House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for bringing his private member's bill to the House. I think it is very clear that more needs to be done in the employment insurance system. The government has failed Canadians miserably, particularly those who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

There are a number of ways the EI system can be changed. The member has mentioned a number of them. They were in a motion before the House about a month ago, for which a majority in the House voted. He is making the case on his bill tonight.

Specific to his bill, can he talk about some of the stakeholders or organizations who support it? Has he had a chance to do any costing as to what the incremental cost to the employment insurance fund might be if we did go back? He is right. Up to the 1980s severance was not part of that calculation on EI. Has he done a costing as to what it might be to the EI fund for his specific bill?

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, as far as those who are supportive of the bill, Canadian workers are supportive. I need no other validators besides Canadian workers. Those working and those who are unemployed have said to me for the past 20 years in which I have been an EI advocate in different venues that this is what they want to see happen. I have not met a laid off worker yet who has not said, “My severance shouldn't be touched”.

As far as the costing, it is simply a delaying tactic. Severance delays unemployment insurance. People can still collect the same amount of employment insurance at the end. If they are so unfortunate as to be unemployed that length of time, they simply eat up their severance and their entitlement to EI.

There is no cost to the EI system per se because of severance pay. What it does do is it lets people keep their house. It perhaps lets people keep their youngsters who may be involved in recreational or cultural activities in those activities for perhaps an extra month or two. It keeps people out of abject poverty hopefully until they can get a job. That is what keeping their severances does, at no cost to the EI fund. They will qualify for EI anyway and they will collect those numbers of weeks. The old argument was, if people received EI from day one, and had eight weeks worth of severance, we could take that out of the fund by that eight weeks.

In this day and age that is not the case. We all know that. The workers are entitled to it. They ought to be able to keep it. Hopefully the House will pass the bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join in the discussion of Bill C-279.

Our economic action plan commitments to improve the EI program clearly indicate the employment insurance program is very important to our government. It is important to Canadians.

The bill put forward by the hon. member for Welland proposes that pension benefits, vacation pay and severance payments, collectively called separation payments, not be included in earnings under the Employment Insurance Act and therefore will not reduce benefits under the act. While this government appreciates the sentiment behind the bill, it is important that we look at the central premise of employment insurance and that this debate be put in context.

At the core of the employment insurance program is the insured-based objective that EI benefits are available to those individuals who are facing a loss of employment income. To be consistent with this objective, it naturally follows that, under the EI program, separation payments be considered as income arising from employment, and that is what they are.

The rationale behind the current system is that benefits are not paid simultaneously as, in reality, there is no loss of employment income. Once the time allocated to separation money expires, EI benefits can be collected. People are not losing EI benefits, it is saying they must use up the earnings from employment, or the income, first. When that is used up, then they go on EI. Severance payments are there to replace lost income. It is something that happens by negotiation between employer and employee. It is something that is paid out through legal action. That is meant to replace employment loss and it should be used up.

As things currently stand, the EI program makes provision for workers who receive separation payments to have their benefit periods extended by each week for which separation moneys are paid up to a maximum of 104 weeks. This means that EI claimants are eligible to collect EI benefits over that period of time. EI can continue up to a maximum of 104 weeks.

For example, if claimants qualify for 45 weeks of benefits and receives separation pay that equals 6 months of regular salary, they may receive their benefits provided they are still unemployed, once this initial 6 month period has elapsed. Therefore, claimants use up the six months, then go on EI and they are entitled to the full benefits.

If we use this example, while these individuals may not be able to receive EI benefits for a six month period, they, through their separation pay, already have employment income to live off for six months. Given that these individuals have income to live off for six months, the current system assumes they have not suffered the loss of employment income for this period of employment.

While the obvious effect of the bill would be to remove separation payments from amounts that may be deducted from benefits payable, it is important to note that the full implications of this proposal are difficult to determine.

For example, as the bill proposes to change the definition of earnings throughout the EI Act, it is not clear how the amendment may affect what would be considered to be insurable earnings and how it would affect premiums collected. Premiums have to be paid. As benefits are extended, premiums have to be increased. The ramifications could be quite substantial and would require considerable effort to clarify.

It is therefore difficult to estimate the full cost of implementing the changes proposed in the bill. Looking solely at exempting separation moneys for determination of EI benefits, the cost would be approximately $130 million annually.

