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

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would seek a moment to table the motion and to confer with the other side?

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, while we are on the subject of the crisis in Syria, given all our concerns for the situation, I would propose the following motion: That a take note debate on the subject of the ongoing and reprehensible violence in Syria pursuant to Standing Order 53.1 take place this evening, May 31, and, notwithstanding any Standing Order of usual practices of the House, when the House begins proceedings under the provisions of Standing Order 53.1 on Thursday, May 31, no quorum calls or requests for unanimous consent or dilatory motion shall be received by the Speaker, and any member rising to speak during the debate may indicate to the Speaker that he or she will be dividing his or her time with another member.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, this is a matter that has been the discussion of some parties. In fact, it was initiated by the government and the Liberal Party members were originally opposed to a debate on Thursday night. They wanted it to be a different night, so I am a little puzzled by that.

I would like an opportunity for us to again come to a discussion and an understanding that everybody is on the same page before we start launching motions without consensus.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to the comment by the House leader for the government, I want to make it categorically clear that we were not opposed to having this take note debate. That is why I am getting up today and asking for it to take place tonight.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Perhaps the House leaders would like to get together to sort out some of these issues and then come back and seek consent for these motions after they have had a chance to do that.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, the comment I would like to make is about the unanimous consent that has just been asked for.

You will have noticed my comment that the Bloc Québécois was not in agreement with the unanimous consent. I make no judgment about the basis for the motion; it is just that we were not consulted before the motion was moved in the House.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Fortunately, members have plenty of time today to sort out some of these differences and come back and seek consent once they have had a chance to do so. Therefore, we will move on to orders of the day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles has seven minutes left.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume my speech on the official opposition motion.

As I was mentioning, 26% of employment insurance claims are filed by seasonal workers, 30% of whom are Quebeckers. The NDP tells these workers that they are important and that the employment insurance program has to reflect that reality. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not want to send these workers that same message.

The spokesperson for Mouvement Action-Chômage in the Gaspé, Gaétan Cousineau, who has been defending seasonal workers for 20 years, is speaking out against the government's proposed changes to employment insurance. He is criticizing the abuse of society's poorest workers. He said:

A worker in the Magdalen Islands was offered four jobs on the mainland. He was told, “They are in your region.” Do they think that a seasonal worker can take a plane to work a job that far [200 kilometres] from home?

The worker in question was able to turn down the job offer. Would the minister's new regulation have allowed him to do that? We do not know.

It irks me when I hear the Conservative government suggest that seasonal workers are abusing the system.

The reality is that Canada has 3.2 million part-time workers, 20% of the entire workforce, and 1.8 million temporary workers. This type of insecure work is constantly on the increase because of this government's inability to create good jobs and to properly regulate the job market.

I will not accept fingers being pointed at workers who are struggling to make ends meet, certainly not when the finger is being pointed by one who did not see the 2008 economic crisis coming and who has just brought down a budget that contains no real measures designed to stimulate employment.

It also must be pointed out that, since separate accounting for the employment insurance program was established in 1986, the federal government has not put one cent into it. All the benefits, and the program's administrative costs, are paid for entirely by employees and employers.

Despite the fact the government has put nothing in for years, both Liberals and Conservatives have been pilfering from the fund to pay for other programs.

We all know the scheme. They keep premiums higher than the program requires and they reduce benefits and restrict access to the program in order to generate huge surpluses. More than $50 billion has been siphoned off in that way while today, scarcely one unemployed person in two has access to employment insurance because of the ever-stricter conditions. By comparison, in 1989, 85% of unemployed people had access to employment insurance.

So the government had better not try to tell me that seasonal workers are threatening the viability of the employment insurance program. If there is a threat, it comes from the Liberals and Conservatives who have had their sticky fingers in the employment insurance fund for decades.

