An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Mark Eyking  Liberal

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

Status

Not active, as of April 25, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment extends the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from fifteen weeks to fifty weeks.

Elsewhere

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

Votes

April 25, 2007 Passed That Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be concurred in at report stage.
Dec. 5, 2006 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-243--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2016 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to contribute arguments as to why my private member's bill, Bill C-243, would not infringe upon the financial initiative of the crown and therefore would not require a royal recommendation.

I appreciate the time of this House to present these arguments. As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is the only opportunity I have to do it, and I have to do it orally to get it on the record, so I apologize in advance for the time it will take to do that.

I want to begin by outlining exactly what my bill would do.

The first part would provide for the development of a national maternity assistance program, and the second part would amend section 22 of the Employment Insurance Act to expand the window of time in which existing maternity benefits could be taken if a woman worked in a hazardous job that posed a risk to her maternal health. Specifically, it would allow women to begin taking their 15 weeks of maternity benefits 15 weeks prior to the due date, rather than just eight weeks prior, as the current rules allow.

The argument I am putting forward today will focus on addressing the amendments to the Employment Insurance Act under part 2 of the bill. I will show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

My argument has two parts, and I will be citing both academic literature, in particular by Lukyniuk and Keyes in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, as well as relevant parliamentary precedent.

First, I will briefly show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

Second, I will show that these changes would not substantively alter the objects or purposes of maternity benefits. In other words, I will be arguing that it would not create or envision a new function.

The first thing to note is that there is a general authorization for EI expenditures that is sufficiently broad to encompass the provisions of the bill. To illustrate this, consider the comment on royal recommendations from Keyes, 1999, on page 19:

...an amending bill that merely re-enacts or consolidates existing expenditure provisions does not require the recommendation.

The provisions contained in Bill C-243 would simply reallocate or shift existing maternity benefits, which are already authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. As such, the changes would fall within the purview of a royal recommendation, which provides for the general authorization of EI expenditures.

Allow me to further explain, with reference to specific examples, why this modest shifting of benefits would not introduce new and distinct expenditures. There are four elements that must be considered to substantiate this claim.

The first obvious point is that the bill would not increase the amount of benefits paid to an individual. Since the amount an individual is entitled to per week would not change, there is no concern that it would affect estimates or payments from the consolidated revenue fund.

This differentiates Bill C-243 from other private members' bills that were deemed to require a royal recommendation, such as past bills C-278 and C-279.

Second, Bill C-243 would not increase the benefit period or the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim. Eligible recipients would still only be entitled to 15 weeks of maternity benefits. The only difference would relate to the window of time in which these benefits could be taken. I want to be very clear that this would be the only change.

In this way, Bill C-243 could be differentiated from several other bills, such as Bill C-278, which sought to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks.

Third, Bill C-243 would not change the eligibility requirements such that more individuals would become eligible for EI.

Whereas bills C-279, C-265, and C-280 would have changed the qualification requirements, and thus expanded how many people could access benefits, Bill C-243 would not do this.

For example, in the case of Bill C-279, the Speaker explained that:

...more individuals would be eligible to receive EI benefits and those currently eligible would receive increased benefits.

Fourth, since Bill C-243 would simply shift existing entitlements, the only costs associated with this legislation would be administrative, and it has been well established in previous rulings that these administrative costs would not require spending for a new function. Instead, they would be operational costs that are part of the department's ongoing mandate. As such, they have constantly been ruled as not requiring a new royal recommendation.

To summarize my argument that spending under this bill is not new and distinct, I want to quote Keyes, 1997, who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not for “Provisions authorizing charges that are already or were previously authorized by Parliament, for example, a bill consolidating or revising existing legislation or authorizing spending for a particular group of people already covered under general legislation”.

In fact, that is exactly what this bill does. It authorizes spending for a particular group of people, women working in hazardous jobs, who are already covered under general legislation, in this case, the Employment Insurance Act. While Bill C-243 does shift the window of time for when an individual can receive maternity benefits, it must be understood that these are benefits that many women are already entitled to. They are not new and distinct.

I will now concentrate on the second reason why my bill might require royal recommendation, which is whether or not it fundamentally changes the objects or purposes of the spending. In other words, does the bill envision a new function for maternity benefits? The central question on which you will have to rule, Mr. Speaker, is whether El maternity benefits are currently intended to protect the health of the mother and her unborn child. If this function exists under the current spending regime, my bill would not require royal recommendation, as it simply shifts existing benefits in a manner consistent with the existing purpose.

I will present several arguments to show that maternal health is one of the functions, if not the primary function, of maternity benefits. I will begin by noting that while we are tasked with determining the purpose of El maternity benefits, the actual enabling legislation, the Employment Insurance Act, says nothing explicitly on this issue. As such, to make this determination we will be required to make reasonable inferences based on other factors, including the eligibility criteria, their practical usage, and indeed a common sense understanding.

Let us consider the purpose and eligibility criteria of maternity benefits, according to the departmental website. It states, “A maximum of 15 weeks of El maternity benefits is available. The 15 weeks can start as early as eight weeks before the expected date of birth, and can end as late as 17 weeks after the actual date of birth.”

My central argument is that protecting maternal health is a function of maternity benefits under the existing legislation and usage. That is why my bill, which touches directly on this function through existing entitlements, cannot be considered to be creating a new function. The function already exists.

The fact that applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits. The legislation may not explicitly recognize this, or any purposes of maternity benefits, but I believe the interpretation and the spirit of the law confirm this understanding.

Legal analysis of the existing provisions is valuable, but should be complemented by a practical understanding of the benefits. In other words, it is not just my opinion that maternity benefits can be interpreted as having a maternal health function, but this is exactly how the benefits are being used.

Melodie Ballard, a constituent from my riding, is one of the many Canadians who chose to access their maternity benefits early because their job posed a risk to their health and that of their unborn child. This is not only allowed under the current rules, but in fact, it is one of the main reasons why benefits can be taken eight weeks before the birth. All Bill C-243 does is emphasize one of the existing purposes and practical usages of maternity benefits. That is it.

To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that this is the only function of maternity benefits, or the only reason that the legislation permits pre-confinement access. Indeed, maternity benefits can be taken after the birth, and in that sense they are also intended to provide a recovery period for the mother after childbirth. The key point is that maternity benefits should not be so narrowly interpreted as to exclude the function of maternal health, given the structure of the benefits and how they are practically used.

I will now present statements as to why my argument that employment insurance, and in particular maternity benefits, do serve the purpose of supporting a healthy pregnancy. To begin, consider this statement from the director general of El who, when she appeared before the HUMA committee on May 8, 2014 said, “Maternity benefits provide income support for a 15-week period surrounding childbirth to allow recovery from physical or emotional effects of the pregnancy and childbirth.”

It is clear from this statement that maternity benefits are used to support maternal health during pregnancy. Perhaps more specifically, Mr. Speaker, you will have to answer whether maternity benefits serve the purpose of protecting the mother when her job poses a risk to her health, or to that of her unborn child.

In other words, do El maternity benefits serve a similar purpose to the preventative withdrawal program that exists in Quebec? This is a topic that has actually been discussed during debates in this House, in particular on past private members' bills, Bill C-380 and Bill C-307.

I would refer to a contribution from the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame on May 3, 2012, “provinces outside of Quebec have been relying for numerous years on the Employment Insurance Act for compensation for pregnant and nursing women in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal from work.”

That sort of statement makes my argument quite succinctly and coherently.

A similar explanation for how employment insurance benefits are used for the purpose of protecting the mother and unborn child were put forward in this House on October 17, 2005, by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour and Housing at the time, “women under federal jurisdiction, if they must take leave, have access to employment insurance”.

The understanding that maternity benefits are an income support during a period of preventative withdrawal was corroborated by multiple members during debate proceedings on both Bill C-307 and Bill C-380.

In addition to members of Parliament, this understanding of El has been affirmed by departmental officials as well. When asked during the HUMA committee on October 22, 2003, about whether Canada had a system of preventative withdrawal, the Director of Labour Standards and Workplace Equity responded:

Where the job has been determined to be dangerous, the employer has an obligation to attempt to reassign her to work that is not unsafe for either the unborn child or the nursing child. If it's not possible or not reasonably practicable for the employer to reassign that individual, then she is entitled to leave without pay. What would happen under those circumstances is that she would take advantage of the employment insurance program...

It is clear that the employment insurance system, in particular the eight weeks of pre-birth maternity benefits, are an integral part to supporting women who choose to leave their job due to hazardous conditions.

Even though some statements do not mention maternity benefits explicitly, it is clear that this is the main form of El that would apply in these cases.

The final point I will make is to clarify that this bill does not affect any other type of El benefits, in particular parental or sickness benefits. Parental benefits would still only be able to be taken after confinement, which is in keeping with their purpose.

One might also think that protection of the expectant mother better falls under the category of sickness benefits. In fact, this is a very common misconception of sickness benefits. The reality is that sickness benefits can only be accessed if the individual is sick, not if there is a risk to their maternal health. Unlike maternity benefits, they cannot be taken for the purpose of protecting the health of the mother and the unborn child from the risks of a hazardous work environment.

Let me be clear, eight of the 15 weeks of maternity benefits can and are frequently being used for that purpose. As this function and purpose is well-established, my bill cannot be said to be creating a new function.

To conclude, the intent of my bill is simply to emphasize an existing function of maternity benefits, maternal health, for those who need it most, women working in hazardous jobs.

There is a royal recommendation that exists for spending on maternity benefits. There is no doubt that this bill would affect the manner in which that spending is done.

The central question is, does my bill shift spending in a manner that departs from the original purpose of maternity benefits? Put another way, does protection of the women's maternal health fall outside of the purpose of maternity benefits? I submit to you that it does not.

In closing, I will draw your attention to Keyes 1997 who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not required for cases where the bill authorizes spending for similar functions where “Provisions imposing additional functions on publicly funded bodies if the functions are of the same nature as their existing functions or are conferred for similar purposes.”

Motions in AmendmentEmployment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

June 9th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-265 introduced by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst.

Employment insurance is a very important part of the social infrastructure of Canada. That is a core belief. It has changed over the years. Today fewer Canadian workers have access to EI in general. Canadian employers and employees have seen a surplus of premiums over benefits paid in the last decade. I think it is time to make some changes to EI. We know that other people believe this. A number of private members' bills have been introduced in the House and have gone through committee, for example Bill C-269, this bill, Bill C-265 and Bill C-278 by the member for Sydney—Victoria, which is a very important bill that would have seen the EI sickness benefit period raised from 15 to 50 weeks. It is an active file. Also, the government recently introduced a proposal to set up an EI crown corporation.

Let us start with a few facts to set the context.

Between 1994 and today there has been a surplus each year in the EI account. From 1990 to 1994 there was a deficit each year, the last time the economy had a serious slowdown. We have seen over the past decade or so premium rates drop significantly. In 1993 employees paid $3 per $100 of insurable earnings and employers paid $4.20. Those have dropped on the employee side from $3 to $1.73 and on the employer side from $4.20 to $2.42.

We saw some changes as well in 2000 and 2004. In 2000 we saw the extension of parental benefits from six months to a year. In 2004 the compassionate care benefit was added. Several pilot projects were introduced in 2005 for things such as going to the best 14 weeks. There were some other changes that were very positive as well, including an additional five weeks for areas of high unemployment. These pilot projects were set up to provide more benefit coverage in areas that specifically needed that assistance. In 2005 a new process was introduced in the rate setting mechanism, whereby rate stability was to be achieved by restricting the rate change to .15, in other words 15¢ per $100 of insurable earnings.

In 2004 the House subcommittee on EI made recommendations, one of which was for a more independent EI board, a commission, with a fund that would operate outside the consolidated revenue fund. It did not recommend total independence but it recommended that step. Many workers and employees felt that would be a good idea.

The EI surplus is a very contentious issue. It is a surplus or a no show surplus, depending on to whom one talks. One thing we know is that it is not theft, as some people would characterize it. The money was kept track of and allocated every year. In fact, interest has been allocated. On the $54 billion, the EI alleged surplus, some $11 billion of that is in fact allocated interest.

It is a contentious issue and I understand that. The money went primarily to pay down debt and perhaps to other services as well but most of that money went to pay down debt. One can agree or disagree with that decision, but that was a policy decision that was made by the Government of Canada.

There are many aspects of EI that need to be addressed: those who are excluded, self-employed people, creators, part time workers who are often women. I believe there is a need to re-evaluate benefits paid to those who already qualify. What we need is a serious debate. We do not need allegations of theft.

We do not need the leader of the New Democratic Party going to a CLC meeting and saying that nobody in the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party cares because they only had five minutes at the finance committee hearing and totally neglected the fact that a Liberal-led motion in the human resources committee evaluated this new EI corporation. If it was not for that, there would be no discussion of this. The government's response was to set up a crown corporation, but how do we know if it is a solution when there is no information available? We have been provided nothing.

We introduced a motion at the human resources committee. We heard from employees, employers, actuaries, labour organizations and business groups, many of whom said that it might be a good idea, but they just do not know and they need more information. That report will be tabled in the House this week. I hope that the government looks at the recommendations of workers as well as employers.

These meetings were public. They asked questions about things such as the size of the reserve, the accountability and how this would affect benefits.

I, like almost all Liberals, feel that EI reform is necessary. We particularly need to look at it at a time when many Canadians are worried about the economy.

Liberals are part of a group which included the NDP member for Acadie—Bathurst, the Bloc and labour groups that looked at a previous bill, Bill C-269, and came to some common ground on it. The common ground was negotiated in good faith and every Liberal in this House supported Bill C-269 when it came for a vote. Bill C-265 shifts that ground considerably.

As an example of what it takes to reform EI, this is a serious business. One proposed amendment to increase the rate of benefit from 55% to 60% would cost $1.2 billion every year. That was an estimate done in 2004. Reform is costly but it must be done. It cannot be done on an ad hoc basis. It is simply too important for that. It must be done by a government that accepts the fact that EI is a fundamental part of the social fabric of Canada that strengthens our communities and our people.

Reform cannot be done by running around and making allegations. We all play the constituencies. That is why it is called politics: to tell disingenuous stories about what is happening in this place when we visit with labour organizations or business groups, or to make allegations of theft and other issues about what happened before.

Changes to EI are needed, but what are those changes and what is the cost? What about the two week waiting period? We think something should be done about that. There is the five week black hole. Should it be the 14 best weeks or the 12 best weeks? What is the solution? Do we go from 55% to 60%? How are part time workers and self-employed workers covered? How is sickness covered? People have said to me that we should extend maternity leave to two years. There is no shortage of ideas. Those ideas will only be turned into action by a government that is serious about EI reform.

The Conservative government is not serious about EI reform. Reform will only be done by a government that accepts EI as a key part of the social infrastructure of Canada that strengthens not only the people and our communities, but all of Canada. It is time for a proactive and positive change to EI for employers and particularly for hard-working Canadian employees.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2008 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate. I will be splitting my time with perhaps the foremost expert on economics in the House, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

I thank my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for bringing forward the motion. We come to Parliament, we work with our colleagues and we forge relationships with other members of the House, which can be very productive based on respect. This is the relationship I feel I have with my colleague. I know other members of my family have it as well.

The motion is one that needs to be addressed because it deals with a hugely important issue, Clearly though, and I will say this up front, it is not an issue that Canadians would want and certainly do not expect to be the impetus for a national general election. The motion raises an issue that Liberals, and particularly our leader, have brought front and centre to the national agenda. It will be the centrepiece of our next national campaign, the time of which will be determined carefully and not as a result of the latest move in a game of inside Ottawa parliamentary checkers.

A couple of months ago, the member for York Centre, an outstanding Canadian hero, embarked on a country wide tour focused on poverty in Canada. I think he went to more than 20 locations in this immense country. Canadians will know, knowing the member, that this was not a photo op, but somebody who was trying to find real solutions on poverty.

One of his first stops was in my riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. We thought we would have a decent crowd, but we were all surprised to see over 300 people come out to a church basement in Dartmouth to talk about poverty, its causes and some solutions. We heard from a number of groups and organizations, homeless shelters, youth in crisis workers, food banks, mental health workers and many more, people who combat poverty on a daily basis and try to make a difference in their communities. These groups expect their politicians and their governments to do something about it.

We should acknowledge that improvements have been made over the years to help Canadians with many major national initiatives such as the Old Age Security Act, the Canada Pension Plan Act and the Quebec Pension Plan Act, the guaranteed income supplement in 1967, the national child benefit in 1997, which has had a significant impact on reducing child poverty in our country. We implemented personal income tax cuts. We brought forward the plan to strengthen health care, which followed on the 1960s plan to bring a national health care system into Canada.

The member for York Centre understood that among the challenges facing low income families was the lack of affordable and universal access to child care. Our Liberal government signed child care agreements with each of the provinces and territories, agreements that would begin to chip away at family poverty, allowing individuals to work to earn a decent living and support their families. Those child care agreements were one of the first casualties of the Conservative government.

We all know we live in a prosperous country where our standard of living ranks among the best in the world. Despite this success, far too many Canadians are left behind and it should be unacceptable to us all.

Last fall, the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, a man who is serious about solving serious problems, laid out the most ambitious plan to tackle poverty in Canada. This is what we will do when we return to office. It is our 30:50 plan. We want to reduce by 30%, or cut in half, the number of children living in poverty over five years. That plan includes the creation of a making work pay benefit to lower the welfare and to encourage and reward work by Canadians. It includes support for working families to expand and improve the Canada child tax benefit and to help lift the vulnerable seniors out of poverty by increasing the GIS for the lowest income seniors.

I want to talk about another issue that is referenced in the motion, and that is employment insurance. Our government in the last decade reduced EI premiums, both for employers and employees. Since 1994, the EI rate for employee contributions has been reduced from $3.07 to $1.95 in 2005 and for employer contributions from $4.30 to $2.73 by 2005. As a result of these rate reductions, employers and employees paid some $10.5 billion less in premiums comparatively than they would have paid in 1994.

On the benefit side, from 2000 to 2005 the Liberal government invested in the EI program. Parental benefits were extended to one year. In 2004 a new employment insurance benefit, the compassionate care benefit, was introduced. In 2004 a pilot program was introduced to provide workers with five additional weeks of EI regular benefits in regions of high unemployment. Several other pilot programs were introduced, which included benefits for those who were new to the labour market to have access EI benefits after 840 house of work rather than 910 hours. We also went to the best 14 weeks of earnings, not a bad idea for people in high unemployment areas, and we increased benefits for the working while on claim threshold.

However, I think we can all agree, and certainly members of my party understand, that we should do more. We should re-evaluate employment insurance. Members in this House for Labrador, for Madawaska—Restigouche, for Honoré-Mercier, for Beauséjour and from parts of Cape Breton have stood up and have been involved in discussions to make that happen.

As Liberals we have worked hard over the past two years to work with labour groups and other opposition parties to find common ground to improve benefits for EI recipients. We need to evaluate this. We need to look at a number of things, such as the waiting period and what is referred to as the black hole.

How about the expansion of sick benefits, as proposed in Bill C-278? Bill C-278, a private member's bill, was introduced by my colleague from Sydney—Victoria and is supported by members of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society. It is a recognition that the workplace has changed and illness has changed. People are recovering from strokes and from heart attacks, but they need support. This bill was supported by all parties except the government party. It would have been a perfect thing for the government to stand up and do for workers in Canada.

We need to address how EI relates to people who are working part time. Often they are women working in poverty. We need to do more about that.

In budget 2008 the government introduced the idea of a new crown corporation. It may be a good idea. Some people have called for a different agency to look at EI, but there has been no consultation on it, and if it were not for the fact that the Liberals brought forward a motion at the human resources committee, which was supported by other parties, there would have been no consultation on this.

Is $2 billion the appropriate amount of money as a reserve fund? What is the bureaucracy going to look like? Should there not be some consultation and discussion with workers across this country? I think there should be. EI needs to be changed. We need to do it rationally and sensibly, balancing the workers and employers. It is imperative for us to do that.

Over generations, Canada has built a social infrastructure that is designed to help vulnerable Canadians. Improvements have been made, with public health care, pensions, EI and support for children and others, but we need to do more. Furthermore, I believe there is a public appetite in this country for us to do more. However, today we have a government that seems to love power but seems to hate government and sees little or no role for government in assisting those most in need.

Partly through design and, in fairness, partly through incompetence, the federal fiscal framework has a reduced capacity to help, but Canadians want a government with a heart, a mind and a solid plan to reduce poverty in this country. Our leader has put forward such a plan. In the next election the Liberal Party will campaign on that alternative. We are the only realistic alternative to this government.

Poverty in our country is not inevitable, but it will take leadership, energy and national will to make the difference. We should talk about it here in Parliament. I am pleased that we are also studying it at the human resources committee, but to really make a difference we need a government that sees a role for government in standing up for those who need help, a government that balances budgets but not at the huge social cost and huge social exclusion we see now.

I believe the Liberal Party has the leader, I believe the Liberal Party has the plan and I believe the Liberal Party has the team to attack poverty in our country and work for those who most need help.

