House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for his excellent question. He is right. At a time when money is tight and deficits are enormous, we could be taking this opportunity to save a great deal of money. The Conservatives have gone from a $17 billion surplus, which they inherited from the Liberals, to a $50 billion deficit. Of course they will tell us there is a global crisis and so forth.

My colleague is doubly right when we see how the parliamentary system works. A bill is passed and sent to the Senate where senators can make amendments to it. However, if we are not happy with those amendments, we can bring the bill back to the House of Commons and reverse the Senate's decision. That is what happens. In theory, there should not even be a Senate. We should pass legislation and that is where it should end.

The Senate did a study on safety, noise, nuisances and so on in the railway system. When it looked at the bill passed by the House of Commons, the Senate only called in the railway companies because it did not want to hear from those who were reporting the problems with the railway in the first place. The Senate ended up changing our bill because the Conservatives convinced the Liberals to do so. They were already lobbying then.

When we saw the senators engaging in such partisanship and listening only to those they were interested in, we should have stood up to them and passed the bill as it was. The House of Commons has priority. In the legislative system, the Senate serves no purpose.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member said that he will respect the Canadian Constitution. Therefore, he knows that this measure falls within the purview of Parliament.

The member talked about the representation of Quebec in the Senate. This bill would improve Quebec's representation in Parliament because it would help to renew the senators from Quebec in this great institution.

Again, I come back to my previous point with the member. The reason the Bloc is opposing this bill is that the Bloc opposes anything that would make Parliament better, including improving the representation of Quebec in Parliament through the Senate. The Bloc is just being negative because it is against the Bloc's philosophy to improve federalism and improve Quebec's representation in Parliament. It just goes against the Bloc's reason to be. It is very disappointing.

I wish the member would just be honest. The reason he is opposing this is that he does not want to strengthen Quebec's role in Parliament. He just wants his own disappointing end.

We live in the greatest country in the world. I wish the member would support that and help make Parliament better.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada will make an excellent neighbour. I have no problem with that.

For the rest, I will try to explain why we are opposed to this bill. I will re-read, nice and slowly, the unanimous motion passed by the Quebec National Assembly on November 7, 2007:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

We will rise every single day to defend the interests of Quebec. That motion was adopted in 2007 by a federalist government. Its Liberal Party leader was the former leader of the Conservative Party.

The Government of Quebec adopted this motion because the Supreme Court rendered a decision in 1970 after examining Parliament's ability to unilaterally amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate. The Supreme Court found that Parliament could not unilaterally make any changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate. This is why the National Assembly adopted that unanimous motion, and this is why we are once again defending the interests of Quebec in this House.

Constitution Act, 2010 (Senate term limits)
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

April 29th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

moved that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that this bill must be accepted by the current Conservative government. I begin my remarks with that comment because we have been talking about this for a long time. The two-week waiting period is a critical issue. This is not a minor bill designed to keep senators in the red chamber for a longer or shorter period of time. It is an act that can help all workers who lose their job.

That injustice has been around for too long. I am going to give some numbers. In 1989, 83% of Canadians and Quebeckers were eligible for employment insurance. Now, it is less than 50%.

What did the government do? It passed a law to add five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. And how many people benefit from this initiative? Currently, it applies to 28% of those who are eligible for EI benefits. However, 28% of 50% does not make for a large number of people. The fact is that few workers are entitled to these five additional weeks.

If the two-week waiting period was waived, all workers who lose their job would benefit. I am not talking about workers who resign or who lose their job because they failed to perform, but about workers who are laid off because their plant shut down, because there are fewer orders in the books, because the plant is relocated, or because of a bankruptcy. These people are laid off through no fault of their own. They are the most affected by these two weeks without benefits.

Waiving the two-week waiting period would have a much greater impact on financial security than the five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. Indeed, this situation affects the most vulnerable workers in our society. The two-week waiting period is a glaring injustice: these people lose their job through no fault of their own, yet they are penalized. It seems as if the Conservative government likes to punish workers who get laid off. I just cannot understand that.

In Quebec, this situation puts pressure on the Quebec government when these people turn to social assistance. Social costs increase, even though the federal government is responsible for looking after those people who lose their job through no fault of their own.

