House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.

Topics

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

moved that Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested to speak once again about a bill that I introduced, Bill C-395, which is at third reading. This bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act so that people who have lost their jobs because of a lengthy labour dispute, be it a lockout or a strike, can qualify for EI.

This bill is at third reading, and it is clear that this bill must move forward because it has made it all the way through the House with the support of the majority. The next step is royal assent. Before that, I want to try yet again to convince the Conservative members that, as we have mentioned many times, this bill would correct a major gap in the act that penalizes workers when a company closes because of a labour dispute.

Bill C-395 would add work stoppages due to labour disputes to the reasons for extending the qualifying period. Our proposal, which would not cost the earth, is that the full length of a labour dispute be incorporated into the qualifying period so that it can be extended by 52 weeks to include the last year of work preceding the dispute. To qualify for employment insurance, workers would have to have been at work during the last year preceding the dispute. There have been cases where workers who worked for 20 or 25 years and paid into employment insurance did not qualify for EI benefits because of a lockout that lasted for more than two years. That is shameful. One such case was in Lebel-sur-Quévillon.

Under the current Employment Insurance Act, if a labour dispute lasts longer than the 52-week qualifying period, workers who are laid off after the dispute do not qualify for benefits, regardless of how many years they paid EI premiums and whether or not they have ever received EI.

A surplus of nearly $60 billion has built up in the employment insurance fund over the years, yet workers who have paid into that fund for years are not being compensated. Often, these workers are not to blame for the situation they find themselves in, yet as a result of a long lockout, they cannot receive EI benefits.

This is intolerable. I mentioned the workers at the Domtar plant in Lebel-sur-Quévillon who learned in December 2008 that they would be losing their jobs as a result of a lockout and would not be receiving any EI benefits. Since the lockout had gone on for more than 104 weeks, and the workers had not worked any hours during that time, they did not qualify for employment insurance.

I will leave it to my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou to talk more about the social and economic impact of this dispute. And I am not talking about how the workers feel about this government, which is building up numerous surpluses, yet left these workers, who had put in many years on the job, with no income when the plant closed.

Suffice it to say that these people did not qualify for employment insurance. It is shameful. We need to make sure that this unfortunate situation never happens again.

I would of course like to thank the opposition parties for supporting this bill and I would also like to wake the Conservatives up, since they once again seem to be opposed to improving the employment insurance program.

Whether we are talking about the abolition of the waiting period, or the 360 hours that we are demanding through various legislative initiatives, or Bill C-395, or the unemployed, or seniors and the guaranteed income supplement, the government ignores us and has no intention of supporting those who are, unfortunately, in need. Instead, it is investing in airplanes. It is investing billions of dollars in the military. It is investing exorbitant amounts in all sorts of tax breaks for oil companies. But when it comes time to help the poor, this government does nothing.

But I hope this government will reconsider and support this bill, as it ought to. It is not fooling anyone. People will remember Conservative government initiatives like investing a billion dollars in the 48-hour G20 and G8 meetings while openly refusing to improve a measure that is meant to help the unemployed.

Bill C-395 is an effective and simple measure that would fix a problem that is rare, it is true, but that is profoundly unfair for men and women. It is important to take action, but it seems as though the government does not understand this and will vote against giving us the opportunity to implement this legislation.

We will say it and shout it out loud in Quebec. We just want to enable people to receive their employment insurance benefits, because they have contributed for many years to this fund, which regularly generates a surplus. I do not understand why the Conservative government is stubbornly rejecting this measure I am proposing.

In the case of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, why, after the lockout, did the workers who contributed to this fund not have the right to a single cent of employment insurance? This was a lockout; the company shut down for three years. I could be wrong, of course, but I believe a strike or lockout is legal in Quebec and Canada. It is part of a labour relations system that is recognized by law in both Quebec and Canada. These existing measures are not illegal.

Much has been said about Lebel-sur-Quévillon, but let us not forget that it might be the same elsewhere in Quebec or Canada. All workers and employers pay premiums to ensure our protection in the event of a plant or company closure. This is about protecting families, incomes and, often, people's homes.

If the members of this House found themselves without an income for a year or two because of a lockout affecting this place—as it happened not so long ago under this Conservative government—and if that went on for two or three years, that would have an enormous economic, social and family impact on them. Workers have responsibilities, and it is not right for a government to act this way. This is a government with some means. This is not a third world country, but one in which we regularly see billions of dollars spent on various things. Implementing this bill would cost a few million dollars, yet the government is wilfully ignoring it and failing to support those in need.

Sadly, this government has not yet grasped that need. It can still reconsider and support Bill C-395. The same is true with respect to improving EI and eliminating the waiting period. These are all measures designed to support people in need, to whom the Conservatives do not seem to be showing any sensitivity right now.