March 11th, 2008 / 9:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chairman, we're not talking about a minor difference, but about figures that are double the original ones quoted. Minor adjustments have doubled the figures, whereas the main component of the program comes down to two important measures, namely the 360-hour requirement and the best 12 weeks. I'm not saying that you did not do your job properly. I'm simply trying to wrap my head around the issue. I feel that we did a good job in 2004. It's easy to say today that we did a poor job in 2004. Yet, we did take our work seriously. Committee members spent several hundred hours on this task, which led to studies and produced these results.

Today, it's easy to say that all of this was done in haste in two days. If that were true, then we should have been informed at the time, when we made our recommendations based on the information supplied to us. We were never told that these figures might not be quite accurate. We were never told to take them with a grain of salt because the work was done quickly. So, we made some recommendations, a number of which were unanimously endorsed. The report's first eight recommendations were unanimous, while opinion was divided on those made on February 15.

Furthermore, people are acting as if nothing happened in the interim, when in fact several bills calling for either a full or partial reform were tabled by the opposition parties. The Bloc Québécois tabled two bills, namelyC-278 andC-269, both of which called for a complete overhaul of the program.

We cannot merely overlook the situation this morning, Mr. Chairman. Did we base on work over the past three or four years on erroneous information? If we did, then it's a very serious matter. Every time we debated one of the bills in committee, government officials were present. Each time, we used these figures. I'm very surprised to find that the figures quoted to us this morning are double the original estimates in both cases.

Having said that, we're being told that the bill is different from the recommendations. Then show me how it is different. I've looked at it and I've studied our recommendations, and they are virtually identical. When we debated the matter back then, we also examined how these recommendations might possibly interact.

I do not wish to belabour the point, but I am very surprised to hear this argument this morning.

March 11th, 2008 / 9:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First of all, I want to thank you for coming here this morning. You have helped shed light on the current situation. However, I must say that I'm a little surprised by your answers this morning. Not that I doubt you, but I am worried about what has transpired. We produced a report, as you know. Part 1 of this report was adopted on December 16, 2004 and Part 2, on February 15, 2005. The committee's report was entitled “Restoring Financial Governance and Accessibility in the Employment Insurance Program“. The report consisted of parts 1 and 2.

Recommendation 10 in the report called for the following:

[...] that the government implement a uniform 360 hours qualification requirement, irrespective of regional unemployment rates or the type of benefit. This would establish a qualification requirement based on a 30-hour week over a 12-week period.

Recommendation 14 also contains a reference to the best 12 weeks, something that we also see in the bill now before the committee.

These are the two main measures proposed in this bill. They are found in the recommendations adopted by a majority of committee members. Our colleagues Mr. Godin and Mr. Cuzner also sat on this committee. If memory serves me well, they worked on this report from September to December. From the outset, we asked for an estimate of the cost of implementing all of these measures, and specifically these two measures, namely the best 12 weeks and the 360 hour qualification requirement. The result was the report prepared for us by Mr. Malcolm Brown, Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. That was the department's name at the time.

You're telling us this morning that the report was drawn up in two days. Perhaps you had only two days to prepare it, but we worked on this for several weeks and each time we asked, we were told that work was progressing.

First of all, I have to question your explanation as to the difference in the numbers and your claim that you had little time. That could be a plausible explanation, but we understood at the time that the work was being done over a longer period of time.

Secondly, not only were we given an estimate in the millions of dollar, we were also given an estimate of the number of unemployed workers who would be affected. The 360-hour requirement represented a cost of $390 million. Mr. Brown informed us at the time that an additional 90,000 unemployed workers would be affected, which explained the figure quoted of $390 million. He also said that the best 12 weeks measure would cost $320 million and affect 470,000 unemployed workers.

I now have to wonder if all of the work that was done at the time was based on false information. Is the information we're being given today incorrect? As parliamentarians, I have to say that we did some serious work. Since then, the Bloc has tabled two bills, that is billsC-278 and C-269. The NDP has proposed some measures and tabled some bills. A tremendous amount of work has been done.

I have to say that I am quite concerned about the possibility that all of our work was based on false information.

March 6th, 2008 / 10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Okay. I'll come back to this when I get a chance. Perhaps I won't.

The issue is that I believe we need to do something on the benefit side of EI. The question I asked Monsieur Godin in sincerity related to a number of things that we need to do. Bill C-269 was one that eliminated the two-week waiting period, the five-week black hole on the other end, and did a number of things. It increased the rate from 55% to 60%.

You can look at the benefit period. We had Bill C-278, which was a Mark Eyking bill, to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It was supported by both the Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, realizing people are living longer now and recovering from illness.

We have the arm's-length provision, the best 12 weeks, and hours worked. There are a number of things that we need to do on EI. I'm trying to come to terms with whether this bill, as it is, is entirely the best one.

Monsieur Céré mentioned some of the discussions that have happened. We are trying to figure that out; I don't think I have time to ask for a comment.

Thank you.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2007 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, in May I rose to speak to important issues put forward in Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, but unfortunately we ran out of time. I would now like to take the opportunity to finish what I have to say on the bill.

From the outset, let me state that the government supports the principles behind the creation of a separate EI account, but there are many aspects of the bill that we cannot support.

On Tuesday, the Speech from the Throne outlined the government's priorities going forward. Rest assured, the changes to the EI program to make it more responsive to the needs of Canadians is one of those priorities.

I note the opposition has proposed several changes to the EI program during the course of this Parliament, often without supporting evidence or clear objectives on what the proposed changes were supposed to address. This is not something in which the government will engage. We will only put forward measured changes backed up by evidence and supported by Canadians who pay for this program with their hard-earned money.

It is important to get these things right. Canadians depend on us to ensure that the EI system remains a system, one that is effective, sustainable and reflects the needs of all who need it. The proposals put forward here put the future of the EI system at risk.

There is a reason we need to have a debate on a separate EI account today, and it is simple. It was mismanagement by the previous Liberal government and it was allowed by the Liberal government over a period of 10 years, a $51 billion surplus to accumulate in what many in the House have called the EI account.

The $51 billion was not government revenue. It was the wages of workers and the contribution of employers. We have always maintained that these were supposed to be used for benefits or premium reductions. Instead it was used for program spending in countless other areas and some of it was lost to fiscal mismanagement.

During study of the previous incarnation of this bill, Bill C-280, during the last Parliament, my colleague from Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock stated during committee study, “the Auditor General surely did not foresee that the government could continuously and deliberately overcharge employers and workers and allow this massive surplus to build up”, but they did. The Liberals allowed the surplus to grow and they became addicted to it.

Liberal mismanagement comes as no surprise to anyone in the House. We have seen the billion dollar HRSDC boondoggle under the Liberals watch. We have seen a $2 million gun registry turn into a $2 billion gun registry. We have seen $51 billion in workers' and employers' money spent in other areas with no explanation and certainly with no apologies.

As important as the principle of a separate account is to our government, it is nevertheless important that we not look at the EI program in isolation, that the opposition's vision for employment insurance must be examined in its entirety. We must get a picture of what the opposition expects from this program and if it is a realistic vision.

The facts will show that the opposition's vision is anything but realistic. There is currently an incoherent array of 19 opposition private members' bills related to EI on the order paper, with a combined cost of just 10 of these at well over $11 billion annually. This glut of opposition bills exemplifies the ad hoc and inefficient approach to EI reform being proposed by all opposition parties. The sheer magnitude of the changes being proposed to this valuable program leads one to believe that these changes have been proposed for political reasons because all these changes together do not make any sense. Yet the opposition has so far supported them all.

The opposition ad hoc approach to EI reform is telling of a larger problem.

Let us just examine a few of the other bills that the opposition has put forward in this Parliament.

Bill C-269 sought to drastically alter the administration and objectives of the EI system. It proposed a flat entrance requirement, a requirement designed to maximize labour market participation at a time when we had more jobs than people. It proposed vastly expanded benefit terms that were designed to provide a balance between adequate temporary income support and incentives to return to work.

These proposed changes would cost the EI system billions of dollars a year and have not been supported by a stitch of evidence.

Bill C-278 proposed a wide-sweeping change to the EI program by raising the sickness benefits from the current 15 weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks, all this despite the fact that all the available evidence indicates that the current system meets and even exceeds the needs of the vast majority of people who use the system.

There has been no study for either of these bills, which would $4.8 billion annually in new spending on benefits.

We know the people who pay premiums, both employers and employees, have asked for some consideration, especially given this hot job market. They would not get it with either of these bills.

Why does the opposition insist on proposing changes to the program when the evidence does not support these changes? Could it be particularly for political purpose?

I believe that Canadians rejected this type of governance. Almost two years ago, Canadians elected a Conservative government, a government that would restore some accountability to the way things worked in Ottawa.

We cannot and will not make wide-sweeping changes to programs without proper evidence. Without understanding the full implications of these changes, we certainly will not enact these types of changes unless they are in the best interest of all Canadians.

The government will not act like the last government. We have a broad based labour market approach to the EI program. We have aimed our changes at providing opportunities for all Canadians to participate in our healthy and growing economy. This approach is outlined in our economic plan called “Advantage Canada”.

The government has already taken action to address the quantity and quality challenges laid out in “Advantage Canada” by creating the apprenticeship incentives grant as a follow-up to the 2006 budget, working to improve foreign credential recognition and launching the targeted initiative for older workers and an expert panel to conduct a feasibility study on older workers.

We will continue to monitor and assess the EI program. We have made changes to the EI in the past year and we will consider further changes when it is justified.

One of the main reasons we initially advocated for a separate EI account was the previous government's inability to keep premiums in line with benefits.

The EI commission has set the 2007 rate at $1.80. This will save employers and employees $420 million a year. When combined with the increase in the maximum insurable earnings, this is the lowest rate in 14 years, all the while we have acted to maintain and in many instances increase benefits for unemployed Canadians.

We believe this new rate setting mechanism is important. That is why we supported it when we were in opposition.

Canada's new government has shown that we are responsible when it comes to making informed changes to the EI system. The opposition has shown that it is not. I think all Canadians will understand if the government shows a little caution when such broad changes are proposed to a program as important as the employment insurance.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

October 19th, 2007 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take the back end of the ship with my colleague from West Nova. His speech reminded me of a time when Nova Scotia had a regional minister who actually stood up for our interests and put Nova Scotia's interests ahead of Canadians' interests.

I want to talk about the Speech from the Throne. Some of the things that my colleague spoke about I may touch on, but for me it was a disappointing document, a leaflet really, more for what is not in it than for what is in it.

We just had a question from a western Canadian about the Atlantic accord saying that there was a lot of miscommunication. I remember when I was in the House back in the spring when it was apparent to most people in Canada, and certainly to all people in Nova Scotia, that the Atlantic accord was torched. A member from Ontario asked a question saying that it had not been torched and it was still there. That was obviously not the case. I pointed out to the member at the time that he would not know the difference between the Atlantic accord and a Honda Accord, and that is still the case. There is a lot of confusion.

The Atlantic accord is gone. If it were not gone, we would not have seen the scrambling to try to fix it. The fix is not a fix that Nova Scotians would stand up and give any resounding approval to. It is not a fix at all. If it were, the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley would be back on that side of the House from where he was kicked out not too long ago.

It is one issue that all Nova Scotians, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will stand up to be heard on.

Last week I had a public meeting in my community. I invited people to tell me as their member of Parliament what they wanted to see in the throne speech. The government had prorogued Parliament and would bring in a throne speech. Whether I agreed or disagreed, we discussed a number of things. We discussed poverty, Afghanistan, the Atlantic accord, as we might expect, students, seniors and veterans.

One issue that came forward, as one would expect, was the issue of crime. In my community of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour we have had more than our share of violent crime, which is a big concern.

At that meeting, two people whom I had not known before spoke at that meeting in a very personal way about their experiences with two sons from two different families. They had been beaten up and bullied and they did not feel safe in their community. They came with an open mind about what could be done, but they wanted to see changes in the Youth Criminal Justice Act to address their specific case.

When members of Parliament hear these stories, they want to do the right thing. In Nova Scotia last December Justice Merlin Nunn came forward with a report on youth crime in response to a specific incident in Nova Scotia, which was quite appalling. The report was long, detailed, well thought out, well argued and well presented.

When the Minister of Justice came to Halifax, he referenced the Nunn Commission report. All members should go to www.Nunncommission.ca and have a look at this report. In the report it refers to problems with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It indicates particularly that repeat offenders are not dealt with effectively enough and makes recommendations. It also suggests that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is sound legislation and that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

When the Minister of Justice refers to the Nunn Commission report, I hope he does not just take a little piece of it, on which I agree with him, but looks at the who report in context and adds into that the need for mental health services for kids in our community, boys and girls clubs, breakfast programs and stay in school programs as well, which will also do more to reduce crime.

Yesterday the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development spoke on the throne speech. He was one of the first government speakers. It was an amazing spectacle. He gave a 20 minute speech without talking about human resources. He talked about one specific issue, and that was the crime issue, which the government is pounding away trying to get people to believe that its members are the only people who want to act on it.

The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development stood in the House of Common, and he is a good guy, but he did not talk about human resources. Why? Because there is nothing in the throne speech on human resources of which to speak. We heard about employment insurance. It states:

Our Government will also take measures to improve the governance and management of the Employment Insurance Account.

There are people across Atlantic Canada whose knees are shaking when they read that piece. Does that mean the government will make it better, as my colleague from West Nova optimistically points out?

If the government wants to make it better, it could look at some private members' bills that have come from all parties in this Parliament: Bill C-269, Bill C-265 or Bill C-278 that my colleague from West Nova referenced, which would extend sick benefits under EI from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Who could oppose that?

It is a reaction to a very significant issue in Canada, which is that people who used to die of heart attacks, strokes and cancer in a lot of cases now are surviving. That is good news. The bad news is they cannot go right back to work and the EI system is the perfect way to address that need.

I want to applaud the member for Sydney—Victoria, who brought forward Bill C-278, costed it and did a lot of work on it. He got the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Cancer Society to say that it was the kind of legislation we needed, and the government refused a royal recommendation.

This document has one very brief mention about education, saying families worry about the rising costs of higher education. That is not a stunning revelation. They do. We all hear that as well. We need to help them. One does not tax cut one's way to a better education. One invests, particularly for low income Canadians, persons with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians. We should be investing.

In the late 1990s, when the government wrestled the deficit under control, we invested in things like the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which is now at a precipice in terms of whether it can continue if it does not soon get a nod from the government that it will put money back into it, Canada access grants, learning bonds and a number of other things.

If we are to address productivity, there are a number of ways we should do it. We should be reducing taxes, not throwing $6 billion out the window on a GST cut, particularly for Canadians who need it the most. As a start, we should go back to the Liberal cut of the economic update of 2005, which the government reversed the following year. That is a start, raising the personal exemption.

I am fully in support of lowering corporate taxes. The countries in the OECD that have done that are doing very well. The lowest economic groups in those countries are doing very well also.

There are things that we can do, such as replenishing the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The Canada summer jobs fiasco, which we dealt with last year, was pretty clear. It was a mistake by the government. It tried to rectify it. Some organizations, due to pressure from this side of the House, got their funding but many did not. There are things we can do now to ensure that fiasco does not happen again next year.

I want to talk about manufacturers and exporters. There is a crisis in manufacturing in Canada. We need to have mechanisms in the employment insurance system through Human Resources Canada to deal with that.

In my riding the Hershey Moirs plant announced in the spring that it would close in December. Six hundred people will be out of work. There is a program designed to help those people through Service Canada. I have been at transition team meetings with the union, which is working very hard. It is not happy about it at all, but realizes it has to now ask what it will do with the people. It is working with the plant and with Service Canada on a program that provides assistance to people who will lose their jobs.

Guess what? There is a limit of $100,000 per project. I asked Service Canada if it had implemented this project somewhere else and it said, yes, that it was great. I asked how many employees were affected and it said one. One person gets laid off and it can spend $100,000, 500 or 600 people get laid off and it can spend $100,000. Surely the funding should be by person, not by project.

I want to mention that I spoke directly to the minister about that. I appreciate the fact that he took the time to talk to me about this case. I am very hopeful he will intervene to make sure that what needs to be done gets done. However, there was no mention—

Bill C-357--Employment Insurance Act and Bill C-362--Old Age Security ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to two private members' bills, Bill C-357 and Bill C-362. Without commenting on their merits, I submit that these two bills require royal recommendations.

First, I want to explain why Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting), requires a royal recommendation.

As the Chair ruled on May 9, 2005:

--bills which involve new or additional spending for a distinct purpose must be recommended by the Crown. The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill. What this means is that a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where more money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is being significantly altered.

I would note that Bill C-357 is nearly identical to Bill C-280 in the 38th Parliament which the Speaker ruled required a royal recommendation.

On June 13, 2005, the Speaker stated:

--Bill C-280 infringes on the financial initiative of the Crown for three reasons: first, clause 2 effects an appropriation of public funds by its transfer of these funds from the consolidated revenue fund to an independent employment insurance account established outside the consolidated revenue fund.

Second, clause 2 significantly alters the duties of the EI Commission to enable new or different spending of public funds by the commission for a new purpose namely, the investment of public funds.

Third, as indicated in my ruling of February 8, clause 5 increases the number of commissioners from four to seventeen.

All three of these conditions apply to Bill C-357.

Clause 2 would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund. The bill would transfer money out of the consolidated revenue fund to the employment insurance account and that money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. This would be an appropriation of funds and, therefore, requires a royal recommendation.

However, worthy some aspects of the bill may be, and some aspects of it are, this does not alter the need for the royal recommendation.

Clause 2 would also change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission, including new requirements for the commission to deposit assets with a financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return.

These are new and distinct purposes which have not been authorized and are additional reasons why clause 2 requires a royal recommendation.

Clause 5 of Bill C-357 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.

On February 8, 2005, the Speaker ruled that the appointment of 13 new commissioners to the Employment Insurance Commission in Bill C-280 required a royal recommendation. This is consistent with other rulings where the Speaker found that adding remunerated members to commissions requires a royal recommendation. Given these precedents, I submit that clause 5 requires a royal recommendation.

To sum up, Bill C-357 would require an appropriation, it would alter the purpose of funds covered by the act, and it would require new spending for an expanded commission; therefore, it must accompanied by a royal recommendation.

The second bill I want to draw to your attention is Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act.

This bill would increase old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits by lowering the threshold for eligibility from the current 10 years to 3. This change would result in significant new expenditures.

Under the Old Age Security Act, applicants must have at least 10 years of residence in Canada after age 18 in order to qualify for benefits.

I would further note that partial benefits are paid to applicants who have less than 10 years of residence if the applicant has credits from a country with which Canada has a pension agreement. Residence has been an eligibility criteria since this program's inception in 1952. Reducing the residence requirement from 10 years to 3 years would have significant costs.

Since eligibility for old age security pensions also qualifies for low income recipients to receive the guaranteed income supplement, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that the total cost of reducing the qualifying period would be over $700 million annually.

Precedents clearly establish that bills which create new expenditures for benefits by modifying eligibility criteria or changing the terms of a program require a royal recommendation.

On December 8, 2004, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.

On November 6, 2006, the Speaker ruled with regard to Bill C-269, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Funds may only be appropriated by Parliament for purposes covered by a royal recommendation...New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On November 9, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-284, the bill that enlarged the scope of the student grants program beyond that originally authorized by Parliament, that:

Any extension of the terms of an existing program must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

On November 10, 2006, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, dealing with employment insurance benefits, that:

--by amending the Employment Insurance Act to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, the bill would require the expenditure of additional funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized.

On March 23, 2007, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-265, dealing with employment insurance benefits, that it was abundantly clear:

--those provisions of the bill which relate to increasing employment insurance benefits and easing the qualifications required to obtain them would require a royal recommendation.

I would also note that when Parliament adopted amendments to benefit criteria in the Old Age Security Act in Bill C-36 earlier this year, this legislation was accompanied by a royal recommendation.

In conclusion, Bill C-362 would increase expenditures for old age security and guaranteed income supplements in ways not already authorized and, therefore, should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2007 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

We now have some amount of money every year that is considered surplus. It does not get carried from year to year. It comes out of the consolidated revenue fund. In my view it is time to look at that system and say, “Now that we have made the system sustainable, we should be doing more to help the people who need help”.

In 2004 we started some pilot projects so that we extended benefits to people who actually needed them. Over the 10 years between mid-1990 and mid-2000, we drastically reduced premiums for those who pay premiums. The system is actuarially evaluated every year, but we still have a surplus. I think we should look at that surplus. It is an insurance system. To me, what we put in and what we pay out should balance.

There is an opportunity for us to do something. The bill is part of that. It is not the only thing. Part time workers, low income workers, and persons who are self-employed, including many in our artistic and cultural community, do not and cannot apply for employment insurance. We should look at doing more to increase the productivity of Canada.

We support the bill. It is not the only thing we should do, but in my view it is one of the things we should do to fully recognize that people who are receiving employment insurance are doing so not because they want to but because they have to.

In Canada we have built up a social infrastructure that makes us unique in some ways. I am proud of that social infrastructure. Large parts of Canada need that social infrastructure. In fact, at a time when the economy is doing well, having been turned around in the 1990s, it is now the time to reinvest in a lot of programs. We should be doing more on poverty and we should be doing more to help people get educated, but we should also be doing more to ensure that people who need help because they have been thrown out of work through no fault of their own have access to the money in the EI system.

