An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Dick Harris  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

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 provisions of the Employment Insurance Act that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended as the result of time spent by the claimant in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution so that they apply only if the claimant is not found guilty of the offence for which he or she was being held or any other offence arising out of the same transaction.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 16, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
May 16, 2012 Passed That Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
May 16, 2012 Failed That Bill C-316 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
Nov. 30, 2011 Passed 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.

Standing Committee on FinancePoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

May 30th, 2013 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to the hon. House Leader of the Official Oppositionfor raising this point of order yesterday, objecting to the unusual procedures that were accepted within the Standing Committee on Finance, in relation to the clause-by-clause treatment of Bill C-60, the 2013 omnibus budget bill.

Prior to his point of order, I was struggling with a dilemma: I was certain there was an effort to undermine my rights as an individual member of Parliament and yet there had been no formal challenge. I was not sure how to approach this, Mr. Speaker, and to put before you the ways in which I found that procedure unacceptable. I really very much appreciate that the official opposition saw fit to raise its concerns that those procedures and the procedures adopted--novel procedures, mind you--before the Standing Committee on Finance did not comport to parliamentary rules and practice and went beyond the mandate of the committee.

I agree with all the points made by the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition and by the member for Winnipeg North, on behalf of the Liberal Party.

Before getting down to the particulars of the current situation, I wish to review some fundamental principles related to the matter before you, Mr. Speaker.

In essence, what you are asked to adjudicate here is an effort by a powerful government party with the majority of seats in this place to eliminate what few rights exist to influence legislation in the hands of only eight members of Parliament belonging to two recognized national parties, myself, on behalf of the Green Party, and members here for the Bloc Québécois, plus two members currently sitting as independents.

Within this group, the government party's efforts are aimed only at the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois. We are the only members to have submitted amendments at report stage in the 41st Parliament.

The appropriate balance between the majority and the minority in proceedings of the House is, as Speaker Milliken noted, a fundamental issue.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to be providing the written copy of this presentation to you so that I will not have to read out loud all the citations.

The following passage is very apt. Although Speaker Milliken was dealing with a situation with a minority Parliament, the issues before him of balancing the rights of the minority and the majority are the same. I quote from Speaker Milliken's ruling of March 29, 2007:

At the present time, the chair occupants, like our counterparts in House committees, daily face the challenge of dealing with the pressures of a minority government, but neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.

Continuing:

Unlike the situation faced by committee chairs, a Speaker's decision is not subject to appeal. All the more reason then for the Chair to exercise its awesome responsibility carefully and to ensure that the House does not, in the heat of the moment, veer dangerously off course.

The Speaker must remain ever mindful of the first principles of our great parliamentary tradition, principles best described by John George Bourinot, Clerk of this House from 1890 to 1902, who described these principles thus:

To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner, to enable every member to express his opinions within those limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time, to give full opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken heedlessly and upon sudden impulse.

As I noted yesterday, in particular, in your ruling related to the member for Langley's question of privilege, you said:

...[an] unquestionable duty of the Speaker [is] to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of members and of the House as an institution.

And you cited, with approval, these words from former speaker Fraser:

...we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.

The last quote is from your ruling of December 12, 2012, which bears directly on the matter at hand. In that ruling, Mr. Speaker, you dealt with an objection raised by the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to, inter alia, my presentation of amendments at report stage. The hon. government House leader presented a proposal that all my amendments at report stage should be grouped and one motion selected as a “test motion”, and only if the test motion was adopted would any of the other amendments be put to the House.

Your ruling was clear, Mr. Speaker. You cited House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 250, which states:

[I]t remains true that parliamentary procedure is intended to ensure that there is a balance between the government's need to get its business through the House, and the opposition's responsibility to debate that business without completely immobilizing the proceedings of the House.

And you added:

The underlying principles these citations express are the cornerstones of our parliamentary system. They enshrine the ancient democratic tradition of allowing the minority to voice its views and opinions in the public square and, in counterpoint, of allowing the majority to put its legislative program before Parliament and have it voted upon.

You ruled then, Mr. Speaker, that my amendments at report stage on Bill C-45 could stand and be put to a vote in the House. You also set out some circumstances that would provide a potential procedure to provide me and other members in my position with a fair and satisfactory alternative to amendments at report stage.

In my view, the government House leader is now attempting to do indirectly that which he could not do directly. It puts me in mind of the finding of Mr. Justice Dickson in that landmark Supreme Court case of Amax Potash, in which Mr. Dickson said:

To allow moneys collected under compulsion, pursuant to an ultra vires statute, to be retained would be tantamount to allowing the provincial Legislature to do indirectly what it could not do directly, and by covert means to impose illegal burdens.

I again underline that as the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition has put before us, the actions of the finance committee were ultra vires, and the whole effort here is to do indirectly what it could not do directly. I am speaking of the Conservative Party's efforts to suppress the rights of minority members.

It offends principles of fairness to use the superior clout and power of a majority government to crush the few procedures found within our rules and traditions to which I, as an individual member, have a right to recourse. It is clear that the effort being made by the finance committee on Bill C-60 is a continuation of the strategy-by-stealth of the government House leader's to foreclose the democratic rights of members, which was attempted in November of last year.

For the remainder of my argument, I would like to canvass two areas of facts that are relevant to the specifics of the question before you, Mr. Speaker. First, was the procedure adopted by the finance committee in conformity with your ruling of December 12, 2012? Second, have the amendments I have put forward in the 41st Parliament offended the rules by failing the tests of “repetition, frivolity, vexatiousness and unnecessary prolongation of report stage”?

Dealing with the second point first, I have moved amendments at report stage on the following bills, and I will state how many amendments per bill: Bill C-10, 36 amendments; Bill C-11, 11 amendments; Bill C-13, one amendment; Bill C-18, three amendments; Bill C-19, three amendments; Bill C-31, 23 amendments; Bill C-316, five amendments; Bill C-38, 320 amendments; Bill C-37, one amendment; Bill C-43, 21 amendments; and Bill C-45, 82 amendments.

What is immediately obvious is that the number of my amendments was directly proportionate to the legislation proposed by the government. Only on the two omnibus budget bills, Bill C-45 and Bill C-38, and the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, did I propose a relatively large number of amendments. There were many amendments, because the omnibus bills involved changes to multiple laws in a dramatic and transformative fashion. The amendments I proposed were all serious; none were frivolous. They were not of the kind, for example, put forward by the opposition of the day on the Nisga'a treaty, in which multiple amendments were mere changes of punctuation with the goal being slowing passage of the Nisga'a treaty.

The amendments I have put forward have even gained favourable commentary from some government members. On Bill C-31, the hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism said, “I appreciate the member's evident concern”, speaking of me as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, “and the fact that she takes the deliberative legislative process very seriously”.

On Bill C-11, the copyright modernization act, the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages said, “I compliment her for her substantive approach to this legislation”.

