An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance (Fishing) Regulations

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Jane Stewart  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Pension PlanGovernment Orders

June 21st, 2002 / 10:45 a.m.
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Mississauga South Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, having been on the finance committee when Bill C-2 to create the investment board was first dealt with by the House, I was astounded to hear some of the statements made by the member in referring to the CPP plan when it was started back in 1966 as a pay as you go plan. This shows a fundamental lack of knowledge of what happened when the CPP was created.

At the time Canadians who had come through the depression years had very little opportunity to provide for their retirement years. It was a decision by the Canadian people through their elected representatives to establish the CPP fund. It allowed Canadians in that situation to begin receiving pension or retirement benefits right off the bat, even without having contributed anything into the plan. It is not a pay as you go plan. It is Canadians taking care of their own. It is Canadians working today and making contributions to a plan which is used to pay benefits to those who had no opportunity to provide for their retirement. I am sorry that the member mischaracterized the Canada pension plan.

The member has mistakenly characterized the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board as the instrument of pension administration. The fact is that the Canada Pension Plan Act deals with what benefits are available, whether they are survivor benefits, death benefits, disability benefits, et cetera. That is the instrument which is jointly administered and operated by the provinces and the federal government.

The member would like to have representatives from labour, trade unions, pensioners, and future pensioners on the board. If we start making lists, several different groups will be represented, and once we start making lists someone gets left off.

The Canada pension plan is set up and operated by the governments of Canada, provincial and federal, to ensure there are appropriate pension benefits for Canadians.

Today's pensioners get $8 for every $1 they put into the plan. Today there are five workers for one pensioner and because of our aging society it will be down to three workers for one pensioner. For that reason premiums have had to go up to sustain the plan over the long term.

To suggest that we should somehow manage the investment board for a bunch of other policy objectives is fundamentally wrong simply because these moneys are collected on behalf of Canadians to provide them with pension benefits. It is not there as an instrument for other social or economic objectives. We already support venture funds. We already support the applicable screening of investments in tobacco issues as the member mentioned.

The member has mischaracterized the board as an instrument of policy rather than an instrument to ensure that the market is not distorted with a very large investment fund. It was set up so investments would not be all over the place but rather would reflect the purchasing and selling patterns of the stock exchange as a whole so it had no undue influence on the markets which the member is suggesting that it does. Setting it up that way ensures that returns will be comparable to what other investors would get, ergo the 30% foreign investment limit, which is exactly what Canadians are permitted now under the Income Tax Act.

The member has some explaining to do as to why he has misled the House on these important issues.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

June 13th, 2002 / 3:05 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege to charge the Minister of Finance with contempt for his failure to comply with the legislative requirement compelling him to table a report from the chief actuary in compliance with section 115 of the CPP Act.

Subsection 115(2) of the CPP Act says:

--the Chief Actuary shall, whenever any Bill is introduced in or presented to the House of Commons to amend this Act in a manner that would in the opinion of the Chief Actuary materially affect any of the estimates contained in the most recent report under this section made by the Chief Actuary, prepare, using the same actuarial assumptions and basis as were used in that report, a report setting forth the extent to which such Bill would, if enacted by Parliament, materially affect any of the estimates contained in that report.

On June 6 the government introduced Bill C-58, an act to amend the Canada pension plan and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act. The speaking notes given out by the government indicate that this will change the earnings of the fund by $75 billion. This is a material effect on the fund and must be accompanied by a full report of the chief actuary.

Moreover, the report must be laid before the House of Commons by the Minister of Finance forthwith. That is subsection 115(8), which states:

Forthwith on the completion of any report under this section, the Chief Actuary shall transmit the report to the Minister of Finance, who shall cause the report to be laid before the House of Commons forthwith on its receipt if Parliament is then sitting, or if Parliament is not then sitting, on any of the first five days next thereafter that Parliament is sitting, and if at the time any report under this section is received by the Minister of Finance Parliament is then dissolved, the Minister of Finance shall forthwith cause a copy of the report to be published in the Canada Gazette. (Section 115(8).

The chief actuary has completed his report. The speaking notes from the department read:

The transfer is expected to improve the investment performance of the CPP. The Chief Actuary of Canada estimates that the change will increase CPP assets by about $75 billion over 50 years.

The last time a bill was introduced in the House making changes to the CPP Act, the chief actuary had his report prepared one day before the bill was introduced in parliament. Bill C-2 was introduced on September 25, 1997, and I have a copy of a letter sent to the minister from the chief actuary dated September 24, 1997, one day before the bill was tabled indicating that:

In compliance with subsection 115(2) of the Canada Pension Plan Act, which provides that a periodic actuarial report shall be prepared whenever a Bill is introduced in the House of Commons to amend the CPP, I am pleased to transmit the sixteenth actuarial report on the Canada Pension Plan.

I will table both of these documents with you, Mr. Speaker.

Clearly, our chief actuary is on the ball and respects parliament and follows the law. The fault does not lie with the chief actuary but with the Minister of Finance. The report regarding Bill C-58 is obviously finished and should have been tabled.

Members of the House cannot evaluate the impact of these changes properly without a report. For example, an extra $75 billion may allow the 9.9% rate to fall. On the other hand it could be that the CPP would be unsustainable without this act and that this act was assumed in the preparation of the last, that is the 18th, report. Parliamentarians need to know this.

In 1993 the Speaker ruled on a similar question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River. The issue at that time concerned the failure of the Minister of Finance to table an order made under the customs act as it was his statutory duty to do. The member for Scarborough--Rouge River stated that he entertained no doubt that:

...the minister's failure to table a document required to be tabled by this House, whether intentional or accidental, tends to diminish the authority of the House of Commons and is something that might reasonably be held to constitute contempt by this House

Speaker Fraser ruled on April 19, 1993, that a prima facie case of breach of privilege had been made and allowed the member to move a motion referring the matter to the standing committee on House management. In his ruling Speaker Fraser reiterated that:

The requirements contained in our rules and statutory laws have been agreed upon by this House and constitute an agreement which I think all of us realize must be respected. Members cannot function if they do not have access to the material they need for their work and if our rules are being ignored and even statutory instruments are being disregarded.

