An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (protecting the Employment Insurance Operating Account)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Robert Chisholm  NDP

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

Status

Introduced, as of May 29, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to oblige the Minister, if he or she seeks to close the Employment Insurance Operating Account, to first obtain the unanimous consent of the members of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission before he or she introduces a legislative initiative in the form of a bill for this purpose. It also requires that any amount paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and charged to the Account be paid for the specified purposes only and that any amount credited to the Account be used only for the purposes of the Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance PremiumsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2015 / 4:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, after the speeches I have heard today on the motion before us, the least we can do for workers who work hard year-round would be to support this motion.

I am proud of the work done by the NDP on employment insurance and workers’ rights. It is important that we be able to speak about our concerns and the concerns of the constituents I represent when it comes to the looting of the employment insurance fund.

Unfortunately, the government would rather lower the premium rate for campaign purposes and divert money that belongs to workers, and thus deprive 130,000 jobless people of the benefits for which they have paid their premiums.

I would note that according to the last EI monitoring and assessment report, barely 39% of unemployed workers have access to their benefits. That is fewer than 40%. Recently, the Conservatives presented us with an eighth deficit budget, were it not for the $4.2 billion pilfered from the employment insurance fund. They have the nerve to claim that they are good managers, on top of that. That is too much for me. It is time for things to change. After diverting the money, the government then announced that it would reduce the premium rate, the effect of which will be to reduce access to the employment insurance program.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, if the premium rate is reduced as the Conservatives propose, 130,000 workers will be denied access to employment insurance that they have paid for. One hundred thirty thousand workers is virtually the entire population of a riding. Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, the constituency I proudly represent, deserves better. More specifically, it represents the people from the Beauport area of Quebec City to Colombier in Haute-Côte-Nord, including the Île d'Orléans, Côte-de-Beaupré and the greater Charlevoix area. We would be mistaken to think that only the workers are affected. When we say 130,000 fewer workers, we have to read between the lines: that is 130,000 families, women and children.

The objective is to improve access to the employment insurance program, in order to offer Canadians a better quality of life. That is what the NDP is proposing to the House in this motion, and also in a number of other proposals to help middle-class families.

At present, in a region like Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, there is a black hole, a period without income that ranges from one month to four months. That is 15 weeks without income for families of workers in seasonal industries, when, in fact, the employment insurance fund has all the money needed to help those families; excuse me, it had all the money needed, before the government used it for other purposes.

An image just came to mind: The employment insurance fund has become the financial cushion of bad managers among the Conservatives, and the Liberals before them. They broke and raided the piggy bank with all the hard-earned money that workers and employers saved up. We must do something about this questionable approach to making extra money. The money needs to go back to whom it belongs.

I do not think I need to remind the House how important it is for a company to keep the same workers from one season to the next, in order to maintain a quality workforce.

Instead of using the money from the EI fund, which was put there by workers and employers, the current government would benefit from allowing workers to have an income during the hard times. We must support workers and stop stealing their insurance money.

Fortunately, the NDP is proposing concrete measures to help middle class families.

Again, our motion states:

That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families and that, consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference; (b) improve program accessibility to ensure that unemployed workers and their families can access it; and (c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.

That is the least it could do.

The Conservatives will not be able to pat themselves on the back for much longer with a biased unemployment rate. The people of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord are not easily fooled, contrary to what the Conservative government seems to think. We know that access to the employment insurance program has been limited since it has been managed by the Conservative crew and that the present government has passed the buck to the provinces by forcing honest working people to apply for social assistance. They no longer qualify for employment insurance benefits, which have become inaccessible. When the time comes to find all the tricks for keeping the money to which Canadians are rightfully entitled, our government demonstrates considerable creativity. Unfortunately, it lacks the imagination to find effective solutions for creating jobs.

Seasonal work is a reality in a number of regions of Quebec, but this government is unfortunately not interested in protecting those regions, and instead it is abandoning them.

We have to find solutions, as my colleague did when he moved this motion, and as my other colleagues did when they introduced bills like Bill C-605 in the House. That bill offered genuine solutions to help honest Canadian businesses and their employees. The money that working people pay in premiums belongs to working people.

