An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Johanne Deschamps  Bloc

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

Status

Not active, as of May 9, 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 makes a number of amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. Specifically, it

(a) reduces each qualifying period by 70 hours;

(b) increases the benefit period;

(c) increases the rate of weekly benefits to 60%;

(d) repeals the waiting period;

(e) eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length; and

(f) increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $41,500 and introduces an indexing formula.

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

May 9, 2007 Passed That Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
Nov. 8, 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.

March 17th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

I thought I was ready, Madam Chair, but I realized that I did not have the right file with me. That is what happens when you have to come here from the House of Commons in so little time.

Madam Chair, I would like to thank you for your welcome. Appearing as a witness before you is something quite new to me, as I was a witness on only one brief occasion in the past. I have been a member of this committee for the past six years and have considered all aspects and components of human resources and social development programs, and especially the issue of employment insurance.

This year, we have again tabled a bill intended to reform the employment insurance system. I believe this is the third bill, since we had previously introduced Bills C-280 and C-269. The latter is perhaps fresher in people's minds, because three opposition parties had agreed on a platform to move the planned reform as far forward as possible.

Madam Chair, you might wonder why we are so persistent in wanting to affect such far-reaching changes to the employment insurance system. The reason why is because the system is so terribly unfair to part of our society, i.e., the people who lose their jobs.

Before addressing the substance of the bill, I think that it is appropriate to remind ourselves of our shared motivation. I see colleagues here who, with myself and others, put forward changes to the employment insurance system in the past. That is extremely hard to achieve. Which brings us to the question: Why is it so hard to improve the lives of our country's most underprivileged people and yet so easy to feed or support the rich? We see that with the banks, the oil companies and the military industry. Madam Chair, $1.2 billion in funding was cut from social programs in September 2007, whereas close to $9 billion had been announced for the military sector in the summer, without any debate in the House of Commons. Why are things so easy for the rich and the military? We do not object to supporting the forces themselves, because they play a crucial role in our society, but the amounts that are committed to wage war, Madam Chair, are a matter of social choice—a choice that we do not share and call into question once again today.

Madam Chair, it is sometimes necessary to speak bluntly. I think that employment insurance represents a serious economic crime against workers, and particularly the unemployed, their families, regions and affected provinces. Why do I say that? I say that because money is being diverted from its stated purpose, i.e., to support the needs of people who have lost their income, people who have contributed to the fund along with their employers.That money is taken and used for other purposes. Over the past 14 years, $57 billion have been diverted.

Madam Chair, I am talking about an economic crime and asking my fellow parliamentarians whether we have not become white-collar criminals.

It is the same as when the people we entrust our money to to invest for our retirement use the funds for their personal benefit.

You might say that the difference here is that the government is doing so for collective purposes. That is the only difference because the harm is the same: it is attacking the less fortunate even though they had taken the precaution of contributing to an insurance fund in order to collect benefits in the event of job loss.

I wanted to begin by saying that because I believe that is something we need to think about each time we deal with this issue.

In 2004-2005, we produced the report I have here and completed it in February. Bill C-308 contains the thrust of the recommendations that we made.

Some of our recommendations are also contained in the committee's employability report that was presented in the House no later than April 2008. That report called on the government to take action in order to improve and broaden access to employment insurance.

I have these documents here. Is our work all done in vain? That would be most unfortunate because my colleagues and I believe in the work we do. We believe in restoring the important status of the EI system. How should we go about doing that? We must begin by putting forward a number of measures that I will set out. I will end with that in order to give my colleagues time to ask questions.

Needless to say, the bill includes a measure to improve accessibility through a reduction to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment. We will see later how to calibrate access.

We now see that the government has tried to make some improvements to the system with partial measures, but they are temporary measures and have nothing to do with what is contained in Bill C-308.

We need to increase the benefit period from 45 to 50 weeks. The government has done so temporarily. In our view, that should be a permanent measure. By doing so temporarily, the government is confirming that there is a real need.

The rate of weekly benefits needs to be increased from 55% to 60% of insurable earnings. A 5% increase is not much, and I will show later that such an increase will not encourage people to remain unemployed.

We have to eliminate the distinctions between a new entrant and a re-entrant to the labour force. That is a measure that leads to some discrimination, which is also something I would like to touch on later.

We have to eliminate the presumption that persons related to each other do not form an employer-employee relationship. That concerns family situations where it is presumed that a person does not deal with a relative at arm's length. As a result, when that person claims employment insurance benefits, he or she is considered to be committing fraud. I would also like to come back to that issue.

I would like to welcome our colleague Diane Finley who has just joined us. Earlier, I spoke about those who contributed to reforming the system. Mr. Godin is one of them.

We also need to increase the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $42,500. We had debated that amount in 2005. We had agreed on setting that amount at $41,000, although we had considered a gradual increase. The government has taken the initiative of setting the amount at $43,200. We find that that is a suitable amount and would be willing to make a consequential amendment to Bill C-308.

Second ReadingEmployment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 16th, 2009 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-395, the proposed changes to the Employment Insurance Act with respect to labour disputes.

This legislation addresses what I think is a bit of a gap in the EI system right now and in the Employment Insurance Act. The question is: what should be done if the qualifying period for somebody who has lost his or her job includes work lost because of a labour disruption? This bill is a reasonable attempt to address the gap. At the very least, it is worthy of further study at committee, so we can identify whether or not there is more that needs to be done. Also, to some extent, we could perhaps address the issue of what the cost might be. I see that the Speaker has ruled that a royal recommendation will be required.

Let me speak to the issue this bill addresses and how it proposes to solve it. Right now, somebody's qualification for employment insurance is determined by the qualifying period that precedes the loss of employment, and that is 52 weeks. There are allowances for certain instances such as sickness, but not for work time lost due to a labour disruption.

During a labour dispute, employees cannot draw EI. They can, in some cases, receive strike pay. Or they could, conceivably, go out and get another job, although it is a very difficult circumstance in which to look for a job when one is hoping to go back to a job that one currently holds. If one gets strike pay, of course, it is different from having insurable earnings for EI.

It is always difficult to determine costs when we are looking at employment insurance. It involves very complex calculations. This year, we had the issue of what it actually costs in another area of qualification, the 360-hour national qualifying standard. Just over a year ago, last spring, because of a request from the committee looking at a private member's bill, the HRSDC department had estimated that cost at somewhere around $600 million or $700 million. The exact figure does not come to me, but it was in that range.

Other people have estimated it will cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year. That would make sense, because there are more people unemployed now than there were last spring, and there has been a slight escalation in cost. As a result of a request from the employment insurance working group established by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, we had the outrageous guesstimate, we might call it, of over $4 billion. They came back and said this would cost over $4 billion.

That did not make any sense. Everybody knew that was nuts. In fact, the government itself came back a little bit later and said the cost was actually about $2.5 billion. We asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer and he came in with a cost of about $1.1 billion, which notionally makes sense and obviously was statistically backed up. But that is why we have issues with costs when we start looking at employment insurance.

