An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session and the 40th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Christian Ouellet  Bloc

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

Status

Report stage (House), as of Nov. 2, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment removes the waiting period that precedes the commencement of benefits after an interruption of earnings and repeals provisions that refer to that waiting period.

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

March 24, 2010 Passed That Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be concurred in at report stage.
April 29, 2009 Tie That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

moved that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that this bill must be accepted by the current Conservative government. I begin my remarks with that comment because we have been talking about this for a long time. The two-week waiting period is a critical issue. This is not a minor bill designed to keep senators in the red chamber for a longer or shorter period of time. It is an act that can help all workers who lose their job.

That injustice has been around for too long. I am going to give some numbers. In 1989, 83% of Canadians and Quebeckers were eligible for employment insurance. Now, it is less than 50%.

What did the government do? It passed a law to add five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. And how many people benefit from this initiative? Currently, it applies to 28% of those who are eligible for EI benefits. However, 28% of 50% does not make for a large number of people. The fact is that few workers are entitled to these five additional weeks.

If the two-week waiting period was waived, all workers who lose their job would benefit. I am not talking about workers who resign or who lose their job because they failed to perform, but about workers who are laid off because their plant shut down, because there are fewer orders in the books, because the plant is relocated, or because of a bankruptcy. These people are laid off through no fault of their own. They are the most affected by these two weeks without benefits.

Waiving the two-week waiting period would have a much greater impact on financial security than the five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. Indeed, this situation affects the most vulnerable workers in our society. The two-week waiting period is a glaring injustice: these people lose their job through no fault of their own, yet they are penalized. It seems as if the Conservative government likes to punish workers who get laid off. I just cannot understand that.

In Quebec, this situation puts pressure on the Quebec government when these people turn to social assistance. Social costs increase, even though the federal government is responsible for looking after those people who lose their job through no fault of their own.

There is an urgent need for action, but the government does not seem to understand that, and it would appear that the Conservatives are not going to let us get this bill passed. Abolishing the two-week waiting period would not mean extending the employment insurance benefit period. All it would do is allow people to receive their EI benefits two weeks earlier, so that they would not have to go without money for two weeks.

Often, people do not even know they are going to lose their jobs. They get a warning and lose their jobs the same week, because the employer did not want anyone to know in advance. What is more, most of the time, these people do not have any money set aside. They even have debts. Liberalism encouraged people to go into debt in an excess of consumerism.

These people are just like everyone else. Workers also have a culture of borrowing. Then, suddenly, they have no money coming in for two weeks, so they go deeper into debt and they cannot afford to pay the mortgage or rent or feed their families. It is that serious.

If the waiting period were eliminated and the five weeks at the end left intact, the cost to the EI system would not be much more. In any case, only 28% of people receive the five weeks of benefits at the end of the period. Presumably, everyone would receive the two weeks at the start.

These two weeks are a question of dignity for our workers. It is scandalous that people who lose their jobs cannot get help from employment insurance right away.

Does the government want to punish workers for losing their jobs? We have to wonder. We could even say that that is what the government is trying to do. It is trying to punish workers for losing their jobs through no fault of their own. They will have to spend two weeks without benefits.

Generally speaking, the government is not criticized very much. It thinks that, as with every type of insurance, a premium must be paid. However, employment insurance is not a public or private insurance. It is a social measure that should apply to everyone, and people should not be punished unfairly.

Unfortunately, this unfair punishment has been around since 1971, and it is high time to abolish it. The current government should realize that it will not be defeated tomorrow if it eliminates this injustice. On the contrary, we will appreciate it more.

This measure is supported by all Quebeckers and Canadians. Unions, community groups, women's groups, anti-poverty groups, food banks, retailers, all support this measure, except the people that the government consulted. These people include business leaders, economists, banks and probably some hand-picked professors, who are at the source of this neo-liberal ideology.

The Bloc Québécois believes that this bill is necessary. It should be looked on favourably by the government, and I am asking it to reconsider its position.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is great to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-241. I want to congratulate my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi for bringing the bill this far. We did discuss this before Parliament was prorogued and it was passed at committee. I am hoping this time it will not be such a close vote in order to get it to committee where the member for Chambly—Borduas and I, and others can have a look at it.

There has been a lot of activity, advocacy in particular, on the employment insurance issue over the last little while. Employment insurance at a time of an economic downturn is a particularly important piece of our social infrastructure. The idea of the two-week waiting period has been discussed quite a bit. My colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche has talked about this a lot within our Atlantic and our national caucus. This affects people in his riding in a very significant way.

The idea of even calling it a two-week waiting period is not correct. It really should be called a two-week “out of luck period”, or a two-week “too bad for you period”, or a two-week “no money for the family period”. That may sound funny, but it is a fact of life that many people lose their jobs. Unlike many Canadians, we sit in a very privileged place, do a wonderful job, and members of Parliament work hard, but we are well treated for that work.

Most Canadians really do not live much more than paycheque-to-paycheque. To lose a paycheque all of a sudden and be told at the very least they have to wait two weeks on top of the processing time, which lagged in late 2008 and early 2009, is most unfortunate. So this is a very important piece of our social infrastructure. When people need the money, they need it right away.