Our government is always concerned when Canadians lose their job. We understand the pressures faced by Canadian families during these challenging times. That is why, through our economic action plan, we will help over 400,000 people benefit from an additional five weeks of EI benefits. We will help 190,000 people, including long-tenured and older workers, get retrained to find a new job and put food on the table for their families.

Our government has heard the needs of Canadians and will continue to deliver the protection they need to get through these difficult times. We recognize that during these challenging economic times, more and more people are unfortunately losing their jobs.

People who have lost or are at risk of losing their jobs need to know that their government is working hard for them to get them the assistance they need. That is why, as part of our action plan, we are investing an unprecedented $8.3 billion in Canada skills and training transition. Looking at that, it is a huge amount of dollars. With this strategy, we are making use of employment insurance to bolster benefits and invest in skills training.

Our government remains committed to having a highly skilled, globally competitive workforce. Helping Canadians receive training is essential to meeting this goal. That is why important changes to EI also include supporting long-term training for those workers who have been in the labour force for many years and have not made significant use of EI. For these workers, we are extending EI income support for the duration of training up to two years. These are moneys well spent, positioning people for the time when this economy changes.

I would also like to highlight that in our economic action plan, we committed to allowing earlier access to EI regular income benefits for eligible individuals investing in their own training, using all or part of their separation package. If they use all or part of that, EI would then kick in. Training and skills development are key to helping permanently laid off workers who need to change occupations or sectors, preparing our nation for the jobs of tomorrow.

Our proposal will help unemployed Canadians invest in the training they need for the jobs of the future, while allowing them to receive their EI benefits sooner.

Our government is also assisting laid off workers by providing nationally the advantage of an extra five weeks of EI benefits previously offered as part of a pilot project that was only provided in specific regions with high unemployment. Additionally, the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program has been increased from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. These changes mean that unemployed Canadians, who otherwise would have exhausted their benefits, will receive financial support for a longer period of time. These new measures became available on March 1.

These are some of the measures that the Government of Canada is taking to temporarily provide additional income support to unemployed workers facing transitions in tough economic times.

Our government has also taken steps to provide assistance to unemployed individuals who are unable to qualify for EI benefits at all. By establishing a new strategic training and transition fund, we are investing $500 million over two years to help these individuals obtain training and other support measures. In the event they do not qualify for EI, this program and fund is available for them. We understand that the provinces and territories know local needs best, so these funds will be delivered through existing labour market agreements.

Our plan also takes into account that, in economic downturns, it would often be older workers who would be most severely affected. To provide them with greater assistance, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years in the targeted initiative for older workers program. We are also expanding its reach so communities with a population fewer than 250,000 will now be eligible for funding. It makes no difference if these communities are located in larger metropolitan areas. They are still eligible. Our plan provides additional support to unemployed Canadians over the short term and is designed to meet the needs of the current economy while helping Canadians get the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

We believe that while the intent of this legislation is laudable, the wording of it is unclear. If passed, it could have considerable impacts on the fiscal framework and significant implications on other aspects of the EI program that are unclear at this time.

As I mentioned earlier, our government is already proposing a measure that will allow earlier access to EI benefits if individuals use some or all of their separation payments to purchase skills upgrading or training for themselves.

These initiatives, when taken as a package, are meant to address the needs of Canadians. It is unfortunate that the member and members of his party oppose each and every one of these proposals, such as extending the EI program by five weeks. It matters very much to those Canadians who are still looking for a job and have not found one. That five weeks is very significant. It matters to those who want to job share to ensure that all of them have an opportunity to work, while the economy recovers. There are 190,000 people who want to get their skills upgraded and want to have training so they are prepared to enter the job market of the future.

That party has opposed and voted against very important measures. In fact, it said that it was going to vote against them before it had an opportunity to read and understand what these measures were. One has to look at this whole picture as a package.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, again I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Welland, for bringing this bill forward. Clearly, he understands the issue, cares about it passionately and has given a great deal of thought to it.

I want to start by talking about how big an issue employment insurance is in Canada right now. Today we got word that according to Statistics Canada a staggering 325,700 EI claims were received in February. That is up 51,000, some 18%, from January. That is the largest number of EI claims since the tracking of EI data began. The total number of regular EI beneficiaries has climbed 22% since October 2008. Today there are well over 600,000 Canadians collecting benefits.

