An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act

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

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Status

Not active, as of Feb. 17, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

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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.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime MinisterOral Questions

November 14th, 2011 / 2:35 p.m.
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Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, we are talking here about accountability and the responsibility of the CBC to be in tune with its needs and to be open to the public about the money it receives from taxpayers.

That is what the Parliamentary Secretary is doing and that is what our government promised to Canadians during the last election campaign. We are asking for the CBC's receipts because it must be accountable. It was the same with our Bill C-2, under the former government. The CBC must show taxpayers that it will act responsibly with the money it receives from them.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 6:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this motion on employment insurance reform. This motion asks the government to implement all the recommendations in the report that go beyond Bill C-2, including those that will provide eligibility and increased benefits.

Since many of these would directly affect seasonal workers and the companies that employ seasonal workers, and the communities in which seasonal workers live, I would like to provide a little background on seasonal industries and the challenge they face so that we can better assess how this motion might impact them.

To begin with, this is a particularly important debate since it involves a key segment of the economy that does not always get the attention it should, namely seasonal employment. Seasonal work patterns can be found in most regions of the country, in most industries, and in most occupations.

The economic impact of seasonal work is even greater in some rural regions where seasonal industries often represent the main source of employment. In fact, as I was listening to my various colleagues, every one of them from different regions made sure they put the accent on seasonal work and the impact it has on their own communities.

Some industries rely much more heavily on seasonal work than other industries; for example, mining, forestry, agriculture, hunting and trapping, fisheries, oil and gas exploration, and certainly tourism. All these are vitally important sectors that provide employment for many Canadians. In fact, some would say, in naming these industries, a majority of Canadians.

Thus, seasonal industries have an economic impact far beyond their particular sector because of the additional economic activity performed by a myriad of companies serving them. All these companies, one way or another, contribute to our gross domestic product.

For example, in the forestry sector where the harvesting of trees, which is in itself a highly seasonal activity, provides raw materials for sawmills, pulp and paper, plywood, panel board plants, operations not all are seasonal. Really, the industry itself is far more permanent than some of the employment that constitutes its mainstay. For example, if forestry workers spend time in the forest on an off and on basis, given that logging only takes place at certain times of the year, that does not mean to say that the industry itself is not far more permanent in its scope and operates on a constant basis the whole year. However, for some segments of the workers in that particular industry, obviously they are greatly impacted because their work is purely done during certain periods of the year.

Workers in these companies are in turn served by community businesses which again are far more permanent businesses than the seasonal workers that are in the field at certain times of the year, but yet contribute to the general economy which itself is far more constant and permanent. For example, in a particular community grocery stores, dry cleaners, gas stations and restaurants, all these various industries depend on one community, a central industry, where a lot of workers in that main industry are seasonal workers themselves.

While many of these industries are part of what economists would call the service economy, this does not mean that they are neither technologically advanced nor innovative as shown by the ongoing process of change in which companies are using technology to radically transform their own operations. We can take the example of any major industry, and the same evolution and process of change is taking place at a tremendous rate, in some cases.

At the same time, seasonal industries, by their very nature, are often vulnerable to factors beyond their control: weather, crop conditions, diseases, and global market conditions. We have seen what has happened, for example, in the agricultural industry which employs a great number of seasonal workers. Certain conditions completely extraneous to the process itself have happened without the control of the industry itself and totally outside the control of governments or anybody else.

There is the whole question of the mad cow disease, droughts in the prairies, weather changes, and forest fires. Suddenly, there are all kinds of extraneous factors that could impact on the industry itself, especially seasonal workers who find themselves, from one season to the other or from one day or one month to the other, without any possibility of work because the type of work that they do requires certain conditions which are totally impacted by conditions outside of their control.

All of these various exterior conditions such as weather, crop diseases, and global market conditions can create considerable fluctuations in supply and demand for products and in their costs. To respond to these challenges many companies have modernized their operations and diversified product lines. While these will create new opportunities for these various industries, modernization also displaces workers by reducing the number of seasonal jobs. This is why I put the accent on seasonal jobs which I feel are one of the elements of impact which are the greatest regarding employment generally.

The shift in business activity has also created problems for employers themselves for whom new technology, improved management capabilities, and the development of new products are obviously vital to success. These employers very often find themselves in the paradoxical situation of not being able to get the workers they need even in very high unemployment areas because the workers are not suited to the new technologies that are needed today to modernize industry. This really leads us to the crux of today's debate.

I think we all agree that this motion is well-intentioned. I do not think anybody is questioning the validity of the intent of the motion. The problem is that the focus of the debate is primarily on making it easier to collect EI and increasing benefits.

Instead, we should focus first, on a multi-faceted approach aimed at helping seasonal industries to cope with these new economic realities, some of which I have described. Certainly, the new technological world is changing employment totally. Second, we must ensure that seasonal workers get the education and skills upgrading needed to take advantage of alternative employment opportunities that might come along in a completely different type of industrial economy; and third, we must ensure that communities diversify the economic base as far as is possible.

I realize that this is not always easy, especially in rural areas. Rural areas might be less vulnerable to changes in any one industry or company.

Last year, for instance, I took part--with one of my colleagues, the regional economic minister at the time--in a really almost very sad and terrible circumstance in the fishing industry on the north coast. I became involved in that because most of the employees were English speaking and they wanted some people they could relate to in their own language. Some of them only spoke English. They were affected by the fact that the fishery was stopped in that area.

Suddenly, overnight they found themselves without any economic means of livelihood. Some of them could not even afford food to send with their children to school. It was a drastic situation where the Quebec government and the federal government cooperated in trying to find, overnight, some instant programs to try to fill the gap on an emergency basis to keep them in the support system, at the same time try to provide more long term alternative ways of skill building so that employment could be shifted from the basic and only employment they had, which was fishing, into various other types of livelihood, such as ecotourism, artisan work, wood crafts and so forth.

It is only through this kind of process, where we try to provide alternative skills and employment, that we will be able to target areas where there is one central industry, especially in outlying areas. Any peril or hardship to that industry has a tremendous economic and social impact on the area and affects the livelihood of people.

To create this, it is essential to listen to all the partners involved, such as the seasonal workers and their families who are the first impacted, the private sector, provincial and territorial governments, unions and community groups, to find out how we can best address the needs of workers in seasonal industries in their communities.

This is what we did on the north shore. We worked with the community base. We worked with volunteer groups. We worked with local municipalities. We worked with the provincial government and federal government to see how we together could find ways to create support systems on an emergency basis and then skill training on a more permanent basis.

We should encourage community and economic development so that regions dependent on seasonal work can diversify their economies. I know it is easier to say than to do. However, unless we make an effort in that direction, I think we will always be faced with emergency programs, employment insurance, short term stop-gaps, but the problem will always endure. This means building on existing initiatives, supported by various agencies. We could cite many of these agencies in various parts of the country that are geared principally to help our communities and seasonal workers.

Many of my colleagues have indicated that this sometimes happens community by community and sometimes regionally in different ways. However, the aim must be to try to ensure that employees and citizens do not rely on seasonal work in one central industry that can be affected by change or situations outside of its control. We need to have alternatives and diversification.

As the Speech from the Throne has outlined, we are supporting the growth of the social economy, the social power of entrepreneurs which has done so much to help communities create jobs, improve skills development and make communities safer and more prosperous. We have to work with all our partners to find ways to help seasonal workers and industries to benefit from new opportunities created by changes in the economy.

I mentioned a number of elements in the employment insurance program that are important to workers in seasonal industries. There is the adoption of an hours-based system. This now means that all the hours of work are taken into account to determine eligibility. This change takes into account the different patterns of work and generally contributes to increase the number of weeks of benefits to which workers were eligible.

Several workers in seasonal industries, who often work many hours during a reduced number of weeks, have benefited from this. This measure has been beneficial to part-time workers, women, seasonal workers. Over 400,000 people, who were working part time or had short-term jobs, were able to receive benefits for the first time following this change.

As for seasonal workers, the length of their benefit period was extended, and their benefits are about 10% higher than those of other recipients.

I will conclude with this, and say thanks.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 5:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is some bad-mouthing going on in the House about the hon. member for Portneuf. I will not tell you what I heard. All I will say is that after the next election, he will be on vacation for a long time. However, I will not say what he is doing today.

I will now remind the House of the motion before us today for this opposition day. It is important that we begin by setting out the main subject of our debate. It is as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.

What the Bloc Quebecois is recommending today is what we have recommended many times since May 2001, and what has been recommended outright when the report was tabled in May 2001, that is an in-depth reform of the Employment Insurance Act and particularly of those parts of the act that penalize contributors to the plan.

For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf in particular, and also for all the people who are listening at home, I will explain how we come up with a committee report that contains 17 unanimous recommendations. First of all, the chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is usually a Liberal. That committee is chaired by somebody appointed by the Prime Minister.

The vice-chair is also a Liberal, and more often than not—and it is okay, I am not being critical here—it is the minister's parliamentary secretary. This person then gives his or her colleagues the information on what will be going on. The majority of the members of the committee represent the governing party, the Liberals.

Therefore, the chair is a Liberal, one of the two vice-chairs is a Liberal and more often than not the parliamentary secretary representing the minister at the committee, and most of the members are from the Liberal Party.

The Bloc Quebecois was there, the Conservative Party was there, and also the NDP. After two or three months of discussions, evidence, research and expertise, the committee submitted a unanimous report.

For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, a unanimous report means that everyone agreed on it. I should add, again for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, that when a report is unanimous and when everyone agrees on it, this means that the Liberals also agreed. They signed the report, along with the other members of the committee. As regards recommendation No. 1, for example, which seeks to end discrimination toward young unemployed individuals, women and new entrants in the employment insurance program, I should point out, for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, that the Liberals agreed with this recommendation. They signed the report after two or three months of work.

The minister was aware of this, because his or her parliamentary secretary was present. Therefore, cabinet was aware. Indeed, and I say this for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, committees do not meet in secret. They send notices. Their meetings are even open to the public. There are committee proceedings and minutes. After hearing witnesses and after examining the issue, the committee produced a unanimous report which says in recommendation No. 1, for example, that we should end discrimination toward young people, women and new entrants in the employment insurance program.

Now, we are asking the members who signed this report if they want to vote accordingly. They are telling us no. They do not agree. They want to review the issue because it is important. They promised to do so in 2000, during the election campaign. They made recommendations in 2001 after reviewing the issue, but now they are not prepared to vote to support these recommendations.

This is what we object to. The Prime Minister talks about democratic deficit. The same Prime Minister told Canadians, in a news release dated March 18, 2004, and I quote:

This government places great importance on hearing from those lives that are directly impacted by our policies, including our seasonal workers. Our Caucus has been extremely active in making the sector's opinions known, and will continue to play an important role in further examining those views.

This was a news release signed by the Prime Minister on March 18.

Thirteen days later, this same Prime Minister voted against a motion and with him an overwhelming majority of Liberal members from Quebec, including the member for Portneuf. This motion asked that a specific status be established for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic area in which they live.

So we were saying that the Prime Minister had made a promise. The Liberals signed a report. Can they now officialize it? When you promise something, when you sign a report to confirm a promise or a commitment, when you go back to the people to say that you applaud such a measure but ask for a little bit more, we say you should make good on your word and put the issue to a vote in the House. Now, they tell us they are not ready to do that.

This is what we object to. Therefore I wish to tell the member for Portneuf about the existence of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, about the existence of a unanimous report and about the fact that this report got the unanimous support of Liberal members. I believe it is important that the member for Portneuf be made aware of those facts before making any more speeches and answering our questions.

Another recommendation of this unanimous report—therefore a report which got the support of the Liberals—was to extend benefit periods in order to avoid the spring gap. This was recommendation No. 3. Since 2001, nothing has been done about the spring gap. The report also talked about implementing specific measures for older workers. Those measures were obviously less generous than the POWA program, but they were still better than the present situation. This was recommendation No. 4.

Recommendations Nos. 8 and 9 talked about the possibility of extending the program to self-employed workers. I am happy to hear that the member for Portneuf agreed with that earlier. I am also convinced that if the motion were introduced today and put to a vote, the hon. member might vote against it, even though he said he was in favour.

Recommendation 16 talks about increasing the amount of benefits by changing the calculation formula.

That is how we, including the Liberals, unanimously agreed to improve the EI benefits scheme.

Why should it be improved? That has been explained very well by my colleagues who spoke today, especially my colleagues from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques and Rimouski--Neigette-et-la-Mitis, who is our critic on this file.

Everybody recognizes that the situation is desperate, especially for seasonal workers and people living in the regions. Everybody recognizes that. However, it is not true only of people living in the regions.

We looked at the results of a study conducted by the CLC, the Canadian Labour Congress. For the benefit of my colleague for Portneuf, the first C stands for Canadian. This study was not done by the Parti Quebecois, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste or sovereignists. The first C stands for Canadian, I want to stress that point.

According to the CLC study, between 1993 and 2001, losses linked to the tightening up of EI eligibility standards were in the order of $3 billion a year in Quebec. If you divide that number by the 75 ridings in Quebec, the shortfall is around $40 million a year per riding.

This shortfall calculated by the CLC—and I repeat for my colleague from Portneuf that the first C stands for Canadian—represents a shortfall not only for the unemployed, but also for the regions. The unemployed do not invest their benefits in Barbados, they put that money directly back into the local economy. Surpluses generated by the EI plan on the back of the regions are put into the consolidated revenue fund, not into the regions.

My riding, Repentigny, is not in a remote area; it is in the suburbs of Montreal. People in Repentigny are not faced with the serious problem caused by the spring gap or the serious problem in the seasonal sectors, as a whole. Some of them, yes, but not across the board.

In spite of that, according to the CLC, since 1993, since the tightening up of the employment insurance scheme, the shortfall in the riding of Repentigny has been $47 million a year for eight years, or $376 million. In the riding of Repentigny, the unemployed, who unfortunately are in a special situation, have been deprived of that money over the past eight years. That has had an impact on the local economy. I remind my colleague the member for Portneuf that that is according to a study conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress.

I think I have been pretty clear about the importance of implementing decisions that have been accepted unanimously, including by the Liberals. Once again, with an election campaign looming, the Liberals are promising to look into it, to think about it, and to eventually move forward and create a committee.

I made a joking comment a while ago to my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. It is just a joke, I have no wish to offend any religious groups. What I said was that God created the world in six days. Before the seventh day, He created a committee, and it took another three billion years before Man and Woman appeared. When the Liberals promise us a committee, I really wonder when we will see a response to this question, particularly since that committee will be made up of nothing but Liberals. I hope they will be signing a unanimous report.

For the benefit of my colleague for Portneuf, if the committee is comprised solely of Liberals, and if they all sign the report, then it will be really unanimous. If that report is then voted on here in the House, and they vote against it, then there will really be some problems. I just wanted to point out to him that there will be no separatists on such a committee.

Today, with an election looming, why the concern about these promises?

There is concern because during the last election campaign, two minor players, among others, formally promised workers they would reform the Employment Insurance Act. I will name only two members, former minister Alfonso Gagliano, who was more concerned about the sponsorships and all that, but who nonetheless could occasionally talk about other things, and our colleague from Bourassa. Again, if my colleague from Bourassa says he did not say that then he needs to inform the House.

This promise had been made on the North Shore and in the Gaspé in the weeks leading up to the election. Now that we think the election might be called tomorrow, there is no talk of the promises that were made this week. Talk is about the promises made before the last election, in 2000, that still have not been kept.

The federal government has never come through on this promise except to pass a bill that was tabled before the dissolution of the House. In fact, it was this bill that made construction workers so angry in that it did not address the main flaws in the program.

Consequently, this is the aspect on which the Bloc Quebecois humbly proposes that the Liberals honour their signatures on a report in which there were 17 recommendations aimed at correcting a distressing situation for workers, for women and youth, and for older workers who lose their jobs.

Thus, we ask the Liberals who made a commitment to the POWA program, who made a commitment to independent workers, who signed, who promised and who said that they were going to reform employment insurance, to keep their word, quite simply. We offer them an opportunity to honour their signatures and, in turn, we will accept only the recommendations they made.

In conclusion, I have a little anecdote about the people who, at the time, were called Alliancers or Reformists, or something like that. Nevertheless, the former Alliance members, the new Conservatives, quoted verbatim the Liberal's 1993 red book about the ethics counsellor. They copied from the Liberal Party's 1993 red book, in quotation marks, a text that went something like this, “We promise to appoint an independent ethics counsellor in the House of Commons,” or something like that. I do not know the 1993 red book by heart—it was not my bedtime reading—but I remember that this promise was in the red book. Consequently, the people who are now the Conservatives took verbatim what was in the red book and submitted it to the House.

For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, the red book was written by Liberals, nothing but Liberals. It was not even a unanimous committee that wrote it; it was only Liberals. Are you surprised, Mr. Speaker, to learn that the Liberals voted it down?

In terms of democratic deficit and lack of respect of the public for politicians, the very best example is to take a promise out of the red book, put it forward to Liberal members and watch them vote against their own commitments.

Today, however, after listening to my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois, I can say that this is the same kind of situation where we tell the Liberals, “You made commitments. You took some concrete action. What we are asking now is that you deliver on your promises. Vote on this motion. Let us make it votable”.

That having been said, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to make this motion put forward by the Bloc Quebecois today votable.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the previous speaker both with interest and in amazement. Let me start by the end.

How can someone say that we do not have time? We were elected three and a half years ago and the mandate of the government runs until the fall of 2005. If the government really wanted to change the EI plan, it could very well introduce a bill in the next few days and you could be sure that the Bloc would give its full cooperation to get the changes made. In fact, the report was tabled three years ago.

I would like to give some clarification to the hon. member because he does not seem to understand. There was a vote on Bill C-2. The report was tabled after Bill C-2 and included a recommendation approved by everybody, including the Liberal members, namely the member for Gaspé, a member from Laval, and the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who said that Bill C-2 did not go far enough and that there were 17 other changes to make to the plan. Apparently, these were important changes. But the government did not follow through on the recommendations.

During those three years, the federal government accumulated a surplus of $11 billion in employment insurance premiums. It collected $11 billion more than it paid out in benefits. Could it not have taken half that money and given it to improve the situation of women, to eliminate discrimination between men and women and young people so that the same eligibility rules would apply to everyone? Could it not have set up a program to help older workers? Could it not have improved the situation of seasonal workers? No. It preferred to squirrel away the $11 billion taken out of the pockets of some of society's most disadvantaged.

Should, finally, our colleague not realize that what we have on the table are unanimous recommendations? These recommendations were made three years ago and the government has not followed up.

Why not wait until the Employment Insurance Act is voted on before holding an election? I think that would be the best move this House could make in order to restore some balance, distributing wealth, rather than sharing poverty as has been the case. In a period of very rapid economic growth, the gap between rich and poor has grown as well, which is absolutely unacceptable.

How can the member defend this position, which stands in opposition to that of his own Liberal colleagues who were members of the committee?

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking this afternoon. Given that what we say is often misinterpreted here, let me say at the outset that I will be speaking about the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”This is not to say that everything has been done and that there is no more to do. I would be the first to say that a lot remains to be done and it so happens that we are presently at work on a number of issues in this regard.

I am nevertheless pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the issue of employment insurance, specially with regard to the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”

I will read some brief notes to make sure people are properly informed. It must be said in fact that information given or discussed here is sometimes so skewed, so misinterpreted, that people may be somewhat baffled as to what is going on here.

This government greatly appreciates the work of the Standing committee on Human resource developmentand has examined carefully the recommendations contained in the committee's report. We have always been willing to change to meet the need, as we have shown time and time again with regard to employment insurance.

However, at the outset, I think it is important to mention that the employment insurance program is working for a majority of Canadians. It is there for people who need it and it will remain in place, as it has for 60 years.

Employment insurance is a reliable program that is meeting the needs of Canadians. In times of economic uncertainty, workers can count on employment insurance to help them re-enter the labour force.

It is also a flexible program. Of course, certain regions and certain groups of workers—those we have been talking about these past few weeks—such as seasonal workers, can have to face special challenges on the labour market, which is not always easy. The establishment of employment insurance economic regions ensures that the employment insurance program takes into account the high unemployment levels in some parts of the country, so that all workers have equal access to the program.

The present government has pursued a flexible approach to adjust the employment insurance economic regions in such a way that the workers living in parts of the country where work is mainly seasonal can continue to collect employment insurance benefits.

Let me give a few examples. Workers in the Lower St. Lawrence and North Shore area of Quebec need 70 hours less than do workers in areas with low unemployment to qualify for EI benefits.

The plan has been designed to adjust quickly and automatically to changes in the labour market. The variable entrance requirement is reviewed every four weeks on the basis of the latest unemployment statistics. In other words, if unemployment goes up in any area, the requirements are automatically adjusted to permit easier access to the program. Therefore, people in areas with higher unemployment need fewer hours of work to be entitled to benefits over an extended period of time.

Access to EI is easy. The Monitoring and Assessment Report indicates that 88% of Canadians who are salaried employees could eventually be eligible if they lost their job.

Moreover, the switch in 1996 to an hour-based system and first dollar coverage means that each hour of work is included in the EI coverage. This change has meant easier access to the plan for seasonal workers, part-time workers and those with multiple jobs.

The employment insurance is a system that is in constant evolution. When we adopted the EI reform in 1996, we made a commitment to control and evaluate the system. We have kept our word. We were and still are committed to ensuring that EI continues to serve the needs of all Canadians. Whenever changes were justified, we have made them.

Since the EI reform, we have made various adjustments, including the improved parental benefits and the integration of the small weeks provision which is now permanently included in the employment insurance system and applied nationwide.

There is also the abolition of the intensity rule, the change to the payback provisions, changes to the rule on undeclared earnings, the introduction this year of a new six-week compassionate benefit for eligible workers who will be looking after a seriously ill parent, child or spouse.

Many of these adjustments were brought specifically in response to the needs of seasonal workers, part-time workers and multiple job holders.

The passage of Bill C-2 illustrates the adaptability of the EI program. This bill speaks to the day to day realities of Canadians.

For example, the intensity rule was designed to discourage the use of employment insurance from one year to the next. We realize that this rule was ineffective and, frankly, punitive; so we abolished it. Seasonal workers were often among these recipients that the intensity rule was affecting. Over 900,000 Canadians received retroactive payments following the abolition of this rule.

We also changed the rule relating to people returning to the workforce. Recipients who leave the workforce and re-enter it are often parents who must balance professional and family responsibilities. Before Bill C-2, these people were considered as new entrants in the workforce, which meant that they had to accumulate more insurable hours of work before being eligible for benefits. Now, parents are eligible for regular benefits, as other workers, when they re-enter the workforce after an extended absence during which they were raising their children.

On the most important measures that the government has taken since the EI reform to respond to the concerns of seasonal workers is the small weeks initiative.

Since it came into effect, this initiative has made the workforce more effective by encouraging Canadians to accept part-time and temporary work, which has helped to make up for short-term manpower shortages that employers had to deal with, particularly in the seasonal employment sector.

The short week provision also helps part-time and seasonal workers to retain their connections with the job market. Our evaluation shows that claimants worked an average of two extra weeks. Across Canada, more than 185,000 Canadians benefited from the short week provision.

We have improved the short week characteristics to better harmonize them with the realities of job market. A combination of regular weeks and short weeks might reduce the rate of benefits the next time a claim is made. By increasing the short week threshold from $150 to $225, we provide workers with greater flexibility to accept short weeks without a reduction in their future benefits rate.

These measures taken by the government clearly show that we intend to adjust employment insurance to the reality of the job market. We will continue to make the necessary changes.