Liberals supported Bill C-269 along the way. We worked with our colleagues in other parties and with labour unions and organizations throughout Canada to make this bill palatable and to make sure that it meets the needs of Canadians. I think it is an improvement.

We are proud to continue to support Bill C-269. We wish the government would give it a royal recommendation. We wish government members would open their eyes and look at bills like Bill C-278 as well, because it makes Canada stronger, not weaker, when we help those who actually need help the most.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the final hour of debate on Bill C-269, an act to make improvements to the Employment Insurance Act.

Members will recall that last May the entire Liberal caucus stood in the House to vote in support of Bill C-269 at report stage. This followed significant Liberal efforts at the human resources committee along with our colleagues in the Bloc and the NDP to make this legislation better.

During that period we worked cooperatively with other opposition parties on amendments that we thought would improve the main elements of this bill. We negotiated not only with colleagues in this House, but also with organizations and unions that have long sought changes to the employment insurance system. At committee all parties, except the Conservative Party, supported our efforts to improve the EI system.

I would like to mention some of the colleagues on my side of the House who have worked so hard to see improvements in EI. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche has been a champion of EI reform since he was elected in 2004. The members for Cape Breton—Canso, Sydney—Victoria, West Nova, our very quiet member for Labrador and the member for Beauséjour have championed changes as well.

We had hoped that the bill would go to third and final reading and then to the Senate for deliberations there, but unfortunately that was blocked when the government refused to give royal recommendation. It does not want to give any more money to improve employment insurance.

Many of us wonder why the government would reject outright the effort of all opposition parties to make improvements when there is a $14 billion surplus in Canada. If last night's throne speech is any indication, we should be concerned. In the throne speech, one sentence referenced employment insurance where it said:

Our Government will also take measures to improve the governance and management of the Employment Insurance Account.

Uh-oh, that is not good news. The knees we see shaking are those of Canadian workers, because most Canadians know that when Conservatives mention that they are looking to “improve” a social program such as EI, it is usually the opposite. In many cases the Conservatives tend to slash the program because of their ideological distaste to help those who need help the most.

What they said in the Speech from the Throne was a vague statement that is worrisome. It is certainly worrisome in my province of Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick, throughout rural Canada and Quebec and large parts of this nation where employment insurance has become a very important part of our social infrastructure. I would not be surprised to see this be the thin edge of the wedge, so to speak: maternity benefits, sick benefits and using EI as a tool to send more Canadians, Atlantic Canadians, out west.

We all know of the significant elements in the Conservative caucus who do not believe that the social programs we have built up are worthwhile. There are a lot of other examples of legislation brought forth by members who want to improve the lives of Canadians but which have been rejected by the government.

The parliamentary secretary who just spoke said that this bill was not based on a foundation, that it was not costed and not well thought out. This bill has a lot of merit, but let me talk about another bill on EI brought forward by the member for Sydney—Victoria.

Bill C-278 was meant to extend sick benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. That bill was fully costed. That bill was brought forward by the member for Sydney—Victoria with the full support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society and other organizations that realize there has been a changed dynamic in health care in this country. No longer are people dying as much from heart attacks and cancer. That is the good news. The bad news is that they have to live with them. They have to recover. Fifteen weeks is not enough.

The member for Sydney—Victoria brought forward a bill, and that bill did not get the support of the government. That bill did not get royal recommendation. Even members on the human resources committee said it was a well thought out bill when the member appeared at committee. It is a thoroughly necessary piece of legislation.

When bills like Bill C-269 are rejected, it demoralizes Canadians. Employment insurance is set up to help people who need help. It is not the fault of people who are out of work. I suspect there may be government members who still believe that people who are not working are not working because they choose not to work. That is clearly not the case.

Those members on the other side of the House do not believe that government should actually help people. We see that all the time.

Why would they not support a bill that would extend sick benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks for people who have gone through cancer, who have put in the mental and the human resource effort to recover from cancer, but who cannot go back to work right away? They simply cannot do it. There is a gap in the system that has not been addressed.

We worked cooperatively with other opposition parties to make improvements in Bill C-269 as well. In November, Liberal members of the human resources committee began discussions with the Bloc and NDP members, as we are supposed to do in a minority Parliament to make legislation work, to make it more palatable, and to make it more reasonable so that it can come to this place and be defended.

The discussions were focused on making the proposals of Bill C-269 more reasonable. Significant changes were agreed to by the parties. The Bloc and the NDP adjusted their views. So did the labour unions that were part of those discussions.

The original proposal was to lower the qualifying period to 360 hours of work across the board. It was adjusted to a flat 70 hour reduction. For us, we also made a proposal to eliminate the distinction between new entrants and re-entrants. It was amended. We believe there should be some disincentive for people to enter the employment insurance system the first time. If they need it, they should have it, but if it is made too easy, people become dependent upon that system, so that distinction was eliminated.

Other proposed changes in the bill would eliminate the two week waiting period. People need employment insurance because they need it, not because they want it. Why aggravate the situation? Why insult people by saying they have to wait two weeks to get employment insurance?

The five week black hole at the end was also eliminated as part of the bill. I think that makes sense. I wrote down what the parliamentary secretary just said in referring to how people are tired of money disappearing down black holes. Is employment insurance a black hole? Are people who are out of work through no fault of their own a black hole in Canada? Or are they part of the social infrastructure that we are proud to have built up in this nation? I think it is the latter.

There have been a number of private members' bills on EI. Since the 1990s, EI has been put on a solid footing. There were many years in the 1970s and 1980s when income going to the EI fund was in fact less than was paid out. In other words, there was a deficit.

Now, deficit or surplus, it all goes into the consolidated revenue fund, but for many years we were paying out a lot more than we were paying in because of the economy. The Liberal government of the 1990s fixed the economy so more money was being paid in than paid out.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2007 / 7 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-269, a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act, as put forward by my colleague from the Bloc, is a flawed bill and one that we cannot support.

As I followed the remarks of previous speakers, I have to say that I found it a little surprising to hear the Bloc asking us to support the bill. The evidence just does not support such a broadly expanded program.

What evidence shows is that the EI system is currently meeting the demands of the vast majority of Canadians. Eighty-three per cent of unemployed Canadians who have paid into the program qualify for benefits and this rises to more than 90% in areas of high unemployment.

The evidence also shows that even claimants in high unemployment regions rarely use more than 70% of the benefits. Where exactly is the evidence to suggest that the changes in the bill are warranted? It is not just that the bill is not supported by the evidence. We see the opposition asking for support of flawed bills with routine frequency.

What is so surprising is that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are asking for support on a bill that the sponsor's own party and all opposition parties cared so little about that they refused to do their due diligence. They brought forth no accurate costing estimates, had no public hearings, had no consultation with major stakeholders and had no study on the bill's ramifications to Canadians or to the long term viability of the EI program itself.

Canadians sent this Conservative government to Ottawa to clean things up, to provide accountability, sound management and good public policy. The bill provides none of this but our government does.

We cannot support any bill that has been given so little oversight and so little consideration by Parliament, let alone a bill that proposes such drastic and costly changes to a program as important as this, especially when the changes are not backed by a shred of evidence.

Routine motions and decisions about what to have for lunch are given more serious analysis and debate than the one hour and fifteen minutes Bill C-269 was given by the opposition at committee stage. It is even more puzzling to be asked to support the bill when the Bloc and the opposition parties have been heaping one EI related bill after another onto the order paper asking for implementation of all but prioritizing on none.

The implementation of this bill would cost $3.7 billion, $1.1 billion for Bill C-278 and $1.4 billion for C-265. There are 16 more EI bills to come, 9 of which are too complicated to cost but it is fair to say that they will not be free. It would cost $4.7 billion for the remaining seven bills. The cost of these bills is astronomical and the opposition has supported them all without giving them any careful study.

These bills represent more than $11 billion in new annual spending for the EI account. This would put the program into a deficit within a year and bankrupt the program. Canadians are looking to the government to act responsibly and carefully. They want a government that will ensure the long term viability of the EI system and protect it from a patchwork of proposals made by the opposition, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Canadians expect that if the opposition is proposing to spend billions, it might also spend more than five minutes figuring out whether that much money is needed and where it will come from.

Listening to the public who are affected by these types of changes in policy seems so basic and yet Canadians have not been consulted. Employers who pay into the fund are concerned. Workers who see deductions on their paycheques are concerned and small business owners are concerned but the opposition did not want to hear from any of these groups.

Workers are left to wonder if Bill C-269 is better than the measures that this government introduced to extend compassionate care benefits. Is it better than our pilot projects extending benefits for best weeks and seasonal workers, which Canadians were looking for and this government provided?

The member talked about the forestry industry. We do care and that is why we improved and implemented targeted initiatives for older workers to help the vulnerable workers in certain industries that have been affected by layoff, such as the forestry industry.

All of those initiatives have been implemented since the previous Parliament, which was when the Bloc last proposed this bill and the Liberals last opposed it. Does the Bloc want to scrap all these initiatives in exchange for its bill?

Canadians appreciate that their new government is getting things done for them in a measured but meaningful way and they expect the same from all the parties in House. However, they are getting the same old, same old from the Bloc Québécois because the same old, same old is all it ever has to offer.

One does not have to look further than the recent byelection results in Quebec to know what Quebeckers think about the Bloc's proposals for this country. Canadians are shocked to see the Bloc propose the same types of changes it has been proposing for more than a decade. It is becoming increasingly clear to the people in Quebec that the Bloc has simply run out of things to say.

We know what Canadians have to say about the Liberal practice of spending public money with little or no oversight. One can imagine the reaction of all Canadians to find that the Bloc now wants to travel down that same road.

We are all tired of seeing public funds disappear into black holes, only to be explained as a mistake or worse, as the Auditor General described, “a rule-breaking sponsorship program, a scandal of major proportions”. Canadians want better oversight when it comes to their money and they want better long term planning. This bill goes against all of those principles.

We have all watched the cost of the Liberal programs balloon to billions of dollars. We must be very leery of the Bloc's untested assertion that Bill C-269 will cost just over $1 billion to implement when all outside estimates put the real cost at triple or even quadruple that amount.

Who is right in their figures? Is the sponsor of the bill correct when she says that it will cost $1.7 billion or is the Conseil du patronat du Québec and others right in pegging it at $3.7 billion? This would have been a prime question for the committee to have considered but unfortunately they did not bother seeking the input of witnesses like the Conseil du patronat, hard-working Canadians or even the Department of Human Resources and Social Development.

How can Canadians have confidence in this bill when they were completely cut out of the process by the opposition? A true and meaningful inquiry into Bill C-269 and the many unanswered questions around the bill would have gone a long way toward giving Canadians and this government confidence in a bill like this. Unfortunately, the opposition did not care enough to do its due diligence.

When the Canadian public went to the polls to choose a new government, they elected a Conservative government because they knew that we understood accountability. We know that accountability does not just mean explaining money that was spent last year. It means being able to plan expenditures before they go out of control.

We are asking the questions Canadians want asked because we know that the answers are important. However, without those answers and without the confidence of Canadians we cannot support this bill.

This government's record of measured improvements to the EI program proves that we have made EI a priority by our approach. However, our approach will not be piecemeal. We will look at the entirety of the EI program and not just one small aspect of it. Canadians expect more from this minister than that. They want him to properly manage a program that benefits the whole country.

Last night's Speech from the Throne outlined this government's priorities and reconfirmed our commitment to make the EI system responsive to Canadians' needs. We will continue to take measures to improve the governance and management of the employment insurance account and we will ensure that these changes are measured and responsible. I look forward to the minister's next steps in improving the EI program, which I am sure will be presented in the House in due course.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

This is a very important proposal and I would hope, as the member for Sydney—Victoria pleaded earlier, that a royal recommendation might be forthcoming from the government to deal with this important legislation.

The legislation, as we have heard, would extend the possibility of EI benefits in the case of illness from a maximum of 15 weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks. That would be a very important improvement to our EI program.

We need to make those kinds of improvements to our EI legislation. We know how many Canadians depend on EI at some point or other in their working lives. We know how important it is to people from coast to coast to coast in Canada.

I found it passing strange that the parliamentary secretary argued that somehow passing the bill would be a detriment to new Canadians, to new immigrants in Canada and that somehow they would not benefit from this kind of legislation.

I do not think anything could be further from the truth. Many new immigrants, new Canadians, and many people new to the workforce in Canada would directly benefit from the provisions of the legislation. I do not for a second understand why the parliamentary secretary would suggest otherwise.

In fact, many new Canadians have come to Canada because of Canada's social programs. They know Canada is a society that shows concern for all of its citizens and seeks to work together collectively to help citizens over difficult periods in their lives. Legislation like the EI legislation is exactly one of the things that makes Canada attractive to people considering immigration.

We must make improvements to the EI legislation. This has not been done for many years and it needs to be undertaken. We have heard many times, and I will repeat, that there is a $50 billion surplus in what is collected from workers and employers for this program. There is far more money taken in by the government in terms of the EI check-offs that both employers and employees pay than is spent on delivering the program.

We do have the ability to fund improvements. The money that is collected from the EI contributions workers and employers should be used for the program. This is particularly important for workers, but I know that employers also recognize the importance of our EI program.

The ongoing debt that Canada experiences should not be paid on the backs of workers who need the support of the EI program. That $50 billion we talk about sometimes is an EI fund. The Conservatives in the past have even talked about formalizing it as an EI fund. That money should be used for employment insurance programming, and the bill would go some way to ensuring that would be done.

As a member of Parliament and as a constituency assistance, I have spoken to many people in the almost 21 years that I have served in those capacities. They face terrible hardship because of the limitations on EI, especially when combined with the length of time it takes to qualify for CPP disability benefit and with the generally low levels of social assistance.

I do not know how many times I sat with people who faced the end of their medical benefits and who were still unable to return to work. The pressure of that moment was unbearable for many of them and for their families. It was often one of the most difficult moments when I had to stand in solidarity with someone who came into the office in which I worked or into my current office.

We know that economic security can be a factor in recovery from a serious illness or injury. The stress of being unable to pay our rent, or to buy food or to provide for our children does nothing to help anyone recover.

I am convinced that the bill might even lessen health care costs by helping to ensure better conditions for recovery from a serious illness or injury.

We know that often people are forced to consider long term disability when, if only a slightly longer recovery period had been available, they would have been able to return to work. They would have been able to see their recovery out and get back to their jobs. We know it is much harder to get back to the workforce from CPP disability or from any disability program than it is from EI medical benefits.

It would be a great personal benefit to Canadians who become ill or are injured in their recovery and return to work if the provisions of this bill were implemented in Canada. It would be a great benefit to our society. I believe it makes sense to take the actions necessary to get people back to work rather than have them just get by on welfare or have to claim CPP disability.

We know the recovery time for serious diseases is often longer than the 15 weeks that are now possible for an EI medical claim. Cancer patients, breast cancer patients and leukemia patients in particular can require 9 to 12 months to recover. We also know that when someone returns to work too early after a serious illness the consequences can be both serious and expensive.

That is why organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and the Lung Association of Nova Scotia support this legislation. Representatives from both of those organizations testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that was studying this bill.

Mr. Kenneth Kyle, the director of public issues at the Canadian Cancer Society, provided the standing committee with five reasons that the Cancer Society supported this particular legislation.

First, he noted that diagnostic times are often long for full cancer diagnosis and there are often waiting times between surgery and treatment, making the 15 weeks a serious limitation.

Second, he noted that treatment and recovery are often spread out over many months for cancer patients.

Third, he noted that collateral financial stresses, the costs of uninsured treatment and drugs, travel costs for specialized treatment, special diets, those extras that occur around the time of a serious illness, particularly with cancer, are also a hardship that this bill would serve to relieve.

Fourth, he said that chemo patients can be immune suppressed for a period of time and need to remain segregated from groups, thereby requiring longer than the 15 week period to ensure their recovery to full health and the ability to work.

Fifth, he noted that the lingering effects after treatment with chemotherapy are sometimes difficult to document, including issues like chemo fog, fatigue, personality changes, things that often make a return to work difficult in the parameters that are currently envisioned under the Employment Insurance Act.

Those are all excellent reasons that we should be giving serious consideration to this legislation and that the government should be giving serious consideration to ensuring there is a royal recommendation for it.

I want to point out that doctors would still be required to provide a medical certificate so that the decision about EI medical benefits, even if it is extended to the 50 weeks, would still be made on the basis of medical evidence, which is as it should be.

We also know that currently the average EI medical benefit claim is for 9.5 weeks. This would be a significant improvement and would allow others to take advantage of that important option.

We had a debate this afternoon about the estimates of the cost of extending this benefit. In committee, testimony was given that it would be around $250 million a year. The parliamentary secretary said this afternoon that her estimate was closer to $1 billion a year. I hasten to add that it is clear we have a $50 billion surplus in the EI fund that would allow us to undertake this kind of important change to the EI legislation. I believe this is an affordable course of action to take, but more than that, I also belive it is the right thing to do.

I will conclude by again calling on the government to ensure that a royal recommendation is possible for this legislation so that we can ensure that Canadians who face a serious illness or injury have the appropriate length of time to recover, get back into the workforce and not have to take other measures that are less desirable both for them personally and for society as a whole.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak today to Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine). I take this bill very seriously, as well as the fact that I have the honour to speak to this issue.

This bill extends the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 to 50 weeks. I believe this is a very laudable principle and the Bloc Québécois supports it wholeheartedly.

To put things in perspective, I will say that the Bloc Québécois worked hard at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to get a report on EI reform through in February 2005, and that it continues to ask for its implementation. In the past two years, the Bloc Québécois has worked relentlessly on improving the system. This bill builds on the spirit of recommendation 27 made in the February 2005 report, which says:

The Committee recommends that the government study the possibility of extending sickness benefits by 35 weeks for those who suffer from a prolonged and serious illness.

The bill is totally in this spirit.

The Bloc Québécois has always been in favour of substantial improvements to the EI system and while the Bloc intends to vote in favour of the bill, the House must nonetheless remember that the bill introduced by my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle is more comprehensive than that of the Liberals, who still do not propose a fundamental reform of an EI system that is ill adapted and inaccessible for 50% of those who should be insured. For the benefit of this House and of all those interested in the issue—who are many in Quebec and Canadian society—I will read some of the 28 recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

First, the committee recommends the creation of an independent EI fund.

Second, on the administration issue, the committee recommends that the money in the fund be used only for EI purposes and not to pay back the federal government debt. That money comes from employers and employees. It must be used as employment insurance for employees who, at some point during their career, find themselves in need. EI benefits then become a solution for them. The government, be it Conservative or Liberal, should not be allowed to help itself freely from the fund to finance its expenses. Workers in need deserve the respect of the government.

The committee also recommends the following: that employers be reimbursed overpayments of premiums—what else would it do?—; that a standard eligibility period of 360 hours be established throughout Canada and Quebec; that the maximum period of regular benefits be increased to 50 weeks; that the benefit period be extended by five weeks in order to cover what is known as the spring gap, the period of about one and a half months where there are no benefits before seasonal work begins again. This would provide seasonal workers with income needed for their families rather than having them live with considerable uncertainty.

We are also asking for additional benefits after the 50 weeks for workers who are 50 and over, especially for those having difficulty finding work because of their age, for those experiencing a form of discrimination I would say.

The benefit calculation should be based on the 12 best weeks of insurable employment. This will provide a more decent income for our citizens who need it. Therefore, the calculation should be based on the 12 best weeks and not on the 12 last weeks.

The rate of benefits should increase from 55% to 60% of their earnings.

Finally—this is the last item that I wanted to highlight from the list—we are asking that the waiting period be eliminated for persons in approved training programs, so that they are not sent on training without any income. That is a bit of a contradiction. We want them to be trained in order to return to the labour market. However, if they do not have any income, they are not interested in training because they will not have any money to meet their needs during the weeks of training approved by those responsible.

This bill highlights the importance of reforming employment insurance. As such, we hope that parliamentarians, my colleagues here, will vote in favour of the real improvements proposed in Bill C-278. I would like to go through my list of these major improvements, which is similar to the one given earlier.

First, we must reduce the minimum qualifying period to 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional unemployment rate. Second, we must increase the benefit period by five weeks. Third, we must increase the weekly benefit rate from 55% to 60%. Fourth, we must eliminate the waiting period. Fifth, we have to eliminate the distinctions between new entrants and re-entrants to the work force. Sixth, we have to eliminate the presumption that people who are related to one another do not deal with each other at arm's length. Seventh, we have to increase the maximum annual insurable earnings from $39,000 to $41,500 and introduce an indexation formula. And finally, the benefit calculation must be based on the 12 best insurable weeks.

It is important that we all support this bill because it offers solutions to problems experienced by vulnerable people who lose their jobs. As someone said earlier, that is the heart of the matter. This affects people who are sick and need their benefits extended. In that respect, we must consider a universal 360 hour requirement to receive employment insurance benefits.