This issue is gripping Canadians. I would say it is an issue that is gripping Canadians who for many years probably thought, not in an arrogant way but because of history, that they would not be touched by a faltering economy. However, now they are, through no fault of their own.

The government's response has been very weak. When the economy started to dip a bit last year, instead of dealing with it, the Prime Minister decided to call an election. In the fall when Barack Obama was already talking about a stimulus package, the Conservative government came out with an economic update that did nothing to stimulate the economy but did a lot to stimulate politics in Canada. Then in January when we finally came back here, yes, there had been an improvement.

The parliamentary secretary, from his briefing notes that we just heard him read, spoke about the additional five weeks. That was helpful to a small percentage of Canadians, the less than half of Canadians who can claim EI. There was some money for training. There is so much more to be done. It is not just what people sometimes refer to as the usual suspects, the social policy groups, the anti-poverty organizations and organized labour, but even organizations like the C.D. Howe Institute have said that they were surprised the government did not do more on EI.

Today at the human resources committee, we were doing an anti-poverty study. My colleague from the Sault who is in the House tonight is well aware of this. Armine Yalnizyan from the CCPA, Dennis Howlett from Make Poverty History, and Canada Without Poverty, formerly NAPO, the National Anti-Poverty Organization all spoke about how important EI is as part of the country's social infrastructure.

The simple fact is our EI system, as we know it today, is not recession tested. So how do we fix that? Our colleague has brought forward his idea. There are other things we could do, obviously. We have a regional rate system, and maybe we could go to a national standard. That has been called for. We could increase the percentage of earnings that an individual could qualify for, a maximum of 55% of $42,000. It is still not exactly as my colleague said, it is not 55% of replacement earnings for somebody who maybe had been working in the auto sector or had another job. Maybe we could look at that. Maybe we could go to the best 12 weeks.

Maybe it is time we seriously looked at the structural issues of EI, as to how they affect women and part-time workers who are not well treated in the EI system. We know that.

My colleague from Cape Breton—Canso is in the House tonight. He was on the human rights committee, along with others, when it looked at this issue. Up until 1984, I think, severance was dealt with separately. People did not lose EI because they had received a severance payment. I think Michael Wilson was the finance minister when that was changed. It was the way things were done. The human resources committee has looked at it before and has done some work on this.

How do we prioritize what we are going to do on EI, and where does this bill fit in with that? I do not think it is right to say that there is not a cost. There is a cost to the system, but it may well be a justifiable cost.

With respect to the EI fund, as people know, there has been a surplus each year for the last number of years of what has been paid in and what has been paid out. Some money is there, even in normal times, that we could look at when it comes to the need of the country for a stronger social infrastructure.

There was a point in time when the percentage of replacement earnings was about 75% to 77% in Canada. We have to look at those things. We have to determine in each case what is the cost and what is the benefit.

We also have to remember that this recession is an opportunity to focus on the needs of our social infrastructure, but issues existed before, things like regional rates, how women, largely part-time workers, are affected. We need to do some things.

Vacation pay is for work that was provided in the year directly previous to somebody being severed from his or her employment. That should not affect EI.

The question on severance is a little more complicated. There are many arguments in favour. Some workers have worked for the same company for many years. They put their heart and soul into that company. They should be treated well for their service when they are let go. Those workers paid into EI for years. Why should they not draw some kind of full benefit from the employment insurance system?

Maybe there are other possibilities. Maybe there should be lump sum protection in the EI system. Maybe there should be a specific percentage clawback. These are things that we could look at. It may be that more evaluation is required.

This is an indication of the kinds of problems we have with the EI system. At their time of hardship, people are not getting the financial support that this country is well known for and the kind of financial support they expect.

Some anti-poverty groups say that if issues on EI are going to be prioritized, this would not be in the top five. They think we should get rid of regional rates, look at the two-week waiting period, and maybe even add more than five weeks to the employment insurance system, as is being done in the United States.

I get emails, as do all MPs. I received an email from somebody the other day who had been laid off without any severance package at all. It took her more than a year to get fairness from her company. She eventually won her case and the company had to pay her a lump sum, but employment insurance clawed back the money.

