An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Yvon Godin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 27, 2003
(This bill did not become 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.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

October 30th, 2003 / 2:45 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Human Resources Development has just learned that self-employed workers would be prepared to pay into EI in order to receive benefits. This, according to her, is something new.

The minister must have forgotten about my report, published in 1999, on the human side of employment insurance. It mentioned this, as did my Bill C-406, which she voted against.

Is the Minister of Human Resources Development prepared to make a commitment to self-employed workers, and to do what is necessary to make them eligible for employment insurance now?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 1st, 2003 / 6:20 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to orders made on Thursday, September 25 and Tuesday, September 30, 2003, the House will now proceed to the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-406, under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

September 30th, 2003 / 2:45 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the latest report by the Canadian Labour Congress showed that only 33% of women and 44% of men contributing to the employment insurance program are entitled to benefits.

My question is for the Prime Minister. Will he recommend that his government colleagues vote tomorrow in favour of Bill C-406, to rectify the errors made in the last reform of the unemployment insurance program, in 1996?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2003 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. members for Palliser, Portage—Lisgar, Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, Laval Centre and Saint-Jean for their comments on Bill C-406 which, as you know, is very important to me.

In 1997, I was elected here because the federal government had made changes to employment insurance that really hurt workers, men and women alike, and their children.

Let me just point out to the hon. member for Laval Centre that the bill does deal with the self-employed, since it says in the summary that it includes independent contractors. I just wanted to mention that for the record and to thank the hon. member for her speech.

I do not have much time, so I will try to quickly go over what I am proposing here. I would really like to see the House vote in favour of the bill at second reading so that it can be referred to a committee. The need is really there.

The hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac spoke very eloquently about his riding and how things stand at the fish plants, with the government going after the workers again because of the number of work weeks needed to qualify. What will happen to the people working at these plants? In 1988, the federal government reviewed the benefits paid to workers in Newfoundland and the province had to reimburse $650,000 to the federal government. It was totally heartless.

The member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac talks about a pilot project which, if I am not mistaken, applies only to that region. Today he says that we need a change at the national level.

Looking at the bill that I have brought forward, I would point out that it is the ten best weeks during the 52-week period preceding the weekin which the interruption in earnings occurred. This bill would not hurt fish plant workers who worked short weeks, nor would it hurt construction workers.

To whom does the program belong? It does not belong to the federal government, even though it took $45 billion from it to eliminate its deficit and balance its budget at the expense of those men and women who have lost their jobs. Now only 33% of women are eligible for employment insurance in Canada compared to 1990 when 69% of women and 78% of men were eligible.

I was sorry to hear the Canadian Alliance member say that social programs for aboriginals have contributed to problems such as alcoholism. That is not true.

I would like to quote from a speech that was published in the New Brunswick newspaper L'Acadie Nouvelle on July 31, 1989, in which the member for Gloucester, Douglas Young, said, when he was in opposition:

The taxpayers of New Brunswick should vigorously oppose these changes, which would have serious consequences on the region.

Why is it that when they were the opposition the Liberals used to understand the plight of workers? People in the southeast and the northeast of New Brunswick, in the Gaspé peninsula, in Toronto, and also construction workers and contractors had to leave for Alberta. They come home every three months to be with their wife and children. This can lead to family breakups. The federal government is callous. It is only after the workers' money. Like I said in my first question in the House when I was first elected, the government is stealing the workers' money to balance its budget and erase its deficit. This is a disgrace. This Prime Minister used to say, back in 1993, that we should take care of the economy instead of going after the workers.

My request is that on Wednesday next, when we vote on Bill C-406, the hon. members show some compassion and pass the second reading motion to send this bill to committee, where all parties will be able to work intelligently to find solutions for these workers, so that they will have an employment insurance fund that belongs to them.

The government has a responsibility to improve the economy, and not to crucify the workers.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2003 / 6:05 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to say a few words on Bill C-406, and act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, but before I do I want to congratulate the member for Acadie--Bathurst for bringing forward this bill. I want to congratulate him as well because he is a great defender of the working person, and that is something about which a lot of us here in this assembly should be more concerned, because it is the working person who contributes so much to the economy of our country.

I want to congratulate him as well on the first clause of the bill. The first clause would change the name back to the unemployment insurance act, and I support that. Only under a Liberal government could a piece of legislation providing protection to the unemployed be called an Employment Insurance Act.

However, more than the name of the unemployment insurance system was changed by the Liberals, under the watchful eye of the former minister of finance. Their new employment insurance system doubled and tripled the number of hours required to draw EI and shortened the benefit period, as well while keeping EI premiums relatively high. The net result of the changes, as we are all very much aware, was a radically reduced draw-down on the EI fund. We know what the net result of that was. It created a surplus of about $45 billion, not million, dollars.

There is nothing wrong with having a surplus. One has to prepare for a rainy day, in this case provide for a period of time when we could have very high unemployment, but $45 billion? Do we really need to have $45 billion in the EI surplus? Actually, when we get right down to it of course, less money is needed for a so-called rainy day because the new rules have made it a lot harder on people to receive EI, and as a consequence of that less people can draw employment insurance, or unemployment insurance as I still call it.

Rather than remaining a lifeboat for the nation's unemployed, the EI system became a cash cow for the former minister of finance in his efforts to balance the nation's books. The other two public services that were raided to balance the national budget were the health care system and the post-secondary educational system. Simply put, the former minister of finance, who is to be the next Prime Minister of Canada, rose to political prominence on the backs of the unemployed, the sick and the young. That is how he got there.

There is a lot in this bill that should be supported and should be taken very seriously.

