Fairness for the Self-Employed Act

An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act and other Acts by establishing a scheme to provide for the payment of special benefits to self-employed persons who are not currently entitled to receive them.

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.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I have heard some rather absurd things today, and I must speak to this bill. I was an accountant and also a self-employed worker in a former life. I started working in 1974, and in 1978, I started my own business as an accountant. Of course, I did many financial statements and tax returns for a number of self-employed workers.

For some businesses, there was a single owner, but some of them were incorporated. Over time, we could see how employment insurance in Canada—unemployment insurance at the time—could work when it enabled an employer, self-employed worker or small business owner to hire a spouse and to have them contribute to EI.

At the time, EI inspectors would often show up to inspect the business's books. They would see that the spouse worked for the business and did not contribute to employment insurance. So they asked them to contribute. If a spouse worked for the business—or for a self-employed worker—and contributed to EI, but, due to decreased sales, applied for EI benefits, the inspectors would show up again and tell them they were not allowed to contribute. There were some standards to be met if the spouse wanted to contribute to employment insurance and be entitled to it if, unfortunately, they ended up unemployed.

For years, each situation had to be examined individually. When I gave advice to my clients—to say whether or not the individual should be insurable—and despite the bad intentions of the employment insurance inspectors, I was always able to suitably defend my position and I always won.

This brings me today to how the Conservatives see the program and employment insurance as such. The Bloc Québécois is constantly calling for some very important adjustments and policy changes with respect to employment insurance. In order to impress Canadians and Quebeckers, the Conservative Party is doing things that make no sense at all. For instance, in the context of the economic downturn we just went through, and which we are still feeling, when we asked that the two week waiting period be eliminated, they instead added five at the end. We cannot criticize that, but it does not have the same impact as adding two weeks at the beginning. Then they accuse us of voting against many aspects of their employment insurance program, but none of it makes any sense.

Now they come to us with a bill that grants special benefits for self-employed workers. Of course the Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle of such a bill to support self-employed workers, since we have always believed these workers should have access to the EI system, as though they were salaried employees. So we agreed with the principle of the bill. However, we are being presented with a program whose intentions are unclear. Of course, we can see them if we carefully analyze the numbers. And naturally, the program proposed by the government would be voluntary.

Many have focused on that aspect, including the NDP, the white knight of justice and equality. The NDP wants the Bloc Québécois to change its mind and make sure that everyone votes for this bill. The NDP also pointed out that the program is voluntary, not mandatory. However, there is something I would like to say to the NDP members who tell us that if Quebeckers are not interested, they need not sign up because it is a voluntary program.

The government is proposing social policy on a voluntary basis. I will not say that anyone is intentionally seeking to rob people, but I will say that someone is seeking to exploit people. If all Quebeckers were to sign up for this program tomorrow morning and pay the set premium, $1.36, they would be financing the sickness and compassionate care portions of this insurance scheme for the rest of Canada. They would be footing the bill for everyone else in Canada.

Why should Quebec have to do that? Earlier, the Conservatives said that what they are doing is strictly political and that they are doing it because they are gaining ground in Quebec. Obviously, they are daydreaming.

Not a single Quebecker would want the Bloc Québécois to make it possible for the rest of Canada to exploit Quebec on such an important issue as sickness and compassionate care benefits.

Their behaviour is just so sad. They were not even interested in hearing what the actuary had to say to the committee. He was in the position for many years and dealt with this issue and contribution rates. In fact, he was the one who did the calculations at the government's request to reduce contribution rates so that the government could say it reduced the rates. The government also made deep cuts to benefits.

Now, what the Conservatives are trying to do with this bill is look like the heroes and make everyone believe that they have done something good for self-employed workers.

I may have lost my train of thought a little, but I have lost none of the anger that I want to convey to the Conservative Party. What the Conservatives are trying to do here is appalling. As I said earlier, they want to look like heroes and make everyone think that they are helping self-employed workers. They finally realized that self-employed workers are strategically, even critically important to Quebec's economy and Canada's.

Quebec already has maternity benefits and parental leave, which cost us 86¢.The government is adding $1.36 to that, for a total of $2.22 for all the benefits, while self-employed workers in the rest of Canada will pay $1.73.