These people are not rich. EI is not a lucrative system, contrary to what the minister has indicated. The minister said she was concerned about making employment insurance too lucrative. She did not want to pay people not to work. That is a throwback to Reform Party days. At $440 maximum earnings a week, and an average of $335 a week, employment insurance is not too lucrative. We could afford to do a lot more for Canadians than what we are doing for them right now. The Conservative government has to act.

There was the other spectacle regarding the two-week waiting period. That is really a misnomer. It is not a waiting period; it is a period during which the individual does not receive benefits. The waiting period is how long an individual has to wait to get a claim processed. We have seen ample evidence in this country of people waiting a long time. The standard, according to Service Canada, is that 80% of claims are dealt with in 28 days or less. That has slipped dramatically.

On November 27 I stood in the House and asked a question of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development about this. On December 19 I sent her a letter. Two months later I received a letter from her apologizing for the delay in getting back to me about my concern about delays.

The government has not made employment insurance adjustment a priority. It has not put a priority on building that social infrastructure that makes Canada strong. As a result, people are hurting severely.

Bill C-279 brings up the issue of severance. It brings up the issue of pensions in some cases. It brings up the issue of vacation pay in some cases.

I want to congratulate my colleague for bringing this bill forward. I want to congratulate many colleagues in the House. I see my colleague from the Bloc, who has brought forward measures on EI that have come to our committee for consideration.

We need to make sure the government understands that the EI system needs to be more robust, especially during a recession.

Somebody back home said to me that a recession is too important a thing to waste. In other words, let us do something about poverty in this country. Let us do something about the social infrastructure, including employment insurance.

I congratulate the member for Welland for bringing this issue up. I look forward to the further debate on it and seeing how things turn out.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, in order to put those listening to us in the right context, it would be wise to remind them that we are discussing Bill C-279, which provides that pension benefits, vacation pay and severance payments are not to be included in earnings in order to give people access to employment insurance benefits immediately. This strikes us as totally fair under the circumstances.

What we feel is unfair is the present situation. Like my colleague who spoke before me, I wish to congratulate the member for Welland for bringing this bill before the House, a bill that I feel will result in a little more humanity in our employment insurance program.

It is also a good time to remind hon. members that the Bloc Québécois has intervened in a number of ways over many years in order to correct this program which has, over time, been gradually destroyed by the two parties each in turn. With respect to benefits when there is money owed to the worker after he leaves, the Conservatives are the ones who imposed that limitation on benefits in 1985. From the 1990s on, the Liberals in turn adopted various measures to limit as much as possible any access to EI. This is one such measure.

Fortunately, as we have just heard from our colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the Liberal Party has rethought its position. That member has brought in some slightly more equitable thinking in order to remedy this situation, which is absolutely unfair to the unemployed. One of the measures in which our colleagues have participated, particularly those in the Liberal Party and the NDP, were discussed at the time of the 2005 examination of employment insurance reform.

Recommendation 23 was focused specifically on correcting that shortcoming. The committee wanted to see the EI regulations not include in calculations of income for benefit purposes any pension income, severance payments or vacation pay. This measure has therefore been in existence since 2005 and two successive governments have not acted on it. I must also indicate, as the preceding speakers have done, that this is only one of the measures that needs to be put in place in order to restore the employment insurance program.

There are currently a number of bills before the House of Commons about this issue. The Bloc introduced four of those bills, and I myself introduced one on behalf of the party. Bill C-308 calls for the following amendments. It would change the qualifying period to 360 hours of work. People would have to work 30 hours per week for a period of 12 weeks to accumulate 360 hours. This measure would eliminate the existing disparity that excludes unemployed workers based on unemployment rates in each region.

The bill would also increase the rate of benefits, which is currently 55%, to 60%. Unemployment organizations, anti-poverty organizations, unions, and even the three opposition parties, if their participation in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is any indication, are unanimous in their support of this initiative.

This bill, Bill C-308, eliminates the distinctions between a new entrant and a re-entrant to the labour force. That distinction discriminates against women because they are often in unstable jobs and are more likely to be laid off. Also, many women work in so-called atypical part-time jobs. This bill also eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length; the department must prove it. The bill also increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $42,500. That is all in Bill C-308. It is useful to bear these bills in mind.

Then there is Bill C-241, introduced by my Bloc colleague from Brome—Missisquoi, which eliminates the waiting period. I am not the first member to have raised this issue. Tomorrow, in the late afternoon, we will be voting on this bill at second reading. I would urge my colleagues in the House to vote to refer Bill C-241 to committee so that we can eliminate the waiting period, which is yet another measure to prevent as many people as possible from collecting benefits.

Bill C-336, introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé, changes the way in which the qualifying period is calculated in the case of a labour dispute. I am thinking about the dispute that took place in Lebel-sur-Quévillon. The employer claimed that it was not a plant closure. He put off closing the plant as long as possible by locking out the employees. When he finally announced that the plant was closing, the employees had been locked out for more than 200 weeks and therefore did not qualify for employment insurance benefits. This is another serious injustice that must be corrected. We will correct it with Bill C-336, another Bloc bill that will soon be studied at second reading.

Bill C-339, introduced by my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, extends the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks.

These are the Bloc Québécois bills that are being examined and that are designed to correct what has been done to the employment insurance system in recent years. As a result of the changes that have been made, close to 60% of unemployed people are currently excluded from the employment insurance system.

The employment insurance program is a measure supposed to prevent people from growing poor or even living in misery as they lose their job. However, it is not what is happening right now. In committee, with my colleagues who spoke earlier, we are studying the question of poverty. Different witnesses give us their opinions on this subject.

For example, this morning, we heard the following national and pan-Canadian groups: the group for the abolition of poverty, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Citizens for Public Justice. These are the most important groups. They have a lot of expertise on the state of poverty. And, as far as measures to fight poverty are concerned, employment insurance is at the top on their list.

Poverty exists because there are impoverishment factors, and one of the factors which makes it now more difficult to get out of poverty is the fact that close to 60% of the workers who lose their job are being excluded and are not entitled to EI benefits.

I will conclude by reminding the House that we will vote in favour of Bill C-279 because delaying employment insurance because the employee is still owed some last amounts is simply unfair.

I encourage my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-279.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

April 28th, 2009 / 6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too want to congratulate the member for Welland for bringing forward Bill C-279. I am going to touch on some specifics in a moment.

However, I also want to acknowledge the good work that the member for Acadie—Bathurst has done. Over a number of years he has been a champion for EI reform in the House. I believe in previous sessions of the House he had brought this bill forward for approval of the House.

The member for Welland has raised a number of very good points, but I want to touch briefly on what Bill C-279 actually does. It is trying to rectify an inherent unfairness in the employment insurance system. It is attempting to have the following categories no longer considered as earnings, so that when someone files a claim for employment insurance, the start of that claim is not delayed because he or she has been in receipt of a pension, superannuation, a retiring allowance, vacation pay, or severance.

I am going to put it in context in terms of what is happening in our economic climate. It is important because in effect when workers receive these payments it is actually money as a result of past service. This is money that is received as a result of the years they have worked or vacation pay for the year that they worked. Really, it is retroactive.

The argument when this was changed in the 1980s was that this should be considered as income arising out of employment. What that failed to take into account is that for many workers, particularly in the current economic climate, it is a buffer. It is a safety net for them.

What we are hearing in many of our communities is, for workers who manage to qualify, there is no guarantee that at the end of their employment insurance claim they are actually going to have a job.

I have heard from workers in Nanaimo who have talked about the fact that they are in their late 40s, or early or late 50s, they have worked all their lives in forestry, and their EI has run out. They have been sent for training as long distance truck drivers and there is simply no work for them.

For those workers who actually got severance pay, that money would have been a safety net for them when their EI claims ran out. Instead, they are forced to look at having to sell their homes or go on welfare. There is not much dignity for workers who have spent their entire lives in the workforce to be forced into those kinds of circumstances.

I want to touch on those circumstances. First of all, it has been mentioned in the House but I think it is worth repeating that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, on January 30, 2009, said, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid”.

The member for Welland raised the point that the average weekly benefits rate now is $335 a week. That is before one pays one's tax.

I do not know where the minister lives, but where I live I would challenge anyone to live on $335 a week. People have to pay rent and are lucky to get anything under $1,000 if they have a family. They have to buy groceries and might actually have to pay for clothing or education for their children. It is hardly lucrative.

I have not met workers who say they would rather stay at home and collect their $335 a week than go out there and have a good-paying job.

