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.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 13th, 2007 / 4:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, you are right in saying that the subject is not directly related to the crisis in the manufacturing sector, but it is a further example of how heartless this government is. It does not care about people who are going through hard times economically or socially. That is clear from the way the government is currently preventing the House from voting on Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), which was introduced by the Bloc Québécois.

In the regions of Quebec, in every municipality—and this goes for the rest of Canada too—people need financial help when they lose their jobs temporarily so that they can get the training they need to find new jobs. However, this government is completely indifferent to the challenges facing workers who find themselves unemployed, just as it is indifferent to the unfortunate situations in which veterans find themselves, as the member pointed out.

That is how it is with everything. Whenever a sector is going through hard times and workers and their communities are affected by crisis, the government ignores it and chooses to focus on things that are going well. Obviously, what is going well is the oil industry. That is handy because they happen to be friends of the Conservative government, which heartlessly and with complete lack of concern leaves everyone else to fend for themselves.

I think the member illustrated that fact with yet another example. This is government for the rich by the rich.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 13th, 2007 / 1 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to congratulate and thank my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup for his speech and, of course, for the exceptional work he did when he was our party's critic for human resources and social development, as he is doing now as finance critic.

As for everything else in this House, we always try to show discipline out of respect for our colleagues. I would appreciate it if our colleagues would do the same today out of respect for this House.

Earlier, my colleague clearly showed that this obvious political choice on the part of the Conservative Party is based on the same pillars as those used by the Bush government in the United States. This means that the strength of the economy must come from the military industry and the oil industry, as my colleague so aptly illustrated. Right now, oil is to our economy what EPO is to some athletes who resort to doping. It is the only industry that gives some impetus to the Canadian economy since all other sectors are in trouble, particularly the manufacturing and forestry sectors.

I would say to our colleagues from Quebec in the Conservative party—and I would say the same thing to the Liberals—that, when we, the Bloc Québécois, appear at any meetings or gatherings, people tell us all the time that we look as though we are working very hard. I always tell them that, in the Bloc Québécois, we have to work hard because we are working for 75 members, even though there are only 49 of us. Why? It is because there are federalist party members who are definitely working against the interests of the population, who are primarily concerned about the interests of the powerful, especially the oil companies. It is true. This is about more than just grandstanding.

My colleague said so awhile ago. Look at page 30 of the economic statement. All industrial sectors are there. At present, the only one that gets ongoing financial support from the Canadian government is the oil industry, those I would call the oil barons.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, our economy is based heavily on the manufacturing sector. The manufacturing sector is so crucial that in Quebec there are three times more revenues generated by the manufacturing sector than what Alberta, for example, produces through the oil industry, that is, 536,000 jobs with a payroll of $22 billion.

This is the economic impact the manufacturing sector has in Quebec, a sector that accounts for 90% of international exports. Thus, of the $69 billion in exports, $63 billion comes from the manufacturing sector.

The production of goods generates the most wealth in Quebec. But when measures to revitalize the manufacturing sector are not accepted, this amounts to policies that run completely counter to Quebec’s interests.

To illustrate my remarks, I remind the House that 135,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Quebec, or the equivalent of one worker in five, since December 31, 2002. That is 65,000 jobs lost since the arrival of the Conservatives.

This morning our colleagues listed the measures designed to help the manufacturing sector. It would have been far better if they had not put them in place because I get the impression that the measures they have taken have done more harm than good to the manufacturing sector.

One colleague said: “Do not tell us what has happened, tell us what you are going to do.” You made a commitment—and you are doing so again today—to provide help for the manufacturing sector, but you are not announcing anything.

The Bloc’s motion, put forward today, has the advantage of getting each party to take a position to ensure concrete measures with a view to helping the manufacturing sector. In Quebec, some 275,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector alone.

Let us speak now of the forestry crisis. From May 2002 to April 2005, a total of 10,000 jobs were lost in sawmills and paper mills. That was before 2005. Since April 2005, 21,000 more jobs have been lost. This is the Conservatives. The last MPs elected in byelections were Conservative members. I come back to this often, because it is important for citizens to realize that there are people in this House who got themselves elected on platforms which clearly distorted the truth. The member forRoberval—Lac-Saint-Jean got himself elected by telling the forestry industry that he would help it out, by asking it to bring him to power in this government. His first speech in the House was concerned with idolizing his leader. He spoke about “a certain Albertan”. He used just about every term available to sing his praises, but no terms to describe the measures that had to be taken to give some dignity to the people he represents in his constituency. The only way to give that dignity is to propose concrete measures for the forestry industry.

Those concrete measures can be found in the motion. Here are the solutions: better tax support for research and development, particular attention to the resource regions, investment in development of new products. We could have filled pages with them, but managed to summarize things in a single motion. Will they vote for this today? This is the hour of truth for the people who got themselves elected on the promise to help out these workers and these entrepreneurs.

Earlier, a colleague was talking about employment insurance. We have just proposed concrete measures to help out the industry. However, when workers suffer inevitable job losses, they are willing to go back to work. They are brave people who want to work. So they go and take courses and attend back-to-work sessions, when there are jobs. But what happens when there are none?

