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 jobs.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, current EI rules already require that Canadians actively look for work while collecting EI. We know that there are processes currently in place to handle current claims that are already being processed through EI.

The changes we are introducing would further enhance those requirements, including providing Canadians with additional guidance on how to search for jobs in their local area within their skill set. This would include enhanced job alerts and better labour market information. We expect that by providing that proactive information to Canadians, the ability to manage claims would be there as they need it.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke about these unprecedented skills and labour shortages. In my riding of Simcoe—Grey, we have these challenges. It is a rural riding. I know that the opposition like to refute that anyone from a rural riding supports these measures, but I can say that I strongly support them and I am from a rural riding, as are the employers and employees in my riding.

Could the member please address this issue and why these changes would help individuals find jobs, connect Canadians with jobs, in this area where we need to find as many skilled workers as possible in rural as well as urban Canadian centres?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear that our government's top priority is the economy. We are proud to have seen 750,000 jobs created since the end of the economic recession. Our government is working to help these Canadians find jobs in their local area appropriate to their qualifications.

As I mentioned, I am from one of those provinces that is working to address these unprecedented skilled labour shortages and the need to fill jobs in other parts of our province. These measures would help us to do that. These measures would help us to connect Canadians with the jobs that are available.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Hochelaga.

My perspective on this motion is a Newfoundland and Labrador perspective. In that light, I begin.

First it was the fishery, and now it is the fishermen. That will be a theme throughout my speech.

First the fishery was destroyed. Under consecutive federal Liberal and Conservative governments, groundfish stocks, such as cod and flounder, were practically wiped off the face of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. There has been an embarrassing lack of recovery; in fact, there are no plans for a recovery. The Conservatives voted against that bill, my bill, the Newfoundland and Labrador rebuilding bill, last fall.

It has been 20 years since the biggest layoff in Canadian history, the shutdown of the northern cod fishery. It was comparable to the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, and the anniversary is coming up on July 2. Members should mark that on their calendars.

There has been no recovery and there is no recovery plan. First our fishery was abandoned, and now our fishermen and our mariners are being abandoned. They are being systematically abandoned. The latest blow comes from the proposed changes to employment insurance. These changes, as I said Wednesday during question period, will empty what is left of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, what we call the outports. First the fishery, now the fishermen.

Today's motion calls on the Conservative government to abandon plans to 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.

These changes amount to an attack on seasonal workers. The Conservative government is telling frequent EI claimants that they will be required, after six weeks of collecting benefits, to take any work available within a one-hour commute, providing it pays at least 70% of what they were making before they were laid off.

Tell me that will not hurt. It means two hours of commuting for a job that pays 30% less and that probably requires daycare expenses and fuel expenses. There are no subways in Newfoundland and Labrador. That may be news to the out-of-touch Conservative government. That is 30% less pay, with increased expenses.

In very many rural areas there is little other work besides seasonal industries like fishing, forestry and tourism. That is a reality. Most seasonal workers would be classified as frequent claimants. There was a point in time a few decades ago when the fishery employed fishermen and plant workers full time, year round, 52 weeks a year. That gets back to my point about the fishery being destroyed under consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments and the need for an inquiry.

Instead of changing EI rules, the Conservative government should come up with a rebuilding plan for fish stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador. That would get my people back to full-time work. How is that for a novel idea to get Canadians back to work?

The Conservative changes to EI punish frequent EI claimants. They punish seasonal workers. According to the St. John's Telegram, the daily newspaper in my riding, Newfoundland and Labrador is the province with the single highest number of frequent EI claimants. Of 67,700 claimants in Newfoundland and Labrador, almost 54,000 could be classified as frequent, meaning nearly 80% of my province's EI claimants would fall into the frequent category. Nationally, the average is 32%. That is a big spread. In effect, the changes to EI could have a disproportionately larger impact on my province than on other provinces.

That would hold true also with changes to old age security and GIS. More Newfoundlanders and Labradorians depend on their government pensions as their main source of income, because many seasonal industries do not come with pension plans. That is a reality of life too.

First it was the fishery; now it is the fishermen.

In so many areas of Atlantic Canada, there is only seasonal work. It is the nature of the industry—well, ever since the fishery was destroyed under the Liberal and Conservative watch, again.