There may seem to be something wrong here. I would say that there is something wrong, but we also have to consider the fact that Quebec is slightly more progressive than the rest of Canada. It has more suitable parental and maternity leave programs.

Still, there is an unaccountable difference that I would describe as almost dramatic. I wonder how a Conservative member from outside Quebec would explain that to Quebeckers.

Quebeckers would certainly like to enrol in such a program, but how will they react when they find out they have to pay for the rest of Canada in addition to themselves?

The proposed rate of $1.36 is three times the actuary's estimate of 41¢. Every self-employed worker who signed up for this insurance would pay for three Canadian workers. I had not thought about it, but maybe that means that one Quebecker is worth four Canadians. But that is not what I want to say.

It comes down to the same thing, because Quebeckers account for 25% of the population. One country represents 25% of the population of another country. But that 25% is actually 100%.

I am stunned that even a single federal member from Quebec could support such exploitation of self-employed workers in Quebec. I am convinced that the NDP member from Quebec, the member for Outremont, will vote against this bill. He will never agree to tell self-employed workers in Quebec that they can get ripped off by voluntarily purchasing this insurance. Does the member for Outremont really want to tell Quebeckers that he is voting for insurance that literally exploits them? Is there something wrong with his idea of fairness and equity?

In speaking of fairness and equity, I would like to point out the contribution of the member for Mississauga South who clearly stated, as did other Bloc members, that we must do much more. We cannot give up. Just because we are at third reading today does not mean we must give up. Some things need to be clarified and others need to be challenged. Some changes may even be required. It begs a fundamental question: should this measure be mandatory? What would have happened if the bill had stated that the measure was mandatory?

Obviously the rate of $1.36 for Quebeckers would not have been acceptable and would not have been implemented. I even wonder if the intent of this premium rate is to have Quebeckers say no to this bill. It is important to ask this question. The Conservative Party constantly introduces bills that seem wonderful but that are at odds with Quebeckers' interests and do not work at all. That always happens. They are always sugar-coated and unfortunately the image projected almost never corresponds to the reality.

Once again, I appeal to all the members of this House and the Quebec members. I am convinced, even though these members sit in cabinet, even though they are ministers, that Quebeckers would never accept that they would agree to a bill to create a program that would shamelessly exploit them.

We actually were in favour of a program providing sickness and compassionate care benefits, but not on these terms.

It goes against our principles of fairness and equity to tell Quebeckers that we have managed to secure a sickness and compassionate care program but that they will have to pay so much and pay for the rest of Canada. I find that unacceptable and if no significant changes are made, if no adjustments are made to reflect the reality then, unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois will vote against the bill.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, as one from outside Quebec, I would not attempt to explain this to someone in the province of Quebec. I will leave that to my colleagues, the MPs from Quebec and also the candidates from Quebec in the next election.

However, I will try to clarify for the people who live outside of Quebec, who are watching this debate, lest they be misled by the member for Sherbrooke.

The point the member is making is this incredibly low price Quebeckers have for the benefits that already exist in Quebec. I submit that the only reason these programs are still operating and operating with a horrendous loss every year, and they are grossly underpriced, is because of the massive subsidies the province has to put in to support them. That is the reason the taxes in Quebec are the highest of any province in Canada.

The member for Sherbrooke said he was an accountant. He surely must know that we do not get something for nothing.

Where the employers and the self-employed may be paying a small premium for the benefits they are getting, the fact is their property taxes are more and every other tax in Quebec is almost higher than any other provinces in Canada.

Lest the people watching are misled, that is the whole point. The member is not being clear on that.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I am one of those who think that everything is worth something and that we have to pay a fair price. That is not the case here. Obviously the hon. member can tell the rest of Canada that Quebec has voted against this. With the figures they are presenting, the premium is being subsidized.

We have more progressive policies in Quebec because we pay for them and the federal government never pays us more than our share. We are not here to beg the federal government for money. We are here to get our fair share. We do not intend to finance the rest of Canada for things that, in some cases, do not concern us. This matter does concern us, but it is not up to us to finance self-employed workers in the rest of Canada. They too have to realize that everything is worth something and that they have to pay what this insurance for sick leave and compassionate care benefits is worth. They will benefit from four forms of insurance for $1.73, while we are already paying 86¢ a year for two that are much more comprehensive and more in line with the needs of Quebeckers. Quebeckers are prepared to pay for what they get, but they should not have to pay for what they are not getting. It is only fair.

Everything is worth something and we will see what the Bloc Québécois is worth to Quebeckers in the next election. Through you, Madam Speaker, I invite the hon. member to come sell his plan to us in Quebec.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, we can see what is happening here. There seems to be a dispute in facts. When there is a dispute in facts, let us resolve them. Let us get to the facts because the facts will speak for themselves.

If we took the current salary for people in Canada, here is what they pay and here is what they get and apportion that premium, the $1.73 to each of the elements of EI benefits and special benefits, and if we do the same for Quebec, we will find a couple of those special benefits that Quebec does not participate in the EI program because Quebeckers already pay for them and they are provided by the Quebec provincial government. There is the disparity.

If we put in self-employed people from across Canada, we have to build on that model. There already is a differential for good reason. They are paying for it through their provincial taxes.

However, the numbers and the methodology for the proposed inclusion of Quebec self-employed persons does not build on the basic framework of cost of benefits and that is the problem. It is not subsidizing anything. It is fairness and equity and the numbers will show it.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to once again recognize the contribution of the member for Mississauga South. There are conflicting ideas and positions because there is a very big disparity between the Conservatives' assessment and ours. We heard them. They are convinced that their assessment is the correct one.

There is about a 1¢ difference, but we believe that our assessment is the correct one. Furthermore, the former EI actuary supports us. For years, he gave the government exact figures so that it could assess the situation and, ultimately, so that it could dip into the EI fund.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I have listened to the debate and a couple of points stand out.

The first is about the question of vision. I just heard from the government side what I consider to be a small and narrow-minded vision of the kind of services that government can provide to our citizens. The Government of Quebec has an expansive vision in many areas and one of them is child care. Quebec has led the country in providing child care services at an affordable rate. Quebeckers have decided to pay for that service and it serves as a model for the rest of us. I agree services for Canadians should be paid for and valued.

I would like to hear about the member's vision for EI with respect to these benefits. We are talking about giving maternity/paternity benefits, sickness benefits and compassionate care benefits to self-employed people. Would he not agree that self-employed people have children, they get sick and they have family members who they have to take care of? Are these not the kind of programs that provide a good vision for our country, similar to the child care policy?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, talk to Quebeckers about their government, and they automatically think of the Quebec government because that is the authority that provides most of their essential services.

Talk to people from other provinces about their government, and they automatically think of the federal government. That is the first thing that comes to mind. As such, they easily buy into a lot of what the federal government gives them. But people in Quebec want to do things their own way to best meet the needs of Quebeckers. The other provinces have a frustrating tendency to unquestioningly accept whatever the federal government hands them.

We have our own way of doing things, and when people ask us to do something, we do our best to make it happen. We collect money in lieu of federal services, and we provide Quebec-quality services, which are better.

In the end, what can we do? Quebeckers have a completely different vision. They are moving toward complete independence—sovereignty—because they want to be done with these disputes.

This is yet another reason for Quebec to take charge of all of its own affairs and opt out of fruitless debates in the House.

I am sure that a lot of members must find these debates tiresome. The solution is easy enough: if they stop acting the way they are acting, things might get easier. In the meantime, Quebeckers will progress toward the ultimate and best scenario.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 4th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this debate. What I heard from my hon. colleague from Sherbrooke was a complaint about a system that is broken and has not been fixed in a holistic way.

The present government, and the previous one that helped dismantle the system, is now in the process of adding band-aid upon band-aid instead of looking at the system that started to break in the 1980s, with a Conservative government led by Prime Minister Mulroney and continued on by Liberal governments through 1990s, when they gutted the system, overcharged us, pocketed the money and squandered $57 billion. Now, in a moment of crisis, we are trying to add a band-aid solution to a program that at one time worked for all Canadians across this land and now no longer does.

I commend the government on one hand for saying we should extend benefits that a lot of us get when it comes to maternity leave, parental benefits, compassionate care and sick leave. That is an equality issue the New Democrats and the labour movement have been demanding for a long time.

