cannot depend, Canadian families cannot depend, on employment insurance.

This is a crisis that the government should have responded to because the NDP certainly provided fulsome reasons why employment insurance needed to be totally reformed so that it actually provided benefits to those who lose their jobs. Yet, the Conservatives refused to do anything to treat that fundamental unfairness and the Liberals said that it was fine because they did not really care about employment insurance and they backed the Conservatives on the budget no matter how bad it was.

The results are what we see. Essentially, the victims of this false representation, that we have an employment insurance program, a social safety net in this country when clearly we do not, are the 45% of them who qualify for employment insurance, only 45% of men. It is even worse for Canadian women. Only 39% of Canadian women qualify for employment insurance.

What that means is that people who are losing their jobs across the length of breadth of this land are left with no social safety net, left with no means to feed their families, and left with no means to keep a roof over their heads.

This is purely criminal to leave Canadians to themselves when the government has so clearly taken care of bankers, corporate lawyers and big business, showering billions and billions of dollars in tax gifts to the wealthiest and most profitable companies in this country, even though they have been cutting back their workforces. There have been no conditions, no strings attached, just shovel the money off the back of a truck. Yet, for the employment insurance fund, $57 billion was essentially taken out of that fund and is not serving to protect Canadian families. That is absolutely ludicrous.

At a time when there is no greater need for employment insurance, no greater need for benefits to support those families, $57 billion was simply ripped off Canadian working families, taken away, given away in tax benefits to the big banks and their record profits and to oil and gas companies and their record profits. There is something fundamentally wrong with this.

That is why the NDP is moving this motion today. We are saying that we need to increase benefits and benefit protection, eliminate the two week waiting period, reduce the reference period so that more people can qualify, allow self-employed workers to participate in the system as well, and increase benefits to 60% of income based on the best 12 weeks. We are also saying we should encourage training and retraining. Why? Here are a couple of reasons why.

At the same time that most Canadian workers now do not qualify for employment insurance, another theft took place and that is that the benefits have been cut in half. We have already mentioned that 60% of Canadian women and 55% of Canadian men do not qualify, but for those who qualify, their benefits have fallen on average to just $335 per week. For a family, that is below the poverty line.

Employment insurance is no longer the safety net holding families above water. It is a safety net that is badly frayed but lets most people fall through to the bottom. For the 40% of women and 45% of men that it catches, it holds them below water, below the poverty line, while they struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. There is no more compelling reason than this for major employment insurance reform and yet the Conservatives and Liberals absolutely refuse to do this.

This not only benefits the families and provides the social safety net that the vast majority of Canadians want and need, it also helps their communities. For every dollar that we invest in employment insurance, we are getting a multiplier effect of about $1.64 according to most of the studies, including the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, which said very clearly that every $1 of employment insurance, because it is spent locally, multiplies another $1.64 into the community, creating more jobs.

There are tens of billions of dollars that the Conservatives have thrown away irresponsibly. It was the most irresponsible use of Canadian resources possible. That tens of billions of dollars went offshore to the banking industry in the Bahamas and oil companies in Houston, Texas. The tens of billions of dollars that Conservatives love to shovel off the back of a truck to their big business colleagues did not create that multiplier effect.

The $57 billion in employment insurance premiums should be channelled back in. For every $1 of employment insurance premiums that, I should reiterate, have already been paid by the workers, it creates another $1.64 in local economic stimulus. This is a no-brainer.

We in the NDP are bringing forward this motion. We are certainly hoping it will get support from all four corners of the House. I hope the Conservatives would understand that what they are doing is criminal when they refuse to allow families to get the employment insurance premiums that they have paid for and that the courts have ruled belong to the families, not to the government.

The issue is very simple. If the House adopts this motion, the government must adopt the policy and move to make those changes. There was one thing that I admired about the Conservatives when they were in opposition. I disagree with the Conservatives fundamentally on a whole range of things. A lot of their members of Parliament are nice people, but I disagree with them fundamentally on a whole range of issues. One issue we agree on is that the prime minister of whatever party should respect the will of Parliament.

If Parliament were to adopt this motion, Conservative MPs should be putting pressure on the Prime Minister and the finance minister to adopt these policies, to help Canadians, to ensure there is a social safety net in place, to ensure that Canadian families facing layoffs and the tens of thousands of Canadians who have been laid off over the last few months and have lost their jobs in the auto sector, softwood lumber, shipbuilding sector, fisheries and agriculture, that all of those individuals have employment insurance that they paid for when they need it to keep a roof over their heads and food on their plates for their children.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for his intervention. He and I both come from the same region of the country and I always enjoy listening to the king of rhetoric on the NDP side.

