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

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I want to address a couple of comments that the member opposite had made.

First, I spent a significant amount of time in Atlantic Canada with the human resources committee as well as in provincial consultations. I can say from first-hand accounts that employers and employees in Newfoundland told us there were shortages and they needed people to work.

Second, she asked about a caucus member getting up to talk from a rural riding perspective. I represent a rural riding. There are many seasonal workers in my riding. Some work in apple orchards and some in our large tourism industry. We have the largest ski hill in Ontario at Blue Mountain. The employers there, and the employees, think these are the appropriate changes to make so that their businesses can grow and they can be employed.

Let me correct something. The member mentioned a two-hour drive to somewhere. That is not in the regulations. She should please read them.

Does the member believe that having a job six months of the year, as opposed to a full-year, full-time job, is a better option for an individual?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, with respect to my colleague, she knows the answer to that. Everyone would prefer to have full-time employment. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would prefer to have full-time employment.

The reality of the situation is that the members who applaud this live in areas where full-time employment is available. That is not the case in the area I represent, in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. To suggest there is any comparison at all between what happens in a riding in Ontario or in some other part of the country, that is not the case in Newfoundland and Labrador. We need to be more considerate of individuals who want to work but who just do not have the jobs available to them because of the time it would take to drive and because of the associated costs.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very glad the member from Newfoundland has made those comments. We have communities in Cape Breton that are in a similar situation.

I have an interesting point when the Conservatives talk about full-time employment. We have welders from Newfoundland and Cape Breton who weld pipelines in Alberta. There are shutdowns there due to weather conditions or permafrost. Are the Conservatives saying that these welders have to build condos in Toronto now? Where are they going to get the jobs? How are we going to make our economy in Canada prosper with the pipelines and other things if we do not have these people available to come back and forth to work?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, clearly, the member has a real appreciation for what these changes will mean. We live it day in and day out with our constituents. We know only too well what they are up against when they are expected to take on a job for which they are not qualified, the stress associated with that and with the salary probably being less than what they would make for a job in which they have a particular skill set. Then we expect them to move. It just does not make a lot of sense.

Again, it shows how out of touch the Conservative government is with Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.

First I would like to say that I am proud the NDP has proposed this motion on employment insurance.

I find it sad that the government thinks that people who receive employment insurance are a bunch of lazy slackers. As the member for Madawaska—Restigouche put it so well, there are still people who prefer to receive employment insurance because they want to go hunting. That is how the Conservatives think.

The parliamentary secretary asked whether it was not better to have a job 12 months a year rather than six months a year.

Yes, it is much better.

The parliamentary secretary said she went to visit Newfoundland. I would like to know whom she spoke to in Newfoundland. Let her report to the House on whom she met in Newfoundland, because there is a fishing industry in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé.

If the Conservative government is so smart, I invite the Prime Minister to introduce a bill to melt the ice in Chaleur Bay so that people can fish in winter. If he is so smart, if he really believes in jobs 12 months a year and if he wants to support the fishing industry, I invite the Prime Minister to melt the ice in Chaleur Bay. That way, people could fish 12 months a year.

In addition, let him put some fish in the sea because this same government shut down the groundfish fishery. I invite the parliamentary secretary to come and tour New Brunswick. Let her come, and I will take her around to the employers who are having problems as a result of seasonal jobs: they want to keep their employees. However, the government's bill does the exact opposite. It wants those employees to go work elsewhere.

Industry back home in New Brunswick, and in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, amounts to fishing and peat moss. Has anyone ever wondered how you harvest peat moss under the snow? This Conservative government is really out of touch with the reality of the regions to a ridiculous degree. The parliamentary secretary says she comes from a rural area. All right, but she may come from a rural area where there are secondary or tertiary processing jobs and employment 12 months a year.

If the Conservative government wants to do the right thing, let it put tools in place. Let the human resources minister put the tools in place for us to do the secondary and tertiary processing instead of sending all our fish to Japan.

Under these new regulations, unemployed workers are required to look for work twice a week. Some 3,000 people lose their jobs at the end of June because the fishery winds up in June and starts again in mid-August. The biggest surprise this government could have right now would be for fish plant employees to decide, twice a week, to go and see employers one hour’s drive away about jobs those employers do not have. Employers would tell the Conservative government to get those workers off their backs because they would not be able to produce anymore with them coming to work in their yards when there are no jobs.

The government's parliamentary secretary said they were going to send unemployed workers job alerts twice a day to tell them where they could find work, but the problem that was raised is that some of them do not even have a computer. The government responded that 85% of people filing employment insurance claims did so online.

They file employment insurance claims online because the government requires them to do so. It has shut down human resources offices everywhere. There were more than 100 human resources offices in Canada, and since the Conservatives intend to close some of them, there will only be 22 left.

