House of Commons Hansard #208 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rcmp.

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A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

February 11th, 2013 / 6:30 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, once again, I rise to speak to a topic that is becoming increasingly urgent as we approach the infamous EI black hole.

Protests have been mounting in recent weeks. Workers are increasingly frustrated and the minister is ignoring the thousands of people across Canada who are denouncing this reform.

She would rather play word games to try to put this issue to rest, but Canadians are not fooled. This is not a clarification of the EI rules. It is a radical reform that poorly conceals a Conservative ideology of attacking our social safety nets and the diversity of our economy. The employment insurance program does not have overall regional economic objectives. There are monthly quotas that the investigators must meet, but that is very different. The investigators did not save $500 million last year by combatting fraud. There were hundreds of millions of dollars saved because there were errors in the system, most often on the Service Canada end.

Statistics even show that less than 1% of employment insurance payments are the result of fraud. A reporting mistake made by a claimant or a Service Canada employee does not necessarily constitute fraud.

Will the minister agree to stop treating all unemployed workers like fraudsters and criminals?

This past fall, I asked the minister why she had decided to end the pilot project that provided five additional weeks of benefits and allowed seasonal workers to get through the infamous spring gap. This pilot project, which the minister herself deemed useful and effective, was used to get through the period where benefits had run out, but income from seasonal work had not yet kicked in. This measure had been in effect since 2004 in those regions of Canada with high unemployment rates. The government decided to implement it across the board as part of its action plan to deal with the most recent recession.

Canadians learned in the last budget that this measure would be eliminated altogether. But what will happen in regions where the unemployment rate is still high? In her answer to my question, the minister told Canadians that the unemployment rate had gone down enough for this measure to be withdrawn.

This pilot project was created to support regional economies that rely on seasonal employment sectors, primarily regions in eastern Canada. Let us therefore follow through on the minister's logic and look at the facts.

Between January 6 and February 9, 2013, the unemployment rate in certain regions was up to 17.3% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 11.2% in Prince Edward Island, 10.9% in western Nova Scotia, 16.2% in eastern Nova Scotia, 13% in Charlottetown, 17.6% in Restigouche, and so on. Although the Canadian unemployment rate is 7% right now, how can the minister not take into account the regional differences, the seasonal nature of work in the regions and the fact that many regions are facing a high unemployment rate, as I just described?

Does the minister believe that those rates are low enough to permanently abolish a pilot project that was helping Canadian families to get through the off-season without starving to death?

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 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, I am pleased to respond to the hon. member regarding her concerns about employment insurance and seasonal workers.

Employment outcomes for all Canadians is something that this government is very concerned about.

Our government is focused on job creation. In fact, we have helped to create over 900,000 jobs in the country since the downturn of the recession.

As the hon. member already knows, our country faces ongoing skills and labour shortages. Therefore, it is important that we make changes now to ensure the employment insurance program is working effectively for Canada and Canadians.

The fact that the extended EI benefits pilot project came to its intended end date certainly does not mean we have abandoned seasonal workers. Thankfully, Canada has some of the strongest growth in the G7. That is why the temporary extra five-week pilot project was allowed to expire.

This EI pilot program was a temporary measure. It was brought forward in 2008 and extended to 2010 by Canada's economic action plan, to help EI recipients during the recession. This project was always meant to be temporary. In fact, a couple of the regions that were covered by the pilot finished early because they had 12 consecutive months of unemployment below 8%. One of the regions under this pilot had almost 5% unemployment for a significant period of time. All EI claimants, including those who are seasonal workers, can continue to benefit from other recent EI measures introduced by our government.

One important improvement that we have made includes the variable best weeks initiative, coming into effect April 7, 2013. This change takes a pan-Canadian approach to calculating EI benefits. This means that people living in regions with similar labour market conditions will now receive similar EI benefits.

We have also introduced, through economic action plan 2012, a new national working while on claim pilot project.

Previously, EI claimants could earn an equivalent of 40% or $75 of their weekly benefits without seeing a reduction in their benefits. However, if their earnings were above that threshold, their benefits were reduced dollar for dollar. This created a disincentive to accept work beyond that earning threshold.

Under the new working while on claim pilot project that came into effect August 5, eligible claimants are able to keep EI benefits equaling 50% of every dollar earned while on claim, up to 90% of their weekly insurable earnings used to calculate their EI benefit amount.

The intent is to encourage claimants to accept all available work while receiving EI benefits and earn some additional income while on claim.

As our government remains focused on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, we are committed to supporting workers and ensuring that EI enables a strong and competitive workforce for all Canadians in every region of the country.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, my first question is: where is the job?

I have asked this question in the House before and I will ask it again. What is the Minister waiting for? Will it take the occurrence of serious and regrettable incidents for her to take action and reverse this measure?

Right now, thousands of Canadian families are readying themselves for the spring gap. There is an urgent need to act if we want to avoid catastrophe.

Will the minister take the time necessary to meet with people from the regions?

She needs to go see them. They want to talk to her. She needs to listen to their problems and try to really understand their financial situation.

Given her government's ill-conceived policies, could she, at the very least, show some openness, some willingness to discuss and consult with them? This should have been done from the beginning.

These people are on the cusp of a black hole. They can see it coming. They are about to be swallowed by it.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government is making significant investments to help Canadians in every region of the country find work. Connecting Canadians to available jobs in their local area is vital to supporting our long-term economic growth and productivity as well as the quality of life for all Canadians.

These changes are about helping unemployed workers and providing them with opportunities to get back into the workforce.

The changes we have made to employment insurance are needed to ensure that this program remains fair and efficient. In other words, these changes are designed to help Canadians find work faster and keep it.

As I have said many times in this place, personal circumstances will always be taken into consideration, and for those who are unable to find work, EI will continue to be there as it always has been.

Employment Insurance
Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville not being present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice has been given, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood not being present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice had been given, the notice is being withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:41 p.m.)