An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (additional regular benefits), the Canada Recovery Benefits Act (restriction on eligibility) and another Act in response to COVID-19

Sponsor

Carla Qualtrough  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon 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 in order, temporarily, to increase the maximum number of weeks for which regular benefits may be paid under Part I of that Act and facilitate access to benefits for self-employed persons under Part VII.‍1 of that Act.

It also amends the Canada Recovery Benefits Act to

(a) add a condition to provide that a person is eligible for benefits only if they were not, at any time during a benefit period, required to quarantine or isolate themselves under any order made under the Quarantine Act as a result of entering into Canada or

(i) if they were required to do so, the only reason for their having been outside Canada was to receive a necessary medical treatment or to accompany someone who was required to receive a necessary medical treatment, or

(ii) if, as a result of entering into Canada, they were required to isolate themselves under such an order at any time during the benefit period, they are a person to whom the requirement to quarantine themselves under the order would not have applied had they not been required to isolate themselves; and

(b) authorize the Minister of Health to assist the Minister of Employment and Social Development in verifying whether a person meets the eligibility condition referred to in paragraph 3(1)‍(m), 10(1)‍(i) or 17(1)‍(i) of the Canada Recovery Benefits Act and to disclose personal information obtained under the Quarantine Act to the Minister of Employment and Social Development for that purpose.

And finally, it amends the Customs Act to authorize the disclosure of information for the purpose of administering or enforcing the Canada Recovery Benefits Act.

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.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is quite a pleasure to speak to Bill C-24 at third reading.

Earlier in the week, I spoke on Bill C-24 at second reading. Back then, I emphasized how important the legislation was to the Government of Canada. Since the very beginning of the pandemic, the Prime Minister has made a commitment to have the backs of Canadians. Once again, we have legislation before the House that is absolutely critical with respect to supporting Canadians today and continuing to do so going forward.

When I spoke on the bill earlier in the week, I was somewhat upset and I expressed my feelings about the Conservative Party and how it was filibustering important legislation on the floor of the House of Commons. In fact, I recall citing a tweet by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul about importance of the legislation for workers. However, the the Conservatives were filibustering important legislation during the pandemic, and we witnessed that during the debate on Bill C-14. At the time, I indicated that the only way the House could see legislation passed was if the Conservatives were made to feel ashamed of their behaviour. I am pleased that it would appear as if the Conservatives saw the merit, through a bit of shaming, in allowing the bill to pass. It is important to recognize that.

If we review what has taken place during the week, there are some encouraging signs, at least from some of the opposition parties. However, that is not universally held. I am afraid that the Conservatives still feel obligated to play that destructive force on the floor of the House of Commons, and I will expand on that.

Bill C-24 would provide badly needed funds, essential funds, to thousands of Canadians in all regions of our country. To see how we should proceed, all we need to do is look at the desire and what we have seen this week. I will cite a few examples of that. The reason I am doing this is because I want to encourage members of the Conservative Party particularly to recognize the true value of legislation like Bill C-24, and it appears the member for Kildonan—St. Paul has recognized it, and to see the value in passing it.

The best example I can think of is something that took place yesterday. We had very important legislation, Bill C-7, which is literally on life and death, before us. Because we are in a minority situation, it does not take very much to prevent the government from passing legislation. However, in this situation, the Bloc, indicated that it supported the legislation and would assist the government to bring forward closure. Had we not received that support, we never would have been able to advance it through the House of Commons and people would have been denied the opportunity to have access to this through this legislation.

Earlier in the week, we also had some indication from my New Democratic friends about Bill C-5, important legislation that is not necessarily as direct as Bill C-24 is with respect to the pandemic. Quite possibly it could be somewhat of assistance indirectly during the pandemic.