I recently had a visit from the Canadian Labour Congress, and yesterday I had a visit from the Building and Construction Trades Council, two groups of people for whom I have an awful lot of respect. They provided me with some very graphic statistics on the effect of these employment insurance changes just in the riding of St. John's East. I was absolutely astounded.

Back in 1990, for example, 7,530 people in the riding of St. John's East availed of UI benefits. In 2001 only 2,680 people qualified for regular EI benefits, down from 7,530 to 2,680 people who qualified for EI benefits. That is a drop of 64%. I really wish the drop was entirely due to better employment prospects, but it was not. The lion's share of that 64% drop is attributable to the fact that benefits are now harder to get. When we do get benefits, it is for a shorter period of time.

A large portion of that 64% drop represents people forced to seek social assistance or people forced to migrate to other provinces in Canada. There is nothing wrong with going to other provinces for work, but if one happens to be a fisherman or a construction worker 55 or 57 years old, it gets very difficult to move to other provinces without any mobility assistance from the $45 billion fund that the former minister of finance was been able to accumulate.

How much did that drop in people receiving EI benefits in that one little area in the riding of St. John's East represent annually? It represented $69 million in EI benefits. If a person happens to own a major department store or a local corner store, the loss of these revenues from the local economy has to hurt the people in that area.

In short, the Liberal's new employment insurance system was a systematic attack on seasonal employment in rural Canada in general and in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular.

In Newfoundland and Labrador whole communities have been devastated. Whole communities have been depopulated. Seasonal work supplemented by employment insurance used to allow these families to remain in rural Newfoundland, but that does not happen any more.

It is very difficult if a person happens to be a construction worker. The point the construction trades people made to me yesterday, and it was a very valid point, was the moment workers went on a construction job, they began the process of working themselves out of a job. The same applies whether a person is working on a 50 storey steel building, or as a carpenter on a house, or building a road or building a dam. The moment they work on construction jobs, they begin the process of working themselves out of a job.

A bit of respect is required for the people who work in construction in particular. We should not say to construction workers that their contribution to society, to the people and to the economy of the country is such that we can slash their EI rights to the bone, that it does not matter. If they are finished a job and they happen to be 50, 55 or 57 years old, they should not be told they should move somewhere else. Instead we should make it easier for people who work in construction, or in the logging industry or in the fishery. It is very difficult for these people when they find out that the government has absolutely no respect for the contributions they make to the country.

Since the federal Liberals came to power in Ottawa, Newfoundland and Labrador alone has lost 50,000 people. The city of Corner Brook on the west coast of Newfoundland was our province's second city after St. John's. These days Fort McMurray in Alberta is the second largest city for Newfoundland and Labrador.

As I only have a moment or two left, I will wrap it up. It is worthy to note that on the national scale 855,000 Canadians received regular UI benefits in 1990. In 2001 the number who received regular EI benefits dropped to 456,000. Nationally that was a drop of 46%. The government should be ashamed of what it is doing to seasonal workers.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2003 / 5:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, some claim, and they might be right, that the House of Commons is a place where serious debates on issues of national interest take place. At times technocratic and at times emotional, our speeches raise questions and, if we are lucky, may contribute to making a difference.

Today, I thought I would tell you a tale, a sad one that might have a happy ending if the publisher put out a new version. We will call this tale “The employment insurance fund and the 40 calamities”.

Once upon a time, there was a tiny little insurance employment fund that was supposed to provide an income to jobless workers. It worked like this: The workers agreed to turn over part of their earnings to the tiny little employment insurance fund and, in turn, it promised to help them through hard times when jobs were scarce. Every worker very happily agreed: permanent workers, temporary workers, contract workers, seasonal workers, even employers.

For this agreement to work, they needed a manager. Big mistake: the government chose and imposed the manager, namely itself.

And this is how the federal government took over the poor little fund, when its management could have been handed over to the workers and the employers. Moreover, a further mistake, as the sly fox that he was, the super manager made quite sure that the fund was not independent. As a result, any money put into the fund, as well as surpluses of course, are scattered to the four winds and used for just about everything, and very little goes to help the unemployed, for whom it was set up in the first place.

As it has been receiving more and more and giving less and less, the little fund has grown bigger and bigger, gorging on certain classes of workers, especially seasonal ones, and making them poor. Now the tiny little fund has grown chubby and it is showing signs of failing, but it is not failing the government, which is getting richer. In the name of budget cuts and budgetary restraint due to the need to clean up the public finances, the Liberal government, we will name it, using nice technocratic buzzwords, is making it legitimate to rob the most vulnerable members of society and is tightening up the employment insurance eligibility criteria.

Instead of putting the fund on a quite reasonable diet by redistributing the wealth, the government has decided to make the workers wear a corset, and has tightened the stays so much that these workers cannot breathe. In the meantime, while the fund grows and grows, like the rock that Sisyphus was pushing endlessly, and the workers are being crushed under its weight, some Robin Hoods, like the member for Acadie—Bathurst, are trying to restore some justice through constructive actions.

Let us say that the fund is now, once again, at a crossroads that could change the lives of thousands of workers. Indeed, a member of this Parliament, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, whom I commend, has introduced Bill C-406, the purpose of which is to relax the EI eligibility rules and to improve worker's benefits.

This is not the first time that such an initiative is before the House. There are precedents, and the Bloc Quebecois is part of the characters in our tale. In December 1997, we introduced a series of six bills to correct the injustices committed through the various reforms.

More specifically, we wanted the eligibility rules to be relaxed, the duration of benefits extended, the intensity rule—which penalizes frequent users—abolished and, finally, a separate EI fund set up. As the purpose of Bill C-406 is essentially the same, it will come as no surprise that the Bloc Quebecois warmly supports the initiative of the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Bill C-406 would create a separate employment insurance trust fund to replace the account, which is a part of the consolidated revenue fund, to ensure transparent management of money in the EI fund, particularly with regard to the use of the surplus. Moreover, an independent commission would replace the present commission and would act as the fund's trustee.