We have the same thing when we look at two-week waiting periods. What is the cost of a two-week waiting period? It is not really a waiting period; it is an out-of-luck period for a person who loses his or her job. What is the cost of that? The estimates have varied a bit on that, as is the case with this bill.

This bill does indicate that if a job is lost following a labour disruption, allowances can be made. It is very difficult for people and families who are already suffering from being unemployed because of a labour disruption when, all of a sudden, they come back and within a short period of time they are laid off completely and find out that their qualification for EI has been affected.

In essence, this bill will simply extend the qualifying period by the length of time of the labour dispute. As I have indicated before, qualifying is a huge problem in this country. It has been identified as the number one problem with the EI system. Many solutions have been proposed over the last number of years, and specifically in the last year.

We have had private member's Bill C-269 and private member's Bill C-265 from the member for Acadie—Bathurst and the member for Chambly—Borduas. In this session, we have looked at Bill C-241, Bill C-280 and Bill C-304. These are serious attempts to have a look at what the gaps are in the EI system, particularly at a time of economic difficulty.

We are still in this; we are still seeing job losses. We saw the numbers that came out the other day. There are still people in Canada who are losing their jobs. The economy needs a little bit of help. Everybody talks about stimulus. From any reports I have seen, the best stimulus is to invest in people who have lost their jobs or are in economic difficulty, because they will in fact put the money back into the economy, which is what stimulus is supposed to be all about.

We have heard from many people, including all the premiers from Ontario to the west, who normally have not spoken out much on employment insurance. All of the premiers of varying political stripes have said that we need to look at the issue of accessibility. We need to have a look at these variable entrance requirements, particularly at a time of economic difficulty, to see if they still make sense, because they are hurting the provinces. We heard that from the Minister of Finance's wife, when she was running for the leadership of her party in Ontario. We heard it from Premier Stelmach and Premier Campbell, and every premier, including Premier Brad Wall in Saskatchewan.

We have heard it from social policy groups. We have heard it from economists. We have even heard it from organizations that one might not normally think would call for such a thing. TD Economics has called for it. The Chamber of Commerce urged that we have a look at a couple of things in its prebudget submission this year, including entrance rates, but also at the two-week waiting period. These are all things that can be done to improve the system right away.

We have to have a look at what has the government done for employment insurance, recognizing finally that we are in a period of economic distress. As the House will recall, last November when the United States was already looking at proposals to assist people who were unemployed, we had an economic update that offered nothing.

In January, when we came back after Parliament was prorogued, EI was addressed in a specific way by adding five weeks of eligibility, which was a step forward in my view. If we look at the private members' bills that we have seen in the House over the past few years, the extra five weeks was always a small piece of it.

Of course, there was nothing on the two-week waiting period, nothing on accessibility, and nothing on increasing the rate of payment from 55% to 60%, which is called for a lot. But the five weeks were helpful and they were particularly helpful because they affected all Canadian workers; they did not pick winners and losers.

That is why the five weeks was a good piece of public policy at the time, but they are nowhere near to being enough and did not address the issue of accessibility that the 360-hour national standard would address. But the five weeks were something for all workers in Canada.

This fall we had a couple of pieces of legislation, one of them being Bill C-50, which would extend benefits from 5 to 20 weeks, but only for a select few, the fortunate few, in this country.

In the spring the government was saying that it was going to offer extra benefits to everyone, and then in the fall it said it was going to go back to a small percentage of the unemployed. One may qualify for between 5 and 20 weeks, but if one has drawn on EI before, too bad. If one happened to be a seasonal worker in northern New Brunswick, or in the fishing industry or the tourism industry, or others like that, one did not qualify for the extra 5 weeks.

That kind of discriminatory approach flies in the face of what the government was proposing to do at the beginning of the year, which was to provide equality in the employment insurance system, at least on the extension of benefits, if not in actually going to the number one source of irritation for Canadians, for workers, public sector unions, social policy groups, economists, think tanks, premiers and the wife of the finance minister. They were all saying that the system is not fair and that we have to fix it.

The reason it is not fair is that accessibility requirements range too much. At a time of economic difficulty, we need to do something to assist all Canadians and we need to make sure that people who lose their jobs do not feel like the government has forgotten them.

I would remind members that earlier this year the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was quoted as saying she did not want to make EI too lucrative. I remind the House and the millions who are watching at home that average employment insurance benefits are somewhere in the range of $330 a week. There are not that many people in the House who would want to work for $330 a week, or would feel very excited about losing their job so they could get $330 a week. I think the maximum is $440 a week.

EI is far from being a lucrative proposal for anyone. We have to keep in mind as well that people cannot draw EI in Canada if they voluntarily quit their jobs. If they quit their jobs, they do not get EI. They are told that they do not qualify. They can appeal it and they might be able to make their case, but they cannot quit their jobs and get EI.

Therefore, for an individual to suggest that EI is lucrative and that anyone would deliberately try to qualify for it, the individual would have to suggest that the person find a way to lose his or her job without quitting it. That person would have to get the employer to let him or her go so he or she could make 55% of his or her previous earnings.

Bill C-395 is worthy of consideration. I congratulate my colleague who brought it forward. We think it addresses a gap in the system. We think that at a time of economic difficulty, this is when we need to invest in employment insurance, because employment insurance assists Canadians when they need it the most, through no fault of their own from a work stoppage. It should not be made harder because of a labour disruption in the previous qualifying period.

Speaker's RulingEmployment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 16th, 2009 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on October 7, 2009 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute) standing in the name of the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to Bill C-395, the parliamentary secretary stated that in his view the bill infringes upon the financial initiative of the crown. Specifically, he pointed out that the bill seeks to change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by adding a new provision that would extend the qualifying period for an undefined period in case of a work stoppage caused by a labour dispute. He also argued that by altering the calculation of the qualifying period, the bill would result in increased government spending on employment insurance.

In support of his contention that the bill requires a royal recommendation, the parliamentary secretary made reference to a Speaker's ruling on Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) on March 23, 2007 and a ruling by the Speaker of the Senate in Bill S-207, an Act to Amend the Employment Insurance Act (foreign postings) on January 29, 2009.

Both bills were similar to the present bill in that they sought to modify the employment insurance qualifying period, and both were found to require royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé argued that a royal recommendation is not required since the funds in the employment insurance account are paid by workers and employers and do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has examined the bill carefully and, it is clear beyond all doubt that Bill C-395 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. The argument put forth by the hon. member for Berthier--Maskinongé regarding whether or not funds contributed to the employment insurance fund constitute public revenue is a recurring argument. It has been brought forward during similar discussions on Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) as well as Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) from the previous Parliament. In essence, all monies received by the government, regardless of source, are deposited in the consolidated revenue fund and become public funds, that is, funds of the Crown. The Constitution Act of 1867 and Standing Order 79 apply to these funds. Thus, a bill proposing a new or increased expenditure of public funds, that is, an appropriation, requires a royal recommendation.

The employment insurance program operates under this framework. The funds in question are public funds and their management is subject to the financial initiative of the Crown.