In this current economic climate, I want to speak to why these reforms for employment insurance are so important. Other members have referred to the fact that the NDP had proposed a motion that was going to see some significant changes to the Employment Insurance Act. It was going to look at reducing the number of hours to qualify, expanding the number of weeks that people could get paid, and increasing the benefit rate. All of these are very important in this economic climate.

I come from a community that suffers from the recession because of what is happening in the forestry industry. A couple articles have come up and I want to reference them.

Today, in the Nanaimo Daily News, the headline is:

Province's once-mighty forestry industry is now faltering badly. An estimated 22,000 forestry workers are off the job in B.C.

That is nearly half of all the forestry workers in British Columbia, out of roughly a 55,000-person workforce. This includes thousands in the mid-island region where my riding is. They remain idle as mills continue to close or cut back and logging operations are shut down as the ailing industry continues to struggle. Analysts see no light at the end of the tunnel.

In a report released last month PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that the nation's largest forest, paper and packaging companies hemorrhaged red ink in the last quarter of 2008 and the forestry analyst company does not paint a very rosy picture for the near future in this industry.

We recently had a representation from the CEP, formerly Canadian Paperworkers Union, about the fact that pulp mills are in desperate straits in this country because of a loophole in a tax in the United States. They are talking about the Canadian pulp and paper industry facing mill closures and the loss of its global markets over a massive United States green energy subsidy that could provide a $6 billion taxpayer handout to American pulp producers. This could cut as much as 60% of the cost of chemical pulp in the United States. It goes on to talk about the fact that it is going to crush the pulp industry in Canada if there is not something done about that subsidy, that tax loophole in the United States.

In the Times Colonist today there was an article that says: “Lumber industry bottoms out” and goes on to quote the president of West Fraser Timber who said he is seeing a bottom, not because markets are rebounding but because things cannot keep getting worse. Lumber prices are below the cost of production, forcing massive curtailments both here and in the U.S.

In that grim background, if we do not fix the employment insurance system, we are going to see workers having to walk away from their houses and many of them will end up on welfare. We are already seeing the welfare rolls rise in many provinces including British Columbia.

I want to talk about some of the companies in my riding and why severance and vacation pay are so important. These are the ones that have already collapsed. We do not know how many more are going to go down that road. We had a company called Munns Lumber which was a contract logging company based in a little community called Mesachie Lake. It is gone. It laid off all its workers.

There was a company called Ted LeRoy Trucking based in Chemainus. It was a full phase logging contractor handling all of the harvesting operations that grew in response to the move by major companies to get out of the business. This is part of the transition that has been happening in British Columbia. Leroy logs primarily for Timberwest Forest. Now Leroy Logging is also gone. We have seen a company that had a very proud history of providing heavy equipment to the forestry sector, so we are not only seeing forestry companies close down and workers lose their jobs, but also the companies that supplied them.

A company called Madill had 190 employees in its Nanaimo operation. That company had been in business as a heavy equipment manufacturer for the logging industry since 1911. It is gone. One of the saddest sights I have ever seen was the equipment from Leroy and Madill in a huge acreage filled with logging equipment. I drove by thinking that maybe there are some good things happening, only to realize that they were auctioning off the remains of what was once very proud forestry operations on Vancouver Island in the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. This has happened all over the province of B.C. and the rest of Canada.

It is absolutely essential that we make the changes to the employment insurance system to ensure that workers have the wherewithal to continue to provide livelihoods for themselves and their families. That is an important economic stimulus for our communities as well. We hear the other side talking about economic stimulus. If we want to provide economic stimulus in our local economies, we should make sure the workers have some income. They have to be able to pay their rent. They have to be able to buy food. They have to be able to pay for their kids to go to school whether it is supplies or clothing. One of the ways to make sure that economic stimulus happens at the local level is to give those workers some income.

I would urge the House to look at the very sensible bill that the member for Welland proposed. I would hope that all members in the House will support the bill, so that this is one step in that process of reforming the employment insurance system. With any kind of democratic process, we will see the government implement the NDP motion that proposed substantial reforms to EI to make sure that those workers and their communities can continue to have the kind of access to a safety net that we would all expect as reasonable Canadians.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am following up tonight on my question for the government side concerning equalization. When I asked my question, I invited the government to lay all its cards on the table with regard to the impact of the Conservative budget on equalization and I asked for detailed projections and calculations.