They have been beset by two misfortunes. First, they were faced with a Liberal government that destroyed the employment insurance program. Then, the Conservative government went back on its commitments, namely that it would restore the employment insurance program, specifically by setting up an independent employment insurance fund so that the government would stop dipping into the fund for other purposes. However, there are older workers who no longer have an income, who find themselves on welfare, even though they have contributed to employment insurance all their life. The Liberal government eliminated the POWA, and the Conservatives promised to restore it. However they are maintaining the position of the Liberal government.

It is the same thing with employment insurance. At the end of this month, we will have the second hour of debate at third reading of Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system). This bill is intended to restore the employment insurance system by providing benefits to people who have contributed to the fund and who are the only ones, with their employers, who have done so. And all the money needed to do this is there. In fact, there is another $3,300,000,000 surplus this year, so we have what is needed to be able to meet the obligations of Bill C-269. And yet the government continues to impose constraints on workers who lose their jobs.

I in turn invite my colleagues to vote for this motion, so that this government will take concrete steps to help these two sectors, manufacturing and forestry, to get out of this crisis.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 13th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas for his very good question. The government has already taken $54 million from the employment insurance fund. In addition, from 2006 to 2007, the federal government announced a $3.3 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, and from March to today, its surplus has been $1.7 billion. The reason why the government does not want to give this bill the royal recommendation is that it thinks all is well in Canada. It thinks unemployment is going down and, since there are no more problems, it can go on drawing from the employment insurance fund, just like the Liberals used to do.

We had agreed to say that Bill C-269 is similar to Bill C-265. Even the Liberals agreed, but now they have started to slip on the ice. Is it because winter has arrived that their skates have started slip? They do not want to support us on this bill now because they are afraid that, if they return to power some day, they will not be able to continue the cuts they began in 1996.

We need to remember that the employment insurance problem is the Liberals’ baby, even though the difficulty was created by the Conservatives before them under Brian Mulroney. The cuts started in the Brian Mulroney era and were continued by Jean Chrétien’s government and so, on and on.

This bill would help people who live in rural areas or have jobs in seasonal industries to qualify for employment insurance. The Bloc has often talked as well about the bill or motion to come to the aid of working people 55 years and older who lose their jobs. However, the government is still in neutral on this. It does not want to talk about it and has no intention of helping these people. But the government is there all right when it is time to help big business and the big banks by giving them big tax breaks. It is just too bad for working people, according to the government. They should just move to Alberta. But not everybody can move to Alberta.

Opposition Motion—Manufacturing and ForestryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 13th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech presenting his party's position on the Bloc Québécois motion.

In his speech, he described what the implications would be for the companies and industries involved. He also touched on the implications for the people who work there. At the end of the month, the House will begin the second hour of debate on Bill C-269, at third reading. This is one of the measures to help working people who lose their jobs. It is inevitable: there are no more jobs and so they have to fall back on employment insurance.

Our colleague is very familiar with all the damage that the other two parties have done to the employment insurance program.

Could my hon. colleague tell us what his position is on the royal recommendation that the government has to provide to the bill on the employment insurance program so that it can be voted on at third reading? These changes are needed to help people who are unemployed.

Sitting ResumedGovernment Orders

November 1st, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

The Bloc Québécois will obviously vote in favour of the Liberal motion. No one would oppose this motion that is asking the government for a real strategy to improve the economic situation of women. However, what is interesting is to see to what extent the Liberals, when in opposition, push such progressive measures; they were much more conservative when in power. This is a “soft” version of the Conservatives, but also a more centralizing one.

As for the actual Conservatives, we must condemn this government's failure to take any action or pass any measure in support of women.

We are far from achieving equality between men and women and, unfortunately, the actions of this government are only making things worse. If women have achieved equality, as suggested by this ultra-Conservative government, why do twice as many women as men live in poverty in Canada? Why is it that, more often than not, women leave their jobs to look after a parent or sick child?

I wonder whether the Conservatives realize that young women today have to forget about saving for retirement because they have to juggle career and family. Sometimes this forces them to take on part-time work that does not pay very well, and to focus on child care and other child-related expenses.

Today, the average income for women is still well below the average for men. In 2003, the average annual income for women was $24,400, which was 62% of the income for men, who were earning $39,300 on average.

In a recent study by Statistics Canada, from May 2007, entitled, “Has Higher Education among Young Women Substantially Reduced the Gender Gap in Employment and Earnings?”, we learned that although women are now more educated than men, their income is still inferior. In 2000 constant dollars, the average income for men who attended university was $45,054 and for women was $36,782. That is what the Conservatives are not telling the public when they have the nerve to say we have achieved gender equality.

In this week's economic statement, the Conservatives went even further in their attempt to sabotage gender equality. It is the men who will benefit from a significant cut in their taxes. According to the latest information from Statistics Canada, the median income in 2005 was $32,300 for men and $20,200 for women. Accordingly, two single people, whose only difference is their sex, will not benefit from the same tax cut. Cutting the tax rate from 15.5% to 15% will give the single male $113 more in disposable income in 2007, while his female counterpart will get only $53 more. That is less than half, but it also represents the Conservatives' idea of equality.