Conservative management means billions of dollars misappropriated from the employment insurance fund in hidden taxes and more than $100 billion added to the national debt in less than 10 years; it means a reduction in federal transfers to the provinces and tax cuts for the wealthiest, but nothing for the middle class; it means offering billions of dollars in tax relief, only to have that money lie dormant in the coffers of big corporations; and as the Minister of Finance says, it means shifting its responsibilities onto our grandchildren.

Yes, Canadians have had enough, and on October 19, we will finally have a responsible New Democratic government that will stimulate the economy and put an end to the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ misappropriation of these funds.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance PremiumsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2015 / 12:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to get up and speak for a few minutes on this important issue of employment insurance and the fact that there needs to be a viable program in this country that provides support to unemployed workers, their families, and their communities.

There was such a fund, until the Liberals got their hands on it back in the mid-90s. At that point, 80% of unemployed Canadians had access to this fund. By the time the Liberals got through with it, that had been reduced to 45%. Now, since the Conservatives have had their go at it, it has been reduced to 36% or 37% of unemployed Canadians who actually have an opportunity to access these funds.

I want to talk a bit about that, because that is really at the heart of why we are dealing with this motion today. It is to not only protect the fund, and I will explain why that is important, but to make sure that the account is set up in a way that truly does the work necessary and does what employment insurance was originally established to do, which is provide support for unemployed workers, provide support for parents on parental leave, provide sick benefits, and even provide training for people to bridge the period between jobs.

Let me talk for a second about why access has come to be such a problem.

As I indicated earlier, before the Liberals got at this account, 80% of unemployed workers had access to it. Under their reforms, EI access fell to below 50%. The Conservatives saw an opportunity and have continued to reduce access. As recently as 2012, they brought in some major changes that have particularly affected seasonal industries in Atlantic Canada, which is my part of the world. They made it particularly difficult in a number of different industries that depended on shorter term, seasonal work to the point that in July 2013, fund eligibility reached 36.5%. It is up a bit now and is a little closer to 40%. One reason for that is the high level of unemployment in this country.

Only 60% of new mothers receive maternity benefits, mostly because they have insufficient hours under these Conservative changes.

On top of those eligibility issues, unemployed workers and their employers have a problem with Service Canada. Of the applicants for EI, 25% are waiting beyond the supposed service standard of 28 days. It is now in excess of 40 days. We raised this issue last fall. We have actually raised it for the past two years, but last fall, the minister responsible stood in this place and talked about how his parliamentary secretary had done a study on this work and had made some changes. We asked him to table the study to show us what the results were, and all of a sudden, that study was not good enough to be released. We still have not seen it. What we do know is that people seeking unemployment insurance benefits are still having to wait over 40 days.

As I indicated, the government made a number of changes in 2012 in terms of eligibility for benefits. One of the particular issues was related to the Social Security Tribunal.

There used to be an appeals process that was tripartite. The worker had a representative at the appeal, the employer had a representative at the appeal, and there was an independent chairperson at the appeal. In other words, there was due process. There was justice. Workers could expect that they would have an opportunity to have their cases heard.

That process has been completely revamped. Now there is an official within the department who looks at this. That individual does not share information. A lot of it is done behind closed doors. The worst thing of all is that at the end of 2014, there was a backlog of 11,000 cases. Not only was the process turned upside down, with workers no longer having access to due process, but now the process is not even going forward, so these appeals are not being heard.

The other point I want to make is in regard to the EI fund. My colleague from Trois-Rivières said that we have tabled a bill in this House to protect the EI fund. Why are we doing that? Why do we have to protect the sanctity of that fund? It is because the Liberals took $54 billion in the EI fund, and they used it for other purposes. In other words, the money that was put into that fund by workers and employers to provide employment insurance when workers lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, was appropriated to other places. The Conservatives came along and thought that it was pretty neat to have access to that fund, and they tried that too. The Conservatives went ahead and had their way with over $3 billion in that fund, all the while, of course, not changing premiums.

Now we have a situation where there is less money in the fund, Even so, now the current government is proposing to reduce premiums next year. If we even left the premiums at their current level, we could provide EI benefits to another 130,000 unemployed workers. We think that makes a lot of sense.