That said, while it is important to understand the unique challenges faced by seasonal workers, it is equally critical to recognize that employment insurance is only a part of the solution. Canadians told us that they do not want to claim employment insurance benefits. They want to have jobs. The answer to that is to develop community capabilities and to strengthen local economies, in order to offer sustainable employment opportunities.

Our goal is to encourage Canadians to work and help them rejoin the workforce. True income security starts with a job. We established local committees in Quebec and in New Brunswick to consider ways to help workers affected in those regions. With our partners, we are pursuing several approaches to address the issues concerning seasonal workers, based on the recommendations made by local committees.

The employment insurance program is effective and is there to help workers in need. We continue to implement control and evaluation measures of the program to make sure that it continues to answer the needs of Canadians.

In conclusion, I will say that committees who travelled across Canada are still doing a lot of work to make a recommendation to bring new faces and to give an up-to-date picture of what is happening in the regions of Quebec and in all of Canada. We must bring about changes to make the situation even better.

Some opposition members say that we are delaying calling an election while others say that we want to call the elections too fast. I for one think that now is the time to help those in need in the regions of Quebec. They are expecting specific measures. I do want these measures to be taken.

We could do as the Bloc is asking and do an in-depth study of EI. We will not have time for that. The fact is that the changes must be made by regulation and we will not have time to make extensive changes. Things are being done however. We can act now while at the time taking a closer look at what could be done.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 4:35 p.m.
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Hamilton West Ontario

Liberal

Stan Keyes LiberalMinister of National Revenue and Minister of State (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but want to comment just one more time on the hon. member's dissertation following my question and his resolve that it is just up to the House of Commons committee to make a decision to pursue what it is the government has concerns about.

That is the way democracy works. The hon. member for the Bloc knows full well that there is a process by which we do things around here. He asked to be at the committee. It was the human resources and skills development committee. A committee is the master of its own destiny. He brings that idea forward to committee. Then the committee makes a decision on its priorities on the issues that it wants to deal with as a committee. It has nothing to do with this House or votes or the government's moving in on a committee.

The first thing the member would do if the government or the House of Commons started intruding on the business of independent committees would be to get on his feet in a second and say, “How dare they intrude on the business of the committee. The committee is the master of its own destiny and we shall choose whether or not we discuss this issue or that issue at committee”. The hon. member has to be completely open and honest with the House and his constituents back home.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in on the debate on the member's motion to review further proposals to reform employment insurance.

I would like to begin by saying that the government is committed to ensuring that EI is there for Canadians. It is our commitment to make changes to the EI program when the need for change is clearly demonstrated.

Ever since the new employment insurance program was introduced back in 1996, the government has shown a willingness to listen to Canadians. We have made adjustments to the system based on sound evidence in order to ensure that EI is there for Canadians when they need it and that the program continues to be responsive to changing circumstances in the labour market.

Moreover, the record shows that we are working diligently to make sure the EI system is responsive to the needs of all Canadians, including those living in Quebec.

When the government brought in a new employment insurance system in 1996, we were determined to ensure the long term viability of Canada's employment insurance system. We also committed to monitoring and assessing the program to see how individuals and communities were adjusting. Where evidence has shown that adjustments are needed, changes have been made. These objectives have guided our approach to EI reform in the past and they will continue to guide us today.

By most accounts, this approach to EI is serving Canadians well. Today we have a program that is financially stable. Premiums have declined from their historic high levels of $3.07 in 1994 to a low of $1.98 this year. An estimated 88% of Canadian workers would be potentially eligible for EI if they lost their jobs today.

We also have a program that is evolving to respond to changing needs. The government recognizes that some regions and groups of workers, such as workers in certain seasonal industries, can face particular challenges as they seek to adapt to changing labour market realities and the new economy.

The EI system is responding to special circumstances like these in appropriate ways. Indeed, a look at the records shows how the government has already made program changes to reflect the changing needs of Canadians since 1996, including the needs of seasonal workers.

Bill C-2 that was passed by the House in 2001 is a good example. It included a number of significant changes that are relevant to today's debate. There is the elimination of the intensity rule so that frequent claimants would not be penalized; a better targeting of the clawback to ensure that first time claimants, claimants collecting special benefits, and claimants in lower and middle income families would no longer have to repay their benefits; an adjustment to ensure parents re-entering the labour market could qualify for benefits on the same basis as other workers.

Since Bill C-2 was passed, the government has also improved the EI system in other ways, such as through changes to the small weeks provisions. Originally introduced as a pilot program in 1998, the small weeks provisions are designed to help seasonal and part time workers maintain their attachment to the labour force and therefore their eligibility for EI by encouraging them to accept work with lower earnings without reducing potential EI benefits.

Now a permanent part of EI, the small weeks provisions have allowed over 185,000 individuals to earn both higher incomes while working and an average of $12 more in weekly EI benefits than would have been otherwise done.

Another good example relates to the economic regions set up under the EI program in the year 2000 to take into account the higher unemployment rates that exist in some parts of our great country. We know that some workers in some areas, particularly seasonal workers, need more time to adjust to the changes made in 2000 and we have shown flexibility in our response to regional concerns.

For example, in the Bas-St-Laurent-Côte Nord region in Quebec and the Madawaska-Charlotte region in western New Brunswick, a special transitional period has been put in place. This means claimants in these regions require fewer hours to qualify for EI benefits and can receive benefits for a longer period than they would have without the transitional period.

In addition, we have changed the way that undeclared earnings are calculated to make it easier for employers and fairer for claimants. Apprentices are now only required to serve one two-week waiting period during the duration of their training. Quality of service continues to be the focus of significant ongoing work and we have taken concrete steps to prevent and respond to fraud and abuse.

The government is continuing to work with local committees in the regions and others to monitor the situation. It is prepared to make other changes where evidence indicates that it is appropriate.

To sum up, a careful look at the government's record on EI illustrates that the government is listening and is willing to make changes that are in the best interests of Canadians and the long term sustainability of the EI program.

One of the strengths of our EI system is its adaptability. It means that we can adapt to the evolving needs of Canada's workers and changing labour market conditions, but it does not mean accepting every change that is proposed.

The government is clearly committed to ensuring EI remains financially viable for the long term. It is equally committed to ensuring that the system is responsive to legitimate needs that do arise.

The record shows we have done the right thing in the past with EI. I know that we will continue to do the right thing in the future.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 4 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is obviously a pleasure for me to speak on this Bloc Quebecois motion which reads—and I shall take the time to read it so that everyone in Quebec and everyone in Canada listening to us, even the Liberal members and members of the other parties in this House, understands the meaning of the words:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.

I took the trouble to read the motion aloud because many of the Liberal members in this House, and others, have made speeches that tried to make us believe—especially those from the government side—that this good government is making or has made all necessary efforts to find a solution to the problems of people who have trouble collecting employment insurance benefits, particularly seasonal and other workers.

This is quite difficult. Once again, we are having this debate just before an election. It was right after the election in 2000 that a committee studied the whole issue, and it reported in May 2001. In 2000, all those elected and all the candidates of all parties—especially the Liberal Party—who travelled throughout Canada could obviously feel how disgruntled Canadians were with the employment insurance plan.

People were very unhappy because since 1996, when the then finance minister and present Prime Minister decided to change the plan, the federal government has not put any money into the EI fund. Only employers and workers are contributing. This should be an independent fund.

All those who contribute think that, if they are the ones who pay, they should manage the plan. But with the EI plan, it is just the opposite. Employee contributions are deducted from the paycheque, and employers also make their contribution at the same time. The federal government does not put in any money, but it is managing the fund and, to make things even worse, it takes the surplus, puts it in the consolidated revenue fund and uses that money.

During the 2000 electoral campaign, the Bloc Quebecois candidates across Quebec decided to fight a merciless war against the Liberal Party and said “Look at the astronomical surplus that you have built up with the EI fund. You have not given the money back to the workers who needed it, especially the seasonal workers, and to the self-employed workers”. There was an important debate on that issue.

The public then realized that the figures given have never been challenged. Since 1996, the government helped itself to $42.5 billion from the EI fund surplus. The government took $42.5 billion from the money that the employees and the employers had paid into that fund.

Many terms have been used to describe what the government did. Many come to mind, but there is only one reality. This is why the Liberals insisted, after the 2000 election, that the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities study this issue, and it produced a unanimous report.

I am amazed today—because I was only elected in 2000—to see members of the Liberal Party give speeches in this House and tell us, “You know that the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities was one report among many”.

Members of the Bloc Quebecois who are chosen to sit on a committee are experts; they are the best. Theoretically, if I use the same reasoning, the Liberal Party should have sent to this Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities its best people, the men and women who are the most able to find a solution.

All of us, in the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Alliance, the NDP, everyone made 17 unanimous recommendations. Once again, three years later, we are debating these recommendations, which should have been approved immediately after May 2001. We should not be discussing this today in the House. Why? Simply because the Liberal Party, which accumulates billions and billions of dollars, is not in a rush to deliver the goods or to increase its expenditures in the employment insurance program.

People are again upset across Canada and across Quebec. Everyone is upset. It is not the employee's fault if he works in a seasonal industry. There are many in my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. Tourism, agriculture and forestry are all industries that, because of the weather, have many seasonal jobs.

If, tomorrow morning, it was decided that there would no longer be any seasonal work, imagine the impact on the economy of the regions of Canada and Quebec. This is more or less the message that the Liberals have been sending over the past three years. That message is “If some are not happy, then they should change jobs”. Quebeckers are proud people. They want to continue to work in their regions. We would like to be able to occupy the whole territory and to continue to have regions that develop and that are economically strong. This is why employers and employees have an employment insurance fund, pay premiums and expect to be able to negotiate the content.

The hon. members who sat on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made those 17 recommendations after hearing all the stakeholders, including employers and employees from all types of industries.

The reason the Bloc Quebecois is tabling this motion today is because these 17 recommendations were not accepted by the Liberal government.

What we find difficult and hard in the Liberal discourse is to be told “We will make proposals”. First, it will not be those 17 recommendations. Everyone realizes that. It is clear to those who have been listening to us today that the Liberal government will not propose these 17 recommendations. Otherwise, what would the Liberals have done? We asked that our motion be a votable item. Therefore, they would have voted and they would have supported our motion today. But this is not what they have decided to do.

There will be some changes before the election. We will be happy to see some things done. But we want the EI problem fixed. We in the Bloc Quebecois are here, in this House, to fix problems, not to fix them partially or put the whole thing off.

The government is getting richer and in the meantime it is dragging its feet and putting it off for another two or three years once again. The government keeps on getting richer on the backs of workers and the unemployed. Once again, it is going to try to drag things out because, in the meantime, it can use the money for something else. We have heard all kinds of comments in the House today. Some Liberal members told us “We put that money into health care”.

But that is not what workers wanted when they allowed part of their paycheque to go to the EI fund. It does not say “medicare premium”, or “pharmacare premium”. It says “EI premium”. That is the reality. That is why workers pay into the fund. Employers pay the premium to get a service they do not get.

The reality behind the Canadian Labour Congress figures is that, since the Liberals came to power, fewer people have been getting benefits and their overall income has been dropping. In 1993, 57% of people without a job received EI premiums. In 2001, it was only 39%.

So, since 1993, 22% fewer men and women have been eligible for EI. Moreover, for women the change is even more significant as the percentage has dropped to only 33%. The average is 39% and only 33% of women receive EI benefits.

The government tried to give us all kinds of explanations, telling us that when the Canadian Labour Congress carried out its study, it calculated that among the unemployed, there were some who did not contribute. One of the recommendations is to allow self-employed workers to pay into the EI fund and be able to receive benefits since they are contributing and paying taxes in Quebec and Canada. They would like to contribute to the EI fund also.

The Liberal government is opposed to that, once again, because those additional expenses would lower the $42.5 billion surplus it has been accumulating in the fund over the years. Sadly, the scheme we have currently has created gaps in various regions, especially in the spring.