In this situation, the New Democrats said that they would like to have unanimous consent to allow that additional debate and ultimately see Bill C-5 passed in the House. Of course, much like with the Bloc's suggestion, the Conservatives outright said that they did not want anything to do with it. Again, it is not to come across as not being grateful for the Conservatives recognizing the importance of Bill C-24, but it is more so to encourage the Conservative Party to look at what other opposition parties are doing to facilitate the passing of important legislation.

Bill C-24 was recognized the other day by the Conservatives when they stopped debate, allowing it to get out of second reading so it could go to committee. As a result, we are now at third reading stage today. We know that if the Conservative Party wanted to do more, it could.

For example, look at what the Conservatives did with the Canada-United Kingdom agreement, which is critically important legislation. It would have a direct impact, even during the coronavirus pandemic. The Conservatives requested unanimous consent for a motion with respect to the trade agreement, and we supported it.

It is important to recognize that my New Democratic friends, who have traditionally voted against anything related to expanding trade relations, also supported the motion to see the bill on the United Kingdom trade agreement pass through the House of Commons even though they opposed it. It is important to recognize that. The NDP and the Bloc have, on occasion, have recognized what I have been saying to the House for quite a while, which is that the behaviour of the Conservatives has not been favourable to the House of Commons in passing the legislation that is so badly needed to support Canadians during this difficult time. They have gone out of their way to frustrate the House of Commons and our desire to see important legislation like Bill C-24 passed.

I will continue to remind my Conservative friends that they have an important obligation to Canadians, as the government has since day one, to focus their attention not on an election, but rather supporting Canadians. One of the ways they can do that is by providing support on legislation such as this.

When I spoke on Bill C-24 earlier in the week, members of the Conservative Party were somewhat critical of me, saying that the government had just introduced the legislation so how could I expect them to pass it, implying that I was maybe not being as principled on enabling members to speak to important legislation. I want to assure members of the House that I have always been an advocate for members of Parliament to express themselves on legislation.

Many would say that I have no problem expressing myself on a wide variety of issues on the floor of the House. I am very grateful for the position that I have been put in by the Prime Minister and the support I get from my caucus colleagues. I often speak on behalf of many of my caucus colleagues in expressing frustration and in expressing support for initiatives that are being taken on the floor of the House of Commons.

The bill was introduced for the first time in February, and nothing would have prevented further discussion and additional debate if in fact—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, let me pick up on what my colleague just referenced.

The Conservative Party, as opposed to talking in great detail about Bill C-24, took the opportunity to be critical of me, although I have somewhat thick skin, by making accusations that we were trying to rush this bill through and that we were not allowing enough time. Maybe I was a little too harsh in my criticisms of the Conservatives. A number of them took a few shots at me, and that is fine. I am very comfortable with that.

The legislation is worth the effort. The Liberal caucus recognizes that this legislation has to pass in the House of Commons. We need it to pass, and I believe that a majority of members of the House will in fact support this legislation. Why? It is because it is putting money in the pockets of Canadians and it is responding to issues that have come out of the pandemic. If we were to review the debates at second reading, I suspect we would find a universal feeling that there is nothing wrong with the legislation, other than the fact that maybe we could be doing more, as my New Democratic friends have said.

A good part of what I am saying is to continue to nudge and encourage my Conservative friends across the aisle to look at what is taking place on the floor of the House of Commons and behave in a fashion that would allow for important legislation to pass. If they want more debate on government legislation, they should stop playing some of the games that we have witnessed.

For example, the concurrence motions have taken away at least a couple of days, many hours of debate on government—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I do not have any problem talking about Bill C-24. I hope the interruptions and the time the member has taken will not be taken away from the limited amount of time I have to speak to this legislation.

I can assure the member I was not talking specifically on closure at the time she interrupted my speech, and I would ask her to be a bit more patient as I try to make the points that I think are really important. I would even suggest that she bring back to her caucus the thoughts and themes I tried to amplify over the last week regarding the behaviour of the Conservative Party on the floor of the House of Commons, the importance of providing support to Canadians and the fact that actions speak louder than words. Ultimately, that is why it is so critically important for bills like Bill C-24 to be passed. If time permits, I will provide further comment on this issue.

With respect to Bill C-24, there is support that goes far beyond the chamber. I cited some specific quotes from Canada's labour unions the last time I spoke; members can go back to that if they want to get a sense of what unions are saying about the legislation.

It is important for us to recognize that Bill C-24 would amend the Canada recovery benefits in three different areas: the Canada recovery benefit, the Canada recovery caregiver benefit and the Canada recovery sickness benefit, which would extend employment insurance. I have already made reference on a couple of occasions to putting additional financial resources into the pockets of people who need additional support. The bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act to temporarily increase the maximum number of weeks for which the regular benefits of employment insurance may be paid for up to 50 weeks for claimants. That would put real dollars into pockets.

We often hear about the need to deal with individuals who have chosen to leave Canada and have treated it as an essential trip. Concerns were expressed that when they return and go into quarantine, it should not necessarily be the taxpayer who should be paying for it, whether directly or indirectly, so there are measures within the legislation to take that into consideration.

There are other benefits within the legislation. We would be increasing, as I said, the number of weeks available for employment insurance. There are supports for sickness benefits. The bill would also facilitate access for self-employment workers, for example, who have opted in to the EI program to access special benefits. It would do this by lowering the threshold workers must meet in order to qualify for the $7,500 to $5,000 in net self-employment earnings in 2020. There are some really good things in this bill.

In short, it is a part of the bigger picture of supporting Canadians. We saw that support from the beginning of the pandemic with the creation of the CERB program.

I have listed three other recovery programs. We are supporting workers directly through things like the emergency wage subsidy, but also indirectly with programs that also support small businesses, because supporting small businesses also supports workers and our economy.

The emergency rent subsidy program, the business account program, the credit availability program and the relief and recovery fund are all programs that required legislation at some point. In many ways, especially toward the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a great sense of co-operation and support. Much of this could not have been done with the support that came initially from the opposition.

My appeal is that since we are still in the pandemic, Canadians still need us to work together. That is what I am asking. I am asking for the House to continue the same attitude that we had at the beginning of the pandemic. Canadians recognize that we are still in the pandemic, and we still need to work together in order to minimize its negative impacts.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with the House this morning.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague has a lot to say about the Conservatives' supposed filibustering tactics.

Essentially, the purpose of Bill C-24 is to once again provide support to those who have been hit hard by the pandemic.

This week, the Liberals had the opportunity to do just that by supporting the Bloc Québécois's motion to increase the old age security pension by $110 a month for people aged 65 and up. Why on earth did the Liberals vote against that?

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. Those who have been hardest hit by COVID-19 are seniors. Our seniors are already anxious about their health, and now, thanks to the Liberals, they are also anxious about their finances.

Why not support our seniors during this pandemic, as the Bloc Québécois requested?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to put further remarks on the record concerning Bill C-24, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, the Canada Recovery Benefits Act and another act in response to COVID-19. The four main changes in this legislation are as follows. It amends the EI Act, to temporarily increase the maximum EI benefit period from 26 weeks to 50 weeks for the period beginning September 27, 2020, and ending on September 25, 2021.

It also temporarily reduces the earnings threshold to $5,000 from an original $7,550 for self-employed workers who have opted into the EI special benefits period beginning on January 3, 2021, and ending September 25, 2021.

It also closes the leisure travel loophole in the original legislation that was passed in September, which permitted leisure travellers, when they were quarantining for two weeks, to access the CRB. As we know, this seems immoral and unethical. Thankfully this legislation moves to close that. Conservative members raised the alarm on this loophole in December and January and here we are, three months later, finally closing that loophole.

The act would also bring in the Minister of Health, by amending the Quarantine Act, and the Canada Border Services Agency, by amending the Customs Act to share Canada recovery benefit application information. It would seem that this, in particular, is how they are going to audit applicants if they have applied for these monies following travel. Of course, there is essential travel for the purpose of supporting those with medical needs, or seeking medical treatment outside of the country. Obviously we understand that sometimes those benefits are necessary when returning from quarantine but certainly not from travel, as Conservative members have been raising for a number of months.