On Bill C-43, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism stated:

I commend the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her constant due diligence. I know it is a particular challenge to effectively be an independent member and yet participate in an informed way in debates on virtually all bills in the House. We all admire her for that even if I do not agree with the substance of her intervention here.

In summary, the amendments I have put forward in the 41st Parliament have never been frivolous. Were they designed to slow passage? Not at all. Even on the day we began the marathon session of votes on the amendments to Bill C-38, I approached the Prime Minister personally and asked if any compromise were possible. I told him I would be at his disposal, that if one or two amendments might pass, perhaps the rest could be withdrawn, and that I was open to suggestion.

My goal throughout was serious and grounded in principle. My constituents care about these issues and these bills. I am working tirelessly in their interest. I have never engaged in preparing and presenting amendments for the sake of, as the government House leader has suggested, political games or delay for the sake of delay.

Having worked in the Mulroney government and in public policy work in Ottawa dealing with federal governments, federal ministers and federal laws since 1978, I have personal experience with what used to be the normal approach to legislating in the Parliament of Canada. This particular administration is the only one in our history to enforce rigid discipline on its members in legislative committees. It is the first administration in Canadian history to resist any changes in its legislative proposals from first reading to royal assent. Even the errors that are discovered prior to passage are protected from amendment until subsequent bills correct earlier drafting errors.

Worsening this abuse of democratic process, virtually every bill in the 41st Parliament has been subject to time allocation. If time allocation were not applied, in the normal round of debates, eventually members in my situation, who are seen as independent for my rights and privileges, although I sit here as a Green Party member, would be recognized and would participate in the debates. However, due to time allocation, there is never an opportunity to speak at second reading, report stage or third reading. With time allocation, there is never an opportunity for members in my position to make a speech unless another party cedes a speaking slot.

As a matter of practical reality, the only way to have a speaking opportunity in such time-constrained circumstances is to have amendments tabled at report stage. This approach of the current Conservative administration of rejecting any and all amendments, while simultaneously abbreviating debate opportunities, is a perversion of Westminster parliamentary tradition. It is a new and hyper-partisan approach to the legislative process.

As a member of Parliament, I believe it is my duty to work to resist this new, contemptuous approach to legislating. The ability to table amendments at report stage and to offer the entire House an opportunity to improve bills before third reading is even more critical when the legislative committee process has ceased to function as it did in all the time of all the speakers before you.

Now I turn to the question, Mr. Speaker, of how the finance committee applied the suggestions contained in your ruling of December 12, 2012. I note that the chair of the finance committee is never anything but personally fair, and I mean nothing personal against all members of the finance committee. I assume that this entire stratagem emerged elsewhere than from the members of the finance committee themselves.

I note that you suggested, Mr. Speaker, that there are “opportunities and mechanisms that are at the House's disposal to resolve these issues to the satisfaction of all members” in a “manner that would balance the rights of all members” and that “...members need only to remember that there are several precedents where independent members were made members of standing committees”. Those are all quotes from your ruling in December.

Finally, you suggested this:

Were a satisfactory mechanism found that would afford independent members an opportunity to move motions to move bills in committee, the Chair has no doubt that its report stage selection process would adapt to the new reality.

From these comments it is clear that your direction suggests that an effort might be made to engage members with rights of independents to enter into a discussion about how arrangements could be reached that would be, in fact, satisfactory. To be “to the satisfaction of all members”, your ruling implicitly requires that the suggested opportunities and mechanisms be discussed and accepted by all concerned. Further, you suggested that temporary membership was possible and that members should be able to “move motions”.

None of that occurred. I am attaching a written copy of all the correspondence between me and the chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, which I will provide to the table. As you will see, there was no discussion or offer of co-operation. The “invitation” contained in a letter of May 7, 2013 left no room for discussion. The attached motion of the committee was supported only by the Conservative members of the finance committee but not by the official opposition or the Liberal Party members.

The letter, and particularly the motion itself, had the tone of a unilateral ultimatum. My response was to ask for temporary committee membership for the duration of clause-by-clause review. This request was rejected in the letter of May 24, 2013.

As the various sections of Bill C-60 had been distributed among several committees, I attempted to attend all the hearings relative to my amendments. However, committees were meeting at the same time in different locations throughout the parliamentary precinct making it impossible to get to each one of them. I did attend meetings of the industry, finance and the foreign affairs committees prior to clause-by-clause. I asked for permission to ask witnesses questions and was denied in the finance and foreign affairs committees. I was allowed a three-minute opportunity to pose questions in the industry committee. To be blunt, my opportunities were not close to equivalent to the members of those committees.

On Monday, May 27, 2013 as requested by the finance committee, I complied with the committee and attempted to co-operate. I submitted my amendments and attended clause-by-clause throughout the meeting of the committee on Tuesday, May 28. I asked for time to present my amendments. There were 11 in total. I was given half as much time as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois. I was allowed one minute per amendment. He was allowed two minutes per amendment. I have attached copies of the Hansard from all of these discussions to abbreviate the recitation of the facts.

I prefaced my presentation of amendments with a statement that I had not asked for this opportunity nor invitation and that while I was attempting to co-operate, it was without prejudice to my rights to submit amendments at report stage. Each time I was given the floor for 60 seconds, I repeated that my participation was without prejudice to my rights to present amendments at report stage, when I had the right to move my own amendments, speak to my own amendments, and answer questions about my amendments. At report stage, I have the right to vote on my amendments.

I also supported the point made by the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park that inviting independent members to committee, in her words, “does not conform with parliamentary procedure in that only the House of Commons can appoint committee members”.

I noted that I did not have an equal opportunity to present my amendments. This observation was compounded as we went through clause-by-clause.

On two occasions, members of the committee suggested amendments to my amendments. I was not allowed to comment on those suggestions. On one occasion, a member of the government benches disagreed with a point I made, but I was not allowed to reply. On another occasion, the NDP members misunderstood the impact of my amendment, but I was not allowed to explain. I was not allowed to move my amendments. The motions were deemed moved. I was not allowed to vote on my amendments. As noted, I was not allowed even the ability to participate in discussions about my amendments.

There is no way the word “satisfactory” can be so twisted of meaning as to apply to the set of circumstances to which I was required to submit. It is a principle of fairness and natural justice that an opportunity that cannot be used is no opportunity at all.

When one considers the circumstances in which speakers have ruled that members did not have an adequate opportunity to submit their amendments, it is clear that this imposed process before the Standing Committee on Finance falls far short of the mark.

For example, in 2001, Speaker Milliken ruled that where a member was on two committees and had difficulty getting to the meeting, he could move amendments at report stage. Speaker Milliken wrote that:

...because...the member maintains that he sits on two committees, both of which were seized with bills at the same time, and therefore had difficulty in moving his amendments, the Chair will give the benefit of the doubt to the member on this occasion.