I once again urge the Conservative Party, at the end of this hour of debate, to consider not only business owners and the most fortunate in society, but also those who are not so fortunate.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been many bills before this place on the need for changes to employment insurance. Of course, this will happen only if the changes are initiated by the government because virtually all of the bills would require a royal recommendation in order to proceed.

Having said that, it would be helpful if, for greater certainty, the member would explain again to the House about the definition of a work stoppage, whether it be a strike or a lockout, et cetera, and how that may affect the determination of the qualifying period. That would be a very important point to establish.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question and his support for this bill. We are pleased that the Liberals are supporting this initiative. The fact that they are in opposition must be doing them some good and we hope this continues for years to come. I would also like to thank the NDP.

This bill simply aims to extend the qualifying period if a strike or lockout lasts more than 52 weeks. In such cases, workers are not entitled to employment insurance, even though they have paid into the system for years. This measure will provide fairness and equality for those who have paid into the employment insurance fund for many years.

A distinction must be made between a strike and a lockout. A lockout occurs when a company decides to close its doors, thereby preventing its workers from coming to work. It is a strange situation. A strike is altogether different. In both cases, workers should be paid EI benefits when the conflict is over.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for introducing this bill. Last week the World March of Women took place to denounce gender inequality throughout Quebec and Canada. In the Eastern Townships, working women earn only about 75% of what men earn. Women who work part time are particularly penalized.

How will this bill help these women who are calling for greater gender equality?

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent question.

During the World March of Women, women made a number of demands and were very active in Quebec. I participated in a number of marches last week in Lavaltrie, Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, Louiseville and Berthierville. A number of women had many demands. They gathered together in Rimouski this week to make their demands known.

Bill C-395 affects women, as do the measures to eliminate the waiting period and increase the eligibility threshold to 360 hours, and other measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois. When the Conservative government took power, it made cuts to Status of Women Canada's programs. It even said that there is equality among men and women. We all remember that. That was said in the House by one of the ministers. But that is not the case, as the hon. member has indicated, especially in the private sector, where there is a serious gap of 70% between the incomes of men and women. That is a huge difference.

Improving the employment insurance system would make it possible to help the women who are affected by employment insurance, as well as the least fortunate in our society, which is consistent with improving the status of women.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.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 appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate on Bill C-395 regarding labour disputes and employment insurance qualifications for workers involved in these disputes.

The bill's proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance Act would change the way the qualifying period is calculated in the case of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute. The qualifying period is the period in which the required number of hours of insurable employment that a worker must have in order to establish a claim for benefits is calculated.

As we know, the number of insurable hours needed to qualify for EI benefits varies, depending upon the unemployment rate of the EI region in which an individual lives. The duration of the EI benefits is also based upon the unemployment rate and the amount of insurable hours a person has accumulated in the qualifying period.Those are important elements.

The crux of the bill is that the qualifying period in which the required number of insurable hours must be worked is generally the 52-week period immediately before the start of a claim. In some instances, however, the qualifying period can be extended up to 104 weeks for claimants who were not employed in insurable employment and not receiving EI because they were ill or quarantined.

The purpose of the bill is to extend the qualifying period so that it equals the duration of a labour dispute, even if this period exceeds the current maximum of 104 weeks for extensions provided due to illness or quarantine. The bill involves itself directly in respect to the length of a labour dispute. Its intention is to allow employees to be eligible for EI benefits if they are laid off after a lengthy labour dispute comes to an end.

The amendment presented by the committee further clarifies the bill ensuring that the time period used to calculate the weekly rate of benefits in the 52-week period prior to the beginning of the labour dispute, presumably the time during which the worker was working.

As we are all aware, both employers and workers pay premiums so that workers may collect benefits if they are unable to work. This may be because a worker is laid off, a worker is sick, pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or is providing care or support to a gravely ill family member.

The EI program is not meant to be a measure that would interfere in any way with a labour dispute or take or advantage one side of a labour dispute over another.

It is clear that Bill C-395 would go against the principle that the employment insurance system should remain neutral during a labour dispute. If Bill C-395 were passed, this could affect the negotiating position of the parties involved, change incentives and perhaps influence the outcome of a labour dispute. This simply should not be the place of the EI system and my hon. colleagues should, quite frankly, agree with me on this particular point.

To make matters worse, this particular bill's coming into force clause would cause the bill's provision to have effect retroactively, looking and reaching back almost three years to start, and even further back in the case of labour disputes in effect at that time.

These provisions are not wise at all.

I know we sometimes do things in this place, such as seeing the clock at a particular time to expedite things slightly and to make appropriate adjustments but deeming a bill to have come into force three years ago and to make retroactive its provisions even further back in time goes against good common sense. It would be a bad precedent, it would be bad law and, quite frankly, it should not be supported.

What about the cost of the bill? The cost must come from somewhere. Regardless of how one accounts for the money, the cost of the bill would have to come in the form of even higher deficits and higher debt.