There has been a lot of discussion this week, particularly from Liberal members, which really began very aggressively this past weekend. The Prime Minister commented on this, and the Liberals really seem to want to paint a narrative that Conservatives were obstructionists on this legislation. This is completely untrue, and we worked very closely with parties to ensure that this was passed. I would point out that the first opportunity to debate the bill in the House was Monday. That was five days ago, and here we are. It has gone through second reading, to committee, and now back to third reading in only five days. I will remind members of the House that this is $12.1 billion of spending that went through the legislative process in five short days.

Conservatives understand, as do Canadians, that the onset of the pandemic was an emergency situation. We were trying to get money out the door to the nine million Canadians who were instantly laid off because of pandemic closures. We can understand that legislation was rushed through at an unforeseen speed compared with normal legislative levels. Members of Parliament who have been here far longer than I will recognize that the speed of legislation passing in the House this past year has been exponentially higher than at any other time, probably, in Canadian history.

However, it is now a year later, and that excuse to pass legislation quickly, which of course diminishes oversight capabilities and our democratic process in the House substantially, is beginning to lose its steam. Again, in a panic situation that made sense.

That is why I was quite disappointed that the bill, which expands EI benefits from 26 weeks to 50 weeks, took so long for the Liberals to bring forward. In September, we came together as parties and voted in favour of the switchover from CERB to the CRB and EI extension. The EI extension was for 26 weeks, or half a year, which brought us to March 28 when those EI benefits would begin to run out, about two weeks from now.

The odd thing is that we knew the second wave was coming. With second waves, we saw incredibly strict lockdowns that lasted for months. In Manitoba, we saw very strict lockdowns and non-essential services were shut down. We saw stores where non-essential items were taped up and we could not buy them, at least not in person. People were ordering them online, but we could not go into a store and buy non-essential items. Restaurants were closed. It was incredibly strict for a number of months. That began in mid- to early November across the country.

We would think that with some foresight from the Liberal government, the 200,000 expert civil servants it has, and the access to international economists and notable financiers, it would have thought maybe half a year for EI benefits would not be enough. In my opinion, those discussions should have started in November. Maybe they did, but it took far too long for the Liberals to finally bring forward legislation that extended those 26 weeks to basically a year: 50 weeks, which was needed.

In November, these lockdowns were coming and people went through the holidays, and now some regions of the country are still in those lockdowns. Anyone would think that maybe that second wave would take away millions of jobs, and that is what happened, as we saw historic employment losses. I think 213,000 jobs were lost in that period. One would think that the Liberals, with all of the experts at their fingertips, would have established this legislation earlier; yet it was not brought forward until the end of February. Again, the first opportunity to debate it was on Monday. As I mentioned, the legislation would extend EI to 50 weeks, which would bring us to the end of September.

When legislation was first brought forward in September, while I cannot know what the Liberals were thinking, I would expect they thought that the situation in six months would hopefully have improved and that we would start getting those jobs back. Then again with the second wave, one would think that maybe this was going to go down and not up and that we were not going to get those jobs back. That is when this legislation should have been planned.

When we spoke to the Canadian Labour Congress officials at committee, they mentioned that they had raised the alarm with the Liberal government in early January that far more than 26 weeks was going to be needed. We know that the Liberal government is closely monitoring the labour market, so again I just do not buy it that the end of February was the earliest the Liberal government could have brought this forward. It has been done under the wire to ensure that it passes before the EI benefits run out on March 28. That is lightning speed, passing this five days from when we first debated it.

Here we are. It went through second reading, zoomed through committee and now we are at third reading. It is going to go to the Senate and I hope and pray that people get the benefits they need. There are three million Canadians who are depending on this money.