The Journal de Québec editorial writer Jean-Jacques Samson feels that the proposed reforms will have the opposite effect to what is intended:

Seasonal work is highly concentrated in the regions, where travel costs are high: distances are long and public transportation is virtually non existent. Forcing an EI claimant who was earning $15 an hour to accept a job an hour away from home, and at 70% of his previous salary, constitutes a disincentive to work. His hourly wage would fall to $10.50, which is barely above minimum wage...and he would have to pay what it costs to travel tens of kilometres.

People will have a strong temptation to turn to social assistance, and returning to the workforce will become very difficult later on.

Job instability should instead incite the government to improve the legislation so that workers can continue to live decent lives during tough times. I actually polled my constituents about this in March. Some 50% of people in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles believe that the existing employment insurance system does not really meet the needs of people who have lost their jobs and that changes need to be made to the system. This poll clearly shows that this government is out of touch with the priorities of our constituents.

Over the years, the NDP has proposed several changes that would improve the EI system. I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who has done a tremendous job on this issue in the past.

I want to focus in particular on the measures we have proposed for seasonal workers. When it comes to employment insurance, seasonal workers have four problems.

It is difficult for them to accumulate enough hours to qualify for employment insurance. It is difficult for them to accumulate enough hours to be entitled to enough weeks of benefits to get through to the next season. That is known as the black hole. The wage replacement rate is too low because of the short weeks that sometimes occur during the qualifying period. The program imposes a two-week unpaid waiting period.

During the last election campaign, the NDP made a formal commitment to restore the integrity of the employment insurance program to the extent possible given public finances. We said we would eliminate the two-week waiting period, reduce the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional unemployment rate, and increase the wage replacement rate from 55% to 60%, which is what it was in 1990. We also said we would base the benefit rate calculation on the best 12 weeks of the qualifying period to exclude small weeks caused by circumstances such as bad weather.

These are not new proposals. In 2001, following extensive consultations, the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities unanimously adopted a report recommending these very measures.

Let us be clear: despite the government's rhetoric, the purpose of these changes is not to match unemployed workers with existing jobs, but rather to reduce costs by cutting wages.

The government has to stop dividing Canadians and pitting the regions of the country against each other. It is time to improve the employment insurance program, not destroy it.

Consequently, for the reasons I have just stated, I urge my colleagues in this House, regardless of party affiliation, to vote for the official opposition's motion respecting employment insurance.

Lastly, it should be noted that the employment insurance changes will have a disproportionate impact on women, who often earn lower wages than men and who are more likely to accept lower-paid jobs. When we talk about employment insurance changes, we are also talking about changes that will affect Canadian women and families and have a disproportionate impact on workers in eastern Canada and in Quebec who work in agri-food, forestry, tourism and other industries.

We in the NDP believe that the government must introduce measures to improve the quality of life of working Canadians. However, instead of that, this Conservative government is taking part in a race to the bottom. Unfortunately, that is not the best thing for Quebec families.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, throughout the day today we have been subjected to a lot of misinformation in this whole discussion. In a previous comment, my colleague said that our government made $52 billion of EI funds disappear. I want to clarify that the $52 billion had disappeared long before this government took office. In fact, it was in the period of the Liberal government prior to us that the $52 billion disappeared somewhere into general revenues.

More troubling is the insinuation that it is somehow worse for someone to have a job earning 70% or 80% of their previous earnings than sitting at home getting 55% of previous earnings.

Could she explain how ordinary Canadians who are paying EI premiums would feel about people staying home and earning 55% of their earnings rather than getting a job, feeling productive, having self-esteem with a good job and actually contributing to the Canadian economy?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party can point the finger at previous governments, but that does not change the fact that EI belongs to Canadians and workers and not to the government. We are faced with a government that does not consult provinces, has not consulted taxpayers and Canadians concerning changes to EI and has tried to bundle all these changes into an omnibus budget bill that is more than 400 pages, which is insulting to the democratic process and does not allow MPs to carry out their role of oversight and surveillance.

It must also be noted that this government is displaying an arrogant attitude toward Canadian and Quebec workers. Employment insurance is a program that belongs to Canadian workers, not to this government, which is disregarding those workers and accusing them of fraud.