Clearly, sickness knows no workplace, whether it be self-employed at home, in industry or the service sector working for an employer. When people get ill, the illness does not knock on their door and ask if they are covered by a sick plan. People get sick and their needs are still the same. In families with only one person working and bringing home income, the need to sustain those families, keeping a roof over their heads, putting food on the table for their children or themselves. remains the same.

To start to add more to the program is a good thing. The problem with this is it simply says that some people might like it and they should think about entering the program. I am not too sure that is the appropriate way to do these sorts of things when it comes to adding on a new program. We need to look at it in a way that tells people these are great programs for them, that they need to join and here are the mechanisms to do it. It needs to be the same for the self-employed as it is for those of us who work for an employer and simply pay it.

Unfortunately, in life people will be faced with one or two of the benefits that will be available to the self-employed if we pass this bill. People will either get sick or require the compassionate care benefit. I have heard folks say for a long time that in life two things are absolute, taxes and the end of life.

When people deal with the end of life, whether it be parents, a loved one or a member of a family, we will all face that predicament. For a group to be singled out and not have the benefits as others who happen to be employed by someone else, to be honest from my own personal perspective, is criminal. We are not going to talk in a holistic way about those benefits. We are going to tell people they come into the program if they choose.

There are some difficulties with the program as there are with every program. I hope the government is listening. When people are sick, the two-week waiting period is an abomination. Regardless of whether people are laid off or get sick, it is really reprehensible when they are sick.

If people get sick and are unable to work, the first thing to happen is they lose money. We ought to be thinking about the fact that people do not choose to be ill. The illness could be of a catastrophic nature or people could end up in hospital, not like catching a cold and being laid up for a couple of weeks. It could be that someone has a major infection, lands in a hospital and is there for three, four, five, six, eight weeks. People have to wait for the stream of income required to sustain them through such periods of time.

They also have to go through the process of filling out cards and doing all those good things that the process talks about during an illness, and that is a delaying process. The two weeks really amounts to six by the time people receive any money.

Those who are ill need one less thing in their lives to worry about that could put them in a more serious situation than they are already in. We need to think about that element in the system. As I said earlier, it is really about justice and equality for all of us.

Why should some workers be treated in one way and others absolutely differently? When we look at the fairness of ensuring people having the ability to get involved in the program, it is long overdue. The New Democrats, as I said earlier about the labour movement, have been talking about a program that works for those of us in the working world because it is a program meant for us, as workers. It is designed for that.

Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, the design of the program is for the government to collect money. We watched the Liberals do it. The Conservatives, in their great thought processes, have looked at the Liberal plan. I have heard them from time to time say that the Liberals gave them a broken system. I have yet to hear them say that they will fix it. They continue with that broken system. They have said that in the House. I know it to be true because they would not mislead the House. What do they do? They do not fix it. That is a crime in itself. They need to fix the system if they know it is broken. Why would they continue with it? Yet they do.

We know the EI rates have been frozen for the next year. When we look at a plan of the Conservatives, we look at what they intend to do. They have obviously learned the lessons of the Liberals in the nineties. The Conservatives will be able to collect the money in 2011, heading to 2012, to 2013, to 2014 and forward. The revenue will be far greater than what they intended to pay out because the system will not be fixed. They are going to leave the 50-odd per cent of those who do not get covered by the system out of the system and collect the money. They saw what the previous government did. Then they will take the money, as my colleague said earlier, and transfer it, I would say squander it, and use it for other things, which places this program in jeopardy.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:35 p.m.
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Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it is pleasure to see the bill proceed to this stage.

I am glad to have the opportunity to rise to speak to this important milestone in bringing special benefits under employment insurance to self-employed Canadians. This is one of the most significant enhancements to the EI program in the last decade. It has been a long time coming for self-employed Canadians.

This fulfills a pledge by our Conservative government in 2008 to bring forward EI maternity and parental benefits to self-employed Canadians. A year ago, the Prime Minister said that self-employed Canadians and those who one day hoped to be should not have to choose between starting a family and starting a business because of government policy. They should be able to pursue their dreams both as entrepreneurs and as parents.

In fact, we have surpassed this commitment by also including EI sickness and compassionate care benefits. We do this because self-employed workers deserve to have access to these special benefits. We do this because extending access to special benefits is the fair and the right thing to do.

I think every member of the House recognizes the importance of the self-employment sector in the daily functioning of our economy and of our society.