There are a number of ways we can improve EI. We have gone through these in the House before. An increase of the benefit percentage is another way of improving EI. We could increase the number of weeks. The government added some weeks in the last budget and then further in the fall added a specific group of people. We could look at what percentage of income people can make while they are on EI. There is a whole host of ways of looking at the difference between re-entrance and regular users of EI, so this is one period that is particularly important.

It is important to understand that there will be a cost. It is hard to identify the cost specifically, but the Library of Parliament indicates that there are three ways that the bill would increase costs. First, periods of unemployment lasting two weeks or less would then become insured. Second, extending the duration of the benefits of some people who find a job before their maximum period ends would impact on this. Third, it would increase costs because benefit deductions are calculated differently during the waiting period than during the other weeks of unemployment. So there is a cost, but we do not know what it is.

HRSDC has given us some different costs. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives supports the elimination of the two-week waiting period. It has suggested a costing of $765 million. We had a cost that was provided by TD Economics which suggested it might be $1 billion. I do not know exactly what the cost is, but the question for us is, is that cost worth it and more importantly, do we need to send a message to the government that at a time of economic difficulty was its response last year enough?

I clearly do not think it was. I want to quote from this year's alternative budget on employment insurance. It states:

The economic crisis, the first since major cuts were made to our EI program in the mid-1990s, has been an extreme “stress test” for Canada’s EI program. The program has failed and needs to be fixed.

There is no question that changes were made to our EI system starting in 1990 when Prime Minister Mulroney made the first changes to EI. That was the point in time in which the government no longer became one of the contributors to the fund. It was then left to employers and employees, and further cuts came later. We were in a time of economic distress where the needs were much different than they were at this economic downturn. Back then the issue was getting rid of the debt. This time the issue was making sure--

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2010 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join in the debate on an issue that means quite a bit to not only those I represent in Sudbury but Canadians across the country, Bill C-241.

If passed, the bill would put in place something the New Democrats have been calling for, for quite some time: an end to the two-week waiting period before an EI claimant can receive employment insurance benefits.

Let me first discuss why the bill is so important, not just to my riding but Canadians across Canada. As I stated, the bill is important to all Canadians who will be forced to apply for employment insurance, an action that is much too common these days. When workers lose their jobs or are laid off, the absolute last thing they need is a gap in their income.

When Canadians lose their jobs, not only is their usual source of income gone, but also their personal work relationships, daily structures and sense of self-purpose. Unemployment can be, and often is, a shock to the whole system. People can experience some of the same feelings and stresses that one would feel when they were seriously injured, going through a divorce, or mourning the loss of a loved one.

Dealing with the devastating news of losing one's job should not be worsened with a break in income. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens. Canadians who have lost their jobs, and in many cases their self-worth, must then wait two weeks before they are eligible to receive a stipend from employment insurance, the same insurance they paid into in good faith for the term of their employment.

The waiting period is an unnecessary hardship. Out of work Canadians do not need more adversity when they have just been dealt one of the biggest hardships they will ever experience in their lifetime.

Let me illustrate this point with a local example from my constituency of Sudbury. My riding of Sudbury is familiar with hardship. My community has endured a great deal in the past year. About a year and a half ago, Xstrata laid off 686 workers, months before the three year agreement the government signed under the Investment Canada Act expired. Xstrata is also closing down its copper refinery in Timmins. For its part, Vale Inco laid off over 400 workers. Those who were not laid off, well over 3,000 workers, are about to enter into the 11th month of their strike.

These layoffs and the ongoing strike are also affecting the mining supply and services sector, meaning that 17,000 employees in Sudbury have gone from about 40 hours a week to about 20 hours a week.

The families in my community have endured enough hardship: layoffs, a strike. If we had the ability to do away with one hardship, it would be the two-week waiting period before one qualifies for EI benefits. It would go a long way toward helping these families stay on track.

Thus far, the Conservative government has not been interested in any measures that would help Canadians through these tough times. In fact, the Conservative government has repeatedly let down northern Ontario. This past year, when multinational mining giants Vale Inco and Xstrata violated their agreements with the Canadian government under the Investment Canada Act, the government did nothing. When these companies threw hundreds of workers out on the street contrary to the agreement they signed with the government, the Conservatives failed to act.

Now, as we debate the bill, a bill that would bring immediate relief to those Canadians who are at the front lines of this economic crisis, the government is once again leaving workers and families to fend for themselves. In fact, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development revealed her contempt for the unemployed by stating that EI is too lucrative.

Comments like these are not only downright shameful, but also a window into how the government views the unemployed. I invite the minister and any other member of the Conservative caucus to come to Sudbury and meet some of the people I have: fathers who are worried about their mortgage payments and how they are going to be able to keep up, and single mothers who are resorting to food banks to feed their children. The list can be endless.

The government will argue that it has done enough, more than enough, by tacking on a few weeks of EI. Let us set the record straight. The Conservatives think that if they add five weeks at the end, by that time it is their hope that these people will have found a job. As such, it is their hope that these workers will never benefit from these additional five weeks. What it truly comes down to, for the Conservatives, is that those extra five weeks will be of no cost to the government.

The government seems to have all kinds of money for tax breaks for corporations, except when it comes to the unemployed. This is just plain unacceptable. What makes the government's approach even more inexplicable is the fact that unemployment insurance makes monetary--

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

March 23rd, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to apologize to my colleagues who may have wanted to ask questions or make comments about the NDP leader's speech.