I see that my time has run out, but I would just like to add that it was important to me to talk about this bill. We must go forward with this kind of bill. We have to think of the people whose employment situation makes them vulnerable. That is our duty, and we must fulfill it.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to also join the debate on the third reading of Bill C-278, the bill that calls for EI sickness benefits to be extended to a maximum of 50 weeks.

Our new government understands the importance of supporting our friends and neighbours who face illness and disability. Canadians have seen our budgets. They appreciate the action that their new government has taken for them over the past 15 months. They know who is standing up for them.

They have seen us introduce the new registered disability savings plan to help parents and others save money to care for family members with disabilities.

They have seen a Canada disability savings grant of $1,000 annually to promote the financial security of children in lower income families.

They have seen a $30 million investment in the Rick Hansen “man in motion” Foundation, which will help transform research into actual benefits for Canadians living with spinal cord injuries.

They have seen a $45 million new enabling accessibility fund to help Canadians who are recovering from or dealing with challenges to participate in their communities.

That is the new government's vision for meaningful ways to improve EI. The Liberals, by contrast, including the sponsor of Bill C-278, voted against each of these measures.

While the member who sponsored this bill is no doubt well-meaning when he comes to ask the House for support, I am not sure where his support went when it came to supporting the same people through several of this government's budget initiatives, which I have just outlined.

Like me, many Canadians may also wonder why he and his Liberal colleagues never did a study, passed a motion, or proposed this legislation in the 13 years that they were in government.

However, the Liberals' touch and go interest in sickness and disabilities and their spotty record alone are not reason to question this bill.

Canadians want to know how effective a new benefit will be. Is it suitable for the problem? Is it appropriate for the benefit to come from this revenue source? Canadians want to know what assurances are being offered that the benefit and the revenue source are sustainable.

When the Liberals were on this side of the House, effectiveness and sustainability were principles to which they at least paid lip service. With some programs on their watch, however, they low-balled estimates of cost. and later Canadians were left holding the bag after costs spiralled out of control.

Canadians know that our concern is not about questioning a gap that exists for some. It is about finding the right solution. It is about affording the right solution. It is about sustainability.

What is the vision of the Liberals and the opposition? It is a bit of a patchwork and not really much of a vision at all.

The Liberals would have Canadians think of and look at the bill as a one-off reform to EI, yet they have voted with the NDP and the Bloc to support several EI bills. That is their true package of reforms.

The cost of the three EI bills they have proposed as an alternative to our vision would add $6.2 billion in new annual costs to implement them. That amount of $6.2 billion in new annual costs would bankrupt the fund in very short order.

How much time and study did the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP put into making sure that these new costs were warranted and that the benefits would address what they were intended to address? It was a little over an hour of study per bill, plus about an hour each for clause by clause review. That works out to over a million dollars of new spending per second of consideration by the committee.

Canadians expect their elected representatives to have a little more respect for them and the public's money. On this side of the House, that is what we do, and so it is that we remain ready to support worthy initiatives and solutions.

Bill C-278 proposes a solution. It remains to be see whether this is the right solution coming from the right program. It remains to be seen whether it is affordable. It remains to be seen if it is sustainable. We may be ready to sign on if the member Sydney—Victoria provided government with answers to the questions the Canadian public has about his proposed solution.

Canadians are wondering if EI is the right program to expand for this new benefit. It is simply not enough to eyeball the fund's surplus and suggest that it drive a solution. Solutions need to consider the Canadian public interest. They should determine whether the need is limited merely to those who pay into EI or if it is broader, and I do not suppose that all members were able to review the transcript of the committee's proceedings at clause by clause review.

One of the fundamental shortcomings of expanding EI for the new benefit identified is it does nothing for a vast number of new Canadians. New Canadians disproportionately start their own businesses rather than being employees. They and others who are entrepreneurs run their own businesses and do not pay into EI. Why not a plan that helps them, too?

In fact, the solution the bill proposes stands to make things worse for some new Canadians. The private health and life insurance that they are able to purchase depends on a stable relationship with public insurance. Bill C-278 introduces a major change in the relationship between public and private insurance. It does so without any analysis of the impact being offered.

Will private insurers, which often cover a higher percentage of wages and for longer periods, cease to offer products that are used by the new Canadians and other entrepreneurs as a result of Bill C-278?

The House just passed Motion No. 243, which proposes that the human resources committee do a study of CPP disability this fall. Ought not this program, which is more broadly available to Canadians, be considered as one way to catch those who do not benefit from an EI program? Do Canadians not deserve a chance to reflect on their options, be consulted and provide their input?

EI sickness benefits have been structured to complement a range of other supports available for long term illness and disability. These include benefits offered by employers, private coverage held by individuals and the long term disability benefits available under the Canada pension plan and provincial programs.

However, there was no study, so no consultation and no answers for new Canadians, who the government wants to welcome and encourage to come here. There were no answers for all of us who may be called upon to fill the space that may be vacated by private insurers whose richer benefit programs are rubbed out.

Canadians are also asking about cost. Without deciding whether EI is the right program for this new benefit, how much will Bill C-278 cost?

During his appearance at the human resources standing committee, the member for Sydney—Victoria testified that the bill would cost approximately $250 million a year. Estimates from the department, however, suggest it would be more like $1.05 billion a year, four times the member's estimate.

Canadians will still recall that numbers were never the Liberals' strong suit when they were government. Now that they are opposition, not much has improved.

The discrepancy between $250 million and over $1 billion raises more questions than it does answers. Where did the member get his numbers? What did the human resources standing committee have to say to reconcile the huge and costly difference? Nothing. At the end of the day, the discrepancy went unanswered.

The member and the opposition, which is supporting the bill, are so quick to support an idea, which is long on good intentions, that they are forgetting public trust requires us to do due diligence.

Canadians made it clear in the last election that it was not acceptable for their government to be sloppy with public funds. They are tired of well-intentioned programs running out of control.

Canadians continue to have some questions about this bill, which have not been answered by the member for Sydney—Victoria. They have not been answered by those who are supporting the good intentions of the bill.

It is precisely because the duration of sickness benefits is such an important issue for all Canadians that our government believes this matter deserves very careful consideration. It is because it is important that we want to find a solution that is sustainable, smart and effective.

Members may in fact recall that Conservatives on the human resources committee supported the notion of studying the potential extension of EI sickness benefits, as proposed in the February 2005 HUMA report.

As Canada's new government, we acted on that by asking officials in the Department of Human Resources and Social Development to gather the facts and evidence that would inform us all in how to build the right solution. Their work in this regard is underway.

The member for Sydney—Victoria and the opposition are putting the cart ahead of the horse. They are not looking for the facts from the department. They passed on Motion No. 243, presented to gather the facts themselves. The opposition did not want to listen to any of the people who helped contribute to the public and the private insurance programs.

Let me tell the House what we do know about how the current maximum 15—

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the third reading debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-278, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act. This bill, if adopted, would extend the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks.

Unfortunately, our rules in this House dictate that unless this bill gets the necessary royal recommendation from the Conservative government the question on the motion for third reading will not be put. In other words, the bill will die.

I cannot understand why the Conservative government will not allow this bill to proceed, as the majority of members in this House have supported this bill at second reading and have endorsed it again at report stage.

The Conservative government is aware that we have received support from across Canada and from all 308 ridings. The Conservatives all realize there is support from across Canada for this bill. We have received support from doctors, nurses, oncology departments, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and, most importantly, from constituents all across Canada who are battling illness and whose EI benefits have ended.

I am pleading on behalf of all those people across this country who need our help and I am asking the Conservatives to find it in their hearts to do the right thing and give this bill a royal recommendation.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

May 29th, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak a little bit about my riding and the problems I have with Bill C-45.

My riding is Sydney--Victoria in Cape Breton. It is substantially a large riding and fisheries is a big industry in my riding. I have what I call two bookend harbours: Pleasant Bay at one end of my riding and at the other end of my riding is New Waterford. There are approximately 300 kilometres of coastline between those two communities and probably 30 communities that rely on the fishery. Those 30 communities along with the fishers are a substantial amount and probably close to 1,000 families rely directly on the fishery.

In those communities we have fish plant workers, people selling supplies to the fishers, truckers, buyers, and even the tourist industry hinges on our fisheries industry in my riding and in Cape Breton. Many people come to Cape Breton Island to see the fishing communities. There are almost $100 million worth of products sold in Cape Breton. This is why the fishing industry is important and why we have to be careful with this bill.

The Liberal Party is not against changes to the Fisheries Act. The act is over 138 years old. The previous minister of fisheries from the Liberal Party said he instigated some changes to the act. He made it very clear in 2005 that he wanted the committee to do a proper job with an assessment of the fishery. He also wanted to make sure that the fishers and all the stakeholders were properly consulted. Problems arise today as they did in the spring of 2007 because consultations were not done. We had no choice but to decide that we had to hoist the bill. That was hoisted, as many know, on February 23.

On the home front, my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso and I received many calls over the winter about the concerns that the fishers were having and what was going to happen. We hosted a town hall meeting in Sydney River which is pretty well in the middle of our two ridings. We had a great turnout for that winter meeting. April 12 is still winter on Cape Breton Island. We had over a hundred fishers and they were very concerned. They were also very upset. They were overwhelmingly against Bill C-45. There was a lot of opposition to the bill.

The people were very concerned about the bill and wanted it shelved. Our constituents at that meeting were very satisfied with what we did in February by hoisting the bill. The people wanted more consultation.

We were told that fisheries and oceans did not include how the fishermen would be impacted with this new act. A new fisheries act would place too much power in the bureaucracy and many fishermen felt the act was already dysfunctional. They were not comfortable with this bill at all from their previous experience.

The fishermen pointed out that the wording in clauses dealing with the transfer of licences was too vague. Fishermen need some assurances that the act will not take away the value of their licence. Sometimes that is all they have at the end of the day is the value of their licence. Many fishermen had no trust in DFO. This is largely a result of this ill-conceived legislation.

I do not want to get off the topic too much, but time and time again we see how this Conservative government puts bills forward in the House. When good bills are put forward and the committee does its work, the government squashes it. I have seen this with Bill C-278.

I will not go into the problems we had with the previous government and dealing with bills. I want to stick to the facts, especially about the meeting we had in Cape Breton on April 12. Many of the people in that room also thought there needed to be changes.

One very eloquent spokesperson for a lot of the fishers, especially the crab fishers, was Josephine Burke-Kennedy. She stated at the meeting that she worried about what the bill would say about transferring licences, as I previously mentioned. She said that in time she wanted her son to be able to take over his father's licence if he wanted to and not have interference. She also took issue with the proposed bill's lack of clarity with trust agreements and the right of the department to refuse a licence based on suspicion in the licence transfer.

This is a very legitimate concern. She spoke on behalf of most of the people at that meeting. They wanted to make sure that fishers have a right to fish. They should also be allowed to sell their licence to whomever they want to. The fisheries minister has no right to take the quota away from anybody.

The new bill has impact. Fishers are concerned about their licences being taken up by large corporations. We can say that they should not fear that, but they do.

Now is not the time for consultation. As many of my colleagues from Atlantic Canada, and even those from the west coast realize, this time of the year many fishers get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and they are lucky to be done before 5 o'clock in the evening. They really have no time for consulting now. They are in a stressful situation and it is dangerous, but they have to make their money in a few months. Now is not the time of course. The time will be in the fall.

We agree that the Fisheries Act needs to be changed because it is over 100 years old.

A lot of things have changed in the fishery over the last 20 years. The fish population has changed dramatically, especially on the Atlantic coast where there used to be a lot of groundfish, but as a result of overfishing and the use of draggers that has changed.

As a result of the diminishing cod stock, which is a predator to shellfish, there is a lot more shellfish in our region, which is good. We want to administer that and regulate it properly because it is the fishing industry's salvation. The window is short when a fisher is in the shellfish business because he probably has to make his money in two months.

A lot of fishers go out west to work in the oil patch in between seasons in order to make ends meet. The business is not as good as people perceive it to be. It is a risky business; prices go up and down. One thing is for sure though and that is that the fishers have a licence. They believe they should keep their licence and it should retain value.

Let us look at the act a bit because it is not all bad. The new act would give fishers a greater say in their quotas and a greater say in conservation. Conservation is one of the key points for fishers involved with maintaining and dealing with the habitat of the fish stocks. This is a good part of the act. We agree that all is not bad here.

The tribunal system has been mentioned here many times today, and that really makes fishers nervous. Who is really going to have a say in dealing with the fish stocks? Who is going to have a say with respect to their fish licence? Are they just going to bring in some person? Fishers have a really major concern with that.

If that is not bad enough, provincial ministers are having a problem with the bill, and that really makes fishing communities nervous. This tribunal is probably one of the biggest concerns because fishers do not understand what the repercussions are going to be. There is too much uncertainty out there now.

There are some good things in the bill, but there are some major problems with it. The Fisheries Act is over 100 years old. Let us stop and think about what we should be doing. Why do we not take another year? Why does the committee not bring this up in the fall, make it a priority? The committee could bring in stakeholders from all around and get to the bottom of it. The committee could talk to fishermen throughout winter. We could have a good piece of legislation for next spring. There is nothing wrong with that. Everybody is comfortable with that. People are still going to fish this year. People are still going to have the same livelihood. Communities will still prosper when the fishing is good. Why not wait a year? That is the whole point here.

We are concerned about the rush job that is happening here. We are concerned about the economy in Atlantic Canada. These communities drive our economy. Whether it is a car dealership or teachers who teach kids, everybody has a connection in our communities.

I think that at the end of the day fishers and fish families want to be more in charge of their destiny. They want to have more say. They want to have a say in who is going to be on these tribunals. They want to have a say on how their stocks are going to be managed so they will continue to have a livelihood many years down the road.

Fishers definitely want their licence because it is a main value to have. Many times when a fisher retires he still owes some money on his boat; he still owes some money on his gear. A fishers licence is value and it is a value he wants to pass on. It is very important.

As members know, my hon. colleague from Cape Breton—Canso and I did our due diligence. We had a meeting in Sydney River and the people spoke. The fishers spoke to us and they told us to get back here and shelve this thing until proper consultations were done, they have a say and are comfortable with it, because we hope this new act can last another 100 years and be an act for the future of our fishing industry.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2007 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-357, a Bloc Québécois proposal to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

The part of the bill that interests me is the one that calls for a separate account for EI. Conservatives have long supported the principle of a separate account. In our policy declaration of the Conservative Party, we stated our commitment to:

...the establishment of an independent employment insurance system, with a self-accounting fund administered by employees and employers, the surplus of which being used to increase workers’ benefits or reduce contributions.

In this House, the Prime Minister has confirmed that our government is looking for solutions to meet those objectives.

I too support the principle of the creation of a separate EI account. I also support the tremendous new direction of this government in making changes to the EI system. Canadians are seeing their new government take a very different approach to the old Liberal one. The old Liberals resisted change and did not listen. They stood in the way of returning contributions to the pockets of employers and employees who pay into EI.

Canadians see that their new government is different from the Liberals. They chose a new government because Canadians are different from the Liberals. The Liberals simply would not listen to Canadians and what they wanted to see in a responsible and sustainable EI system.

The new government is listening and we are getting things done based on what we are hearing. In a little over one year since forming government, we have taken action by bringing in measured but meaningful changes. We have heard the concerns of older workers, particularly in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, who were struggling in the face of changes to the labour situations in their regions. They told us that they needed something to help them with retraining and taking their experiences to a new situation.

We listened to their concerns and we responded to their needs with the targeted initiative for older workers. The targeted initiative designs projects for older workers in communities facing ongoing high unemployment or a single industry dealing with downsizing and it helps them. We have also taken action for workers who face work disruptions in regions with high unemployment.

Canadians found that their fortunes in most areas of the country improved once the new government took over. They are enjoying one of the most prosperous periods of economic growth and record employment in Canadian history.

Many sweeping changes to the EI program at a time of unprecedented labour strength would, at best, be difficult to reconcile with the realities of our thriving national economy and, at worst, it would have a cooling effect. Therefore, a major change is not and was not called for.

However, Canada's new government recognizes that change is required. We appreciate that not all regions are seeing the same growth. We understand the need to make changes to meet these regional realities but we need a measured and effective change.

We introduced a pilot project to extend the coverage for five additional weeks in regions with high unemployment. We heard from seasonal workers and others who told us about the income gap. We wanted to maintain an incentive to work and yet recognize the labour market realities they face.

We have also moved to extend a pilot project that calculates benefits on the best 14 weeks of wages during the last 52. We heard from Canadians who had sporadic employment and were losing out on having their weeks of full time work benefit them. More than 200,000 people in regions of high unemployment benefit from us getting things done for them.

Listening to Canadians is what this new government does and what good government does.

When Canadians came forward with concerns about the limits of their compassionate care benefits, we listened. They told us that there were incidents where benefits ended before the needs they were meant to address were resolved.

Again, it was this government which showed Canadians that their government was listening and ready to make the changes to EI that were needed, for which they asked. Our record, the record of Canada's new government, is one of which Canadians can be proud. Why? Because the changes we are making come from them.

Finally, they have a government that is listening to them. Finally, they have a government that is here for them.

As I return my remarks to the bill, Canadians need only to look at their government's record to see the proof of our commitment to making changes to EI to improve the system for workers and all Canadians. As I said at the outset, I and the new government are firmly committed the principle of a separate EI account. Canadians are satisfied that their new government is interested in solutions, and we will achieve just that.

What Canadians are wondering, though, is where the opposition really sits on EI reform. With 19 EI bills in the works, the other opposition parties have been heaping one EI bill after another onto the order paper, voting for implementation of all, but not prioritizing one of them: $3.7 billion for Bill C-269; $1.1 billion for Bill C-278; $1.4 billion for Bill C-265. There are 16 more EI bills to come, nine of which, including this one, are too complicated to cost. It will cost $4.7 billion to implement the seven which we were able to cost. That is over $11 billion in new annual spending.

With all these proposals for one-off changes to EI, adding up to billions annually in new costs, Canadians are looking for someone to stand up for them and think about the EI as a system. Canadians do not believe a system should be stitched together in little bits and pieces. Canadians are looking to their new government to stand up for them. They are hoping to maintain the EI as a system and protect it from the patchwork proposals made by the opposition.

Canadians will be disappointed in their new government if it did not stand up for them and insist on accountability for the use of their money. They would be disappointed if it did not stand up for them and ensure that the policy for which they have asked, and we have committed to pursuing, is also put together not in a piecemeal fashion as we have in front of us today.

In comparison to our record of taking clear action to getting things done with EI reform for Canadians, the record of the opposition member has been all but clear. Canadians have no idea what its priorities really are. Opposition members have not made it clear when it comes to how they plan their legislation. More often than not, they have not made their intentions clear when one looks at the legislation they put forward.

I take my responsibility to my constituents and all Canadians seriously. I take our commitment to a separate account seriously. I will continue to work for that objective.

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

April 26th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the government House leader.

Bill C-278, an act to amend employment insurance, deals with Canadians battling illness with no financial support. On two separate occasions in the House, the bill was voted for, not to mention receiving approval of the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Social Development.

Will the government bring forward the necessary royal recommendation in order to allow the bill to be voted on at third reading?

Bill C-278Statements By Members

April 26th, 2007 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to recognize and offer congratulations to a friend and colleague, the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria. Through his private member's bill, Bill C-278, an act to amend employment insurance sick benefits, he was able to bring attention to an issue that impacts on a significant number of Canadians.

All members of this House have heard the stories of Canadians living normal lives, raising families and contributing to their communities until their world is forever changed by cancer, a heart attack or a stroke.

As these brave individuals summon up the courage and energy to fight for what might be their life, they should not be burdened by the additional stress of not being able to provide for their families. Personal financial devastation should not be a side effect of cancer.

This bill was inspired by my colleague's staff, two of whom have waged their own personal battles with a serious illness, and was supported by all opposition members.

I congratulate my colleague from Sydney--Victoria and I call upon the government to find the heart to allow this bill to go forward.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Bill C-269 and Bill C-278Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 18th, 2007 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair would like to take a moment to provide some information to the House regarding Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), standing in the name of the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, and regarding Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), standing in the name of the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.

Both bills were reported to the House from the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on March 19, 2007.

With regard to C-269, many hon. members may recall that on November 6, 2006 I delivered a ruling in response to a point of order concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for this bill. At that time, I came to the conclusion that spending was being sought for initiatives that: reduced the qualifying period for benefits; increased the weekly benefit rate; repealed the waiting period for benefits; increased the yearly maximum insurable earnings; and extended coverage of the Employment Insurance Plan to the self-employed.

In addition, I mentioned that the bill summary listed three further ends which appeared to involve other increases to expenditures.

The standing committee made an amendment to clause 5 which dealt with qualification requirements and to the schedule which dealt with the weeks of benefits. Neither of these amendments removed the requirement that C-269 be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Therefore, I will decline to put the question on third reading of Bill C-269 in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

With regard to Bill C-278, in a ruling delivered on November 10, 2006, in response to a point of order on the need for a royal recommendation, I stated:

I have carefully reviewed Bill C-278 in light of the interventions of the hon. members and find that by amending the Employment Insurance Act to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, the bill would require the expenditure of additional funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized. Although contributions to the employment insurance program are indeed made by employers and employees, appropriations for the program are taken from the consolidated revenue fund and any increase in such spending would require a royal recommendation.