That means that for seasonal workers, families go for 8 to 12 weeks without any revenue according to where they live.

Some will say that each province has its income security scheme. However, that is not real income security because when someone applies to the income security program, there are further delays. Households can be another month and a half without any money coming in.

That does not bother Liberal members in this House. That is the problem. We are creating poverty, when the Chrétien government had declared in 2000 that it would reduce child poverty. What is being created right now are families in need. The government is creating poverty by leaving families without any revenue for 8 to 12 weeks.

Creating poverty in Quebec will never be acceptable to a Bloc member, be it the member for Laurentides, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques or myself. All Bloc members will fight to the end to avoid the creation of pockets of poverty in Quebec and in Canada, and we are proud to do so.

Bloc members do not fight only for Quebeckers. We also fight for Canadians who pay their EI premiums and do not receive what they are entitled to in return but are caught in the gaps if they work in seasonal sectors like tourism, resorts, forestry or agriculture. It is the same thing for self-employed workers, whose number is always increasing.

That is what Canadians and Quebeckers expect from us when we come to this place to represent them. They want us to work on changing the legislation, and that is what the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development did in 2001. All political parties adopted a unanimous report. I repeat that I personally consider that the most competent of Bloc members on the issue sat at the committee and I assume that all parties sent their best people.

They came up with 17 unanimous and very important recommendations, the precise purpose of which was to use funding to establish a little more social justice in Quebec and in Canada. As I said, since 1996, since the Prime Minister, then Finance Minister, cut off the federal share, this program has been financed solely by employers and workers. Not one cent comes from the federal government any more.

The only problem for workers and for the unemployed is that the government is administering the fund as if it were the owner. It has helped itself to the contents and spent them on other things than solving the problems of the unemployed.

What the committee wanted to do with its 17 recommendations was to improve a harsh reality. That is also what the Bloc Quebecois wants to do, and the reason behind our motion today. We do not want piece-meal reform. That is true. What we want, before the election, is to solve, for once and for all, the problems raised by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

We cannot be accused of partisan politics because, once the problem is solved, the Liberals will be able to go about claiming that they are the ones who did it. That is what they will do: claim they have partially solved the problem. The Liberal members have already started saying that not everyone will be satisfied, that this is not what people want, that the government cannot afford it, while it is squirrelling away billions of dollars in surplus funds.

Next year's surplus is estimated at $5 billion. We are already estimating for next year, because an $8 billion surplus was accumulated this past year. Once again, close to one-third of the federal government's surplus comes from the employment insurance fund. It is a kind of tax in disguise taken from the paycheques of workers, and from the revenues of their employers, in the form of EI contributions, but not returned to the men and women who need it so badly.

It is interesting to see what this EI fund surplus can represent on an annual basis per riding. In my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, it represents $35.7 million annually.

It is a riding with about 100,000 inhabitants. For the riding as a whole, the unemployment rate is about 9.5%, but in certain areas, certain regional municipalities, it is over 10 or 12%. That means $35.7 million, after all.

For my colleague in Laurentides, it is $62.5 million that is not being returned to the working people each year. Imagine if each riding had an independent fund that managed this money for the well-being of the workers. Imagine what could be done, what kind of a system the workers could have, if they could manage that.

For the riding of Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, the amount is $48.2 million. That is the riding of my wise colleague taking the lead on this matter today, who has worked hard and prepared our arguments. In the Lower St. Lawrence region, there is not the kind of wealth found in downtown Toronto. The same is true of my riding. In the Laurentians, it is the same thing. We have a lot of seasonal workers in fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism.

Obviously, that is the picture for every area outside urban Quebec and urban Canada. That is what regional Quebec and Canada look like. That is most of the ridings in this House. The members here are affected by this reform.

Today, I was blown away to see the Liberals get up and ask us to agree that they are not insensitive. They are not insensitive; they are simply confident that they can take the money in the fund and do other things with it than what the people have paid for. It is as simple as that. They are not insensitive; they are profiteers. I would go that far. There are other words that cannot be used because they are unparliamentary. We will admit that you profit from the system; you profit from the workers and from the EI premiums deducted from their pay.

As I said earlier, I was blown away by remarks to the effect that the surplus was used to invest in health care. In theory, when this money is taken off the pay cheque, it is under employment insurance premiums. It should go to EI. Only the federal government can help itself like that. As individuals, we cannot collect money and not report it at the end of the year in our income tax return. We cannot establish funds in which to put this money and use it for purposes other than those for which it was collected. Only the federal government can do that.

I could take one riding after another. There are losses in every riding in Quebec. There is a deficit, a financial deficit, resulting in workers not getting full benefits when they are in need after losing their jobs. For seasonal workers, this gap usually occurs in the spring and lasts from 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the region. During this gap, their families have no income, and they are forced onto the provinces' income security systems. That is terrible, of course.

There are self-employed workers, women who have decided to work from home, who created their own business in order to be able to take care of their children, who are unable to contribute. Even if they were willing, the government does not want them to contribute to the employment insurance fund. In fact, they do not want any more claimants. Currently, the system is so profitable they do not want to expand it. They are afraid of losing their cash cow. The Liberal position is as simple as that.

They take money from the fuel tax, but do not reinvest it in the highways. They invest only 25% in the highways. They take this fuel money and put it back in health. In the meantime, they create other infrastructure programs, but they do not want to use the fuel tax revenues because they have already said this tax would not be used for the highways and was allocated for something else.

From one mistake to another, we ended up taking $40.5 billion out of the workers' pockets. As I said, the federal government, since 1996, since this Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, decided that the federal government was no longer contributing to the EI fund, all workers and employers have been paying higher premiums. In the last ten years or so, $42.5 billion have been paid in excess to the federal government. This is the harsh reality we, as members of the Bloc Quebecois, have to live with.

The members on the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development were not only from the Bloc Quebecois. Most of the committee members were Liberals. In fact, for those who would not know, all committees of the House of Commons are controlled by a majority of government members. That is the way things are and we do not have anything against it.

Except that, in this case, even the Liberals who were in a majority voted unanimously with the opposition parties in favour of adopting those 17 recommendations; and today they refuse to adopt them. They will not dare tell us it is because they lack the funds. Forget that. It is not that there is not enough money. That fund generates a $2 to $3 billion surplus each year. So the reason is not a lack of money.

The reason is they simply put that money to other uses. That is what they should tell us right now. They should tell workers: “Yes, we are punishing you, we are not giving you the benefits you deserve; yes there are families without income for eight to twelve weeks because we have decided to use the money for other purposes”. That is the harsh reality. They should also tell the independent workers: “You will pay income tax at the end of the year but you will not be eligible to employment insurance benefits. If you lose your job, you will not have access to that income because we refuse to give you the money. We have other things to do with it”.

That is what most of the Liberal members should have done today. They did not. They will deny that fact of course, because the election is fast approaching.

I will repeat why the committee met in May 2001 to prepare its report. After the 2000 election, cries were heard from people in the regions all over Quebec and the rest of Canada; they wanted the government to stop taking money from workers because it did not fix the problems experienced by families when the wage earners lost their jobs. So this committee was created. Great things were expected from this committee.

I remember the pressure that was put on the committee. We produced a unanimous report, and the pressure fell on the Liberals who formed the majority and who adopted the report unanimously. However, today, some Liberals are opposed to this motion. Furthermore, when the motion was presented in the House, some Liberal members of the committee voted against it even if they had adopted and signed the report. Of course, these members will have to live with their conscience. It is as simple as that.

It has been a pleasure for me to take part in this debate. I hope that we will have succeeded in moving things forward, and, above all, in convincing Quebeckers that one must never stop applying pressure. Of course, the best way to do it is to vote for the Bloc Quebecois in the next election.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

As my Bloc Quebecois colleague is pointing out, they also controlled the rate. But that happened later on. I do not think it was in that bill then. But they did take control of the rate and the amount a long time ago.

In 2001, we had Bill C-2. I kept telling the Liberals more amendments should be introduced so that Bill C-2 would go even further.

I remind the House that members--who should remain nameless--had made promises throughout Quebec during the election campaign They kept saying that more changes were coming. In the House of Commons, these same members said, “Do not move any more amendments. We need Bill C-2. People are struggling, and they need this piece of legislation. Bill C-2 should be passed right away.”

We went along and passed Bill C-2. I have always said in the House of Commons that I would support any bill that brings something positive for workers. I have kept my word until now, and I intend to do the same in the future.

Yet, at the same time, the Liberals promised to strike an all-party parliamentary committee to make recommendations to the government. Its unanimous report was entitled “Beyond Bill C-2”, and it contained 17 recommendations that had the support of all political parties.

Since no election was in the offing, the Liberal government forgot to make these changes. It just forgot. It ignored our recommendations.

Time goes on and people are still struggling. In southeastern New Brunswick, 1,500 people are under investigation and could be accused of “banking hours”, as it is called.

Well, it was a Liberal riding so a solution had to be found the solution. I would like to say to the people listening in from southeastern New Brunswick that the solution offered by the minister cannot be found in writing. With regard to the promise he made to you, I would be somewhat apprehensive if I were you, because you just might get a bill in the mail after the election.

I can say that we saw the same problem in my riding. There were 11 people in the same situation. Those eleven got caught with extra hours. However, it would seem that people have reached an agreement in Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, whereby they are released from their payback obligation, given that the employer will be made to pay. The government, on the other hand, is not sure that the employer will pay.

I am asking the government to state in writing whether employees will be made to pay or not. I can tell you that I asked twice in the House of Commons if people in the southeast of the province would be treated the same way as those in the northeast. The answer was yes.

Yet I can tell the House that this week Michel Guérette, a worker in my riding, got a bill from Human Resources Canada indicating that he owes $4,823 because he banked hours. This is the case that was taken to the Bathurst office, and do you know what the response was? In Beauséjour—Petitcodiac 1,500 people broke the law, and this affects the entire community. In Acadie—Bathurst, there are only 11, and they are spread around a number of different places, which is why they are being made to pay, and the others are not.

The message from the Government of Canada is this: “If you want to break the law, then do so along with 1,500 or 2,000 other people and you will get away with it”. Is that what the government is telling people? I find it deplorable that the minister has stood up in this place twice to state that any Canadian anywhere in this country would be treated the same way in a case like this, and yet today people are getting billed. They are panicking because they do not have the money to pay those bills.

The government recognizes the problem of banking hours. What we will see in the weeks to come is that the government will say that maybe it will take the 14 best weeks so as to try to get rid of the problem it has created in southeastern New Brunswick.

In the meantime, families are hurting. In 2001, even in the southeastern part of the province, in the area of Richibucto or Kent, hundreds and hundreds of people had to pay fines because of the same problem. The government refused to address the problem at the time and still refuses to retroactively reimburse these people for the fines they had to pay.

We now have before the House 17 recommendations. The federal government made two changes in 2000 dealing with EI and a couple of changes to do with parental benefits between 2000 and 2004. Because of the upcoming election, the federal government now wants to buy votes, so it has announced two additional changes. At that pace, it will take 32 years and 8 elections to reform the employment insurance plan.

A few weeks ago, I went to a place near Forestville, in Quebec, where people took to the streets to protest. For the benefit of the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, it was not the CLC, but rather workers, businesspeople and even the priest who were protesting, asking the federal government to stop stealing money from the workers. This is no longer a political issue, it is a human issue. People are hurting.

The rest of Canada needs to understand that the people who work in the forest or lumber industry are seasonal workers. Consumers are quite happy to buy fish and 2x4s. What we are saying is that we will stay in our region. We have no intention of moving to central Canada. We have no intention of moving to Calgary with the Conservatives who, every time they rise in this House, try to reduce EI premiums and put more money back into the pockets of the employers, but not the workers. They should be ashamed.