Tuesday's economic statement did not include anything for women in our economic reality either. Do you believe that a 1% cut in the GST will really improve the situation for women? To benefit from tax cuts, a person must first earn an income.

If the Conservatives were in touch with the situation women are in, surely they would know that women work low end jobs, unstable jobs, part-time jobs, seasonal jobs.

If they had really wanted to help women in their statement on Tuesday, they would have sorted out the pay equity issue once and for all. They also would have made the necessary changes to employment insurance so that women could benefit from a plan that reflects the reality facing female workers.

They would have given back to the court challenges program and the women's program the money needed for women to regain their voice in a country that sends soldiers to Afghanistan to fight for the emancipation of Afghan women, but is incapable of giving a real voice to its own female citizens.

Let us also talk about the cuts that the Conservatives made to Status of Women Canada, and the changes made to the women's program. These are more fine examples of this government's lack of vision. We have already established that equality between men and women exists only in the minds of this government and the minister, and that they are completely out of touch with everyday reality.

How can the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent claim to be familiar with the reality facing everyday women, when the women's program can no longer fund research on the economic and social status of women, or fund lobbying activities which at least informed the government of these realities?

In light of the government's decision to cut $5 million in administrative funding from Status of Women Canada, how can closing 12 Status of Women Canada offices help women raise awareness of the reality in their community? Do the Conservatives really believe that the head offices will know enough about what is going on in the different regions of the country?

My colleague from Laval and I have met and listened to many women’s groups that came and testified before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. They virtually all denounced the decisions made by this government. How can the government and the minister claim to speak on behalf of women and represent them when women themselves are telling the government that it is headed in the wrong direction and its decisions do not make any sense? The ideologically motivated blindness of this government is unequalled, except for its desire to wipe out more than 30 years of work toward the equality of women.

Even in the matter of pay equity, it is deeply disappointing to see that this government does not intend to do anything at all to correct the terrible inequality between men and women. On average, women in Canada earn only 71% of what men earn. Even in fields where women excel and are in the majority, they still have to be constantly taking further training and courses to reach the pay scales of their male counterparts.

Through it all, the Conservative government continues to proclaim—through the voice of its minister—that all is well in the kingdom of Canada. They should finally wake up, and when they do, a little bit of humility would do them a lot of good. What are they waiting for to follow once again the example set by the nation of Quebec, which recently resolved this question once and for all by settling the pay equity issue, to the great satisfaction of the women of Quebec? Fortunately, the women of Quebec can count on the Bloc Québécois here in Ottawa to remind the government of its duties, defend their rights, and protect the strides they have made.

I would like to finish by turning to a subject that is very close to my heart: employment insurance. Once again, the blindness and ideology of the Conservative government prevent it from seeing straight on an issue that really hits the women of this country hard. Part-time workers, seasonal workers, those in unstable jobs, workers at home, natural caregivers, divorcees, women with little education, heads of single-parent families—only 33% of the women who contribute to employment insurance are eligible to benefit from it. This means that many have no protection at all.

Our lovely Conservatives should just develop a little backbone. What is there to fear in allowing the House to give the working women of this country an employment insurance system that meets their needs? Passing Bill C-269 would just correct this injustice done to women.

It was shameful to cancel the court challenges program, which helped women contest the government’s choices, as it was to make changes in the women's program, which enabled women to defend themselves and raise their voices in the debates affecting them.

If defending pay equity, fighting violence against women, promoting women’s right to abortions, and working to ensure their economic security are what the minister calls just playing politics, I will continue to play politics with all my heart and soul.

Unemployed WorkersStatements By Members

October 26th, 2007 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is national unemployment week and the situation remains worrisome in many regions of Quebec, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean in particular.

While Quebec's key union leaders are eagerly awaiting a royal recommendation for Bill C-269, thousands of unemployed workers are being unfairly penalized by this government's lack of good will.

In addition to struggling with what little means they have to support hundreds of families affected by unemployment, a number of associations in my region such as ASTUSE, the Coalition des sans-chemise, and the Mouvement action chômage in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean cannot get through to the two Conservative members in my region.

The Bloc Québécois has managed, with help from the opposition parties, to get a bill passed to improve employment insurance. The Conservative government must respect the will of this House and provide better conditions to workers who lose their employment.

Employment InsuranceStatements By Members

October 26th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the pilot project extending employment insurance benefits in regions with high unemployment will expire on December 9, 2007. My riding is directly affected, because the unemployment rate in the Argenteuil and Papineau regions is over 10%. The pilot project was launched to try to bridge the spring gap in the EI system. Every year, thousands of seasonal workers in Quebec find themselves in a vulnerable situation.

The employment insurance program remains unfair for workers and the government refuses to make the necessary corrections. The pilot project must therefore be renewed. The only solution is a sweeping reform of the EI system, as recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and as proposed in Bill C-269, introduced by the Bloc Québécois.

The bill proposes increasing the eligibility period by five weeks, increasing the rate of benefits and improving access to the program. It also proposes a more equitable eligibility threshold, making it easier for women, young people and workers in vulnerable situations to access benefits.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 25th, 2007 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a rather unique situation. Yesterday, the Liberals did not rise when the time came to vote on the throne speech. No one got up. We did not know whether they supported or opposed the speech. We do not know because no one rose.