By extending the qualifying period for employment insurance benefits by the amount of time a person was unemployed due to a work stoppage resulting from a labour dispute, Bill C-395 is increasing the expenditures under the act. These expenditures would be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1). Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity again to speak to Bill C-50 in the House. We spoke to it when it was introduced and we have dealt with it in committee.

We had a vote on an amendment yesterday that Liberals supported. One of our key concerns about this bill, shared even by those who have agreed to go along with this bill, is that it already disenfranchises so many workers. We did not want to see further workers disenfranchised because this bill has to work its way through Parliament.

It is impossible to look at Bill C-50 without considering the context, the situation that this country is in, what we have gone through in the last year and a half in Canada, and the economic crisis that the bill is supposed to address. The background, as we know, is that the crisis started last year. Questions were raised as far back as last spring in the House and outside the House about the potential for Canada facing some economic difficulties. Of course, the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and everybody else told us not to worry, but to be happy. They told us that the sky was not falling and that Canada was not in any kind of trouble.

I have an article here from the National Post, a great Liberal institution, dated May 30. The headline is “[Finance minister] denies Canada headed for recession”. He goes into his thing about the economic fundamentals being strong. He said that we should not worry and that Canada was not heading into a recession. He also told us not to worry and that Canada would never go into a deficit. We were doing great, living off the strong fiscal management of the Liberal Party. The finance minister told us that we did not have to worry and that we could not mess it up that badly.

On September 27, in the middle of a federal election, when Canadians were worried about what was happening with the economy in Canada, we already had action in the United States from then-President Bush and incoming, soon-to-be-elected President Barack Obama, who said that we needed some stimulus and activity.

On September 27, the headline in the paper said “[Prime Minister] says Canada not in deficit, despite opposition claims”. The Prime Minister said:

The opposition tries to tell people that we’re in deficit when we’re in surplus. Tries to tell people we’re in recession when our economy is still growing. Tries to tell people we are losing jobs when actually more people are working.

That was only a year ago. The Prime Minister assured the people of this country that they should not worry, that people were working, that we were not in deficit, that we were not going to go into deficit, that we were not in recession, and that we were just fine. Then, we came back after the election.

The Prime Minister used a strategy to address this issue with Canadians. First, it was to tell them that it was a buying opportunity when their stocks went down. Second, it was to bring in an economic update that did nothing except throw political tricks into an economic update. Third, it was to prorogue Parliament. Fourth, it was to conjure up separatist-socialist coalitions. Finally, in January, prodding by the Liberal Party made the government say that it will try to have a look at this. It finally brought forward the budget in January of this year.

There were some things in there. Nobody would suggest it was enough. In fact, if one were to look at the reports that came out from the Caledon Institute, the CCPA, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, labour union groups and other social policy networks, they said that this would not be enough to help Canadians. However, at least there was that five extra weeks.

Everybody who was unemployed and had a claim was eligible. It did nothing to increase eligibility, which was and continues to be the number one issue with employment insurance, but at least it offered five weeks. It offered those five weeks to everybody. I have asked two members of the Conservative Party if they could explain the juxtaposition of the Minister of Human Resources who, in talking about those extra five weeks in her own estimates tabled here, said:

--including extending five extra weeks of benefits, which is now only available in some regions, to all Canadians.

That was one of the boasting factors that the Minister of Human Resources talked about from the January budget. She said that Canada has projects where people get an extra five weeks and that five extra weeks of benefits is something that was always part of private members' bills, initiatives and proposals put forward by other people. That is not a panacea, but she is saying that the government has taken it and given it to all Canadians. One would assume that she said that because she felt proud of it.

It is almost as if she believed in equality. It is almost as if she felt that everybody was equally deserving of assistance. Now, we are debating a bill that goes in exactly the opposite direction. It divides Canadians into those who are deserving and those who are not deserving. That is a very significant contradiction in view, expressed over a period of a few months.

We have had employment insurance bills in the House for some time that talked about reforming EI. In the last Parliament they were Bills C-265 and C-269. We looked at those bills. What did they ask for? They consistently asked for the elimination of the two week waiting period. As people know, when they get their employment insurance, it is not really a waiting period. My colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor would agree with me that people who lose their job do not wait two weeks; they wait a lot longer than two weeks. In some cases they wait two months. The standard for Service Canada is that 80% of people get their claim processed in 28 days. We brought that to this House of Commons 12 months ago and the minister denied there was a problem. Then in the spring, she admitted there was a problem and she spent $60 million hiring people, but eliminating the two week waiting period is a possibility.

Increasing the rate of benefits is a possibility. It is now 55%. A number of private members' motions, opposition motions, social policy groups have indicated that should be 60%. The way we calculate benefits, perhaps going to the best 12 weeks is another way of looking at this; increasing the maximum insurable earnings. If somebody is making $70,000 and loses their job and they qualify for EI, they do not get 55% of their salary of $70,000, they get 55% of the maximum insurable earnings, which is in the low forties.

There are a number of ways we can change EI if we are serious about reform. Who else was talking about that back in the spring, and what were they talking about? “To be locked into a system which has 58 separate employment insurance regions, where one Canadian gets treated dramatically different than another Canadian, it doesn't seem right to me”. That was British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, who supported the call of the Leader of the Opposition for a national 360 hour standard of eligibility during the period of the recession.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said, “Here is an example where the recession's impact in Canada has moved from east to west, and we are feeling the effects”. Brad Wall supported the call of Mr. Campbell for some kind of national standard for employment insurance eligibility.

Again, Premier Gordon Campbell on May 29 called on the federal government to have one employment insurance standard throughout Canada. The Premier of Ontario had a position that said we should have one national standard across Canada, and 360 hours made sense. That is what people called for. Maybe it is 420 hours, which is the lowest eligibility, but the point is, we should have some equality in the system.

Premier Campbell is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “The federal government needs to overhaul a clearly discriminatory employment insurance system to help the swelling ranks of the jobless in western Canada”.

The Premier of Ontario called for a national standard of employment insurance. It was not just the premier. Christine Elliott, who was at the time I believe running to be the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, had some pretty sharp words for the Minister of Finance, with whom she enjoys a particularly close relationship, saying, “Ideally, the federal government will quickly reform EI to better meet Ontario's needs. The federal EI program is unfair to Ontario”.

Premier Stelmach said, “Alberta has complained about varying eligibility rules”. Premier Stelmach weighed in as well, so every western province has indicated that there was a problem. This was not the Liberals, the NDP or the Bloc saying that there was a problem. These were Canadians from coast to coast to coast suggesting that there was a problem.

We had an opposition day motion on March 5 brought forward by the New Democrats which called for a number of changes: eliminating the two week waiting period; reducing the qualifying period to 360 hours; allowing self-employed workers to participate, and we will have a look at that in the next few days as the government unveils its plan; and raising the rate of benefits to 60% and basing those benefits on best 12 weeks. Those were all things that were mentioned.