There have been discussions among all parties and I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, if, during the time provided for private members' business today, a recorded division is demanded on Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), that it be deferred to the time provided for oral questions on Wednesday, March 24, 2010.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2009 / 6:05 p.m.
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Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on February 26, 2009, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), standing in the name of the member for Brome—Missisquoi. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary, as well as the member for Joliette, for having brought this issue to the attention of the chair.

Bill C-241 seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act by removing the waiting period that precedes the commencement of benefits after an interruption of earnings, and repeals provisions that refer to that waiting period.

At issue is whether the removal of the waiting period during the benefit period would require additional funds being disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund, or as a result of legislative changes flowing from the 2008 budget, from a separate account administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.

This question is of critical importance, since matters related to the appropriation of moneys outside the consolidated revenue fund do not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown and therefore do not require a royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the parliamentary secretary argued that the bill should be accompanied by a royal recommendation since it would require the expenditure of funds in a manner not authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. He further pointed out that the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimated that the removal of the two-week waiting period could cost as much as $1 billion per year.

The member for Joliette for his part, felt that the bill did not need to be accompanied by a royal recommendation since it does not have to do with monies within the control of the Crown but instead with monies in the account administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. His position was based in particular on a ruling made on October 3, 2005 concerning C-363, which had to do with the use of the surplus in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reserve fund. The Speaker ruled at the time, on page 8294 of the Debates, that:

The transfer of monies from the CMHC reserve fund to the Consolidated Revenue Fund—or in this case to the provinces—is not a matter relating to the appropriation of monies from the Crown. Therefore, Bill C-363 does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown.

The Chair has carefully examined Bill C-241, as well as the arguments put forward by the parliamentary secretary and the member for Joliette. It should be noted at the outset that subsection 77(1) of the Employment Insurance Act makes it clear that EI benefits are disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund. It states:

There shall be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and charged to the Employment Insurance Account

(a) all amounts paid as or on account of benefits under this Act;

As the member for Joliette mentioned in his point of order, it is true that the Budget Implementation Act, 2008 made certain amendments to the Employment Insurance Act in addition to creating the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.

The object of the Board was, in particular, to set the premium rate under section 66 of the Employment Insurance Act and to maintain a reserve in accordance with that section. The specific purpose of the separate account in question is to make it possible to reduce premiums. There is no provision for using the account to pay for additional outlays that could result from eliminating the waiting period for the payment of benefits. The amendments to the Employment Insurance Act specified, among other things, the conditions for any interim payment to or by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. It is important to note that these amendments did not remove the EI Account from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Therefore, it is clear that despite the creation of a new Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, the payment of benefits to eligible workers continues to be made from the consolidated revenue fund through the EI account. Consequently, the chair is of the opinion that the provisions of Bill C-241 would authorize a new and distinct charge on the public treasury. Since such spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation, I will therefore decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form, unless a royal recommendation is received.

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

On debate, the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the issue of EI with respect to Bill C-241.

Meeting the needs of Canadians in these increasingly uncertain economic times is a priority for our government. To determine these needs, our government engaged in the most extensive prebudget consultations in Canada's history. We listened closely to the concerns of Canadians, especially with regard to employment insurance. We listened and are taking action.

Through Canada's economic plan, we are taking unprecedented steps to create jobs, preserve jobs and to provide support to those who have lost their jobs and are now looking for work.

Our government understands that Canadians are worried about putting food on the table and finding work to keep their homes and provide for their families. That is why we have taken the unprecedented steps to support the unemployed, preserve jobs and retrain workers for the jobs of the future.

With respect to employment insurance benefits, we have extended, nationally, the advantage of an extra five weeks of benefits currently offered as part of a pilot project that, until now, was only provided in specific regions with high unemployment. In addition, the maximum duration of benefits available under the employment insurance program has increased by five weeks, from 45 to 50 weeks. It is estimated that this extension will benefit 400,000 Canadians in the first year alone.

We believe that this measure is a better option than removing the two week waiting period because it would help those most in need of additional benefits. While removing the two week waiting period would result in an additional payment of two weeks for claimants who do not use their full entitlement, it would not provide assistance to workers who exhaust their employment insurance benefits. Eliminating the two week waiting period simply means that their benefits would start two weeks earlier but would also end two weeks earlier.

Our additional weeks of employment insurance benefits would provide regular employment insurance clients with the assurance that, should they require it, they will have the financial support for a longer period of time while they pursue their job searches.

Exhaustion of EI benefits is a tough prospect to face. Providing additional support to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits helps those who need it the most.

I would point out, too, that this proposed measure would be in addition to the automatic adjustments in the employment insurance program that respond quickly to changes in economic conditions. Through the variable entrance requirement, the current EI program has built-in flexibility specifically designed to respond automatically to changes in local labour markets.

The entrance requirements ease and the duration of benefits increase as the rates rise. These requirements are adjusted on a monthly basis to reflect the latest regional unemployment rates. This system ensures that the amount of assistance provided increases as the unemployment rate rises. Support flows to regions and communities that need it the most.

In fact, since October 2008, EI claimants in 32 of the 58 regions across the country can now access EI benefits with fewer hours of work while benefiting from the EI benefits for a longer period of time. For example, since October 2008, EI claimants in the region of Kitchener, not too far from my hometown, can now access an additional 13 weeks of benefits while working 4 weeks less to access these benefits.