As the standing committee did not make any amendments to the bill, I will therefore decline to put the question on third reading of Bill C-278 in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

I thank the House for permitting me to make this announcement.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 243. I am very pleased to speak in support of this motion, which calls on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study the level of financial support provided through the Canada pension plan disability benefit, CPPD.

From the first hour of debate it appears a substantive issue in this motion, a study by Parliament on Canada pension plan disability benefits, has the support of all parties in this House. It is no small accomplishment for all parties to agree on anything, so Canadians should be heartened by seeing a shared agreement to make something as important as studying long term disability a priority. I say that Canadians should be heartened, yet they probably are not. Why? Because the opposition's commitment falls short of truly making this study a priority.

The Conservatives made supporting our friends and neighbours who are struggling with disabilities a central plan of our platform in the last election. This Conservative government has honoured those who voted for us by introducing Bill C-36 which improves access to Canada pension plan disability benefits by measures in the 2007 budget, such as: the new registered disability savings plan introduced to help parents and others save money to care for children with severe disabilities; up to $1,000 annually to a limit of $20,000 in the form of a Canada disability savings grant to help promote the future financial security of children in lower income families; an investment of $30 million in the Rick Hansen Foundation which will help translate research into benefits for Canadians living with spinal cord injuries; and a new enabling accessibility fund that will contribute $45 million over three years to help all Canadians, regardless of their physical ability, participate fully in their communities.

I believe Canadians see that their government has stepped up to the plate, so where are the Liberals? For starters, the Liberals voted against every measure the Conservative government put in place to help those Canadians who are dealing with disabilities. Their leader says he wants to run on a platform of social justice, then instructs his caucus to vote against the budget that actually delivers it for the first time in this country.

Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition needs more time to think about it. We say that leadership is not leading followers in the wrong direction. Canadians cannot afford to wait for the Liberal leader to ponder what they already know is good and works. How can Canadians be expected to trust the Liberals to govern when Liberals cannot even seem to figure out how to be in opposition?

When it comes to this motion, the Liberals are no less of a disappointment. They hold out the promise of doing something on a priority, then agree with the Bloc to defer everything until the fall. That is not leadership. This is another example of the Liberals saying whatever they think will be pleasing to the public, but failing to follow through. No doubt the member for Kitchener Centre proposed this motion to show support for stakeholders in her own community. How disappointed they must be to see her agree to postpone it. It looks like her new leader cannot shake off the ghosts of the old Liberals who made everything a priority so that nothing ended up being one.

I understand that the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development relayed his support for this motion to be studied at committee. I have no doubt he was encouraged to see the opposition align more closely with the views of Canadians that he was hearing. How disappointing for the minister and the stakeholders he meets to see that this important public policy issue is not getting the true support it deserves.

It is no less perplexing to see that the Liberals are working with the Bloc to frustrate progress on this issue. The Bloc, of course, has no experience with the responsibilities of being in government. The Bloc's contribution to this public policy matter is to delay any action at the same time the Bloc purports to support it. The Bloc members cannot have it both ways, at least not in the minds of the people they are putting off.

The government and Conservatives across the country want to make progress for those with disabilities. We believe that to make further progress requires proper study of the Canada pension plan disability benefit. It is only through gathering the evidence and learning where challenges exist that we can recommend to the government how to address those challenges with sustainable solutions.

Sustainability is critical. Acting in an informed way helps build solutions that can evolve as circumstances change. We have an opportunity here, but despite the Liberal leader's claim to be committed to sustainability, he is unable to show some discipline with members of his own caucus who are proposing ad hoc solutions to the types of problems that potentially should follow a study like the one in this motion.

For instance, the member for Sydney—Victoria has a bill before the House. It stands for a principle we all support. It aims to help those who have cancer or other illnesses, but rather than providing benefits through Canada pension disability, the bill calls for a solution that would only help employees to the exclusion of other Canadians.

I cannot help but think that Bill C-278 would benefit from Motion No. 243 being studied as soon as possible. Perhaps because the member for Kitchener Centre agreed to defer this study until fall the member for Sydney—Victoria felt he had no choice but to call up his bill in the coming days.

Still, Canadians expect legislation to be based on good planning. They expect solutions to be measured and sustainable. Canadians should not be held hostage to the lack of good planning by the Liberals for their own private members' business. They should not be saddled with legislation whose impact has not been studied and no one can say is sustainable.

I support a study because it is the right thing to do. I only wish the opposition cared as much about ensuring that we pass good legislation as my caucus colleagues and I do. My constituents wish that the opposition would come to its senses and return to making this study a priority.

When this finally does get studied, members will know that CPP disability is the largest long term disability insurance plan in Canada. Last year, approximately 300,000 individuals and 90,000 of those individuals' children received financial support through this program.

As specified in the Canada pension plan, monthly Canada pension plan disability payments are made up of two parts, a fixed amount which in 2007 is $405, and a variable amount based on the level of Canada pension plan contributions and the number of years contributions were made before the client became disabled. The combination represents the monthly amount a Canada pension plan disability beneficiary will receive in 2007. The maximum benefit payable is $1,053 per month. In addition, eligible children of disabled contributors are entitled to a fixed monthly payment of $204. Last year on average, Canada pension plan disability beneficiaries received $763 per month.

What is also important to note is that a significant number of recipients receive benefits from other sources. There is a broad and complex system in Canada that provides income support to persons with disabilities. While Canada pension plan disability plays a central role in this system, the standing committee may also wish to review in its study the other income sources for disability beneficiaries.

An example of another pillar of this income support system is EI sickness benefits which fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. EI sickness benefits provide temporary income support for up to 15 weeks to individuals who are too injured or sick to work. In 2004 over 294,000 individuals received these benefits with total payments of $810 million.

We know that a number of individuals who receive EI sickness benefits while they are temporarily disabled go on to apply for and then receive CPP disability benefits. With the introduction of Service Canada in the last few years the government has been working to better serve all Canadians who need services from the federal government including those applying for EI sickness benefits through CPP disability.

This government is committed to quality client service by building on the one step personalized service offered through Service Canada. The government is working to improve the client interface on behalf of these two important sources of support for Canadians with disabilities.

Even though I have much more to say on this motion, I know my time is running out, but the premise of what I said is that the motion should proceed directly to committee. It should be studied. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Liberals who introduced the motion now suddenly want to put it off until fall. It is a matter of making a decision. This is an important issue. It is meaningful to a number of Canadians who are beneficiaries and it should be looked at immediately.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2007 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this important motion today. I would like to start by restating my support and the support of Canada's new government for Motion No. 243, which was presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

The proposed study will contribute to Human Resources and Social Development Canada's practice of continuously monitoring and assessing the Canada pension plan to ensure that it meets the needs of Canadians, both today and in the future. I know this study will provide valuable information on the extent to which the Canada pension plan disability program is meeting its objectives. This is important information. That is why I feel quite strongly that this study should be completed as soon as possible, not delayed until November.

It is important to note that later this week parliamentarians also will be considering possible changes to Bill C-278, which deals with another important program for persons with disabilities, EI sickness benefits, and I feel strongly that the Human Resources study of the level of financial support offered by the Canada pension plan disability needs to happen now.

The information to be gleaned from the study of CPP disability should be considered before proceeding to discuss possible changes to EI sickness benefits. All too often in this place hon. members want to act before the facts are in. They want to propose changes to programs before they even know whether there is a problem or not, and the political speeches begin before studies are undertaken. This issue is far too important to play politics with and I feel that every member of the House can agree with that.

This is an important issue, one that deserves to be examined right away. Let me repeat: this is important information and we need it as soon as possible, not in November. There are bills before Parliament that require the information that can be learned from studying this program and these bills will not wait until fall.

I think there is some confusion here as to what the CPP disability program is and what it is supposed to do. Therefore, I think it would be good to have a cursory examination of the program so that we can clear the air on a few important points before we begin to discuss changes in earnest.

It is important that all hon. members and in fact all Canadians understand what this program is about and how it works.

Let me start by saying the CPP disability program is the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada. Currently, some 300,000 Canadians and 90,000 of their dependent children receive about $3.3 billion in payments. The CPP program as a whole is recognized around the world as one of the best public pension systems in the world and this government has acted to make it even better.

The CPP disability program was designed to replace a portion of earnings for those who have to leave the workforce due to a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability. This program was not intended to function as a general needs-based income program. There are other levels of support, offered by all levels of government, that fulfill that role. Its purpose is to provide protection against the loss of employment income and to supplement other disability and family income.

How does it work? There are contributory and medical eligibility requirements for the disability benefit, as laid out in the Canada pension plan. First, applicants must have made CPP contributions in four of the last six years. This requirement of recent contributions to the CPP is designed to address the objective of replacing a portion of employment income.

While the government feels that this issue is worthy of immediate study, that is not to say that the government has not acted to make changes to this program. I am sure all members know that. It is part of Bill C-36, currently under review in the Senate. A proposed amendment seeks to make it easier to qualify for CPP disability benefits for long term CPP contributors, those with 25 or more years of contributions, by requiring contributions in only three of the last six years.

Second, as stipulated in the legislation, only those with a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability are eligible to receive disability benefits. This requirement refers to a disability that prevents an applicant from working regularly at any substantially gainful occupation, not just their most recent jobs.

As we can see from the specific eligibility requirements, not all Canadians with a work-limiting disability will be eligible to receive a benefit. CPP disability is intended for some of our most vulnerable Canadians.

I would like to take this opportunity today to address an important and often misunderstood point. I understand from recent comments made in the House that some are under the impression that all applicants for CPP disability benefits are automatically denied and that only through appealing this decision do they eventually receive CPP disability benefits.

This is simply not true and is a perfect example of some of the misunderstandings surrounding this program, misunderstandings that we on this side of the House feel should be examined immediately. If hon. members on the other side of the aisle feel this is true, then they should also want to study this immediately and not shirk their responsibilities by ignoring this issue for another six months.

That being said, each and every application for a CPP disability benefit is reviewed thoroughly and fairly with reference to the legislative requirements and in a timely manner.

Trained CPP disability specialists with a medical background view each applicant's application. They look at their capacity to work, taking into consideration their health status, disability-related limitations, treatments, and personal characteristics such as age, level of education, and work experience. All of these components are extremely important in the decision making process and help ensure a fair decision that is consistent with eligibility criteria.

Clients whose applications are not approved receive telephone calls and personalized letters explaining the reasons for denial. In addition, in cases where an applicant is not satisfied with a decision on their application for CPP disability benefits, there are three separate levels of recourse available. The last two levels are appeals to two independent review tribunals. This generous appeal structure is designed to ensure fairness and accessibility.

In addition, it is important to note that a significant number of CPP disability recipients can also receive benefits from other sources. The CPP disability program is one part of a broad and complex income system for persons with disabilities, a system that includes private long term disability insurance, workers' compensation, employment insurance sickness benefits, and provincial social assistance.

Staff in Service Canada's service delivery network also refer those who are denied a CPP disability benefit to other appropriate programs and supports that may be made available to them. For example, CPP disability applicants are encouraged to apply for a tax credit, called the disability tax credit, or the veterans disability pension if it appears that they may be eligible for one or both of these entitlements. In some cases, Service Canada staff will assist these individuals with their applications.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities may wish to take this overall context of CPP disability programs into account when undertaking its study.

A number of hon. members of this House have indicated that it takes too long to adjudicate applications for CPP disability benefits. In 2005 and 2006, the disability program received more than 60,000 applications. Of those, over 30,000 applicants were granted benefits.

In terms of speed of service, the target is that 75% of decisions will be made within four months of receiving a completed form. As of February 2007, 86% of decisions were made within this timeframe.

Service Canada is exceeding its stated targets. That is indeed something to be proud of and we can feel confident that most vulnerable clients are being well attended to.

I again want to thank the House for the opportunity to speak today. I want to reiterate that it is an important issue that cannot wait until fall to be examined. There is currently legislation before the House and the Senate that would benefit from the knowledge that can be gained from undertaking an examination of the CPP disability, and these bills will not wait until fall. We need answers as soon as possible.

We would be shirking our duty as responsible legislators if we were to allow bills to proceed without having all the evidence in place beforehand. If the opposition really is interested in more than just playing politics with this important issue, then it will want to examine this issue right away and not wait until fall.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2007 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to take part in this debate and to deliver a speech on Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), which aims at improving the employment insurance plan. I take the opportunity to salute my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. I remember his early days in politics, which were very inspiring as a matter of fact. He used to put the Liberals in their place; they had been in power for a bit too long. He did the same for the Conservatives who, before them, were also not much help to the workers who had contributed and who are still contributing to the employment insurance plan. Just like the previous government, the present government continues not to give back to the workers the money they deserve and need when times get tough. The Bloc Québécois endorses the member's position. This is frankly an excellent initiative on the part of my NDP colleague from Acadie—Bathurst.

First and foremost, I would like to emphasize that this is a good bill. Here are three points showing this. First, by lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, it makes special benefits available to those with that level of insurable employment. Second, the bill sets the benefit payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest-paid 12 weeks in the 12-month period preceding the interruption of earnings. Third, the bill reduces the qualifying period before receiving benefits and removes the distinctions made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate. This is very good.

This bill touches on a number of important points. First, employment insurance is no longer an assistance program. It has become a hidden tax because not all those who contribute have access to the program when they become unemployed. Under the Liberals, the employment insurance fund was used to balance the budget even though that is not at all the purpose of employment insurance. Although the Conservatives voted in favour of an independent employment insurance fund, the surpluses generated remain in the consolidated fund and are still being used for other purposes. That was the case last September 25 and with this budget as well. We do not have an independent employment insurance fund and this issue must remain in the forefront. This is a priority for the Bloc Québécois.

Another important point is the Auditor General's report of November 23, 2004, which reported at the time that the government continued—as she said—to loot the employment insurance fund despite the intentions of parliamentarians. Furthermore, the powers of the Employment Insurance Commission, whose membership includes contributors, will apparently be suspended for yet another year. That happened in 2004 and it has not changed. This situation is deplorable.

Conservatives voted against improvements to the employment insurance program in Bill C-278 and against the Bloc Québécois Bill C-269. It is about time that these individuals, who have been elected, respond to the needs of citizens, of the workers who need this fund—which is an insurance fund—when they lose their jobs.

As for the Bloc Québécois, it is still dead set against the looting of the employment insurance fund and proposes, among other things, that an independent fund and commission be established. The Bloc Québécois also demands that the federal government pay back misused money. That is very important. Money taken from the employment insurance fund must be returned to those who paid into it, the employers and employees, for when it is needed by workers who lose their jobs.

Improving the system for workers in a vulnerable situation is a matter of principle that should be defended. In the past two years, the Bloc Québécois has worked tirelessly on improving this system and we have another example of that today.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities tabled or passed in its report of February 2005, no fewer than 28 very important recommendations that have to be considered and incorporated into the bill in order to respond to the needs of the workers. I will not read the 28 items, but I will cite a few to illustrate the importance and urgency of swiftly moving forward with the bill we are talking about today.

First, for example, the committee recommends a uniform 360 hour qualification requirement. This criterion, which was proposed by the committee at the time, is now in the bill. The committee also recommended a calculation based on the best 12 weeks of insurable employment; that is how benefits should be calculated for those who lose their jobs. The committee recommended increasing the benefit rate from 55% to 60% of average earnings before workers end up in a vulnerable situation. The committee also recommended that the government consider extending employment insurance coverage to self-employed workers. This is very important. This is a situation that did not exist before, or was quite rare at one time. Now it is a reality and these people should have the opportunity to receive employment insurance by contributing to it, of course, and being eligible for it.

The committee also recommended removing the arm's-length relationship clause within the employment insurance criteria, and eliminating the waiting period for those engaged in approved training. Furthermore, the committee recommended that individuals who take part in training to improve their status and perfect their skills should not be penalized, because they will be taking a course while receiving EI benefits, for instance. I could give countless other arguments, but let us move on.

The bill would reduce the minimum qualifying period to 360 hours of work for everyone—as we heard earlier—but the benefit period would vary with the region and the regional rate of unemployment. In comparison to the current figures, the new system would represent an average increase of five weeks in the benefit period and an increase in the maximum benefit period from 45 to 50 weeks. In regions with high unemployment—13% or more—it would provide between 30 and 50 weeks of benefits, depending on the hours worked and the unemployment rate.

For Quebec's high unemployment regions, however, it would substantially reduce what we call the spring gap or black hole. For example, in Gaspé, where the unemployment rate as of October 7, 2006, was 17.6%, a person who worked 360 hours would be eligible for 36 weeks of benefits.

I could go on. Nonetheless, we can clearly see the relevance of this bill, which is extremely important for all workers throughout Quebec and Canada.

Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 19th, 2007 / 3 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).

I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 12th report of the standing committee on Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

March 1st, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Was it asked for in regard to Bill C-278, or do you just do it normally as you go along?

March 1st, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Director General, Employment Insurance Policy, Employment Programs Policy and Design Branch, Department of Human Resources and Social Development

Bill James

I can confirm that we have been asked to look at Bill C-278 and the issues involved with those who are exhausting the 15 weeks.

March 1st, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

No, my question is for you. I'm asking the question to you, the witness. You are representing the department right now, and I'm asking you if your department was asked to study Bill C-278--if they had concerns and they wanted some answers.

March 1st, 2007 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

My question is, has the minister, or somebody, asked you specifically for Bill C-278, or did they have some concerns and want to hear about it specifically?

March 1st, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

We can now continue with our study, pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, December 5, 2006, of Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

We will now go clause by clause.

Go ahead, Mr. Lake.

(On clause 1)

February 28th, 2007 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Kenneth Kyle Director, Public Issues, Canadian Cancer Society

Thank you.

First off, let me thank all parties and all members for their support for the Canadian strategy for cancer control. This is a wonderful thing, and I think this bill fits nicely within that.

The Canadian Cancer Society, on behalf of its 220,000 volunteers across the country, welcomes this opportunity to address the issue of the employment insurance illness benefit. We congratulate committee members for tackling this important health issue.

I will present five reasons to show why 15 weeks of benefits is not long enough for cancer patients.

Number one, an individual may have been ill or unable to work for quite a while before he or she applies for EI benefits. In the case of a cancer patient, there would have undoubtedly been waiting times for diagnostic tests and surgery before receiving a diagnosis, and a recovery waiting period prior to the start of treatment.

Second, once started, treatment is typically spread over many months, and recovery can take several more months.

Third, individuals facing serious illness have many collateral financial stresses, including the cost of uninsured treatment and drugs, travel costs for specialized treatment, special diets, and non-prescribed medical supplies. Temporary income replacement of longer duration would greatly relieve many of these burdens. As has been referred to earlier, a 2004 Canadian breast cancer network survey of nearly 500 women with breast cancer found that there is a significant, unexpected, and stressful financial impact on women diagnosed with breast cancer and on their families. When asked whether 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits were enough to get them through treatment, 75% of respondents said they were not long enough, and 76% of respondents reported being off work for over 15 weeks.

Fourth, chemo patients can be immune-suppressed for a period of time after completion of treatment and thus need to remain segregated from groups, extending the optimal recovery period.

Fifth, even after an individual completes treatment for a serious illness, there are many vague lingering effects, although medical documentation is difficult. For example, chemotherapy patients report concentration and endurance deficits—they call this “chemo fog”—fatigue, personality changes, and the like; these deficits impact their ability to perform job tasks at safe or pre-condition levels. Psychological issues around serious illness and suitability for return to work may be poorly documented, but they are nonetheless very real.

For many patients the recovery from the effects of cancer often takes many months. Requiring recovering cancer patients to return to the workforce before they have regained some measure of improved health is to put in jeopardy the patients' and their families' prospects for recovery.

We all bear the burden when a patient returns too early to the workforce. When their recovery falters and their health suffers, there are increased costs, not only to the health care system but also to family life, the economy, and other contributions of individuals to society.

Bill C-278 is a good bill. The Canadian Cancer Society urges committee members to support it.

Thank you.

February 28th, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and committee members. This is the first time I've been a witness at a committee, after six years of asking questions.

I'd also like to thank my two witnesses here today. They've helped a lot on this bill and have given us a lot of background information. Manuel is from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Ken's from the Canadian Cancer Society. They're going to take three minutes each to give their perspectives, and then we'll be open for questions.

As you know, my bill is Bill C-278. It's a bill to increase EI sickness benefit eligibility from 15 weeks to 50 weeks due to a prescribed illness, injury, or quarantine.

When the EI Act was passed in the late 1990s, sickness benefits were provided in the spirit of compassion and support for someone who has to leave the job market temporarily due to illness. This financial support is intended to allow an individual to focus on their treatment and get well, so that they can return to the work force as soon as possible.

Current legislation allows the claimant to receive up to a maximum of 15 weeks. The time span for which a claimant is eligible is determined by a medical certificate from a health care professional, attesting to the person's inability to work and stating the probable duration of the illness.