Today, we have before us a motion that looks strangely like something the Conservative Party might have moved as the party claiming to be the alternative to the other government, but the two parties are cut from the same cloth. It is sad, but true about this Liberal motion, which is a little light on analysis. Here are some examples.

First, the motion says that the government must reduce taxes, but makes no mention of the fiscal imbalance or possible transfers to the provinces. The Liberals seem totally unaware that there is a will in this country, particularly in Quebec, to make sure money is transferred to the provinces and the fiscal imbalance is corrected once and for all. This financial issue was corrected in part in the most recent budget, but a significant part of the issue has yet to be addressed: the actual transfer of money, which includes ways of raising money and transferring it to Quebec so that it can carry out its responsibilities. The Liberals are silent on this.

They could have criticized the Conservatives, who have failed to finish the job and seem content with the monetary transfer, but do not go so far as to respect the recognition of Quebec as a distinct nation and eliminate the fiscal imbalance completely. On this point, the Liberals take more or less the same position as the Conservatives.

The same is true when it comes to reducing corporate taxes. I am very surprised. The Standing Committee on Industry issued a unanimous report with 22 recommendations that made one thing clear: the government should not make across-the-board corporate tax reductions, but targeted reductions. Why? Because some companies are making good profits from their economic activities, while others are earning much less. The manufacturing and forestry sectors are not turning a profit. If corporate taxes are reduced, the people in these sectors will not benefit.

We need to find ways to make targeted tax reductions, as the Standing Committee on Industry recommended. That means things like refundable research and development tax credits, loan guarantees and a series of measures that will create a favourable tax environment for Canadian companies so that they can compete on global markets.

If we reduce corporate taxes across the board without asking for anything in particular in return, the money will flow into the pockets of shareholders, who will continue to invest in what they believe is best for the company. There is a difference between the goals of corporations and the goals of the state. The Liberals and the Conservatives do not seem to be aware of this reality. However, their own members on the Standing Committee on Industry accepted the proposals and were involved in developing this global action plan to help the manufacturing industry that was applauded by the coalition of manufacturers and unions.

With regard to today's motion pertaining to productivity, we would have expected that this distinction be made, that recommendations different from the Conservative approach be made. But this is not the what we see with the Liberal's position.

The issue of the debt is being handled in a similar manner. We are told that we must quite simply reduce the debt. However, there is significant debate surrounding this issue. This year, I conducted pre-budget consultations in my riding; I had six meetings of at least two hours each with citizens from all over the riding. I took away one thing from those meetings: what discouraged them the most was that $14 billion in surpluses was used to pay down the debt. It is somewhat similar to a home owner obsessed with paying the mortgage. He absolutely wants to pay off the mortgage on his house as soon as possible and in the least number of years possible. In the meantime, the porch is collapsing and he does nothing about it.

That is the kind of problem we have in Canada. It is fine to use the surplus to pay off about half of our debt, but we have to reinvest the other half in infrastructure programs. We also have to ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and implement a program to assist older workers who have been laid off due to globalization. These measures should be part of an overall industrial strategy.

If we want businesses to take advantage of investment tax credits so they can buy the equipment they need to be more competitive, we have to make sure that people who lose their jobs when that happens do not pay the price. We have to provide them with a decent living until they retire.

The Liberal motion does not address that. Now that they are the official opposition, they seem to be ignoring the issue. How disappointing.

Today is the day after the vote on the Speech from the Throne. They abstained from voting. Nobody knows whether they were for it or against it, just that they decided not to vote. I would have preferred to see four or five members rise, symbolically, to say that their party was against it, but none of them rose yesterday. Today, they have introduced a motion in an attempt to condemn the government. Theirs is a motion that sits squarely on the fence. Most of what the motion contains could very well have been supported by the Conservatives, or even proposed by them when they were in opposition. Obviously, the Conservative government will have to vote against it because of some of the things it says, but those are just details, really.

For example, the motion says that the government must avoid making mistakes such as breaking its promise not to tax income trusts. It is true that the Conservative's made the mistake of breaking their promise. They made a promise not to change the income trust tax, but they went ahead and changed it. Of course, when it came right down to it, that they clearly had to do something or income trusts would create very serious problems for the entire economy. We have to put this broken promise into context and in that sense, the motion generalizes.

The same goes for eliminating interest deductibility. The details have not been worked out. It seems to be the finance minister's trademark to present ideas and then, once they are on the table, realize that there are some loose ends to tie up.

This was how he tackled the issue of automatic teller machines. One day, he said he was going to bring the banks back to their senses and the next day he had a meeting with them and said the status quo was not so bad. It was the same with retailers. He said we have to make sure prices come down faster; he has a meeting and says the market will sort this out.

The Minister of Finance is sending out the wrong message. We saw this same lack of real analysis on the issue of interest deductibility. Again, it is clear that the Liberals did not get to the heart of this issue.

This motion is unacceptable to us because it systematically attacks provincial responsibilities in a number of jurisdictions, namely: infrastructure, research and development, post-secondary education, assistance to immigrants, recognition of credentials, and labour force training. For the Liberals, this is business as usual.