We have also made significant efforts and investments to process the increasing number of EI claims so that employment insurance claimants can receive the benefits they need as quickly as possible. In this regard, we have allocated $60 million toward hiring additional staff and increasing capacity. We are redistributing workloads across the country and recalling recent retirees. We are also increasing overtime, opening employment insurance call centres on Saturdays and increasing automation of the claims process.

All of those actions are helping to ensure that unemployed Canadians and their families get the support they need in the fastest possible manner.

I also remind the House that we have not hesitated to test new approaches to make EI changes when they are proven to be warranted. I will give some of my own experiences in life to further explain how the five weeks are really impacting those Canadians we are trying to reach.

I heard my colleagues across the floor comment about certain parts of our employment insurance enhancements. I worked for an auto parts manufacturer, Westcast Industries in Southwestern Ontario, for many years. Like many other companies in the auto sector, it has felt the tougher times. When I started there in 2000, there were 353 employees. At the end of this month, that facility will be mothballed.

While I was in my riding over the past two weeks, I went out to various events and worked hard in the community. I ran into a number of my former colleagues, who unfortunately have been unable to find jobs. The first thing did was thank our government for extending those five weeks. They were not sure what lay ahead in the future, but they certainly appreciated the five weeks we added to the back end of their employment insurance.

Another fantastic example of what is working is the retraining. I have a number of former colleagues who fortunately look at the world as a cup that is half full, as do I. They have been able to get retraining. Some friends of mine who I used to work with are going through to be millwrights. They are exploring all sorts of different career options. It is a new chapter in their lives. This government has responded in many different manners. One of them is the $60 million recently announced to help process the claims as fast as possible.

I would also like to recognize our Service Canada workers and the great job they do. Our regional office is in Kitchener. The director, Ross Tayler, has his staff working around the clock, doing the very best job they can. I think it is important that we recognize those workers. They are taking time away from their families to ensure those dollars begin to flow in a timely manner to those who have just lost their jobs.

I was fortunate to be able to move on to a new position and a new career before the large number of layoffs occurred at the company for which I worked, but the weight and burden of the unknown of whether people's jobs will be there tomorrow is an extremely tough thing on their family and their psyche. The one piece out of this, which is so important, is the extra five weeks at the end of their employment insurance. They know they have an extra month and week, just in case they are unable to get that job. They are able to get out and continue to search for a job.

We have invested over $1 billion in training, which is excellent. This will allow those who have recently lost their jobs or who are currently in the workforce and are looking for a change in career to look to the new economies: a green economy, our information technology and our new high tech and skilled positions. Believe it or not, there are a number of positions in my riding in the aeronautical industry. Currently 50 positions are available in that area.

The programs we have put in place for retraining will allow people who have lost their jobs in a riding such as Huron—Bruce to get retrained and get those skills so they can gain new employment in new industries and sectors. That is why I am so proud of this government. I am so proud of the minister and her staff for how hard they have worked and for the consultation they have done with Canadians.

It is no coincidence that we have added five weeks to the end of the employment insurance process. It is no mistake that when I go out into my community, the additional five weeks of employment insurance is the first thing mention to me. They thank our government. It shows that our government is listening to Canadians and reacting in a timely matter. Good government is all about that.

Private Member's Bill C-241Points of OrderOral Questions

February 26th, 2009 / 3:15 p.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on February 25, 2009, you made a statement with regard to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about five bills which, in your view, appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown. One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-241.

I am therefore rising on a point of order regarding Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period). Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-241 contains provisions that would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act, which would require new spending and would therefore require a royal recommendation. Bill C-241 proposes to repeal the two-week waiting period before the start of employment insurance benefits following an interruption of earnings.

The removal of the waiting period would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by creating an additional payment of two weeks for claimants who do not use the full entitlement. The Department of Human Resources and Social Development estimates that the removal of the waiting period could cost as much as $1 billion per year. Precedents clearly establish that bills that change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act and require new or additional government spending for employment insurance benefits must be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

On December 8, 2004, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) 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.

The removal of the waiting period would require the expenditure of funds in a manner not authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. This is supported by the Speaker's ruling on November 6, 2006 on Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), which states:

—all of these elements would indeed require expenditures from the EI Account which are not currently authorized....

Such increased spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation....New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

These precedents apply to Bill C-241 which would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by requiring new spending. Therefore, Bill C-241 must, in our view, also be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2009 / 5:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

moved that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I will be pleased to read the summary of the bill.

This enactment removes the waiting period that precedes the commencement of benefits after an interruption of earnings and repeals provisions that refer to that waiting period.

Let us begin with a definition of what a waiting period is. It is the two weeks following application for employment insurance. This two week period starts the day following the day the person loses his job. There are very few cases where this waiting period does not apply. There are exceptions for maternity leave for the first child, etc, but they are very rare. In our opinion, the two week waiting period is not right and that is why we want to get rid of it.

On November 25 last year, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development answered a question from the Bloc Québécois concerning abolition of the waiting period as follows:

It is insurance, and as with any insurance, there is always a wait period, because of course there must be confirmation that they are being laid off for longer than just a week or two. This is necessary to ensure the integrity of the system.

We do not agree with this. Even if people are laid off just a week, that week ought to be paid. As a general rule, in the present crisis situation, people are rarely laid off for a week, or for two weeks, but for far longer than that.

