House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was changes.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, if Question No. 593 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 593
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

With regard to the 2010 strategic reviews included in Table 5.1 in Budget 2011 (and also included in Table 6.7 of Budget 2012 under Budget 2011 spending restraint), what is the breakdown of expected savings for each department, agency and organization in each of the fiscal years 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and ongoing?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

moved:

That this House call on the Conservative government to abandon plans to further restrict access to Employment Insurance for Canadian workers who have followed the rules and who will now be forced to choose between taking a pay cut of up to 30% or losing their Employment Insurance benefits.

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

I am pleased to move, on behalf of the entire NDP caucus, a motion calling on the Conservative government to abandon its reckless changes to Canada's employment insurance system.

First and foremost, employment insurance must be about providing a safety net for workers. Government ministers and Conservative MPs keep saying that jobs are not being filled because the unemployed do not want to work, but Statistics Canada pointed out just last week that there were almost six unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. In other words, despite its rhetoric, the Conservative government's record on job creation has been an abject failure.

Therefore, yes, this is the time that workers need to draw on the employment insurance that they paid into all of their working lives. However, instead of helping workers to access what is rightfully theirs, the minister responsible for the program hurls insults by saying, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it”. It is outrageous. Workers need EI, not so they can stay at home but so they can keep their homes.

Even before these ill-advised changes, only 40% of unemployed Canadians were able to access EI benefits, and those who do bring home a maximum of 55% of their former wages. Unemployed workers can assure the minister that EI is not lucrative.

What then motivated this last round of EI reforms? Toronto Star columnist, Thomas Walkom, hit the nail squarely on the head when he blamed the changes on “bone-headed ideology and contempt”. The Conservatives have continually demonstrated their hatred of Canada's social safety net, including employment insurance, and the disdain starts right at the top.

This is what the Prime Minister told the American Council for National Policy in 1997. He said:

In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.

He also derided Atlantic Canadians for using social services, saying in 2002:

I think in Atlantic Canada, because of what happened in the decades following Confederation, there is a culture of defeat that we have to overcome.... Atlantic Canada's culture of defeat will be hard to overcome as long as Atlantic Canada is actually physically trailing the rest of the country.

As Walkom rightly points out, “The contempt is that of comfortable, well-heeled politicians who, deep down, assume that those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs lack moral fibre”. However, the issue is not that Canadians do not want to work. The issue is that there are no jobs available in many parts of our country. Yes, that means that Canadians will try to access employment insurance. It is, after all, a program that was designed to help the jobless get by while they search for work.

As things stand right now, regular EI covers up to 55% of former salary to a maximum of $485 a week for up to 45 weeks. Last year, 850,000 people relied on the program, including thousands in my hometown of Hamilton where the manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit. If one were to ask people who have tried to access employment insurance, they would be the first to point out that the system does need reform. The reforms just are not in the direction that the government is moving. We need to enhance, not restrict, access to EI for Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

As it stands now, less than half of the unemployed qualify for EI benefits. Only 40% of men collect and an even lower 32% of women get any support from EI. The reason is that the rules are biased against part-time, temporary, self-employed and women workers, yet all workers pay into the system.

The conversation we should be having in this chamber is about how we enhance access to the benefits that employees and employers paid for. It is only the workers and the employers who contribute to the EI system. There is not a dime of the government's money in the pot and yet successive Liberal and Conservative governments have raided the surpluses in the EI fund to the tune of $57 billion. They have treated it as their own cash cow to fund everything from debt reduction to new government programs and now it has the audacity to suggest that the program is too lucrative for workers and that things need to change. It is completely outrageous.

If we are going to change the system at all, we should live up to the commitments made by the motion on EI reform that I tabled here in the last Parliament, which, I might add, was passed by the House of Commons. That motion called for the elimination of the two-week waiting period, a lower qualifying period that was consistent across our country, an increase in the replacement wage to 60%, improved funding for training and a mechanism for allowing the self-employed to participate in the program.

Three years later, the government has still only acted on the will of Parliament with respect to one of those proposals, and that is making EI available to the self-employed. All other tinkering the Conservatives have done with respect to the EI system has been counter to the spirit of my motion and has been at the expense rather than to the benefit of hard-working Canadians.

We need to just look at the changes resulting from the most recent Conservative budget. Budget 2012 announced the Conservative government's intention to introduce legislation “to strengthen and clarify what is required of claimants who are receiving regular EI benefits and are looking for work”. Instead, the Trojan Horse bill, Bill C-38, gave the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development the power to create regulations concerning what constitutes suitable employment and reasonable and customary efforts to find employment.

When asked what the regulations would look like, the minister responded, “We haven't announced those details yet. We want to make sure the legislation gets through first”. Really. Do the Conservatives want us to buy a pig in a poke? That will not happen and the more details we learn, the more we know just how misguided the government's approach has become.