Hopefully the election will take place soon and Canadians will remember what the Liberals did. They drove families out of the regions. I get calls to my office from women who tell me they want to commit suicide. You should know that the suicide rate in the Acadian peninsula has gone up as a result of the changes to employment insurance. You should know also that when it was in the opposition, that party, through Doug Young and Jean Chrétien, said that we had to deal with the economy. In this respect, if you do not want people to be on EI, create an economy that works. Put people back to work instead of forcing them to leave the rural regions to go to major centres. That is what should be done.

I want to express my gratitude for the fact that this motion was moved here in the House of Commons, allowing us to stand up for workers. The CLC has done a good job. The FTQ has done a good job in this respect, and so has the CSN.The trade unions have represented workers while the federal government has stolen their money. That is regrettable.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 12:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to take part in the debate on the member's motion and further examine proposals to reform the EI plan. I would like to start by saying that this government's commitment to making sure that EI helps Canadians cannot be doubted. Neither can our determination to change the EI plan when there is a clearly proven need to do so.

Since the new EI plan was put in place in 1996, the government has shown that it was willing to listen to Canadians. We made adjustments to the plan, in the light of established facts, to make sure it meets the needs of our fellow citizens and keeps on adjusting to the changing circumstances of the labour market.

A quick look at our record will clearly illustrate what I am saying. You will see that we are working hard to make sure the plan meets the needs of all Canadians, including those who live in Quebec. When the government introduced a new EI plan in 1996, it was with a view to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the EI plan in Canada.

Also, we committed to tracking and assessing the performance of the plan to see how people and communities would react to it. When the need for adjustments is obvious, the necessary changes are made. Those goals guided our approach to reforming the EI plan in the past, and they continue to guide us today.

Most people agree that this approach to EI meets the needs of Canadians. Today the plan is financially stable. Premiums went from an historical high of $3.07 in 1994 to a much lower rate of $.98 this year. Currently it is estimated that 88% of Canadian workers would be eligible to EI were they to lose their job. I will add that the plan evolves to meet changing needs.

The government recognizes that certain regions and certain groups of workers, including those in some seasonal industries, may have to meet specific challenges to try to adapt to the changing realities of the labour market and the new economy. The EI plan adequately accounts for these exceptional situations.

Our track record is clear: since 1996, the government has already made changes to accommodate the changing needs of Canadians, including seasonal workers. Bill C-2, enacted by the House of Commons in 2001, is a good example of that.

It included a number of significant changes with regard to today's debate. We eliminated the intensity rule to avoid penalizing frequent users. We targeted the clawback clause so that it would not apply to first time claimants, those who receive special benefits and low and middle-income claimants. We made adjustment to ensure that parents re-entering the labour market enjoy the same eligibility to benefits as other workers.

Since Bill C-2 was passed, the government has enhanced the EI plan by amending the small weeks regulations. First implemented as a pilot project in 1998, the small weeks regulations were aimed at helping seasonal and part-time workers retain their connections with the job market and hence their eligibility for EI benefits, by encouraging them to work for less and ensuring that those small weeks have no impact on their eventual EI benefits.

Thanks to the small weeks provision, which is now an integral part of the employment insurance plan, over 185,000 people were able to earn more money and enjoy a $12 increase in their weekly EI benefits.

Let me give you another striking example. In 2000, EI economic regions came into effect in order to take into account the high unemployment rates in some regions of the country. As we know, some workers in some regions, especially seasonal workers, need more time to adjust to the changes made in 2000, and we showed some flexibility in addressing their concerns.

For instance, the government has set up a special transition period for the Lower St. Lawrence/North Shore region as well as the Madawaska-Charlotte region in western New-Brunswick. The claimants in these regions need fewer work hours to become eligible for EI benefits and they receive benefits for a longer period of time than they would have without a transition period.

We have also changed the way undeclared earnings are calculated to make life easier for the employers and treat workers more fairly. The apprenticeship trainees are now subject to only one two-week waiting period during their training program. Quality service continues to be one of our main goals and we have taken steps to prevent and fight abuses.

In cooperation with local committees, the government will continue to monitor the situation in these economic regions and elsewhere, and is also willing to make additional changes if need be.

In a nutshell, if we take a close look at this government's record on employment insurance, we can see that it understands the need to listen and to make changes in the best interests of Canadians and of the long-term sustainability of the employment insurance system. Flexibility is one of the strengths of our system. This means that we can adapt to changes in the needs of Canadian workers and in the labour market situation. Still, not all changes are acceptable.

The government is clearly committed to ensure that the employment insurance system remains financially sustainable in the long term, and has also promised to make sure that it meets legitimate needs that might arise. All appropriate measures were taken in the past, and I know that we will do the same in the future.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak today in the debate on the motion by my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.

I would like to take a few seconds to sort out some figures. I hope that the parliamentary secretary is listening carefully. It is rather strange to see the government strutting out a meaningless figure.

When people lose their job, the first thing they do is to check whether they might qualify for EI benefits. They are told that they have accumulated enough hours and that they qualify. This is the famous 80% or so of workers that the government is talking about.

When we talk about the 40% or so of workers who lose their job and who receive EI benefits, we are telling the truth also. It is the same reality that they are talking about.

In fact, a young worker, for example, cannot qualify if he is let go after having worked 800 hours at a first job. He would have needed 910 hours. With their 80%, they forget these people. And what about the woman who comes back to the labour market and does not have the required number of hours and then loses her job? She is not included either in the 80% the government is constantly bragging about.

The much vaunted 80% has to do with people who qualify for EI. But what about young people, older people, women and others who do not qualify? When one stops to consider what they have really put in place, it is a plan where only 40% of unemployed people qualify for benefits. They should stop saying that it is 80%. That is not the right figure. It is not 80% of the unemployed who get EI benefits; it is 40%. Possibly 39% or 41%, but somewhere close to 40%. So let us stop trotting out that figure, because it is a false one.

For the last eight years, we have been hearing the same old song from the government that does not understand a thing. I remember when Lloyd Axworthy was minister. He is the one who launched the reform. For at least two years, he rose to answer questions put by my hon. colleague from Mercier, who thought the reform did not make any sense and went as far as predicting the problems the reform would bring on. During two years, the minister told my colleague that she did not understand anything, that she did not know how to read and that she had not bothered reading the documentation. He kept saying that for two whole years. That is the only thing he told my colleague.

According to the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, they are aware of the problems, they realize that changes are needed; some have already been made here and there and they will make some more. But that is not what he used to say when he sat on this side of the House as a Conservative. He thought the reform brought forward by the Liberals did not make any sense.

We can only hold people hostage and play them for fools for so long. This is probably the last time I have the chance to speak in this House. So, please allow me to thank each and every one who helped me do the work I really enjoyed doing for the last 11 years.

However, the Parliament of Canada needs to come up with answers for the people. Whether the government is red, blue or any other colour, it needs to respect the people and stop lying. There is just so much we can take. Things are getting out of control. The employment insurance reform is a complete disaster.

During the 2000 election, I remember quite well the member for Bourassa, president of the Privy Council and the member for Outremont, who was then a minister, traveling across Quebec and saying: “Please, stop your demonstrations, do not demonstrate. We will take care of you after the election”. We had to wait to be on the eve of an election again for this government to decide to take care of those workers who have lost their jobs. This is nonsense. We are fed up with this system. People are fed up.

During the next election, people will send a clear message to the Prime Minister. In Quebec, at least, they have understood. I hope that in the rest of Canada people will also understand that it makes no sense to be governed by arrogant and incompetent people who line their pockets and empty those of the public. They are the ones who force people into unemployment, into a gap situation and who say that they will make small reforms and that they have already made some, as the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was saying. This is truly an aberration...

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May 6th, 2004 / 11:40 a.m.
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Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, may I say how interesting it is that members never stay on topic on the other side of the House, especially the official opposition.

I am pleased to speak in this House today to the Bloc motion on the need to reform employment insurance in a way that will serve the interests of Canadian workers.

Our goal since we came to power has been to help Canadians adapt to the labour market and the economy, which have evolved over the years. Our intentions have remained the same. Canadians can be proud of this country's strong economy, which has produced more than three million jobs since 1993.

The reforms introduced by the government to modernize the Employment Insurance Act have resulted in improved eligibility criteria and better benefits for Canadian workers. They help Canadians who are too sick to work, those who are not working because they have just had a child, or have to assume family responsibilities or provide care to a dying family member, and they help people who need temporary income support during periods of unemployment.

There is no doubt that many changes made to the act have benefited Canadians, including residents of Quebec. The changes have resulted in everything from improved parental leave to community solutions for the challenges faced by seasonal workers.

We realize that we constantly need to look at ways to improve the system so that it can continue to meet the needs of today's workers and adapt to changing economic conditions.

As we have seen over the past few years, economic conditions can quickly take an unexpected downturn.

That is why the program is constantly evolving based on solid evidence for change. The act has a monitoring and assessment process built in. However, there can be no debate that EI is achieving its primary objective of providing temporary income support to people who lose their jobs and helping them return to work.

In fulfillment of our commitment to address issues raised in the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, “Beyond Bill C-2”, we have instituted several of the recommendations put forth by the committee. There are hon. members of the opposition who say nothing was done in terms of the committee's report and I would like to outline a few of them.

Among them, we modified the EI program so apprentices need only serve one two week waiting period over the duration of their apprenticeship program. We also made--and this is a very important change for seasonal workers--a small weeks provision a national and permanent feature of the EI program on November 18, 2001. The EI regulation relating to the way undeclared earnings are calculated was repealed in 2001.

Since 1996, the government has brought in some changes in the legislation to meet the changing needs of Canadians.

Yet, we should not forget the many problems we had to address in the previous unemployment insurance plan.

I would like to remind the House that, when we modernized the plan and replaced the previous legislation with a more progressive Employment Insurance Act, many part-time workers were not covered by the EI plan. Many of them were prisoners of the 15 hours a week rule, because employers were giving them the minimum number of hours of work in order to avoid paying EI premiums. When we switched to first dollar coverage, some 400,000 Canadians previously denied the EI benefits became covered.

This important change and other reforms we effected make for a plan that can change at the same pace as our economy and our society.

The variable entrance requirements, for example, make it possible to adjust requirements every four weeks, in each and every region of Canada, according to recent unemployment figures. It means that when workers are laid off overnight, eligibility requirements vary with the regional unemployment level.

Another example of our progress is the way we have responded to the needs of working parents. We extended EI maternity and parental benefits from six months to a full year and reduced the number of hours needed to qualify for the benefits from 700 to 600 hours. In fact, the Province of Quebec has one of the highest take-up rates for parental benefits in the entire country. As well, the entrance requirements for special benefits, whether maternity, parental, sickness or compassionate care, is also now 600 hours of work.

Our primary focus in reforming EI has been on enabling Canadians to acquire the new skills needed for jobs in the knowledge economy. The Government of Canada provides over $2 billion a year to the provinces and territories under EI part II to deliver employment measures to help Canadians find and keep work.

We have worked closely with the private sector and communities, funding a range of learning and skills development opportunities in communities all across the country, something recommended in “Beyond Bill C-2”. For instance, we have worked with regional partners developing innovative strategies that build on the work of local seasonal worker committees established in Quebec and New Brunswick in 2000.

Let me mention one of the projects funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, that is the Labour Market Innovations Program in Charlevoix. The community develops strategies to increase tourism and consequently the employment period for seasonal workers.

Those types of initiatives help upgrade the skills of the work force to ensure that seasonal workers have access to a large range of job opportunities. Up to now, we have invested more than $4 million in projects of this kind.

I would like to point out that since 1996, the Government of Canada has continually improved the EI program to meet the priorities of seasonal workers with an annual investment of more than $500 million. The changes that have been made helped those workers to have access to the EI program and prevented a reduction in the amount of benefits by frequent use. In 2001-02, seasonal workers received about $2.5 billion in regular and fishing benefits, or about one-third of the total benefits being paid for that type of benefits.