The Speaker also agreed that disregard of a legislative command, even if unintentional, was an affront to the authority and dignity of parliament as a whole and the House in particular.

On November 21, 2001, the Speaker delivered a ruling in regard to a complaint by the member for Surrey Central who cited 16 examples of where the government failed to comply with the legislative requirements concerning the tabling of certain information in parliament. In all 16 cases raised on November 21 a report deadline was absent from the legislation. As a result the Speaker could not find a prima facie question of privilege. However the Speaker said in his ruling at page 7381 of Hansard :

Were there to be a deadline for tabling included in the legislation, I would not hesitate to find that a prima facie case of contempt does exist and I would invite the hon. member to move the usual motion.

The reporting date in section 115 of the CPP Act is “forthwith”. The term forthwith is used all through our standing orders, Mr. Speaker, and I have watched you comply with such orders. When our standing orders instruct us to put a question to the House forthwith, that is exactly what we do. We do it right away without delay. We do not do it the next day or a week later.

By breaching a statutory requirement to table the chief actuary's report in the House the Minister of Finance is in contempt of the House. I am prepared to move a motion to refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I would also request that Bill C-58 not be allowed to proceed until a report of the chief actuary has been tabled. This is more of a point of order and ask that you rule on that related matter as well.

Softwood LumberOral Question Period

April 23rd, 2002 / 2:35 p.m.
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Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, what the hon. member conveniently forgets is that it is this government that repealed the intensity rule. It is this government that made considerable changes to the employment insurance program for the benefit of seasonal workers. At the very same time, the hon. member forgets that he and his party voted against all those changes in Bill C-2.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

March 21st, 2002 / 2:50 p.m.
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Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, what the auditor general said at committee is exactly what she said in her report in December. What she indicated is that she thought there was a better way of setting employment insurance premium rates. We agree with her. That is why in Bill C-2 we included that as part of the act. I would remind the House, the hon. member and his party that they voted against that bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001Government Orders

February 7th, 2002 / 3:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank especially my Bloc Quebecois colleagues for their support. I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the December 2001 budget implementation bill.

The curious thing about an implementation bill is that it always contains measures we support. Often they are measures put forward by the Bloc Quebecois, in this case the provisions dealing with mechanics, which were championed by the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. I believe he deserves our support.

At the same time, we find measures such as the air security charge. For that we have nobody to applaud on either side. Today, we even heard a Liberal member arguing very strongly in favour of amending this part of the bill. His argumentation was very convincing, since he talked a lot about small airports in the remote areas of his riding.

Unfortunately, I fail to understand the logic of his reasoning. He said during questions and comments that in the end he would still vote for the bill. This is the downside of his presentation.

I urge everybody to read what he said regarding the air security tax, which is going to be entirely paid for by travellers. This means for instance that in airports in Alma, Bagotville, Baie-Comeau, Chibougamau, Gaspe, the Magdalen Islands, Kuujjuaq, La Grande Rivière, la Grande-3, La Grande-4, Blanc-Sablon, Mont-Joli, Montreal, Quebec City, Roberval, Rouyn-Noranda, Sept-Îles et Val-d'Or, in every single one of these small or medium size airports, travellers will have to pay this surcharge, when we know full well that the whole issue of terrorism is going to require the implementation of new technologies, but mainly in major airports.

This morning, another member from the Canadian Alliance said that the Standing Committee on Transport had made a very constructive proposal. It suggested that half of the bill be paid by users and the other half by the government. This way, we would reduce the negative impact on the development of these regions.

For this reason alone, we have no choice but to vote against the bill, unless the government decides to withdraw this half-baked measure that has seemingly been hastily put together, a bit like the infrastructure foundation.

In the same bill, in the same December budget where they come up with this new air travel tax, they also invented a new method for dealing with infrastructure expenditures, via a foundation.

Everybody has spoken out against this and attacked it, because it makes no sense that we elected representatives should totally delegate this responsibility to people who have not been not elected, particularly since this government very much had control over the appointment of the foundation's members. As well, this delays investments.

Municipalities throughout Quebec and Canada have proposed projects to their governments. Some have been approved by the Government of Quebec, but cannot be accepted by Ottawa because no money is available for investment. One might therefore have expected this in the budget.

Today, in the implementing bill, there has been a backtrack on this, because the government has realized that the foundation was not workable, and did not meet governmental accountability requirements. I think what was done was appropriate, but now we have another obstacle. Looking at the bill, we see that the government wants to invest directly in the municipalities, without going through Quebec City.

During today's oral question period, I was thinking about this and said to myself “I hope it is not true that we are headed for another hassle like the one over the millennium scholarship foundation. We will end up being forced to spend months and years negotiating to find a way to get the money to the municipalities of Quebec, and of course it will all be blamed on the Government of Quebec, taking advantage of this, the last year of its mandate. A fine way to strangle a government”.

The federal government is allowing the money to go to the English speaking provinces because they are not going to make a problem about it going directly to the municipalities. That is their view of Canada. But in Quebec we want infrastructure expenditures to be co-ordinated, so it would not yet be possible.

We are going to fight in order to bring the federal government at last, after the foundation idea, which made no sense, followed by the fund idea, which would have the money going directly to the municipalities, back to its senses so that it will decide—and I think this could be done very readily—to enter into negotiations in order to have the Canada-Quebec infrastructure program apply to this $2 billion fund.

This way, it would only take one or two days' worth of meetings. There is a mechanism that already exists that could be used to meet infrastructure needs.

And there are considerable needs to be met. In my riding, there are projects to protect water quality. These are important projects. This is a priority for everyone. I think that this work needs to be done in the short term, in order to avoid finding ourselves in a situation where we cannot obtain satisfactory results.