I mentioned Bills C-265 and C-269 in the last Parliament. There is Bill C-280, which we have debated in this Parliament and which we will be looking at today or Thursday in the human resources committee. It calls for 360 hours, increasing the weekly benefit, and reducing the qualifying period.

The member for Brome—Missisquoi brought forward Bill C-241 that we looked at in committee last Thursday. It will be coming back to the House. It calls for the elimination of the two week waiting period. There was another bill brought forward by the NDP member for Welland, which referred to severance payments and how they are treated in EI.

There were a number of changes across the board, some of which are very standard, that people were calling for. Primarily, they wanted a national standard of 360 hours for EI eligibility and a two-week waiting period. They wanted to take a look at the rate of benefits, the maximum insurable earnings and how benefits are calculated. Those are all things we have talked about. I have not seen any academic, social policy expert, anybody, suggest that the answer to the crisis was to further provide benefits and then to limit those benefits to only a few people.

In the spring the leader of the Liberal Party made his point clear, that we would call for a national standard of 360 hours for employment insurance eligibility. That was the call of the Leader of the Opposition, supported by many people across the country.

Our proposal was that it would be temporary in nature during a difficult period of time. One thing that often gets lost in this debate is the importance of EI as a stimulative measure to the economy. Those people who get EI need EI. Those people who get EI spend that money on food and shelter, things that they need for themselves and their families. That money goes back into the economy. This is a country that went crazy for stimulus back in January and February. Everybody was calling for stimulus. Those who evaluate stimulus said that the best stimulus is to invest in social infrastructure, particularly EI because that means the money will go into the economy. The second best stimulus was in infrastructure. The third best stimulus was tax cuts, particularly tax cuts that do not disproportionately put money into the hands of those who need it the most, low-income and middle-income Canadians. It is a very important stimulative effect.

What was the government saying to all this at that point in time? It was discouraging.

The Minister of Human Resources was quoted as saying, at the end of January, after the Conservatives brought forward the budget and were being criticized for not having addressed the key issues of EI:

Our goal is to help people get back to work, and get back to work quickly in jobs that will last. We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it--

That quotation was never retracted. It raised the hackles of people across the country, particularly those who are on EI, not because they want to be on EI but because they have to be on EI.

There was a running smear campaign against people on EI, that it was a nine-week work year, as if people would find a way to get fired from their jobs. Members must keep in mind that people cannot collect EI if they quit their jobs. That is a change that was made. The minister's suggestion was that people would be rushing out, trying to find a way to get fired so that they could go on EI for a maximum of 55% of what they were earning in their job for a maximum of anywhere from 19 to 45 weeks, or 50 weeks with the extension, most of them at the low end of that. It does not make any sense. Who would do that? It is an insult to Canadians who lose their jobs.

She changed her tune a bit in June. The minister was quoted as saying, “There is no need to change the threshold for employment insurance eligibility because as the economy worsens, more and more Canadians will find it easier to qualify”. She also said, “If the unemployment rate goes up in a given region, then it gets easier for people there to access EI for a longer period of time, and most of the regions around Canada now have become easier to access”.

Let us think about that. The United States has Barack Obama's version of hope: equality for all; benefits for those who need them. Canada has the Conservative government's version of hope: “Don't worry. Things are getting worse. We are not doing anything to help you. But you will find it easier to get EI because more of your friends and neighbours will be unemployed and then the unemployment rate will go up in the region and it will be easier to qualify”. That is what passes for hope from the Conservative government, “Wait. Don't worry. Things are getting worse. It is good news for you, but bad news for your neighbours, bad news for your friends, bad news for Canadians”. That is what we heard from the government.

A very important report was released in June by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The committee held hearings specifically about how EI affects women. I do not think it is much of a secret that with the system as it currently exists fewer women qualify for EI benefits and they get less payments. That is an inherent problem with EI that needs to be fixed. It is a problem which the Leader of the Opposition addressed when he called for a 360-hour national standard. That would have helped women and part-time workers.

He also called for an overhaul of the EI system. That is what is needed. We cannot do it piecemeal. There are things that we should do in the time of a recession. We do need an overhaul of the employment insurance system.

Changes came in. People were hurt. The economy was different. We were coming out of a time of recession and into a period of a long sustained recovery under Liberal governments. We are now back into a Conservative recession. Things have changed. That is just a fact of life. The circumstances are different now than they were in the 1990s. I could debate with colleagues in this House about what happened in the 1990s to no effect, but what we can do is impact people today who need help at a difficult time.

The status of women committee heard from a number of people. Richard Shillington testified at the committee hearings. He said:

Think of EI as a series of hurdles. To be eligible for your benefit, you first of all have to have had paid employment.... You have to have a certain number of hours. You have to have left your job for the right reason--you can't be fired; it has to be a lay-off.

We heard in the spring that 80% of people who were eligible were getting EI. That is incorrect. There was testimony from another witness who indicated:

The government likes to argue that 80% of all currently employed workers would qualify for regular EI benefits if they were to lose their jobs. However, this ignores the fact that job loss particularly affects those with unstable patterns of work, such as workers on reduced hours before a layoff as well as part-time, temporary, and contract workers. It also ignores the fact that many unemployed workers qualify for EI for a shorter period of time but quickly exhaust their benefits.

Those people would not be helped by Bill C-50 in the least.

There were a number of recommendations, a whole host of them which I will not read but I recommend this to all members for their consideration. One of the recommendations is that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada implement a uniform 360-hour qualification requirement. There is another about increasing the maximum benefit entitlement. There is one about the two-week waiting period. There are some recommendations about self-employment which I think we will be looking at in the next few days to see if they meet the needs of those who are most in need.

We had the EI working group over the summer, in which I took part. I have talked about that in this House on many occasions. I do not want to belabour people with that process, or how I spent my summer vacation. It was a discouraging time.

The government came up with numbers that were patently false, indicating that a 360-hour national standard would cost $4.4 billion. A week later the government said that it had made a bit of a mistake, that it would cost $2.5 billion. The actual cost as verified by the Parliamentary Budget Officer was $1.2 billion, but there still are government members, including the Prime Minister, who stand in the House and use the $4.4 billion figure. Unbelievable. There was documentation given to the committee that was marked “not for distribution” which had already been given to the media. That documentation showed those false numbers.

That is what we dealt with over the summer. I have talked about that before. It was a frustrating time.

I believe Parliament can work. I believe Canadians want Parliament to work. I had hopes that if we got together away from question period and used the strong resources of the human resources department that we could have effected some change. We could have all taken a little bit of water in our wine and come up with something that would have helped Canadian workers, but that was not to be, which is too bad.

The government came back in the fall and introduced Bill C-50. That is the bill we are talking about today. The fundamental problem with Bill C-50 is that it is discriminatory. Even the government would have to acknowledge that it picks winners and losers. It determines who is deserving of benefits. The minister has used this terminology herself, even at committee, “helping the most deserved workers”.