At the same time, however, among the many important changes we have made to the programs, there is an increased emphasis on the necessity of a strong workforce attachment. That is why we call it employment insurance instead of unemployment insurance. This serves as a reminder that EI provides temporary financial help to unemployed Canadians while they look for work or upgrade their skills. One of the ways we have reinforced this point is through the small weeks provision that encourages people to take all available work.

Our government will make adjustments to EI if they respond to the real needs of workers in a changing labour market.

Just in case my honourable colleagues have forgotten these additional facts, we have also, and there is proof, eased up the qualification requirements and increased the benefits paid out, as per the recommendations of the “Beyond Bill C-2” report. For example, we have reviewed the clawback provision.

This provision does not apply to those Canadians seeking temporary income support for the first time or getting special benefits anymore. Moreover, the intensity rule has been abolished because it did not increase the employment participation rate. We have also changed the rule for parents who re-enter the workplace after staying home for a while to take care of young children.

I would like to add that we have responded to the needs of workers, and to those of their employers. The employment insurance premiums have been reduced for ten years in a row, from $3.07 in 1994 to $1.98 in 2004. Canadian workers and Canadian businesses will save $10 billion compared to what they were paying ten years ago.

Budget 2003 launched consultations and a new permanent rate setting mechanism for 2005 and beyond. Today, in the human resources committee we listened to the employers who are in fact asking for a 10 year fixed rate.

The results of those consultations are currently under review. As we reinforced in budget 2004, it is our intention to introduce legislation to implement a new EI premium rate setting mechanism that better reflects the 21st century economy.

The bottom line is that these reforms are working and producing results for Canadians. EI is there for Canadians when they need it as a temporary measure.

In 2002-03, close to 1.87 million Canadians received approximately $12.3 billion in benefits. Moreover, according to data, 88% of workers in paid employment would be eligible to benefits if they lost their job. Even more relevant, since 1993, over three million new positions were created in the country, including 640,000 in Quebec, which represents an employment growth rate of 21%. Also, to date this year, in a few months alone, 61,000 full-time jobs were created across the country.

According to Statistics Canada data, general participation in the workforce is now 67.4% and a little better in Quebec, with a 67.8% rate, while it is 61% for women. These are almost record levels.

As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicated, Canada is next to last of all OECD countries for long-term unemployment rate. In 2002, less than 10% of all unemployed in Canada remained without work for 12 months or more.

There is always room for improvement. That is why we have reports from committees and that is why we take the reports that come from committees very seriously. I can assure hon. members of the opposition that we will make ongoing changes as we continue to monitor and assess the EI program.

The Auditor-General has said that the mechanism that is used by the government is actually one of the most competitive in terms of assuring that the system responds to the need. We are determined to ensure that this vitally important social program remains responsive to the individuals and communities its serves, as well as the economy.

However, all members in this place need to remember that EI is only part of the solution. The Government of Canada's priority is to ensure a strong economy that stimulates job creation, and invests in the skills and knowledge of Canadians so our country can be on the leading edge of innovation. We want to ensure Canadians are equipped with the tools they need to capitalize on opportunities in the knowledge economy and to prevent them from having to depend on EI.

I think everyone wants to work rather than collect EI.

Mr. Speaker, this issue demands the commitment and support of all Canadians. We must all work together, with the Government of Canada and our partners, employers and employees, to create an even stronger economy and a better future for all of us.

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May 6th, 2004 / 11:15 a.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a few comments on the record. I most likely will not take up the full 20 minute allotment.

I will begin by talking about the Conservative Party position on the employment insurance program. Obviously, we support it. We want to make sure, as I think most of us in the House do, that the program provides adequate income protection for Canadians in the event they lose their jobs. Simply put, the program is supposed to be about protection for Canadians when they lose their jobs.

It often is unfairly identified as a social program. It is not a social program. We pay premiums. It is an insurance program, which is what it is supposed to be.

The old expression that has been heard around this place for many years is that the best social program is a job. I guess most of us hope that we never have to use the protection provided under the EI system. We all want to be productive and working but, unfortunately, sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go astray and we find ourselves unemployed. In fact, after the election probably a few of us will find ourselves unemployed. Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, it is not me or you or any of our colleagues but I guess that is the reality of this job of politics. We take our chances in the marketplace every three or four years or so.

I want to make a few points on this issue and on just how disingenuous the Prime Minister has been in terms of reforming the EI system. The track record of the government is not very good on this. In fact, as we stand here today the surplus that has been built up in the fund is in excess of $48 billion. I will to explain the term “fund” more clearly later on.

What that money means is that the Government of Canada has paid out less than what it has taken in to the fund. That is the simple arithmetic. In other words, the government has paid out benefits but the income that it has received from that fund, the premiums, have exceeded those benefits by $48 billion. In other words, there is a $48 billion surplus generated by the EI account, those premiums that you, Mr. Speaker, and I and every other working Canadian are paying, as well as employers.

What we have suggested, and I think most Canadians agree with us, is that we are paying too much in premiums. The numbers speak for themselves. That is how the $48 billion surplus was generated. The Auditor General has reported on this as well.

Where the Prime Minister is disingenuous is in the fact that he is using the EI surplus, because there is no such thing as a fund. I wanted to explain that for the listening public. There is no such thing as a fund. Basically those surpluses go into general revenues.

What did the Government of Canada do with those surplus funds? Simply put, it spent them. Many of the Prime Minister's projections and the boasting that he often does in the House about his management of the economy when he was finance minister, he would not have anything to brag about if he did not have that surplus.

I will point out some of what the Prime Minister said in the past on this when he was the finance minister. When the former finance minister, now Prime Minister, spoke in the House on March 10, 1994, he stated:

--the Minister of Human Resources Development was able to announce through the budget that we were reducing unemployment insurance premiums which are in fact a tax on jobs.

The Prime Minister admitted in the House on March 10, 1994, that it was a tax. He went on to say:

We have begun to attack this cancer on job creation in this country.

Over the years we have had to force the Prime Minister to reduce those premiums that we all pay but they have not been reduced enough. The chief actuary of the fund has told us time and again that the rates could be reduced even further. If we point to that very high surplus in the fund, the $48 billion, it tells us that the government has been using the EI fund, not as an insurance program but as a tax to get more money out of the hind pockets of average Canadians. That is wrong. The Prime Minister could have done something about that over the years but did absolutely nothing.

The interesting thing is that to keep the EI surplus growing, because the government did not want the surplus to shrink as it would impact on its financial statements, it used the surplus to enhance its numbers. However, to keep the EI surplus growing, Chrétien and the former finance minister introduced Bill C-2 after the 2000 election to suspend the rate setting requirements of the Employment Insurance Act for 2002-03.

The act, by the way, requires that the premium revenue cover the cost of the benefits over the business cycle and that the rate levels be relatively stable. The Auditor General concluded that premium rates exceeded the maximum range suggested by the chief actuary for 1998 through 2001 and that the rates for 2001 and 2002 were inconsistent with the intent of the EI Act.

The Auditor General is the person who the Liberals like to attack. We all know about the work she did on the ad scam and how some Liberals attacked her at committee suggesting that her numbers were wrong and that their numbers were right. The Auditor General reported that $100 million had basically gone missing or, as some people have said, stolen, or was given away to some of the Liberal-friendly ad firms. The Auditor General, of course, has stood by her assessment of what went wrong, much to the displeasure of Liberal members, I might add.

The Auditor General has identified some of the weaknesses in the EI system. I will quote some of what she had to say in her 2003 report on the EI system, which, as we all know, is run by HRDC. At that time she talked about documents that should have been on the floor of the House of Commons. In other words, she said that Parliament should have been aware of what was going on in that fund. She stated:

Parliament is not given the full picture of the service's performance.

She went on to say:

HRDC uses three documents to report to Parliament.

The Report on Plans and Priorities presents HRDC's planned results, while the Departmental Performance Report presents and explains actual results. The Monitoring and Assessment Report (MAR) is required by the EI Act and presents various information on the EI programs.

In our view, these reports have not given Parliament the full picture of the service performance of the EI Income Benefits Program. They have not described important performance issues, such as the uneven speed and quality of processing claims across the country.

She states:

Currently, HRDC reports only national averages for key measures, giving parliamentarians only a very broad view of performance. For call centres, it reports the percentage of calls answered by a service representative within three minutes. But it does not report the larger percentage of calls that cannot get into the queue. It also does not report how it plans to meet its service targets in all areas of the country.

In other words, there is some failure within the department, but also a failure by the department to bring this to the floor of the House of Commons for closer scrutiny.

She recommends that:

Human Resources Development Canada should report measures that better capture service performance in sufficient detail to meet the information needs of parliamentarians. The Department should describe plans to meet performance targets when required.

Again, it is a veil of secrecy by the government over programs that we have some legitimate questions about. So when the government is suggesting changes to the program, I think we require full and open accounting so that we can discuss what those changes might be. If we do not have the proper information before us, it is pretty hard to make intelligent choices.

The Auditor General goes on in her report to refer to the surplus, which I have already mentioned. Again she follows up with a recommendation for a more complete picture for Parliament so that some of these decisions can be made in the proper context. This is really what it is all about: some accountability by the Government of Canada on a program that from time to time is legitimately questioned by Canadians, not only the recipients of the program but those who are still working and paying into the program.

I think the government has to listen to some of the recommendations that are being brought forward on the floor of the House of Commons and has to consider some of them before it starts tinkering with the act. I think it is incumbent upon the Government of Canada to listen to the opposition and to provide us with the information, so that, again, when those choices are made and those policies are brought forward, we can discuss them with some level of knowledge.

I will leave it at that. Again, one of my party's biggest concerns is the fact that the government has used the fund for the wrong purpose. It has used it to enhance its financial position. The government would in fact be $48 billion poorer. It has used this fund to enhance its financial position.

Therefore, on the debt repayment that the Government of Canada often brags about, we could question whether it would have been in a position to pay down any debt without the surplus that was generated in the EI fund. The numbers again speak for themselves. In fact, the Government of Canada's balanced position would have taken about six years longer to achieve if it had not had the excessive premiums being generated by the EI fund going into the piggy bank.

Now I will read to the House from some of the information I put together earlier this morning. By applying the EI surplus in this manner, the Prime Minister hid the true deficit-surplus situation of the government from Canadians.

Thus he was able to tell Canadians that the books were balanced as early as 1997-98. In actual fact, without the application of the EI surpluses to official figures, the government would not have been in the black until fiscal year 1999-2000.

In other words, as I mentioned earlier, it means that the finance minister, today's Prime Minister, would have taken a full six years more to balance the budget, not four as he claims.

We are estimating that the EI surplus this year will again add about $2.4 billion to the total. We could easily be looking at a surplus in that fund, generated over the years, in and around $50 billion this year.

I will leave that for my colleagues to consider. I look forward to any questions and responses they might have.

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May 6th, 2004 / 11:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, we really have in front of us a member and a government struck by amnesia. We are told that this government has been in place for five months, but actually it has been there for ten years. Amnesia seems to be the rule because in the ad scam some ministers and the Prime Minister himself have also been struck by amnesia. They are also suffering from amnesia when it comes to their promises.

We must remember that during the last election the president of the Privy Council travelled to Chicoutimi where he promised construction workers that changes would be made to employment insurance. They never were. Workers confirmed this last week; they remember and they will keep an eye on the Liberals during the election campaign.

The Prime Minister himself travelled to Charlevoix a few months ago and promised changes to employment insurance, especially about the gap. Nothing happened.

I will ask a simple question of the hon. member. Why did he oppose unanimous consent in the House to have this motion made votable tonight?

In conclusion, I will read the opposition motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A review of other proposals to reform employment insurance”.

Why did the member oppose the motion's being made votable?

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May 6th, 2004 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to participate in this opposition day debate.