A majority of those activities are under provincial jurisdiction. They want to continue interfering in these areas when we know that action could be taken. For example, the federal government has maintained a reserve in the employment insurance fund for labour force training. There has been some devolution to the provinces, but part of it has been retained for a number of administrative programs, and there is a reserve. This money could be made available to Quebec and the provinces so they could use it to address labour force training needs. We do not want to find ourselves in the somewhat absurd situation that is happening in Lebel-sur-Quévillon. They are looking for mine employees there. Right next door, there are dozens and dozens of forestry workers. The Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec had asked that they be giving the appropriate training so they could become mine workers. No way of accomplishing this could be found, and we are going to bring in immigrants to do the work, while the forestry workers continue to be unemployed. There again, there is action that could be taken that was not taken and that should be taken.

So we are dealing with a motion that involves the level at which corporations are taxed and the size of the debt. It talks about driving greater productivity in Canada by making investments, but it gives no details about them, nor does it say what kind of action or what kind of policies should be put forward. This very general language makes no constructive contribution as compared to the position we would have expected from the Liberal Party.

When we talk about better access to post-secondary education, we have known the recipe for a long time. We have to be sure that the money is in the provinces’ hands and that the federal government stops interfering, as it did under the Liberals’ reign with the millennium scholarships. Quebec has to be able to manage its own money for education and decide where it is going to spend it.

That is the best way to improve access to post-secondary education. In fact, because of the loans and grants program we have developed in Quebec, which has unfortunately not been spared from the federal government’s budget cuts in this area, we still have an excellent system of access to training, and that must continue to be the case.

As well, the Liberal Party should have shown a little compassion in the way it worded this motion. It has nothing to say about older workers or workers on employment insurance, as if the question of productivity did not call for a little compassion; some is certainly required.

Earlier, I gave the example of older workers laid off by a company that is modernizing its plant. Often, those people have worked for 20 or 25 or 30 years for the same company. Until 1984, there was a program to help these people bridge the gap until retirement. Over and over, we have called for this kind of program to be put in place again. We succeeded in having an amendment to the Conservatives’ first throne speech passed, nearly two years ago now. We thought they would keep their word. They agreed to the amendment and they incorporated it, so that there would be a genuine assistance program for older workers.

In last year’s budget, rather than announcing the creation of the program, they decided to form a committee chaired by a former senator that was supposed to submit a draft report in September. When the end of summer arrived, we found out that the report had been postponed until January and still there is no program for older workers.

I asked the Prime Minister about this following his address during consideration of the Speech from the Throne. There is a reality here that people are facing and they deserve a solution. I was a bit disappointed, though, because the Prime Minister did not seem to know what I was talking about, even though the manufacturing and forestry sectors in Quebec and Canada are currently experiencing major difficulties.

Western Canada may well be riding an economic boom, but the Prime Minister should also be aware of what is happening throughout the manufacturing sector, which accounts for between 15% and 20% of the economic activity in Canada. Some of our citizens are badly affected by these layoffs. Yet the Conservative government shows no compassion, nor do the Liberals for that matter, because the very next day after the vote on the throne speech, they have introduced a motion in which they decide to say nothing.

It is the same with employment insurance. We have certainly put up a fight. I have been a member of Parliament for 14 years. Today is actually the anniversary of my election in 1993, and so it was exactly 14 years ago that I was elected to the House for the first time. We have been fighting hard for all that time. In truth, we would have preferred not to have to be here so long. I can humbly say that on the night of the referendum in 1995, I would have gone home, if we had only won. Today I would be living in a sovereign Quebec and would be very happy about it. In any case, we continued to fight and obtained some employment insurance pilot projects. These were not real changes to the act but five pilot projects that at least improved the situation of seasonal workers.

By the way, one of these pilot projects will expire on December 9, 2007. It enables all seasonal workers in 21 regions of Canada to receive benefits for five additional weeks over and above what is usually provided in the tables. However, if the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development fails to extend the current pilot project, the regular tables will come back into force on December 10. It is terrible for people in the seasonal industries to have a sword of Damocles like that hanging over their heads.

In the past, we forced the Liberal government to take action on this issue. Who could forget that Mr. Chrétien called seasonal workers beer-drinkers? In the end, we got a special program for seasonal workers. Nevertheless, it is sad that this has not yet become entrenched in law and that we still do not have an independent employment insurance fund to stop the government from dipping into it. The government must take action to extend the pilot project beyond December 9.

We are worried about the coming year. There has been a significant slowdown in manufacturing and seasonal industries. Furthermore, the rising Canadian dollar is having an adverse effect on tourism. In seasonal industries, people tend to work the minimum number of weeks to qualify for employment insurance.

People were going through an awful period of time known as the “spring gap”, when, for 4 to 10 weeks, they had no income left. After working 12, 15 or 16 weeks, they were entitled to the maximum number of weeks of benefits, but there was still a period of time during which they had no income. They had to resort to social assistance or cash in their retirement savings to support their families.

The pilot project gave people five additional weeks of benefits. It is due to end on December 9, and we are waiting for the federal government to take action on this issue. I was hoping the Liberals would take the lead by including this in their motion. After all, a society is not judged solely on the money it makes, but on how its wealth is distributed.