What would happen if in one year or in a year and a half, suddenly, we had another Walkerton situation on our hands and some municipality experienced a terrible crisis like the one that happened in Ontario? If that were to happen, a number of people would say that if they could have spent the money this year, if they could have carried out the projects this year, the situation could have been avoided. When we look at it this way, I would describe the government's attitude as somewhat irresponsible.

They are attempting to save face after realizing that the foundation was not working. Now, why not allow for this money to be quickly injected into the system so that it can quickly be spent? For this, I think that there is still another step that this government has yet to take.

I mentioned earlier that an implementation bill contains both good and bad measures. There is one measure that it contains, regarding employment insurance and parental and maternity benefits in some cases, which we support. It will help people who were hindered by a system that was too rigid and that prevented them from taking full advantage of their maternity or parental benefits if they left the hospital after several weeks. This situation will be rectified. There will be more leeway. This is appropriate.

But between this small step and what could have been done had the government agreed to implement the parental leave plan proposed by the Quebec government, there is a long, long way to go. On the one hand, we have this small measure, which, thankfully, will correct a situation, but on the other hand, there was a parental leave option that would have allowed all self-employed workers to be eligible.

In the end, all workers could benefit from it, whereas the existing federal parental leave program is not flexible. It provides for one year of benefits at 55% of the person's salary. It is not possible, for example, to have 40 weeks at 75%. Low income families might prefer to have that.

For instance, 55% of a weekly salary of $300 is not much. If people could at least get 75% for a lower number of weeks, that would be a start. This is an option that could have been included, but that the existing federal program does not allow.

I am asking the government to continue to look at the issue, so that it can arrive at a solution and agree with Quebec to establish this parental leave program, which several provinces in Canada want, by the way.

When Mme Goupil, the Quebec minister responsible for this issue, proposed this measure to her counterparts from the other provinces, the reaction was very favourable. It is hoped that the system will be operational as soon as possible. Why not begin with Quebec, which has often taken the initiative on social issues and has served as an example for the other provinces, and sometimes for Canada as a whole?

This is like the $5 a day daycare program. It is in the same spirit. We have got a lot of praise for this initiative which, among other things, has resulted in a significant drop in the number of single mothers who rely on welfare. Thanks to this program, these women can now go to work and have access to quality daycare services, at a much lower cost.

In this way, we not only fulfill the need to generate wealth but, in some ways, we are doing our share in ensuring that this wealth is properly distributed and in allowing people to make a contribution by using their potential. These are very appropriate efforts.

We must also get to the bottom of things as regards the impact of another aspect of this bill. We must find out what will happen with the surpluses. Initially, it was said that the foundation would have a budget of $2 billion. That was conditional on the amount of the surpluses. The $500 million fund for Africa would also be set up under the same terms.

On the basis of today's figures and given the practice that we have been seeing for the last few years, the Minister of Finance always announces small surpluses so that, at the end of the year, he has huge amounts with which to pay down the debt. We are not against money being used to pay down the debt but, during a major economic downturn, we would have liked to see some balance and to know the exact figures so that there could be an informed debate. Once again this year, this is not the situation we are being presented with.

During Oral Question Period, I asked the Minister of Transport about highway 185, the segment of the Trans-Canada between Rivière-du-Loup and Edmunston. In this budget, I was not necessarily asking that this particular highway be mentioned, but I would have liked to see more than the $500 million currently earmarked for Canada's highway system. Five hundred million dollars over five years is $100 million a year, which means, for Quebec, $25 million a year, when highway 185 alone, the Trans-Canada between Rivière-du-Loup and Edmunston, will cost a total of $500 to $600 million.

This highway is a deathtrap; 30 people have lost their lives on it in the last three years. With the disappearance of the railway line, this highway has had to serve an entirely different set of needs. Today, there is the heavy vehicle traffic of the Trans-Canada travelling from the maritimes to central Canada, as well as heavy local and tourist traffic. It is almost the only highway in Quebec where, despite my experience as a driver, I personally do not feel safe because I never know what is going to happen next.

I would have liked to see additional money in the budget for this, so that highway 175 or other highways could be maintained. This was one of the promises made during the election campaign—which was one year ago, not ten—by the Prime Minister himself, who promised that large amounts of money would be earmarked for highway 185; still today, nothing has been confirmed. It is hard to imagine how the Minister of Transport will manage to meet the needs in this area when he was unable to get the Minister of Finance to include additional money in the budget for this.

I hope that the money set aside for infrastructure will find its way into this area of concern, but there are many other needs. It would have been helpful to have this information in the budget.

For some weeks now, since before Christmas in fact, the Minister of Transport has had on his desk memoranda from the Quebec Minister of Transport on highways 185 and 175, and other highways in Quebec, saying “We will finance the project on a 50-50 basis, or since highway 185 is the Trans-Canada Highway, we will finance it on a 20-80 basis”.

The Quebec government has already invested $225 million. Money was spent last year, and more will be provided this year. But if we had an extra amount from the federal government, we could speed up the work. Larger amounts would be put toward engineering and architectural studies, so that work can be properly planned. We are still awaiting the government's answer but none has been forthcoming. There is nothing in the December 2001 budget implementation bill to that effect.

The budget also includes Canada's $500 million Africa fund to help reduce poverty, develop primary education programs and promote sustainable development in Africa.

In this area, we realize that in spite of all the rhetoric on the need to increase international aid and write off the debt of the poorest countries in the world, the federal government has not really increased our contribution to international aid. Yet, it would probably be the best way to permanently resolve crises like the terrorist crisis that we are facing now.

I do not believe that the long term solution would be to equip our military as it has never been equipped before. This is not the solution. Terrorists will always find ways to bypass the systems in place.