I emphasize that we are empathetic of workers who are laid off. I think we all can and we all do and, most certainly, extended labour disputes are not pleasant to endure for anyone involved. However, we need to balance that understanding with practical considerations.

Our government must ensure that careful consideration is given to labour market impacts and costs of changes that are proposed. We must be responsible with our policy, programs and spending. That is the very approach that our government has taken since we came to office and we will continue to do so into the future. We must always be mindful that change does not happen in a vacuum and we must take into account the possible impacts of changes like this.

The legislation proposes that the length of the qualifying period should be extended when a labour dispute occurs. We should view this bill in context. Quite simply, the context is that most labour disputes are relatively short and rarely end in the closure of a firm.

The figures have been stated previously but merit repeating. Between 2003 and 2009, for example, a little more than 1% of the total number of strikes ended in a firm's closure. The average length of the strike that ended in a firm's closure was 110 days. For lockouts, the figure was 116 days. These figures average out to 16 weeks. That leaves plenty of time for employees to qualify for benefits under the current 52-week requirement.

By these comments I do not want to suggest that I or our government is unsympathetic to the plight of the unemployed. It is far from it. It is simply that we need to take account of the facts to inform our decision-making.

I would also add that the incidence of firm closures for those aforementioned labour disputes remain very low. For strikes it was 1.3% and 3.6% for lockouts. Therefore, statistically speaking, we are talking about very rare and limited circumstances. As I said, we empathize with the workers involved in the few longer disputes but we must approach the proposed changes to the system with caution and clear heads.

Current provisions now in effect do allow for the extension of the qualifying period up to 104 weeks in situations where individuals are unable to work for reasons such as quarantine or illness. The provisions exclude labour dispute situations however because the individuals are not prevented from working elsewhere by our laws or by the EI system.

This is an important point. While a labour dispute drags on, the workers involved are not prevented by the EI system from working elsewhere. The idea behind this bill is that these workers are not able to accumulate sufficient hours to qualify for EI if they are laid off or the firm closes after the dispute. However, that is not entirely accurate. In many cases, those workers choose not to seek other employment for reasons of their own. They are not prevented from doing so and, therefore, this must also be taken into account.

The proposed amendments contained in Bill C-395 would create inconsistencies with this provision by creating an undefined extension to the qualifying period if a labour dispute occurs. That would be problematic. I think the bill is flawed in quite a number of ways and should not be supported.

That is why the government will not be supporting the bill. It is not out of disregard for the unfortunate circumstances of some workers caught up in lengthy disputes but for the integrity of the system and the fairness of its treatment between employers and workers.

Our government has acted responsibly to enhance the employment insurance program. particularly since the economic slowdown. I could go through quite an extensive list, including five extra weeks of EI benefits, work sharing programs, skills upgrading and training provisions, and help for older workers. This bill's sponsors have consistently voted against those responsible improvements and have instead proposed irresponsible, flawed and costly measures in their place.

This bill is no different than their other proposals. It would be costly, run roughshod over the principle of neutrality, which is very important, it would have very narrow effect and it would create inconsistencies that would jeopardize the fairness and integrity of the system. This bill should not become a part of the EI system and therefore I would urge all members of the House not to support it.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss Bill C-395 yet again. As most of us know, this is not the first time. This is a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Currently, the EI Act does not specify that the qualifying period should be extended in the event of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute. This is not clear. The qualifying period of the 52-week period immediately before the start date of a claim or the period since the start of a previous EI claim is that a claim has started during the 52-week period.

This private member's bill aims to extend the qualifying period during the length of the labour dispute so that the employee will not be penalized under the EI system. For example, the employee has worked full-time for three years, at which time there is a work stoppage as a result of labour dispute that lasts, for example, 10 weeks. Shortly after returning to work, the employee is laid off. When submitting an EI claim, the qualifying period would be 52 weeks. Under this proposed amendment, the qualifying period would be 62 weeks, thereby ensuring that the period during the labour dispute does not affect one's ability to qualify for EI benefits, which is what we are trying to do.

As this House knows, this bill was reported back from committee on May 6 with amendments. It has gone to committee before. Hopefully we can get it back there again. With regard to clause 1 in Bill C-395, the report back from committee said:

That Bill C-395, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 19 on page 1 with the following:

“the person was employed, provided that, for the purposes of determining the weekly rate of benefits, the qualifying period is established retrospectively to the fifty-two weeks preceding the beginning of the dispute.”

This amendment clarifies that the weekly rate will be based on the 52-week period preceding the beginning of the dispute. This is really about clarify the act, which is not very clear, and about not penalizing workers. As we and others have said, the act is not clear on how to treat the qualifying period with respect to a work stoppage. This bill aims to clarify the qualifying period. We have heard many discussing this and I have just mentioned how that works.