However, what really disturbs British Columbians and his residents from the riding of Burnaby—New Westminster is the fact that this individual, their representative, voted against things such as expanding employment insurance benefits, work-sharing opportunities by 14 weeks, opportunities for older workers, and heavy investments in training workers. That is the concern that Canadians have whenever they hear the NDP talk about this. They are voting against the very people that they claim to represent.

My question to the member is this. How does he justify to the residents of Burnaby—New Westminster his position that the expenditure of billions of dollars to assuage some of the challenges that workers face is not worth his vote and his support in this Chamber?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Abbotsford for his compliment, but he is the emperor of spin on that one. I have not seen such fancy footwork since Elvis Presley was dancing in some of his films.

The reality is, and the member well knows this, that not a single additional Canadian has access to employment insurance. We have a fundamental reality where over 60% of women and over 55% of men do not qualify for employment insurance. As he well knows that, as a result of that bad budget, there is not a single additional Canadian that has access to employment insurance. Not a single Canadian gets above the poverty line. All that this government has done is extend the benefits by a few weeks for the lucky 45% at most who actually qualify now. They get a few more weeks before they have to worry about the roof over their heads and the food on the plates for their children.

It was very fancy footwork. I admire the member for Abbotsford, but it does not change the fundamental fact that this budget betrayed so many Canadians who are losing their jobs now. Not a single additional Canadian qualified for EI as a result of this budget's betrayal of Canadians' interests.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I certainly enjoy his diatribes from time to time in the House. However, I must say that I am still concerned about the fact that he has not actually answered my question. I asked him a very simple question. How does he defend voting against all of these initiatives that we have included in our budget to address the needs of workers who are losing their jobs because of this world economic crisis?

That is a question he really must answer. I think his residents of Burnaby—New Westminster are demanding an answer to that question because he is their representative.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, as the member well knows, in Burnaby—New Westminster, like everywhere else in Canada, people are waking up to the fact that they do not qualify for EI. Residents of Burnaby—New Westminster are in my office right now, as they are everyday. We are getting new cases of people who suddenly realize that they have been laid off their jobs and they have no access to EI.

That is the reality we are facing in Burnaby—New Westminster, like his constituents in Abbotsford. I am quite sure that if I ask the member to talk about the casework that is in Abbotsford, he would admit that he has people coming into his office now who do not qualify for EI and have been laid off.

Conservatives need to represent their constituents. New Democrats are. We are responding to our constituents. We know that there is a crisis in employment insurance and I would hope that the member for Abbotsford would respond to the constituents there who have clearly said they cannot believe it. They have been laid off from their jobs after paying for years into employment insurance and they do not get a dime now. There is no support. They are trying to put food on the table for their children. They are trying to keep a roof over their heads and the government has betrayed them. The Conservatives and the Liberals before them have taken all this money, $57 billion over years, and now there is not a cent of employment insurance to protect them and their families.

I am hoping Conservatives will vote for this motion and support their constituents in their ridings across the country who are facing exactly the same betrayal.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.

I welcome this opportunity to speak to the motion by the member for Hamilton Mountain. I can assure the hon. member that we are aware of the gravity of the economic recession and its effects on Canadian workers. As we have already stated in this place, our government is very concerned with helping those who are worried or having trouble making ends meet. We recognize that many workers are worried about keeping their jobs. We understand that hard-working Canadians are worried about being able to make their mortgage payments. We know that many are worried about being able to take care of their families. It is during these difficult times that Canadians need to know that their government is listening to them and that we have an action plan that will help them.

As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development previously said, through our economic action plan we will help those facing unemployment. We will protect jobs. We will invest in training and skills development.

To help cushion the impact of these difficult economic times, our government is delivering significant improvements to employment insurance that focus on where the need is greatest right now. Our government's priority is to help Canadians participate in the labour market by investing in skills upgrading and injecting a significant economic stimulus into the economy.

We are doing just that through Canada's economic action plan. As part of this plan we are proposing to invest an unprecedented $8.3 billion in the Canada skills and transition strategy. With this strategy we are heavily investing in bolstering EI benefits and investing in skills training.

Before putting our proposals forward in our economic action plan, we consulted widely with Canadians. We listened to their concerns about the EI program and we responded.