Members of the independent commission would be appointed by the Governor in Council, from a list of persons nominated by the labour organizations and employer organizations and then selected by the minister.

Although the bill is not as detailed as what we have proposed in the past, and even with the unanswered questions about the trust fund aspect and its actual application to management of the surplus and how these will be credited, we are in agreement with its purpose.

As far as the method of appointing the members of the independent commission is concerned, once again there are some unanswered questions. The fact that they are appointed by the Governor in Council means that the whole problem of the commission's independence remains unsolved. Perhaps thought ought to be given to a more democratic and less discretionary process.

There are studies to clearly demonstrate—and medical specialists and other health care providers will back me up on this—that obesity is a bad thing and can have serious effects. This applies to the fund as well. It has not been able to see its own feet for a long time. The wily fox would be at risk of indigestion if he decided to make a meal of it. A lot of the fat needs to be trimmed.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has thought of that. Bill C-406 proposes a goodly number of prescriptions to slim down the chubby little fund.

Here is the proposed diet: benefits calculated at 66% of insurable earnings, based on the ten weeks of highest earnings; one week of benefits, to a maximum of 52, for each week in which there were at least 15 hours of insurable earnings; and finally a requirement of 350 hours, or 20 weeks of insurable employment of not less than 15 hours a week to qualify for EI.

These measures will remedy the problem of the infamous spring gap. The way things are at present, it is a bit like Cinderella's coach turning back into a pumpkin. EI recipients bump along until spring in a coach that is falling apart, but then the nightmare starts. The coach has vanished, but work has not started back up. So thousands of workers end up with no income for up to two months.

The Bloc Quebecois has been speaking out since 1996 against the tightening of EI eligibility criteria, and the length of the benefit period. These new measures will help a good number of workers, and we support these efforts.

We regret that self-employed workers were overlooked in this bill. It might be a good idea if the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst considered including a provision to correct this significant oversight for these workers who account for a large part of our economy.

In addition, the proposed five weeks of training per year, without the consent of the provinces, is a problem. This is a provincial jurisdiction, and Quebec has jurisdiction over manpower training. There is no way the federal government should be allowed, under cover of employment insurance, to encroach once again on one of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

In closing, I want to reiterate our support for Bill C-406 and its objectives. As far as my little tale is concerned, we can only hope that Ms. Chubby will follow the advice given to her and heed the well known saying, a healthy mind in a healthy body . And in time-honoured tradition, I will conclude my tale as follows, “C-406 married Ms. Chubby and the workers lived happily ever after and had many little children”. This way, the tale's title can be changed to “The Employment Insurance Fund and the 40 Blessings”.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2003 / 5:35 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Canadian Alliance Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for bringing this bill forward for discussion today.

Bill C-406 contains several elements intended to amend the Employment Insurance Act. These proposed amendments would expand the eligibility criteria; increase the benefits; eliminate the waiting period; increase the length of the benefit period, especially for claimants who live in high unemployment regions; eliminate any interest charges on penalties imposed for violating the act; and other changes are proposed as well.

My comments are not and should not be taken in any way to defend the status quo in terms of the act. There are changes that should be pursued, and certainly we would encourage those to be pursued, but I would emphasize that the member, and those who support this proposal, would like to appear to be supportive of the unemployed worker. I do not believe they are.

We should know with certainty what the effects of our spending on social programs, such as health care, aboriginal welfare and unemployment insurance, are having. Too often in the past this country has endured the perverse effects of poorly designed social programs on a fiscal level but those who truly suffer, when we throw money at a problem, at a social malaise, without thought, are the recipients of that money themselves.

One only has to take a look at the perpetual welfare dependency of many aboriginal communities across the country since the introduction and expansion of these programs in the 1960s: the concurrent alcoholism, the drug dependency, the abuse and the suicide rate particularly among teenagers. Aboriginal elders consistently claim that the single most damaging social policy for first nations people in communities was the introduction of welfare.

Let us set aside for a moment the escalating financial costs for the aboriginal welfare programs which have exploded to about $2 billion annually. Let us forget about the good things that we could do with those resources were they available to us. We should go to these communities and examine the real costs, the human costs, the abused children, the beaten women, the fetal alcohol syndrome, then talk to the elders and understand where these problems originated.

After one does that, I urge any member of the House to tell me that he or she does not wish that we could go back and change things in terms of the way those programs were designed. Anyone with an ounce of genuine compassion would immediately recognize that the improper design of a social program can create far greater problems than it would ever solve.

The member has not outlined any costs for his proposals. He asks us to demonstrate how much we care by being genuine with other people's money but he has not in any way addressed what the long term consequences of these changes he proposes might be.

We must have the courage here to ask what the effects will be and whether there are real measurable outcomes that will benefit Canadian people and contributors themselves in the future.

I would like to quote a noted Canadian, the premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, who said:

Canada is the only country that I know in the world that offers such generous programs that there is absolutely no incentive in return to divert yourself towards education or training...the truth is that the generosity of Canada has in many ways been the principal impediment to our growth.

If we follow the member's suggestions there will be a variety of outcomes he apparently has not even considered: the distortion of employment patterns; the enticements to create short term, low skilled jobs in declining industries; the temptation for young people to forgo education and training opportunities, why sacrifice income and leisure for training; the discouraging of full year, highly productive jobs in growth industries; the potential for long term dependence; the increased use by employers of short term lay off strategies; the tendency to avoid work once EI does kick in; and the fact that unemployment insurance may be a factor in Canada's rising level of unemployment and our lower level of output.

