House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Motion No. 9
Ways and Means
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Whitby—Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance

moved that a ways and means motion to implement certain provisions of the budget, tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009, and to implement other measures, be concurred in.

Motion No. 9
Ways and Means
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to order made on Wednesday, September 16, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on motion No. 9 under Ways and Means.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #104

Ways and Means
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from September 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake had the floor and he has 17 minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue to speak today in support of Bill C-50, which would provide temporary and additional EI regular benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers.

Canada did not create the financial storms that have hit the global economy. Canada is better placed than other countries to recover. That is small consolation to the many workers who have dedicated their careers to an industry and who now find that this particular industry can no longer sustain their jobs.

Unfortunately, there are many examples of such industries across Canada.

The forestry sector has been hit very hard. Forestry has provided the economic backbone of hundreds of communities across Canada. When a paper mill or a sawmill shuts down, workers who have spent decades in that sector now find that they really have few options for employment in that community.

The challenges are particularly tough for long-tenured workers, many of whom have become highly skilled in this industry. They need more time to find other work.

The manufacturing sector has also been hit very hard during this recession. Perhaps the most obvious examples come from the automotive sector, but many other manufacturing industries are also facing tough times, including the steel industry in my riding of Selkirk--Interlake.

Like forestry, manufacturing has sustained the wealth, prosperity and quality of life of Canadians for generations. It contributes close to 14% of Canada's GDP and employs close to 1.9 million workers across Canada, mostly in full-time jobs. Like forestry, our manufacturing industries have a tremendous spill-over impact, providing jobs for suppliers and service industries and integrating them into global supply chains.

In the 1990s Canada's manufacturing sector grew rapidly as manufacturers took advantage of recent trade agreements and a low valued dollar. Over the past decade manufacturers have faced both structural and cyclical pressures. In the past few years manufacturers have been hit by a series of challenges.

Manufacturers compete with lower cost producers in other countries. They contend with dramatic fluctuations in energy and commodity prices, making it difficult to plan for the long term.

The value of the Canadian dollar has risen and fallen, making our exports harder to price. In the wake of American concerns over security, delays at the Canada-U.S. border have hurt the ability of manufacturers to deliver on time to U.S. customers.

Now we have a recession that has hit the global economy very hard. Across the Canadian manufacturing sector the story is the same: consumers are buying less; investors have less capital to invest; credit is tightening; buyers take longer to pay; and inventories are rising.

The government has taken steps to address the challenges faced by the manufacturing and forestry sectors, and it has taken special care to address the needs of the workers caught in this economic storm, those workers who have put in a long time in their industry.

Let me remind the House that this government was addressing the challenges faced by the forestry and manufacturing industry even before this recession hit. We moved on many fronts: from tax relief to accelerated write-offs for machinery and equipment; from support to the financial system to increasing the flow of trade at the Canada-U.S. border; and from cutting red tape to helping develop a skilled labour force.

As far back as 2007 Canada was one of the first countries to inject major fiscal stimulus into its economy to offset a downturn when we introduced $65 billion in tax reductions. These tax reductions have taken effect just when they are needed most. That is just one example of the prudent planning and strong economic leadership shown by this Conservative government.

In last February's budget we introduced Canada's economic action plan to ensure a quick recovery and long-term economic growth.

The action plan provided $12 billion in new infrastructure stimulus funding over the next two years. This creates jobs in the short-term and for the long-term it builds an infrastructure with the capacity to handle a vibrant economy in the future.

Canada's economic action plan extended the temporary 50% straight line accelerated capital cost allowance rate. Capital intensive industries like forestry and manufacturing can restructure and retool to position themselves for long-term success.

The action plan eliminated the tariffs on a range of machinery and equipment. This will provide over $440 million in savings to Canadian industry over the next five years.

To help companies gain access to financing during these tough times, the action plan provided a coordinated package of measures totalling $200 billion under the extraordinary financing framework. We increased the financing available through Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank.

These are measures to help the industrial sectors, like forestry and manufacturing, to recover from the recession and retool for the future. These are measures that will help maintain Canada's jobs and create more jobs in years to come. We have also taken steps to help the individual workers affected by the slowdown in these industries.