The workers should not be penalized. Individuals cannot work during a labour dispute. Whether it is a lockout or a strike, they do not have a job and therefore they are not accumulating hours. If they are laid off through no fault of their own after the dispute ends, we should not penalize them for the weeks that they were on work stoppage. Essentially that is what happens now because the act is not clear.

The bill would extend the qualifying period for the length of the work stoppage, which is what we are discussing and that it does help in that case. This bill could also make the qualifying period longer than 104 weeks should the work stoppage last more than 52 weeks. Again, its aim is to ensure that the workers are not being penalized for that period of work stoppage, whether it is a lockout or a strike, so that they are entitled to their full amount of EI.

A lockout or strike should not impact whether the workers can qualify for EI if they are laid off after the work stoppage. The number of people who are laid off after a work stoppage is not a large number, I am told from all of the discussions that I have had with various people, both at the department and in other places.

The EI Act is already quite convoluted and complex, as most of us know, and it is sometimes difficult to navigate. For instance, if there is a work stoppage involved with the EI claim, it can be contentious if it is not specifically prescribed in the act, which it is not at the moment. This bill would make the process simpler and clearly defines how a claim can proceed if the worker was part of a work stoppage in the 52 weeks before being laid off. It lays that out and makes it much clearer for everybody so that we do not have the situation which we have now, where there can be disputes and claimants end up in arbitration.

When people lose their jobs because of a long labour dispute, it now prevents them from accumulating the required hours in the 52 preceding weeks. This would make people ineligible for EI for a big chunk of their time.

With the bill, the benefits could be calculated based on the weeks worked prior to a labour dispute, despite the length of it, so they have a seamless contribution for all of their work. As I said before, workers do not always choose to stay on strike and, in most cases, they do not work.

There has been some discussion with respect to the cost. I know the Conservatives claim that this would only affect 1% of the firms that close following a dispute. They say that this is a bad thing and that it is not worth it. However, if we are talking about 1%, even for those companies that do not shut down, and in most cases they do not, the number of workers who are fired after that dispute is very small.

With the numbers that were provided by the Conservative government, it seems the liability in this case would not a large one. It is clear that there has to be some regard for the workers, but I do not think there is. We are looking at families in communities that may be losing finances. It is not a very large liability. I think the parliamentary secretary said that it would be only 1% of those that would close after a strike.

The Conservatives always like to blame the workers when they are on strike, but that is not always the case. As we know, employers also have the ability to lock out workers. We cannot assume that the workers are to blame. In this system there should not be blame. It should simply be a situation of what is right in terms of income.

If workers are laid off and cannot qualify for EI because of the length of the dispute, the government penalizes them, yet there is no penalty for the employers. Again, there needs to be an equity situation. Employees need to have some assistance and we need to ensure their rights to EI are not lost.

The Conservative like to claim that the employees can get other jobs during a labour dispute. What they do not understand is it is difficult to get another job when employees hope to go back to their jobs. If they go back to work following a labour dispute and then are laid off, this does not change the fact that they should quality for EI.

Therefore, finding part time work may be possible, but it is not always a reality and not always likely. Employers want to know where workers have come from. They do not necessarily like to hire people who are on strike. This argument makes the assumption that everyone who is on lockout or on strike is making another salary somewhere else and therefore they do not have a need for EI.

If one were to talk to the people who were on strike in the Vale Inco situation in Sudbury, one would see the hardship that the strike created not only for the employees but for the whole of the region, the city of Sudbury and other groups.

Workers pay into these benefits and a labour dispute should not impact their ability to collect benefits when they are laid off through no fault of their own after a lockout or the labour dispute.

Like the Conservatives say, only 1% of companies supposedly close after a strike, which is a small number. However, a majority of the people who would be affected are those where there is no shutdown. There is a gap and it must be fixed. The cost is minimal.

Others today have commented on that and the government representative also said that it was a small number. The government needs to stop penalizing employees and actually help them, their families and their communities.

This only applies if workers are fired after a strike, and the numbers are small. It is only fair that they not lose EI benefits to which they have a right.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-395, which was introduced by the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

We support this bill, unlike the Conservatives, who say it will cost too much. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources would have us believe the bill is too expensive for people, the public, workers and companies, yet he says that only 1% to 3% of workers could benefit. This change to employment insurance is not for all laid-off workers. The EI program already takes care of that. This is about companies that have gone through a strike or a lockout and decide to close their doors for good or companies that, under the same circumstances, decide to call 75% of their workers back to work. Those are the people we are talking about. We are not asking for much. The cost is quite minimal. Do not believe the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources when he says that this would be too expensive.

In his speech, the parliamentary secretary said that if, during some or all of the weeks in the normal 52-week period—less if the person received benefits—the person was incapable of working because of an illness or pregnancy, or if that person was receiving assistance as part of an employment benefit or provincial benefits, the qualifying period could be extended by the number of days the person was in that situation during the qualifying period. This period can be extended by a maximum of 52 weeks to reach a maximum qualifying period of 104 weeks.