We must ensure that there no longer is a breeding ground for terrorism, a totally unacceptable behaviour. There must be a better distribution of wealth. Summits like those that took place last week must work toward common goals. I am thinking here about the Pôrto Alegre summit and the New York economic summit, which was usually held in Davos, Switzerland. The Canadian government has a responsibility to do its share in terms of international aid.

I have worked with various players in this field. The government organized round tables. We realized that, as elected representatives, we had to raise awareness of this issue in our communities. When there is not enough money for our constituents, they do not always understand why we should be giving money to other countries.

If we want to smooth the rough edges of globalization, we must ensure that people living in developing countries have the means to progress and to enjoy the benefits of our society, instead of only having the disadvantages and the low paying jobs. People must have access to adequate training and be able to use their skills in their own community. There is a lot of work to be done in this area.

Finally, with this budget, we see many contradictions in the finance minister's statement. In a few weeks, or in two months maybe, the government will have the financial results for the year. Again there will be huge surpluses, including surpluses coming from the employment insurance fund. I will conclude my remarks on this note.

Last fall, I was expecting to receive the report from the chief actuary for the employment insurance fund, as I had in previous years. In January, I still had not received it. I wrote to the minister asking her to send it to us. Two days later, the answer was “There is no report”. Four days later, I was told “Sorry, we made a mistake the first time. There is a report, a copy of which you will find attached”.

And to top it all off, it is obvious that the report was not produced by the chief actuary. The federal government has now decided that the chief actuary at employment insurance will no longer produce an annual report. For the next two years, according to Bill C-2, the government will be the one to set the contribution rate. This is a cover-up operation. Bill C-2 makes it possible to disguise the fact that there is too much money in the EI account. Every year, some $6 billion is taken from it to be used for other government expenditures. They have decided to eliminate that possibility and the public will no longer be able to ask any questions.

The second phase of the cover-up is that the decision was made in the fall for the chief actuary not to report any longer, and all this is because of Bill C-2. The Minister of Human Resource Development remains the one responsible, however, and there are questions that need to be asked in order to ensure that the fund will really be used to enable EI to serve the purpose for which it was created.

We are faced with a situation where, once again, there will be a four, five or six billion dollar surplus, despite the economic downturn, despite the economic fallout of September 11 as well as of the entire softwood lumber crisis and other such things. The means have not been put into place to enable our local workers affected by this crisis to stand behind the position of Quebec and Canada on this. Today, I have listened to what the Minister for International Trade has had to say. As far as his contacts with the Americans are concerned, I can say that it is all right, but they have had to be monitored very closely.

As for the necessity of worker solidarity, the government has not done anything. Today people are going to exhaust their EI benefits and within weeks or months there is going to be a terrible furore. What people expected to find in this budget was some measures that would in whole or in part reflect the plan proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, a recovery plan that would have made it possible to cope with these negative situations. That is nowhere to be found in either the budget or the 2001 budget implementation act.

For all these reasons and despite the positive elements in this omnibus bill, the Bloc Quebecois has no choice but to vote against ,it unless the government finally amends it. We have already made some gains. The concept of a foundation has been dropped. If we keep repeating our arguments, we may score more points. In the meantime, if the government does not change its position, our constituents would not accept our supporting a bill that does not provide for an adequate distribution of wealth.

For all these reasons, I hope many parties and members on both sides of the House will do just like the Bloc Quebecois. I hope that the Liberal member who spoke out against the tax on air transportation will think it over and vote against the bill, as we will do, because it is the best option for the time being.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2002 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I must begin by saying how pleased I am to be able to speak to the House of Commons on the budget of the Minister of Finance. I would also like to say how distressing it is to see my colleague over there, who comes from the maritimes, boasting about five surplus budgets since 1993.

This is not the first time I have said such a thing in this House, but this surplus has been created at the expense of workers who have lost their jobs. The Liberals say in this House that the people of Nova Scotia are pleased and understand there has to be some belt tightening. This is unacceptable, and what is more, it is not the truth.

I remember what happened in the 1997 election, when almost all of Nova Scotia elected not one Liberal to the House of Commons. They were not pleased with the Liberal government's cuts. In 1993, before being elected, the Liberal leader, now Prime Minister, said that the Progressive Conservatives ought not to have made the cuts they did to employment insurance.

The hon. member opposite, from Nova Scotia, should stay in the House to hear my speech and listen to what I have to say. During the last election, the Prime Minister said himself that EI needed changes because he had lost support in the Atlantic provinces. So how can the member stand in the House today and tell us that the people of Nova Scotia are happy?

I am sure that what goes for Nova Scotia goes for New Brunswick. Most of the time, people work seasonal jobs. Maybe it is because the member lives in Halifax that he is defending this position. He should go to Cape Breton and see if the folks are happy. He should go to Cape Breton, to the Gaspé Peninsula and to where I come from, the Acadian Peninsula.

On September 11, tragic events took place in the United States. Everyone was shaken by this. However, there are tragedies taking place every day here in Canada because of the Liberal government's cuts. People are committing suicide. Instead of planes slamming into buildings, bullets are being fired into peoples' heads because they are unable to provide food for their family.

The Liberal government itself turned around and went and bought boats to solve the problem of the aboriginal fishery. That is one thing that I agree with. It provided shipmasters in the crab fishery $2.5 million. It gathered the fishers and those who worked on these boats, the deckmen, as they are known, and laid them off, forcing them onto welfare. That is what the Liberals did.

About 15 minutes before I was to give my speech, people from my riding called me to say that they were worried because they no longer qualified for EI.

The member from Nova Scotia has the nerve to rise in the House and say that the people of Nova Scotia are happy. It is disgraceful the way the Liberal government goes after workers who have lost their jobs and tells Canadians that they will have to tighten their belts. It is not Canadians who are tightening their belts, but the men and women who have lost their jobs. The Liberal government promised changes to the EI legislation.