In a situation where a member of a recognized parliamentary party attended the clause-by-clause consideration at the committee but was not an official member of the committee, Speaker Milliken allowed that member's amendments to be presented at report stage. He noted:

Of course, the Chair recognizes that our parliamentary system is party driven and the positions of the parties are brought forward to committees through its officially designated members. The Chair also recognizes that some members may want to act on their own.

Underscoring this, what an example: a member of a recognized party with rights to participate in standing committees chose to be in the meetings, in clause-by-clause, and could have handed that member's amendments to another member of his party and ask that they be submitted, but the Speaker of the House supported the right of that member to amendments at report stage because he was not a committee member. I was a long, long way from the rights of that member of a recognized political party sitting in that committee back in 2003 when Speaker Milliken allowed that member's amendments at report stage.

The right of a member to actually move the amendments at committee cannot be perverted through the expedient measure, imposed by a majority party, of demanding all amendments of an independent member be submitted, denying that member the right to move the amendment, speak to the amendment, other than in an inadequate perfunctory fashion, debate or defend the amendment, giving that member no opportunity to speak to other amendments and denying the member any chance to vote on his or her motion.

There may well be some way to accommodate members of Parliament in my position, but clearly, this experiment on Bill C-60 at clause-by-clause consideration in the finance committee was not acceptable. To accept it now, and disallow rights of members of Parliament in the position of independents to submit amendments at report stage, will be to create a precedent that fundamentally abuses our foundational principles of Westminster parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Speaker, I urge you to find in favour of the point of order put forward by the hon. House leader for the official opposition and to set aside the treatment of me and the member from the Bloc Québécois and allow us to submit amendments, move amendments, debate our amendments and vote on them on Bill C-60 at report stage.

Employment InsuranceStatements by Members

May 17th, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to announce that at last night's vote, my private member's Bill C-316 passed its third reading and is on its way to the Senate.

This legislation would change the provisions in the Employment Insurance Act that would allow convicted offenders to receive extensions to their EI qualifying and benefit periods that were not available to honest, hard-working Canadians. Bill C-316 would change the law so that people found guilty of crimes would no longer have their qualifying or benefit periods extended by their time spent in jail and no longer give them preferential treatment over honest, hard-working Canadians.

I thank my colleagues for supporting this bill and seeing it pass so we can continue to support Canadians who work hard and obey the law.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 7 p.m.
See context

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to rise today to say, on behalf of the NDP, that we completely refuse to support Bill C-316.

It is not favourable treatment, as the hon. member said. A prisoner who is serving a sentence of less than 52 weeks is there because of a minor crime. He is not there because he killed someone or committed a major crime. He is in prison for a minor offence.

Suppose the person worked for 15 years and was then sentenced to less than 52 weeks in prison for committing a minor crime. Under the current legislation, that person can claim employment insurance benefits when he gets out of prison because he has to return to society. Suppose that person served a sentence of 30 weeks in prison. He has to return to society.

How would such a person reintegrate into society? How would he go about looking for employment? How would he approach different workers in a small or large business, depending on his occupation and training? This person was in prison for a certain period of time and therefore has to reintegrate into society. In all likelihood, he will have a lot of difficulty doing so because people do not want to have anything to do with former inmates.

Someone getting out of prison receives EI benefits in exactly the same way as everyone else who is entitled to receive EI benefits after having worked for a certain amount of time, and this period during which he receives benefits will allow him to find a job and return to society.

If this person is not given this time to reintegrate into society, he will not be able to earn a living and there is a good chance he will return to petty crime, which would only send him back to prison. This person, therefore, has a right to a period of EI benefits.

This bill would repeal the provisions that extend the EI qualifying period and the payment of EI benefits to a claimant who has been in jail or prison or any establishment of that sort. This is completely discriminatory and does nothing to address the real flaws in the Employment Insurance Act.

To understand the negative impact of these amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, we have to look at the facts.

Currently, the legislation stipulates that where a person proves that the person was not employed in insurable employment for one or more weeks during the qualifying period because the person was confined in a jail, penitentiary or other similar institution, that qualifying period is extended by the same number of weeks during which he or she was detained and was thus unavailable for work, to a maximum extension of 52 weeks. The maximum qualifying period, as we know, is 104 weeks.

Having spent 52 weeks in prison, a person applies and is entitled to 52 weeks. All the other measures are applied as well, but it depends on the unemployment rate in the region and the number of weeks worked before going to prison. This measure does not, of course, apply to inmates who are detained for more than a year.

I want to come back to the story of the woman who prompted the hon. member to introduce this bill. She went to the member's riding office and told him her story. She told him that she went back to school after having worked for 15 years. Then, when she was looking for work, she became sick and was diagnosed with cancer. She went back to see her MP to find out whether she could get employment insurance benefits.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Instead of dealing with the woman's request properly and helping her find a solution, and instead of introducing a bill to amend employment insurance, the member combed through the bill for something else he did not like. He discovered that a prisoner can have spent time in jail, be released, claim employment insurance and be entitled to receive it. The member figured that was not fair, but the two scenarios have nothing to do with each other. As I said, two wrongs do not make a right. The two have nothing to do with each other. He is mixing up two completely different issues.

What the member should have done was introduce an amendment to the bill to enable the woman to collect sickness benefits during her cancer treatment, then, once she recovers, to collect employment insurance benefits so that she can reintegrate into society because she is unable to work.

It is abundantly clear that this bill is a badly disguised attempt to further restrict access to employment insurance for people who have paid into the system, and this at a time when fewer Canadians than ever before are eligible.

Furthermore, if these former inmates are denied employment insurance to help them get out of the cycle of poverty and petty crime, they will be forced to turn to social assistance.

This downloads the cost onto the provinces, and the provinces will have to foot the bill when these people are released, if they are not given access to employment insurance.

When I first became aware of Bill C-316, my first thought was this: who on this planet could possibly oppose the rehabilitation of our most vulnerable citizens? Who could possibly oppose the rapid reintegration of people into the labour market?

When he appeared before the committee, the member for Cariboo—Prince George explained what led him to create his bill. During his testimony, the member said he had been informed of an unfortunate situation facing one of his constituents, as I said earlier.

As he was reading the legislation to try to help his constituent, the member for Cariboo—Prince George learned of the measures that are available to inmates and he was outraged.

It should come as no surprise that I do not believe that this way of doing things serves any purpose or is constructive in any way. A society makes progress by constantly improving its legislation and not by regressing and bullying more and more people.

The Employment Insurance Act does have shortcomings that this government should hasten to address in order to make the system more accessible and fair for everyone, particularly for unfortunate people such as the one we just spoke about or for women who lose their jobs when they return from maternity leave.

What is even worse is not that the government is doing absolutely nothing to resolve the shortcomings in this legislation and to help Canadians; the worst thing is that this government prefers inflict more pain on other people who have certain rights.