The parliamentary secretary forgot to mention one specific situation. I do not know whether he was too uncomfortable to talk about it, but this also applies to people in prison. If a person is in prison, the period will be extended to 104 weeks. The parliamentary secretary failed to mention that group. A person in prison can have 104 weeks, but people who were locked out or who were part of a legal strike are not entitled to have their weeks extended.

I know why companies are against this. I have dealt with the kind of companies that oppose such legislation. At the end of a strike, companies can punish workers by delivering a final blow. As if it were not enough that workers were on strike or locked out for 10 months, and as if companies had not bled them enough, companies are intent on getting every last drop. They do not call workers back to work for another two months or so. They want to teach them a harsh lesson because the workers apparently have not suffered enough.

What difference does it make to company's bottom line if it does not call workers back to work and they collect EI? Let us look at this from a different angle: according to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources, all an individual has to do is find work elsewhere. Just find another job. That is tantamount to calling that individual a slacker. He should have said outright that workers who do not go out looking for work while on strike are simply sitting on their hands and unwilling to work.

The real question is whether the employer, the company, actually wants employees to go work elsewhere. Fully qualified individuals with a trade could leave the company for another one. By the time the strike is over, there would be no employees left to work for that employer.

Is the government suggesting that, during a strike, workers should find work with a different employer, thereby leaving the company with no employees? Labour disputes are recognized under federal legislation. Under federal law, employees have the right to strike, and companies have the right to lock them out. Obviously, companies do not want to lose their employees.

That is what I believe, unless I am mistaken. Maybe it would not bother a company with only 10 or 15 employees if those employees were to go elsewhere, because it could replace them. However, a company that has 1,000 employees would not want to lose them all at the end of a legal labour dispute, because they are skilled and familiar with the industry.

The parliamentary secretary failed to mention another thing. I will not repeat what he said, but I will try to explain it. He said it does not make sense to support someone who is on strike or has been locked out. Yet it was his government that agreed to loan Vale Inco $1 billion during the strike there, while the workers at Voisey's Bay—working for the same company—were still on strike. When that company's workers were on strike, the government was willing to loan it $1 billion. We all know how things work: after three or four years the company will say that things are not going well and the government will simply forgive its debt. The company will not even have to pay back its loan.

The Conservative government says it respects workers, yet it does not want to help people after a labour dispute. People have paid into the EI system their entire lives and at the end of the labour dispute, within the 104 days, it is not that they do not want to return to work, but rather that the employer has not called them back to work. Between 75% and 80% of workers return to work, but the other 20% are told to go back home and apply for welfare.

It is not up to the province to pay for labour disputes. If those people ask for social assistance, the province should not have to pay for that. The purpose of the employment insurance system is to allow people to look for another job. When someone is on strike or locked out, he or she is not looking for another job, so there is a contradiction here. As soon as the company opens its doors again and the dispute is over—whether it was a lockout or a strike— some workers are looking for jobs, and that is when they should be entitled to EI and given an income. That way, they can provide for their families while they are looking for another job. The government seems to be missing the boat on this particular point.

If we can give employment insurance benefits to people in prison and those accused of all kinds of things, I would think that we could also give them to these workers. I am not against allowing prisoners to receive employment insurance, but if they can receive benefits, I would think that, when a labour dispute is over, workers should be able to receive them as well. I am not talking about giving employment insurance benefits to people while they are on strike or are locked out. It is clear that if someone were to go work elsewhere, they would be entitled to a certain number of weeks of EI, but they would not receive money from the strike fund.

We are not talking about making workers entitled to employment insurance during a strike, which would benefit the employees at the expense of the employer. If, when the dispute ends, the employer tells its employees that it can no longer employ them because of the economic crisis, or that it may, perhaps, be able to rehire them in six months, why should these workers not be entitled to employment insurance?

The only reason is that the Conservative government is siding with the large corporations, and not the workers. It is not capable of doing a little something to respect workers by giving them access to a program that belongs to them, and not to the Government of Canada.

I suggest that the government change its mind and vote in favour of the bill to show respect for workers. If it can grant loans to a company like Vale Inco, a multi-million-dollar corporation, it should also be able to give money to workers after a labour dispute ends.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for shepherding a bill I introduced through the House.

It is not just the workers in Lebel-sur-Quévillon who are affected. Many other workers may be as well. Lebel-sur-Quévillon was just the first example of how the modernization of the Employment Insurance Act by former Liberal prime minister and finance minister Paul Martin allowed the government to take money out of the employment insurance fund—which was known as the unemployment insurance fund at the time—to pay down the debt.

But employment insurance is not a tax. The government is using it as a hidden tax, but it is not a tax. It is insurance that workers and employers pay for to keep employees nearby. A strike or lockout is a lawful action by workers or an employer and should be encouraged as a positive measure. It should not be a positive measure for one party and a negative measure for the other, because both pay into the employment insurance fund and have the right to keep workers nearby during a labour dispute.