This week, Canada learned that only too well. A UN representative told us that when it comes to social housing, Canada is a little like a banana republic. We in Canada are not doing a very good job of fighting poverty. We are not using the tools we should be using, such as the employment insurance system.

During the previous session, this Parliament was considering Bill C-269, a bill sponsored by a member of the Bloc Québécois. The bill remains before this Parliament still today, as a private members' bill. The three opposition parties are prepared to pass it. The government's decision to give royal recommendation is the only thing missing.

Passing the bill would mean profoundly changing the employment insurance system. It would correct the situation and provide justice to those who fought hardest against the deficit, through the 1990s and until today, namely, unemployed workers in Quebec and Canada. For they are the ones who paid Canada's deficit and, to date, the only ones who have not seen any return on their investment.

We, on the other hand, have benefited from a few tax cuts and an improved economy. Unemployed workers are the ones who paid. The screws were tightened for 10 years. They were forced into a very precarious financial situation and nothing has been done to correct or improve that situation.

If the Conservative government wanted to really do something to better fight poverty, it would give this bill royal recommendation. A precedent has already been set in this area, on a bill dealing with employment insurance. If it would only do so, people around the world would say that the Government of Canada took significant action to fight poverty and ensure a better distribution of wealth.

I would have liked to see the Liberals refer to this bill in their motion. Nevertheless, they supported it, as did the NDP. The Conservatives are the only ones at this time who refuse to breathe new life into this bill. This is not a question of encouraging people to become or to remain unemployed. That phase has been resolved.

Given the current employment rate, we have a problem of a different kind. What about the manufacturing jobs that were well paid? In my riding we see it every day. The $15, $16, $18 and $20 an hour jobs have become $8, $9 and $10 an hour jobs. Fortunately, inflation is not very high. However, in real life, this reduces economic activity in several regions. There is another way of dealing with this situation: we have to have a good employment insurance program enabling individuals, including older workers, to live decently until their retirement and allowing them to have a minimum to keep the economy rolling.

These programs were created for a reason. After the Great Depression—the economic crisis of the 1930s—we realized that we had to maintain the buying power of those who no longer had an income. The unemployment insurance program and the social assistance program were established to ensure that people would have a minimum to continue to live. Today, even though our overall economy is doing well because of the energy sector, those who struggle every day, who provide their labour in order to have an income and support their family, are waiting for a return on the investment.

This is not reflected in the Liberal's motion, and even less so by the Conservative government, which is determined to continue claiming that no efforts are needed in this regard. The Conservatives have already said that they supported the independent employment insurance fund. Let them show it, let them agree to adopt Bill C-269 and to give a royal recommendation. Then we will have a tangible measure to judge. Until then, Quebec wants nothing to with what the Liberals are doing today or what the Conservatives presented in the Speech from the Throne.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

October 24th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a legitimate question. Some NDP members have asked somewhat similar questions. The phenomenon of poverty remains very present in Quebec society, as it does unfortunately in industrialized societies. The gap between rich and poor is widening. There may be fewer poor than a few years ago, particularly after the recession in the early nineties, but today their poverty is more dire. Thus, this is quite a legitimate concern.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the federal government should intervene at two levels. First, it must increase transfers for social programs. In the last budget, while satisfied with the effort made—an inadequate effort—we were critical of the fact that no money was invested in social transfers for social programs that essentially affect anti-poverty programs for Quebec or for post-secondary education programs. We will tackle the issue again when the next budget is tabled because not only are Quebec programs being undermined, but post-secondary education is being underfunded.

Second, the Liberals completely undermined our many years of work to improve the employment insurance system. Let us not forget the Axworthy reform, which the Conservatives initiated. To address this, we have already introduced Bill C-269, which is now at third reading. All we are waiting for is the government's royal recommendation. I do not think the government would hesitate if it was at all concerned about the plight of these people, who are living in poverty. We will find out in a few weeks.

We did not think this needed to be one of our conditions because it could not be addressed in the throne speech. It will come up during the budget speech and when the Conservatives give us an answer about royal recommendation. Once that happens, we will be in a position to move forward on these issues.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

I am happy to rise and speak in this House today, not because there is anything to be happy about in the throne speech, but because I am speaking on behalf of the people in my riding and the most underprivileged people in our society.

When the throne speech was read and the government members made their speeches, poverty was frequently mentioned. In fact, it was only occasionally mentioned, but for the Conservatives, that is what passes for “frequently”, because they do not often talk about it and they certainly do not often do anything about it.

The leader of the official opposition also talked about poverty. We should be able to expect the two main parties to set an example and fight in this House to alleviate poverty. But in many respects they are not setting an example. I would even go so far as to say that this throne speech represents a betrayal of political promises made by this government and the previous government.

I am careful to refer to the two successive governments, because they have done the most damage to the social safety net for the poorest members of our society, in terms of social housing and income support for seniors, especially those who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement and who have been robbed of over $3 billion. The throne speech made no mention of this, however.

In the previous session and this one, the Bloc has repeatedly raised this grave injustice to seniors.

It is the same thing with social housing. In the past 15 years, the federal government has slashed funding for social housing. Only since 2001 or 2002 has the government begun reinvesting in this. Still, funding in this area is seriously lacking.