It is a discriminatory bill. Imagine a government coming forward with a health care system and saying, “We have a great new health care system. The only hitch is that if you have ever used the health care system, you do not get that health care. It is only for the deserving ones who have never used health care in Canada”. What would the outcry be to that? The outcry would be that that is clearly unacceptable. That is not what governments do. Governments do not pick winners and losers. Governments are governments for all the people.

Bill C-50 does not meet the needs of most Canadians. It does not meet the needs of most unemployed Canadians. It does not even meet the needs of most characterized long-term unemployed Canadians. It is a bill that is flawed. It is a bill that does nothing to address the number one concern of Canadians, which is to increase access to employment insurance for those who need it.

The bill does nothing to help seasonal workers who through no fault of their own work in the fishery, the forestry industry, or the tourism business. It does nothing for part-time workers. It is not a bill that we can support.

Speaker's RulingEmployment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 29th, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before resuming debate on this bill, I am prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on September 14 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), standing in the name of the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to the bill, the parliamentary secretary noted a number of its provisions which, in his view, infringed upon the financial prerogative of the Crown. Specifically, the bill reduces the qualifying period for benefits, permanently increases the benefit period, increases the benefit replacement rate to 60%, alters the benefit calculation formula, and increases the level of maximum yearly insurable earnings as well as introducing an indexing formula that would further increase benefits.

Furthermore, he pointed out that the bill would expand the employment insurance system to provide benefits for the self-employed.

In support of his contention that the bill requires a royal recommendation, the parliamentary secretary made reference to a Speaker's ruling concerning Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), presented during the 39th Parliament, found at page 4719 of the Debates of November 6, 2006. That bill was found to require a royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas put forth arguments very similar to those put forth in the debate regarding Bill C-269, mainly that the funds in the employment insurance account are paid by workers and employers and therefore do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has carefully examined Bill C-308, and compared it with Bill C-269 from the 39th Parliament and has also reviewed the reasoning in the earlier Speaker’s ruling. The Chair notes that Bill C-269 contained a number of provisions either identical to or substantially the same as those in the bill in the present case.

In my view, it is clear that Bill C-308 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. As for whether the funds in question are government funds, I refer hon. members to the ruling of June 13, 2005 at page 6990 of the debates which stated that:

Sections 71 to 77 of the Employment Insurance Act establish the operation of the employment insurance account as part of the consolidated revenue fund. Amounts are paid out of the consolidated revenue fund and charged to the account--

It is evident that the bill seeks to increase employment insurance benefits, thus increasing the expenditures under that Act. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1).

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

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

September 14th, 2009 / 11:05 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

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On June 2 you made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about three bills that appear to impinge upon the financial prerogative of the Crown and invited the comments of members of the House.

One of the three bills you mentioned was Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system). Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-308 contains provisions that would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act, would require new spending and would, therefore, require a royal recommendation.

Bill C-308 includes the following provisions that would require new government spending.

First, Bill C-308 would reduce the qualifying period for employment insurance to a minimum of 360 hours of work compared with the current variable interest requirement, which varies from 420 to 700 hours, depending upon the unemployment rate of the region.

Second, Bill C-308 would permanently increase the benefit period by five weeks.

Third, Bill C-308 would increase the benefit replacement rate to 60% of insured earnings from the current rate of 55%. The bill also proposes to change the benefit calculation from the best 14 weeks of a claimant's earnings during a 52-week period to the best 12 weeks of a claimant's earnings during a 52-week period.

Fourth, Bill C-308 would increase the level of maximum yearly insurable earnings from $39,000 to $42,500. It would also introduce an indexing formula that would further increase the level of maximum yearly insurable earnings every year.

Finally, Bill C-308 would add a new part to the Employment Insurance Act to expand benefits for self-employed persons.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimates that the measures contained in Bill C-308 would cost as much as $4.3 billion per year.

Mr. Speaker, in previous rulings, you have ruled that other private members' bills on employment insurance were out of order because they would increase government spending and therefore require a royal recommendation. In particular, I would draw the attention of members to a November 6, 2006 ruling on Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), where the Speaker stated that Bill C-269 would reduce

the qualifying period for benefits...increases the weekly benefit rate...repeals the waiting period for benefits...increases the yearly maximum insurable earnings and...extends coverage of the Employment Insurance Plan to the self-employed. ... I have concluded that all of these elements would indeed require expenditures from the EI Account which are not currently authorized. I note as well that the summary of the bill lists three further ends which, at first glance, appear to me to involve other increases to expenditures. Such increased spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation.

I must rule that...Bill C-269 requires a royal recommendation.

Bill C-308 includes provisions similar to those in Bill C-269 from the 39th Parliament, which was found to require a royal recommendation. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that Bill C-308 must also be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

April 2nd, 2009 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Concerning your recommendations, you no doubt know that the Bloc Québécois has already taken steps in that direction, by introducing Bill C-269. In any case, there is a general consensus regarding the recommendations made to improve the system.

I brought the bill to the human resources committee for debate...

I remember taking the bill to the human resources committee, where it was introduced and debated, and I remember being stunned and shocked by the response we heard from the government, a response I had also heard in the House of Commons, namely, that changing or improving the system would encourage idleness and laziness. I wanted to share that with you.

Your recommendations are in line with that bill. As you know, we are raising the issue again with Bill C-308.

That being said, will the five weeks added by the government make the system more equitable for women?

Private Member's Bill C-241Points of OrderGovernment Orders

March 3rd, 2009 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons spoke in this House to indicate to you that Bill C-241 to remove the waiting period imposed on employment insurance recipients requires royal recommendation. You will not be surprised to hear that I not share that opinion at all.

Although I do recognize, as the parliamentary secretary has said, that you ruled on this matter during the 39th Parliament concerning Bill C-269, which also contained provisions for elimination of the waiting period, I am of the opinion that there are some new elements that need to be drawn to your attention.

In fact, there have been many changes since that ruling. In my opinion, it ought to be reviewed because the legislation surrounding the funding of employment insurance has changed. Bill C-50 to implement the February 26, 2008 budget, which was given royal assent on June 18, 2008, enacted the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board Act.

In order to properly explain the purpose of that act, I would like to quote an except from page 71 of the 2008 budget plan.

To enhance the independence of premium rate setting and to ensure that EI premiums are used exclusively for the EI program, the government is creating a new, independent Crown corporation, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board (CEIFB). It will have the following key responsibilities:

Managing a separate bank account. Any annual EI surpluses going forward will be held and invested until they are needed for EI program costs.

Then, further down on page 71:

The CEIFB will be structured as a Crown corporation that will report to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. It will have an independent board of directors and be staffed with the experts needed to manage the financing of the EI program.

I would like to now draw your attention to a ruling by the Deputy Speaker of the House on October 3, 2005 concerning a bill which dealt with the use of the surplus in the reserve fund of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. I will quote an excerpt from that ruling if I may:

Bill C-363 proposes that monies within the control of CMHC—not the Crown—be dedicated for a particular purpose. A royal recommendation is required when a bill seeks an authorization to withdraw monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Is Bill C-363 seeking to withdraw monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund? I would conclude that it is not. Bill C-363 is preventing CMHC monies from being placed in the Consolidated Revenue Fund by having them used for another purpose. The transfer of monies from the CMHC reserve fund to the Consolidated Revenue Fund—or in this case to the provinces—is not a matter relating to the appropriation of monies from the Crown. Therefore, Bill C-363 does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown.

