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

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I apologize, I sometimes hear the hon. members in the background and I lose my train of thought.

The hon. member mentioned an organization from his region that works on unemployment. Those organizations are very close to the reality of our constituents. The hon. member wanted to go into more detail, but he did not have time, unfortunately. I would like to hear what he has to say on this subject.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 12:15 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, the economic reality in the Upper North Shore is that the major industry was forest related. The people of the Upper North Shore are now developing economic activities in tourism, ecotourism and biomass. Many projects are underway.

At the moment, however, people are leaving the Upper North Shore and surrounding areas. They were already experiencing problems in accessing employment insurance because the government had put an end to the transitional measures. What is happening now is worse still. It will become even more difficult for people to collect employment insurance and their income will drop in winter. The fact is that they need this social safety net, and they need time for their economy to be restructured.

What is happening at the moment is the destruction of the economy in these regions.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my Conservative colleague from Kootenay—Columbia asked a question and mentioned something very important, the fact that many people work in two different industries. They may go from ski hill work to golf course work. However, there are periods in between that must be meshed together with some type of income support, which is the EI system. What is going to happen through this legislation is that those skilled workers are going to be chased out of two different industries now, ski hill operation and golf course operation. It is obvious the government does not understand the nature of seasonal work.

Could my colleague expand on the fact that there are not a lot of forest fires in northern Manitoba in December, there is not a lot of halibut caught in January and there are not a lot of potatoes picked in P.E.I. in February? Most people who go on vacation in March go south and so the tourism industry is down too. Could he expand a bit more on the nature of seasonal industries in this country and their importance?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Liberal Party colleague for his question.

The fact is that there are many specialized jobs in certain fields. There is a risk that these people will leave their regions because of the serious economic downturn. There will be job losses. It will become a vicious cycle.

Entrepreneurs who have skilled employees will have to replace them with people who do not have the necessary skills. They will have to train them. This will represent costs for companies. It will destroy the seasonal industries because they are genuine industries. These are not people taking advantage of a situation.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Our government cannot support a motion that is factually incorrect. The changes we are introducing would ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.

By accepting a reasonable job under the new definition, Canadians would actually increase their income from what they were collecting on EI, and in many cases that increase would be substantial. That is why our government is investing in connecting Canadians with jobs in their local labour markets.

These fair and reasonable measures announced a week ago today by my hon. colleague the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development would help Canadians return to work more quickly. This would help address the growing skills and labour shortage in Canada by helping Canadians who want to work get back to work. These are necessary changes to ensure the EI program is working more effectively for Canada and for Canadians.

Thanks to the strong leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance our economy has created 750,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession.

At the same time, we recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off-season in parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. Our government is committed to helping these Canadians find jobs they are qualified for in their local labour markets.

But for those individuals who live in areas of high unemployment and are unable to find jobs, the employment insurance system will be there for them, as it always has been.

These EI improvements are only the most recent in a series of economic action plan measures we have introduced to support jobs, growth and economic development. One of the programs that helped us achieve this economic success is the work-sharing program. I have had experience with that in a previous life, in my business experience. It has made a difference to both employees and employers alike in helping them survive the ups and downs of economic recovery.

Through the economic action plan, the Conservative government made the work-sharing program more accessible and extended its duration to help minimize the effects of the economic downturn on Canadian companies and their employees.

Since February 2009, more than 300,000 Canadians have benefited from the work-sharing program under the more than 11,000 agreements signed with employers.

How does it work? Work-sharing helps businesses avoid temporary layoffs when facing a reduction in the normal level of activity that is beyond their control. A good example would be manufacturing jobs, where economic slowdowns mean orders dry up unexpectedly. If workers agree to a reduced work week while their employer recovers, they may receive EI benefits, effectively allowing two or three workers to share one job but to still have their job.

Employers are able to retain their skilled employees and avoid the costly process of recruiting and training new employees when businesses return to normal levels. Employees keep their jobs and maintain their skills, all the while supplementing their wages with EI benefits for the days they are not working. They have helped their employer stay in business and stay open in the community, and they have not had to sacrifice their take-home pay.

This is the type of well-functioning program Canadians have come to expect from this government and it is a win-win for everyone involved.

Unlike the divisive politics of members opposite who try to pit one region of Canada against another, our government believes in programs, such as the work-sharing program, that are equally available everywhere in Canada, and that is important to note.

There are plenty of success stories that highlight how effective this program is, and if I may, I will share a couple.

Mascot Truck Parts, based in Ontario, was founded in 1936. The company has evolved over the past seven decades to become one of the largest heavy-duty specialists in North America, applying its expertise to rebuilding all makes of transmissions, differentials and steering gears.

The economic downturn hit the manufacturing and automotive industry hard and this had a major impact on Mascot. To avoid layoffs and keep the business running, the company signed a work-sharing agreement that began in August 2009 and ended in July 2010. It allowed Mascot Truck Parts to keep 107 employees and avoid laying anyone off when it was affected by the downturn.