Why not find positive solutions and introduce a bill that would extend the qualifying period and the benefit period for people who are not covered under the current legislation, such as the woman who wanted to upgrade her skills but fell ill?

In the end, we must simply conclude that, when people go to a Conservative office to ask for help, they come away empty-handed. I am certain that the woman who, one day, asked for help from her Conservative member was not thrilled to see that this government has done nothing to resolve her problem and that it now wants to do away with the special provision for inmates—in the interest of fairness, or so it claims.

In his testimony in committee, again to explain the merits of his bill, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George said that it was completely unfair to grant favouritism to someone who has committed a crime but not to someone who has gone back to school to upgrade her skills.

I would like to remind the House that this information is false and borders dangerously on misinformation. Inmates are not granted any favouritism when they receive employment insurance benefits. They are simply on standby to receive their benefits because they worked before going to prison.

If the inmate is eligible for benefits, it is because he—out of his own pocket—and his employer contributed enough to the employment insurance plan for a specified period of weeks.

If a person who wants to upgrade his skills or go back to school in order to enter the labour market falls ill, then that person does not have access to employment insurance benefits because he did not contribute to the plan for the number of weeks or hours required. It has nothing to do with the fact that the person was an inmate but everything to do with whether that person worked the number of weeks required to be eligible.

It is important to remember that when a law is amended it must be amended for the better.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as the sponsor of this private member's bill, C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration).

The opposition members have tried to go a lot of different ways to take the focus off the real purpose of the bill. They have tried to make their presentations a little more believable or palatable as they oppose it. They are getting away from the fundamental purpose of the bill, that is, to take away the favourable treatment under the Employment Insurance Act that a convicted felon has over hard-working Canadians who would find themselves in the same circumstances having to apply for EI.

Let me give an example. We will take person A. Person A has been working for a couple of years and makes a decision to break the law, goes to court, gets convicted, and spends a year in jail. I know that some of the members over there do not understand this. Person A spends 12 months in jail, comes out, goes to work for a couple of months, maybe gets laid off and applies for EI. Under EI, he or she would have had to have worked in the previous 12 months, but in reality he or she only worked for two months.

This is where it is unfair. The year that person A spent in prison is as if it had never existed. It never existed that he or she went to jail for a year because the EI Act says that the period from the time person A was convicted until his or her time of release is wiped out. Whatever he or she did after getting out of prison is just added on to the period he or she had worked before. Therefore, that convicted felon could apply for EI and get it because he or she has had that extension.

Here is person B. This is a true story. This is a young lady who has been working for four or five years and paying EI premiums. She finds that her skill levels put in jeopardy her ability to continue working without fear of being laid off. She makes a personal decision to leave her job and go into a year's training to get an upgraded certification, which she pays for herself. She completes that training. With her certificate she gets a new job that pays better money and has more opportunity. She works for two months. The company she works for has some financial problems and she gets laid off. She goes to EI to collect employment insurance and is told that she does not qualify because she did not work in the previous 12 months.

That is not fair at all. That is what this bill is all about. It is not about penalizing. It is about bringing a sense of fairness to the act. That is the essence of this bill.

If this bill is passed it will change the provision which allows convicted offenders to receive extensions in their EI qualification period and their EI benefit collection period. They can add a year on either side. The average Canadian cannot do that.

Our government believes, and I support, that the right to an extension should be provided only to Canadians who deserve it. It should not be available to convicted felons who become incarcerated. Members must remember that nobody just breaks the law by accident. The culpability lies with the person who commits the act. There are penalties to pay. They pay the penalty. That is fine. They come out and they have paid their penalty to society.

However, they should not be rewarded under the EI Act and given more favourable treatment than ordinary working Canadians who may find themselves in a similar set of circumstances, except for the prison.

As well, convicted felons can double the qualifying period when hours are counted to determine benefits or they can double the period for which benefits are taken. The average hard-working Canadian simply cannot do that.

As the act now stands, these conditions are certainly more favourable to the released offender than they are to a majority of EI claimants, and that is most unfair. That is what the bill is all about. We could nickname the bill the EI fairness bill to bring fairness to the EI system.

Under the standard system of EI rules, for law-abiding citizens to be eligible for EI benefits they must have paid premiums while they were working, they must be available for work and they must have accumulated a certain number of hours work within the qualifying period. I want to go over this again just so folks get it. People must have worked within the qualifying period, which is normally 52 weeks, before they lost their job through no fault of their own. That means, generally speaking, if they have been out of work for more than 52 weeks they are not eligible to receive EI benefits. Those are regular hard-working Canadians who lose their job through no fault of their own.

These same rules do not apply to someone who has been working, commits a crime and goes to jail. The rules are much better for them than they are for the first person I described.

The EI program does make exception for people who are not able to accumulate the required number of hours within the 52 week qualifying period because of circumstances beyond their control, not because they committed a crime and went to jail. That was within their control. These are circumstances beyond their control. The EI program will extend the qualifying period for up to two years for people who cannot work because of special circumstances beyond their control, such as pregnancy, illness, injury or quarantine.

After an EI claim is established, a person normally has 52 weeks to collect the benefits. This is referred to as the “benefit period” and may be extended to deserving people up to 104 weeks for similar reasons that I have just mentioned.

Qualifying and benefit extensions apply to both regular and specific benefits, which are maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.

Under the current act, claimants may also have their qualifying or benefit period extended beyond the usual 52 weeks for each week they are confined in a jail, in a penitentiary or a similar situation. The EI Act puts in the same box people who have had circumstances beyond their control, such as pregnancy, illness, injury or quarantine, in the same category, the EI Act unfairly puts them in with a convicted felon who goes to jail. Now that just does not seem right.

Do members know what? Since the bill was introduced, I have had so many calls asking what the bill is all about. When I explain the bill to folks and tell them about the favouritism that a convicted felon gets over a hard-working Canadian, the most common response is, “You've got to be kidding. I could not imagine that provision exists for someone who commits a crime and goes to jail”. They say, “Well, good for you. Get your bill through and we'll take that out of there”.

What we are trying to do with Bill C-316 is get rid of the favouritism that is extended to convicted felons and we want to bring some fairness back to the way people qualify and receive benefits if they are unable to work.

It is very simple and I ask all members in the House to support the bill because it is really important.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I adamantly oppose this bill, Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration).

This bill aims to amend EI qualifying provisions to deny those found guilty of an offence access to employment insurance. Current provisions already allow for the qualification period to be extended if the claimant has spent fewer than two years incarcerated. Those incarcerated for fewer than two years are not hardened criminals. These are people who can be rehabilitated. When they are released from incarceration, they have paid their debt to society. If one thinks about it, incarceration is the penalty levied by the court.