We launched our Canada skills and transition strategy as well. We introduced the wage earner protection program. If an employer goes bankrupt and cannot pay, the program provides eligible workers with guaranteed and timely payments of the remaining wages, severance, termination and vacation pay.

We extended the targeted initiative for older workers with an additional $60 million over three years to support older workers and their families, and to expand the program to include workers in small cities.

The House will also be aware that we have introduced many changes to employment insurance as part of Canada's economic action plan. Those changes are helping workers and their families get through difficult times. They are helping in the communities where these workers live.

Many programs and initiatives work together to make this happen. For example, we increased funding for training delivered through EI. We are providing five additional weeks of EI regular benefits for all unemployed Canadians and in areas of high unemployment, we increased the maximum duration of EI benefits from 45 to 50 weeks.

Yesterday I talked about the extension in duration of the work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. This has worked so well in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake in the steel industry. We also introduced the career transition program initiative that I talked about as well yesterday.

As the House can see, the government has adjusted the EI programs to respond to the needs of those workers who are hardest hit by the economic downturn.

Now it is time to make another adjustment to address the challenges faced by long-tenured workers who need to find a new job. Many of these people have paid into the EI program for years. Often they have worked in the same industry, sometimes at the same job.

Over the decades they helped strengthen the program with their contributions. Now when these long-tenured workers need help the most, we want to ensure that the program is there for them.

In the bill before us the regular benefits of long-tenured workers would be extended between 5 and 20 weeks. The amount of the extension will depend on the number of years these workers have contributed to the program.

The provisions will remain in place for those who claim EI benefits until September 11, 2010 and the benefits will continue until the fall of 2011. By that time we have every hope that the worst of the economic storm will have past. Workers will be finding new jobs, sometimes in new industries.

The measures in the bill before us will not permanently change the duration of EI benefits. They are temporary responses to a temporary, yet difficult, situation faced by long-tenured workers in certain industries.

With our experience with the career transitions initiative for long-tenured workers, which has been in place since last May, we know that EI claimants from all sectors will benefit from this new measure.

Bill C-50 demonstrates that our government is making responsible choices to support Canadians now and we are not the only ones who think that this type of measure is good for workers and good for the economy.

A couple of weeks ago in the Canadian Press on August 25, Don Drummond, the TD Bank's chief economist, said:

I think time is going to prove that the debate we're having on the employment insurance system is focusing on the wrong thing. I think this recession will prove it has been less about an access problem than a duration problem.

This is precisely right. Many Canadians who have worked and contributed for years have been laid off, caught up in the global economic turmoil, and they are having trouble finding new jobs.

As we move toward recovery, job prospects will improve, but until then many unemployed workers will be able to take advantage of an extension in the duration of their benefits through Bill C-50.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said, “It was a step in the right direction”.

Back on June 22, Ken Lewenza, the president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said in the Exchange Morning Post:

In the months ahead tens of thousands of unemployed workers are going to join the growing ranks of Canadians who have exhausted their EI benefits. They need action, not political posturing.

Action to help tens of thousands, in fact close to 200,000, long-term workers by our estimates, is exactly what we are providing. We are taking the action needed to extend their EI benefits.

In this month's Policy Options, Jeremy Leonard of the IRPP, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said that the narrow focus on 360 days was unfortunate because the more serious issue was how to deal with the large number of long-term unemployed who are no longer eligible for EI. Duration of benefits is exactly what we are addressing here today with this bill.

Also, in this month's Policy Options, Janice MacKinnon, the former social services minister of Saskatchewan, said that instead of 360 days, it would be better to expand coverage and improve the benefits of those who have paid into the program for years but find themselves unemployed.

Again, that is exactly what we are doing. We are taking reasonable, fair and affordable actions to help Canadians who have worked hard and paid their taxes for a long time.

The president of the United Steelworkers in our human resources minister's own riding said in Wednesday's paper that, “It's going to be quite good and give workers a little more time. This is a good thing to extend benefits to people like that”. I agree that the measures in Bill C-50 are a good thing and they will be a good thing for Canadians who need them.

What is unfortunate is the Liberal fixation on its unaffordable and irresponsible 45-day work year. What is even more unfortunate is that the Liberal opposition has decided it is not important enough to help the approximately 190,000 long-tenured workers who will be helped by this bill.