My point is that the EI fund should be managed independently. Decisions about premiums should be independent of government. They should not be influenced by the political whims of the government of the day. We have seen the damage that can be done as a result of what the Liberals and Conservatives have done. It is wrong. That is why we are proposing this motion and why we have talked with Canadians about how under an NDP government, we will certainly make those changes.

I want to go back to what we want. We want to ensure that more Canadians and middle-class families have access to the support they need if they lose their jobs, need to take parental leave, become ill, or need to care for loved ones under the compassionate care leave program. That was extended in this budget to six months, which we support. We pushed for that. However, the eligibility problems are still the same: it is accessible by very few people. People caring for ALS patients are unable to have access to that fund.

The NDP wants to make sure that the premiums workers and employers pay to the fund are actually used to provide EI benefits for the unemployed, special benefits for families, and training for Canadians. That is why I had the pleasure of tabling Bill C-605 to put a fence around that fund.

We want to make sure that Canadian workers and businesses are involved in creating an EI fund that actually works for them. When the current government made those five massive changes in 2012, it did so without any consultation with the Atlantic provinces, with Quebec, or with any other provinces. That had a very detrimental impact, and the provinces said so to the federal government.

We are committed to working with the provinces, to working with workers and their representatives, and to working with employers to make sure that we have an EI fund that is protected, that is independent, and that actually supports working people.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance PremiumsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2015 / noon
See context

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families and that, consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference; (b) improve program accessibility to ensure that unemployed workers and their families can access it; and (c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.

Mr. Speaker, we often hear members say, “I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to such and such a subject.” I rise today not because it pleases me but out of necessity. I suspect it is that necessity that has prompted so many of us to express an interest in speaking to this motion today, a motion that could only have been moved by the New Democratic Party. As we will see throughout the presentations being made today, both Liberal and Conservative governments have a dismal record on employment insurance.

I wish to announce at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour so that as many people as possible can have their say and discuss the ins and outs of this measure, with the hope that through the exchange of ideas and as a result of discussion and debate, we might have a unanimous vote, when the time comes, in favour of workers who sometimes face the unfortunate reality of being unemployed. We want employment insurance to be there to get them through those difficult times.

This motion is especially crucial considering that it directly affects thousands and thousands of people all across Quebec and Canada. No one in the House can claim that they do not know someone, whether a family member or friend, who has been affected recently by a job loss, given the current economic situation. The motion put forward by the NDP today is the beginning of meaningful reparation. It is a first step towards creating a fairer, more equitable society, one that reflects the NDP's policies and vision for future development.

I would like to read the general thrust of the motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families...

That seems pretty obvious to me. We are talking about an employment insurance plan. Is the point of insurance not to voluntarily pay premiums in order to be prepared when catastrophe strikes? We hope it does not. We all readily agree to pay for car insurance, for example, but hope never to need to file a claim. The same goes for home insurance. We are prepared to pay for our entire lives to protect this colossal investment, while hoping never to need to file a claim. However, when it comes to employment insurance, the Conservative government is completely distorting the meaning of insurance. Instead of attacking unemployment, which is the main problem, the Conservatives have been attacking the unemployed ever since the 2013 reform. The Conservatives would have us believe that using employment insurance in order to work a few weeks a year and then take the rest of the year off has become a way of life for many Canadians. That is totally ridiculous. I have a statistic that says otherwise: the average duration of employment insurance benefits is less than 20 weeks. It is clear to us that people want to work all year. In the famous words of our Quebecois singer, Félix Leclerc, “The best way to kill a man is to pay him for doing nothing.” That is not the problem with employment insurance. This is not a question of identifying those who want to be paid for doing nothing.

What are we now proposing to ensure that this general objective is achieved? Point (a) of the motion proposes to “protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference”. It is fairly clear that there has been interference over the years. Oddly enough, the employment insurance system will turn 75 in 2015. It is not unreasonable to think that the system may need to be adjusted given that the job market has really diversified in 75 years. That is not the approach taken by the Liberals and the Conservatives over the years. With each reform, reorganization or re-engineering—call it what you will—the objective was the same.

The objective was always to reduce services and benefits and to generate colossal surpluses in the employment insurance fund, which disappeared and became a line in general revenues. Here are some figures. I am not going to give many because I do not have a lot of time.