The member fails to even recognize the need to consider the impact of these proposed changes on families and children. There is nothing more important than children. Each decision we make in this Chamber will have an impact in some way on the future of Canadian children.

The decisions we make around the design of social programs, such as social assistance and EI, are particularly significant in their impact on Canadian families.

The OECD economic working group has been sharply critical of the government's decisions on these issues. In the Economic Survey of Canada 2003, released a couple of weeks ago, it stated:

Features of the employment insurance (EI) programme also contribute to the high unemployment rate. EI has moved well beyond providing income support during unexpected spells of unemployment and has become a major vehicle for delivering family, social and regional assistance.

The criticism of the abolition of worker experience rating contained in the previous survey remains valid. Other aspects of the system also need to be improved. The qualification period is short by international standards, while variations in eligibility rules between high and low unemployment regions discourage internal labour mobility, leading to persistent differences across the country and thus higher structural unemployment.

The member's proposed changes would see the qualification period, already criticized for being too short, reduced even further. The member has also failed to recognize that his changes would further exacerbate Canada's high structural unemployment and would very likely hurt the very region from which he comes.

Furthermore, the OECD recommends that EI should:

--include stronger training and job search requirements and greater use of initial case management and diversion programmes, as the countries that have been most successful in cutting unemployment are those that have improved both incentives and enforcement.

Those who advocate for changes, such as the member proposes in his bill, are promoting higher benefit costs. The government does not pay these costs. rather, the employed workers and the working poor, in particular, will be expected to pay for these changes.

We must remember that this is not a government fund. It is a pooled insurance fund. The money comes from the workers' paycheques and the costs reduce the workers' take home pay.

We must also remember that this has an impact on the families of this country, especially those who work full time in lower wage positions.

We must not make the same mistakes as the former finance minister here, who is responsible for allowing the overpayments to balloon to over $45 billion. That is not the sign of a good money manager.

This is the same finance minister who inherited a robust economy, which was none of his doing. He balanced the books, supposedly, but he did it by cutting health care and education transfers to the provinces and then blaming them for the problems that resulted. He signed the cheques for the out of control billion dollar gun registry, while at the same cutting things like agricultural research and infrastructure.

Again, we must not forget that he overcharged working Canadians and small business people by $45 billion on their employment insurance premiums and that he used the money as a slush fund for Liberal patronage projects.

We must remember that this is not our money. This is the working money for working Canadians. It is not a slush fund for the former finance minister to play with. It is not a slush fund for MPs to throw around like confetti. It belongs to Canadian families. When it is left in the hands of working parents it supports Canada's children.

When the design of a social program discourages employees in their search for work, when it discourages them in the pursuit of their training, when it discourages employers from hiring and when it discourages young people from choosing further education we have a problem. We must make no mistake about it, we have these problems in Canada right now.

In fact, today the Vancouver Sun reported on a study done by Statistics Canada which supports the charge that the “EI system is too generous and discourages the unemployed from actively seeking work”.

Most of the proposals in the bill, but not all, will simply make matters worse. They are cloaked in the guise of compassion. They are nothing of the kind. They are more of the shortsighted, misguided, vote buying tactics that have been practised by successive federal governments throughout the last quarter of a century.

The perverse outcome of which has been elevated structural unemployment in this country. Most tragic to our young people is the loss to Canadian children of the role models they need: the role model of a parent dedicated to working, committed to education and always mindful and in pursuit of the glorious potential that Canada has to offer each of its citizens; appreciative of a hand up but never looking for a handout.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2003 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak today on Bill C-406, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, introduced by my NDP colleague, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

There are many parts to this initiative, including the eligibility criteria, reducing the hours—350 hours—, the calculation of benefits—66% of insurable income based on the ten weeks with the highest earnings—, the waiting period, the duration of benefits, the added benefits respecting local unemployment and so forth.

The question is, why is the member for Acadie—Bathurst proposing such radical revisions, because there are significant changes in the bill? He is doing so to return us to something approaching the unemployment insurance program that we used to have and we do not have any longer.

Simply and shortly put, the changes over the past decade are not only shortchanging Canadians, as far as we are concerned it amounts to absolute highway robbery. Women, for example, are being robbed by the program. Only one-third of women today who actually apply for employment insurance receive any of the benefits. It is a gender gap that is widening by the day.

Overall, EI coverage has been cut in half over the past number of years. In 1992, for example, 78% of Canadians who applied for what was then called unemployment insurance actually received some benefits. Today, 62% of people who apply do not qualify. It is an astounding reversal in a relatively short period of time.

This happened at precisely the same time that we underwent changes in our economy in terms of the way we looked at work and the way work looked at many Canadians. There was a move over the past decade to more seasonal employment, especially in the hospitality sector and in the tourism industry. Women were particularly impacted as a result of this changing of the nature of work.

Before the UI program was so drastically overhauled in 1996, there was virtually no difference between the eligibility of men and women over the age of 45. Today, 45% of women in that demographic group do not qualify for employment insurance benefits when they apply, compared to 58% of men who qualify. That is a significant difference. It is clear that the government has been operating the employment insurance program in its own interest rather than in the interest of the people who are paying into the plan through their payroll deductions.

It is totally unacceptable, in the opinion of the member for Acadie—Bathurst and all of his colleagues in this caucus, to have rules that prevent the majority of people from accessing employment insurance that they actually have paid for.

I think of the seasonal adjustment workers program where we have migrants who come in from Mexico and other countries in the Caribbean and who work in our fields harvesting crops. They pay employment insurance with no possibility of ever receiving any benefits from it and no possibility of ever being repaid what they are owed.