The truth is that the waiting period is nothing more and nothing less than a way of punishing the workers. Because they have lost their jobs, they get nothing to live on for two weeks. How can a family with several children and a single breadwinner survive for two weeks without that one income? It does not occur to the present government that people have huge hardships to cope with during that period.

I will even give examples of people in my riding who worked overtime for which they were not paid for several years. It was paid when they lost their jobs, even though they had worked those hours several years earlier. In the case of people receiving a pension, the employer’s part was considered income by employment insurance, even though it had been paid in 2006-07 and was not current income. It was calculated, therefore, as income and divided by the number of weeks worked, which pushed back the beginning of the waiting period, in some cases by as much as several weeks. In other words, people who are without an income and who have spent all their money are punished with a two week delay without an income. This puts them in a very difficult situation and it is totally unnecessary.

Does the government arrange it so that the unemployed suffer serious economic difficulties, in the hope that they will get back to work faster? This kind of logic is totally nonsensical. The role of government is quite the opposite: to help people and meet their needs.

Sweden sets an example for the whole world, even though it is sometimes criticized for giving too much. Still, 80% to 85% of Swedes who lose their jobs find another and go back to work.

The two week waiting period does not exist and everyone who loses their job gets one year of employment insurance.

There is no work penalty, and the duration is not affected by a waiting period. We think that if the waiting period were eliminated, people who lose their jobs could find another more easily and more quickly because they would not be worrying about how they are going to survive the next two weeks. It would help people get back to work.

The government deprives the unemployed of $900 million. The minister has actually calculated that such a step would cost $900 million. It is possible. We will take that number. We do not say it is unrealistic and it may be true. What it means, though, is that $900 million is not being given back to the unemployed. That $900 million would do a lot to help people get back to work.

The current economic crisis is creating more unemployed people and the government therefore wants to inject money into the economy as quickly as possible. I think that the $900 million that has been paid by both the unemployed and their employers should be given back to the unemployed and should not be turned into something that is discriminatory. I will actually read an article in a few minutes from a newspaper in my riding which points out just how discriminatory this is for working people.

As I said earlier, all the large amounts received just delay the waiting period. This money is subtracted and pushes back the two week waiting period.

I would like to mention a few short passages from a newspaper in my riding, a large regional paper from Sherbrooke, which talks about a terrible scandal, the two week waiting period. It says:

Economic groups, unions and politicians have been fighting for over a decade to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

This specifically concerns the waiting period. This is fair to say because it has been demanded by unions, by community groups, by groups that defend the unemployed and also by workers. Truly everyone is demanding that the waiting period be eliminated.

It has been said that employment insurance is a universal system. If it is universal and is imposed by the government, why now are only 53% of people eligible for employment insurance benefits when in 1989, 83% of people who lost their jobs were eligible? Fewer and fewer people are eligible for employment insurance and, on top of that, there is a waiting period that should not exist.

In addition, I would like to point out that they have added—and this is the argument we will keep hearing—five weeks to the end of employment insurance benefits. However, these five weeks at the end do not replace the two weeks at the beginning. We know that only 28% of people use all of their employment insurance benefits. That means that this five week measure affects only 28% of unemployed people. Once again, this is obviously discriminatory.

I would like to come back to the newspaper article. It talks about how we have moved from an employment insurance system to a deficit insurance system. It adds that this is scandalous. How true.

We agree fully with this newspaper, which also mentions that eliminating the two week waiting period would have a much greater impact on the financial security of claimants. That is exactly what I am trying to say. You can see that the Bloc Québécois are not the only ones to think this way.

The article also goes on to say:

In an economic crisis, these measures penalize the most vulnerable workers in our society.

That is quite right. The most vulnerable in our society need these two weeks.

According to the Canada Labour Congress, estimated benefits lost...total more than $43 million a year for the City of Sherbrooke alone—

The figures are the same. Sherbrooke is just beside my riding. I live in the Eastern Townships and the amount of employment insurance benefits not handed out and kept by the government is estimated at $100 million. These monies could cover the two week waiting period. The money is there. We do not have to look for it elsewhere. Workers have already paid for it.

How can the Government of Quebec tolerate having this social cost passed on to it—

Given that employment insurance is not paid during these two weeks, the social cost is passed on to Quebec, or Ontario or the other provinces because people have to get through these weeks with a minimum amount of money.

Sherbrooke is already seeing what it can do—

It is not just a national matter. Cities are also interested in this problem as are regional stakeholders such as the chambers of commerce. Earlier, I spoke about those advocating for this change. As we can see, the chambers of commerce also want the waiting period to be eliminated.

This article asks—and so do we together with the Liberals and the New Democrats—that everyone join us to create a majority and eliminate the waiting period, which is a real failure of our democratic system.

This government must recognize the pressing need to eliminate the two week waiting period for everyone—

I did not say it. It was in an article that was just published on February 19. That is very recent.

—to improve access to the program and speed up payment of premiums.

This injustice must be corrected now. For many of our fellow citizens, access to insurance paid for by employers and employees is not a privilege but a right and a question of dignity.