The parliamentary secretary was present when I testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I explained very clearly that Bill C-395 would exclude the period of the strike or lockout, which is legal, from the qualifying period. This does not take anything away from the government. It does not cost the government or its treasury anything. The employment insurance fund belongs to employers and workers.

Regrettably, I do not have much time, but I am happy to speak today to Bill C-395, which would make the workers in Lebel-sur-Quévillon eligible for EI.

According to statistics from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, more than half of unemployed workers do not have access to employment insurance, even though they have paid into the plan. If passed, Bill C-395 will not fix every flaw, but it will correct a major shortcoming in the act. I am talking about cases where workers who lose their jobs as a result of a lengthy labour dispute—whether a strike or a lockout—do not qualify for employment insurance.

The Minister of Natural Resources, who is also the minister responsible for the Montreal region, might have to deal with this problem with regard to the Journal de Montréal if Quebecor were to decide tomorrow morning to drop the Journal de Montréal and focus on the Journal de Québec. The journalists and employees of the Journal de Montréal—there are 253 of them and this is in the news today—would not be entitled to employment insurance. In a modern economy, this is unacceptable and unfair. When parliamentarians read about an injustice committed in the past, it is their duty to correct it. They should not try to avoid it for the sake of ideology or party lines.

I believe it is important for all elected members to show empathy when the time comes to discuss measures to help workers and to encourage land occupancy. The Conservatives might be pleased to know that this has been around since Mackenzie King's day. He had a reputation for consulting ghosts. Even if the Liberal leader dabbled in that, the fact remains that EI was set up to maintain land occupancy and, at the time, to move toward a modern economy.

Unfortunately, employment insurance has not kept up with this modern economy.

A number of MPs come from Quebec. I understand that ideologies from the west and the east might be different and that a party line can get in the way. Nonetheless, the MPs from Quebec who are part of this government know the ideology and culture of Quebec. They can explain those things to their party and even have a bit of power within their party—it is about time—in order to raise awareness about the growing need for modern society to occupy the land.

We are dealing with an economic problem. The Minister of Finance acknowledges that the current deficit is close to $170 billion. Nonetheless, it is not up to a specific category of workers and employers to be responsible for paying the deficit themselves.

I would like to point out that as members of Parliament we do not contribute to employment insurance and therefore do not help pay off the deficit. Employment insurance is being used to pay off the deficit.

Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary thinks, I believe that favouring one party over another distorts principles, circumstances and facts, and that is deplorable. The UN's message should make the government realize what the world thinks about Canada in all this. Who represents Canada? The government does.

As I explained earlier, the bill would exclude a certain time period; the period from when the strike or lockout is declared to the time it ends is not part of the calculation. At the end of the lockout, if the result is a closure or a number of workers losing their jobs, the qualifying period would be deemed to begin when the strike or lockout started and would be applied as though it began on that date.

One of the arguments used by opponents to this bill is that the cost to implement this measure would be too high. This is an argument that I have never understood because it is completely unfounded. I have never understood why they are against it. Despite the fact that in its last budget this government recognized its obligation to create an independent employment insurance fund, that fund has never been created and they continue to pillage the EI fund. It is important that today, for the future of our economy, this injustice be fixed and the parties come to a legal agreement.

I urge the government to help the opposition parties, which are all in favour of this bill, and to acknowledge, once and for all, the vision of Parliament. The opposition parties hold the majority. A good deal means that the parties reach an agreement among themselves. They have the power to make recommendations. Parliament has decided to support this bill. I invite the government to follow this lead and correct this injustice.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé has a five-minute right of reply.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague on his excellent speech on Bill C-395. His own riding has been affected by the lack of legislation in this area.

This is the last speech about this bill. I have only five minutes left to wind up and convince the Conservatives to go forward with this bill. It should have been passed and should be passed, because it is a simple, effective solution to a major flaw in the Employment Insurance Act that prevents workers who lose their jobs as a result of a labour dispute—whether a lockout or a strike—from qualifying for employment insurance.

By refusing to give the royal recommendation to Bill C-395, as it did to Bill C-241, which also proposed measures to support workers by abolishing the waiting period, the minority Conservative government is once again showing that it could not care less about workers who lose their jobs. By refusing to support this bill, this minority Conservative government is once again ignoring the democratic will of this House. Most members want this bill to go forward, but the Conservatives are still turning a deaf ear.