Also, there is no offsetting program that says “Okay you are paying EI benefits, we are not able to pay that out, but we could do some other things”. There is nothing. It is just a straight money grab by the federal government. I am mostly interested in talking about the impact here in Canada, but that is an aside.

Women deserve equal access, and to do that changes must be made to the program's design. That is part of what is being proposed in this private member's bill this afternoon.

We are doing it because the cost to workers, families and communities is enormous. In my riding alone, Statistics Canada estimates that the loss to the people in the riding of Palliser amounts to about $12.5 million a year and $200 million a year in the entire province of Saskatchewan. That is a significant amount of money.

I know the Canadian Alliance is opposed to the bill, perhaps for other reasons. However when I look at Calgary and Edmonton, which is where the Alliance has been strong, where its lairs are, it amounts to about half a billion dollars a year that are forgone in employment insurance for people who live in those two major cities. It is over $200 million a year according to numbers that have been forwarded to the Canadian Labour Congress based on work done by Statistics Canada.

It is mind-boggling. It is the communities that are affected but it really impacts on the individual who has lost his or her job and is unable to collect employment insurance benefits.

It is obvious that the program needs more than a little tweaking. It needs a major and complete overhaul, which is what the member for Acadie--Bathurst is proposing in Bill C-406. The overhaul needs to be non-discriminatory and very clear and straightforward. It should also embody the KISS principle, as in keep it simple.

One of the key points in the bill, the basic 360 hours, should be enough to qualify for EI. This would replace the current patchwork system which, as I understand it, varies between 420 hours and 910 hours depending on where an individual works and the type of work being done. It changes from place to place. It changes from day to day. It is a mind-boggling system.

There should be flexible benefits. We should look at the hours worked in the months prior to lay off and the number of years the person has been in the labour force. We know that older workers, perhaps the ones over 45, have the most difficulty in finding work and being eligible for retraining programs. We think there should be guarantees for up to 18 months in benefits for people in those categories, and Bill C-406 reflects that.

It is time to extend regular benefits for apprenticeship training to everyone in the workforce. They need to sharpen their skills and knowledge. EI benefits should also be available to cover hours of work lost while in training or in job learning operations.

We need to balance work and family responsibilities for children and seniors. There is a growing need in this country for education, training and lifelong learning.

We believe that times are changing. Work has changed in the last 10 years and it will undoubtedly change in the next 10. Our employment insurance or unemployment insurance program must change with those times. We seem to have gone backwards when we need to be going forward. We need to keep up with the times so that people working in today's economy can count on receiving the benefits they need, the benefits to which they have contributed, when they need them.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find consent for the following motion:

That when the House begins with items C-406 and M-392 under Private Members' Business later this day, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be entertained by the Speaker, and, that at the conclusion of debate on the motion for second reading of Bill C-406 and of debate on motion M-392, all questions necessary to dispose of the said motions be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on Wednesday, October 1, 2003.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2003 / 1:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to announce from the outset that we support the principle of Bill C-406, which is to relax the employment insurance eligibility rules and to enhance both the benefits and the benefit period. A number of clarifications and changes will, however, need to be considered more closely and made in committee.

I will elaborate on a few points where we feel minor changes would be beneficial. I have touched on this earlier, in speaking with my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who has looked at the Bloc's recommendations with an open mind.

First, I wish to say that the fact that 800,000 workers are not eligible for employment insurance is totally unacceptable. These are workers, all 800,000 of them, who contribute to the EI program and yet cannot benefit from it. When I take out an insurance policy, I do so to make sure that, should something happen to me, I have something to fall back on. With EI, workers pay into the fund but they end up being told that they are not eligible because they did not work enough hours to qualify, or they are penalized because the work they do is seasonal, or for some other reason.

This should not still be happening, especially when we see the billion dollar surpluses in the employment insurance fund. This is totally unacceptable. I would have liked to see, in this House, a more unified front from the opposition on an issue as important as this one. We have been fighting for years to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equitably, and that is not how they are being treated.

A case in point is something very close to my heart, which I have been pushing for in this place for years now: preventative withdrawal from work for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The government has yet to do something, anything, on this issue. The amounts involved are not huge; all it would take is political will, but there is none here.

The point we are wondering about is the arm's length relationship. The Employment Insurance Act states that employment is not insurable if the employer and employee are related and do not have an arm's length relationship with each other. The Minister of HRDC, however, has discretionary power that enables him to consider employment of a relative as insurable employment if the claimant can demonstrate, given all the circumstances, that they would have entered into a substantially similar contract of employment if they had been dealing with each other at arm's length. Despite this discretionary power, the law's practical application remains harsh. The burden of proof is always on the claimant. My hon. friend's Bill C-406 puts the burden of proof regarding the arm's length relationship between employer and employee on the Employment Insurance Commission.

In its report, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development recommended that the government amend the Employment Insurance Act to eliminate the presumption of guilt in cases of non-arm's length relationships between employers and employees.

My party's position is this: the Bloc Quebecois, like the Law Commission of Canada—since the commission made the same recommendation—proposes that the act be amended so that employment by a related person is not presumed to be uninsurable. Bill C-406 will not go that far and an amendment would be required to cover this.

In regions such as mine or that of my hon. colleague, there are often small family businesses. Particularly in Quebec, many small businesses are run by families. Both spouses may work for the same company, often alongside their sons, daughters or cousins. When one of them needs employment insurance for a period of time, or for any reason, this person is instantly refused; the onus of proof is on the person. This should not be. Just because two people are related does not mean that they are trying to beat the employment insurance system. Having to prove one's case can be very difficult.