In over 15% of our labour market self-employed entrepreneurs are a growing influence, not only because of their significant numbers but also because of the wealth of their ideas, innovation and jobs that they generate and create from time to time and year by year.

The self-employed form a diverse group, with widely varying situations and incomes. They include people with small businesses, farmers, construction workers, professionals, tradesmen, those in sales and those who own a home business among many others. Despite their importance, these entrepreneurs do not have the support they need when it comes to the important events of life, such as the birth of a child, adoption, illness and care of a gravely ill family members.

These sorts of events can have a significant impact on the self-employed who have little or no income protection. If they do not work, they do not make any money. Right now, they do not have any of the same EI support measures that Canadians employed by others do.

We are going to change that by implementing a voluntary system. We are following through on our commitment to self-employed Canadians.

It should come as no surprise that our self-employed have long asked for this support. In fact, a large majority of the self-employed want access to these benefits. Recent public opinion research shows that a majority of self-employed Canadians would like to gain access to EI maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.

Eighty-six per cent of self-employed Canadians support access to sickness benefits, 84% support access to compassionate care benefits and 64% support access to maternity and parental benefits. The message from self-employed Canadians is clear.

Our Conservative government has listened and we are taking action. We recognize the challenges facing working Canadians as they deal with the dual pressure of holding down jobs and caring for their families. We recognize that nearly a third of all self-employed are women of child bearing age.

Our government knows that families are the foundation of our society. The bill is yet another example of how our government is providing support and choice to Canadian families and people recognize that.

Catherine Swift, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, understands the benefits of this bill. On November 4, she said in the Montreal Gazette:

—the initiative fills a “glaring gap” for people running their own business, especially women....We have a lot of women members. They'd like to have a child and yet abandoning your business is not (an option).

We do not want the self-employed to become discouraged about starting families by ever present financial risks associated with running their own business. We certainly do not want their families to suffer because of unequal access to supports that are widely available to most other Canadians.

Given the strength of our country's economy, especially the strength it gets from our self-employed and their businesses as a country, we cannot afford to leave these people out in the cold. Stronger entrepreneurship means a stronger Canada. We need their skills, their experience and their energy and creativity to meet the challenges to come. This is why our government believes these entrepreneurs deserve to have access to EI special benefits.

We also recognize that there is an increasing number of self-employed Canadians who are taking care of elderly parents while also raising young children. The government believes that these entrepreneurs should not have to choose between their business and family responsibilities, whether those responsibilities are for newborns or parents, the young or the elderly.

By giving our self-employed the option for increased income protection, we are allowing individuals who might otherwise have to leave the workforce to stay fully engaged, to stay productive and to keep contributing to this great country of Canada. Not only does this benefit them but it also means that they can continue to make valuable contributions to their communities and the economy.

We are stimulating entrepreneurship and making self-employment more appealing to all Canadians. That is why we are extending access to EI special benefits for the self-employed and why we firmly believe that it is the fair, responsible and right thing to do.

These benefits are significant. They are as follows: 15 weeks of maternity benefits for a birth mother; 35 weeks of parental benefits for parents to care for their newborn or newly adopted child; up to 15 weeks of benefits for individuals who are unable to work because of sickness, injury or quarantine; and a maximum of six weeks to provide care or support to a terminally ill relative.

Under the proposed legislation, self-employed Canadians would voluntarily opt into the program and pay EI premiums on an ongoing basis for at least one year before receiving benefits. To access EI special benefits, they would need to have earned a minimum of $6,000 in self-employed earnings over the preceding calendar year.

The self-employed could opt out of the program at the end of any taxation year, as long as they have never claimed benefits. If they have claimed benefits, they would have to contribute from their self-employed earnings for as long as they are self-employed.

Self-employed Canadians who opt into the EI program would pay the same premium rate as salaried employees. They would not be required to pay the employer portion of premiums, in recognition of the fact that they would not have access to EI regular benefits.

In Quebec, self-employed residents already have access to maternity and parental benefits through the Quebec parental insurance plan. Now the federal government would provide the self-employed in Quebec with the opportunity to gain access to the sickness and compassionate care benefit under the EI program.