The changes to EI amount to a race to the bottom. Let us take, for example, a seasonal worker in outport Newfoundland who finds a job that pays 70% of what he or she made in the fish plant. That would have to be near or at minimum wage, which a person, let alone a family, cannot be expected to survive on. On top of that, there are the added expenses I mentioned earlier: daycare, fuel, that sort of thing. I repeat: it is a race to the bottom. More people would probably draw from provincial welfare just to get by, placing a larger fiscal burden on the provinces.

I will summarize the Conservative plan for Atlantic Canada for outport Newfoundland and Labrador.

First, walk away from the fish and pretend that the stocks never existed, with no recovery plan and no rebuilding targets. The same goes for the Conservative pretense of supporting the seal harvest.

Second, abandon the fishermen. Examples of that would include the potential elimination of owner-operator fleet separation policies, which would essentially kill the traditional inshore fishery. Another example is the steady deterioration of search and rescue services, although the Conservatives are spreading a vicious rumour that the Italians are actually picking up the slack on marine medical calls. Another is the cuts to ACOA, which mean regional development boards are basically on their way out, as is any presence of the federal Department Fisheries and Oceans following continuous cuts to science and management.

First it was the fish, and now it is the fishermen. Where is the consultation? The Conservatives have a habit of pulling legislation out of the air and ramming it down the throats of Canadians. We see it as they raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. There was no talk of that during the last federal election. That has made people scared. There was no talk of these EI changes either. In fact, there was no consultation with Canadians, period.

Elizabeth Beale is the president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council. She states:

These are important policy changes and we need a full policy discussion.

Good luck with that, I say. It will not happen with this Conservative government.

Beale makes another great point. She says:

What's being missed in this discussion and missed in the national dialogue is the inference that Atlantic Canadians don't want to work.

Members will recognize that idea, the idea that unemployment rates are high and therefore Atlantic Canadians want to stay home and twiddle their fingers, but as Beale said,

The reality is completely different.

We need to keep in mind that the Prime Minister has said Atlantic Canada has “a culture of defeat”. That quote still rings in the ears of Atlantic Canadians.

The changes to EI would reduce the incomes of people in rural communities who are older and unable to take jobs elsewhere. That is a fact. That is the reality.

Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, has said:

There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of people's lives in rural parts of the country—particularly here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, much of our rural areas are dependent on the fishery—what is left of it—and tourism. Both are seasonal, so these changes would hurt economically sensitive areas.

First it was the fishery, and now it is the fishermen.

It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent in implementing a rebuilding plan for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent in dropping plans to eliminate the owner-operator fleet separation policies. It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent giving people hope for the future, hope for our culture and heritage—hope, not punishment on top of punishment.

Years ago the Prime Minister said that Atlantic Canada has a culture of defeat, but it is the Conservatives who are defeatist toward us. They are defeatist, out of touch, and out of luck come the next election.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague, who talked about people travelling two hours, so I am making an assumption that he means one hour to work and one hour back home.

I live in a rural riding. There are people in my riding who actually drive for an hour to get to work and drive an hour to get home. There are no subways or public transportation for those individuals to get to those jobs.

I am wondering how difficult that might be, since the NDP says people cannot go to work by travelling for an hour.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is one hour to get to work and one hour to get home. Then there are added expenses on top of that, such as daycare, fuel, car maintenance and the whole nine yards. We also have to keep in mind—give me a chance to speak, now—that those people will be making 30% less while having extra expenses.

That is your plan for the future of rural Newfoundland and Labrador and rural Canada. It is out of touch.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before I continue with questions and comments, I would remind all hon. members, now that this has happened two or three times this morning, that questions and comments ought to be directed to the Chair rather than colleagues. I would like people to keep that in mind. It maintains a certain level of decorum in the debate.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl this question. We understand that the government is heading down the road of getting rid of the owner-operator fleet separation policy that now exists, which enables small owner-operator fishermen to work in communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout Atlantic Canada. It is going to get rid of that policy.

Does the member not see that the drive to cut EI benefits in those same communities that support seasonal fishermen is not part of the plan of the Conservative government to turn over the fishery to corporate Canada and drive working people out of Newfoundland and Labrador and coastal Canada?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the excellent question. He is doing an excellent job as the critic for fisheries and oceans.