I know people who have had to wait two years before their case was settled. Not too long ago, I learned of a very good strong case. But these people are being harassed, and this is unacceptable. Their case has been pending for three years. This does nothing to help the family or a situation where employment insurance is at issue, and this certainly does not help a company survive. These people paid into employment insurance like everyone else. This kind of thing must be addressed and changed.

Bill C-406 talks about creating a separate fund. The bill creates an unemployment insurance trust fund to replace the employment insurance account, which comes under the Treasury Board. Obviously, the goal is to increase the transparency of the employment insurance fund.

Furthermore, an independent commission would replace the current commission and serve as trustee of the fund. The members of this independent commission would be appointed by the governor in council from lists of persons nominated by labourorganizations and employer organizations selected by the minister.

A bill introduced in the past by the Bloc Quebecois called for the creation of an employment insurance fund separate from the current consolidated revenue fund.

Four objectives were pursued: contributors must control the fund and play a part in determining the premium rate; any surplus in excess of the $10 billion to $15 billion reserve must be returned to contributors in the form of greater flexibility in the act, or lower premiums; the money paid into the fund by contributors must not be used to finance other government programs, and thus not to pay down the debt; finally, the surplus accumulated since 1995 belongs to the contributors and must be credited to the new independent fund.

In this connection, Bill C-406 is a bit unclear as far as the creation of this fund is concerned. Few details are given on the trust aspect of the fund. What will the real implications of this be? What will be done with the surplus? How will it be credited?

Moreover, the mechanisms for appointment of the independent commission suggest that it will not be all that independent. The reference to labour and employer organizations selected by the minister makes us wonder whether there might not be a way to make the process even more democratic.

As for the rate of weekly benefits payable to a claimant, Bill C-406 says that it is 66% of their weekly insurable earnings, based on the average of the 10 weeks during the 12 months period preceding the week in which the interruption in earnings occurred. The 10 weeks taken into account must be the ones in which the claimant received the highest earnings.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources Development recommended in its report to only take into account the weeks with the highest earnings. It did not say anything about the rate of benefits. In the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, the Bloc Quebecois also specified it wanted the average rate of benefits to be increased from 55% to 60%.

Bill C-406 goes a little bit further than the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Bloc Quebecois, but the principle of more generous benefits remains the same. Therefore, I do believe that on this issue we are on the same wavelength. Adjustments are always possible.

Bill C-406 makes the maximum benefit period 52 weeks. We had asked for 45 to 50, so we are on the same page there.

I do not have time to go into them all, but I think we will certainly have the time in committee to find some areas of agreement. What is important is that we came back with an independent fund with the possibility of creating one that will belong to all working men and women. There are 800,000 Canadian workers who do not have access to EI at the present time, but who pay in to it and must be able to draw from it. That will be our goal in supporting the bill of my colleague for Acadie—Bathurst.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2003 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Shefford Québec

Liberal

Diane St-Jacques LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak during second reading of Bill C-406 to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

First, I want to set the record straight. Some people live in difficult circumstances, but overall, employment insurance works well. According to Statistics Canada, the labour force participation rate is now 67.5%. This figure is for March 2003 and nears the high for the past twelve months.

For adult women, the participation rate is 60.6%. Furthermore, the government pays over $2 billion each year to the provinces and territories so that they can take the necessary steps to help Canadians find and keep employment.

Since 1997, we have invested over $1 billion in the youth employment strategy, which helps young people gain valuable work experience through programs such as Youth Service Canada, Youth Internship Canada and Summer Career Placements, which have created 96,000 jobs each year just since 1997. Our goal is to promote labour force participation.

That said, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst knows just how important the employment insurance program has been, for the past 60 years, to Canada's safety net. The government wants this program to continue to help the workers who need it, and so it will to the best of its abilities.

The goal of the employment insurance program has evolved over the years to suit the changing needs of Canadian workers.

Employment insurance now provides temporary income support to Canadians who have no employment income for a particular period, due to job loss, illness, the birth of a child or because they must care for a seriously ill child or parent. Furthermore, employment insurance provides unemployed Canadians with guidance and training so they can reintegrate the labour market.

In 1996, following broad consultations of Canadians, the Canadian government replaced unemployment insurance with employment insurance so as to meet the new needs of the economy, the labour market and workers. Furthermore, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission committed to monitoring the impact of this system on individuals, communities and the economy.

Following up on the annual monitoring and assessment activities, the government has readjusted the program to respond better to needs. Since that time we have, as the member for Acadie—Bathurst has pointed out, improved parental benefits, adjusted the small weeks, eliminated the intensity rule, changed payback provisions, modified the rule on undeclared earnings, and provided a new six-week compassionate benefit for eligible workers who will be looking after a seriously ill parent, child or spouse once this comes into effect in January 2004.

As hon. members are already aware, the most recent annual report, the 6th annual Employment Insurance monitoring and assessment report, came out at the end of April.

It indicates that the EI program continues to work well and that the changes made allow it to serve clients and their families better.

I will provide some examples from 2001 and 2002. The program provided sufficient coverage. According to the figures, 88% of salaried workers would have been eligible for benefits had they lost their job.

More Canadians received assistance, 1.9 million people receiving a total of $11.5 billion in employment insurance benefits.

Active re-employment measures were also successful. Over that period, $2.1 billion was invested in employment benefits and support measures via such programs as employment assistance, and skills development, which enabled 570,000 individuals to improve their skills, and another 190,000 to get back into the work force quickly.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to that last figure. It is a clear indication that the best support we can give unemployed Canadians is not higher EI benefits, but employment. We are making some progress, because the employment rate rose 3.7% in 2002, the highest annual rise since 1987.