Should they choose to take advantage of the program, they would pay the same EI premium rates as employers in Quebec. Rates there have already been adjusted downward to take into account the existence of a provincial maternity and parental benefit plan.

I would like to bring to light an endorsement from an organization representing an important group of self-employed people, the realtors. Dale Ripplinger is the president of the Canadian Real Estate Association. On November 4 his organization issued a press release that it “applauds the government for taking action to address many of the inequities in the Employment Insurance program faced by self-employed REALTORS”.

The organization went on to say, “This is an important step to level the benefits playing field for self-employed Canadians. We look forward to working with the government to ensure access to EI benefits for REALTORS, which can help balance career and family life”.

I also have a quote from the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada, Richard Phillips. In a news release on November 3, 2009, he said that the legislation is “very welcome. This has huge potential for quality of life in rural Canada”. He continued, “This could be the difference as whether one member of the family has to seek off farm employment because now families will have a choice. With over 200,000 farms in Canada, if even 10% of them choose to take advantage of these programs, this could help ensure another 20,000 more young families staying on the land”.

It is this kind of thing that allows those who are self-employed and who contribute to our economy to get some benefits that are important to them and their families and ensure that they can continue to pursue their careers and jobs.

This legislation is the most significant enhancement to the EI program in the last decade. It is in keeping with our Conservative government's commitment to make the EI program responsive to the needs of Canadian workers. It is just one of the many enhancements that we have already made to the EI program.

We added five extra weeks of EI regular benefits, helping over 365,000 Canadians while they search for new employment.

We enhanced the work sharing program, protecting the jobs of about 165,000 or more Canadians.

We made unprecedented investments in training to help Canadians receive the skills training they need to enter a new career.

Our government froze EI premiums for two years, which helped employers create more jobs and also kept more money in the pockets of employees.

We added a $60 million investment in the targeted initiative for older workers to help older workers, who obviously have invaluable knowledge and mentoring potential, to transition into a new job.

We also passed legislation recently to provide five to twenty weeks of additional EI support benefits for long-tenured workers, who have worked hard, have paid premiums and are looking to transition into a new job.

Most recently, of course, we have introduced this program, which has been very well received by many.

Our government is protecting jobs. We are helping people get trained and upgraded for jobs. Now we have made changes that allow more flexibility for employers' recovery plans.

We have had the career transition assistance initiative, which has been providing assistance to long-tenured workers who need training to transition to a new industry or occupation. The support under Bill C-50 for long-tenured workers was certainly something that was well received.

All of these ventures demonstrate that our Conservative government continues to make responsible choices to support Canadians now, to support Canadians when they need it, to support Canadians when they find themselves in a difficult time.

With Bill C-56, we are taking steps to respond quickly to the needs of self-employed workers, so that they will also be protected in times of need.

Our Conservative government knows that families are the foundation of our great country. We believe that self-employed Canadians should not have to choose between their family and business responsibilities. They should not be forced to choose between one or the other.

Let us all support self-employed workers for their dynamism and their contribution to our economy. Let us create a stronger, more entrepreneur friendly and productive country in the process. Let us get behind our self-employed and do what is right. Let us do what they have been asking for for a long time.

I would urge all members in all parties to support this bill and to get it through the House at the earliest opportunity.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for giving us a refresher on this bill.

I know that most hon. members support this bill. I note that very few changes were made at committee. I was hoping that there would be further clarification with regard to the transitioning of workers from full-time employment to self-employment. I can only hope that the system will be sympathetic to those who find themselves transitioning to self-employment by personal choice.

With regard to Quebec, though, there are a couple of different scenarios because of the different benefit availabilities there. I understand that a concern was raised at committee with regard to the calculation of the benefits to be payable. An amendment on that was considered at committee but defeated. I understand there is still some question about whether or not the computation of the benefits available in Quebec is in fact correct in the bill as it stands now.

I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could assure the House that the questions raised with regard to the formula for Quebec benefits has been checked by officials and is indeed correct.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I should preface anything I say by stating that this bill provides, first of all, that those who are not in Quebec will pay the same amount that other employees are paying, but they will only be entitled to special benefits.

Therefore, we will have to see the take-up rate and those kinds of things to see how the premiums balance out with the benefits. That is the way it works for the various benefits provided, and for those with respect to Quebec as well.