The parliamentary secretary also cited a May 9, 2005 ruling, which among other things addressed the objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications of the royal recommendation. He argued that Bill C-363 is adding a new purpose which was not contemplated in the original legislation establishing CMHC and would therefore need a new royal recommendation. Again I wish to stress that the original royal recommendation strictly applied to matters concerning the objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications of an appropriation of monies within the control of the Crown; that is not the case with Bill C-363. As Bill C-363 does not appropriate from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, it cannot be considered as altering the purpose of the original royal recommendation.

This precedent is extremely relevant in this case. We have already noted that the government's aim in creating the Canada employment insurance financing board was to set up a separate bank account in order to make sure that contributions would be used exclusively for the employment insurance program. Therefore, by the government's own admission, the purpose of creating the Canada employment insurance financing board is to make sure that the monies in this account are no longer available to the Crown for general appropriations.

Once this has been established, we must conclude that a royal recommendation cannot apply to Bill C-241, because it does not have to do with monies within the control of the Crown. The monies in question here are within the control of the Canada employment insurance financing board. Consequently, in our opinion, this bill does not require a royal recommendation.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 18th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development by simply saying that if there really was a strategy to decrease poverty in Quebec and Canada, the Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-207 to keep young people in the regions. The Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-269 to give women and youth access to employment insurance. The Conservative government would have voted in favour of Bill C-490 to give seniors the right to an increased and retroactive guaranteed income supplement. And the Conservative government would have voted against Bill C-484 to ensure that women will always have access to legal and free abortion.

Mr. Speaker, as you can see, I do not need two-and-a-half minutes to respond to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development because I think I have summarized the situation.

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 / 5 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the NDP opposition motion. As members certainly know, the subjects mentioned in this motion have always been very important to the Bloc Québécois. I am referring to the problems related to employment insurance, poverty and training. We cannot sit by and say nothing about the Conservative government's obvious incompetence in these areas.

I would like to start with the issue of employment insurance, and more specifically, the people who depend on this plan. As its name suggests, employment insurance is supposed to be an insurance than enables contributors to receive an income when they lose their job. That sounds good. The problem is that the plan has been completely distorted and diverted from its original goal.

For example, the claimant-contributor ratio went from nearly 80% in 1990 to 46.1% today. This means that less than half of those who contribute to employment insurance qualify to receive benefits. Did this Conservative government do anything for the unemployed or for these people who are losing their jobs? Absolutely not.

At the weekly meetings of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, on which I sit, I have even heard Conservatives say that people who lose their jobs in Quebec or elsewhere can simply move to Alberta. I understand the principle of labour mobility, but it is not as simple as that. People cannot be uprooted that easily.

I would like to remind the members opposite that with Bills C-269 and C-357, we in the Bloc Québécois came up with real solutions to help people who lose their jobs. The first bill proposed to improve the employment insurance system, while the second called for the creation of the independent employment insurance fund. The government chose to reject these bills out of hand. What did it do instead? It proposed in the most recent budget to create a crown corporation, the employment insurance financing board.

We have asked questions about this board, and our understanding is that the board's only role will be to adjust the employment insurance contribution rate. The minister himself has confirmed the board's minimal role. This morning, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, one witness mentioned that a 15¢ decrease in contributions would mean approximately $30 more for workers at the end of the year. What a nice gift. This is not exactly what you would call a big help.

The crux of the problem remains. The government has made no provision to improve the employment insurance system and ensure that people who lose their jobs have some income while they are going through a rough time. The Conservative government should have acted. If they do not want to help the unemployed, the Conservatives deserve to be unemployed themselves.

Industries are still in crisis in Quebec. Lumber producers and manufacturers have been affected, even in the ridings represented by Conservative members. Yet the government has not lifted a finger, preferring to help Alberta and cozy up to its friends to the south, the Americans, Mr. Bush's friends.

The manufacturing crisis has had a devastating effect on the Eastern Townships, and it is not over yet. This week, we found out that one of our region's finest, Shermag, has placed itself under the protection of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. Shermag was hit hard by Asian competition and the rising dollar. Between 2005 and 2007, the company closed three plants in my riding, one in Scotstown, one in Cookshire-Eaton and one in Dudswell, which cost our small communities hundreds of jobs.

I mentioned Shermag, but I could just as easily have talked about other Quebec plants and factories that have closed. I do not want to go on and on about the manufacturing crisis, because that is not the purpose of today's motion. I want to get to the point, which is the human side of things.

In 2003, there were about 42,000 industrial jobs in the Eastern Townships. Now there are only about 25,000 left. The manufacturing crisis cost us 17,000 good jobs in a region with a population of 300,000. Those jobs paid at least $20 or $22 per hour. Quebec workers—should they even qualify—are too proud to sit at home, happily taking advantage of the employment insurance program. Workers in the Eastern Townships rolled up their sleeves and found other jobs—jobs that most often paid less than half of what they had been earning before.

This has been a huge loss for these people and for the economy of the Eastern Townships. In four years, we lost 35% of our industrial jobs. This is a real catastrophe. Workers who lose their jobs have to deal with an employment insurance program that does not insure them. Whether they want to or not, they have to take whatever job they can get, even if it is a part-time job for low pay.

It is easy to see what I am getting at. When people's wages drop by $5, $10 or $15 per hour, buying power goes down and poverty goes up. Yet, with its laissez-faire ideology, this government has made it clear that it is not really interested in helping people who really need help.

To refresh our memories, I could mention that the Conservatives cut the women’s program. They also slashed programs for minorities and they are still refusing to refund money owed to seniors for the guaranteed income supplement. On the other hand, however, they did not hesitate to give tax credits of almost $1 billion a year to the oil companies and corporations, which, as we all know in this House, are “living in the most appalling misery and destitution.”

This week, we learned that the individual purchasing power of Quebeckers has increased by $53 in 25 years. That is another proof of the inaction of governments, both Conservative and Liberal, we must insist. Fifty-three dollars amounts to one dollar a week this year, but in this case it was spread over 25 years.

From the same set of statistics, we learned that the salaries of low income workers decreased by 20% during the same period. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest people increased by 16%, and the number of rich people also grew. Moreover, despite the efforts made over 25 years, it appears that poverty has not been reduced.

Here are some examples of the sad state of affairs. Nearly 900,000 Canadian children still live in low income families. We always say that the reason children are poor is because their parents are poor. The number of mothers in single-parent families who are trying to make ends meet is just as high as ever. Indeed, there is no shortage of examples and all communities are affected.

Before concluding, I would like to sum up the situation. It is very clear to me that the government has done nothing to save jobs in Quebec, to help our workers who are in trouble, to improve the employment insurance plan or to combat poverty. The results are negative. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. Disposable income is stagnating. In other words, we are going nowhere and this government has no vision to offer; it has no plans or ideas to submit. It has only an outdated, backward, regressive and rigid ideology.