Applying once for employment insurance means going to a neighbour and asking to use his computer. This happens once a year. But if a person has to ask to use his neighbour’s computer twice a day to check jobs, the neighbour will get fed up.

The government is saying that if you want a job, you will have to use a computer to get it, because that is where the jobs are. Is the government telling us that it is going to send out two letters a day to Canadians to tell them that jobs are available? My goodness, I do not know what planet I am living on. If there are that many jobs in Acadie—Bathurst, I cannot wait to find out where they are. I am sure that the residents of Acadie—Bathurst cannot wait to know where all these jobs that the government is announcing are.

We are not against motherhood and apple pie, we are not against the fact that the government is telling people that there are going to be jobs available at specific locations. We are not against employers posting jobs or workers being available. The problem is telling somebody that if he does not go to a specific location for a job and accept it, his employment insurance will be cut off. If I were an employer, I would tell the government to mind its own business because it is not up to the government to dictate who should be in the private sector. If the government forces somebody to work for a particular employer and the person does not like the job, how productive will he be?

The 70% model sounds good, does it not? For those who get a job at 70% of their salary and are then laid off, will the next job be at 70% of that salary? Will it be 70% until the person receives the minimum wage? The government wants to help employers keep wages down. The government is going to play a role in forcing people to go and work for employers who will not increase wages. The Conservatives are going to make sure that people remain in poverty. That is what this measure is all about.

Furthermore, this measure is found in Bill C-38. Why did they not separate it from Bill C-38? They should let the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities conduct a real study. If the bill put forward by the minister and the federal Conservative government is so good, why is the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador not satisfied and why was it not consulted? Why is the Province of Nova Scotia not satisfied and why was it not consulted? Why is the Province of Prince Edward Island not satisfied and why was it not consulted?

The exception is New Brunswick, because we know that our premier, Mr. Alward, follows everything that the Prime Minister of Canada says. The Conservatives are in power in New Brunswick and they will not touch this with a 10-foot pole. The premier might have to answer for this in the next election in New Brunswick, because at the moment he does not represent the seasonal workers in our province.

The people in our province who work in the fisheries are wondering where they are expected to find a job. What will happen to the 60-year-old woman in Caraquet who has almost reached retirement age if she tries to take her car to work at a McDonald's in Bathurst with the winter road conditions that we have? By the way, it is not funny when you drive along the coast. With the wind, even if there is not much snow falling, it becomes a storm. On the peatlands and in open country, the roads can be impassable just because of the winds. This is what they are doing; they are putting people's lives in danger.

The Conservatives think that people are happy to receive 55% of their salary and feel as though they are on vacation. They should see these people's living conditions and they should live in these conditions. They should answer the calls that I get in my office from people saying that they would like to work. They should remember the time when the fisheries were good and people worked 35 weeks per year. They worked 15- and 16-hour days, 7 days a week, for 35 weeks. I will never allow them to call our workers lazy slackers. These are the same people who leave our region to go work out west, where they can find jobs.

If the Conservative government wants to help people get jobs, it can help us get a better airport in Bathurst. The runway needs to be lengthened. It can give us a building that is capable of handling our people travelling up to the far north for jobs. This is the same government that cut $18 million from ACOA and that gives us no tools. Tools are what we want. It is the government's responsibility to provide tools and to make it possible to get jobs, not to do what it is doing at the moment, cutting employment insurance so that people fall on hard times, sending them onto welfare and putting all the burden onto the provinces.

I hope that the Premier of New Brunswick is also listening to me; I hope he realizes that we, the taxpayers of New Brunswick, are the ones who are going to be paying for the federal government's mistakes—

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member's speaking time is up.

For questions or comments, the hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask the member opposite, why does the opposition insist on fearmongering about what these changes will do to seasonal workers? The fact is that in places of high unemployment where there are no jobs, EI will still be there for workers. It has been and always will be.

Why does the member refuse to read our measured and reasonable legislation as such? Why does he feel the need to scare workers?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I wish she would answer my question. I asked what the bill is all about, and the bill is all about cutting employment insurance for those who refuse a job. That is what people are afraid of.

If the member could get up and tell me that nobody would have their employment insurance cut because they refused a job, then good, but that is not what the bill says. It is not what the rule says.

The rule in the bill says that if people do not take available jobs, they will lose their employment insurance. I do not think the member has read the bill or the rules it would put in place. That is the problem.

I do not know if the member has read the part in the bill that says a person could have to go an hour away to get to a job. If she had at least listened to what I said, it is about trying to get from Caraquet to Bathurst, which is an hour away, in the winter to go and work at McDonald's at minimum wage.