During the 2000 election campaign, it promised amendments to Bill C-44 with Bill C-2. The Liberals said that we should pass the bill quickly because other changes were in the works. All parties in the House of Commons made recommendations to the House and to the minister. The Liberals, who were elected on the strength of their promises to make further changes to the EI legislation, made recommendations as well.

The member for Madawaska—Restigouche was elected on the strength of this promise. The member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, the son of the former Governor General of Canada, said that if he were elected, he would make changes to the EI rules. He has not made even the tiniest change since being elected, nor has he said a word about it.

It is not enough that they have gone after EI recipients. Now they are sending out forms. As the member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Halifax know, the government is now sending out forms to disabled individuals so that they no longer qualify for tax credits. Everything is done on the backs of the least fortunate.

Mr. Speaker, I neglected to mention that I would be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg North Centre. I did not wish to forget this, nor do I wish to speak for 20 minutes. I think that ten minutes will be all the Liberals can take.

The Liberals have the nerve to say that they are happy that there have been five budget surpluses, which were obtained at taxpayers' expense, not to mention the cuts imposed on the provinces. They could have said “We will use this budget to start taking care of the economy. We will help the disadvantaged, we will help small and medium size businesses. We will help people find jobs, we will put them to work”.

But no, they prefer to boast, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, about having a surplus, when people commit suicide, when families have no money, when there are no transfers to provinces. Social assistance benefits were not raised; no premier is willing to raise them to give money to the poor. Some 1.4 million children go hungry in Canada. Eight hundred thousand persons cannot get employment insurance benefits. Meanwhile, the Liberals are boasting. Shame on them.

Shame on those who come from the Atlantic provinces and praise the Liberal government. What the Liberals are doing today is shameful for Atlantic Canada, it is shameful for Canada. It is utterly shameful.

The issues that I mentioned are human realities. They are things that people are confronted with on a daily basis.

Last week, I met fishers to whom the government said “Buy boats, to the tune of $2.5 million, but we are not responsible for dockhands working on these boats. Get organized now. Contact the Department of Human Resources Development”. The fishers went to the Department of Human Resources Development and were told “This is no longer our responsibility. We have agreements with the province”. Then the province said “What do you want us to do with them? They have to do like the others and go on welfare”.

What a nice transfer. This is how the issue is solved. This is how they solve the dispute between the two peoples, the whites and the aboriginals. The Liberals truly did a great job there.

So I hope that, in their budgets and in their thoughts, they will begin to show greater sensitivity than they have done so far. They must stop boasting about having asked Canadians to tighten their belts. They did not ask Canadians to tighten their belts: they did it for them. They robbed the workers who lost their jobs. They even bragged about having surpluses. This is highway robbery. The biggest robbery in Canada's history was committed here in the House of Commons by the Liberals.

Some people leave their families behind to find work. They are forced to go out west. Children are crying, because they want their daddies back home. When they do go home after six months, the federal government sends inspectors and investigators who make them lose their employment insurance benefits. It is despicable for the Liberals to do this instead of doing what they said they would.

Prior to 1993, before they were elected, the Liberals were telling Brian Mulroney “That is not the way to solve economic problems. It is not done by picking on the little guy who has lost his job, it is done by boosting the economy and putting people to work”. That is where the Liberals did not meet their responsibilities when they did get elected. Today they are boasting “Yes, but we have won elections”. Still, they have a human responsibility. That responsibility is to get people working. When people do not have work, the Liberals have a responsibility to help them meet their needs, as they said they would while campaigning.

Thirty-five days before the election, they were prepared to give Canadians anything. The day after the election, they were prepared to take everything away from them, and they have continued to do so for three and a half years. It is shameful to see the suffering and discord they have caused for families. In my opinion, what is going on in Canada under the Liberal government is worse than the events of September 11. It is shameful. I could never repeat this enough.

The Minister of Finance knew there had been a recommendation from all parties. My colleague from Madawaska--Restigouche has been on the committee. So has the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development. They have all made recommendations, including the Liberals. They knew that a change was needed to help Canadians out.

Hopefully, my colleague opposite, who comes from Nova Scotia, will rework his speech and next time, will not praise the Liberals, who deserve no praise for making Canadians suffer.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

December 4th, 2001 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise tonight to speak on the bill, which would provide that every ballot would include a category for voting for “none of the above” candidates. I would like to thank the hon. member for Davenport for his ongoing interest in electoral issues and for his many contributions in this area.

Today's discussion relates to the fundamental matter of how Canadians choose their representatives in government. The right to vote is of course a fundamental right in our system of parliamentary democracy. Indeed, few responsibilities of democratic citizenship are more important than the exercising of that right. Through the exercising of this responsibility, Canadians send members to parliament to sit in the House and choose a government.

The government has been very active in improving our electoral laws in recent years. These changes have in large part sought to facilitate Canadians in exercising their democratic responsibility to choose members of parliament.

In 1996 parliament passed Bill C-63, which created the National Register of Electors. Bill C-63 also changed the polling hours so that the polls would close at the same time in the western provinces as in Ontario and Quebec. In 1999 parliament debated and passed Bill C-2 ,which thoroughly overhauled and modernized the electoral law of our country. The bill updated the tax credits for individual political contributions and made it easier for people to run as candidates by making the candidate deposit fully refundable on the filing of financial statements. Earlier this year parliament passed Bill C-9, which made it much easier for parties to qualify to have their party names on the ballot.

Under the bill before us today every ballot printed by Elections Canada would include the line “none of the above”. It seems to me that this would be at odds with the very purpose of elections, that is, to send members of parliament to the House. My concern is that the bill could be seen by Canadians as saying that they should have the option of avoiding their democratic responsibilities.

Democracy is not easy. In fact, Sir Winston Churchill, as many or perhaps all members in the House would know, said, as we recall, that democracy is the worst system there is except for all the others. That is clear. In other words, it is not a perfect system. It is a difficult system. It requires citizens to take an interest in what is going on and make difficult choices sometimes, but that is what voting is all about and that is our responsibility. We do not get to choose the exact person and party we might ideally like to have as our candidate or as a government. We have to choose among the alternatives. We choose among people who are doing the best they can as individual human beings and that is what democracy is all about.