Now the government wants to make them pay twice. I find it is a bit of an overkill. It is a bit cruel and punitive. Many of those incarcerated for fewer than two years are often incarcerated for “poverty related crimes”. For instance, approximately 40,000 Canadians are in provincial corrections facilities at any given time for failure to pay a fine. Imposing fines under provincial acts does not take into account people's ability to pay, and often leads to reoffending and doing more time for the same crime. It becomes a vicious cycle. People cannot afford to pay, so they go into jail, they lose their job, they come back out and they cannot afford to pay fines again.

Three per cent of all people in custody in provincial or territorial institutions, in 2008-09, were incarcerated for failure to pay a fine, women and first nations in particular. According to the 2011 National Council of Welfare report, The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty, 80% of incarcerated Canadian women are there for poverty related crimes; 39% of those for failure to pay a fine.

Seventy per cent of incarcerated women are single mothers struggling with the high cost of living and trying to feed their families. As a result, crimes of desperation are often committed. Many of them have families for whom they are the sole breadwinner. Many have absolutely no choice because they do not have the skills and education to find well-paying jobs.

The United Way of Calgary, in a report in 2008, called Crimes of Desperation, said that,“Incarcerating a woman for a poverty-related crime does punish her”. The report points out that the punishment is for being poor and trying to cope “by using a socially inappropriate but readily available means”. Such means would include stealing or doing whatever she needs to do to get some food on the table. The report suggests that, “Given this, the rates of re-offence are significant and costly”.

The hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George noted in committee that he does not understand how people cannot afford to pay a fine. I think this really only underscores a fact about how out of touch the government and the hon. member are with people who actually live in poverty and who commit crimes of desperation.

It is likely that these individuals, who already have limited incomes before they went into prison, have a hard time getting a job when they come out because of the stigma attached to being in jail. That is a double whammy for these people. Again, researchers found that ex-prisoners who are able to find legitimate jobs are less likely to reoffend than ex-prisoners who do not find jobs.

Employment insurance is not a perk. It is there to assist in the transition to employment. It is not a handout. EI is something one has to pay into in order to be eligible. We are therefore only speaking of people who are eligible who should have access to EI when they get out of prison. Without this insurance, these individuals may end up on welfare. I want to stress this: EI benefits are currently only payable to ex-prisoners upon their release if they are eligible.

This bill is a penalty on top of a court-ordered penalty. Our correctional institutions are not, as the government thinks, the answer to housing, mental illness, homelessness and addiction. They are rehabilitation centres, particularly for those offenders who are incarcerated for fewer than two years. If one believes prisoners can and should be rehabilitated to become positive contributors to our society, then one will agree that support programs both inside and outside the prison system will help them be able to live meaningful lives again.

Finding a legitimate productive job is one of the best ways to ensure an ex-prisoner does not reoffend because of poverty. EI is that bridge that helps them to get there.

I want to say that I oppose this bill. I think it is punitive and unnecessary. I am really sorry to see that it is even being discussed here in the House.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, having followed the right track and gone through this training program myself, I saw how those who had taken the wrong track were exposed to new opportunities through these training programs. I am really worried that the changes in the bill to the Employment Insurance Act which would limit people from these programs would be problematic.

I was in a program where I gained skills. I had good mentorship from people in municipalities, and I became interested in local issues. Not to toot my own horn, but that prompted me to go back to university where I received a bachelor's degree then a master's degree and eventually a Ph.D. I became tenured.

I am not saying that these programs lead to those kind of career paths. However, they do give people a chance to do something different and a chance to look at life in a different way. If we take away that opportunity, as the bill would do for some, that would not contribute to the community as a whole.

There is a lot of value in communities looking at how they treat people. Some people who do bad things in a community should be kept away from the community. But the changes suggested in the legislation would punish people who have done minor things, people who have had some problems at home or were at loose ends and not sure what direction to take, often young people. They then go down the wrong path and are continually punished.

We heard today how those who are incarcerated may have to pay even more money. We should not be marginalizing people in the community. We should be bringing the community together. My grandfathers, one a gunsmith and the other an Anglican priest, taught me that lesson. They managed to get along and we should perhaps be doing the same. We should be bringing communities together. We should not be bringing forward punitive measures that would hurt and divide communities.

I do not support Bill C-316.

The House resumed from March 15 consideration of Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am a lawyer by training and have practised law for most of my adult life. I served as managing partner in a successful law firm back home in Prince Edward Island. I have some experience as a prosecutor with respect to narcotics offences and election offences. That is something that will probably come in handy before too long in this country. Therefore, I understand the harm that crime can have on individuals. I know it hurts families. I know it hurts communities. I value a tough justice system, but not a vindictive one. I value proportionality and balance. I value the courts and their judgment. I value the Charter of Rights.

However, one gets a very strong impression that the Conservatives have a view of justice that is arbitrary, vindictive and disproportionate. We have certainly seen this manifested in Bill C-10, a bill that would most certainly be found to be, in whole or in part, unconstitutional. In effect, we also saw it last night in the debate on Bill C-316.

The bill before us today proposes to do something that in all my years of practising law I have yet to confront.

What widespread epidemic problem does the bill seek to fix? Are there thousands of incarcerated people in receipt of a judgment from Her Majesty where we have to divvy up the proceeds? Is this an epidemic in our country?

We know the answer to that. The answer is: very, very few.

I am not a cynic by nature, but the actions and the behaviour of the Conservatives really do cause one to question their motives. I am sure there are many members who like it when we oppose the myth-based crime bills. They perhaps want to be able to write fund-raising letters to their right-wing base, collecting untold amounts of money by suggesting that the opposition is soft on crime and that we do not care about victims. That is the type of divisive government we have in Canada.

The bill has already had a rough ride, primarily because it was initially ill-conceived and not well thought out. It was originally proposed and rejected because of jurisdictional problems. A non-partisan researcher and lawyer associated with the non-partisan Library of Parliament, Michel Bédard, said:

—I have doubts as to the federal government's power to pass provisions of this kind. It's important to understand that, according to the division of powers in Canada, property and civil rights fall within provincial jurisdiction. Under that head of power, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and all private law, including debt priority ranking. That includes debts owed to creditors, in particular.... It's important to realize that federal jurisdiction regarding debt priority ranking is limited to certain well-defined areas, such as bankruptcy, tax collection and banks.

This is obviously something that will have to be discussed at committee.

I would close by saying this. The Criminal Code is not some pet project to be tinkered and played with by Conservative backbenchers looking for reasons to appear tough. The Criminal Code is not supposed to be used and amended by backbenchers in order to send out a press release, or to be used as an opportunity to put something in a householder or newsletter. That is not how we make laws in Canada. In fact, I should say, that is not how we used to make laws in Canada. That is the sad part of what is happening in Canada under this fact-free Conservative government.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-316. I have really enjoyed the robust debate we have had in the House. We have good speakers in favour and against the bill, and this is what Canadians of the House, to have motions put forward, to have good debate and, in the end, for members to vote the way they feel is right.