Today, I want to talk specifically about employment insurance, as well as other promises that the Conservative government has not kept.

This week is national unemployment week. It would have been nice if the throne speech had had something for the unemployed.

Last week, we discussed, at third reading, Bill C-269, which is designed to reform the employment insurance fund and improve the employment insurance system.

That would have been a great opportunity for the government and the opposition to take strong action for the unemployed. In addition, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was celebrated last week.

There is no shortage of opportunities not only to express intentions but also to act. Yet, nothing is being done, especially not in the throne speech. We have recently had two byelections in Quebec. In the two ridings I visited, the candidates made commitments in that regard.

I notice in the House one of the candidates who got elected. I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his victory. I would rather be congratulating him today on his government having included in the throne speech measures to address the forestry and manufacturing crises to help those businesses and workers affected by these crises.

I call upon our colleagues, and particularly the one to whom I just referred because I am aware that he made such a commitment. I think that he was sincere. I have no reason to think he was not. Does he now realize that he was in the wrong party to make such a commitment? He sought election to be able to play a role in getting tangible measures introduced to help these businesses and workers. This was a unique opportunity. Yet, there is nothing to that effect in the Speech from the Throne.

I am not saying all this to make them argue for no reason, but to make them realize that they are far from following through on the promises made by their government, including the recent promises made during the byelections. It is unbelievable.

It is very unfortunate that income support is not being given to older workers in the forestry and manufacturing industries. The entire regional economy is affected when the government fails to implement concrete measures to make up for the inadequacies of the employment insurance program, to improve accessibility to employment insurance and to benefits. I know that is what the members opposite talk about when they want to get elected. They say they will resolve the problem if they are elected to power.

I would like to remind the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and his colleagues who are here today of something. I can still hear his recent speeches. When a worker does not receive insurance benefits after contributing his entire life, he suffers and so does his family, the region, Quebec or the provinces involved. When the federal government does not meet its obligations, the provinces and Quebec have to meet the needs of these people by using welfare and other programs.

This is a serious economic crime against workers, their families and the regions. Why is it a crime? Because someone is taking their money. The employment insurance fund consists only of contributions from workers and employers. Out of everyone who contributes to employment insurance, barely 45% can hope to receive such benefits if they have the misfortune of losing their employment. The government itself acknowledges that. Some 15 years ago, 88% of the unemployed had access to EI. This accessibility to employment insurance was cut to 50% for workers who lose their employment. It is scary, but there has not been a riot over this.

The purpose of the fund is to serve as insurance. Imagine an insurance company trying to do the same thing. They insure your house. When you suffer a fire, you go to your insurance company knowing you paid your premiums for house insurance for the past 30 years. The representative asks you where the fire started. Was it in the kitchen or the living room? If you make the mistake of saying it started in the living room, they will tell you that is no good. Your insurance does not apply because the fire should have started in the kitchen.

This is what unemployed Canadians are being told. What region are you in? What is the unemployment rate? Are you a woman or a young person? As we have heard, only approximately 43% of unemployed workers can receive employment insurance. Women represent only 33% and young people, only 17%. Here too, we see the discrimination in their treatment.

I would have liked to discuss some other matters today, but I am sure my colleague will do so with eloquence. What I find very surprising is that the Bloc's amendment included all that. It included concrete measures to support the workers, businesses and regions suffering because of the forestry and manufacturing crises. Our amendment served to eliminate use of the spending power in Quebec and provincial areas of jurisdiction. We were the only ones, however, who voted in favour of that amendment. The Conservatives voted against these measures, although they were the ones who promised it, along with us. The Liberals also voted against the amendment, as did our friends in the NDP, which is beyond me. I no longer understand. I know you know them well, Mr. Speaker, and you probably understand their reasoning, but we do not understand what is happening.

Canadians must realize what is happening in this House. Recently, someone said we have to walk the talk. In this House, several members have made speeches that contradict the positions they have taken. That is unfortunate. As a result, some Canadians are in trouble today because we fail to realize that by not carrying out our responsibilities in this House to correct the situation, we relegate these individuals to poverty.

The issue of poverty will be raised in this House again after the way we have voted recently. There is a lack of consistency there, and we must discuss it.

In closing—given that you are indicating, Mr. Speaker, that I have one minute left—we do not have the right to say in this House that someone lied. However, we can urge our colleagues to tell the truth. That is what I would like to say to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. He announced in this House that, under Bill C-269, the measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois would cost $11 billion. The minister's own figures indicate it would cost $1.9 billion, an amount already in the fund.

Therefore, I invite you Mr. Speaker, and your colleagues, to verify the minister's statement because, in my opinion, he is obliged to be honest and to correct the statement he made in this House.

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—

Older WorkersOral Questions

October 18th, 2007 / 2:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is not income support. What is even worse, the Conservatives are refusing to give a royal recommendation to Bill C-269, which makes improvements to the employment insurance system. This recommendation is possible because there was a precedent that concerned an unemployment insurance bill.

Will the minister give these workers back their dignity by authorizing the royal recommendation to Bill C-269, as was done for Bill C-216 in 1994?