The bill could also lead to cynicism about democracy and about our parliamentary institutions. I would like to point out to the hon. member for Davenport that Canadians already have ways to avoid participation in choosing their government and representatives. Canadians can avoid participating in the electoral process by spoiling their ballots. In every election Elections Canada records the number of voters in each riding who choose to spoil their ballots, so there is in fact a record kept of those people. Canadians can also simply choose to stay at home on election day, as we all know. This is unlike the situation in many countries around the world, such as Australia, where all citizens are required by law to vote. The bill, then, would present a third route of non-participation.

The bill is also unnecessary because our system ensures that Canadians have many alternatives from which to choose in elections. As we know, there are five political parties currently represented in the House and in the last election there were 11 political parties with candidates on the ballot. In total, 1,808 candidates ran for office across this great country.

These candidates and parties spanned the ideological spectrum and took different views on all kinds of issues. Advocates of the right to vote for none of the above may suggest that it is a way to give people an outlet where they are starved for choice, but we Canadians are not starved for choice as we are given a wide range of visions of the future at election time.

In any event, it is now even easier for parties to be recognized so that they can get their names on the ballot during an election campaign. There was a time when a party had to have 50 candidates to have its name on the ballot. Now, thanks to the changes introduced earlier this year in Bill C-9, that number is 12. To get official recognition as a party and to have its name on the ballot, a party needs only 12 candidates across the country. As a result, we can expect that in future elections Canadians will have even more choice on their ballots. I also point out that the proposal would be inconsistent with our own traditions and I am not aware of any other country providing this option in national elections.

I note that last year the people of California considered a measure similar to the one presented in this bill and in a referendum 64% of them voted against including a category of none of the above on ballots in that state. I am not suggesting that what the people in California do should determine what we should do here, but it is interesting that California, which is often considered to be avant-garde in many ways, was not supportive of this measure.

In conclusion, I believe that our current system encourages Canadians to exercise the right to vote and provides a range of possibilities for doing so. The option of adding a new category to our election ballots seems to me unnecessary, potentially harmful to our parliamentary institutions, not in keeping with our electoral traditions and not shared by other major countries for national elections.

I applaud the hon. member for his commitment and efforts at pursuing electoral reform, although in this case I feel that there may be alternatives that would be more in keeping with our traditions and practices.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

December 4th, 2001 / 2:45 p.m.
See context

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand blah, blah, blah.

Let me reiterate for the hon. member that it is precisely because of the approach of this government, a balanced approach of continuing to reduce premiums and expand the benefits to Canadians, that we have a program which is there to serve Canadians when they need it.

I would remind the hon. member that in Bill C-2 we repealed the intensity regulation, something for which he and his party asked. We made changes to the clawback rule, something for which he and his party asked. We have doubled parental benefits, and that is very good for Canadian families.

SupplyGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2001 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to address the Canadian Alliance motion.

First, while I am not surprised, I am somewhat disappointed. I remember that, during the last election campaign, the leader of the Canadian Alliance told westerners that he wanted to cut employment insurance. When he came to the Atlantic provinces, he said that he wanted to change employment insurance benefits. He was saying two different things.

Today, we realize that the opposition motion says only one thing: that the upcoming budget should, and I quote:

(d) reduce Employment Insurance (EI) premiums by at least 15 cents for next year and continue reducing EI premiums to the break-even rate as soon as possible;

I do not understand why the motion says “to the break-even rate”. Employment insurance is a program which, and I will keep repeating it, belongs to workers and employers. It is a program to which the industry and workers contribute in case the latter lose their jobs.

It is now noon. In Toronto, thousands of people are marching in the streets to protest because they are going to lose their jobs. And 80% of these people will not qualify for employment insurance because they work in the hotel or tourism industry.

As we speak a rally is being held in Toronto. It is not being held in the Atlantic provinces where people have their views and the Fraser Institute from British Columbia keeps pounding on the people in Atlantic Canada. In Toronto there are thousands and thousands of people on the street because the employment insurance that belongs to the working people is not there for them.

Today's motion by the Canadian Alliance only proposes to bring the premium down. Not once in the motion does it say that a program which belongs to the people should go back to them.

It is a shame that my colleague from P.E.I., the member for Hillsborough said that there is no problem in P.E.I. since the intensity rule was taken away. I hope the people of P.E.I. call his office to let him know the problems they have in P.E.I. A couple of weeks ago I was there and P.E.I. has the same problems as they have in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and all across the country where there is seasonal work and as they have in Toronto. It is a shame that my colleague from P.E.I. supports the Liberal position.

The motion talks about bringing the premium down. I did not hear of anyone rallying in the streets because they want the premium to come down. I did not see that, but I did see people in the street because they want the employment insurance that they pay into and which belongs to them. That is what the people are saying.

This was the question I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance earlier. He did not defend the government's position not to increase benefits.

When employment insurance was introduced, it was not so that the government could fill its coffers and point to a $8 billion or $6.7 billion surplus every year. That was not its purpose. Its purpose was to help people who had lost their job when the economy was bad, as it is today.

Today, not only do people not qualify for EI benefits, but small and medium size businesses are suffering as well. When is the government going to look after them? If people do not qualify, they will not have any money. And I must say that social assistance is not the answer.

Unbelievable as it may seem, there are single people today receiving only $265 a month. How is it possible to live on this, in a country such as Canada, which we are constantly being reminded is so wonderful? It is worse than in the third world, in my opinion. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars a month will not even pay the rent and hydro.

And the government is certainly not prepared to increase social assistance payments now. You yourself know, Mr. Speaker, that when the Harris government took office, it cut social assistance payments.