Many of us have had constituents, friends, and family members who have experienced financial hardship as they recovered from a debilitating disease such as cancer, heart, or respiratory disease, or any other of the many serious afflictions that we face as Canadians. A persistent scenario, however, and one familiar to many of the MPs here and to many of your staff—we had it in our office—is that we have people who have applied for EI sickness benefits and have received the full fifteen weeks, but have found themselves incapable of returning to work.

A 2004 survey of women fighting breast cancer revealed that a full 76% of the respondents reported being off work for more than the 15-week period. One of our local doctors, Dr. Ron MacCormick, head oncologist at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, will attest that it can take at least one year after treatment for cancer before the patient will start to regain their energy. In fact, most oncologists will tell you that treatment surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation alone can take up to a year.

The harsh reality is that diseases such as these are attacking people of all ages. The unfortunate part is that these people still potentially have lots of years of work left ahead of them. Moreover, if we don't enact programs to bridge that gap when they are sick, we will continue to be faced with people returning to work too early, with an inherent potential of relapse.

Too many are facing unnecessary financial stress at a time when they should be directing 100% of their energies toward battling their ailments and recovering. No Canadian, nor any of their loved ones, should be left trying to figure out where they're going to get the money to pay the rent, buy groceries, or pay to heat their home.

Mr. Chair, there remains a misconception that a claimant who has maximized EI sickness benefits can simply apply for Canada Pension Plan disability benefits. As many MPs would know, the criteria for this program are strict, and most often patients are denied because they're not considered 100% disabled. The small number who do meet the criteria are faced with a three-month application process, and there's a long waiting period before the CPP disability kicks in.

Once again, let me state that only a small percentage of people will be awarded CPP disability. We also need to recognize—and this is very important—that not all employers, as many of you know, offer long-term disability programs.

It is evident that a one-size-fits-all approach is failing sick Canadians, a fact realized by a subcommittee of this committee in the last Parliament. Among the recommendations from that committee was to increase the number of weeks that sickness benefits can be claimed. The department's 2005 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report states: “About 32% of sickness beneficiaries in 2004/05 used the entire 15 weeks of benefits to which they were entitled.” This portion has been relatively stable in recent years, suggesting that for some types of claimants, 15 weeks is not enough.

Determining exactly how many Canadians need extra help is quite hard to quantify, given that the length of time a claimant would receive benefits is decided by an independent source—namely, a doctor. The 2004-05 data, however, suggest a potential maximum 95,000 claimants would have been entitled to more weeks of sickness benefits under Bill C-278. Based on a 2005 monitoring and assessment report, we can assume that a small proportion of these 95,000 would be claiming benefits to the full 50 weeks.

I mentioned my supporters here, but the list of stakeholder supporters forBill C-278 is substantial. It includes letters of support; we have letters of support from the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, social workers of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, and many front-line health workers.

Mr. Chairman, we also received support from such labour organizations as the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Auto Workers.

I would urge you to follow their lead and support this bill. This bill is a bill for our time. EI sickness benefits remain the only viable vehicle to help alleviate the financial burden for individuals suffering from a major illness, and for whom 15 weeks is simply not enough to get better and return to work.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That's my portion. I'm going to pass it on to my witness.

February 28th, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

We'll do that, and then we'll do the same thing as last time. Because we have bells at 5:30, we're going to have one round of five minutes of questions and a second round of four minutes.

You guys can go ahead and give us your presentation on Bill C-278.

February 28th, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, December 5, we're examining Bill C-278, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act on benefits for illness, injury, or quarantine.

We have Mr. Eyking here, and he is going to give us his presentation. I believe we also have Mr. Kyle, from the Canadian Cancer Society, as well as Mr. Arango, from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

I certainly want to welcome all of you here today.

How are we going to do this, Mr. Eyking? Are you going to share your time?

February 28th, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

May I make a suggestion, Mr. Chair?

This question has to do with Bill C-278, which was introduced by his own party and will be debated immediately afterwards.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Lessard, we're not suggesting any witnesses on Bill C-269. In fact, there are two on Bill C-278, the Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, that want to speak in support of the bill because of the number of Canadians who were disabled from those two diseases.

Perhaps what I should do is propose an amendment that only the sponsor of Bill C-269 be heard and leave Bill C-278 completely off the table, or I can take out the whole line, line 86.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

The witnesses are just relating to Bill C-278, and it's the Cancer Society and a couple of the stakeholders.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

The other thing is on page 2 it says for amendments to Bill C-269 and Bill C-278 that the deadline would be March 1 at noon. On the calendar that we have in front of us we would actually be going clause by clause on March 1. I want to ensure that three hours would be sufficient time.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

You are proposing that only the sponsors of Bill C-269 and Bill C-278 be heard on these studies and the others just be struck.

February 20th, 2007 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

I think there has been some miscommunication that could be rectified very easily.

On February 28 it indicates that we're hearing from sponsors of Bill C-269 and Bill C-278. Down below it indicates that only the sponsors of those bills be heard. A number of witnesses have been submitted for Bill C-278. I've spoken to the sponsor of that bill. He would be satisfied to include two of them, the Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which represent the two biggest disabling diseases in Canada. They are anxious to speak on that bill, and if we could amend this to reflect that he would share his hour on February 28 with those two representative groups, he would be fine with that, and so would I.

February 8th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Okay, thank you very much.

Just before I thank all of our witnesses for being here today, I do want to remind everyone that if there are any witnesses you would like to see when we talk about Bill C-36, Bill C-269, or Bill C-278, could you get those to the clerk by Tuesday at noon. Christine will be sending out a notice to that effect, but it is Thursday now and we'll be heading to Friday and Monday. And remember there are the amendments for Bill C-57 as well, but you do have until Wednesday at noon to get them in.

Once again, I'd like to thank all the witnesses for being here today, and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules.

The meeting is adjourned.

Bill C-265--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have had this debate on Bill C-278. I appreciate the argument by the member for Acadie—Bathurst but the recommendation of the Auditor General that all the premiums and benefits flow through the consolidated revenue fund does constitute government spending.

I concur with the arguments raised by the deputy House leader of the government that in this case as well a royal recommendation would be required.

Bill C-265--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to Bill C-265. Without commenting on the merits of the private member's bill, I would appreciate your consideration on whether the bill requires a royal recommendation under Standing Order 79.

Bill C-265 would increase employment insurance benefits by lowering the threshold for eligibility for some claimants in changing the formula for the calculation of benefits. Both of these changes would result in significant new expenditures under the Employment Insurance Act.

Precedence clearly establishes that bills that create new government expenditures for employment insurance benefits require a royal recommendation.

Mr. Speaker, on December 8, 2004, you ruled, in the case of the 38th Parliament's bill, Bill C-278, which extended employment insurance benefits, that:

Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.

On November 6, 2006, you ruled, in the case of Bill C-269, extending employment insurance benefits, that:

Funds may only be appropriated by Parliament for purposes covered by a royal recommendation, as explicitly stated in Standing Order 79(1). New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

Again, on November 10, 2006, you ruled, in the case of Bill C-278, extending benefits, that:

...would require the expenditure of additional funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized. Although contributions to the employment insurance program are indeed made by employers and employees, appropriations for the program are taken from the consolidated revenue fund and any increase in such spending would require a royal recommendation.

These precedents apply equally to Bill C-265, which should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

December 5th, 2006 / 3 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It being 3:04 p.m., pursuant to order made on Friday, November 24, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-278 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from November 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2006 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I close out the second reading debate on Bill C-278, I want to take this opportunity to thank all members of this House who have contributed to this debate. I know my colleagues in the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc have been particularly supportive of the bill. I thank the respective critics from those parties for their ongoing support.

I also listened with great interest to the comments from the government benches. Recognizing I only have a few minutes here today, I would like to touch briefly on a few points raised in this debate by the members across the floor.

The first point pertains to the argument that to raise EI benefits from 15 to 50 weeks could cause problems for people who have employer sponsored insured plans or private coverage. I want to be clear that my bill is not intended for people who have such coverage. My bill is intended for people who do not have coverage. Bill C-278 seeks to address the people who have no such private or corporate plans that they can access.

These people find themselves, after 15 weeks, without any money for rent, heat and groceries. This needs to be rectified. We need to have programming in place so these people can focus on getting better and not need to worry about the basic needs of keeping warm and being fed.

Another argument put forward by the new government relating to CPP long term disability benefits was that CPP was a complementary program that already serves the objectives of my bill. The rationale here, of course, is that a person can access EI sickness benefits for 15 weeks and if they have a longer term disability then they can go on CPP. In theory this sounds sensible but, regrettably, in practice it is often not the case.

The real life fact is that people are routinely denied CPP disability because they do not meet the stringent criteria. For an example of this I would encourage members on the government's benches to speak to one of their own, the Conservative member of Parliament from Saskatoon. In an early 2005 article that appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, that member told the story of one of his constituents who was battling cancer but was being denied long term CPP. The member and his constituent called for EI changes to address this issue, including extending the number of weeks for sickness benefits.

What is more, even if a person is accepted for CPP long term disability, the process for applying for the program is too long. In fact, it can take over four to seven months. The EI sickness benefits are long exhausted before the CPP payments start.

In a 1999 evaluation of the CPP program, the authors commented on this issue and pointed to other countries, such as Germany and Sweden, which the hon. member mentioned. Those countries have programs similar to our EI sickness benefits but they provide support for one whole year. The program is there to bridge the gap. However, that is not why CPP is there. CPP is for long term disability. The extension of this benefit would get people through the crunch and help them to again become productive members in our society. That is what the bill is all about.

I know all of us here have people coming to our constituency offices regularly looking for an extension to their EI sickness benefits. If all members were to check with their offices I think they would see that this is happening with increased regularity. Because of the regularity of this happening at my office in Cape Breton, I felt there was a need to find a solution, which is the solution in Bill C-278.

Over the past several months I have been fortunate to have prestigious organizations, noted individuals and others join me in this initiative. This includes the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Lung Association. I have letters from social workers at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and the Canadian Auto Workers.

I could go on and on but the reality is that we need this bill and I thank all members for joining me in support of this bill. The bill shows compassion and members who vote against the bill shows they are heartless.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2006 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Before I recognize the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria, the sponsor of Bill C-278, I would like to give fair warning to members that once he speaks, no one else can speak on this issue.

The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for a five minute right of reply.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2006 / 2 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of my constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells and welcome the opportunity to join in today's debate on Bill C-278, which proposes to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks.

While it would be premature to give Bill C-278 a blanket endorsement at this time, I join with the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria in acknowledging the need to examine the adequacy of the current provisions surrounding EI sickness benefits.

However, before proceeding with an examination restricted solely to EI sickness benefits, I believe it is important to frame this discussion in the larger context of the overall EI program.

The EI program helps to strengthen Canada's economic performance and protects our social foundations. It is one of several tools used by the Government of Canada to support a productive, efficient and mobile labour force.

Each year, through EI, the Government of Canada provides temporary financial assistance to unemployed Canadians while they look for work or upgrade their skills. Under the program, Canadians may obtain help through employment assistance services and access to programs they need for skills training. In 2003-04 alone EI income support provided $13.2 billion in benefits and helped 1.97 million unemployed Canadians to regain employment.

Canadians also look to the EI program to provide support at times of major transition in their lives. EI helps Canadians to bridge the gap when they are moving from one job to another, or when they are making the transition from skills upgrading back to the working world.

The EI program also provides temporary financial assistance for Canadians who are pregnant or caring for a newborn or adopted child. It also assists those who need to care for a family member or loved one who is gravely ill and provides support for those who have their own short term illness that keeps them away from their job.

As for the performance of the EI program, the most recent employment insurance monitoring and assessment report shows that EI continues to serve Canadians in an effective manner. Evidence shows that access to the EI program has remained stable. Regular EI claims decreased by 6.7%, while regular benefits decreased by 6.3%. This was consistent with the economic growth experienced over the period. Also, the number of sickness benefits remained fairly stable at just over 294,000 new claims, an increase of only 0.1% over the previous year.

When we talk about sickness benefits, as mentioned earlier, the EI program currently provides for a 15 week sickness benefit. This is designed to provide temporary income replacement for individuals who are absent from their job due to short term illness, injury or quarantine. I add emphasis on the words “temporary” or “short term” in the preceding statement.

It is important to underline that the current 15 week duration of sickness benefits was determined following extensive research and analysis. Factors considered in setting the 15 week number included an examination of the availability of sickness benefits in Canada's private sector, comparisons to the time allotted in other countries and discussions with representatives of the medical profession.

Taking all of this into consideration, the design of Canada's EI sickness benefit, while not sufficient to cover every situation, does cover the majority.

An objective evaluation of the existing data would strongly support such an assertion. For instance, the previously referenced monitoring and assessment report noted that the average length of time for sickness benefits in 2004-05 remained stable at 9.5 weeks. Likewise, a recent Statistics Canada study reported that the average work absence owing to illness or disability remained constant at 10 weeks for the past 13 years.

When reviewed in this context, one would be hard pressed to objectively argue that the 15 week provision for EI sickness benefit is not meeting the program's objective for providing temporary income support to workers when they are ill. In addition, it is interesting to note that the party of the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria held a similar view in government not long ago.

The former Liberal government, responding to a report from a parliamentary committee in May 2005, declared that:

--for the majority of workers who turn to EI when they are unable to work due to illness or injury, 15 weeks is meeting the objective of providing temporary income support.

What is more, the former Liberal government's response also indicated:

In the event a worker's illness or injury extends beyond that period of time, long-term income protection may be available through the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and other employment related benefits, if applicable.

Indeed, some situations may be covered by other programs or supports that are available. For example, CPP offers coverage for long term disability and many employers provide their employees with insurance coverage purchased from the private sector.

Though it is not chiselled in stone, nevertheless, EI is not a program impervious to change. It evolves in response to changes in our economy, labour markets and the needs of workers. In fact, recently a number of changes have been made to make the EI program more responsive.

For example, Canada's new government announced in June this year an extended EI benefit pilot project. It provides access to five additional weeks of benefit to EI claimants in high unemployment regions, up to a maximum of 45 weeks. In addition, we expanded the eligibility criteria for the compassionate care benefit so a broader range of EI eligible workers could claim the benefit while they cared for a family member or a loved one.

The performance of the EI program is carefully assessed on an ongoing basis with a view to determining if additional changes are warranted. I stress the words “carefully assessed”. As commendable as it would seem, a change to the EI program on the magnitude as proposed in Bill C-278 cannot be given a blanket endorsement without a clearly defined rationale and without further examination.

There are questions that remain unanswered. What, for example, would be the approximate cost or other impacts of such a change? What would be the advice of the medical profession? What is now the practice in Canada's private sector? What has been the experience in other countries that include sickness benefits in their employment insurance systems? All these considerations deserve a thorough examination prior to moving forward.

Plainly much more information is needed to understand the consequences and costs of increasing the duration of the EI sickness benefit.

While it can be acknowledged that the current 15 weeks provision may not be sufficient in selected cases, we must also recognize that blanket support for Bill C-278 at the present, without the required data to make an informed decision, would be premature. However, this does not preclude further examination on the implications of extending EI sickness benefits, ideally within and outside the confines of Bill C-278.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2006 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak today in support of Bill C-278, and to thank my colleague from Sydney—Victoria for drafting and introducing the bill.

In summary, it calls for the extension of EI benefits to those who are suffering from a prolonged illness, injury or quarantine, from 15 weeks currently, to 50 weeks. This is also consistent with the 2005 subcommittee report on EI reform that made 28 recommendations, supported by the Conservatives, and, of course, this was one of them.

It is a question of compassion and of of common sense. It would provide an innovative and cost effective solution to a problem that many of my constituents have faced, continue to face and will face again and again if we do not provide the much needed help.

Many people in my riding of Labrador have no supplemental private health coverage to assist during a catastrophic illness and to help assist them and their families through the illness. This is especially the case for seasonal workers and those in the fishery, and many throughout Labrador.

With or without such coverage, treatment for catastrophic and long term illnesses, such as cancer, which is never easy under the best of circumstances, is even more difficult for people in rural, northern and remote areas of our country, and Labrador is one of those places.

The health care infrastructure and expertise simply does not exist in many areas of Labrador. This means that people must travel or even relocate to a larger centre just to get the treatment they need, treatment that people in other areas of Canada take for granted.

It was very depressing to hear, in a report from the Rural Physicians of Canada, that people in rural areas have a shorter life expectancy than those in urban centres.

I would like to talk for a minute about some of the hardships that people in my riding face. I was particularly struck and saddened by an e-mail I received from a lady in the small community of Cartwright. She writes that she spends nearly 60% of her time raising money to help people travel for long term illness and care. She goes from door to door asking for money. She holds raffles and raises money through ticket sales. She does all of types of things just to help people who are in long term care to receive the basics.

Our society should not be that way. When it comes to our health and what is important for us and our families, medical care is one of those things that we should not need to debate but we do, which is why I want to thank the member again for introducing this bill. It is something we not only want but it is something we need.

Despite the economic conditions in the local area of Cartwright, which I just talked about, people do give and they give generously. They give what they can as often as they can but the problem is only getting worse, especially as the population ages.

I will talk about another example. A friend of mine, who lives in the little community of Williams Harbour, where I am originally from, on the south coast of Labrador, had a very serious illness in January of this past year and only got out of the hospital in June. This not only affected him but it also affected his wife who had to travel thousands of miles with him so he could receive the care he required.

After 15 weeks, neither of them can receive EI. He cannot get a note from his doctor to go back to work as he is still recovering. This particular person and his wife have been left without any income whatsoever. Basically, they will need to resort to social assistance. Social assistance is not where they want to go.

The EI fund, with all of the dollars that exist in it, can provide much needed help for individuals like those in Williams Harbour and throughout other communities in Labrador. This bill would go a long way toward helping people who find themselves in this circumstance.

In fact, HRSD's own internal research has shown that the existing 15 week illness and injury benefit is likely not enough. One-third of all recipients use up the entire period before their treatment or recuperation is complete. Cancer treatment, of course, is the classic example, but there are other illnesses and injuries that can require long periods of treatment, therapy or recuperation for many weeks or even months.

This bill is aimed at meeting the needs of people in this situation and treating them with compassion. It will also help relieve the terrible financial burden on families and communities when a family member, neighbour or friend is faced with illness or injury. It will help those who do not otherwise have access to another government income support program or to private insurance benefits.

This bill will provide a safety net to people who find themselves in need under the worst possible circumstances. It will prevent many people from falling through the cracks. It will strengthen families and communities.

That last statement is a slogan often touted by the Conservative government. Now I would like to see the Conservatives put some action behind their words and vote for this bill. Yet, if this bill goes through, it would do so at a minimal cost, because even with an extension of illness or injury benefits from 15 to 50 weeks, the cost will be only .02% of the existing EI surplus.

I think that we as Canadians can afford that compassion. Labradorians need it and deserve it. The government can afford it. The government should vote for the bill as well.

For all these reasons, I am pleased to pledge my support for Bill C-278. I again thank and congratulate my colleague from Cape Breton for advancing this important cause through this legislation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2006 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak about Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), and to continue the debate on this bill.

This bill will allow people who claim sickness benefits under the employment insurance program to receive benefits for a maximum of 50 weeks instead of 15 weeks, as the program currently provides.

I say that the bill will “allow” claimants to receive benefits, because they will not necessarily use the full 50 weeks, but will have access to benefits for a longer period.

The 2005 report on employment insurance by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development indicates that roughly 32% of sickness benefits claimants in 2004-05 received benefits for 15 weeks. According to a survey, 75% of the 500 respondents stated that this period was not long enough. In addition, 76% of the respondents said they had missed more than 15 weeks of work.

Clearly, there is a real need to amend the Employment Insurance Act. But let us turn our attention back to the bill.

This bill is for the men and women, the workers who have been diagnosed with cancer or a serious illness, illnesses that may require medical treatment that lasts longer than the 15 weeks provided for in the Employment Insurance Act. We also have to consider recovery time, which is just as important and necessary to successful treatment.

Imagine being diagnosed with cancer and having to undergo treatment to beat the cancer and increase your chances of survival. Imagine having to choose between getting better and going to work. The last thing anyone would want to worry about is money and keeping a job. Regaining health becomes the only goal. Fighting the disease is the priority.

Those are the people for whom this bill was drafted and introduced in this House.

Why should a family worry about its finances when the mother is seriously ill? It seems to me that the most reasonable thing to do would be to try to ease the family's suffering. This bill gives us the power to do that.

This bill is intended for future mothers and pregnant women whose health, or whose baby's health, is at risk and therefore must stop all activity during their pregnancy. At present, these women who use all their sick leave in such situations are left with a shorter maternity leave and forced to return to work earlier than planned.

When the Liberal government extended maternity leave to one year, it was absolutely convinced of the importance of this year of leave. We of the NDP are just as convinced. For the best possible development, a newborn baby needs to form a strong emotional bond with his or her mother. This bond is formed over time and with the mother's presence.

What could be more painful for a mother than to have to return to work after only a few months spent with her newborn? This bill will allow these women to stay at home longer and take advantage of their full maternity leave with their baby. This is good news to the NDP.