It is very important that issues surrounding employment insurance, issues surrounding workers, their needs, the needs of their communities and the industries be given the highest priority by this government, or any government for that matter, in order that our economy remains strong. We want to ensure that those are able to work can find the work for which they are suited. We also want to ensure that those who are unable to work, whether they are disabled or whether they are laid off for whatever reason, are provided with the supports required to make them feel that they are a part of this great country of ours.

The motion calls on the government to implement all of the “Beyond Bill C-2” report recommendations, including those that would ease employment insurance eligibility requirements and improve benefits. The motion provides us with a great opportunity to debate some of the important points relating to employment insurance.

Many of those recommendations would significantly impact seasonal workers. Therefore we need to provide some context for this issue by taking a closer look at the characteristics of workers in seasonal industries, how their work differs from that of other workers and the unique contribution they make to our economy.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, I have the honour to chair the Prime Minister's task force on seasonal work. In the visits to communities we have made thus far, and from my own experience as the member of Parliament for Algoma—Manitoulin and soon to be Algoma--Manitoulin--Kapuskasing, I want to underline that the government recognizes and values the importance of seasonal industries, of seasonal work.

A great number of our citizens depend on the fishery and fish processing, on forestry, on agriculture and horticulture. Trappers are seasonal workers, as are construction workers. There are many more whose livelihoods depend on the seasonal, cyclical nature of their work. These are important industries and these workers are important to our economy. We must value them. Their communities depend on them. The fact that their work is seasonal does not in any measure take away from their importance. Without these seasonal industries, the country would suffer greatly.

Because the government takes all work and the employment insurance system seriously, there is a system in place for monitoring the impact of changes on the system. It is through monitoring, consultation, and talking to citizens that we find better ways to ensure that the EI system responds to worker needs, industry needs and Canada's needs.

I will be one of the first ones to admit that the changes that were made a few years ago in some respects may have gone a bit too far. That is why the government in the meantime has made a number of ameliorating measures. A number of steps have been taken to reverse some of the measures that turned out not to achieve the purposes for which they were put in place. That does not mean they were put in place because anybody was meanspirited. They were put in place to try to make the system better for everyone, but things do not always work the way we plan.

It is quite surprising when we look at the list of measures the government has put in place since the adoption of the 1996 reform package, which has done a lot to improve or to bring the pendulum partway back to a point of balance. That is not to suggest that we do not have some way to go. I propose strongly that we do have some way to go.

Let me outline some of the changes that have been made since 1996 to bring the pendulum back. There was the introduction of the small weeks adjustment pilot project in 1997. There has been the enhancement of maternity and parental benefits. These benefits have been extended from six months to a full year for parents of children born or placed for adoption on or after December 31, 2000.

The passage of Bill C-2 occurred in May 2001. Its highlights include: the elimination of the intensity rule; better targeting of the benefit repayment provision, known as the clawback; adjustment of the re-entrant rule for re-entrant parents; and extension of the monitoring and assessment process until 2006. Further, there is the creation of the new compassionate care benefit introduced in January of this year. This allows workers and their families to share six weeks of leave when a spouse, child or parent is dying or seriously ill.

These measures underline the fact that the government believes that the EI system is not simply an economic system. Rather, it is a system which includes social and economic development, and local regional development. We must keep this in mind. Finding a balance between the needs of the broader society and the needs of workers is very important. After all, it is about people and their families, and their communities at the end of the day.

In March the Prime Minister appointed the task force which I chair. A number of excellent colleagues from the House of Commons and from the other place have undertaken, with me, the serious task of pursuing a very strong and purposeful mandate given to us by the Prime Minister.

I will outline the mandate. The mandate will prove to all members that the government is very serious when it comes to the needs of seasonal workers. When we look at the whole picture, it is not just about EI, as important as that is, but it is about a broad variety of measures that we need to undertake to make sure that seasonal workers are well served as full citizens of our country.

That mandate, given to us by the Prime Minister in March, includes the following points. These are in no particular order of precedence. They are all important.

First, what are the specific needs of seasonal industries and their workers in the area of skills development, lifelong learning and literacy?

Second, what are the ways to promote greater economic diversity and stronger local economies, particularly in rural and remote communities across Canada? These communities are typically those most dependent on seasonal industries.

Third, what is the support required to help seasonal work dependent communities to adapt to seize opportunities provided by the new knowledge based global economy?

Fourth, what are the ways of lowering barriers to regional and interprovincial labour mobility?

Fifth is how to align income support programs, such as employment insurance and provincial social assistance programs, to improve income support while promoting full year-round participation in the labour force.

Sixth is how to address the challenges and opportunities offered by temporary foreign workers. Typically, we see the agricultural sector in most need of temporary foreign workers.

Seventh is the potential role for government in encouraging new approaches to community development, i.e., the social economy.

Eighth is an assessment of the opportunities and challenges specific to seasonal economies in promoting the safeguard of our natural environment.

It is clear that the government recognizes that the ledger has a very important social side. It is not all about dollars and cents. As important as we have made balancing the budgets of this country, we also recognize that people, their families and our communities are an essential and fundamental part of society. We must not get lost simply in balancing the books. The government recognizes that.

I would like to outline some of the messages we heard in our recent travels as a group through eastern Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

A few weeks ago our task force had a chance to visit about 10 communities in the five provinces of the eastern half of this country. The messages we heard from citizens, from union leaders, businesses, big and small, mayors and reeves are messages I am sure colleagues in the House have heard from their own constituents. These messages remind us that we need, at all times, to examine and re-examine government policy to ensure that we are doing the best with the tools that governments have.

Again, in no particular order of precedence, this is a sampling of some of the things we heard, which I mentioned in my question earlier to the proponent of the motion today.

The current EI system fosters the underground economy. We know that workers, laid off and otherwise, want to work. They do not want to go around the system to avoid taxes, to report income, to bank hours or to the take steps they feel are needed simply to feed their families, because the rules in many cases create disincentives to honest behaviour. This is not their fault. This is a situation where some of the rules, with no intent to harm when they were originally put in place, have inadvertently created disincentives and provided pressure to drive some funds underground. We need to address those measures so workers can behave the way they want to, which is honestly, and take the work that is available to them.

We also heard from many people that the work is seasonal, not the workers. Workers who live in areas where seasonal work is predominant are not to blame for the seasons. They are not to blame for the fact that ice is over the water and they cannot fish. I know in my own riding there is an inland fishery in Lake Huron and Lake Superior. We know that right off our shores in my home town of Spanish they cannot get out to fish much of the year. The same applies to our coastal fishing areas. These are factors out of their control and we have to recognize that.

We also heard that the EI system was too complicated for the average citizen. Being a parliamentarian, I found it complicated enough to understand the system. Imagine the average citizen on the street, whether they need EI or not, trying to understand the complexity. We need to find a way to make it simpler and more user friendly. The government is committed to doing just that. That is part of dealing with the democratic deficit. The democratic deficit is not just about how we run our affairs around here. It is about engaging all citizens in a government that is more accessible, more open and more reachable.

We have discovered that EI benefits paid to seasonal workers, especially those in the east, have fallen drastically over the last number of years. There are many factors for this, but we have to examine carefully if there are things in the system which have caused this to the detriment of workers.

The changing demographics of seasonal industries are a primary concern for employers and communities in general. The seasonal workforce is aging, while the younger population is leaving. Part of this are the barriers to the EI system caused by the higher bar for the entry of new workers. We have to recognize, because seasonal industries are important, that we have to ensure that workers are there to support those industries. We cannot afford to lose forestry, fishers or agricultural workers. Farmers, fishers and forest companies need these workers.

Seasonal employers spend a lot of money retraining staff at the beginning of every season, partly because of the disincentives they cannot always get the people they need to work. Those who go to work and take limited numbers of weeks will pay in reduced benefits the following year.

We also heard from many that the skills of seasonal workers need to be enhanced in part to increase their productivity in season and also to provide more ability to move between and among different types of seasonal work, if and when that is available. We also heard that the economic EI boundaries do not reflect labour markets in a number of given localities. We feel we need to look at this very seriously.

In many communities we heard that employers were finding it more and more difficult year in and year out to find workers, especially when processing fish. Unlike a log that can lay in the yard for a period of time and not rot, when fish arrive, they need to be processed right away. It is important to have workers available at all times. Unlike other areas of work, seasonal work is on-demand work. There needs to be workers available when the work comes up.

I also want to give credit to a number of communities, including Woodstock, New Brunswick. Because of the nature of the local economy, they have dealt with the shortage of workers in a rather unique way. They have a pilot project to create an information bank of employers and employees. Combined with some good changes to the employment insurance system, they feel that over the long run they can grow their local seasonal economy by providing greater opportunities for diverse application of seasonal workers. In so doing, they can provide opportunities for employers to grow their businesses, which could otherwise not grow for lack of seasonal workers. Therefore, I give credit to folks in the Carleton country and Woodstock area for their efforts to deal with this creatively, as we have seen in other parts of the country.

It is important to note that the characteristics of seasonal workers vary considerably as to the jobs they hold and the challenges they face. For example, the recent Statistics Canada study on seasonal work and employment insurance use found that many seasonal workers did not fit the stereotypical image: that is, people with limited education who live in have not regions and rely heavily on seasonal industries and government assistance. This is not the real picture. In fact the real picture is that seasonal employment is found across Canada in virtually every industry and occupation, with the largest number of workers being found in Ontario, Quebec and then the Atlantic region.

Seasonal work is characterized by individuals with a variety of educational backgrounds. While some workers have limited skills, others are highly educated. Some depend on seasonal work. Others choose to work in a seasonal industry or in non-standard employment because of the flexibility it offers.

All of this suggests that government initiatives need to be flexible so they can allow for these differences. I fear, even with the changes we made in 1996, some of which have been modified in response to real reaction, that the system is still a little too inflexible and that measures need to be taken to reduce that.

The prevalence of seasonal work is even greater in some regions and industries where it can represent the main source of employment.

It is clear that seasonal work will continue to be an important feature of our economy in the future, given its role in such key industries as forestry, agriculture, particularly horticulture, some mining, the fishery, whether it is inland or coastal, tourism, construction, trapping and others. I am sure I have missed some. This is with no disrespect for those industries that I may have missed in my short speech today. They are all important.

Companies will continue a sometimes frantic search for enough workers during busy periods, and layoffs will continue to be a defining feature of slow seasons. All this makes it imperative that we have programs in place that are capable of helping workers acquire the skills needed for good, stable jobs, whether they are permanent jobs or whether they are jobs in other seasonal industries. It is imperative that programs ensure the industries in need of seasonal workers have those workers. It is imperative that programs encourage community and economic development, so regions dependent on seasonal work can diversify their economies to create jobs to employ these up-skilled workforces. Providing seasonal workers with temporary income is also an imperative when other employment opportunities are not available.

I want to compliment my colleague for bringing this motion forward, but it oversimplifies the situation. I personally would support a major review of the EI system, not only to eliminate or reduce disincentives, but also to find ways to better allocate those dollars so the social and human side and community development side of the equation is properly covered.

There are good examples of some pilot projects in Lac-Saint-Jean--Saguenay and the Bas-Saint-Laurent regions where workers and communities have tried some new ideas to ensure that we get some good advice from our local communities.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

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

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this motion today. I think that it is important to provide a brief historical overview and to say that we want to provide the government with a new opportunity—almost the final opportunity—to propose, in this House, an in-depth reform of insurance employment.

Historically, Mr. Jean Chrétien had made commitments before his election as the Prime Minister in 1993. Indeed, in a letter to a lady in my riding, he said that Liberals would put back in place a real employment insurance program that would ensure adequate income, protect seasonal workers and do other things.

Unfortunately, following the election, his government did the opposite. It took the employment insurance program and turned it into an arrangement to collect as much money as possible to fight the deficit. Thus, it tightened the screws.

For example, in two successive reforms, in 1994 and 1996, the rules for eligibility were limited and the length of the benefit period was cut back. They also arranged things so that everyone had to contribute, particularly young workers and part-time workers, who generally cannot receive benefits. They used not to contribute, and when they did start being required to pay into the program they did not get benefits in return. There are many contributors who cannot get benefits. So that is what led up to the elections in 1997 and 2000.