Under the new scheme, frequent EI claimants will no longer be able to hold out for something akin to their former jobs at roughly the same wage. Instead, they will need to accept similar work at as little as 80% of their previous wage during the first seven weeks of benefits, yet we do not know what “similar” means. After that, they must take any work they are qualified to perform for as little as 70% of what they used to make. Less frequent users will fare marginally better. They can hold out for jobs within their usual occupation at 90% of their former wage for 18 weeks. After that, they, too, must accept similar jobs at 80% of their previous wage.

Obviously this has nothing to do with connecting workers with suitable jobs. This is all about driving down wages. The Conservatives love free markets unless, of course, it is a labour market. One has to wonder though for whom they are doing this.

Yes, these changes will help their friends in the tar sands hire temporary foreign workers who can now be paid 15% less than the going regional wage. At the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, where we have been studying the projected shortages of skilled workers in Canada, many employers have actually come forward to tell us that forcing workers in seasonal industries to do other work during the off season will do permanent harm to their businesses and, indeed, to their entire regions. That, of course, is due to out-migration.

If the fisherman's helpers, forestry workers or farmhands are forced during the respective off-season to take on a job they do not like and that pays less, they will be more inclined to head to western Canada. That leaves local businesses high and dry.

When we combine that attack on rural Canada with the fact that stripping Canadians of their employment insurance will lead to an increased reliance on provincial social support systems, it is no wonder that premiers from across the country are crying foul. Despite the fact that it is their provincial budgets and their provincial taxpayers who will pay the price for these ill-conceived changes to Canada's EI system, none of them were consulted before the changes were announced.

As an editorial in the Saskatoon StarPheonix put it:

This is clearly an issue that needs a national debate--one we were robbed of when the government stuffed the changes into its omnibus bill.

That is why the New Democrats have brought this motion to the floor of the House today. We do need a national debate on the changes to Canada's employment insurance system and the people who pay for that system and who use it must have a say in its future. Until then, we must change course and abandon all plans to further restrict access to employment insurance for Canadian workers.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague across the way and at one point I could hardly contain myself because she was decrying the fact that a Canadian might actually need to take employment at 80% of his or her previous wage. Is it not terrible to take employment at 80% of one's previous wage? Is that not better than accepting employment insurance, which is only 55% of the previous wage?

In addition, employment insurance payment comes from the very people who are causing the opportunities for employment. The employers in this country and the employees are paying into that. Claimants are taking that money.

Would it not be better to earn 80% and have a productive, meaningful job and the self-esteem that comes from that job rather than sitting at home and receiving 55% of one's previous employment wage?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question, because clearly the member opposite does not understand the point of employment insurance.

Of course Canadians want to be working. In my hometown of Hamilton, where the manufacturing sector has been decimated, people are desperate to find decent, family-sustaining jobs.

This is not about blaming people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. This is about making sure those workers have an opportunity to find work at a comparable wage in their field. What is the point of having nurses go and become farmhands, picking apples. Yes, it is a shame for nurses but it is also a loss to the Canadian economy. It is loss to our health care system.

We absolutely need to provide opportunities for people to work in their field, in their profession. That is what employment insurance is about. That is why workers pay into employment insurance. That is why even employers are suggesting the system is flawed and the changes are flawed. We need to make sure we can keep people working in the field of their choice.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member. In terms of the government's claimed objective of creating jobs, so far it has proven to be a not very successful strategy on its part, with hundreds of thousands fewer full-time jobs today than before the recession.

This EI change would force workers to take a job outside their area of training and farther away from home. The government is claiming this is about jobs, while at the same time it is completely cutting the community access program, which was support for libraries to provide Internet service and coaching for that 20% of community members who might need that to look for a job. How do those two things square in the member's view?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question. I want to respond to both.

First of all, the member is absolutely right. The best way to help unemployed Canadians is with an appropriate job-creation strategy, something the government has done absolutely nothing about. Right now for every six unemployed people in Canada, there is only one job. Unemployment is going to continue unless the government actually gets serious about a job-creation strategy.

Second, the member talks about the CAP program. It is worth noting that of Canadian households that make less than $30,000 a year, 40% of those households actually do not have Internet access. These new changes to the EI system will send people job alerts on the Internet. If people are not able to access those job alerts and those job postings, then the government is not helping them at all. This is a really ill-conceived system. The government needs to go back to the drawing board.

Let us not move forward on the changes the government is proposing. Let us have consultations with Canadians in rural and remote areas and in households that do not have Internet access. Let us get the changes right, and let us improve rather than restrict access to employment insurance.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to be able to talk about employment insurance and the consequences for the working people who will be affected.

We decided to present this motion today for one simple reason: as we speak, there are many working people, whether they are seasonal workers or workers who have worked somewhere else in one way or another, from sea to sea, from coast to coast to coast, who are in a situation where they will be denied their employment insurance benefits in future.

The Conservatives say this is not the case and people will not be denied that income. We know very well, however, that a seasonal worker, in Prince Edward Island for example, has no opportunity to find what is called suitable employment. This means that after six weeks they will be required to accept employment that might pay only 70% of their earnings. They will have no choice, because no other jobs are available. Canada does not have large cities from coast to coast to coast. Jobs really are not available everywhere in the country.