Unfortunately, by blocking Bill C-395 and preventing it from going to the Senate, the Conservative government is turning its back on workers who lose their jobs. Throughout this debate, the Conservatives have put forward bizarre arguments, and I would like to mention one that the parliamentary secretary made here just a few minutes ago. He said in his speech that if this bill were passed, it would affect the negotiating position of workers and employers during lockouts and strikes. This is what it means to him: “Someone is on strike or is locked out, but does not want to find a solution. He does not want to go back to work because he wants to get employment insurance benefits.” Come on. If I am a worker and I am on strike or I am locked out, I do not necessarily want to go on EI. I want to go back to my job at the company and I want to negotiate fair, equitable conditions to keep my job. That is my goal.

The Conservative government's argument does not hold water. As I have said many times, this government does not want to support society's least fortunate. It is not the least bit interested in these people or in the unemployed. The guaranteed income supplement is another example. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they kept urging the Liberal government to increase and improve the guaranteed income supplement and to compensate seniors for having swindled them. They are in power now, but they are not doing anything. They just keep spending astronomical amounts on all sorts of things, from buying planes to giving oil companies tax breaks. What we have here is a small bill designed to help workers, a bill that will cost next to nothing. As my colleague indicated, the Journal de Montréal may be next. Yet we are told that there is no money. There is no money for that, and that is shameful.

If there are any unemployed people in their ridings—surely there are some—government members should think of them. They should think a little instead of constantly investing inordinate amounts to support companies, including banks, that rake in huge profits and use tax shelters. The government helps and supports them. It should also support the workers.

I ask the parliamentary secretary, here in this House, to urge his colleagues in the governing party to vote in favour of providing the royal recommendation to Bill C-395.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 12:02 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. It is my duty to inform the hon. members that the requirements for printing a notice of royal recommendation in accordance with Standing Order 79(2) have not been met. The question on the motion for third reading of the bill will therefore not be put. Accordingly, the order for third reading is discharged and the item is dropped from the order paper.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I am not mistaken, I have about 15 minutes left because on September 27, I had already started my speech on Bill C-28, Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act.

At the time, I spoke to the House about how difficult it is to eliminate spam. It is time for Canada to bring in legislation to prevent fraudsters and all kinds of people from taking over emails and text messages, among other things. Almost everyone who is online, or who can be online, and who uses new technologies, which are increasingly prevalent now, is subject to spam attacks. That is why it is important for us to pass legislation.

When I started my speech, I said that the scourge of spam attacks businesses, offices, service providers and everyone doing business. Bill C-28 creates the new Electronic Commerce Protection Act to limit spam. As I said, spam is a commercial electronic message sent without the express consent of the recipient. It can be any commercial electronic message, any text, audio, voice or visual message sent by any means of telecommunication. This includes text messages and instant messages, in addition to email.

When I was interrupted because of the time, I was talking about the background to Bill C-28. First of all, a task force on spam was created in 2004. The group brought together Internet service providers as well as electronic marketing experts and government and consumer representatives. I said that consumers are often the main victims of spam.

For example, I am sure that everyone has received an email, supposedly from their credit union or bank, saying that there were problems with their account but that the institution was working on it and the client's banking and contact information was needed in order to fix it. Chances are that anyone who takes the bait and is foolish enough to reply with personal details and their personal identification numbers will have their bank account emptied in no time. Very few people fall for it, but there are still some who do, unfortunately.

The task force, which was set up six years ago, gave more than 60 groups from the sectors concerned an opportunity to take part in the discussions and contribute their views on topics such as legislation and enforcement, international co-operation and raising public awareness.

The task force launched “Stop Spam Here”, an online awareness campaign to provide users with tips on how to limit the amount of spam they receive, and it presented its final report to the industry minister on May 17, 2005. A bill was introduced as a result. We are now studying Bill C-28. I would like to remind members that the Bloc Québécois agrees with this bill. It will undoubtedly go to committee, and we will have more opportunities to hear a number of witnesses talk about the importance of legislation in this area.

The task force's report, entitled “Stopping Spam: Creating a Stronger, Safer Internet”, recommended new, targeted legislation and more vigorous enforcement of current laws to reinforce the legal and regulatory arsenal available to Canada in the global fight against spam. The report also supported the creation of a focal point within government for coordinating the actions taken to address the spam issue and other related problems, such as spyware.

The task force proposed a number of interesting recommendations—this is where I left off last time when I was talking about background.

It recommended more vigorous legislation and enforcement and called for legislation to prohibit spam and protect personal information and privacy, as well as computers, emails and networks. The proposed legislation would allow individuals and companies to sue spammers—in other words, people who send spam—and hold businesses whose products and services are promoted using these means partially responsible for spamming activity. The report also recommended providing more resources to the organizations responsible for administering and enforcing anti-spam laws.

Another recommendation concerned a centre of expertise on spam. The task force recommended creating a centre to coordinate the government's anti-spam initiatives.