Again, $12.1 billion for this bill was approved. That is $6.7 billion for the CERB and $5.4 billion for the EI extension. The only way to change the EI extension was through legislation, and we understand that. The CFIB and labour groups are supportive. As the minister has pointed out to me and others, Bill C-24 is 11 clauses, but it is 11 clauses at a very steep cost.

I appreciate the robust debate, although it is very limited, we have had in the last five days. It is absolutely necessary. I very much hope that the Liberals did their due diligence on this, that we are not missing something and we will not be here in a month or two months from now fixing something that perhaps could have been caught had we had a longer time, perhaps an extra couple of weeks, to debate this. I think I have belaboured that point enough for now.

There is another issue with this, though, that I have addressed with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and the government several times over the last number of weeks. My colleagues in the Conservative caucus, as well, have brought up this very critical issue. The issue is the problem between the CERB and EI. If someone does not qualify for the EI extension, they can go on the CERB. However, if they have had an EI account or an EI claim recently, there is this very archaic EI technology that sort of hangs them up. They will have their EI account pending open; then they try to get the CERB, which families desperately need but cannot then get it because there is some sort of technology problem there.

I asked the CRA officials about it this week, and they said that millions of people do not have this problem. They are very proud, as they should be, to have gotten a lot of money out the door for people who need it. The official pointed out that there are only a couple of thousand people who are dealing with the CERB-EI issue.

Again, that is a couple of thousand Canadian families who are absolutely dependent on this funding and cannot get it because of this weird technology issue. If work had been done on this technology issue a year ago, recognizing that the archaic EI system would be put under a tremendous strain and they had planned for this and invested more money in technology than they have so far, which so far been ineffective at fixing this problem, I wonder if this problem might have been prevented.

I continue to raise the alarm on this, as do my Conservative colleagues, and yet it is just not getting fixed. The CRA told me that there is this number at ESDC that people can call. I asked the minister and she had not heard of it. Her officials checked and there is no number, but they have a task force to fix this.

Madam Speaker, I will mention on the record some of the people who are being impacted by this. I believe it is very relevant to Bill C-24 because this is the CRB-EI bill and yet there is a CRB-EI technology issue that is preventing thousands of Canadians from getting the support they desperately need and have been promised by the Liberal Government.

Laura has a sick 13-year-old daughter at home and is unable to claim the Canada recovery caregiver benefit because of this open EI claim issue. Jennifer, a young mother from the Windsor-Essex area, was forced to rely on credit cards because she kept getting bounced between departments. We hear this a lot. There are people being kicked around, being told that the government cannot deal with it and that they should call another person, and they call that person and are told to call another person.

Adam and Michelle, a Winnipeg couple with a newborn baby, have been calling CRA in shifts. We know, at tax time, calling CRA is an absolute nightmare. Right now, it is a nightmare times 1,000. People are calling, getting put on hold for four, five, six hours and getting disconnected passed around to other people. People are sort of kicking the can down the road and being told that some other bureaucrat will deal with it. I find it absolutely unacceptable that people are waiting for this money they have been promised. They need it. They have been laid off through no fault of their own and yet they cannot get through to the CRA.

There is nowhere physically that they can go. Service Canada has been closed for a year. There is nowhere they can go to ask someone to please help them. They cannot get through to a real person who can give them answers, and there is just really no fix for this. The minister has committed to fixing it, but there is no deadline for when that is going to happen and these people have been left with no option.

The last thing I will say about this is that there is a further complication. There is MyCRA account, which I have been locked out of as well, but over 100,000 Canadians' MyCRA accounts have been hacked, and so they have been locked out of them too. Apparently the CRA is telling people to go online and deal with it, but then 100,000 people have been locked out of their CRA accounts. I guess there are cybersecurity issues in this country and over 100,000 people's tax accounts have been hacked. That very serious problem is further impacting progress and payments for these thousands of Canadian families. I wanted to address this issue yet again and urge the Liberal government to do whatever it needs to do to fix this problem.