This bill is also intended for workers who burn out at work. Burnout affects a vast majority of Canadians. Rest and reducing stress levels are two important remedies. People who must return to work after just 15 weeks of sick leave do not have the opportunity to recuperate and get back on their feet. Burnout symptoms often re-emerge, and the changes of getting over them are slim.

In 2005, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities tabled the report Restoring Financial Governance and Accessibility in the Employment Insurance Program. This report contained 28 recommendations, including Recommendation 27 which reads:

The Committee recommends that the government study the possibility of extending sickness benefits by 35 weeks for those who suffer from a prolonged and serious illness.

The Liberal government at the time did not consider this recommendation and never took the necessary steps to implement it. As for the Conservative members, they did not support the report but they did support this recommendation.

The NDP is pleased to note that the Liberal Party has changed its mind and is tabling a bill on this matter in this House. I can only hope that the Conservative government will support this bill given that it supported this recommendation when the report was studied.

Today we are talking about health—the physical and mental health of Canadians. What is more precious than health? As parliamentarians we must adopt the best measures to ensure the quality of life of our citizens.

The NDP supports this bill and will vote in favour of Bill C-278 to enhance the dignity of the people, the well-being of citizens, to provide relief to families and to support the sick in their struggle.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2006 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak on this bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act with respect to benefits for illness, injury or quarantine. The bill was put before this House by the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria under private members' business.

In summary, this bill extends the period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. I want to commend the member for his bill, which humanizes the EI program and takes into account the needs of those whose illness lasts longer than the prescribed period of 15 weeks.

I cannot help, however, but express surprise, surprise and joy, over the fact that such a bill was introduced by the member for Sydney—Victoria, when it is a well-known fact that, in May of 2005, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Liberals, who were in government at the time, opposed a motion of that committee which was relatively similar to what the member is proposing today.

The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria was asked to explain this about face. I must admit that I find the hon. member's explanation for this somewhat amusing. Truly, his words should be quoted. However I also find his comments reassuring. It goes to show there is always hope. It is always possible, when faced with an obvious injustice, that reason and common sense will prevail.

Let us come back to the comments by the hon. member who said the following in response to his about face and that of the Liberals, “The reality is that our society is changing. At one time people who got cancer died. Now they get cancer and they come back to society and they are also working.”

Between the position of the Liberals forming the government in May 2005 and their position today, in November 2006, in the span of a year and a half, I would say that the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria, once in opposition, opened his heart and mind to understand the situation of workers in difficult situations following a prolonged illness, despite their desire to go back to work.

To the Bloc Québécois it is clear. Our party always strived to propose improvements to the employment insurance program and changes we deem necessary. We have always been in favour of substantial improvements to the employment insurance program.

In fact, the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, from the Bloc Québécois, introduced, in May 2006, Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system). This bill received support from the House in October to be referred for consideration by the standing committee.

We are confident that all the opposition parties will support Bill C-269 and we strongly encourage the Conservative minority government to support it as well.

The Bloc Québécois also introduced, in October, Bill C-344, sponsored by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, entitled An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting).

Previously there was Bill C-280 from the hon. member for Manicouagan, on creating an independent employment insurance fund. It was passed at second reading on April 13, 2005. Unfortunately, there was no vote at third reading.

In November 2004, my colleague, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, introduced her Bill C-278, a bill that proposed amendments to the employment insurance program.

Thus the House has paid particular attention to employment insurance in the last year is thanks in part to the efforts of the Bloc Québécois.

With regard to the bill before us, without getting into the actuarial and statistical details, it must be understood that it would help first and foremost workers suffering from the most serious illnesses, the oldest workers and mostly women.

I wonder how can anyone be opposed to that. I am convinced though that the Conservatives will find a way. Claims for sickness benefits have decreased among young people aged 15 to 24 and among workers aged 25 to 44 while they have increased among workers aged 45 to 54 and among older workers aged 55 and over.

Also, during the reference period, claims for sickness benefits decreased among men and increased among women. Even though the proportion of women who filed claims for sickness benefits remained relatively stable in 2004-05, women continued to file the majority of claims for this type of benefits, with 59%.

The last monitoring and assessment report of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission stated, and I quote:

About 32% of sickness beneficiaries in 2004/05 used the entire 15 weeks of benefits to which they were entitled. This proportion has been relatively stable in recent years, suggesting that for some types of claimants or illnesses, 15 weeks of EI benefits may not be sufficient.

I may have already mentioned that I was trained as a social worker. During my professional career, I often had to deal with workers who had left their job, because they were sick. Take cancer, a disease that is really wreaking havoc these days. One Canadian in three may be struck by cancer. A person who undergoes chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments over a number of long weeks goes through a painful experience that leaves him exhausted for a period longer than the 15 weeks covered by employment insurance.

In other words, the 15 weeks currently provided under the employment insurance program are not enough to ensure a full recovery for the person who gets these treatments and who manages to get cured. We often talk about these people, but we should not forget that caregivers—and the bill may be silent on this—who support cancer patients, because they are spouses, children or family members, also get exhausted in the process. Unfortunately, these caregivers must, at the end of the process, leave their job, for reasons of sickness and exhaustion, because they supported that relative or friend throughout his battle with cancer.

I am asking our governments to also reflect on the situation of caregivers who, in my opinion, are not getting much support from them.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois intends to support this bill, which reminds us of the importance of reforming the employment insurance program. I wish to point out that Bill C-269, sponsored by the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, is more complete than that of the Liberals, which still does not propose an in-depth reform of a program that is ill-suited and unavailable to over 50% of those who should be covered by it.

This is why we hope that parliamentarians in this House will support real improvements, such as those presented in Bill C-269.

The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

The QuébécoisGovernment Orders

November 24th, 2006 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, my name is not on the list of members who are to speak to this motion today. I believe there was a mistake. I am supposed to speak to Bill C-278.

Bill C-278--Employment Insurance Act--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderOral Questions

November 10th, 2006 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform on October 19, 2006, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), standing in the name of the member for Sydney—Victoria.

I would like to thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for having raised this issue as well as the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst and the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for their comments.

In his intervention, the parliamentary secretary pointed out that the employment insurance program currently includes a 15-week sickness benefit period to provide temporary income support to individuals who are injured or too sick to work. Bill C-278 would extend the maximum period for which such benefits may be paid from the current 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Therefore, he argued, the bill would result in increased spending of public revenues and should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

On the other hand, the hon. members for Acadie—Bathurst and for Sydney—Victoria contended that it is the contributions of employers and employees that make up the employment insurance fund. The fund should not be considered public revenue, they argued, and therefore, no royal recommendation should be required.

I have carefully reviewed Bill C-278 in light of the interventions of the hon. members and find that by amending the Employment Insurance Act to extend sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, the bill would require the expenditure of additional funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized. Although contributions to the employment insurance program are indeed made by employers and employees, appropriations for the program are taken from the consolidated revenue fund and any increase in such spending would require a royal recommendation.

I will therefore decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Meanwhile, however, the next time the House considers this bill, the debate will be on the motion for second reading, and that motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

November 6th, 2006 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this morning about Bill C-269, which, for the people who are watching, seeks to amend the employment insurance program in order to restore its true character and its real role.

I am very happy about the NDP's position, announced by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. The NDP will vote in favour of this bill. I am also happy about the position of the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, who will vote for the bill. However, he did not announce the position of his party, the Liberal Party. I would have liked to know whether the Liberal Party will vote in favour of the bill. I hope it will, and I urge it to do so.

This morning, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs acknowledged that this bill represented a radical alteration. That is at least something. It is a radical alteration. But the parliamentary secretary did not see the need for such a change. The problem is that the Conservatives are not aware of what workers who are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs go through.

She also went on about the fact that my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle, who introduced this bill, had toured Quebec to discuss it. The parliamentary secretary did not see the point of such a tour, because pilot projects are already under way in various regions, some of which she mentioned. Therein lies the problem. The government is using band-aids and patches to try to solve a serious problem. The parliamentary secretary does not want to acknowledge that, yet she boasts of having implemented pilot projects. None of these pilot projects is remedying the situation.

A number of the measures in Bill C-269 are designed to improve access to employment insurance. Less than 40% of people who are contributing to employment insurance and for whom employers are contributing to employment insurance can hope to receive benefits if they are so unfortunate as to lose their job.

The people who are receiving employment insurance are getting such low benefits that families are continuing to sink into poverty. Even a very important United Nations committee recognized that the program, as it exists in Canada, is reducing families to poverty. The committee members admonished Canada as a result.

This bill also seeks to increase the number of weeks of benefits, without distinguishing between economic regions where employment rates may vary. All individuals and families who lose their source of income experience the same difficulties and hardships regardless of whether or not the unemployment rate is high.

The bill also seeks to broaden the safety net for self-employed workers so that they have protection when they can no longer work.

I will not go over every provision of this bill as my colleagues have already done an admirable job of that. However, I would like to say to the Conservative Party that the current rules are discriminatory, particularly towards women and youth. Only about 38% of those who lose their jobs can expect to receive employment insurance benefits. Of these, 43% are men, 33% are women and 14% are youth. Individuals working in certain types of excluded jobs are affected more drastically.

Our colleague opposite says that 80% of individuals can expect to receive employment benefits; his statistics are based on current rules, which exclude a large number of workers from receiving benefits as soon as they are affected. These figures cannot be used. It is not being entirely truthful to use these figures as my colleague did this morning.

Furthermore, employment insurance premiums have become hidden taxes. Year after year, over the course of the last 12 years in particular, the employment insurance account has generated surpluses as a direct result of the restrictions applicable to employment insurance . These surpluses have been used for other purposes with the result that $50 billion has been diverted from the employment insurance account. This money does not belong to the national treasury but to the workers and their employers.

Every year, since 1997, the Auditor General of Canada has told us how much was diverted. Last November, she reported that we had surpassed the $48 billion mark.

Surpluses on the order of $13 billion were recently announced, of which $2 billion came from the employment insurance fund. That means that we have now reached and surpassed $50 billion diverted from the employment insurance fund. This scheme was adopted under the Liberal regime. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they denounced it as we did. Now that they are in power, they are pursuing this scheme; in other words, they are cheating workers and employers by using the money in their employment insurance fund for other purposes.

Last year, like every year, particularly since 1997, the Bloc Québécois came systematically back to this problem and introduced bills. Last year, we introduced Bill C-278, which mirrored many of the amendments we want to make to the act now, and the Conservatives voted against that bill. I hope that this year the Conservative members will realize how offensive their actions are to workers and to the public in each of their ridings.

I regularly receive letters, and I received another one this morning. Nearly every week, I receive two or three letters from other ridings. One of them comes to me from Mégantic—L'Érable. It is about a family in which the man and woman are both affected. In three pages, it describes all of the hardship caused by being unable to access employment insurance after paying in to it. These people are now middle-aged, and I note the insensitivity of the Conservatives, like the Liberals before them. However, I think that now that the Liberals are in opposition they will be able to reflect a little more on how they laid waste to the employment insurance fund. I hope that they will be voting the same way as we do.

To conclude, I would point out that the diversion of $50 billion has been accomplished on the backs of workers, fewer than 40% of whom have any hope of drawing employment insurance. This is a serious economic crime, one that has been committed at the expense of the unemployed and their families, and of regions in each of my colleagues’ ridings. This is a loss of over $30 million per year in their ridings, money that is not flowing into the regional economy. This is an exacerbating factor in the fiscal imbalance for each of the provinces, and particularly for Quebec, because these people who are not receiving employment insurance after paying into it all their lives end up in the ranks of social assistance recipients.

This is completely unacceptable. We should be rebelling against it, and I urge all my colleagues in the House to vote for Bill C-269.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-278, a proposal to extend EI sickness benefits.

Bill C-278 speaks to a common belief that all members of the House have and, indeed, all Canadians share, a belief that Canadian workers should be treated with fairness and compassion, especially when they are ill and unable to work,and that they receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.

The bill in that spirit proposes an extension of the sickness benefits paid under EI from the current 15 weeks to a maximum of a 50 week period, a potential increase of 35 weeks.

While the duration of the EI sickness benefits is an important issue that warrants examination, the reality remains that we need to learn a lot more about the impact and labour market implications of implementing such a proposal.

As a starting point, what do we know about the situation? EI sickness benefits are designed as a short term income replacement measure intended to complement the range of other supports that are available for longer term illnesses and disability, including benefits offered through employer sponsored group insurance plans, private coverage held by individuals and long term disability benefits available under the Canada pension plan.

We know that about 300,000 individuals claimed sickness benefits under EI last year. Of those 300,000, about one-third or some 100,000 claimed the 15 week maximum benefit period. We also know that the average claim was for 9.5 weeks.

More recently, we have also learned that the 9.5 week average claim period under the existing EI compares closely with the findings of a new Statistics Canada study on workplace absenteeism due to sickness or disability. The results of that study can be found in the April 2006 issue of “Perspectives on Labour and Income”, a publication that is identified as a comprehensive journal on labour and income from Statistics Canada.

This new information shows that since 1993 the average duration of long term workplace absences for personal illness or disability has remained steady at around 10 weeks, very close to the EI experience of an average claim of 9.5 weeks.

The Statistics Canada report offers some other interesting insights as well. For example, the study indicates that factors like age, health, unionization, pay and job security can all have an influence on workplace absenteeism due to illness.

Age is a significant variable. Among employees age 45 or older, 4.6% had taken long term illness leave. This made older workers significantly more likely, 1.5 times more likely, to be on illness leave as compared with those under 35, even after controlling for health and disability factors.

Demographic information like this can be very useful, especially in looking at the supports available for persons who may require more than 15 weeks away from work due to illness or injury.

What things do we need to know more about? Before endorsing the modifications proposed in Bill C-278, we need to have a more comprehensive understanding of the broader implications of extending benefits under EI for both government and the private sector.

To begin with, the idea of extending EI sickness benefits raises a number of considerations related to cost and the potential impact on employees and employers in the labour market. For example, how would this affect coverage from private financial services companies who offer insurance against income loss because of sickness or disability, particularly those providing insurance that complements EI?

Furthermore, we need to know more about the potential cost of extending the EI benefit period. Under the existing program, the maximum benefit is $413 per week. The average claim last year was $2,700, for a total cost of over $810 million for the program for one year.

Extending the benefit period could have a significant impact on that cost. Would it be double the $810 million or triple? We do not know because we do not have sufficient research to tell us what those exact costs might be.

Consequently, it would not be a prudent course of action to give a blanket endorsement to the proposals in Bill C-278 without having the ability to adequately measure its potential cost.

Presently, as I have suggested during the course of my remarks, we lack the information and analysis needed to properly evaluate the potential effects of extending EI sickness benefits. Therefore, I believe it would be premature to declare either opposition or support for the proposals contained in Bill C-278.

However, that does not preclude support for further examination of such. Moreover, I would like to assure the member for Sydney—Victoria and all Canadians that Canada's new government is committed to ensuring that the EI program continues to serve Canadians in an effective and timely manner.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak in support of the private member's bill put forward by the member for Sydney—Victoria. The bill addresses the Employment Insurance Act, in particular paragraph 12(3)(c), which deals with sickness benefits.

The 2005 report from the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, entitled “Restoring Financial Governance and Accessibility in the Employment Insurance Program”, outlined a series of recommendations as a result of the extensive study. I would add that the all party committee put forward these recommendations and saw only one party issue a dissenting report. Unfortunately for Canadians, it was the Conservative Party.

Recommendation 27 of the committee's report called for the government to study the possibility of a 35 week extension to the existing 15 weeks in the program for individuals who suffer a prolonged and serious illness. This, therefore, highlighted the pressing need for this issue to be re-addressed and met with appropriate changes, changes that meet the challenges and realities of individuals battling chronic diseases or injury in Canada.

I commend the member for Sydney—Victoria for taking the initiative to push the committee's recommendation further and address the weaknesses in the EI program through this private member's bill.

Bill C-278 would extend the eligibility for individuals to obtain EI from 15 weeks to 50 weeks due to a “prescribed illness, injury or quarantine”.

The EI program was initially created to provide financial support for eligible Canadian workers who were temporarily unemployed and seeking employment. However, since 1971 the support program has grown to include short term sickness benefits.

Today EI assists eligible Canadians through some of their most difficult times. For many, the 15 week time provided is sufficient, and I am sure they are grateful that Canada is a society that provides such support. Unfortunately, however, this allotment of time does not meet the demands of all Canadians in the recovery process.

The recovery time for illnesses and injuries varies from case to case and individual to individual. According to the 2005 employment insurance report by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, approximately 32% of sickness beneficiaries in 2004-05 used the entire 15 weeks they were entitled to, a figure that has remained steady in recent years. This statistic suggests that, of the third of beneficiaries utilizing their maximum time, the 15 weeks of EI benefits is clearly insufficient.

A survey conducted in 2004 by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network asked whether 15 weeks of EI benefits was adequate to get women through treatment. The survey found that 75% of the 500 respondents claimed this was insufficient. In addition, the survey also found that 76% of respondents reported being off work for over 15 weeks.

Women enduring breast cancer treatment is merely one example of where this policy, in its present form, is insufficient. If an individual is pushed back into the workforce while he or she should be off work recovering, I can assure everyone that the process of recovery will certainly be prolonged.

For example, chemotherapy patients often endure treatments of anywhere from several months up to 10 months in a one time span and subsequently often must face an additional five week period of radiation treatment. To expect someone to work in order to provide for his or her family if not fit to do so is absolutely appalling.

To add to the imperfections of this section within the EI program, rural and northern residents remain at a tremendous disadvantage. This is felt particularly by the constituents in my riding of Churchill and indeed in most rural and northern areas in Canada.

The extension of 35 weeks for eligible Canadians struggling with such injuries and sickness is critical for individuals and families throughout our great country.

Bill C-278 would sufficiently address, for those Canadians suffering with chronic disease and severe injuries and who require the support, as has been indicated through the 2005 report recommendations, a critical and necessary means of supporting themselves and their families and would contribute to the well-being of this country. I encourage all members of the House to support this necessary and timely bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to bill C-278.

Clause 1 of this bill states:

1. Paragraph 12(3)(c) of the Employment Insurance Act is replaced by the following:

(c) because of a prescribed illness, injury or quarantine is 50;

I congratulate the member for Sydney—Victoria for tabling this bill in the House of Commons.

We should also mention the integrity of certain members who made some regrettable comments. There is no way around it, I am obliged to say it.

In the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, recommendations were made concerning employment insurance. Some Liberals were present—when they were in power—and recommended certain motions. I remember one motion. The chair of the committee was the member for Cape Breton—Canso. Then the time came to present the motion to the House of Commons.

In June of last year, I presented a motion regarding the 12 weeks. I recall that the member for Cape Breton—Canso, who had recommended the changes to employment insurance, voted in favour of the change. However, two other Liberals, who had recommended changes to employment insurance, voted against their own recommendation when the motion was presented to the House of Commons. It is disgraceful. I am speaking of the member for Beauséjour and the member for Madawaska—Restigouche.

We could have made changes to employment insurance but we did not get them. I have to say it. I will keep saying it as long as I am a member of the House of Commons.

I heard the Parliamentary Secretary for Human Resources and Social Development say that his government does not wish to make changes to employment insurance because he is concerned that it would affect private companies and insurance companies. That is unbelievable. The government is afraid that it could affect working people and the companies, because there would no be enough workers.

With all due respect, we are talking about people with cancer who have to undergo chemotherapy. It is not their choice. Their doctor tells them they cannot work for 12 months. As if that were not bad enough, their income is cut off after 15 weeks.

I find that position inhumane. These are human beings, workers who pay into a system. That system has a $50 billion surplus. We want the money deducted from our paycheques back. We want that money so we can buy an employment insurance system.

The Liberal member from Prince Edward Island should not be laughing. His party voted against the motion.

I also think it is important to look closely at what the government said. It said there are other avenues, such as the Canada pension fund. I am sorry, but Canadian workers who fall ill cannot benefit from the Canada pension fund unless they have already been sick for a year. One has to have been sick for nearly two years before becoming eligible for the Canada pension fund.

If we are prepared to consider the possibility of using the Canada pension fund, why not use it when the doctor says the worker cannot return to work for 12 months? At that point, the worker should automatically be eligible for Canada pension fund benefits. That might be a solution.

But that is not what we are debating right now. We do not have the right to use the Canada pension fund. People do not have the right to employment insurance. The only thing they can get is welfare, and that is certainly not good for their health.

I listened to what the government members said a few minutes ago. Why do they not look at this issue regarding employment insurance? We are talking about people who are sick and the doctors say they cannot go back to work for one year. We are not talking about individuals who just have a cold. We are not talking about people who break their legs and 16 weeks later they could be on the job.

We are not talking about someone who has broken his arm. We are talking about someone who has cancer and whose doctors say he cannot go back to work for 12 months because he must have cancer treatment. And with $50 billion in the employment insurance account, do we not have the humanity to say yes, we will give it to him? This is a program that belongs to the working people and the businesses. Why do we not let them make the decision, not the government?

If the Conservatives go with the royal recommendation, I think it is totally unfair. It is inhuman and the government should not be in power. I hope Canadians see that. I hope every worker listening to me tonight will never give a vote to the Conservative Party when the Conservatives cannot have even a little bit of compassion for a person who is sick.