The third recommendation was for strong industry best practices. Email marketers would have to obtain informed consent from the email recipients, provide an opting-out mechanism for all further emails and create a complaints system.When it comes to new technology, it is somewhat natural to experiment with a free-for-all approach. When something first comes along, it is new and wonderful. Everything is on the table and anything goes. We want more and more of it. But sooner or later, we begin receiving emails that are not really just for us and when we no longer want to receive them, we realize that there is no way to stop receiving emails automatically sent by companies. Whether fraudulent or not, they can be annoying. The products they are selling are not always fraudulent. The intention of these emails, which become spam under the circumstances since we receive them so often, is not always to defraud the recipient. While email is a useful tool in the work place, spam can spoil a work day. We spend just as much time, if not more, trying to rid ourselves of spam as we do really working with the emails we need to send at work.

The task force also recommended launching a public education campaign. As I said earlier, a website has been set up for the public. The website, “Stop Spam Here”, was launched in December 2004 and offers practical tips for protecting personal information, computers and email addresses. It is important that people know how to get more information about this.

The task force also suggested, or rather, recommended, improved international co-operation and enforcement measures. International measures to stem spam are vital. We must harmonize anti-spam policies and improve co-operation in enforcing anti-spam laws among different countries. In preparing for my speech today, I learned that most of the spam reaching Canadians comes from outside the country. Huge amounts of spam are quite often sent from sites and locations all around the globe. We are the victims of these floods of spam. Of course it is difficult to identify the source of these emails. I am not a specialist in electronic communication, but I know that even though we can find the addresses that send the spam, people are clever enough to make it very hard to do so.

Both the Bloc Québécois industry, small business and tourism critic and member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I have criticized the fact that it took four or five years for legislation to be introduced. Private businesses especially are losing billions of dollars a year. Individuals are also wasting time.

Time is money. All this spam causes everyone to lose a lot of money. The government took a long time to act, but it is better late than never. The committee will see what it can do with this bill. At least there is something to start from. Industry Canada—particularly the minister and his predecessors—must be wondering why this bill took so long to be introduced, especially since elsewhere in the world, action was taken much more quickly.

We are now examining the Electronic Commerce Protect Act, which sets limits on the sending of spam. The only time spam may be sent is when the person to whom the message is sent has consented to receiving it, whether the consent is express or implied. In addition to being in a form that conforms to the prescribed requirements, the message will have to make it possible to identify and contact the sender. As I said earlier, it is not always easy to see where this type of message originated. With this legislation, it will be very clear. At least we hope it will. We must be able to identify and contact the person who sent us the message.

Lastly, the message must include an unsubscribe mechanism. This means that if someone receives an email, or spam in this case, and they no longer want to receive messages from that company, they will be able to click on a button to unsubscribe. The email address or hyperlink would allow us to no longer receive commercial electronic messages from the sender. That is mentioned in clauses 6 and 11 of Bill C-28.

The bill would also prohibit altering the transmission data in an electronic message so that it is delivered to destinations other than that specified by the initial sender. In addition, the bill would prohibit installing a computer program on another person's computer and sending an electronic message from that computer without the owner's consent. These are important measures if we want to limit fraud as much as possible.

Any violation, even indirect, of any of these provisions, would result in an administrative monetary penalty—a fine—if the computer being used is located in Canada. These fines could be as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million in other cases.

This may seem high, but I would like to turn the House's attention to a recent article by Yves Boisvert, published in La Presse. The article was about a man from Montreal who was found guilty of spamming Facebook and was fined more than $1 billion. You heard correctly: I did not say $1 million, I said $1 billion. That sentence was handed down in California against a Montrealer whose name I will not mention because I do not want to encourage him. Apparently he is pleased and proud to have spammed Facebook. I will not indulge him by saying his name.

According to the article by Mr. Boisvert, the Montrealer was found guilty in 2008 in California. Why California? Because that is where Facebook has its head offices. The ruling was recently made binding by Quebec Superior Court in Montreal. This man managed to penetrate Facebook and send spam to millions with the goal of selling all sorts of things. To quote Mr. Boisvert, “You know, spam signed by someone you know, maybe even a friend, but really they are ads for Viagra?”

The guy in question had to face California law, which is very, very strict. We all know that he will not be able to pay the fine of over $1 billion, but it certainly sends a very clear message.

If Bill C-28 manages to be a deterrent and to impose fines of $10 million, especially with regard to companies, then that is progress.

Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope to get a chance to speak to this bill later because the bill is very important. In his speech, the minister reminded us that we are the only G8 country that does not have anti-spam legislation. He also laid out the cost. As the member also alluded to, the cost is very significant. On a worldwide basis the cost is something like $130 billion a year as a consequence of not having this legislation.

There are privacy issues as well. The minister did not spend very much time on the aspect of personal privacy information under PIPEDA, another area in which personal information is being collected by harvesting addresses.

When we consider that the bill was going along very well and there was all-party support in the House for Bill C-27 in the last session, if it is so important, why did the minister have to introduce it again and start the process all over rather than refer the bill straight to committee so that we could get this legislation passed?