I would like to talk about what is not in this bill but should have been, or at least should have been part of the Liberal talking points, and that is how we get out of this. How do we get three million people currently relying on benefits off the benefits and back into the workforce? I do not know. I have yet to hear a plan, and that is of particular concern to me and I know opposition parties, in particular, the Conservatives. Now that it has been a year, we are raising the alarm. Where is the jobs plan on this?

The numbers are really astounding. We have spent unbelievable amounts of money. There are 3.17 million Canadians on some form of temporary COVID-19 assistance, and we know that over 831,000 people were on the CRB during the period of February 14 to 27. There are almost 1.8 million unique applicants for the CRB and $12 billion has been spent to date, which is double what was originally planned by this date, according to the parliamentary budget office. There are currently over 2.3 million beneficiaries of EI, with $20.21 billion being spent on them since September 21. These numbers are so huge, I cannot quite wrap my head around them, and more is being announced. As I have said today, we are to spend about $12.1 billion as a result of this bill. Based on the track record over the last year of cost overruns, it is going to be significantly more than that.

I firmly believe that Canadians do not want to be sitting at home on employment insurance or the like. I do believe people want the integrity and honour of having a job. I do not think Canadians want to be sitting at home. From what I hear from my constituents, people are going a bit crazy at home, because they are stuck there with no jobs and the kids are out of school. It is absolutely unbelievable the stress that young parents in particular are under right now. I could get into that and go on, honestly, for days about the horror stories I have heard of the stress this is causing Canadians and my constituents.

The minister said yesterday at the HUMA committee that she did not want to come back to renew these supports via legislation despite rapid collaboration at committee. She made that commitment, in saying that she did not want to have to come back to fix some problem with this straightforward piece of legislation. I hope she is right. I hope we did not miss something and in a month from now to have to come back at lightning speed to fix this again, but we very well may.

The problem is that in Bill C-24 there is essentially a sunset clause of September 25. That is when these CRB-EI benefits will come to a close. That is about six or seven months away, so I think we can all hope and pray that people will not need these supports then and that there will be jobs coming back. As I mentioned in my speech on Monday, September 25 kind of coincides with when the Liberal government has reportedly promised that every Canadian will be vaccinated who wants to be. I guess we could infer that if everyone is vaccinated, we could get the economy back to normal and jobs could come flowing back, but the Liberal government has not actually made that a definitive promise, that when everyone is vaccinated the economy can open up as normal and we can go back to normal. I do not know why it has not given us some sort of measures—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to put further words and remarks on the record regarding Bill C-24.

I would like to conclude my remarks with what I touched on before question period. It is imperative, and it is the responsibility of the Liberal government, to bring forward a coherent strategy to bring back jobs in Canada.

It has been 12 months, an entire year, since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. We saw lockdowns and restrictions come to Canada, which have completely altered the everyday lives of Canadians, some in very negative ways, as we have heard from parties on the floor of the House of Commons regarding what has been happening to constituents in that time.

Although we have been able to work together as a House of Commons, there is increasing pressure on the government from all parties that it bring forward a plan for jobs. Bill C-24 would have been the opportune time, given the one-year anniversary since this all began, for it to have brought forward a plan.

All we really heard this week, in honour of International Women's Day, was the announcement of a task force comprised of 18 women, which sounds great, to give the government some advice on how to help women out of the economic downturn they are experiencing. Of course, we know women have been disproportionately impacted. In fact, over 100,000 women have left the job force altogether because there are no jobs available to them.

With respect to immigrants, 4% of our permanent residents have left Canada. Usually, we have a 3% increase per year, but 4% have left this year because there are no opportunities for them either.

We know young people, newcomers and women are all being impacted. Those who are the most vulnerable have been made more vulnerable in this economy. I would urge the Liberal government to bring forward a coherent strategy to bring back jobs.