As for coming into the House and saying they do not want to hurt the private business of insurance companies, I will tell members something. The fish plant workers in my riding do not have a private plan. The fish plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador do not have any private plans. The fish plant workers from P.E.I., even if the member from P.E.I. was laughing, do not have those plans. I say we have the responsibility as legislators here to give that plan back to the working people and to help the people who are sick.

The Liberals had the chance to do it when they were in power and they did not do it. Now they are in opposition--and I have said this before--and it seems that when members are in opposition they believe all things are good, but when they get into government they must get a needle somewhere that makes them change their minds.

I listened to what the government said tonight. To use computer language, it was a cut-and-paste. It is the same language we have heard before. I have been here for nine years. Tonight's is the same language I have heard for nine years.

However, at the end of this, we have human beings. We have people who are left with no earnings. It is bad enough that the men or the women have cancer, but at the end of that, we have the children. We have families. We have kids who need to go to school.

We have the responsibility to help them, to give them an insurance plan, one that we can afford because we have a $50 billion surplus. Just this year, a $2 billion surplus went to the debt, and it came from the working people. It is a shame.

Honestly, I hope that the Conservative government members have a conscience. I hope they will think about this, change their minds, and give the workers what they deserve. I hope they will give the person who is sick and needs cancer treatment a longer period of EI.

Give it to them, I say. It will be good for society if we do it. It will be good for our working people. It will not affect the company involved because the person has been removed from the job already, by the doctor. That person needs to have those chemo treatments and cannot be on the job, but one thing this EI would do is help the family. It would help the kids. It would help that family to buy groceries, feed the kids and buy the clothes they need. This way, they would not have that worry. It would help people to heal.

That is why it is important. I am happy to see changes to the EI program being requested just one at a time. No one will be able to come and tell us that too many changes are being requested or that the bill is too voluminous.

If we say no to this change, we will have to say no to any change. If we cannot have compassion for someone who is sick with cancer, this means that no changes can be made to the EI program and that the government will just go on taking the money of workers and companies to pay off its own debts and achieve zero deficit. That is being done not only on the backs of workers, but on the backs of the sick as well.

That would be a terrible and totally inhumane thing to do. The government still has a chance to act. This evening, the Conservatives asked that this bill require a royal recommendation. I think they should come back before the House to ask that their point of order be withdrawn. That would become the most humane thing this Parliament has done.

Let us imagine that this bill is adopted. Just think what it would do for our workers who are ill. When SARS hit Toronto, the government turned around and got rid of the two-week waiting period, because it was Toronto. It seems that the rest of Canada does not count. I remember that event and I would never have voted against eliminating the two-week waiting period in Toronto. I understood that it was a good thing and I agreed with it.

Today, we are asking for a good thing that I agree with and I ask the government to change its mind and to vote in favour of Bill C-278 to assist those individuals suffering from long-term afflictions, to give them dignity and to help their families.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us, I will recall for the benefit of the people watching us today, increases from 15 to 50 the maximum number of weeks during which benefits may be paid for illness, injury or quarantine. Actually part of the title of this employment insurance bill is “benefits for illness, injury or quarantine.”

I indicated a while ago that we are delighted that a Liberal member of Parliament has tabled this bill. This shows some progress concerning the understanding of the issue and probably the degree of compassion we may feel for people who are victims of illness, a work accident or quarantine for contamination or some other reason.

The Bloc has worked constantly with a view to improving the employment insurance program, as our colleague indicated awhile ago. Since 2005, many measures have been proposed in the House, most of which have been rejected, particularly by the government then in place. We were hoping for progress of course with this new government in order to improve the situation of people who have the misfortune of being away from work because of illness, accident or quarantine.

One of the proposed measures appears in the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, namely recommendation 27. It reads as follows:

The Committee recommends that the government study the possibility of extending sickness benefits by 35 weeks for those who suffer from a prolonged and serious illness.

In other words, with an extension of 35 weeks beyond the 15, we get the 50 weeks proposed by our colleague in his bill.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Liberals are suddenly becoming concerned about unemployment. I do not particularly wish to attack the member, because he took this initiative, but my earlier question was to this effect: how is it that once a party in government is defeated it suddenly becomes sensitive to such situations? Actually the context, that is, the workers’ situation, was the same barely a year ago, when we submitted this recommendation to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The Bloc Québécois has always been in favour of a substantial improvement to the entire employment insurance program, which of course includes amendments to the number of weeks of sick leave for absences caused by illness, accidents and quarantine.

The following is a history of the last two years. I want to remind the House briefly to provide some context.

On November 15, 2004, our colleague, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, introduced Bill C-278 proposing those improvements to the system. The party in power at the time, the Liberals, opposed royal assent.

On December 13, 2004, Senator Pierrette Ringuette, a member of the Task Force on Seasonal Work appointed by the Prime Minister of the time, issued her dissenting report entitled “Dissent and Distress”, a very meaningful title in view of the situation facing the unemployed.

On December 16, 2004, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities issued the first part of its report with the recommendations I just mentioned. This report was completed on February 15, 2005 and contained 28 recommendations.

On February 23 of the same year, the then Minister of Human Resources announced three minimal new measures to try to mitigate the problems facing regions that suffer from what is commonly called the seasonal gap or black hole.

Finally, on April 15, 2005, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, which my colleague from the Basse-Côte-Nord sponsored. The purpose of this bill was to create an independent employment insurance fund.

I remember the Conservatives promising during the last election campaign to create this independent fund, but they still have not done it.

In May of this year, the Bloc introduced Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), to change employment insurance. I hope that our colleagues will vote in favour of this bill, and I hope that the Conservatives will not invoke royal assent this time.

More recently in October, this week in fact, we introduced Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence to create and establish an independent fund.

As can be seen, the Bloc has never stopped demanding improvements to the independent employment insurance fund. But all we have ever received are systematic refusals from each succeeding government.

I would like to return to how much we need the bill we are discussing and describe the situation in which people find themselves when they must be absent for the reasons covered by the bill.

In 2004 and 2005, the number of applications for sickness benefits increased by 0.1% to reach 294,350. Total sickness benefit payments increased by 4.5% to reach $813 million, while average weekly sickness benefits were $285. Hon. members talked about the costs earlier, although they have not changed very much.

People do not live very comfortably and do not go to restaurants very often on this amount of money. There was a 1.7% increase in comparison with 2003 and 2004. The average number of weeks over which sickness benefits are paid has remained relatively stable over the last few years.

During the years I mentioned, claims for sickness benefits have decreased among men. This is interesting to note because it allows us to see who ends up in certain situations and who has to stop working because of an illness or an accident. Those who are most vulnerable—either in terms of the insecurity of their employment or their working conditions—are women and older workers. During that time frame, this decreased by 1.2% in men and increased by 1.1% in women, even though the proportion of women who filed claims for sickness benefits remained relatively stable in 2004-05.

Women continued to file the majority of the claims for this type of benefit, at 59%. Claims for sickness benefits decreased by 2.8% among young people 15 to 24 and by 2.9% among workers 25 to 44, whereas they increased by 3.5% among workers 45 to 54 and by 7.1% among workers over 55. This confirms what I just said: certain categories of workers are more vulnerable than others because they are put in more precarious situations to do their work.

In closing, since I have just two minutes remaining, I want to reiterate that the bill currently before us is important. I am calling on the Conservative Party, which is now in power and whose attitude toward workers has been consistently insensitive, to take the next step.

This time, at least let the House vote on this bill without demanding a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the expansion of the employment insurance system proposed in Bill C-278, legislation seeking to extend the maximum period from 15 weeks to 50 weeks for which EI benefits for illness, injury or a quarantine may be paid.

While I share the concern for those who must be absent from work owing to illness, I believe we should carefully review the adequacy of the EI sickness benefits available at present before endorsing the changes proposed in this bill.

Currently, the EI program provides for a 15 week sickness benefit designed to provide short term income replacement to individuals who are absent from their job due to illness, injury or quarantine. Claimants qualify with a medical certificate and 600 hours of insured work in the past year, as little as 12 hours a week.

Sickness benefits thus provide a quick response to those in need and they are fully integrated with the other EI benefits for job loss, such as maternity or parental benefits and compassionate care benefits.

The Canada Employment Insurance Commission monitors and assesses the impacts of the employment insurance system on the economy, communities and individuals, reporting its finding in an annual report.

The commission's latest report noted that the average duration of sickness benefits through 2004-05 remained stable at 9.5 weeks. This is consistent with a recent Statistics Canada study stating that the average work absence owing to illness or a disability has remained constant at 10 weeks for the past 13 years.

When viewed in this context, the 15 week EI sickness benefit is meeting the program's objective of providing short term, temporary income support to workers when they are ill.

For the interest of the House, I note that such a position is similar to that of the former Liberal government, which included the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria. In its response to a report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons of Disabilities tabled in May 2005, the former Liberal government clearly stated that EI sickness benefits, as presently constructed, were adequately meeting its intended objective. I will quote verbatim from the Liberal response:

...the majority of workers who turn to EI when they are unable to work due to illness or injury, 15 weeks is meeting the objective of providing temporary income support.

As I previously stated, I would concur with such an assessment. Furthermore, I would question the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for a logical explanation as to why such a reasoning is no longer valid.

Moreover, when considering changes to the EI sickness benefits, we should be cognizant of the diverse range of other programs or supports available for those absent from the labour market due to illness.

At present, EI sickness benefits are designed as a short term income replacement measure that complement, and I underline the word complement, a range of other supports that are available for longer term illnesses and disability, including benefits offered through employer sponsored group insurance plans, private coverage held by individuals and long term disability benefits available under the Canada pension plan.

Before adding 35 weeks to the 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits now available, we need to fully understand the needs of clients and the impacts on other types of support benefits. An extensive examination of other possible implications would also be required.

Such an examination would have to take into account a number of issues. One is a thorough study of the effects such an extension would have on the labour market, particularly with respect to employer-employee relationships. For example, under the current EI provision, an employer can expect an employee's return to work after a limited absence for health reasons or, if the person is unable to return, the establishment of other arrangements suited to a long term disability.

EI sickness benefits are intended to replace lost income for short term absence. If they were greatly extended, how would this affect the employer's obligation? When, for instance, would this working relationship end? This relationship bears careful consideration and consultation before contemplating any steps to extend sickness benefits.

In addition, an option for employers under the EI program is a reduction in their premiums if they provide coverage to their employees for short term illness, injury or quarantine that is at least equivalent to EI benefits.

Currently, reduced premiums are paid on about 60% of all insurable earnings in Canada, representing reduced premiums of about half a billion dollars for 34,000 employers across the country.

Clearly, a change of the magnitude proposed under Bill C-278 would considerably affect employers and the premium reduction program would require thorough examination to determine the full impact on businesses.

Another consideration is that the coverage employers provide to their employees is sometimes underwritten by private companies and an extended EI fund and sickness benefit could be in direct competition with the private sector in many instances.

An analysis of the effects on private insurers would be essential. The administration of EI itself would also be greatly affected by such a change.

At the present time, EI sickness benefits are simply and quickly processed based on a medical certificate from the claimant's doctor. If the duration of these benefits were increased substantially, it could require a reassessment of current EI sickness, design and delivery, including expanding medical assessment requirements, such as requiring a third party or a government doctor to issue the medical certificate. The relatively quick response now available might suffer or require the introduction of multi-step approvals on longer claims.

There is also the consideration of mixed claims. Often, claimants need a variety of EI benefits to combine, for example, maternity and sickness. The bill does not reflect its possible impact on other parts of the EI Act that would also need to be changed, such as dealing with combined special benefit claims.

Finally, the cost factor is certainly another important consideration. Considerable research would be required to determine an accurate cost estimate of increasing the benefit entitlement as extensively as proposed in the bill.

Nevertheless, we do share the hon. member's compassion for the people who find themselves unable to work due to illness. Indeed, our new government is committed to the monitoring and assessing of all aspects of the EI program to ensure it continues to serve Canadians in an effective and in a timely manner. This includes sickness benefits. We appreciate that some persons are absent from work for more than 15 weeks due to illness. However, at this point it is not clear as to whether EI is the appropriate mechanism for responding to these longer term absences from the labour market.

Nevertheless, further examination of the implications of extending EI sickness benefits, both within and outside of the parameters of Bill C-278, may be warranted.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria quoted some of the recommendations in a report and he talked about some of the subcommittee recommendations.

He was a former Liberal government member whose party, a little over a year ago, declared that the current EI sickness benefit was adequate. I too want to quote as he did. In a parliamentary committee response from May 2005, the then Liberal government stated:

...the majority of workers who turn to EI when they are unable to work due to illness or injury, 15 weeks is meeting the objective of providing temporary income support.

The Liberal government also declared:

In the event a worker's illness or injury extends beyond that period of time, long term income protection may be available through the Canada pension plan and other employment related benefits.

Clearly, the position is seemingly in contradiction to the crux of Bill C-278. Consequently, I wonder if the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria could inform the House as to why the arguments of his former Liberal government are no longer valid.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin the second reading debate on Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to all my colleagues in this House who have already expressed to me their support for this piece of legislation and who, like me, know constituents, friends or family members who have experienced financial hardship as they recovered from debilitating diseases such as cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis, or one of the many other ailments that afflict people in our society.

I must also extend a special thanks to the MP for Cape Breton—Canso who seconded the bill at first reading.

As I stated, Bill C-278 deals with the Employment Insurance Act and specifically paragraph 12(3)(c) pertaining to sickness benefits.

When the EI Act was passed in the late 1990s, sickness benefits were provided in the spirit of compassion and support for someone who had to leave the job market temporarily to battle a disease. This financial support allowed an individual to focus on his or her treatment and to get well so he or she could return to the workforce as soon as possible.

To qualify under the sickness benefits provision, a claimant must have worked for a period of 600 or more hours of insurable employment during the qualifying period and must not be receiving similar benefits from another level of government or a private company. In order to determine the length of time a person would receive benefits, a claimant must provide a medical certificate from a medical professional attesting to the person's inability to work and stating the duration of the illness, injury or quarantine. Said another way, the number of weeks is set by the doctor who provides officials at the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development with a medical certificate which tells them how long a person should receive benefits.

Under the regulations, there is an appeal mechanism for HRSD officials in the event the time recommended seems inappropriate, but that is seldom used. A person's physician after all is almost always the best person to determine how long it will take his or her patient to recover and be able to return to the workforce. The act, however, does have a restriction on how long a doctor can recommend extending EI benefits which is a maximum of 15 weeks. Bill C-278 addresses this length of time.

My constituency office in Cape Breton, like many of the constituency offices of my colleagues, deals with many different types of federal government programs. In my riding of Sydney—Victoria, we deal with everything from immigration cases, to economic development funding, and of course employment insurance benefits, to name just a few.

One recurring issue that my staff have had to deal with is people who have applied for EI sickness benefits and have received the full 15 weeks available under the act but have found themselves incapable of returning to work. Quite simply, some claimants find that 15 weeks is just not long enough to either receive their full treatment or to have ample time to recover from a surgery or procedure. They are unable to go back to work and are in considerable financial difficulty. The resulting stress on them and their family is unwelcome, especially when they are already dealing with pain and the stress of battling a disease.

It is unfortunate that at the very time when 100% of a person's energy should be focused on getting better, his or her EI sickness benefits suddenly come to an end. The person is forced to deal not only with the stress of trying to get well but of finding money to pay rent, buy groceries, heat the home, you name it. All those bills start adding up. This is simply counterproductive.

We have seen, over the years, medical study after medical study pointing to the fact that stress has a negative effect on our bodies. Certainly it would have a negative impact on a person's effort to recover from a prolonged or serious ailment.

I do not profess to be the first to raise this issue. As many members know, the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development struck a subcommittee in the previous Parliament to look at the Employment Insurance Act and ways that the act could be improved or modified. In fact the subcommittee was chaired by my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso. One of the 28 recommendations coming out of the research conducted and the testimony taken at the subcommittee addressed the issue of sickness benefits and recommended that the number of weeks must be increased.

A similar refrain appears to come from the very department that manages the employment insurance program. Each year the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development issues what is called the employment insurance monitoring and assessment report. In the most recent report, the issue of the length of time a person is eligible for sickness benefits has been noted. I am going to quote the 2005 report:

About 32% of sickness beneficiaries in 2004/05 used the entire 15 weeks of benefits to which they were entitled. This proportion has been relatively stable in recent years, suggesting that for some types of claimants or illnesses, 15 weeks of benefits may not be sufficient.

This HRSD report points to the very issue that Bill C-278 seeks to address.

We have all witnessed legislation which has gone through the House and which appears to have dealt with an issue effectively, but after the actual program has been put into practice, we have realized that adjustments have been needed to refine it and make it fit into real life circumstances. This is one such case.

I want to be clear here. The bill would increase the total number of weeks someone could receive sickness benefits to up to 50 weeks. This does not mean that all claimants require that amount of time to seek treatment, to recover or to re-enter the workforce. In fact, the same 2005 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report that I referenced points out that the average length of time that people draw benefits is nine and a half weeks. The average length is not 15 weeks; it is nine and a half weeks.

Again, a doctor should determine the length of time that a person should receive benefits. In some cases, the doctor may determine that it is in the best interests of the person to return to the workforce sooner, but there are cases when people need more time to recover, when they should not have to return to work early and risk prolonging their illness and possibly having a relapse.

The most glaring instance of this is with respect to the treatment of cancer. All of us know someone with cancer, whether it is someone in our ridings or in our families. A 2004 survey of women fighting breast cancer revealed that a full 76% of respondents reported being off work for more than 15 weeks. They need more than 15 weeks to treat breast cancer. In fact, most oncologists will say that it takes up to a year for a person to go through chemotherapy, sometimes surgery, and to recover from these procedures. It is imperative in my mind that we find a way to help people through such a very difficult time.

I would put to the House that the spirit and intent back when the Employment Insurance Act sickness benefits provisions were first enacted was to help people through such hard times. Times have changed. There seem to be more people with cancer, but it is more easily cured, so we have to change the act accordingly.

I am very happy to report to the House that Bill C-278 has been well received by many stakeholders close to the issue, people who know and are involved with this issue. I am in receipt of letters of support from national organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society and provincial organizations such as the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.

I am also hearing from front line workers such as social workers at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. As many of my colleagues are well aware, the Princess Margaret Hospital is one of the leading cancer treatment, research and education facilities in this country. They would know how important this is.

In a letter, the social workers at the hospital endorsed the bill and noted that patients with breast cancer need up to 12 months for treatment, and for leukemia the length of time ranges from 9 to 12 months. They also noted that the intent of the cancer treatment is curative with patient participation providing the foundation for patients to return to work following the completion of their treatments.

I have also received support from many leading labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress, as well as the Canadian Auto Workers. In a letter, Mr. Buzz Hargrove, the national president of the Canadian Auto Workers, noted that the Supreme Court confirmed that the federal government has a responsibility for EI benefits when workers are temporarily separated from their work due to sickness, parental leave or compassionate care.

I am bolstered by the support of all these organizations. So many people have called me from across the country to say that they see the benefit of this. Some did not have the benefits when they went through their treatments, but they see the benefit for people with illnesses and ailments down the road. They see how it makes us a more productive society. They see how it helps people through life's hard times so that they do not fall through the cracks, do not lose their vehicles and fall by the wayside under tremendous stress. It helps people to get back into society and be productive.

This points to a need for this legislation. It speaks to the fact that people are dealing with this issue daily. The job of health professionals, associations and organizations is to make people better. Our job is to help people financially while they are getting treatment. These organizations represent workers that are afflicted by prolonged and serious diseases. These people are all behind this bill.

I would ask the House to recognize the importance of extending these EI benefits to 50 weeks. I ask the House to support the bill and to pass it at second reading.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, on May 31, 2006, you invited members to comment on whether Bill C-278 would require a royal recommendation.

Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, I would appreciate your consideration of whether this bill requires a royal recommendation since the bill provides a significant increase in the expenditure of funds.

Currently the employment insurance program includes a 15-week sickness benefit period to provide temporary income support to individuals who are injured or too sick to work. Bill C-278 would extend the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from the current 15 weeks to 50 weeks.

On December 8, 2004, Mr. Speaker, you found that a similar private member's bill required a royal recommendation since it would have increased EI benefits by extending the benefit period. You said:

The improvements to the employment insurance program envisioned by this bill include the required minimum number of hours worked in order to qualify, lengthening the period that one can receive benefits, and, as well, increasing those benefits.

It is clear that such changes to the employment insurance program would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures of public revenue. Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.

Mr. Speaker, the principles in the above ruling should apply to Bill C-278, which would increase benefits by extending the benefit period, thereby requiring increased spending of public revenues. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that Bill C-278 should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActRoutine Proceedings

May 12th, 2006 / noon
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House to introduce a bill that is not only important for many of my constituents in the riding of Sydney—Victoria, but also for many citizens in Canada who come upon an illness or an injury that removes them from the workforce.

As a previous business owner and now a member of Parliament, I have witnessed many of my employees falling into economic difficulties because of an injury or illness. The bill would help all valued employees, going through difficult times, until they could re-enter the workforce again.

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