That is how the article ends, and we completely agree with it. We would also like to ask the Liberals to support our bill. In the past, it was under the Liberals that the employment insurance system began to deteriorate. However, since they have been in opposition, they are keeping an eye on employment insurance and they appear much more willing to listen. We hope they will be receptive to the unemployed workers who are having difficulty during those first two weeks. We are not asking for a major revolution; we are simply asking that the two week waiting period be completely eliminated for everyone and that as soon as someone loses his or her job, that individual can receive employment insurance immediately.

The waiting period always comes at the beginning, except when money is found and it is pushed back even further. The two consecutive weeks end the Saturday of the following week. It is all planned very carefully so there can be no getting around it.

We are asking that these two weeks be replaced by employment insurance. Even if it costs $900 million, that would be one way of injecting $900 million into the economy immediately. Indeed, we can be sure that anyone who loses their job will not be setting this money aside, either in the bank or in a trust fund. They will spend it immediately, because they need it.

This is what we really want and we hope that all members of the House will understand the importance of this bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak about the employment insurance program. I thank the hon. member for raising the subject.

I will address the specific issue of the two week waiting period in Bill C-241, but first I would like to outline our government's strategic approach to EI through Canada's economic action plan.

While Canada is better prepared than almost any other country to weather the worldwide recession, we certainly are not immune to it. We know people are facing uncertainty and are concerned. We know that those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own are facing difficult times ahead. We feel for these people and we are working to protect them. We have taken and continue to take action to ensure that help is there for Canadians and their families when they need it most.

To this end, we consulted widely with Canadians. In fact, prior to introducing our economic action plan in budget 2009, we conducted the most extensive prebudget consultations in the history of our country.

Through our plan, among other things we are proposing to extend EI benefits, while investing an unprecedented $8.3 billion in the Canada skills and transition strategy. Our aim in all of this is to improve employment insurance in areas where the need is the greatest.

One of the things that came up time and time again through our consultations was that EI benefits needed to be lengthened in order to provide greater assistance to those facing longer-term challenges in looking for work. That is why through our economic action plan, for the next two years, we will make available nationally the five weeks of extended EI benefits that have been previously available through a pilot project only, in regions with the highest unemployment. The government will also increase the maximum duration of benefits to 50 weeks, up from 45.

Some 400,000 Canadians could benefit from these changes. This measure will provide financial support for a longer period to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits. This means unemployed workers will have more time to seek employment while receiving EI.

This is very important and a point I cannot stress enough. Exhaustion of EI benefits is difficult on any family. Canadians who are unemployed for extended periods will have more time to find work under our plan.

It is putting the dollars to use where they are needed the most. This approach better suits the needs of Canadians than simply eliminating the two week waiting period of which the member speaks. There are several reasons for this.

First, it is important to look at why there is a two week waiting period in the first place. The two week waiting period serves to ensure that EI resources are focused on workers dealing with significant gaps in employment. In fact, if we eliminated the two week waiting period, claims would not be processed any more quickly. The additional processing required by eliminating the waiting period would generate a significant increase in volumes associated with short spells of unemployment. This would put further pressure on service standards and processing resources.

These additional strains and pressures on the system could lead to even longer wait times for people to have their claims processed.

On these points, we are backed up by David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada. On December 18, Mr. Dodge appeared on the CTV Newsnet program, Mike Duffy Live. Some of us still remember that program and many have watched it.

When asked whether eliminating the two week waiting period for EI was an expenditure worth making, Mr. Dodge responded unequivocally. He said, “The answer is no. That would be probably the worst waste of money we could make...because there's a lot of churn in the labour market, just normal churn”. Mr. Dodge also said, “that two weeks is there for a very good reason...the real issue is that some of these people are going to be off work for a rather long period of time”.

Therefore, that is where we are directing our efforts. I think what the former governor of the Bank of Canada was trying to say at that time was those who were off for longer periods of time were the ones who were in more desperate straits and needed the help to a greater extent.

The fact is that during these uncertain times, some people may be off work for longer periods. That is why EI help needs to be targeted in such a fashion, so they will receive that help when they need it.

It is worth noting that the Bloc's proposal to eliminate the two week wait period would not provide any additional assistance to workers who exhaust their EI benefits. For those who exhaust all of their EI benefits, eliminating the two week period would simply mean their benefits would start two weeks earlier but they would also end two weeks earlier.

We believe that providing EI claimants with five additional weeks of benefit is better targeted than the two weeks the opposition is proposing. Five weeks is better than two weeks. I wonder if the member would not agree with me that is a significant improvement and an advancement to the program. This is better targeted help. This is smarter help. It is help that is needed more.

Providing an additional five weeks of benefits would go further in helping those who need our help the most, those who are having difficulty finding work over the long term. They will derive greater benefit from having five additional weeks of benefits as opposed to only getting two weeks of additional benefits at the beginning of their EI claim period.

Looking at the bigger picture, our economic action plan focuses not only on the benefit side of EI, but equally on the importance of training. We are increasing funding for training delivered through the employment insurance program by $1 billion over two years.

This large investment will help to respond to the higher demand for labour market programs and training owing to increased unemployment. As a result, thousands more EI eligible clients could receive training and be better prepared when times improve.

In this regard, I would like to highlight something else David Dodge said, “I think the Prime Minister's right, that we do have to concentrate on improving the skills of people, and with that improvement in skills...we will find opportunities going forward”.

We are making an investment into the future. We are making an investment in people so when the economic circumstances change they will be ready to meet the challenges.