The member tells me that I am putting fear in workers; this is what puts fear in workers.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank my fellow New Brunswicker for his remarks. He has described the employment, economic and social conditions in his riding, which are much the same as those in several communities that I represent in this House.

I would like to ask the hon. member two very specific questions. At the start of his speech, he referred to the totally unacceptable comments made by the Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The minister tells us that New Brunswick workers are lazy and that they prefer to stay on employment insurance and not work so that they have time for recreational activities during the winter. I find that to be complete nonsense. I ask the hon. member to expand on that.

In the same vein, this same minister, laughing in the face of his constituents, also cancelled the funding for the Enterprise agencies that form the local economic development network in New Brunswick, in his constituency and mine. In my opinion, this will make it harder to create jobs. Can the hon. member comment on that too?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I am going to answer the questions of the hon. member for Beauséjour regarding the fact that some people prefer to take advantage of the EI program to go hunting. Imagine. I do not know whether the hon. member likes to hunt, but I do know that the Minister of National Defence goes fishing and uses a government helicopter to pick him up on the shore. The Conservatives do that.

If they want to slash spending, they could begin there. They have earned that reputation. A minister travels to England or to another country and uses a big limousine at a cost of $3,500.

People back home are hard workers. The Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and member for Madawaska—Restigouche should remember that, in 1993, under the government of Brian Mulroney, there were only two Conservatives left in the House because that government had begun cutting back on the EI program.

Now that he is the minister responsible for ACOA, he should provide the regions with economic development tools, to give people an opportunity to find work. Instead, he is cutting $18 million. He is slashing funding for agencies such as the community economic development agencies in all the regions of New Brunswick, including Enterprise Peninsula, Enterprise Chaleur, Enterprise Restigouche, and everywhere.

Instead of uttering such nonsense, the minister should help the region, and he should be proud of it. He should say that he was elected to defend the interests of his region in Ottawa, instead of insulting it. But that is what he is doing: he is insulting our region.

He is the minister responsible for La Francophonie, but he is not even able to state our case regarding Supreme Court judges and the Auditor General of Canada. He does none of that. Last week, people in his riding told me that they were ashamed of their MP and that they regretted electing him. They had forgotten what happened in the late 1980s. Now, they see what he is doing. There are seasonal workers in Madawaska too. The minister is also calling them lazy, and that is unacceptable. What the minister did last week is unacceptable.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 31st, 2012 / noon

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst for drawing our attention to seasonal industry. What we are talking about is the economy. This is an industry. It is a fact of life in our regions. This far-reaching change to employment insurance is going to destroy that industry. The harm has already begun.

This is a fact of life in our regions. There are people who are starting to leave because they know they will not be able to stay there; their plans for the future for their regions will simply be dead in the water. They want to make a go of it.

Since being elected as the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, I have tried repeatedly, as have many people in my riding, to communicate with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development so we could meet with her and explain how things are in our region. Things on the upper north shore and in Charlevoix are not the same as they are in Quebec City or Montreal or Toronto or Calgary. Things are different. We wanted to talk to her about our concerns about employment insurance well before this plan to destroy it.

We tried to contact the minister by mail, by email and by telephone. We planned a meeting with her assistant. The result was a telephone meeting that was quite simply quickly forgotten and gave the impression that it was simply to stall for time.

I am more concerned than ever for the people of my riding, for the families who live on the upper north shore and in Charlevoix. Does the government realize it is causing an exodus from those regions?

I was talking with someone from Les Escoumins. She told me that when she went to get a coffee at the convenience store, the cashier told her that six people that day had let her know they were leaving the region to go and work in Sept-Îles, a city more than 100 km from Forestville or Les Escoumins.

Is this how the Conservatives deal with all the issues before them? Do they always go it alone? Do they always run the country as they like, with no consultation, without meeting with the people who are directly affected by this measure? Has the minister ever once set foot in Charlevoix? Has she ever gone to the upper north shore? Yes, Charlevoix and the upper north shore look nice on a postcard, but the people who live there see the landscape in a whole different way.

The government has to stop playing with numbers, because at this point its calculations are pitiful. It is not taking into consideration the regional economy, the reality of the lives of these people who are developing economies after the losses in the forestry industry and a declining tourism industry. The people are making plans and developing an economy so they can make a go of it.

I have a list of people I have met with on this issue. A lot of them would like to meet with the minister to explain the situation to her. We are prepared to cover her costs. We want her to meet with people. That is one of the duties of a minister and a member. We want the minister to come to us, but perhaps not in an F-35.

The Conservatives have completely lost touch with their human side. All that matters is their cronies and big business. That is all that counts.