In terms of the big picture, the hon. member is dead on the money. The potential elimination of owner-operator fleet separation policies would kill the traditional inshore fishery. I believe the changes to employment insurance will drive rural Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Atlantic Canada out of those areas. If we look at it from the perspective of the big picture, it is a plan by the Conservative government to do away with what is left of the traditional fisheries in Atlantic Canada.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl for a very clear description of the different worlds that exist within one country. Canada is one country, and we all love it. I am grateful that yesterday the hon. member for Calgary Centre reminded us of that.

I hear Conservative members of Parliament talk about how employees are not looking hard enough for work, even though we know that they do. However, I want to focus the question on the employers.

In seasonal industries, the employers have benefited from EI. They need the system. It can be fixed, it can be tweaked, and things can be done, but essentially, when employers lay off employees at the end of a summer season, whether the employers are in fisheries, forestry, tourism or mining, they want to know those people are willing to come back to them for the same jobs they held before they were laid off.

This is an employer benefit, and I am going to ask the hon. member if he thinks the government has given sufficient concern to employers' dependence on this system.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I have spoken with employers since these proposed changes were announced, and employers in seasonal industries such as those the hon. member mentioned—tourism or the fishery, for example—are concerned that the EI changes are going to cause them to lose skilled workers. Yes, they are seasonal workers and do not work 52 weeks of the year, but in the fish plants, the tourism industry, the crafts industry and so on, we are talking about a skill set that could be lost because the workers will have to move away as a result of the changes in the EI regulations.

That is a very good question. Employers are very concerned.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to support the motion of the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain, which reads:

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.

I support this motion. It is necessary to do so because we have before us Bill C-38, a budget implementation bill that we call the Trojan Horse bill because there are so many things hidden in it. It is extremely controversial for this reason as well as others. It contains far too much. We have said many times that this bill should be split into at least five parts. It cannot be examined in the proper committee because the Standing Committee on Finance is discussing the environment. This bill should be examined by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities or the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. It needs to be examined in the proper place.

Moreover, the Conservatives are limiting debate. They are not only reducing the time the committees have to debate this bill, but they are also passing time allocation motions in the House. Once again, the Conservatives are trying to distract Canadians while they impose major, negative changes on them. By way of evidence, did the Conservatives talk about changes to environmental law, old age security and employment insurance during the election campaign? No. They did not say a word about those issues. They hid their intentions throughout the election campaign.

Let us now discuss the section of Bill C-38 that deals with employment insurance, which is also very controversial. Members of Parliament have to vote without having received much information. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that she has not yet announced the details as she wants to make sure that the bill passes first.

What details are we talking about? Just trifles; for example, the definition of suitable employment or the acceptable distance to be travelled. The bill abolishes the existing definitions, but when we ask for clarification and new definitions, the information is very vague. For example, a reasonable commuting time is said to be one hour. Is that one hour by car? If I drive for one hour, I will be halfway to Montreal.

What about the people in remote areas who do not own cars? Will they also have to travel one hour by car? In some parts of my riding, there are far fewer north-south public transit routes. Will these people have to spend one hour on the bus? How will it work? We do not know. In short, major changes to employment insurance are hidden inside a mammoth bill. Once again, the Conservatives are controlling the debate on the bill. That is not all.

When we listen to what some of the Conservatives are saying we can hear the contempt they have for employment insurance recipients. During her appearance yesterday at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that the government was working on removing disincentives to work. She added that it is question of improving the federal system in order to ensure that Canadians better understand what is expected of them when they receive employment insurance benefits.

Such comments suggest that EI recipients are abusing the system. There are indeed people who abuse the system, but they are the exception. Not everyone abuses the system, but they are being treated as though they do. I invite the Conservatives to come to Hochelaga and see what life is really like, what people really need. Employment insurance is a social safety net that was established decades ago to respond to a real need. This tool that Canadians created to be used when they need help is getting a bad rap from the Conservatives. I wonder sometimes whether they really know anyone who is poor.

Let us now talk in greater detail about the changes proposed by the Conservatives and the ensuing problems. Take job search, for example. The government says that it is going to send out emails about available jobs twice a day.

I knocked on a lot of doors during the election campaign. When I told people to consult our website to learn more about the NDP platform, they would often tell me that they did not have Internet access, that they could not afford it or that they did not have a computer. They could have gone to the library, but the Conservative government has cut the community access program, so there are a lot fewer computers available in libraries.