The employment insurance program clearly reflects the balanced approach adopted by this government, combining improved EI benefits and constantly decreasing premiums.

It is important to remember that the government must cover the costs of employment insurance under any circumstances, even when there is a deficit, as was the case during the recession at the beginning of the 1980s and the 1990s.

Bill C-406 proposes creating a separate unemployment insurance trust fund in addition to an independent commission to administer the act. This proposal would be incompatible with the government's limitless responsibility to pay employment insurance benefits. It would also go against the government's objective to consolidate its revenues and expenses, an objective recommended by the Auditor General in 1986.

I would remind the House that the process for setting EI premiums is currently being reviewed. This review will be guided by certain key principles: transparency is critical in setting the premiums; these premiums must be based on the advice of independent experts; revenue levels from premiums must correspond to the expected costs of programs; premiums should be set at levels that reduce the impact on economic cycles; and finally, the premiums should remain relatively stable.

The government has made every possible effort to reduce the cost of employment insurance for both workers and employers. In fact, we have reduced premiums every year since 1994. Employers have told us that these reductions have stimulated employment.

As for workers, they have the safety net of employment insurance without having to assume the financial burden. I do not think that Canadians would view any considerable increase in premiums very positively.

The employment insurance program is working well. We continue to monitor and assess it. We do not hesitate to make required changes when there are compelling reasons to do so.

I believe the approach proposed in this bill raises several questions. Why move backwards? Why give up on an accounting system that is open and transparent? Why spend billions of dollars more on a new system when we have one that meets the needs of workers?

This government is working toward the future, as our proposal for new EI benefits for compassionate care leave demonstrates. However, this bill seems to me to be a major step backwards.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 2nd, 2003 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved that Bill C-406, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act , be read a second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise today to elaborate on my bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

As you know when I was elected in 1997, I was extremely concerned about the employment insurance issue and the changes made by the Liberal government in 1996. I then travelled across Canada and visited 10 provinces. I went to the Yukon. I took part in over 52 public meetings in every single province of Canada.

After meeting with Canadian workers, I presented a report to the minister. I then moved a motion in the House of Commons. It was unanimously passed in the spring of 2000, just before the election. Today, at long last, here is this bill, the result of a lot of hard work and those many meetings with people.

The bill is aimed at restoring justice for unemployed workers and beneficiaries of the program who were the victims of the changes made to the program in 1996.

The United Nations even condemned the cuts made to the employment insurance program and reiterated a request that it be reformed immediately.

Unfortunately, this government had only one thing on its mind: money. There are less people collecting EI, but more money in the coffers, which allowed the Minister of Finance to build a wonderful reputation by bringing down budgets with no deficits on the backs of workers who had lost their jobs.

I would like to remind the House that these wonderful budgets he was proud of were balanced on the backs of Canadian workers and businesses, the only contributors to the fund.

Today, I would like to talk more about my bill, which I hope will receive the support of the House.

First, I am asking that the name of the employment insurance program be changed back to the “unemployment insurance program”, as it was known before. This program does not provide employment, it provides assistance during periods of unemployment, so the former name is more appropriate.

The number of hours required to qualify for benefits would be 350 hours, or 20 weeks of insurable employment of at least 15 hours per week, instead of the current 710 hours required.

Benefits will be 66% of the insurable earnings, based on the 10 highest paid weeks in the last year, or 52 weeks.

This would solve the problem known as “accumulating hours”. This is a problem people in the southwest of New Brunswick are currently facing in fish processing plants. There are studies being done on them because of this phenomenon. The member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac claims to be their advocate and says he will sort the problem out, but the minister is refusing to allow hours to be accumulated. I am anxious to see how these members will vote on my bill and if they will support the concept of the 10 highest-paid weeks over the last year.

Right now, the program provides only 55% of one's salary, which is minimal when it comes to the actual cost of living. This is effectively pushing people under the poverty level. Take someone who earns $8 an hour, and would then receive 55% of that. How can this person live? This is even lower than social assistance benefits.

The benefits period will be one week for each week of employment, to a maximum of 52 weeks. This would eliminate the problem of small weeks, while including part-time workers.

The adjustment for additional weeks of benefits would be calculated as follows: two weeks for each percentage point in the regional unemployment rate above 4% to a maximum of 10% and three weeks for each percentage point in the regional unemployment rate above 10%.The two-week waiting period is completely eliminated.

Looking at the SARS problem in Toronto, when this happened the government immediately adopted a regulation to do away with the two-week waiting period. Why just do away with those two weeks in response to a perceived immediate need in that region? I agree with it, but what I am saying is that anyone who loses a job today is in the same situation. There is no more money coming in. The two-week waiting period should be done away with for all Canadians who lose their jobs.

The government has set a good example with what is going on in Toronto.

By eliminating the divisor rule and the recovery provisions, by eliminating the 910 hours required for new entrants and re-entrants, special benefits would be 350 hours.

If this bill is passed, self-employed and contract workers will be considered employees and be protected by the EI program.

They are no different from any other workers. When one looks at today's labour market and the new way of life today, one can see that these self-employed workers need to be included.

As for the two weeks of benefits accumulated for each year worked, in the case of special lay-offs, these benefits are available only to workers with 10 years in the work force and aged 45 or older. The maximum benefit period would be 26 weeks.

This is to help people aged 45 or older who lose their jobs and do not have much prospect of finding another. This would be more assistance for them. It would be a little more to help them adapt and find something else.

Retirement pensions, separation pay and vacation pay are eliminated from the definition of earnings.

It is not fair that a person who receives holiday pay or severance pay on losing his or her job is not entitled to EI benefits because this qualifies as income under EI. That defies common sense. This money could help people find jobs instead of collecting benefits indefinitely.