No, helping the unemployed is not important enough to the Liberals on the other side. Their own political ambitions, some might say their own sense of entitlement, seems to have taken the driver's seat. They just cannot work with this government and other parties in the House to ensure that help gets to all Canadians who need it. They just want to oppose us and get back into power.

I know that back in my riding my constituents appreciate the work of this government to ensure that unemployed Canadians are getting the help they need and that we do not send Canadians into an unnecessary election that no one wants.

Our government will remain focused on the economy in helping those hardest hit by the economic downturn. We are focused on what matters to Canadians right now: helping those hardest hit, investing in training, and helping to create and protect jobs. We are going to keep working on Bill C-50 to help long-tenured workers.

The minister has indicated that our government is working on measures for the self-employed, as we promised to do, and is moving forward on other parts of our economic action plan to help move Canada toward economic recovery. We are going to keep working toward recovery and I encourage all members to work with us, especially with respect to Bill C-50.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on Bill C-50 and ask the hon. member a question about what the bill does not cover.

This is particularly apt in light of the spring and summer that my native province of New Brunswick that I represent experienced. While my riding does not have a lot of lobster fishermen, it is a centre for distribution of the lobster industry. For all lobster fishers and people working in the industry, it has been a horrible year and season.

That is in addition to the downturn with respect to the forest industry in my province. My province is home to the Irving company and hosts many companies that work in forestry. It has been a disastrous year for seasonal workers and the only crumb from the government provides no real benefit to the seasonal workers of my province who feel completely insulted and left out by what is offered in Bill C-50.

My question to my friend, whom I respect and know is a man of the terroir, who has made a living off of farming and cattle ranching, who knows the people involved in our first primary industries, is this. What will he say on behalf of the government about what this bill does not have for the fishermen and the foresters in my province of New Brunswick?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member may be surprised that I actually represent a great number of commercial fishermen in the freshwater fishery, a very seasonal fishery. In my riding of Selkirk—Interlake there are over 1,200 commercial fishermen. They are telling me that EI is working for them and they appreciate the support they get through EI.

Since the rules have been extended, they can get extra coverage now if they have an unfortunate downturn as a seasonal worker through the EI program. That has always been available to our fishing industry. That is important and something that needs to continue to be there for resource-based industries.

As a matter of fact, we are going to continue to look at expanding EI so that self-employed Canadians, those who make their living off the land, like farmers or small businesses up and down our main streets in small rural communities, are going to be able to get it as we move forward with the additions of maternity and paternal benefits. That will be available to those who are self-employed, which right now does not exist. That is a great way to support women in business and entrepreneurs.

I just finished a tour of my riding and everybody is excited to hear about these changes that we are making to EI.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Conservative member. All of the Conservatives' arguments are based on a claim that does not hold up, namely that Bill C-50 will create 190,000 new claimants, who will receive extended employment insurance benefits. This represents $935 million.

To get these figures, 85% of claimants would have to complete all of the weeks to which they are entitled to benefits. But we know that 25% of claimants do so. At best, 60,000 people in the country could benefit from Bill C-50, for a total of $300 million. Labour organizations and advocacy groups for the unemployed have realized this, as has the CAW.

Our colleague claims that the automobile industry is happy with this. What does he say about the fact that the CAW thinks it is a terrible bill and is calling on us to vote against it?

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that this program is going to help tens of thousands of Canadians in all the sectors, whether auto, forestry, manufacturing or, in my riding, the steel industry. We have already done a lot of that in supporting them, with work-sharing and career transition programs. We have been supporting older workers, if they have to leave an industry and are now are trying to find work, with retraining and extended training benefits.

Through the economic action plan and the changes that we have made in EI, over $1.5 billion has already helped over 150,000 Canadians. With what we are proposing to do in Bill C-50, with the additional five weeks that we have already introduced, 300,000 Canadians have already benefited. What we are seeing with the new program is that by extending five to twenty weeks on top of that, another 190,000 long-tenured Canadian workers who have paid their premiums, who have been there for their companies and never really benefited from the program in the past, now will, and they will be able to support their families until their industries recover.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the debate around Bill C-50 should be framed in the context that the Liberals used the EI program as a cash cow. First they changed the rules so that hardly anybody qualified anymore, and then they raked in billions and billions of dollars, $54 billion, and used it for other purposes.