The hon. members might recall that, a few months ago, the Service Canada job search website did not work for a number of weeks. So what happens in those types of situations? Are the people going to be penalized? But one of the biggest problems—and we are going to hear about it a lot—is the impact on the regions and on seasonal work. Let us talk about seasonal work. Seasonal workers are often highly skilled workers. You cannot just drag people around from job to job.

Under the proposed measures, these people could be forced to leave their skilled occupations or their regions or both. As an example, a witness who raises silver foxes recently appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. That industry has a six-month season and he has one employee who has very specific expertise and who returns every year.

This employer told us that if his employee did not come back, he would not know what to do or where to find another employee with that kind of expertise. The witness also told us that the same is true in horticulture and livestock farming.

In-school child care services are another example. Do we really want to have to look for new child care providers every year? Do we want people with a lot less experience looking after our children every year?

Every January and February, only a few groups came to visit the museum where I used to work. As a result, at least 10 of the 20 guides would not get any hours. Zero. So they needed employment insurance every year. Since those guides have been there for three or four years, they would automatically fall into the new category of frequent claimants. This means that if they have not found another job after six weeks, they would have to accept work at 70% of their previous hourly wage or they would no longer be entitled to employment insurance.

By the way, in Quebec, 15% of employment insurance claimants are seasonal workers. Instead of a short-term and repressive view for reducing the unemployment rate, perhaps there might be other options. For example, we could invest in training. But no, the Conservatives are making cuts to training.

I have two examples from the recent budget. First, we see cuts of $44 million—so, 64.7%—to contributions that help older unemployed workers in communities with a high unemployment rate or those affected by downsizing. Then, transfer payments to apprenticeship incentive grants and apprenticeship completion grants, worth $155 million, are being cancelled completely. It makes no sense.

Furthermore, when the government gives grants to large companies, perhaps it could ensure that jobs are created quickly—in Canada, not in Mexico or the United States—and that the companies do not take the money before relocating elsewhere, which is what Caterpillar and Electrolux did.

I have three more comments to make before I wrap up. First, employment insurance is fully funded by employees and employers. It belongs to employees and employers. What is the point of paying into it if you are not allowed to use it? It would be like buying a car and not being allowed to drive it.

The new definition of suitable employment suggested by the minister is at odds with the International Labour Organization's, which says that a government seeking to promote employment and guard against unemployment should take into account the claimant's training, experience and qualifications.

The third and final point I would like to make is that by forcing workers to take lower paying, less fulfilling jobs that they are likely to quit more rapidly, the government will increase rather than decrease poverty.

I would like to reiterate what I said at the beginning of my remarks: this motion is important and must be adopted.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague correctly pointed out, there are many seasonal workers. The government says that there is a lot of demand. It is true that, in some provinces, there is significant demand. However, that demand is for workers with specific skills.

Does my colleague agree that it would be better to ensure that Service Canada is staffed with enough advisors to better serve people by sitting down with them, rather than attack workers who need employment insurance to provide for their needs during the post-employment season and to support their search for work in their field? Should there not be better tools available to determine the qualifications for these jobs?

I was a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for a while, and that is what employers told us. There is no good database that can match workers' skills to available jobs.

Would it not be better to invest money in better tools and more advisors to help young people?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I obviously completely agree with that. Unfortunately, cuts have been made to service centres. According to employers and the people who testify before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, where we are examining the shortage in certain areas, the changes that are being made now will do the complete opposite of what the Conservatives claim to want to do.

For example, people will be required to take jobs that are not in their field or that are further from where they live. They will not be happy. They will not stay long. They will once again end up on employment insurance. Some regions will empty and, as I was saying earlier, in seasonal sectors, many employers will not be able to find enough staff.

I always support a positive approach over a negative one. Why punish people when we could take positive actions and do good things?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, what the Conservative government is doing in terms of these changes will have a profoundly negative impact on seasonal jobs from coast to coast, and in particular, as our Liberal Party critic talked about, in the province of Quebec, in Atlantic Canada and so forth.

One needs to question why the government decided to bring in these changes through the back door of Bill C-38, thereby preventing debate on this issue and, most important, to then have the debate carry on into a committee of the House where experts from across Canada could participate and provide what I believe is absolutely critical information because of the impact this change will have on our economy and on industries that are so dependent on seasonal jobs.

Does the member not agree with the Liberal Party's stand that Bill C-38 should have been broken down, that there should have been several pieces of legislation brought in and that this should be a stand-alone debate taking place on a separate bill?