Employees are entitled to up to five weeks of training every year, provided it is geared to their job. There would be a maximum of 52 weeks, the idea being to get people back to work. This would encourage them to work. It would get them back and help them find work.

This is a useful bill. Instead of using the money in the EI fund to balance its budget in order to achieve zero deficits, the government should put money where the needs are.

Financial penalties would be eliminated. No interest or amount would be payable in the event of a violation of the act, penalty or overpayment.

As for the EI account, it would be replaced with a trust fund. This fund would be credited with the contributions paid. At present, there is $42 billion in the EI account. That is well beyond the $15 billion necessary to make the program cost-effective. By establishing a trust account, we will be ensuring that the money put into the account will go to the program, and only to the program.

The Employment Insurance Commission will be comprised of members appointed by the governor in council for terms not exceeding five years from lists of persons nominated by labour organizations and employer organizations determined by the minister. The commission shall administer the act and the employment insurance program, the trust fund, and the appeal system.

In short, this is a far-reaching bill, which is nevertheless necessary to address the major deficiencies in the EI program.

Since I was elected as a federal MP, I have been receiving phone call upon phone call from people who are having serious problems with the existing program.

More and more people have trouble qualifying, which should not happen, especially when people have just lost their job. In fact, two-thirds of those without a job do not qualify for the program.

The 2002 monitoring and assessment report tabled this week by the Minister of Human Resources Development paints a rosy picture of the situation of the unemployed and the EI program.

Yet at my office, I receive approximately 30 calls a day about employment insurance issues. In my view, these calls are more consistent with the reality than the great report card the minister has presented to us.

There are cases such as the one I saw this week when I went to my riding. These are people who worked in construction in Western Canada. They left their families behind for over three months.

I have here the employer's severance form that says that the reason for the layoff was shortage of work. The government took the trouble to call the employer to see whether this was true or not. It conducted an investigation. Maybe it wanted to cut their employment insurance benefits.

How greedy is the government that it would steal money from taxpayers and workers even though it has a document from the employer saying there is no work in his plant? They are now investigating.

It is simple; it is because of the quotas. That is the problem. The government is more interested in taking money from companies and workers to pay its debts than helping people.

This past week, I spoke with a woman who had called my office. When I called her back I asked her how she was. She said that the rope was next to her. It was not very nice to hear. That is the problem and that is what we call the employment insurance deficit.

We have only to look at people in Toronto who are losing their jobs, women who work only 20 hours a week and who do not qualify for employment insurance because they are short a few hours. If we made the changes to employment insurance that we need now, we would not be in such a panic.

The employment insurance program was there to help people who lost their job. It was not there to help the Minister of Finance pay down the debt. It was not there to help pay for social programs. It was there for one specific reason, to help people who lost their job.

The Liberal government should be ashamed of continually saying that, for example, people should stop using employment insurance as an income supplement, when it is using it to pay down the debt. How can Liberals stand up and be proud to say such things?

At the beginning of the last election campaign, the member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok made a heartfelt appeal to the minister. He asked her to change the employment insurance program. He campaigned on employment insurance. The member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, as well as the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, were elected because they campaigned on the employment insurance program. Today, there is no change.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development will say: “We made some changes. We included 52 parental benefit weeks”. She might say that they will go up from 50% to 55%. The problem is not there.

There are now 800,000 people who do not qualify for employment insurance in Canada. There are 1.4 million children who are going hungry in Canada. If there are 800,000 adults who do not qualify for employment insurance, these are people who have families and children, so we can calculate that 1.4 million children are going hungry in Canada.

The Liberal government and the changes made in 1996 are to blame. Before that, in 1993, when the Liberals were in the opposition, they spoke out against the changes made by the Conservative Party and said that it was shying away from economic problems in Canada. Back then, they said that we had to deal with economic problems. Today, they turn around and come to us with the same changes that the Conservatives made.

This is 2003. Our wonderful country, Canada, has a program for employers and employees. Yet, it is not able to give this program to those to whom it belongs.

I was proud to hear this week that the FTQ and the CSN had finally gone to court. I pray to God that they win their case against the federal government to give the money back to the people to whom it belongs. I hope that that is how the court will rule, since the government is not able to fulfill its responsibilities. The Liberals are too greedy. It is the Liberal government that is living off employment insurance. They are the ones who are greedy when it comes to EI.

It is hungry children who have no food in the fridge who should be benefiting. They are the ones who should be benefiting from EI. The responsibility of the government is to ensure that there are jobs for people in the regions to go to. People need to have jobs to go to.

I sincerely hope that Parliament will vote in support of my bill, so that it can at least be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development where there will be a real review of it, and where we can finally make the changes that will benefit workers and our children.

Employment Insurance ActRoutine Proceedings

February 27th, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-406, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act. This bill is similar to another bill previously introduced.

Its intent is to change the name of the Act back to its original name, that is the Unemployment Insurance Act; to specify certain payments that are excluded from earnings; to allow benefits to continue while a claimant is on training to improve employability; to cancel the waiting period; to include dependent contractors; to alter the duration of benefits; to change the added benefits respecting local unemployment; to provide additional benefits for permanent layoff; to create a separate unemployment insurance trust fund to replace the present employment insurance account, which is a part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund; to replace the present Commission with an independent commission to be the trustee of the fund and the administrator of the Act; to remove the different status of re-entrants and new entrants; to place the burden of proof on the Commission to prove “arm's length” status and “just cause for leaving a job”; to ensure that every office and telephone access has an HRDC representative available.

In this bill I am calling for a total of 14 changes to the Employment Insurance Act, particularly because of its $42 billion surplus. The bill would be good for all Canadians.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)