The Conservative government's last budget reported a surplus of approximately $1.4 billion. This budget obviously includes employment insurance revenues because they are now part of the consolidated revenue fund. The “employment insurance” line alone for 2015 shows $3.4 billion in accumulated surpluses. Somehow $2 billion is missing. For months and months the government has tried to tell us that this money is not used for anything else. You do not need a business school course or a degree in economics to figure out that the $2 billion has been diverted.

The Conservatives keep telling us that that $2 billion has not been used for other purposes, that it is a partial reimbursement of the $9 billion they had to invest during the economic crisis in 2008 and that they are recouping that money over the years as surpluses build up. I really want to believe that, but supposing it is the case, let us take their reasoning to its logical end.

Before the government had to inject $9 billion into the employment insurance fund to pay out a minimum amount of benefits, the fund had a $57 billion surplus. If we subtract $9 billion from $57 billion, then there should be $48 billion left somewhere. However, that money has completely disappeared and has been used by successive Liberal and Conservative governments for other purposes.

There is every reason to believe that most of the funding for the unpopular and unfair measures, such as income splitting, that the Conservatives proposed in the most recent budget is coming from the EI surplus.

Obviously, the Liberals and the Conservatives could argue that the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue. This is yet another debate that went as far as the Supreme Court because the major unions persevered and continued the fight. The ruling indicates that employment insurance contributions are now part of the general revenue fund. The NDP believes that while it may now be legal to divert that money, it is still not the right thing to do.

We need to make sure that individuals, employers and workers who contribute to employment insurance are able to get the services that they paid for, especially since, like us, these people pay their taxes so that the government has the money to provide the services it wants to provide. People are being double taxed when both their EI contributions and the taxes they pay are being used to fund government measures, many of them solely designed to win votes. We need to protect those contributions.

Only one party has introduced a very clear bill to this effect in the House. My colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour had the pleasure and honour of introducing it. I am talking about Bill C-605, which sets out very clear criteria for protecting EI contributions.

Once premiums are protected, what will happen to this tremendous economic lever? Obviously we will increase access to the program. Right now, fewer than 4 out of 10 workers who contributed to the program qualify for benefits at the worst time in their lives. If an insurance company guaranteed its customers that if they encountered a problem, a maximum of four of them would be eligible for benefits, I do not think that company would be around for long. However, that is exactly what the Conservative government is proposing, and those numbers only seem to get worse instead of better. We need to increase accessibility.

In (c) we are calling on the government to abandon its plan, as set out in budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.

I know that my time is up, so I will stop there. I still have a lot of statistics to share, but I am sure that I will have the opportunity to talk about them as we get to questions and other speeches.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2014 / 3:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

It is great, because it seems that the Liberals finally decided to come up with a new plan. I think everyone here is familiar with the Liberal plan in recent years. The plan was basically to use the EI money to pay off their debts. My colleague's speech may have been filled with figures, but she forgot to mention one thing: what they are going to do with the $57 billion that the Liberal governments stole from workers.

Perhaps we would not need to adopt this sort of measure had the Liberal governments honoured their commitments and not stolen $57 billion from the EI fund.

My question is simple: will the Liberals finally decide to protect the EI fund by passing the NDP's Bill C-605, which specifically seeks to prevent the government from dipping into the EI fund?

Employment Insurance ActRoutine Proceedings

May 29th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-605, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (protecting the Employment Insurance Operating Account).

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to introduce my bill on the protection of the employment insurance operating account. I want to thank my colleague, the member for Trois-Rivières, for seconding the motion. The bill essentially builds a fence around the account to protect the premiums paid into the EI account by workers and employers. It safeguards the account so that contributions can only be used for the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act. Why is that important? It is important because Liberal and Conservative governments have taken off with $57 billion of contributions made by workers and businesses to ensure that the fund was there when workers were unemployed and needed it. It has been desperately painful.

As a result of changes that the Liberals and the Conservatives have made to employment insurance, the use and eligibility has now dropped to an all-time low under the current government, whereby only 37% of EI applicants are eligible for benefits. I am pleased to be able to introduce the bill. I believe it will go some considerable distance to show workers and employers that this place has some faith in their ability to make sure that the fund is there when workers need it.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)