In Alberta, there is a 475-person company called Standen's Limited that benefited from a work-sharing agreement between March 2009 and May 2010. The company manufactures heat-treated alloy steel products, such as leaf springs, tillage tools, trailer axles and other speciality products used for heavy-duty agriculture, transportation and light military vehicle applications.

The business exports internationally to the U.S., South America, Australia, New Zealand and China. When the downturn started to affect its bottom line, Standen's was able to keep its original staff on the payroll. Thanks to work-sharing, the business was staffed up, ready to roll when product demand resumed.

I have given two concrete examples of an effective EI program that works. The measures we introduced to support job growth and economic recovery have given us the strongest job growth numbers in the G8, something we should all be very proud of.

As Canada continues to move out of the recession, the Canadian labour market is shifting from one where we needed programs like work-sharing to one where there is a skills and labour shortage. With this evolution, our government is removing the disincentives to work that exist within the EI system to ensure we can match Canadians with available jobs in their local labour markets that are appropriate to their skill sets.

The communities I live in and represent in Brandon—Souris, Manitoba, are right now exemplifying exactly what is happening. We have a high demand for skilled labour, and unfortunately those people are not available within our region. I am not saying people should have to move, but if they choose to, Brandon—Souris is a great place to come and live, and the job opportunities are plenty. I would compare the lifestyle to any other part of Canada.

In closing, I urge my hon. colleagues to support our measured and reasonable changes to the employment insurance system. It is for this reason that I cannot support the opposition motion today.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know why the government is attacking workers.

Maybe the member could explain it to us. When people are out there fishing and can only work so many months, a lot of them do in fact go out and find another job in the interim. Then they go back to being able to fish, and we do need that because our economy relies on the fishing industry, just as our economy is impacted by forest fires and we need to have those forest fires put out by firefighters.

I am just trying to make some sense of this, and maybe the member could explain this to me. If these seasonal workers are forced to take, and I am saying “forced to take”, these lower paying jobs, will they be able to return to their previous employment, or will they be punished for that?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, every part of Canada is different. Every part of Canada has different circumstances.

We have said very clearly that in situations where there is no opportunity to find that second job or that interim job, the employment insurance program will be there.

Unlike that member across the floor, we as a government will not tell people where they have to go and work. We will not tell people; we will simply make it available to the employers and employees that these opportunities exist. We would encourage them to fulfill that and take advantage of it.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, in that attempt to let Canadians know, the government has spent $21 million in developing a program whereby it emails information about potential jobs to those who are receiving EI benefits.

It may reach a fair number of EI recipients. However, the fact is that 40% of households that make less than $30,000 a year have no access to the Internet. In that bracket between $30,000 a year and $50,000 a year, the rate is about 25% of households that have no access to Internet. What is the plan to reach those potential users? I would think many of those households would be the clients the government wants to reach with this program.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is that if people want a job or are looking for one, there are several avenues they can take. In today's world, technology is not just the Internet. We have phones. We can access information through many sources, and we do.

The challenge from the government is to make sure as many of those sources have that information, so when people are looking for employment or people are looking for employees, they can access a pool that would tell them where these people are and provide them with the opportunity.

As a former self-employed person who employed many people, if I wanted to find somebody in this country to work for me, I would not hesitate to go out and find them. That is what we need people to do. And we need people who want to work to have access to that pool, as well.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. colleague his speech. I feel the member has spoken well before us on this issue.

However, I do have one thing I have difficulty with; that is, why the members opposite have such an issue with these changes to the EI system that would connect Canadians with available work and allow them to make more money in the process than if they remained on EI.

Would the hon. colleague please provide some thoughts on this?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can relate an experience as recently as last week in my community.

I met an employer who is looking for heavy-duty welders. He came up to me and said, “What a great idea. Now I can actually have a pool that I can apply to, to find the qualified person who has the qualities I want in my job and at least have the opportunity to present my offer to him”. Before, they never had that. Also, “I'm an unemployed person with those qualities. I also have access to that same pool to put my name forward and put it out into the job market.”

I cannot think of a better way for people to connect and a better way to create an opportunity for people to get jobs.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to share my thoughts on this NDP motion. I do not believe it will come as any surprise to the House to hear that I cannot support a factually incorrect and inaccurate motion.

Let me be clear on what our changes would do.

We would connect out-of-work Canadians with local jobs in their local communities within their skill set. The changes we would be making are common-sense adjustments to ensure that EI is not discouraging people from trying to get back into the job market. As we face unprecedented labour and skills shortages, it is important that the employment insurance program is working most effectively for Canada and Canadians. That is why budget 2012 announced revisions to the working while on claim pilot project. This national pilot project would ensure that Canadians who are collecting EI benefit from accepting all available work.

Previously, only a portion of earnings were exempt from being clawed back. Once earnings exceeded this exemption, EI benefits were clawed back dollar for dollar.

The practical result of this policy is not hard to see: EI claimants turning down any work that exceeded this exemption because they would not profit from their labour.

While an individual is waiting for a permanent, full-time job to open up, their skills are underutilized. Under this new pilot, we would cut the current clawback rate in half and apply it to all earnings made while on claim.