The big point is that the suggested premium rate is much less than the cost of private insurance, which is the only option that Quebeckers now have, and thus it provides them with a more affordable option. This bill recognizes that Quebec already provides maternity and parental benefits. Quebeckers who chose to opt in will only pay a premium of $1.36, instead of the $1.73 the rest of Canada will pay.

Therefore, provision and allowance has been made for those in Quebec, and, of course, it is an opt-in program. It is a strictly voluntary program throughout. For those who want to opt in, they will.

Those are the premium rates that have been set for simplicity of administration, for simplicity of operation, and they are consistent with general principles. That is how they are meant to apply. I think the bill, as it is, is exactly what it was intended to be.

I would urge this member and all members to get behind the bill. I might say that we have received the support of one member from the hon. member's party in ensuring that the bill proceeded as we now see it before the House.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have often commented that the Conservative Party has not arrived in the 20th century let alone the 19th century.

However, with this bill, I think there is a recognition that the realities of work have changed fundamentally. So many people I know, and people who are younger than me, have never paid into EI because they are self-employed. Nowhere is this more noticed than in the artistic sector, where we have organizations like ACTRA that have been pushing for this for years.

To me, the need to address this massive discrepancy is so obvious, particularly for people who are working in the artistic sector who have been self-employed, who have been asking for action. They asked for action from Liberal government and they got nowhere. They are asking for action from the current government, and we have been pushing for this.

I think this is a bill that everybody should be supporting. What surprised me when I spoke with people from the artistic community was that they were telling me that the Liberal Party seemed to be very offside on this and did not think it was a good idea. I was certainly surprised there would be people within the Liberal Party who were not supporting a motion on extending benefits to the self-employed.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague, has the government been speaking with the artistic community and groups like ACTRA to ensure that their views are heard so that we can move forward with some very progressive legislation?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, just to address the comments of the member, I know that the Liberal Party opposed the extension of EI benefits by five to twenty weeks for long-tenured workers. That was on the basis, I suppose, that they wanted to force an election that no Canadian wanted.

Having surmounted that part of it and forgetting their own self-interest in trying to generate an election, and I assuming they are past that point, I would certainly hope that notwithstanding the fact they voted against providing support for about 190,000 long-tenured workers, they would actually now have a look at what we are doing by way of providing benefits to the self-employed and disregard their own self-interest and get behind this bill and support it as quickly as possible to ensure that the self-employed will get the benefits.

With respect to ACTRA and the points they have made, they actually testified before the committee and gave their points of view. They thought, as I recall, that this was a very good first step and a movement in the right direction with respect to providing benefits for the self-employed, of which their members certainly compose a large number.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the minister that involves telling us what the projections are as to the number of self-employed people who would participate in the program and whether he has any charts, studies and projections that would give us some of those numbers.

The way the system is set up right now, people have to pay into the system for at least a year before they can collect. Then if they do collect any benefits under the program, they have to stay in the program for the full length of time the business is in existence. If we were to have a situation where a person planned on making one claim over a period of 20 years, it is unlikely the person would sign onto the program.

I get the impression that it is a self-financing program, but then there is an indication that if the demand is not high enough, it may not be self-financing. On that basis, there would be a cross-subsidization from the other parts of the program.

Could the minister fill us in a bit about the projections for the program, how many people he sees would get into it and would it be self-financing from the beginning?

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no question it would be a novel principle if one could pay a premium to get a significant benefit, then after the benefit period expired, decide not to participate in the program. The question has to be looked at on a long-term basis. Do people wish to participate or not? If they do, and claim benefits, they must continue to pay the premium because that is how the premium-benefit ratio is set up.

By and large, the underpinning of the principle is, to the extent possible with the amount that other employees pay, that one would like to see the premiums have some direct correlation with the benefits. It will depend upon the take-up rate. It will depend upon a number of factors. The early projections are that in the initial part of the program, there will be perhaps a surplus and then there will be some deficit. However, after a period of time, when we know what the trends are and the uptake rate is, we will see what the differences will be.

However, by and large, the program has been designed to ensure that the premiums paid are the same as other employees pay and to ensure there is ease in administration, that it is not overly complex and is easy to understand. The way it has been set up, people have some time to decide whether they want to opt in or not. If they do, then they must stay in the program.