I would add that it would also be useful to know more about the communications between the federal and provincial governments on this subject. There is still some confusion about how the provinces were notified about the Conservative government's intentions. There has been some back and forth on this issue, which has only served to confuse rather than clarify matters.

It would be good for the government to live up to its promises of openness and accountability by showing all Canadians, including those in Newfoundland and Labrador, the equalization forecasts and giving us details on how and when these changes were communicated to the provincial governments.

This issue is part of a larger picture. Despite the government's high-sounding words during the election campaign, it is not open or accountable. It has retreated into secrecy, gutted the rules concerning access to information and has even stopped the long-standing practice of issuing notices of cabinet meetings.

Just today, for example, the public learned how much the Conservatives paid a Republican advisor in the United States for communications advice. However, we only found out because it was part of the American law concerning disclosure. There is a lack of respect for provincial and territorial partners. Numerous provincial governments have had run-ins with federal departments and federal ministers.

Not that long ago, the Minister of Finance said:

The long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over.

That is a good thing, I would say. I would hate to see how bad the provincial-federal relations would be if the bickering had not stopped.

What does it say about federal-provincial relations or about the effectiveness of the ministers opposite that the Government of Nova Scotia today announced the appointment of the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley as its so-called ambassador to Canada? The government must start treating all provinces and all regions of the country more fairly and even-handedly.

I would once again invite the government to be open and transparent with the people and the provincial governments on this equalization issue. Surely, in the spirit of openness and accountability, it can provide the House, and through us, the public, with detailed information on how its equalization changes will have an impact on each province. I would also hope that the Conservatives would make it clear when and how they communicated the changes to those governments. Were they open and transparent with the finance ministers and those involved?

When will the Conservative government start treating the provinces with more respect?

6:15 p.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the member's question surrounding recent changes to strengthen the equalization system.

First, let me be clear. We are committed to treating all provinces equally and that is why we have restored fiscal balance through long term and fair transfer support to the provinces, as well as the territories, and why, under our Conservative government, federal support to the provinces has reached historic levels of over $54 billion and will continue to grow every year.

Equalization itself has grown 56% since earlier in the decade at a pace of 15% annually and such growth was clearly unsustainable. We made changes to ensure equalization would grow in line with the economy, allowing the program to remain affordable and sustainable.

We are pleased that the provinces have accepted the necessity of this action and to working co-operatively during this economic challenge. Even better, we are protecting transfer support to provinces. Health transfers will continue to grow by 6% and social transfers will continue to grow by 3%.

If we contrast that with the Liberals' record on supporting provinces when they were in government, the Liberal record is clear. The Liberals radically and shamefully slashed transfer payments to provinces and territories, a record even current Liberal MPs cannot help but be highly critical of. For instance, the Liberal member for Kings—Hants stated that the Liberal government devastated health care in Canada by making draconian slashes to health care and putting health care in a crisis in every province.

Our Conservative government will not follow the discredited Liberal example. We will ensure provinces and territories have the ability to provide the health care, education and other services that families need.

What is more, Newfoundland is now proudly a have province, and that is a good thing, a good thing because, economically, strong provinces like Newfoundland are essential for a strong Canada.

Premier Danny Williams said that “Newfoundland and Labrador is now a have province. It's a momentous day...it means we'll probably receive less money but...we can hold our heads high and feel very good about it”. Even still, Newfoundland will still receive a projected $1.2 billion in offset payments between 2009-10 and 2011-012. That support is on top of the $2 billion in up-front payments Newfoundland retained as part of the 2005 accord and, despite no longer receiving equalization, federal support for Newfoundland remains strong; total support of $1.1 billion in 2009-10, including $372 million through health transfers and $164 million through social transfers.

What is the Liberal plan for the people of Newfoundland? To quote exactly from the Liberals' own leader, he said “Federal taxes must go up.... We will have to raise taxes”. We understand that has caused great concern in Newfoundland and many are looking for more details on this Liberal plan to hike taxes.

I would ask the Liberal member which taxes will be raised on Newfoundlanders, when and by how much.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my hon. colleague that we are indeed a have province. We have received the shaft from the provincial government, we have received no respect and we have received less than we were supposed to get under the Atlantic accord offset payments. Indeed, from the government's perspective, we are a have province.

I would ask the parliamentary secretary to answer the question clearly and distinctly. Why did we receive less under the Atlantic accord offset payments than what was projected?