The Bloc has given the government an opportunity to act: to reform employment insurance, to help the most needy, to ensure that our industries remain open, and that our workers maintain their dignity and their income. The Conservatives have chosen to fold their arms and do nothing. They had the chance to govern on behalf of workers but they did not act on it.

I must say that I have never had a great deal of confidence in this government, but today it has really lost the confidence of this House. I am convinced it will also lose the confidence of the voters.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reply to the member's speech. She said that the current unemployment rate in Canada and Quebec is at its lowest. That is true. Seasonal workers in the fishing, forestry and tourism industries, along with all forestry workers, are now in the spring gap. What I mean by that is that they have not been receiving employment insurance benefits since about the start of April, yet they will not begin work until the start of June or, for most of them, the start of July.

People do not have any more employment insurance benefits because they have exhausted the number of weeks covered by this government for employment insurance. They had been receiving employment insurance since September, the end of the season, and now they are not receiving anything. That is what is called the spring gap. Quite often these people find themselves on welfare.

The Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), but the Conservatives voted against it. We also introduced a bill that would create an independent fund, but the Conservatives were also opposed to that.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed the member for Chambly—Borduas, and I am proud to represent the voters and everyone in that riding who is paying attention to this motion here today.

I must first congratulate our colleague from Sault Ste. Marie and thank the NDP for moving this motion here today, which gives us the opportunity to debate an issue that is too often ignored, but that is nonetheless extremely important, especially for the people living in poverty. I would have liked to be able to ask our colleague from Markham—Unionville a question earlier, but I will save it for another time. I will touch on it during my presentation.

The motion is especially important because it links the issue of the gap between the rich and the poor with factors that cause poverty among our citizens. The program most butchered by the Liberals was the employment insurance program. The Conservatives continued the butchering, so much so that people were literally deprived of money owing to them in the form of EI benefits, just so the government could build up the kitty and increase the surplus to pay down the debt or meet other government obligations. Who knows? The Conservatives are probably even using part of the $54 billion diverted from the employment insurance fund for national defence and utterly questionable expenses.

This motion is even more interesting because it reminds us of what our society values and makes us think about the real role we play here in the House of Commons. Above all, we are here to represent the people, and not to represent economic interests that serve to benefit groups, consortiums or, as is currently the case, oil companies, or that would finance the war. That is not it. Our primary concern and focus should be the well-being of the public.

Therefore, the motion before us today is completely appropriate, and we will support it. We will vote in favour of this motion and we urge our colleagues in the House to do the same.

If the member for Markham—Unionville wanted to be credible in this House, he should have said that the Liberals were also going to vote in favour of the motion. Announcing a plan will not convince the House that the Liberal Party is sincere in its desire to eradicate poverty, since in the last 13 or 14 years, more than any other party, it has contributed to the impoverishment of working class people.

I remind members that in 1997—and I am referring to issues raised by the Liberal member for Markham—Unionville—the Liberals eliminated the assistance program for older workers, which was not all that expensive. Workers over the age of 55 were forced into poverty if they could not be retrained. They no longer had any recourse other than social assistance in their respective provinces. This party, along with the Conservatives, also ensured that seniors were not informed that they were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.

The people who are the most isolated, the people who are the most vulnerable because they are unaware of their rights, were deprived of $3.5 billion.

If the hon. member who spoke earlier had wanted to be credible, he should have apologized, acknowledged that he and his party had not done their homework and had been irresponsible, and announced that they were going to vote in favour of the motion before us today. If he had wanted to be credible, our Liberal colleague would have refused to jump on the Conservative bandwagon, he would have acknowledged that the cuts he and his party had made to employment insurance were a bad decision and were unfair to unemployed workers, and he would have announced that the Liberals were going to vote in favour of this motion in order to correct the injustice done to all people who lose their jobs.

By reducing access to employment insurance, the previous government succeeded in excluding nearly 60% of unemployed workers. Barely 40% of all people who lose their jobs qualify. Not only is this an injustice, but it is a very serious economic crime against the unemployed, their families, the regions concerned and the provincial governments.

People who would have been entitled to employment insurance benefits but do not receive them go on welfare, placing a double burden on the provinces. They contributed to the national fund, just like their employers. But over the past 12 years, the federal government has siphoned off the $54 billion surplus to use for other purposes. No, the ministers have not pocketed this money. It has been put to use elsewhere. But it was not tax money to begin with. It consisted of contributions for insurance in case workers lost their jobs. This is totally unfair.

The current Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has admitted that funds were diverted and that it should never have happened. After he admitted funds were diverted and that it was unfair, we expected an announcement saying that they would right this wrong and accept the unanimous recommendation of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities from 2005, which stated that all of the diverted money, the $46 billion that has now become $54 billion, should be refunded to the fund at a rate of $1.5 billion a year. To be sure it is done legally and, above all, legitimately, the funds should be considered a loan just as if the government had borrowed from financial markets.

That was a unanimous recommendation from the committee. We expected the Liberals to accept it, but they turned a deaf ear and continued to loot the fund for other purposes.

The Conservatives have been doing the same thing for two-and-a-half years. They admit now that they should not have. And what have they done to fix it? Nothing. They are just as guilty as the Liberals. There is a saying that the person holding the bag is just as guilty as the one filling it. Right now, it is the Conservatives who are holding the bag. Why are they not putting the cash back into the fund?

We would then find ourselves in a position where the two parties—of course we would urge the Liberals to support the action—would become more credible. But, neither of them has the credibility to do it. When plans or strategies are announced to eliminate poverty, neither party—neither the one in power nor the one forming the official opposition—has any credibility.

The current government, for its part, has added to the burden on the poorest individuals and families. For example, the first thing it did was to eliminate a national child care program. Quebec's national child care program, which is paid for in part by the government and in part by parents, has resulted in a decline of roughly 3% in the poverty level. This is huge.

When the federal government eliminates the program for the rest of Canada, people slip into poverty. In addition, when the government deprives women's groups of the means to defend their rights, it is depriving a segment of our society that has difficulty obtaining recognition of its rights, especially labour rights. The employment insurance policy is a wrong-headed policy, because only 33% of all women who lose their jobs can hope to receive employment insurance.

Anyone who is looking for factors that exacerbate poverty does not have to look any farther than the government, which is continuing to make cuts to measures designed to eliminate poverty. For 18 years, since 1990, the federal government has promised repeatedly to eliminate poverty, yet it has done just the opposite.

Just a week ago, I believe, Statistics Canada announced that the gap between Canada's rich and poor had widened since 1980. The rich have gotten 16% richer, while the poor have gotten 20% poorer. This is no big deal, apparently, because Canada's decision makers, who were elected on the promise that they would do better than the previous government, are supporting the previous government's decisions and adding insult to injury by eliminating existing measures.