The line is always the same, whether it comes from the Liberals, the Canadian Alliance members or the Progressive Conservatives, and it comes from the right, not the centre. There is nothing about it that suggests any desire to help people.

Yet, we made proposals during the election. Every time we asked the Liberals a question—and the Bloc did so often—, their response was the same: “You refused to pass the government's bill before the election”. The government tried to slip one past us a few days before the election. It knew that there was going to be opposition because the Canadian Alliance was already opposed. From the beginning, that party was not in favour of amendments to employment insurance. In fact, one of the demands in today's motion has to do with reducing EI premiums.

Last week I asked the government a question. The only answer it could think of was that it had reduced EI premiums. We never get an answer to our questions.

But beyond this there are families, there are people, there are children. There are 800,000 Canadians who contribute to employment insurance, but do not qualify for it. When we talk about employment insurance, the government says that 85% of those who qualify do get benefits. This is a disgrace. It should be 100% of them that qualify for employment insurance benefits.

But that is not the issue. The problem has to do with the changes to the employment insurance plan. The government now demands 910 hours of work to qualify for employment insurance benefits. This is why workers who contribute to employment insurance no longer qualify. Only 35% of Canadians who contribute to employment insurance get benefits.

The reason people are marching on the streets of Toronto today is because they did not accumulate these 910 hours. This is the problem. And that money does not belong to the Minister of Finance, who boasts about properly managing the money in the government coffers. That money is not in the government coffers. It is money that belongs to workers and I can never say it often enough.

There is also a new budget coming up. People who contributed to the Canada pension plan and who suffer from a disability could claim money from the government, through the tax system. But the government is so petty—and this is ridiculous and unacceptable—that now it is targeting these people, people with disabilities, by forcing them to fill out all sorts of forms. The government says “We will lower taxes, but we will deprive a person with a disability of the right to receive money through the tax system”.

This is just to show how little compassion the government has for people. However, it is more compassionate toward business. Two weeks ago, the government announced that it would not lower employment insurance contributions by five cents. I mentioned it in the House last week. I raised this issue. The government received a few phone calls from employers who said “Listen, you cannot do this to us. We want our five cents, our seven cents”.

No problem. On Friday, the government announced that it was lowering premiums by 5 cents. Honestly, 5 cents on $100 does not make much difference for a company.

But when it comes to employment insurance benefits, when a family fails to qualify, when 65% of people do not qualify for employment insurance, that makes a huge difference for kids going to school. For people who end up on social assistance collecting $265 a month, or families on $700 a month, that makes a big difference. So, what this government is doing is not right, it is not honest.

I hope and I ask from the depths of my heart that this government will have the good conscience, once and for all, to live up to its election promises in this upcoming budget, the promises made by Liberal members.

My colleague opposite, if he woke up, would remember telling me “We will pass Bill C-2, and then we will make the required changes. We agree with you, hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst”. But no changes have been made.

After hearing the recommendations made by all political parties, whether it be the Canadian Alliance, the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois, or the NDP, the Minister of Human Resources Development had the audacity and the temerity to rise in this House and say no to changes to the EI program. This is not right, nor is it honest of the Liberal government.

I hope that in the upcoming budget, the government will show that it cares, even a little, for the workers who lost their jobs. When election time rolls around, they will want their votes.

I would like to thank the members for hearing me. I only hope that I managed to wake up some of the Liberal members.

Business of SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

November 21st, 2001 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

No, Mr. Speaker. We agree with the committee that the basic features of the plan are valid.

We were asked to examine certain aspects of the plan which were raised by witnesses who appeared before the committee during consideration of Bill C-2.

What the member is refusing to see is that, in our response to the report, we mentioned the issues it raised. We have already addressed these issues, such as the short work week and undeclared earnings. We intend to look more closely into such issues as apprenticeship, self-employment, and family obligations.

I think that in the present climate of economic uncertainty, Canadians want to know that they can count on a reliable and stable plan. And they can.

The EI plan is stable and reliable and we are going to ensure that it stays that way.

Business of SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

November 21st, 2001 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member is referring to something that was amended in Bill C-2. Why then did the members, including the Liberal members, unanimously submit 17 supplementary recommendations?

Was it not precisely because—despite what Bill C-2 contains, which recuperates a maximum of 2% or 3% of the $8 billion surplus—the federal government is still using 98% of this surplus for purposes other than what the employment insurance system was designed for?

When she says that 88% of those gainfully employed would be eligible, I feel compelled to remind her that employment insurance is not designed to insure those who have a job; it is designed to insure those who do not have a job. Only around 40% of those who are unemployed receive employment insurance benefits.

Does the parliamentary secretary to the minister not agree with me that if this were a private insurance plan, she would never in a million years pay into it, because she would consider it robbery?

Business of SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

November 21st, 2001 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member opposite said, he already asked that question during oral question period and the minister answered it.

I must say that the September 11 events have had a profound impact on the lives of all Canadians. This government is closely monitoring the situation to ensure that Canadians have access to the support and services that they need.

Human Resources Development Canada has already made a number of adjustments. We launched the pilot project on shortened work weeks. We eliminated the rule on undeclared earnings. We extended parental benefits. We also made major changes to Bill C-2 by repealing the intensity rule and amending the provisions on clawback and on parental return to the workforce. We will continue to make sure that the program takes into account the changes in the labour market.

Employment insurance is designed to react quickly and automatically to changes in the local labour markets since eligibility criteria are relaxed as unemployment rates increase. The number of hours needed to qualify is adjusted every month in every one of the 58 EI areas to take into account local unemployment rates. A change in the local unemployment rate as tiny as one tenth of a percentage point may relax the eligibility criteria and extend the benefit period for people in the concerned area.

Moreover, we offer various labour market measures locally to employees and employers whenever an emergency arises, for instance massive layoffs.

