I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on February 26, 2009, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), standing in the name of the member for Brome—Missisquoi. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary, as well as the member for Joliette, for having brought this issue to the attention of the chair.
Bill C-241 seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act by removing the waiting period that precedes the commencement of benefits after an interruption of earnings, and repeals provisions that refer to that waiting period.
At issue is whether the removal of the waiting period during the benefit period would require additional funds being disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund, or as a result of legislative changes flowing from the 2008 budget, from a separate account administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.
This question is of critical importance, since matters related to the appropriation of moneys outside the consolidated revenue fund do not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown and therefore do not require a royal recommendation.
In his intervention, the parliamentary secretary argued that the bill should be accompanied by a royal recommendation since it would require the expenditure of funds in a manner not authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. He further pointed out that the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimated that the removal of the two-week waiting period could cost as much as $1 billion per year.
The member for Joliette for his part, felt that the bill did not need to be accompanied by a royal recommendation since it does not have to do with monies within the control of the Crown but instead with monies in the account administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. His position was based in particular on a ruling made on October 3, 2005 concerning C-363, which had to do with the use of the surplus in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reserve fund. The Speaker ruled at the time, on page 8294 of the Debates, that:
The transfer of monies from the CMHC reserve fund to the Consolidated Revenue Fund—or in this case to the provinces—is not a matter relating to the appropriation of monies from the Crown. Therefore, Bill C-363 does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown.
The Chair has carefully examined Bill C-241, as well as the arguments put forward by the parliamentary secretary and the member for Joliette. It should be noted at the outset that subsection 77(1) of the Employment Insurance Act makes it clear that EI benefits are disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund. It states:
There shall be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and charged to the Employment Insurance Account
(a) all amounts paid as or on account of benefits under this Act;
As the member for Joliette mentioned in his point of order, it is true that the Budget Implementation Act, 2008 made certain amendments to the Employment Insurance Act in addition to creating the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.
The object of the Board was, in particular, to set the premium rate under section 66 of the Employment Insurance Act and to maintain a reserve in accordance with that section. The specific purpose of the separate account in question is to make it possible to reduce premiums. There is no provision for using the account to pay for additional outlays that could result from eliminating the waiting period for the payment of benefits. The amendments to the Employment Insurance Act specified, among other things, the conditions for any interim payment to or by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. It is important to note that these amendments did not remove the EI Account from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Therefore, it is clear that despite the creation of a new Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, the payment of benefits to eligible workers continues to be made from the consolidated revenue fund through the EI account. Consequently, the chair is of the opinion that the provisions of Bill C-241 would authorize a new and distinct charge on the public treasury. Since such spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation, I will therefore decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form, unless a royal recommendation is received.
Today, however, the debate is on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.
On debate, the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin.