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.


Diane Finley  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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.


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.

November 4th, 2010 / 9:05 a.m.
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Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Which means that Bill C-56 was tabled after yours. I take from that that this bill can be improved—and that is where Ms. Folco's question seems particularly appropriate. This is probably something that will have to be considered when the time comes to pass amendments that will reflect the new legislative reality.

You have referred to crimes and acts of violence. I think suicide is also an act of violence sometimes. It isn't necessarily a crime, however, for the reasons you cited earlier.

I would like to come back to the costs you referred to earlier. Since I have been in the House of Commons, I have learned that, in keeping with the saying “give a dog a bad name and hang him”, all you have to do is exaggerate the cost of a bill to be sure that it won't pass. Can someone—you perhaps—explain to me how you arrived at the figures you presented earlier?

November 4th, 2010 / 9:05 a.m.
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Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Bill C-56 is a government bill, though.

November 4th, 2010 / 9:05 a.m.
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France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Yes, that's correct. My bill, Bill C-343, is intended to amend legislation to include the concept of “family leave”. You can't go from one bill to the next and keep on repeating the same things. Bill C-56 was aimed at self-employed workers and people who have their own business, while my bill applies to a different category of people—those affected by violence.

November 4th, 2010 / 9:05 a.m.
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Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Bill C-56.

November 4th, 2010 / 9:05 a.m.
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France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

This bill does not affect self-employed workers because another bill, Bill C-56, was tabled last year to deal with special benefit for them.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 20th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
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Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this excellent motion moved by the hon. member for Joliette, who is our House leader.

It is quite interesting to listen to the debates in this House and to hear the Conservatives and the Liberals ask our House leader questions. These two parties have been in power throughout Canada's entire existence.

I would like to go over a bit of history with them because it is not true that representation in this country has been based on population. I will provide the dates. In 1931, Quebec had 27.7% of the population and 26.53% of the seats; in 1941, it was 28.96% of the population and 26.53% of the seats; in 1951, 28.95% of the population and 27.86% of the seats; in 1966, 28.88% of the population and 28.03% of the seats and in 1976, 27.12% of the population and 26.6% of the seats. Accordingly, from 1931 to 1976, Quebec's population was proportionally larger than the number of seats it had in this House. My colleague also said that when the British North America Act was ratified, Lower Canada and Upper Canada were represented proportionally.

Today, the Conservatives have, for purely partisan reasons, decided to change the way things are. Tom Flanagan, their guru, makes no secret of it. The way the Conservatives might come to power with a majority is to decrease Quebec's relative weight by increasing the number of seats in the rest of Canada. That is the reality.

Today, we are defending the rights of all Quebeckers because there is a political party that has decided, for purely partisan reasons, to change the way things are in that country. It is their country. They can do what they want with their country. Just now, the hon. member said it well: if they want to increase the number of seats, they can go ahead, but they have to maintain the proportionality and the representation of Quebec. Why? Because the National Assembly unanimously wishes to protect that representation. That is why I will introduce an amendment. But, at the moment, we consider that Quebec currently having 24.3% of the seats shows fairness and respect for the nation of Quebec. What good is it for the Conservatives to recognize the nation of Quebec if, as soon as they get the chance, they want to reduce its political weight in this House? That is the harsh reality.

Earlier, the hon. member made reference to a poll that was conducted, not several years ago, but on April 7. The poll showed that 71% of Quebeckers oppose a bill of this kind. What is worse, in Canada as a whole, 37% of the respondents came out in favour of the Conservative plan while 45% were against. The Conservatives have decided to defy public opinion for no other reason than that they want to protect or promote their own partisan politics. This is their way of governing and of achieving a majority in their country, by reducing the political stature of Quebec.

When we consider the positions taken by the Government of Quebec, we see that the National Assembly unanimously demanded the withdrawal of Bill C-56 that gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. In other words, all the elected representatives of the nation of Quebec in the National Assembly, plus the 49 Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, that is, 87% of the all Quebec's elected representatives, both in the National Assembly and in the House of Commons, reject Bill C-56. The hon. member for Hochelaga did the calculations for us and he is a renowned economist who knows a thing or two about numbers.

I could quote the statement made by a constitutional expert, Mr. Benoît Pelletier, a former Liberal minister—clearly, he is no sovereignist—who laid out his position in a radio broadcast on May 17, 2007. He said:

I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight. Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?

As I said, those are the words of Benoît Pelletier, the then minister responsible for international relations and relations with Canada.

Mr. Pelletier is a renowned constitutionalist and a staunch defender of Quebec's political weight.

The purpose of the motion that the House Leader of the Bloc Québécois introduced today is simple. All the Bloc Québécois wants is to protect Quebec's current political weight. We are not asking for anything new.

I gave the numbers from 1931 to 1976. With the population as the basis, we in fact had an under-representation of members. What we are asking all the parties in the House is to respect Quebec's political weight. It is simple. Its political weight is 24.3%. If you want to add ridings in the rest of Canada, that is fine. But let us make sure that Quebec, too, gets more seats, so that it represents 24.3% of the members in the House. It is simply a sign of respect by one nation towards another. That is the reality.

Otherwise, the motion adopted by the House of Commons on the Quebec nation was nothing more than a show and yet another political manoeuvre. What is unfortunate is that the Conservatives, for better or for worse, did not take into account the fact that Quebeckers see themselves as a nation. Obviously, they expect that to be reflected in more than just a title granted by the House of Commons during its proceedings, but to also be recognized in the legislation that the House passes.

That kind of recognition would mean above all that no bill would be introduced to change the number of ridings in the country without protecting the interests of the Quebec nation. The National Assembly of Quebec is asking unanimously that Quebec's political weight not be altered by this legislative change, pure and simple. That is the reality. History shows that Quebec agreed to have a different weight for its population. We know that some provinces have more members than they should based on the weight of their population. Throughout Canada's history, Quebeckers have been good sports.

Now the Conservatives are coming at the numbers from a purely partisan angle. Tom Flanagan said that if they could get more members elected in Ontario and western Canada, they could win a majority, regardless of how Quebec votes.

On the surface, it seems that the Liberals are all too prepared to fall into the Conservative trap once again, also for purely partisan reasons. It is unfortunate. These are the only two parties that have ever governed this country. Of course they only care about their own political interests, rather than the interests of the people, and in this case, Quebec's interests.

There is no greater defender of Quebec's interests than the National Assembly of Quebec, which, through a unanimous vote, is calling on Ottawa to withdraw this bill because it reduces Quebec's political weight. It is appalling that a unanimous vote by the National Assembly is being so easily dismissed. This country will never move forward until Quebec becomes a country of its own and we can begin nation-to-nation business relations and harmonious relations as neighbours.

For purely partisan reasons, both the Conservatives and the Liberals are trying to manipulate things and fudge the numbers, to change the number of members in order to achieve a majority and win the next election, and have all the power to themselves. I have always said that politics can drive people crazy. Some are nearly there.

I would like to move, seconded by the hon. member for Laval, the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the House” and substituting the following: “and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.”.

March 29th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

—and has chaired this committee as well.... So there are people who have been around before, and different ministers have different styles.

But when we look at the last couple of times that the minister has come before the committee—this committee was a busy committee last year—there were a number of EI initiatives, and we didn't feel that they addressed some of the key issues we thought should have been addressed, issues of access in particular, and of some kind of national standard for EI. But we had a number of bills: in the budget a year ago there was the extension of EI benefits, which required some discussion, and the minister came before the committee on that; then we had a busy fall with Bill C-50 and Bill C-56, and it was in debating these two pieces of legislation that this committee dug up a lot of questions about the legislation, such as on the issue of the self-employed, for example, Madam Chair.

The reason we need to make sure that the minister gives us as much time as she possibly can is that it was at this committee that a lot of the questions about that bill came forward. For example, the question of how much of a draw this would be on the EI fund came about in discussion with either officials or the minister. There was also the issue of whether the rate was fair for the people in Quebec. I recall that the rate was $1.73 for everybody, and I think it was $1.37 or $1.38 in Quebec, keeping in mind that Quebec was already largely covered for maternal and parental benefits.

So this committee has done some significant work with the ministers here.

It has also just crystallized in my head right now that I think I've made my point. I'm ready to have a vote.

December 10th, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.
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Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, I certainly enjoyed listening to the comments and the intention behind the bill. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave). It affects two pieces of legislation.

All members here certainly sympathize with those whose loved ones have been victims of violent crime. There is no question about that. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from that kind of tragedy.

Before discussing what may be the best way to support these victims and their families, I would like to take a moment to sum up the main components of the proposed legislation.

Bill C-343 would amend the Canada Labour Code to introduce a new type of unpaid leave, known as family leave, which would be available to federally regulated employees whose family member has experienced certain kinds of trauma. It would also amend the Employment Insurance Act to provide temporary income support for up to 52 weeks, including the two-week waiting period, to eligible individuals who take this new type of family leave. It would also use a provision of the same act to ensure that premium rates were reduced in provinces where similar income support is provided.

In part, the proposed bill seeks to address issues related to victims of violence through the employment insurance program. I should like to note that the employment insurance program already provides some compensation to victims of crime. Specifically, eligible individuals who are unable to work and who are undergoing treatment for the psychological effects of bereavement or violent crime would be eligible for up to 15 weeks of employment insurance sickness benefits. In this way, the employment insurance program already responds to the needs of Canadians in these difficult circumstances. In limited situations, eligible workers can also access up to six weeks of compassionate care benefits.

While the EI system plays a very important role in providing some income support during absences from work for Canadians, the government recognizes it may not address the needs of all victims in all situations. The proposed changes represent a significant shift to special benefits, and it is not clear that employment insurance is the best instrument to provide income support under these circumstances. In addition to these concerns, the proposed changes have of a number of additional implications that are matters of concern.

The proposal to create family leave does raise some questions with respect to fairness. I am not sure whether, in making policy in this area, the distinctions and restrictions in this bill will result in a fair outcome.

For example, I am not sure parents of a 17-year-old and parents of a 19-year-old are deserving of substantially different treatment by the EI system. In the painful cases this bill seeks to address, I am not sure either type of parent would agree that differential treatment is fair either. While this is a little outside the scope of the bill, I am concerned that crime is the only thing being addressed here by these changes and that other painful and tragic events that are no less shocking, unexpected and difficult to endure are not being considered. As I said, other events are not within the scope of the bill, and that is a matter of concern for sure.

I will move on, however. It is important to note that most provinces already offer a variety of supports to assist families of victims of crime, such as coverage of medical expenses, as well as access to counselling services.

Six provinces even provide compensation for lost wages. Provincial compensation measures also have the advantage of being provided to victims and their families without regard to employment status.

Managing the employment insurance system is very complex, as we have seen in this House with the various pieces of legislation we have introduced, including the one that just passed today, Bill C-56. Our recent changes were only made after careful consideration and in response to a critical economic situation and, therefore, a situation that was critical for thousands of Canadians and their families. Our most recent proposal for change is to bring access and fairness to self-employed Canadians, as I mentioned, to the people who have never had access to the special benefits within the EI system before.

Right now, because of the global economic situation of the past year and because previous governments used EI premiums for non-EI spending, and the member makes a fair point there, the EI account is under strain. It is estimated that adopting the bill would increase program costs significantly and could result in significant upward pressure on premium rates, something that most people do not want.

While the length of the bill itself does not imply so, these proposed changes are major financial changes to the EI system. As we know from both the existing EI system and the new access to special benefits proposed by the government under Bill C-56, adding another class of people for whom 50 weeks' worth of benefits would be available is a very expensive proposition.

I am certainly not here to say that grief has a price tag or a price ceiling, but that these sorts of changes have consequences that need to be fully considered. Not only is the EI system perhaps not the best vehicle to help in these circumstances, but it is also an expensive way to use the system.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Department of Justice provides assistance with respect to issues surrounding victims of violence. It already offers a variety of programs and services, including the victims fund and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. In fact, in 2007, our government made a $52 million commitment over four years to increase services for victims and funding to the provinces for elements of their programs.

Finally, our government is also working to better protect Canadians against those who commit serious and violent crimes. In February 2008, the Tackling Violent Crime Act became law. This act strengthens the Criminal Code in the following five ways: mandatory prison sentences for criminals who commit crimes with guns; tougher bail rules to make it easier to keep people accused of serious gun crimes off our streets; a higher age of protection, that is, 16 years old, to protect children from sexual predators; new stronger measures against impaired driving; and more effective sentencing and monitoring to prevent dangerous high-risk offenders from offending again. Collectively these will certainly have an impact on reducing the number of victims.

Our government is concerned about the impact of violence on all Canadians and it is taking measures to address these concerns. We always welcome ideas for improvements to programs and services to respond to the needs of victims and their families. However, further consideration is required to determine whether employment insurance is the most suitable income replacement instrument for addressing this issue.

I want to assure the House that our government acknowledges the extensive work done by groups engaged in promoting a better understanding of the needs of victims and their families. These include the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families Association, led by Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu.

However, we believe that the Canada Labour Code should not be amended in such a piecemeal manner. We strongly believe that adopting a comprehensive approach would enable us to address more efficiently the needs of employees whose family member has been a victim of violent crime, has committed suicide, or whose child has disappeared.

For all of these reasons, the government cannot support this bill and intends, at the appropriate time, to move forward on this issue and introduce its own legislation for unpaid leave for victims of crime. This area is an important one and these issues need to be addressed, but they need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

Going through the employment insurance program is not the way to go. The system is not specifically designed for that and this may not be the time to work through that. As I have said, the government will be introducing legislation and certainly will deal with the issues that have been raised.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2009 / 6:10 p.m.
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Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario


Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions throughout the afternoon with all parties, and I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the question on the third reading motion of Bill C-56 be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and the vote taken now, and when the House adjourns today, it shall stand adjourned until Monday, January 25, 2010, provided that, for the purposes of Standing Order 28, it shall be deemed to have sat on Friday, December 11, 2009; and

That this House call upon the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to ask the Employment Insurance Commission to include in its Monitoring and Assessment Report an additional section that would monitor and assess the new employment insurance program for self-employed workers including a breakdown of data by province and that this House ask the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board to consider the history of premiums and contributions in determining the rates of contribution if Quebec’s self-employed workers are making contributions that do not correspond to the true cost of the benefits offered to Quebec’s self-employed workers; and since the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act includes a five-year review of the new program, the policy direction should include a more detailed review from the Employment Insurance Commission in addition to the five-year legislative review.

December 10th, 2009 / 4:15 p.m.
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Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Bédard, for coming and for coming a couple of weeks ago when you flew standby. Today you had a guaranteed ticket. Thank you for coming back. I appreciate that.

I certainly don't agree with Mr. Lobb. There's a whole bunch of information in this, certainly, that wasn't made available to us when we had a look at this bill.

I've raised questions about the premium setting. I've raised a lot of questions about the deficit that will be on this fund, which we weren't given initially and were only given in response to our questions. Madame Folco has talked about the premium rates. My colleague Ms. Minna has spoken about the gender inequities, potentially, in this bill and how it relates to regular EI.

You've given us a lot of information. When I saw this this morning, I thought there was a lot of stuff here that would be of interest. If you were still the chief actuary of the EI Commission, if there were still the EI Commission as it was and you were still the chief actuary, would you sanction Bill C-56?

December 10th, 2009 / 4:15 p.m.
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Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

I have a point of order.

My understanding from the last meeting we had on Bill C-56 was that we were going to have an actuary come to actually investigate the numbers.

December 10th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
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Michel Bédard Consultant, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

My name is Michel Bédard, and I thank you for your invitation to testify before the Committee concerning Bill C-56. I am an actuary by profession and I am appearing in my personal capacity. I was Chief Actuary to the Employment Insurance Commission from 1991 to 2003. I have also completed a number of missions for the International Labour Office as an employment insurance consultant.

I support the principle of the bill, namely the extension of special employment insurance benefits to the self-employed, but several aspects of it are problematic. My first comments relate to the financial aspects of the plan.

First, the new benefits would cost about $305 million in 2014, with about $212 million in parental benefits, that would be paid totally outside of Quebec; $93 million in sickness benefits, that would be paid out countrywide; and less than one million dollars in compassionate care benefits. The cost of these benefits represents 2.5% of insurable earnings in the case of parental benefits, and 0.9% in the case of sickness benefits, for a total of 3.40%.

These calculations are based on data from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, as supplied to your committee. In broad terms, the Department assumed that all those who joined the plan in order to receive parental benefits would ultimately receive them, or leave the plan, whereas in the case of sickness benefits, only 10% of the newly ensured would receive benefits.

What does Bill C-56 propose?

In 2014, a deficit of $86 million outside Quebec and a surplus of $18 million in Quebec, with contribution rates of 2.33% and 1.96% respectively. A rate of 1.96% in 2014 for self-employed workers in Quebec would thus represent double the forecast cost for this protection alone, the cost being 0.9%. This would be four times the rate now applicable to wage-earners for sickness and compassionate care benefits. This rate presently sits at 0.41%. We can calculate that at 1.36%, which was the rate in 2010, revenue in Quebec would already exceed costs. A representative of the Department confirmed this, stating before the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance that with a rate of 1.36%:

The typical self-employed individual in Quebec will receive benefits roughly equivalent to what the individual pays in premiums.

If so, why expect the rate to rise in the future? Together, these financial impacts therefore constitute the first stumbling block, in my opinion.

Second, the voluntary nature of the proposed system requires the government to impose strict conditions on those who wish to take advantage of it, in order to protect against opting out and abuse. There would accordingly be a waiting period of 12 months, which is much longer than what private schemes apply. Even in California, the comparable period is six months, for those who join the voluntary scheme for self-employed workers, and which it too is a disability insurance plan.

A third aspect that poses a problem, and will discourage participation in the plan, is the rule that would commit for life those who have received even minimal benefits, particularly for sickness. Have we ever seen income insurance that demands a lifetime of contributions after a minor claim? In California, the voluntary portion of the public disability insurance plan allows withdrawal after two years.

Fourth, if someone joins the plan mid-year, BillC-56 would require that they wait 12 months for coverage, but would require them to pay benefits for the entire year. Why not arrange to prorate contributions in such cases? As an alternative, the plan provides for those who register from January to March 2010 to qualify for benefits from January 1, 2011. Why not provide a similar clause for every year?

Fifth, and last, the employment insurance plan already includes a refund of contributions for those earning under $2,000 a year, since they do not qualify for benefits. Should there not be a similar clause in this voluntary plan, but based on a level of $6,000?

What are we to make of all of this?

Firstly, financially, with regard to these new benefits, it is inappropriate to adopt artificially the general rate for employees. Rather, we should select a funding mode that is proportional to the cost of the new benefits, and relatively stable.

Secondly, in order to fund a social benefit, namely parental benefits, while making it voluntary, the government found it necessary to impose strict limits. Among other things, these limits will have the effect of discouraging many potential participants, and make the system much less effective as a way of protecting incomes.

That is the gist of what I had to say.

I'll be pleased to answer any questions.

Thank you.

December 10th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
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The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Okay, perhaps I could get all the members back to the table. It's now ten after four, so if we could get started, then we could probably be finished by ten after five, although I realize bells are probably not going to be until about 5:22.

What I'm going to do is just read in the motion that this committee adopted. It reads:

That an independent actuary of the choosing of the opposition be invited to appear before the Committee for one hour before Christmas 2009 to give an independent analysis of the soundness, the rate setting, premium setting, and cost estimates of Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

So I will welcome Mr. Bédard right now.

Sir, welcome. You have an opening statement, so we'll turn the floor over to you, and then, as usual, we'll go through our questions from the members of Parliament.

Welcome, sir, the floor is yours.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

December 10th, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
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Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, today we will continue with the business of supply.

Tomorrow it is my intention to call Bill C-56, the fairness for the self-employed act, which as we know is at third reading. It is crucial that we pass Bill C-56 before we rise for the Christmas break. To qualify for benefits, Canada's self-employed must have paid premiums for a year beforehand.

Officials in the department need the green light from Parliament to begin preparing for the January 1 implementation. We cannot start notifying people until the bill receives royal assent.

As we know, this bill is supported by three of the four parties in the House. When there is that much support, anything can happen. We will put that support to the test tomorrow when the government will propose to dispose of the final stages of Bill C-56. The support from the Liberals and the NDP in this minority Parliament are key of course, and I hope their support does not evaporate overnight.

This is our one chance to get this job done. The government will have every available body here tomorrow for the vote in order to get the fairness for the self-employed act into law before we break to ensure that the self-employed benefit from these important and popular measures.

While I am on my feet, I would like to take this opportunity to wish a merry Christmas to all my colleagues on both sides of the House following the rise of Parliament, whenever that might happen.

Notice of ClosureFairness for the Self-Employed ActRoutine Proceedings

December 10th, 2009 / 11 a.m.
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Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the consideration of the third reading stage of Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, I wish to give notice that at a next sitting a minister of the Crown shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that debate be not further adjourned.