Regarding employment insurance benefits, the solution is not very complicated, because measures are available to us. They existed in the past. In terms of a social safety net, one of the most effective ways our society has to prevent poverty from worsening is the employment insurance system. With employment insurance, workers who lose their jobs and have no income have enough money to support their families. Employment insurance is not a gift from the government, because only employers and employees contribute to it.

The purpose of the fund is to insure against unemployment. The previous government changed the name to employment insurance. That change had an impact. It might have seemed as though it was just a name change—maybe it sounded better or something. But there was more to it than that. As soon as the name of the fund was changed, the government started meddling with the fund and using it for other purposes.

That is quite disturbing, so we suggest that the government go back to the main reason for the fund's existence and dedicate it to supporting people who have lost their jobs. What needs to be done? The government has to relax the eligibility criteria. For example, someone who has worked 360 hours should be eligible for employment insurance benefits. Benefits should be calculated based on the 12 best weeks, and people should be able to collect benefits for 50 weeks, not just 45 weeks.

Benefits should also be increased to 60% of an individual's income rather than the current 55%. Some people might say that 60% is a lot, but that is not true. We have to remember that most of the people who lose their jobs are low income earners. Even high income earners living on 60% of their previous income have to change their lifestyle. It is very difficult for people who lose their jobs to lose 45% of their income. People should not have to lose more than 40%. That would at least help them a little.

Here is the situation. We introduced Bill C-269, which covered all of these measures, here in the House. All of these measures were recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, which is a House committee whose mandate is to advise and counsel the House and ministers. The committee approved all of the measures I mentioned, measures that are included in Bill C-269.

What happened? The Conservatives said the bill required royal recommendation and that they would not give it. Imagine that. That money does not belong to the public treasury. It belongs to workers and employers. The Conservatives have decided to prevent this House from studying a Bloc Québécois bill that would lead to measures that are a little more humane and fair and have been paid for by those who contribute to the EI fund, namely workers and employers. The Conservative government has refused to give royal recommendation. In a letter, the Leader of the Bloc Québécois and the Leader of the NDP officially asked the Prime Minister to give royal recommendation. The leader of the official opposition refused to sign the letter. Imagine that.

The Canadian government, the Conservatives and Liberals together—those Liberals who literally destroyed the employment insurance system—now is saying we have to trust it because it has a plan. When it announces a plan, there is cause for concern because people end up even more disadvantaged. The government's past plans are an example of what they are capable of and that is cause for concern. We have to be concerned about both the government and the Liberals. The government wants us to trust it, but we do not.

The interesting thing about the NDP motion is that it expresses the public's general lack of confidence. Why this lost confidence? Because the Liberals and the Conservatives have not lived up to their responsibilities when it comes to protecting the social safety net, in order to ensure a balance between creating wealth and distributing that wealth. They do not care about the working class and the most vulnerable in our society. Not only did they not care, but they have managed to make the situation even worse.

If the Liberals want to gain some credibility today, then they have to vote in favour of this motion. All their fine speeches have nothing to do with their true intention. Their true intention will only be known when they vote. My concern is that they will support the Conservatives' disastrous policy and uphold measures that are totally unfair to the working class and to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

This government is only interested in war, oil companies and nuclear power and not in humanity. I will close there. I invite all my colleagues who truly want to represent their ridings to vote in favour of this motion.

April 1st, 2008 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Could we add in the report that through a coalition between the Liberals and the Conservatives, Bill C-269--the 360 hours for the workers across the country--was not carried? Maybe we could add an amendment to that; maybe Liberals would agree with me.

April 1st, 2008 / 9:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I feel that one fact has radically changed things since the Speaker's decision on Bill C-269 specifically. At the time when the Speaker made that decision, the account was recognized as part of the CRF. Given the budget proposal and the creation of a separate account administered by a board, it seems to me that it is no longer the Speaker's place to decide whether it is admissible under the government's budget prerogatives. He can make a decision about the rules of procedure, but not about the administration of the CRF, since these amounts will no longer be administered from the CRF. My objective here is to tell you that as soon as the debate on this matter has taken place, that decision will have to be looked at quite differently.

Furthermore, we will not be able to support the amendment put forward by our colleague Mr. Savage. The merit of the amendment is to try to come to some common position before the House. We went through that exercise when we were studying Bill C-269. At that time, we agreed to request a reduction of 70 hours, in a real effort to come to a compromise. We realized that, really, the exercise was not about getting the figures to balance or anything like that, it was about deciding whether we had the will to improve employment insurance and whether, as a system, it required major changes. That is the question, Mr. Chair.

We also ask ourselves if it would not be worthwhile to use this opportunity to do away with regional disparities and inequities, using not a percentage unemployment rate, but rather the specific reality of people who lose their jobs. That reality is the same for mothers or fathers who have lost their jobs whether their region has an unemployment rate of 12% or 7%. They no longer have an income, but they still have the same family obligations every day. That is the situation that I urge our Liberal colleagues to consider. Has the time not finally come to take corrective action? Maybe the action is not major, but it may at least be right.

To date, the arguments that have been made to us have dealt with contributions to the account. The Conservatives have the right, given that it is the ideology they hold dear, to believe that taxes must be cut and fewer support services must be provided to the least fortunate in our society. The same principle applies to the employment insurance account. They want to target the premiums but not the benefits because they are not important; that is the law of the free market. If someone loses his job, it is no one's fault. The person has to deal with it and find another job. I am not going to get into a debate on that, but, as I am sure you know, there is no escaping the facts. The facts are that these people no longer have an income and they cannot go and work somewhere else because there is no work for them. Those are the facts and there is no changing them. What can be changed, however, is the way we support these people.

With all due respect to our Liberal Party colleagues, I remind them that when the time came to ask the Prime Minister to arrange for royal assent for Bill C-269, they stalled, they did not proceed. That was their right. They have changed their minds, I suppose. I do not know. Whatever the reason, we could not get to that stage. However, I remind them how we really tried to join forces in order to make the Conservatives change their position.

In all sincerity, I understand the Liberals' concern. They tell themselves that if they get back into power one day—and the way the Conservatives are carrying on at the moment days, it could happen—they do not want to be stuck with something that they cannot manage. But they can manage it, Mr. Chair. When people started slashing premiums, they were at $3.10 or $3.20, I believe. When we held hearings with our friend Mr. Cuzner, everyone said that a premium of around $2.20 was manageable. The only sour note on the other side was that employers said that they wanted to contribute the same as employees. That debate is always the same.

At the moment the premium drops below $1.80, it is not about premiums any more, it is about supporting people who have lost their jobs. We are now discussing one of the ways that will allow us to do away with regional discrimination. That mainly affects women and young people. We know what effect the percentage has from one region to another. Let us do something, Mr. Chair; after all, we are not talking about a large amount of money. We are talking about 320 hours, which means $200 million. In the worst case, according to the 2004 figures, it would be $390 million and that would affect 90,000 unemployed people. The money is in the account.

I am going to stop there, Mr. Chair. I am asking our Liberal friends to keep this measure specifically. With it, we can really begin to revive employment insurance.