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 / 7:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly happy to speak to this important bill this evening, especially since this is a crucial bill for workers who have the misfortune of losing their jobs.

Before starting in on my speech, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle, who introduced this bill. In my opinion, she represents all workers in Quebec, but particularly those from her riding, for whom she does an extraordinary job. I think that her speech today was very representative of the work she does in her riding.

I would also like to congratulate and honour all the advocacy groups for the unemployed in Quebec and the other provinces, which are doing incredible work to defend people who are experiencing difficulties and who must deal with this infamous program that has been damaged by two successive governments. They are doing extraordinary work. In Quebec, I am thinking in particular of everyone working for the Sans-Chemise coalition, the labour federations, the groups of unemployed workers, the Conseil national des chômeurs and MASSE. I must say that the reason we have made it to third reading with this bill—and this is the first time this has happened—is because of their efforts and because of our work with the two other opposition parties.

There is nothing honourable about the route the Liberals took with the Employment Insurance Act. However, we must recognize that efforts are now being made. Sometimes, with an election defeat comes wisdom and a greater understanding of the least advantaged in our society. I think that is where the Liberal Party is at right now. This needs to be acknowledged. The NDP has always been consistent and in agreement with us when it comes to defending the unemployed.

As I said, Bill C-269 has never gone so far. At the same time, it is important to remember one thing: as the two main parties in the House acknowledged today, the economy is booming. It has been a long time since the economy was this dynamic, and we have lost sight of the fact that hundreds and thousands of people are losing their jobs. I do not have to go far for examples. In the past four or five years, 125,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector. In the forestry sector, 25,000 jobs have been lost, and just recently, a large number of manufacturing jobs have been lost.

Every region is affected, including regions represented by members who are currently in power. In Quebec, in the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, shoe manufacturers have been laying people off for two years. In Saint-Émile, for instance, several hundred workers have lost their jobs.

What has the member done for them? What did he do to make sure the throne speech contained some minimal measures to remedy the situation? The Conservatives are in power. Nothing. Nyet.

The situation is the same in the Mégantic—L'Érable riding. The hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable is also the Secretary of State (Agriculture). It is an important position. But what has he done for the people who just lost their jobs at the Bell mine in Thetford Mines? He knew about it for a month, but the Speech from the Throne makes no mention of it. Yet, the Conservatives are in power. They say they must be elected, because they will do something for these people. They are in power, yet they do nothing. They say we do nothing here, but we are not the ones in power.

At least we have the ability to indicate to the other parties where the problems lie and how to correct them. They, on the other hand, were elected to properly administer and to ease the suffering of our workers, yet they are not doing so.

I was completely dismayed to see there was nothing for these people in the throne speech. In Jonquière—Alma, the Minister of Labour's riding, hundreds of people have been laid off over the past two years. Nevertheless, there is nothing for the POWA program or to correct employment insurance.

Even worse, they are about to vote against the bill. That goes against the interests of the people they represent. Then they strut about in other ridings, saying that the Bloc and the NDP do nothing, that they are the ones in power and that we should trust them. That is fine. When they have the chance to put their money where their mouth is, as it were, they fail to do so. It is shameful.

And then they ask us to elect them? Something is wrong with this picture. Someone, somewhere, is deceiving someone, and it is not us.

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. I listened to the leaders of the two main parties speak about it. What an opportunity and what a wonderful coincidence. Today we are speaking about a bill to enact measures to alleviate poverty. Poverty is not an act of divine providence, but rather the result of human action, of whether or not we have appropriate measures in place.

Today, we have the opportunity to signal our intention to vote for a tangible measure to alleviate poverty, Bill C-269.

As my NDP colleague just mentioned, less than 45% of all workers who pay into employment insurance can hope to receive benefits should they have the misfortune of losing their jobs. When a person who pays into the employment insurance fund loses their job and is not eligible for benefits because the eligibility requirements have been tightened so much, they are not the only one who is plunged into poverty. Their family is also affected. The region is also prevented from receiving an influx of money that belongs to these workers and that would improve the local economy.

Workers and employers pay into the fund, but the money is kept in Ottawa. In the regions, the cuts to this program represent an annual loss of roughly $30 million per riding. Ultimately, it is the provinces that have to bear the burden of supporting these people financially through welfare or other programs.

There is injustice right down the line. With Bill C-269, we have the opportunity to correct this situation in part. Earlier, the parliamentary secretary talked about costs. I will tone down the rhetoric here; this is demagoguery. When the government adds up the costs of measures in various bills that are actually included in a single bill, Bill C-269, and gets $11 billion, it is deliberately trying to mislead people.

It is said that there has been no meaningful inquiry. I have here a document from Malcolm Brown, Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, dated December 7, 2005, that details all the costs. If Bill C-269 is adopted as is, it will cost $1.9 billion. In the past 10 years, the employment insurance fund has always generated an annual surplus of over $3 billion.

Where will the money come from? It will come from the fund that belongs to the workers and employers. That is where it will come from.

The Conservative Party must grant the royal recommendation. Then we will believe it is sincere. In fact, it can do so. There is a precedent concerning an employment insurance bill. If it refuses to do so, it will again be acting against the interests of workers and families.