I agree with Mr. Dodge. We do need to concentrate on improving skills and training, and that is what we are doing.

Our plan also takes into consideration the needs of long-tenured workers who have been laid off. To help these long-tenured workers change occupations or sectors, we are introducing a pilot project that would extend EI benefits to them so they could pursue longer term training.

We are also proposing that workers with severance or other separation payments be eligible for earlier access to EI benefits if they use some or all of their payments to purchase skills upgrading or training.

With our plan, not only are we proposing to extend benefits, we are also proposing to freeze EI premium rates for 2010 at the same rate as 2009. This will provide a projected $4.5 billion stimulus over two years.

This stimulus means more money for employers to keep or hire employees. This means more money in the pockets of hardworking Canadians.

Through our new strategic training and transition fund, we are also providing significant funds to help meet the different training and support needs of workers who do not qualify for EI. This will include those who have been out of work for a prolonged period of time. Up to 50,000 individuals are expected to benefit from this training and other measures.

Rather than looking at just one aspect of EI and tinkering around the edges, we have looked at the economic and labour market as a whole. We have put forward EI measures that are targeted to the needs of Canadians. Our actions are forward-looking and better suited to help those who need it most.

Members of the Liberal opposition should be reminded that their former Liberal minister of human resources, Jane Stewart, had this to say about the two week waiting period, “the two week waiting period is like a deductible in an insurance program. It is there for a purpose”.

In the end we have to look at the entire package. The entire package not only helps those who are on EI for a longer period of time, but it allows them to upgrade their skills and retrain. We have to look at the broad picture by investing billions of dollars into skills training and retraining.

We are looking at the big picture. We cannot take just one segment of it like the bill proposes to do. We have to look at it globally, which we have done. I think Canadians will find it acceptable.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2009 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi, for introducing Bill C-241.

This is the sort of bill that would provide real, invaluable assistance to tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs or unfortunately will lose them because of the serious economic crisis we are going through.

Over the years, workers who lose their jobs have suffered countless injustices.

Do we need to remind this House that the percentage of unemployed workers who receive employment insurance has shrunk from 84% to 46% in the past 20 years?

Do we need to remind this House that Liberal and Conservative governments have siphoned off more than $57 billion belonging to workers? And that this money will likely never be returned?

In light of this, the waiting period only adds insult to injury for the unemployed, at a time when what they really need is a helping hand from the government.

What exactly is the purpose of the waiting period?

It is very simple: this is nothing more and nothing less than a way of punishing people for losing their jobs. Let us keep in mind that in order to draw EI benefits, a person has to have fallen victim—and I emphasize that word—to a layoff that has nothing to do with failure to perform, and even less to do with voluntary departure. These are people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves without a job between one day and the next.

So what exactly does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development want to punish them for?

Another aberration, and again according to the minister, the reason for the waiting period is that this is supposedly an insurance, like other kinds of insurance, and all commercial insurance does include a deductible before one gets any pay-out.

I have never heard such an unfortunate expression of cynicism in this House. In comparing the state to a business, this government is demonstrating what little empathy it has for the less well off members of society. By denying its social role, by virtue of which it is supposed to redistribute wealth rather than contributing to the inequalities, it is demonstrating a doctrinaire and ideological vision that is totally inappropriate.

But let me get back to the bill from my Bloc Québécois colleague who, on the other hand, is demonstrating a real understanding of the difficult situation in which workers who lose their jobs find themselves.

It must be understood that it is not a matter of adding two weeks of benefits, but merely of changing the start date of payments, so that unemployed workers are not in an untenable situation for the first two weeks.

According to Human Resources and Skills Development estimates, such a measure would cost some $900 million. Nine hundred million dollars is far less than the $57 billion confiscated—to avoid using unparliamentary language—from working men and women.

So $900 million would be plowed back into the Canadian economy, as the government itself admits in its assessment of the economic spinoffs from EI-related measures in the last budget.

In this period of recession, that means $900 million which would benefit not only the unemployed workers but also the businesses where they would spend the money they received.

When a person loses his job, and his sole source of income is EI benefits, it is rather a rarity for his first reflex to be investment, contrary to what the Prime Minister implied in a CBC interview during the last campaign.

What interpretation can one put on the scandalous comment he made at that time that Canadians should look on the bright side and take advantage of the weakness of the stock market to buy some stocks?

This kind of behaviour unworthy of a Prime Minister shows us just how profoundly disconnected this Conservative government is from the harsh reality that this crisis has created for hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Bill C-241 would provide some relief. This measure, simple yet concrete, efficient and direct, has been called for by dozens of groups representing workers' interests and by unions as well.

This is a perfect opportunity for the government to show goodwill and openness with regard to one of the greatest injustices ever committed by this government.

I invite the members opposite to give us their support so that this bill can be passed as quickly as possible.

The sooner this bill receives royal assent, the sooner the unemployed can receive the benefits to which they are entitled, those they have been paying into week after week, month after month, year after year.

When they pay their premiums, they do not skip two weeks. They cannot decide to stop paying for two weeks of the year. They have to pay every week.

Why should the government force them to wait two weeks before they can access their money?

And I must emphasize the word “their”, because apparently, previous governments, like this one, did not seem to understand this nuance, although it is fundamental, between the government's money and that of unemployed workers.