In fact when the Liberals gutted the EI system so that it was virtually dysfunctional, it caused a loss in my own riding of Winnipeg Centre of $20 million a year in federal money that used to flow into my riding but no longer did. Twenty million dollars a year is the size of a payroll of a plant with 4,000 employees. It was devastating to an already poor riding, so I am listening with some disbelief as the Liberals speak against putting $1 billion of EI money into the pockets of unemployed workers when it was they themselves who were the architects of this dysfunctional system. They robbed the EI fund of $50 billion. That is what is difficult for me to understand.

There is another point that we have to keep in context. The Liberals paid down the deficit on the backs of unemployed workers, which was shameful, and it is hypocritical now for them to be speaking against putting some money back into workers' pockets.

My question for my colleague from Selkirk—Interlake is this. Will he not concede that even though it is virtuous to put $1 billion back into the pockets of unemployed workers, that it is not the government's money?

The EI fund is made up of the contributions of employers and employees. There is no federal money in the EI fund, so while we will support Bill C-50, we want to acknowledge that it is the workers' money that is being held in trust by the EI fund which is rightfully going back into the workers' pockets now that they need it if they are unemployed.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre is right that the EI premiums paid by workers and employers became a cash grab by the previous government. The Liberals used that money to pay down the deficit and to fund their special interest programs. It was essentially a slush fund. They never used it to the benefit of those who paid into it. In fact they actually increased the premiums while they reduced the number of people who could qualify for EI. It was a terrible thing to do, and it is something that was not fair to the Canadian people.

We are trying to make sure that we balance that off now. That is what this is about, being there to support those workers who need it the most today. We want to make sure that as we move forward, the fund will be self-sustaining over the long term. Of course the government is there to underwrite that fund. That is what we are doing, putting this money in right now. We are helping the fund carry forward during this difficult time as it is drawn upon.

We know that in the future it will again be able to build up its own surplus and hopefully be actuarially sound as employers hire more workers back and there are more people available to pay the premiums and build up the program.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, today we saw something kind of interesting happen in the House. We saw the Liberal Party vote against the implementation of measures they voted for in principle previously. I found that kind of interesting.

My question is in regard to the contradiction between what the Liberals say and what the rest of the world is saying about Canada's success rate right now. We have seen The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, the London Telegraph, the IMF, the World Economic Forum, and the World Bank all praising Canada's situation relative to that of other countries.

Recently, coming out of the G20 finance ministers' meeting, we had Christine Lagarde, France's finance minister, come out and say, “I think … we can be inspired by … the Canadian situation. There were some people who said, ‘I want to be Canadian'”.

That is France's finance minister saying there were some people who said they wanted to be Canadian. Of course, at this point we do not even really know what the Liberal leader's position is on that issue.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on how this new measure, building on the measures that the Liberals voted against today, will help to further that position of leadership that Canada has on the global economy.

Employment Insurance Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member 100%.

We have been praised by the global community for the way we have managed our problems here in Canada during this global economic downturn. We are not going to sit back and wait. We are going to continue to be engaged, and that is why we are making these changes through Bill C-50 to help long-tenured unemployed workers, to provide them and their families those extra benefits and extra support as they wait for the economy to improve so they will hopefully be able to return to their previous places of employment or be able to find new jobs.

The argument is quite right, the Liberals just stood in the House and voted against a great initiative here, our home renovation tax credit, something that Canadians have already engaged in, something the Liberals supported back in the spring. Now they are voting against it just because they want an election that nobody else in Canada wants.

We are busy fighting the recession, and the Liberals are fighting the economic recovery. This is completely unacceptable and shameful. They want to spend even more than we are suggesting here by narrowing down the work year to only 45 days. That is not sustainable. There is no way that we should be having a 360-hour program and blowing even more money in essentially supporting people who are going to work only the summer months. Keep our students employed and everybody would be on the same program. That is not right either.

What we need to do is support those who have been employed for a long period of time. We are going to do that through Bill C-50 and help them get through this difficult situation.