There is another resident in my riding who works for an extermination company. There are very few bugs from January to March. There are not many insects. With three children at home, this resident needs money. What should he do? Go and work for a competitor? The competitors have no more jobs to offer than anyone else. Going to work for a competitor will mean that he will have to leave his employer. If an employee wants to climb the ladder in the business, he has to be able to trust his employer, and this trust has to be reciprocated by the employer.

Clearly, many sectors of our economy in the regions are seasonal, and there is not enough work in the winter to cover this period of the year where people are on employment insurance.

The Conservative government has climbed into bed with management and the rich and is abandoning workers. The government lacks an overall vision when it comes to the regions. It should trust the elected representatives who represent that segment of the population. I thought that that was something that the current Prime Minister wanted to achieve at one point, by giving more power to members.

Actions speak louder than words. Are we to conclude that the Conservative government is trying to divide the regions, to divide east and west? In eastern Canada, the sectors of economic activity in many municipalities are seasonal. The government is attacking the resource regions, which inevitably have to contend with work cycles. I would really like to know what regions the Conservatives were referring to when they said that they wanted to give the regions power.

To give you a better idea, here is what is really happening in Charlevoix. I have before me a regional overview prepared by the Charlevoix Mouvement Action-Chômage. For several years, the Charlevoix economy has been in bad shape. The population is not well educated, over 40% of the residents have no high school diploma; the employment rate is anemic, unemployment is verging on 15%; and the average person's income barely exceeds $21,000.

Charlevoix’s economy is based mainly on tourism. Unemployment of varying duration is a fact of life for many households in the region. Wages are low. A benefit rate of 55% of gross earnings leaves seasonal workers in an unstable financial position. Being dependent on weather and tourism, the economy is vulnerable and people are increasingly concerned. The number of hours required to qualify for employment insurance has increased from 420 to 560. That is troubling, particularly when you know that work lasts 12 to 14 weeks for some people. When they do manage to qualify, benefits are not paid long enough for them to make ends meet for the year. There is a black hole. Some people cannot find work in winter because there is not enough for everyone. The economy they want to create there is not established. They need an economic safety net, a social safety net, to proceed with their projects. Some people in the region may go 14 weeks without any income, even if they have children, a house to pay for and grocery bills.

Transitional measures were introduced in 2000. Why were they introduced? Because the map drawn for the purpose of calculating rates did not reflect the actual situation in all the regions. The map has not been redrawn. Since then, pilot projects of all kinds have been introduced across the region. Is that not an indication that the act is ineffective?

Action-Chômage also briefed me, but I am going to go to my conclusion, since I only have a minute of speaking time left.

The following appears on the Service Canada website concerning employment insurance: "The plan is financed by premiums collected from workers and employers. The accumulated funds cover both the benefits paid to unemployed persons and the costs of administration."

Why do budget cuts have to be made to a program that is self-funded? Someone explain that to me. It seems to me, and to many others, that this bank should be highly effective in meeting workers' needs.

Is the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development familiar with the difficulties caused by a tight family budget? I may not be an eminent lawyer or a learned political scientist, but I have personally experienced that situation.

Once I was told at the employment insurance office that if I had been there a week earlier, I would have been eligible for benefits but that, as it was, I was short nine hours. I spent three months without any income, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I believe the minister should listen to the members in this House, who can teach her a great deal and explain the realities of our regions.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, coming from a rural riding in British Columbia near the Rocky Mountains, I know that rural living is a way of life for a lot of people. They accept that by living in remote areas, there are handicaps with getting in and out. With regard to part-time work, whether it be in the ski or golf industries, a lot of people accept and understand that when those seasons are over, they get jobs in other areas not that far away, recognizing that they enjoy rural living. That is part of the sacrifice.

Would he agree that for a lot of people who want to find jobs after their seasonal jobs are over—for instance, the ski industry—a one-hour drive to a secondary job is not that much of a hardship, especially if the exception is that they like living in a rural setting?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is not the reality for many regions. That demonstrates ignorance about a lot of regions. In many places, you need to travel more than 100 km to find a job. From one end to the other of the Upper North Shore is at least 100 km. The same goes for the whole territory. People who live in Sacré-Coeur cannot move to Forestville because there is no work in Forestville. They have to travel even farther, to Baie-Comeau or Sept-Îles. The same goes for Saguenay. So it is simply false.

If the objective is to force people to go somewhere to work, under the pretext that some of them just want to sit back and take advantage of EI, we are not going to help them by destroying employment insurance. We know the carrot and stick approach, but we are not going to encourage people to go to work by using a sledgehammer instead of a stick; we have to use the carrot instead.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for his very interesting remarks. He also talked about his life experience. That was very interesting.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!