Yet government members fully understand, for instance, the difference between money they receive as salary and money paid to them by the House of Commons to carry out their responsibilities as MPs, for example. These are two different accounts, completely separate, that have nothing to do with each other, just as public accounts have nothing to do with the money paid by contributors to the system.

Fortunately, the government listened to the Bloc Québécois, which has always stood up to defend workers. Yes, it is thanks to the Bloc Québécois that the Conservatives agreed to separate those two accounts. It is thanks to the hard work of my colleagues who tirelessly denounced the deficiencies in the system.

I would like to talk about the contributors' money for a moment. It is truly appalling that in 2006, barely 64% of those who paid into the system were eligible for employment insurance. That is less than two thirds. And we are talking about workers who, I repeat, pay into the system week after week. The fact that the system is so inaccessible is positively scandalous, since, although they finally agreed to separate the employment insurance account from the federal treasury after years of pressure, they have definitely not done anything to improve the pitiful coverage provided to workers.

But, once again, as I was saying earlier, the Bloc Québécois was there to throw a lifeline to this government, which is sinking further every day into the depths of indifference. However, as a last resort, we especially want to throw a lifeline to the workers, and let us hope they do not have to wait two weeks for it.

In closing, I would like to congratulate my hon. Bloc Québécois colleague on his foresight and his efforts to really do something for unemployed workers.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure for me to rise and speak in opposition to Bill C-241 proposed by the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi.

I can assure my hon. colleague and all members of the House that his concerns for the plight of unemployed workers are shared by all members of the government, including this member. In fact, I am sure there is not a single member in the House from whatever party who is not equally concerned with the needs of laid off workers and their families. Each and every one of us has stories of hardship in our own riding. All members of the House are determined to do whatever we can to help our constituents.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources previously said during this debate, one of the things that came up constantly through the government's consultations was that EI benefits needed to be lengthened in order to provide greater assistance to those facing long-term challenges in looking for work. That is why the government's economic action plan has provided that for the next two years we will make available nationally the five weeks of extended EI benefits that had previously been available through a pilot project only in regions with the highest unemployment. The government will also increase the maximum duration of benefits to 50 weeks, up from the current 45.

As a result, 400,000 Canadians could benefit from these changes. These measures will provide financial support for a longer period of time to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits. This means unemployed workers will have more time to seek employment while still receiving benefits from the employment insurance mechanism.

It is my opinion, and I believe the opinion of members on this side of the House, that this approach better suits the needs of Canadians than simply eliminating the two week waiting period. The fact is that during these uncertain times many people will be off work for longer periods of time. That is where our EI help needs to be targeted and that is where this government has targeted.

To address the most pressing needs of workers today Canada's economic action plan is investing $8.3 billion for the Canada skills and transition strategy. To ensure that more Canadians could access the training and skills upgrading they need to land the jobs of the future, our government has invested unprecedented amounts in training programs.

These investments will help 160,000 people, including long tenured and older workers, get retrained to find a new job and put food on the table for their families. The government will also help those who normally would not qualify for employment insurance access to training they need to re-enter the workforce.

Ensuring that our country has the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world is vital for our long-term economic recovery. Supporting the development and training of unemployed workers will keep the Canadian economy growing and our communities prospering. Equally important, with the right training, people can get good jobs and have better opportunities for themselves, their families and their future.

We listened to the concerns of many employers and also employees. This is why the government is freezing EI premium rates for 2010 at $1.73 per $100. This is the same rate as 2009 and is projected to provide $4.5 billion in economic stimulus.

To help companies and employees adapt to the current economic downturn we are also extending the duration of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. This will enable Canadians to continue working while companies adjust to a temporary slowdown and recover.

To complement this measure we are also proposing to increase access to work sharing agreements through greater flexibility in the qualifying criteria. This measure will help many Canadians stay working through these uncertain economic times.

The government has weighed the options and decided to focus our resources on helping workers and families that need help the most. Our actions will provide more support to Canadians for a longer period of time, something that this bill will not do.

It is clear that the government has listened and responded to the needs of Canadian workers and their employers to enable them to get through this rough economic patch as quickly as possible.

Like all elements of the government's economic action plan, these improvements in investments will help Canadians weather the current economic downturn and come out stronger than ever.

Therefore, with all due respect for the good intentions that this bill attempts to portray, I urge all members of the House to defeat this bill. Instead, I call on all parties to work together with the government to advance Canada's economic action plan, the real long-term solution to our current challenges.

In closing, Canada's economic action plan will help more Canadians for a longer period of time with much more lasting benefit. I think that deserves wholehearted support by all members of this honourable House.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2009 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, these two minutes are very important. The more we talk about this, the better. I am convinced that at the end of my speech, more members will be thinking about voting for Bill C-241, which aims to remove the waiting period.

It is important to understand that the two week waiting period at the start of the employment insurance benefit period means that benefit recipients have to go without this income. We are talking about first aid. Even though the government is adding five weeks at the end of the benefit period, not everyone gets to that point. People need assistance from the government at the beginning of this difficult time. It is very important to understand that people receiving employment insurance need this help to take care of their own immediate needs and those of their family members.

It is not because the federal government lacks money that we cannot go ahead with this. It is a question of political will.

I will conclude by saying that $54 billion has been pinched from the employment insurance fund. This bill would cost $900 million. The money is available. We need to help workers and eliminate the two-week waiting period.