There is an urgent need for action, but the government does not seem to understand that, and it would appear that the Conservatives are not going to let us get this bill passed. Abolishing the two-week waiting period would not mean extending the employment insurance benefit period. All it would do is allow people to receive their EI benefits two weeks earlier, so that they would not have to go without money for two weeks.

Often, people do not even know they are going to lose their jobs. They get a warning and lose their jobs the same week, because the employer did not want anyone to know in advance. What is more, most of the time, these people do not have any money set aside. They even have debts. Liberalism encouraged people to go into debt in an excess of consumerism.

These people are just like everyone else. Workers also have a culture of borrowing. Then, suddenly, they have no money coming in for two weeks, so they go deeper into debt and they cannot afford to pay the mortgage or rent or feed their families. It is that serious.

If the waiting period were eliminated and the five weeks at the end left intact, the cost to the EI system would not be much more. In any case, only 28% of people receive the five weeks of benefits at the end of the period. Presumably, everyone would receive the two weeks at the start.

These two weeks are a question of dignity for our workers. It is scandalous that people who lose their jobs cannot get help from employment insurance right away.

Does the government want to punish workers for losing their jobs? We have to wonder. We could even say that that is what the government is trying to do. It is trying to punish workers for losing their jobs through no fault of their own. They will have to spend two weeks without benefits.

Generally speaking, the government is not criticized very much. It thinks that, as with every type of insurance, a premium must be paid. However, employment insurance is not a public or private insurance. It is a social measure that should apply to everyone, and people should not be punished unfairly.

Unfortunately, this unfair punishment has been around since 1971, and it is high time to abolish it. The current government should realize that it will not be defeated tomorrow if it eliminates this injustice. On the contrary, we will appreciate it more.

This measure is supported by all Quebeckers and Canadians. Unions, community groups, women's groups, anti-poverty groups, food banks, retailers, all support this measure, except the people that the government consulted. These people include business leaders, economists, banks and probably some hand-picked professors, who are at the source of this neo-liberal ideology.

The Bloc Québécois believes that this bill is necessary. It should be looked on favourably by the government, and I am asking it to reconsider its position.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 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 appreciate the member is of the view that the two-week waiting period should be eliminated. Of course, it would have a cost.

If the member is really concerned about helping those who are vulnerable, those who are unemployed, why is it that he voted against the extension of the EI program, the addition of five weeks for those who were unemployed? Why is it that he voted against the extra weeks of benefits for long-tenured workers? Why is it that he voted against the program that allowed people to maintain their jobs, the work-sharing program that helped thousands and thousands of people? Why is it he voted against that?

Indeed, I am not sure what the Bloc members would have against older workers, but when there was a special provision for older workers, they voted against that too.

Those are millions of dollars of expenditures including millions of dollars to help people upgrade their skills to be able to find new jobs. How in good conscience could the Bloc members have voted against all of that and be fixated on one particular issue of the EI program?

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am hearing the propaganda from the member opposite to the effect that we voted against certain things. But does he tell us in which document the government hid that measure? We agreed with the five additional weeks, but the government included that measure in a budget that we could not support. The member does not mention that, even though he is well aware that it is the case. He knows full well that we supported the idea of providing five additional weeks. We did not vote against those five weeks: we voted against the rest of the budget. You know that. You are almost being dishonest when you say that to the House. You know why we voted—

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I must remind the hon. member to address his remarks to the Chair, not directly to other members.

The hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I think that there is a difference between what the member was talking about with respect to the bill and what the parliamentary secretary was talking about. The Conservatives are not telling people the whole truth when they talk about extending benefits. When the time came for the government to provide 20 additional weeks, seasonal workers got nothing. According to the government, they did not deserve extra benefits. The government does not consider them to be long-tenured workers. I will never forget what the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism said:

“We will give it to those who really deserve it”.

Shame on her for saying that. There is a big difference between what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources was trying to say earlier and the truth. The truth is that they did not want seasonal workers to benefit from additional weeks of employment insurance.