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to supporting provinces and territories, we have nothing to learn from the Liberal Party.

If the member would like to know why, he should speak to his Liberal caucus colleague, the member for Kings—Hants, who said that the Liberals slashed transfer payments to the provinces and that the provinces are still scrambling to catch up on the lost Paul Martin years of inadequate funding. He went on to say that the Chrétien-Martin cuts sent the health and education systems into crisis in every Canadian province. That is the Liberal record.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand tonight to follow up on a question with regard to the public transit tax credit and information that was released in the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, which was released at the same time under the Auditor General's report.

The report stated that the government's public transit tax credit plan in 2007 was to reduce emissions by 220,000 tonnes each year over the course of 2008 to 2012. Interestingly enough, by the time we had passed a year, the 2008 projections had been dropped from 220,000 tonnes to 35,000 tonnes, a dramatic reduction and, I think, clear evidence of a recognition that the program was failing.

The cost for the first two years, so this is money already gone now according to the report, was $635 million. The report states that t he public transit tax credit “will have a negligible impact on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions”.

We support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but we on this side of the House certainly favour not misleading Canadians and not wasting taxpayer money.

When I first asked the question, the minister's answer, or rather non-answer, was:

Mr. Speaker, we continue to work on this. We continue to focus on emissions. We continue to ensure that we achieve the environmental objectives that we have spoken about in the House.

In effect, a complete non-answer. Now the minister may not have heard the question or one might suspect that the answer was completely a non-answer because the minister did not actually have an answer.

I will now give the parliamentary secretary the opportunity to address that.

However, more specifically, despite this clear failure of the program, the program is still in effect. Therefore, I would add additional questions to the original question. Given that the government has decided to continue a program that is so completely a failure in terms of reduction of emissions, as well as costing the taxpayers a great deal of money, could he also inform us of what the projections are now in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions and at what particular cost for this coming year?

6:25 p.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised, from the sound of her comments, that she does not support Canadians using public transit.

In budget 2006, the Government of Canada announced that it wanted to encourage people to use public transit. We clearly stated that the public transit tax credit was there and that it was intended to help low income Canadian families, as well as pensioners, students and other Canadians who regularly use public transit.

It was and still is the government's view that public transit eases traffic congestion and improves the environment. As we indicated in our climate change plan for the purposes of the Kyoto protocol implementation act for 2007, there are many factors that affect transit ridership, including fuel prices, parking costs and service levels.

Discussions with experts indicate that there is no direct manner of capturing the greenhouse gas reductions resulting from the tax credit. The environmental impact from the program was based on estimates using the best methodology and the information that was available.

Environment Canada, Finance Canada and Transport Canada undertook a critical review of the 2007 estimate and developed a more appropriate methodology for the 2008 plan. It should be noted that the national round table on the environment and the economy, in its review of the 2007 plan, highlighted the need to revise the methodology for estimating emission reductions from the tax credit.

Though the new estimate of greenhouse gas emission reductions are lower than originally thought, the results of the program have been beneficial. Greenhouse gas emission reductions are only one of the several benefits provided by the increased public transit usage. To the extent that car ridership decreases, Canadians are also exposed to fewer atmospheric pollutants, such as particulate matter.

The transit tax credit, together with other initiatives undertaken by our government to support public transit, help to ensure the availability and affordability of this important service to many Canadians who cannot afford the alternatives. We continue to believe that the public transit tax credit is beneficial.

Finally, I would like to note that the public transit tax credit cannot be seen as a measure working in isolation. It is part of a package of policies that are intended to move Canada in the direction of lower greenhouse gas emissions.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his brave attempt at an answer, but I am afraid he is following along with his minister and not, in fact, answering the question.

My riding is Willowdale. I am a huge supporter of public transit and use it all the time when I am in my riding. My constituency is in the area which is the northernmost subway station of the Toronto subway line, Finch subway station. My constituents of Willowdale are proud to be centre in terms of public transit in Toronto and strong supporters of public transit.

My colleague talked about methodology. I will quote again from the report:

Environment Canada could not provide any analysis to support the assertion that the Tax Credit would result in measurable impacts.

That is a pretty damning condemnation of the methodology.

I will give my hon. colleague one more opportunity to answer my questions. How much will this program cost this year? What specific greenhouse gas reductions will we see?