To start on a positive note, I applaud the member for attempting to reform the act. There are a lot of changes that need to be made to the EI system in Canada. We on this side of the House have mentioned it a number of times. The government and private members will bring forward their own ideas about how we might amend the Employment Insurance Act and a number of other acts.

Unfortunately, after reading the bill, which is quite short, the act needs to be reformed in different ways and perhaps slightly more meaningful reforms, not the ones being forwarded by the member for Cariboo—Prince George.

However, I do applaud the member for Cariboo—Prince George for pointing out the problem that pregnant women have in terms of accessing EI. My colleague mentioned that earlier today and that is perhaps a reform that the government or a private member might want to bring forward in terms of how to ensure that women are not excluded from this very valuable social safety net that has been in Canada forever.

Again, I applaud the member for bringing up those ideas for change and I encourage him to bring those forward and perhaps steer his efforts in this direction.

While I am thinking about private members' bills and other bills that are coming up in the House, I think about whether a bill will be good for our community. If it were put in place, would our communities be better places in which to live? That is not only Canada as a whole but also individual communities.

My mind goes immediately to my constituency of Burnaby—Douglas but also drifts back to the community in which I grew up just outside Wolfville in rural Nova Scotia. The communities have quite different circumstances. Burnaby is a land of opportunity. It is the best managed municipality in Canada. We have industry, universities, all kinds of ample opportunity and all kinds of jobs can be attained there.

However, where I grew up in rural Nova Scotia there is not so much the same kind of opportunities. In fact, that is why I moved. My mind goes back to the point when I was growing up in rural Nova Scotia and starting to make my way, the opportunities I had and the people I hung out with, my friends and colleagues.

I grew up in quite a poor area of rural Nova Scotia where individuals went on one of two paths. One path was where they made their way along, usually with some kind of family support, and they socialized with people who were good influences. On the other hand, there were people who went slightly down the wrong path. When I go back to Nova Scotia to visit, we talk about people who went down one path or the other path.

I will get back to this when I have my second five minutes to talk about whether these kinds of acts good for the community. In the second half of my speech, which I am sure all members will be keen to hear, I will allude to how I was on unemployment insurance in Nova Scotia. I looked for work, could not find it and eventually I got on what was then UI, which I was able to transfer out to Vancouver.

The valuable part of being on EI was the job retraining. What really changed my life was being able to access a very small amount of employment insurance. However, employers at that point could top up people's EI and train them. That really started me down the right path. I look forward to explaining more about that in a couple of weeks.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member was listening carefully but I said that it was an act that would amend the Employment Insurance Act.

This is a matter for debate, but I have no doubt that this legislation would further penalize people who have either committed an offence or may be only awaiting a trial to determine whether they committed an offence. Bill C-316 would unfairly add additional penalties on people and treat them unequally. An individual who may have paid the premiums and was collecting employment insurance would lose that benefit instead of having it postponed, the way it is now. It is an unfair bill.

What is really unfair about the bill is that it is so contrary to the notion of members opposite who talk a lot about their concern about crime and victims of crime, never mind the Christian charity or any other kind of charity toward people. One would think that the Conservatives would be concerned about the rehabilitation of offenders, particularly the kinds of offenders we are talking about here, most of whom serve a sentence of less than a year for some first offence or minor offence. One would think they would want them to be rehabilitated so they could get back into the workforce to be able to support their families.

What are we saying here? Do we want to ensure that people who happen to be in jail for six weeks or three months are deprived of the ability to collect employment insurance when they get out of jail? Who depends on that employment insurance? It is the individual and his or her family. Are we going to deprive the family of three months of employment insurance income because someone went to jail? The individual may have been deprived of income while in jail but that is part of the consequence of being in jail.

I do not know who will vote for this legislation. I did not hear the minister get up and say that they will vote for this because it is a government measure. However, we will find out how mean-spirited, negative, uncharitable and uncompassionate those members are if they support the member's bill. The member did a disservice to his party by bringing the bill before the House. This measure would further penalize individuals who commit crimes for which they are serving usually relatively minor sentences in jail.

We know that many former inmates have considerable difficulty finding work after release from prison, which is why we have the John Howard Society. I do not know if the Conservatives are against the John Howard Society helping prisoners to reform themselves and rehabilitate themselves, something that society wants and desires and we should be encouraging.

We should be encouraging that for two reasons. First, because we want everybody to be a good citizen, even people who have committed an offence. We want them to have an opportunity to reform. Second, because we want to protect society. We want these individuals to be productive members of society so they do not commit further offences and create further victims. I think that is a common goal. I do not know why anybody would want to turn the screw a little tighter, hurt them and their families, and deprive them of a benefit that they are entitled to under law because they paid their premiums. Instead, the government wants to turn the screw a little tighter.

We know that incarceration has a lasting negative effect on how much an individual earns, lowering his or her average annual income already. The average income of a household with children and a parent in prison declines by 22% over the period of incarceration and after the parent is released from prison the household income remains 15% lower than before that parent was committed.

What are we doing here? Are we saying that we will penalize not only the individual but the family even further? What would be gained by that? Is that a deterrence? No. It is a continuation and enforcement of misery on somebody who is already poor. Is that what the government wants to do? I do not know if the government is going to support the bill but we will find out.

That, obviously, is what the member wants to do. Maybe he has talked to his colleagues or maybe has not. I have not heard all of the speeches here. However, it will be a very sad day if the government passes this legislation. I do not think people on this side will support. There are some in that corner. I see one hand in the Conservative corner that is voting with the government.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. In the opening of his presentation, the member opposite characterized Bill C-316 as an act to further penalize those who have been incarcerated. I do not think he has read the bill, otherwise he would see that is not what the purpose--

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak, but I am not very pleased to speak to this bill because it is Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, which would seek to further penalize individuals who find themselves in jail as a result of the commission of an offence, or perhaps they are awaiting trial and may even be acquitted of the offence.

The hon. member opposite has seen fit to take a piece of legislation that is designed to ensure that people who have earned through paying premiums the right to employment insurance and deprive them of some of those benefits in addition to whatever penalty they receive.

In fact, what it says is that there are two people who are equal before the law, one of whom happens to qualify for EI and the other does not. It wants to make the system work as follows. If people happen to be in receipt of EI, they are going to be punished differently and more heavily than another person who is not in that circumstance--

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I have spoken to Bill C-316. Before I begin my speech I would like to say that the NDP is often accused of protecting prisoners, but we agree that someone who commits an offence should be incarcerated and pay his debt to society. That is a principle of justice. That is the world we live in.

However, we must not forget that we are dealing with human beings. Our duty in the House is to ensure that these people are rehabilitated and that they have the opportunity to find a job. Some have had hard luck in life. That does not make them hardened criminals, as I have been hearing in speeches in the House over the past few months.