Among other things, we are expanding the benefits of the current extended benefits pilot project across Canada. By doing so, claimants across the country in regions not currently receiving additional EI benefits would receive an additional five weeks of extended regular benefits. These additional weeks of benefits would be the same as those that claimants in the pilot project are now receiving and will continue to receive. Until now this pilot project has been available only in regions with the highest unemployment rate.

As well, we are increasing the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program by five weeks, raising it from 45 to 50 weeks. This means that unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits will receive financial support for a longer period of time. This change is estimated to help some 400,000 employment insurance claimants in the first year alone.

This measure will provide financial support for a longer period to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits. This means unemployed workers will have more time to seek employment while still receiving employment insurance.

This is very important and a point I cannot stress enough. Exhaustion of employment insurance benefits is tough on a family. Canadians who are unemployed for extended periods will have more time to find work under our plan.

I would also point out that this proposed measure would be in addition to the automatic adjustments in the EI program that respond quickly to changes in economic conditions. This allows for significant flexibility. Through the variable entrance requirement, the current EI program has this built-in flexibility specifically designed to respond automatically to changes in local labour markets. The number of hours required to access employment insurance ease and the duration of benefits increases as the unemployment rate rises.

To be more specific, eligibility for and duration of employment insurance benefits are based on the number of insured hours worked and on the unemployment rate in the employment insurance economic region in which the individual lives, not in the province or territory.

This ensures that areas facing higher unemployment rates have lower entrance requirements and a longer duration of benefits, and that support flows to regions and communities that are in the most need. It is also important to note that these requirements are adjusted on a monthly basis to reflect the latest regional unemployment rates.

The recent slowdown in the economy has revealed the efficiency of the current EI system in responding to the needs of workers. Since October 2008, 19 regions have seen their entrance requirements decrease and their benefit duration increase.

In the opposition's proposal to eliminate the two week waiting period for employment insurance, I would like to cite what Mr. David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, said on December 18 when he appeared on the CTV Newsnet program, Mike Duffy Live. When asked whether eliminating the two week waiting period for employment insurance was an expenditure worth making, Mr. Dodge responded without hesitation. He said:

The answer is no. That would be probably the worst waste of money we could make...because there's a lot of churn in the labour market, just normal churn.

Mr. Dodge also said:

That two weeks is there for a very good reason....The real issue is that some of these people are going to be off work for a rather long period of time.

We agree with the comments made by the former governor of the Bank of Canada. The fact is that during these uncertain times, some people may be off work for longer periods of time. That is where employment insurance help needs to be targeted, and that is where we have targeted it.

I would remind the House that we have not hesitated to test new approaches and to make changes to the employment insurance program when they are proven to be warranted. We are currently continuing three pilot projects to assess the labour market impacts and effectiveness of new approaches that are designed to assist the unemployed.

With the proposals under our economic action plan, there has never been such a concerted effort to reach out and help Canadians. Our plan looks not only at the benefit side of the employment insurance program, but also the training side. We are proposing a number of measures that will help Canadians get the training they need to prepare for the jobs of the future.

We are proposing to increase funding for training delivered through the employment insurance program by $1 billion over the next two years. This can be implemented immediately through the existing labour market development agreements with the provinces and territories.

Our plan also includes proposals to assist older workers. It also helps workers who have been in the same or similar job for a long time and are laid off to make the adjustments necessary to remain active in the workforce. We will work with our partners to ensure that these measures benefit the greatest number of Canadians. In addition to extending benefits and promoting training, we are also proposing to stimulate the economy and assist workers and employers by maintaining employment insurance rates for 2010 at the 2009 levels.

Prior to introducing our economic action plan, we held the most extensive consultation in history. Through these consultations we heard what Canadians want. Through our economic action plan, we are delivering for Canadians in need. In fact, today the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development announced an extension of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. She also announced greater flexibility in the qualifying criteria in order to increase access for employers and workers.

In summary, the minister has travelled across the country, she has consulted with Canadians, and she has put forward a plan that protects workers and will get them back into the workforce.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member talk about employment insurance. I have a couple of questions for him.

I would like to go back to the two week waiting period. With all due respect to the former governor of the Bank of Canada I do not think he has a true appreciation for the employment insurance program, or for when someone gets laid off and has to feed his or her family and pay the rent. I do not think he will experience that.

I would like the member to rethink his position on the two week waiting period. It is essential that we get this money into people's hands. Not only is there the two week waiting period, but how does he explain the two month waiting period for benefits in many cases? Does he believe his minister's own comments that the EI system is too lucrative?