Fishers only fish in the fishing season. We know that between fishing seasons, they have to spend time on their boats and equipment. It was agreed that they could spend this time attending to their boats and equipment. Now, they have to agree to go and work about an hour's drive from home.

The Conservatives do not understand what a region is, and what local and regional development are. We know that Canada is not an overpopulated country and the regions are the biggest part of the country.

If the bill is adopted, these new measures will have a huge impact across the country in terms of local and regional development.

These new measures were hidden in a Trojan Horse, in a budget. They should have been debated in the House independently from the budget. It is inconceivable that the Conservatives included amendments to 70 laws— amendments that were completely hidden—in a mammoth budget implementation bill.

Frequent employment insurance claimants in the regions will be told that they have to accept employment.

Let us talk about the tourist season. Many regions make their living from tourism. This is true of Quebec's Charlevoix region, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and all through the eastern provinces and other places.

At the end of the fishing season, fishers have to give up their activities and accept a job that will be offered to them after a month or six weeks have elapsed. Therefore they have no opportunity to repair their boats. If they want to pick up their work again the following year, at the start of the fishing season, they will have to leave their jobs. These fishers are in danger because their boats will not be properly maintained and freshly equipped. Moreover, they will probably have to hire people who will not be trained for fishing because the fishers who accepted other jobs will no longer be available.

The number of workers is not very high in the regions. It is not like in the city. Local and regional development is very different. This must be taken into account.

Commuting for an hour in Montreal is really not a problem. Commuters take the metro or a bus, and that is fine. Forcing people to travel for an hour in the regions is dangerous.

It is a one-hour drive from Forestville to Sept-Îles. There are very few houses between the two points. There are only one or two, and about 100 in Pessamit, a reserve where the concentration is a little higher, or small villages like Ragueneau and Chute-aux-Outardes. Apart from that, it is just one big, long drive. A one-hour drive is 100 km.

This means that every morning and every night people have to travel 100 km through little villages to get to where someone is offering a job. This is unacceptable. We cannot ask people to travel an hour every morning and every evening to get to their place of work. Who will take care of the children? Who will get the children from school? When school finishes at 4:30 p.m. or when the school bus brings the children back home, who will take care of them at home?

People who live outside of cities are likely to be uprooted, because they are going to have to move to the larger centres. As we have often seen, rural areas have been drained of people, because people have moved to cities in a self-imposed exile in the search for a job. This is something that has affected young people enormously because, of course, they went away to study at university and did not go back home, because they relocated to wherever the jobs were.

Now the population in rural areas has just about reached its minimum level. The fact that people have to leave rural areas means that the people who decide to stay will be impoverished. There are not really many jobs in rural areas. There are a few small shopping centres that are often located in the largest town. I am thinking of a place like Bonaventure in the Gaspé that has a population of 3,000; Rimouski has about 30,000 people; Baie-Comeau has about 35,000 or 40,000 inhabitants; and Sept-Îles where of course the population is increasing right now because of Quebec's Plan Nord, the northern plan. Basically, there are not that many services that can be offered to people.

So people will be uprooted. People will have to leave rural areas. What will happen to our tourist regions? People who do not agree to leave their own regions in order to take jobs somewhere else will have to be happy with their income or look to social assistance, the first kind of income security. This security is, of course, a safety net, but it is synonymous with the status of the poorest of the poor in society. If we talk about income security in terms of social assistance, people will find themselves to be poorer than ever.

This law will impoverish Canadians. It will impoverish those who cannot abandon their homes and move to larger centres. This law will also impoverish the regions. That is what people in New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are concerned about. It seems that the Atlantic provinces will be impoverished by this bill, more than the provinces that have a larger concentration of jobs.

For example, it is not true that people will automatically move to the far north where there are mining developments or major projects. Some will do so by choice, but others will not, because they have to take care of their families and their homes in the community where they live. Not everyone can just pick up and leave.

Naturally, those who want to go to work in those locations will do so because the wages offered by large corporations are very good, for example, those offered by the large oil companies in the far north. We know that the oil companies will bring about all sorts of development and workers will be needed. Some will go work there voluntarily; it seems that often it is young people who choose to do so. Those who have moved around to plant trees will now move to go and work where there are jobs. One does not preclude the other.

However, when the people in our regions are offered employment, there are two things that must be considered: training and individual choice. Workers are human beings. They are not merely pawns on a chessboard to be moved around at will. A pawn must go where it is placed and that is it. Life does not work like that.

In conclusion, I would like to say that it is important to take into account that workers are human beings.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member's speech quite intently. She talked about people working for a number of months, then not being able to work and taking employment insurance, which pays only 55% of their income, up to a maximum income of $45,000. So, that would be $55% of $45,000.

I wonder if she is aware that human resources professionals will always say that the person who is more likely to find a new job is the person who is currently working.

From that perspective would she not agree that it is better for people to be working at a job that pays 70% or 80% of their previous income while they are looking for that next job rather than not to have a job and only be earning 55% of their former earnings? Perhaps she would comment on that.