There are two types of criminals. There are people who are in prison for stealing food. Many single mothers with no income get caught stealing food and end up in prison. We have to give people like that the chance to rehabilitate and not kick them while they are down. We live in a society. We have a duty in this House to help these people.

The Conservatives are claiming that inmates can be granted privileges and receive benefits for 52 to 104 weeks. Pregnant women do not have that right. That is why I am rising in the House. The hon. member explained that this represents a minimal cost. Since this privilege represents a minimal cost, rather than getting rid of it, we would be better off extending it to pregnant women who lose their jobs or who become ill and are not entitled to employment insurance benefits. It is true. That is the reality right now.

Rather than also extending this privilege to pregnant women, which would be the logical course of action, the Conservatives would prefer to take it away from inmates. Is this not a good example of the lack of vision or the wilful blindness of the government, which is motivated by its own ideology rather than by common sense?

First, I would like to explain the reason for these 52 weeks. The hon. member explained it very well earlier, as my other colleagues in the House have done. People are entitled to these 52 weeks in accordance with their qualifying period and the unemployment rate in their region.

The Conservative members are simplifying the facts and distorting reality. Inmates are not eligible for benefits while they are in prison. These are privileges that people are granted. Inmates do not have rights in prison.

The people who benefit from this special measure are those who worked enough hours to obtain benefits. They deserve to get them when they get out of prison since they contributed to the employment insurance program. It is workers and employers who contribute to this fund. It is not the government. The government simply manages it. The government has managed the money in our employment insurance fund so well. We can see what is left today.

That being said, Bill C-316 seeks to repeal the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act that allow for qualifying periods and benefit periods to be extended as the result of time spent by the claimant in a jail, a drug treatment centre or another similar institution. When someone goes to a drug treatment centre, it is because he needs help. If we kick him when he is down, we just make matters worse. It will make it harder for him to get back on his feet.

The Conservatives want to abolish the exceptional provision that encourages former inmates to rejoin the labour force and regain their self-confidence. If my memory serves me correctly, it was even the Conservatives who introduced the 52 to 104 weeks in the 1960s. They did so to help people find a job, get training and receive benefits in the meantime. When people get out of prison, that does not look good on their CVs. That is why it is difficult to find a good job after serving a prison sentence. Things are not easy for these people. Rather than helping them, we are digging them a deeper hole. We are penalizing them. We are penalizing them instead of giving women this right. If we were to give women this right, it would cost between $70 million and $75 million, according to our estimates. Pregnant women would be entitled to these privileges when they lose their jobs or fall ill after a pregnancy.

The Conservatives are abolishing an exceptional provision that encourages inmates to rejoin the labour force, regain their self-confidence and have access to paid training. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have failed to come up with any solutions to help pregnant women who are the victims of injustice in this area.

We in the NDP want this to apply to pregnant women.

Can the Conservatives tell us how they intend to assist pregnant women in this area?

Personally, I get the impression that the Conservatives would prefer to waste energy and punish everyone, and that the injustice of this bill is only a pretext for a government that is intent on being tough on criminals, come what may. This bill is a good, though pointless, example. We need to stop it from spoiling the future of thousands of Canadians who would benefit from a second chance.

Sometimes, in life, we are out of luck. Someone here might enjoy a cocktail or two in company. Instead of having two cocktails, that person might have three, and get caught.

That does not make us hoodlums or hardened criminals.

This bill is not good enough for Canadians. The question is not about equality for Canadians with regard to the employment insurance system, nor is it about the alleged favouring of prisoners in the employment insurance system. It is about making the necessary changes to an unfair piece of legislation, and rectifying a situation that is unfair to women on maternity leave. It is my duty to highlight the Conservative government's incompetence in this area, despite the fact that the Conservatives consider themselves the standard-bearers of family values.

The Conservatives do not distinguish between different types of crime. They do not give rehabilitation a chance and their only strategy to prevent repeat offences is to throw people in prison. Yet, in Canada, the figures show that our social rehabilitation system works well and that the crime rate is steadily falling in most provinces.

Regardless of what the member for Cariboo—Prince George says, helping inmates escape the cycle of crime has always worked well in Canada, and we are currently reaping the benefits of this system. It is thanks to these measures, some of them exceptional ones like the one we are debating today, that we have been able to build a solid system. It may be imperfect, but is well intentioned, and it suits us. It is our duty in this House to look after people by making decisions on their behalf. That is the duty of parliamentarians.

In general, former inmates have a lot of trouble finding work after they get out of prison, and their time in jail has a lasting negative impact on their income. Of course, when you have bad luck and you lose your job, when your CV says that you spent six months in prison for stealing a litre of milk from a corner store, it is not very good when you are looking for a job. However, these people deserve a second chance, especially since former inmates are more likely to be unemployed or to hold jobs that pay less than the jobs they held before they went to jail.

Someone who has spent more than a year in jail cannot receive benefits until he has accumulated enough insured hours of work after leaving prison, while if he spends less than a year in jail, he can qualify for employment insurance because of the hours he worked during the extended qualifying period. Employment insurance also provides access to vocational training and to officers who provide job-search support. In a number of cases, the employment insurance program has changed lives in a positive way.

There is a major problem with this ridiculous bill. We must point out that an innocent person may be in jail while waiting for a verdict to come down that clears him. That could be detrimental and costly, and the person could also be refused access to employment insurance.

The solution to the inequities in the employment insurance program is not to abolish an exceptional measure that provides assistance to inmates, but to make a clear-cut change to the legislation in terms of the maximum number of weeks of regular and special benefits.

The Employment Insurance Act must allow new mothers as well as workers who have lost their jobs to receive sickness benefits when they need them. It must allow a mother who is on parental leave to benefit from the same extension of the qualifying and benefit periods as an individual who has been in prison, not the opposite. In this case, the government is taking something away from inmates and not looking after mothers. It would be better to keep what is left for inmates, because it does not cost too much. They said it. They were not even able to give us the real numbers. It would be much better for us to take care of our people.

Moreover, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development acknowledged that there was a problem with the interpretation of the Employment Insurance Act with regard to women on maternity leave and access to the special sickness benefits and regular benefits. She must now make a commitment to rectify this situation, which is unfair to Canadian working women, rather than looking for feeble solutions that are only good for pleasing people who support the Conservatives’ hard line on crime.

It is quite clear that this bill does not reflect the values of Canadians. It does not represent the views of Canadians, and the government must recognize that a mistake is about to be made. We cannot let this bill go forward; it is harmful and adds absolutely nothing useful to the employment insurance system. We must concentrate on the real priorities of Canadian families: jobs, health care, quality of life and workers' rights.

I oppose this bill. We want to correct a situation that we think is unfair. These people have paid in and they are going to have that money taken away. But if we do that, it will not mean that we can give this money to women on maternity leave. We must be fair with everyone and apply this to women on maternity leave, so they are at least entitled to employment insurance if they become sick or lose their job when they return to the work force. That is social justice. That is what it means to help people, to work together and take care of people. Here in the House, we are supposed to make decisions to take care of Canadians.