I would like my colleague to respond to that. I also wonder whether the parliamentary secretary will continue to question the way we vote in the House.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his extremely interesting question. We have never been against the five weeks. In fact, we should add even more. Five weeks is not a lot.

The waiting period is hard on the unemployed. The government does not want to eliminate it. It will not agree to this because, as my colleague said, seasonal workers would have immediate help. Consequently, the government does not want to do that, even though we feel it would be fair and reasonable. I do not know what kind of morals they have, but we believe that, morally, it is fair and reasonable that workers who lose their jobs, seasonal workers or otherwise, can have their two weeks as usual and not go hungry just when they need immediate help.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 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 know those hon. members have a difficult time accepting the truth, but the fact is the items I outlined appeared before the House. Some appeared in the budget, as they said, but some appeared individually. The long-tenured workers and the extension for them appeared in its own bill. When we talked about benefits to the self-employed, it appeared in its own bill. They had a choice to stand up for it or against it and they had to make that decision.

I will highlight the many actions our Conservative government has taken over the past year and a half to help Canadians who were unemployed during the recent economic downturn. It is important to highlight these measures, especially when we are debating opposition attempts to shoehorn their pet projects into systems that, by and large, are working well for Canadians and that they have chosen, for one reason or another, not to support.

It is important to highlight what our government is doing for Canadians. The party proposing the bill voted against the economic action plan that we crafted to help Canadians. There is no question about that. It is also especially important to do this when the actions this Conservative government have taken have been so thorough.

The bill is not consistent with our government's approach. It is—

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

I rise on a point of order. I would like the member to have the courage to talk about Bill C-241 and not about what else they are doing. He should be talking about the bill, please.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member would like the hon. parliamentary secretary to talk about Bill C-241. Because it is third reading, the rules on relevance are very strict. The House would appreciate it if the hon. parliamentary secretary would speak about the bill in question.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, of course it is relevant and I think there are some issues that the member can learn. The issue he raises affects unemployed Canadians. The issue he raises is a narrow one that is shoehorned into a bigger picture.

We are talking about the unemployed. We need to know the full picture, how this fits in the context and whether people should oppose it or not. I am saying this bill is not a good bill when put in the context of what is happening everywhere.

Let us go back to December of 2008, more than a year ago, during the first difficult months of the global economic recession.

On December 18, 2008, CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live, someone we all know quite well, welcomed Mr. David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada. He was asked whether eliminating the two-week waiting period for EI was an expenditure worth making. It was a very specific question, which deals exactly with this bill. He was asked whether it would be effective, whether the expenditure was worth making. Mr. Dodge responded unequivocally and without hesitation. He said:

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

His message was that this was understandable and that it was prudent to retain the waiting period, simply from an operational and a practical standpoint. He said, “that two weeks is there for a very good reason”. Mr. Dodge went on to say, “the real issue is that some of these people are going to be off work for a rather long period of time”.

We are focused on what matters to Canadians, creating and preserving jobs, investing in training and helping those hardest hit. How did we know this? Because we asked and Canadians told us.

Our government engaged in the most comprehensive prebudget consultations in Canadian history, leading up to the release of Canada's economic action plan in budget 2009. During those consultations with Canadians, and the member would do well to listen, they told us they wanted EI to be extended to help unemployed Canadians who were having difficulty finding a new jobs or who needed more comprehensive skills upgrading. That is what Canadians told us. That is also what experts like David Dodge told us. That is what we did.

Through the economic action plan, we provided an additional five weeks of EI benefits to all Canadians who needed them, to help them get through the tough economic times. Over 500,000 Canadians have benefited from that measure alone. I wonder what the member would say to those 500,000 Canadians, whom he did not stand and support in the action that was taken by the government.

However, we were not finished. We kept a sharp eye on the situation and we acted again when the need presented itself. This past fall, we introduced and passed Bill C-50, a stand-alone bill, acting further to ensure that the EI program remained responsive to the needs of Canadians. That bill provided fairness for Canadian long-tenured workers. There are Canadians who have worked for many years, who have paid EI premiums for many years and who have rarely, if ever, used the system at all.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a point of order. The member is starting up again. He is not speaking on topic. He should be talking about Bill C-241 and not another bill that has already been passed.