We know from experience that part-time work will often lead to full-time work. This project would ensure that EI claimants always benefit from accepting work because it would allow them to keep more of what they earn while on EI.

Let me use an example to illustrate how an EI claimant would benefit from this new working while on claim pilot project.

Imagine William, a retail salesperson, who has been laid off and is receiving EI benefits of $450 per week. He has found part-time work in a store that pays him a total of $600 per week. Under the current working while on claim pilot project, William can earn wages equivalent to 40% of his weekly EI benefits with no reduction to those benefits. This allows him to keep $180. Earnings above the 40% level reduce his benefit payment dollar for dollar, so William's combined earnings and EI benefits are $630.

Under the new working while on claim pilot project, William's EI benefits would only be reduced by 50% of his earnings from working while he is on claim. His combined weekly income would then be $750. We believe it should pay to work. With this new pilot, it would always be more beneficial for claimants to accept work than to receive EI alone.

We know the job market varies from region to region. We know that some seasonal workers, especially in rural areas, may not be able to find other work in the off season. The Prime Minister has been crystal clear. Our government is working to help these Canadians find jobs in their local area appropriate to their qualifications. For those who are unable to find employment, employment insurance will be there for them as it always has been. However, in areas where there are more jobs than unemployed Canadians, it makes no sense for EI claimants to stay at home when there are jobs they could be doing.

As announced in economic action plan 2012, we are introducing a new permanent national approach to better align the calculation of the weekly amount an EI claimant receives with their regional labour market conditions.

As of April of next year, subject to Parliament's approval, the amount a claimant receives weekly will be determined using an average of his or her best weeks of employment. In higher unemployment regions, fewer best weeks will be used in this calculation, making it more beneficial for workers to accept all available work in slower seasons of employment.

By replacing the previous selective pilot with a national program, we would ensure that those living in regions with similar labour market conditions receive similar benefits.

These are two great examples of improvements our government is making to employment insurance to ensure Canadians are always better off accepting all available work. Matching Canadian workers with available jobs in their local area is critical to supporting economic growth and productivity as well as quality life for Canadians.

Our country's economic performance continues to be strong. From July 2009 to April 2012 more than 750,000 jobs have been created. These gains in job creation along with the further rise in business confidence bode well for continuing economic growth. We need to maintain that momentum. We have a strange dichotomy in this country where some regions that have high unemployment rates also have labour and skills shortages. While the unemployment rate in my province of Saskatchewan is 4.9%, there is 18% unemployment in northern Saskatchewan. Mining companies are begging for workers because they cannot find Canadians to fill those job shortages.

The Canada Job Vacancy Survey of Statistics Canada's tells us that about 250,000 jobs went unfilled in the fall of last year. We need to ensure that the EI program contributes to economic growth by encouraging people to fill those available jobs. That is good for them, for their families, for their communities and the economy at large.

Let me briefly outline a few of the other measures that are part of our plan. We would be investing $21 million over two years to help unemployed Canadians to find jobs more quickly. We would offer more labour market information to claimants to support their job searches, including expanded online job postings. This would include daily emails with jobs that are specific to EI claimants, based on geography and the skills a worker possesses. We would also ensure that employers consider Canadians before they hire temporary foreign workers.

While the opposition NDP prefers to attack hard-working Canadians who go to work every day filling crucial roles, we want to better connect Canadians with available jobs. Under our plan Canadians would always benefit financially from accepting suitable employment.

Our government's top priority is creating jobs and long-term prosperity for Canadians. That is why we are making these practical, common sense changes to connect out-of-work Canadians with jobs in their local areas. I urge all members to support our government's initiatives and to vote against this factually incorrect opposition motion.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to stand in the House today to ask my colleague on the other side of the House a question.

We have different positions on what we would like and not like to see with respect to employment insurance. Unfortunately, I do not share my colleague’s position, but what intrigues me about what is happening is the process itself. The Conservatives never mentioned during the election campaign that changes would be made to employment insurance.

Were there consultations? Did they meet people and employers in the provinces? Did they meet workers to ask them whether the changes they were proposing were useful and whether they agreed with them on this matter?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it has been stated many times since these measures were introduced that we are facing an unprecedented labour and skills shortage. We have heard from employers. We have heard from many individuals back home in my riding that we need to better connect Canadians with the jobs that are available.

These are common sense and reasonable changes that are in the best interests of Canadians and our economy. I would encourage the hon. member to look past the fearmongering her own party is doing and support what we are doing in these measures.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question is on how the government would administer these regulations. I will give my colleague an opportunity to get her thoughts together on that while I share a reality.

The minister appeared yesterday and one of the comments was that there are currently 180,000 EI claims that have gone over 29 days. They went 29 days without a cheque in receiving their entitled EI. There were 180,000 Canadians who found themselves there.

The government has carved the guts out of the capacity to deal with EI claims and claims processing. With these additional regulations, obviously it would be a more rigorous procedure. Would there be additional resources?

The $21 million is really being put into the software program. How are we going to deal with this?