We in the NDP oppose this bill because it punishes people and takes things away from them, without being able to help others. On the contrary, we should be able to give this to women on maternity leave who still have rights. They will have less to worry about when they go back to work and if they lose their job when they do go back.

The NDP will be voting against this bill.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-316, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (incarceration), as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of Motions Nos. 1 to 5.

Motions in AmendmentEmployment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

March 15th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to these amendments, but I am not pleased to support them. Neither would the member for Cariboo—Prince George, for sure. By amending each of the five clauses in the bill, by deleting them, it takes all the provisions out of there and only the title and the enactment provisions will be left, and I suppose that would go as well.

It is fair to say that the government will not be supporting these amendments for the reasons that are obvious, based on what I just said.

Last year, our government passed legislation to prevent federal inmates over the age of 65, who were sentenced to prison for more than two years, from collecting old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. This relates to the qualifying period, and I do not think the legislation pretends to say it deals with receiving or not receiving employment insurance while in prison. It deals with extending the qualifying period and the benefits period.

We brought forward the previous legislation because Canadians told us it was not fair that criminals could collect retirement benefits while they were incarcerated, especially since their living expenses were already covered by taxpayers. We are supporting this further reform to our social programs in the interest of fairness and justice for law-abiding Canadians.

Under the Employment Insurance Act as it now stands, people who have been in jail can get an extension, as the member has mentioned, of up to 52 additional weeks of their employment insurance qualifying and benefit periods. We think this EI extension is unfair as it provides preferential access for convicted criminals to benefits over law-abiding citizens.

Let me outline how employment insurance works.

Employment insurance is intended to provide temporary income to replace lost wages while the claimant looks for a job. To be eligible for EI regular benefits, people must have paid EI premiums and have worked a certain minimal number of insurable hours, depending on the region of the country in which they live. They must have worked those hours in the 52 weeks before the interruption of the earnings. This is what is called the “qualifying period”.

When people qualify for EI benefits, a 52-week benefit period is established during which they may collect EI benefits to which they are entitled. Normally claimants must be able and willing to work. However, the qualifying period or the benefits period may be extended for up to two years for people in special situations. People who are unable to look for work because of illness, injury, pregnancy or quarantine are given an extension or they may apply for an extension so they do not lose their right to EI benefits because of the special circumstances or situations that are beyond their control.

To be clear, we are all in agreement that extensions to individuals should be granted for life circumstances beyond the control of the individual, such as injury or illness. However, this is not the case with the person who commits a crime.

To be convicted of a crime, an individual makes a choice resulting in a criminal act. This choice is within the control of the individual. However, the current EI legislation treats imprisonment as a circumstance beyond a person's control. This logic does not follow. It does not make sense to most Canadians who feel this is not fair because people do not commit crimes by accident.

Going to prison is not something that just happens to a person. It is a matter of bad choices, perhaps a series of bad choices. It is not like getting a serious sickness or disease or being involved in a car accident. It is something that people bring on themselves by the actions they have taken. These are people who are convicted and the view is that they should not be given preferential treatment or access over law-abiding citizens who are limited to 52 weeks instead of 104 weeks. As a result, there would be an increase in the cost of the program to ordinary working Canadians if the extension were not removed.

Extensions of the qualifying and benefit periods are not available to most EI claimants, and that is an important distinction and something at which we need look. Why should there be an available extension to someone who is a prison inmate?

That is why I would urge the House to support Bill C-316, which will correct this aberration, and not support the amendments which would take that away.

Now, some will argue that amending the Employment Insurance Act to remove the right of inmates to an EI extension would be unfair to innocent people who have simply been detained before trial and were eventually not convicted. That is a fair point and we agreed with it.

This is why the government moved amendments to the bill that would allow qualifying and benefit period extensions for people who were on remand prior to a verdict, but who were ultimately found not guilty. We have said that just the fact of being in prison or incarcerated is not going to disentitle someone, but actually being convicted will. Anyone who was in prison but not convicted would still be able to apply for the extension.

An extension may be granted for the time spent incarcerated if the person is acquitted, the charges are dropped or there is a mistrial. This is because individuals were unavailable for work because they were charged with a crime they were not guilty of, and it was not something of their choosing. These individuals could apply to Service Canada for an EI extension as long as they could prove they were found not guilty of the offence for which they were detained.

Another objective I have heard about the bill is that denying EI benefits to prisoners is cruel because it leaves them with nothing to live on when they are eventually released. That may have been the case in days gone by, but there are halfway houses now. There are programs in place on which they can rely.

Our government supports legislation to fight crime and improve security for all Canadians. To that end, we believe our initiatives ought to highlight responsibilities as well as rights. People who break the law should understand they are accountable for their own actions.

Bill C-316 should be supported by all members of the House to improve fairness in the EI system.

In previous debate on this bill in both houses and in the committee, I heard the opposition go to great lengths to defend this distinction. I think it is one that most Canadians would not want us to defend.

In other cases, like paternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits, our government has gone further in helping Canadians balance their work and family life and responsibility.

That is why, for the first time ever, we have granted access to EI special benefits to hard-working people who are self-employed as well. These EI benefits come from premiums that are paid employers and employees. Every time there is an extension, it costs the program and it relates to the premiums that are paid. People want to be sure, as we do, that those premiums will result in benefits that can be justified.

We also wanted to be fair to members of the Canadian Forces who were ordered to return to duty while on parental leave or whose parental leave was deferred as a result of a military requirement.

Our government introduced measures to extend the time that EI parental benefits could be taken for these families. We wanted to be fair to people who could not work because they were caring for loved ones or who were seriously ill. That is why we modified the eligibility criteria of the EI compassionate care benefits to broaden the definition of family members.

This is the type of legislation that Canadians want us to proceed with, but they do want to be sure that where the system is found not be fair and equitable that corrections are made. They want to be sure that those discrepancies are taken care of.

It is not fair to say that those who are incarcerated by acts of their own choosing should somehow have an extension to their benefit and qualifying period by an additional period of time when ordinary Canadians do not benefit from an extension such as that.

There is a clear distinction between getting a special benefit or being able to apply for a special benefit when people have been met with circumstances beyond their control and getting a special benefit in a situation where they do have control and their action caused them to lose the ability to make that application.

I think most fair-minded Canadians would say that if individuals have committed a crime, they should not, because of that, be entitled to some kind of special benefit that other Canadians who have not committed crimes are not entitled to. That is the logic and that is why it is important to for us to correct the system. Even though it would result in millions of dollars of savings, it is the principle behind this that most Canadians would find offensive, which is why they want us to take action.

We will take action, which is why we proceeded with this bill. I would ask for the support of all members of the House.