The Liberals reformed the EI program but, instead of making it more human, they made it more strict, more restrictive, more limited. The negative effects of this reform hit people hard, particularly those in the regions of Quebec and of Canada, until the election in 2000.

During the 2000 election campaign, the Liberal Party made a commitment that there would be a parliamentary commission after the election with a mandate to review the entire act and improve it. But following the election, the government produced precious little.

Despite what had been requested, Bill C-2 withdrew from the Employment and Immigration Commission the right to determine the contribution rate for employment insurance and handed it over to the federal government. At that time, the rate was set, not according to the program's needs, but rather according to the needs of the government in general. As a result, since that time, that is since the Liberal Party of Canada started these negative reforms, a $45 billion surplus has built up in the employment insurance fund.

After the 2000 elections, Bill C-2 did away with determining the contribution rate according to the needs of the plan. This did not go over well with the members, with the House as a whole, moreover. The Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities decided to look into the matter, stating that it wanted a true employment insurance program, a true reform, which the one in place was not. It therefore wondered what could be done to remedy that situation.

The committee heard witnesses from all groups in society. It ended up with 17 recommendations, all to be found in the report tabled three years ago in May. It was hoped that the government would use it as the basis for changes in the employment insurance system, which has not happened. The proposed changes were of many kinds. I would like to direct the House's attention to a number of them that clearly demonstrate our point of view and what we wanted to achieve.

The first of the recommendations was to eliminate discrimination against young people. We know that, at present, a young person entering the labour force for the first time must work 910 hours in order to qualify for EI benefits. Therefore, we had a proposal to eliminate this discrimination. It was the same thing for discrimination against women returning to the labour force.

We also wanted benefits to return to an adequate level. Another recommendation proposed that ways be found to increase the amount of benefits to an adequate level. A specific proposal on this was made in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee onHuman Resources Development and theStatus of Persons with Disabilities. Another recommendation said it was time to reinstate the program for older worker adjustment.

That was a program to assist people laid off when they are about 55 or 58 years old. In the riding I hope to represent after the next election, Rivière-du-Loup—Montmagny, on May 12, in less than two weeks from now, 600 workers will be laid off, including a hundred or so over the age of 55.

In many cases, these people have contributed to the employment insurance system for 15, 20 or 25 years, and they are full-time workers. When they are laid off they are not entitled to any additional benefits. After receiving EI benefits for 40 or 45 weeks at the most, they will themselves with no income and often unable to bridge the gap until they retire at 60 or 65.

We want this program restored. Improving eligibility, enabling people to receive better benefits, providing older workers with a system that would permit them, when laid off, to survive until they get their pension—these are all measures aimed at attaining an equitable system, in the end.

Some say those are costly items. However, let us keep in mind that, over the years, the federal government has accumulated a $45 billion surplus in the EI fund. There was a $45 billion difference between the premiums paid by workers and employers and the benefits paid out. For a long time, people thought that this money was sitting in a reserve and that the government was keeping it for the appropriate time to put it back in the system. That was not the case. It took the $45 billion first to eliminate the deficit and then to pay down the debt.

Lower income people, those who need EI benefits from time to time, those who make less than $39,000 a year, contributed 100% to the fight against the deficit. However, people who earn more than $39,000 no longer pay into the plan, some do not contribute at all. For instance, members of Parliament do not contribute to the EI plan.

A lot of people therefore did not contribute to the fight against the deficit, whereas people who already had a lot of trouble making ends meet every month were asked to do more. Here too, the problem is blatant. The situation must be remedied.

Just as an example, between the time this unanimous report was adopted by all the committee members, from all parties--that does not happen everyday--and today, three years later, the government has accumulated a further $11 billion surplus.

It could easily have implemented the recommendations in the report while making sure that the plan was properly funded. Wealth would have been distributed more evenly to the satisfaction of society in Quebec and Canada.

Moreover, some of the 17 unanimous recommendations were aimed at adjusting the EI plan to the new reality of today's labour market. For instance, self-employed workers in Quebec and Canada do not contribute to the EI plan and are not covered by it. However, we know that they account for 16% of the workforce, 16% of all workers in Canada.

Some of them would benefit from a plan tailored to their needs. We are not talking about a universal EI plan necessarily, but something more along the lines of what was done for fishermen, a special plan that would provide them with an income when they are left without contracts for extended periods of time.

This has all kinds of impacts. It is not just about making sure people get a cheque. Self-employed workers are often young women who have freelanced for several years and who decide with their partner that they will not have children because it would not necessarily be financially responsible to do so.

These are the kind of recommendations made in the unanimous report which should have been implemented by the government. The government has taken no action in the last three years to implement these recommendations.

This is why it is rather astonishing to hear the Prime Minister say that he will do something about seasonal workers just before the election. What is more, the Minister of Heritage was heard saying that there will not be enough time to implement a comprehensive reform before the election and that it will be done after.

Elections are not held on a set date. Whenever the government is ready to introduce a real employment insurance reform, we are ready to sit, cooperate and pass the legislation. During the next days and weeks, the government could count on the cooperation of all parties in this House in order to do that.

This would send a clear message that we want a fair distribution of wealth in Quebec and in Canada. It might also remedy a number of injustices committed by this government against the unemployed in the last 10 years. However, we still have no indication that this will happen.

Six months ago, the Prime Minister said, “We will do things differently. I am ready. I will introduce measures”. In this case, as in others, he is very hesitant. Today, he is being given another chance to propose a reform of the employment insurance system.

I introduced this motion in the House last Friday. I hoped it would be passed, but the Government House Leader refused to give his consent. The refusal did not come from a Liberal member or from an opposition party, but from the Government House Leader himself.

There is a flagrant contradiction between what Liberal members and ministers say in public and what is really happening. The government has not prepared a real reform of the employment insurance system. We need one and we are giving them an opportunity to propose a plan as soon as possible because right now people are very wary of Liberal election promises.

In 2000, the government made promises. We were told “A parliamentary commission will be set up; you will see, we will examine this whole issue”. That parliamentary commission wrote the report that was released three years ago. However, the government made no move at all follow up on this document, with the result that the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who is a responsible Liberal member, attended a meeting with labour unions on Tuesday and asked them “After three years, what have you done in this regard?” The unions told him that an in-depth reform was necessary.

This hon. member, who will not run again in the upcoming election, was very disappointed by his government's behaviour. He was very unsatisfied, because he worked with us on this report. He thought there were some interesting things. He expected the government to make a similar proposal. We are not asking the government to implement the report down to the last letter. We are asking it to take this unanimous report into consideration and recommend a new reform of the employment insurance program that will go in the direction opposite to that of the last reform, which was used by the government to fill up its coffers, fight the deficit and reduce the debt, but at the expense of people living in regions, young people and women.

In the report—and perhaps this is why the government is reluctant to follow up on it—there was also a recommendation on the setting of the premium rate. There are people, including Bloc Quebecois members and all opposition members who support our position, who want the employment insurance fund to be an independent fund.

Conversely, there are also people who want this fund to remain under the authority of the government. Perhaps we should at least consider the possibility of going back to the system under which the premium rate was set by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, and was based on the needs of the employment insurance program. Since Bill C-2 was passed, the rate is set based on the needs of the government, and it was announced in the last budget that this would continue for another two years.

This means that the government is trying to justify the fact that, currently, we could have a premium rate whose purpose is not to fund the employment insurance fund, but is simply a payroll tax. This is what the EI program has become.

That is why we insist on reform of the employment insurance program. The solution is to have the employers and employees, those who contribute to the program, run it themselves one day. Nonetheless, we must ensure that, if there is a surplus at the end of the year, either the premiums are lowered or the benefits improved for a certain group of workers, but the money must never be accumulated and used for something else, which is what happened over the past 10 years with $45 billion. It is totally unacceptable.

The recommendations in the unanimous report went quite far. It was a serious piece of work and all the political parties contributed. There were recommendations on the employment insurance regions. We wanted to ensure that the regions reflected the reality of the labour market because there were many inconsistencies in the current definitions of the regions. We wanted the map to be redone in a well thought out way.

We also wanted to look at the possibility of raising the ceiling for yearly insurable earnings to $41,500. People currently contribute up to $39,000, meaning that someone earning $25,000 is contributing 100% of their share to the employment insurance program. However, someone earning $75,000 does not contribute to the program for the $36,000 difference between the $75,000 they make and the $39,000 ceiling. This creates unfairness and inequity and should be examined closely.

To show how serious hon. members were in their recommendations, they also addressed the issue of fraud. Hon. members know that we had to deal with Mr. Chrétien's approach when he was prime minister. Unfortunately, he said that the unemployed were a bunch of beer drinkers, that that was why there was a problem, and that we had to crack down on them in order to get anywhere.

The government and the finance minister, who has now become the Prime Minister and who jumped on the opportunity to rake in all the money he could, rode on this statement for several years. They eventually realized that there is not more abuse of EI than there is of income tax or any other program. Only 3% of the people abuse the system.

The committee did make recommendations to ensure that those who truly abused the system were penalized, which is the normal thing to do. At the same time, it was acknowledged that the majority of the unemployed really wanted to find a job. It would be nice for them to have enough income.

Members pointed out that the legislation is based on the presumption of guilt, which is quite horrifying. For instance, when employment is found to be uninsurable because the worker is related to the employer, it is up to the applicant to show his job should have been insurable. However, the legislation clearly stipulates that, in such a case, the employment is not insurable. That is something else we wanted to change.

As you see, the proposed reform is quite reasonable. It is not over the top. We are not trying to revert back to the days where people were getting incredible benefits for minimal contributions. What was requested was quite reasonable.

Also, for quite some time, we had in Canada a social pact whereby the industrial sector, which was concentrated mainly in Ontario but also in Quebec and generating full-time jobs, and public servants at the various levels of government had agreed to contribute to EI so that workers with seasonal jobs in resource areas were able to stay in their regions and get enough benefits to make it through some rough times in winter and the spring gap. There was a kind of balance, a proper redistribution of wealth.

In 1994, the Liberals put an end to this social pact. Consequently, several regions in Canada saw a significant decrease in their revenues. And I am not talking only about the individual income of the unemployed, but also about millions of dollars in lost revenues for the affected regions. At the same time, industrial regions continued to buy wood, fish and agricultural products. They continued to benefit from the system, but the resource regions suffered a considerable loss of revenue.

All this is caused by the attitude of the federal government, which decided that, instead of having our national debt in the hands of foreigners, it should be shouldered within the country by the workers. That is unacceptable. And it was not done in a way where everyone shared equally in it. Instead of that, the government decided to take money from the poorest, the most disadvantaged and the least organized in our society.

These people have so little savings that when the crisis arrives, they have no money left to get through the spring gap. In the fall, seasonal workers are often told to prepare themselves and to organize demonstrations to force the government to take action. But the government does not take action until it is faced with reality. Now the crisis has become so serious that we saw people on the North Shore, as in many other regions, rise up because they find that reality very difficult to bear.

Following up on the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development would be an extraordinary gesture on the part of the government.

I will conclude by saying a few words about those aspects that seem important to me. This debate is not about defending the position of the Bloc Quebecois. It is about defending the position of a committee of this Parliament, made up of members from all parties. Everyone had to compromise for the committee to agree on that position.

There are things that the Bloc Quebecois would have liked to see included in the report that were not included at that time. For example, the Bloc said that the reduction from 910 to 700 hours was a step in the right direction, but that any kind of discrimination should be eliminated.

All parties made compromises. We have a unanimous report before that committee. The new Prime Minister has said that he wants to address the democratic deficit. He has an extraordinary and unique opportunity to do so. Today, he should make the decision to table this reform of the employment insurance program.

In conclusion, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to make the motion votable tonight, and ultimately to urge the government to put in place a real employment insurance program.