The government's priority is always to make sure that Canadians can find a job. Labour market conditions remain sound in spite of the upheaval created by the September 11 events in the United States. Job creation has been weak but at 7.3 % the unemployment rate has never been as low. For adult women this rate is even lower at 6.1 %. These numbers point to the health of the Canadian labour market.

Employment insurance is a national program that is here to help workers whose job was directly impacted by the September 11 events just as it is here for every other worker. The 2000 Monitoring and Assessment Report reveals that 88 % of Canadians gainfully employed would be eligible to benefits should they lose their job.

I believe that given the information we just gave, it can be said that, thanks to the changes made to date by the government, the program is as ready as ever to meet the needs of Canadians.

Business of SupplyAdjournment Proceedings

November 21st, 2001 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, on October 4, I asked a question of the Minister for Human Resources Development regarding the unanimous report from members on the EI plan. It is important to remind the House that members of all parties worked on that report.

The report recommended 17 changes to the employment insurance plan, which was deemed insufficient and unacceptable as a social safety net for people who lose their jobs.

I raised the question at that time. It was the beginning of October, a short time after the events of September 11. There was indeed an awareness that changes would have to be made to the EI plan. The minister answered my question then the same way she did today, saying that the plan was working very well and that changes were made through Bill C-2, which abolished the intensity rules, among other things.

The minister noted that we voted against that bill. We did because the bill provided that, as soon as it became law, the government could decide to do as it pleases with the EI fund surplus and establish the contribution rates based on its general funding needs.

In our opinion, the EI should guarantee people a minimum income when they have lost their jobs. The intensity rule, which had been abolished, to give hon. members an idea of its relative importance, represents a saving of some $100 million per year, whereas this year, as in past years, there will be a surplus of close to $8 billion in the fund. So the amount associated with the intensity rule is less than 1% of the surplus.

This means that, at most, all of the measures contained in Bill C-2 would represent a recovery of 2% or 3% of the $8 billion surplus. That is not what our fellow citizens said during the election campaign. They spoke of their desire for a balanced program, one that would ensure people's contributions would provide them with sufficient income when they were unemployed.

There are two ways to do that: either lower the contribution rate or improve eligibility conditions. The problem with our Employment Insurance program is that there is a third party, the federal government, which does not contribute to it but helps itself to huge amounts of money in order to finance its other expenditures.

I believe that, when it does this, it diverts the funds from their primary purpose, which is to ensure a proper employment insurance plan, something we do not have at the moment.

Regrettably, closings were announced once again today in the softwood lumber industry, and everyone in Canada, Quebecers and Canadians, are being called upon to join together so that our position prevails with the Americans.

We would have expected that the federal government, which has done its share in the negotiations with Ottawa, would sympathize with the people who are the most affected by these closings, that is the people who are now unemployed.

Could the government not have taken advantage of the unanimous report tabled in the House, which the Liberal members participated in and which called for major changes to the employment insurance plan? This is the question that always goes unanswered.

Now as the federal government is generating a $8 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, why is it not able to ensure reasonable fairness with the tool it has to use in its fight against poverty?

Can the government give us an answer and finally agree to make changes in this direction? Until now, we have not received a convincing answer.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

November 20th, 2001 / 2:50 p.m.
See context

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, what I find scandalous is that the member continues to ask about expanding benefits in the employment insurance fund when it is he and his party who voted against Bill C-2, a bill that was specifically brought in to support seasonal workers.

I would ask him what he says to the 340,000 Quebecers who are now receiving money as a result of that bill being passed when they ask him why he voted against it.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActAdjournment Proceedings

November 19th, 2001 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, on October 26, in the House, I asked a question to the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. My question was as follows:

The government decided to ignore the recommendations made by the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, which were supported by the Liberals, outlined in a report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2”, regarding changes to the employment insurance program.

Given this decision, what steps does ACOA intend to take in order to help people who will have to deal with the gap next January?

The minister answered:

Mr. Speaker, ACOA continues to work together with the communities and provinces of Atlantic Canada to create jobs, which are long term, not short term and to promote sustainable economic development

The question here is a short term one. What happens to young people who do not receive any employment insurance benefits between January and May? What happens to these people? It is as if the Liberal government simply thought that problems could be sorted out in the long term, but that, in the short term, regions should be left to manage on their own.

I am not jealous. I am pleased that the government announced last week that it would put $1 million in northwestern New Brunswick to deal with the gap problem. It recognizes that the gap causes a problem in that region, with an unemployment rate of about 4.5%. But we also have a gap problem in the northeastern part of the province. The unemployment rate there is about 18%; in fact, it is 18%.

In his second answer, the minister responsible for ACOA said that he wished the member for Acadie—Bathurst would work with the government for the economic development of the region. Each time the Liberals visit the region to make announcements, they do not even have the courtesy to invite me, and then they want me to work with them for the economic development of the region.

Yes, I support economic development. I agree that infrastructures must be put in place. I am sure my colleague opposite, who is from Newfoundland, understands what I am talking about. They have the same problems in Newfoundland.

When the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2” was tabled and changes to employment insurance were requested, a member from Newfoundland presented a petition asking the minister to amend the employment insurance program. I am sure that the members from the Atlantic regions understand that, even the Liberal members. There was a reason Liberals had unanimously said they wanted to see changes in the employment insurance program.

It is really a shame. It is sickening and disgusting to see that there is an $8 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund for the present year alone. How can the government so easily ignore those problems that people are faced with? The suicide rate in my area is totally unacceptable. It is the government's fault, because of the changes it made, and because it is totally unable to show leadership and to change the employment insurance program, which belongs to the workers.

I have said it before and I will say it again, the government is stealing money from the workers and Canadians are paying for that. I am talking about whole families. That is part of the reason 1.4 million children are hungry in this country. There are 800,000 Canadians who do not qualify for employment insurance. It is the Liberal government's fault.

I am looking forward to what the parliamentary secretary to the minister of state responsible for ACOA will have to say to help these people.