This is very pertinent to Bill C-24 because of its sunset date. These CRB and EI extension benefits only go until September 25. That is just over six months away. What is going to happen after that? Is there going to be a roll-off strategy? Is the Liberal government expecting millions of jobs to miraculously return?

We know that over 800,000 jobs have already disappeared altogether. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the CFIB, has said that up to 220,000 small businesses may be eliminated because of the pandemic and up to three million jobs will disappear as well as a result.

It is incredibly important that the Liberal government bring forward a plan to Canadians. It may turn to its $100 billion it announced in the fall it was going to use for stimulus, which is great, but we do not just need billions of dollars of stimulus. We need an actual strategy for industry to unleash the 20-million person workforce our country and get them back to work so every industry, our economy and our country is working once again. That is what I would like to see.

I hope the Liberal government has heard these pleas and will bring forward a strategy to give Canadians hope. Canadians really do need that plan, and they need hope.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives absolutely support getting help to Canadians that need it, particularly in this incredibly difficult time when there are very little alternatives. We have been disappointed repeatedly that the Liberal government comes forward, announces all these programs, yet leaves thousands and thousands of Canadians behind, much like the CRB-EI issue.

Yesterday, in the HUMA committee, the member's hon. colleague from Elmwood—Transcona brought forward an amendment to Bill C-24, which the Conservatives were prepared to support, for a prescribed illness, injury and quarantine. Unfortunately, the Liberal government resoundingly put a stop to that, very disappointingly. We were prepared to support the NDP amendment.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, it has been great to get to know the hon. member for Battle River—Crowfoot over the last year and a half. We were elected at the same time. Yes, he hits on a very good point. They have stopped now, but over the last week, the Liberals were calling us obstructionists. Of course, we know that is completely untrue. We were very prepared to work with them.

I did not get into this in my speech, and I will not really get into this now, but I want the member to know that there were a lot of Liberal shenanigans going on at that committee. It was very disappointing to hear the Liberals, on one hand, publicly talking about collaboration and then, on the other hand, taking underhanded, behind the scenes actions to undermine the effectiveness of Conservative members, undermining the collaborative nature that we were hoping to have with Bill C-24.

Thankfully, we are very strong on the Conservative side. Ultimately we did collaborate, and here we are debating this at third reading.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, unfortunately, workers across Quebec and Canada are waiting with bated breath to see whether the House will pass Bill C-24, which is currently before us.

These people are holding their breath because they are desperate to know whether they will receive EI benefits. The number of weeks of benefits they were entitled to have run out, and phones are ringing everywhere as people try to find out what tomorrow holds.

Bill C-24 answers that question by extending the EI regular benefit period to 50 weeks. The bill will also fix something that we, the Bloc Québécois, have been calling on the government to fix since December by creating an exemption so that people will no longer be able to claim the $1,000 Canada recovery sickness benefit when they return from a non-essential trip. That is the essence of the bill.

Once again, we think it is regrettable how often since the beginning of the crisis we have had to rush back to the House to ram through bills that make all the difference for workers who are waiting with bated breath.

Some members may recall that I spoke in this chamber on September 26, 2020, when the House resumed after prorogation. For weeks, we had been urgently calling on the government to pass Bill C-2, the purpose of which was to make the EI program more flexible and implement the three new benefits we are all familiar with, namely, the Canada recovery benefit, the Canada recovery sickness benefit and the Canada recovery caregiving benefit.

Back in September, I began my speech with these remarks:

Sometimes the saying “better late than never” applies, but not here since it is too late for the bill before us. In fact, the three economic support benefits in this bill, which affect thousands of workers and were announced by the government on August 20, are still not in place, while the CERB ended yesterday.

That is the situation we find ourselves in and it is utterly deplorable. I am outraged.

Bill C-24 changes absolutely nothing. We have time; we would have had time to reflect on and think about the best measures to put in place for EI, this enormous program, so that workers, people who are ill and people on maternity leave will not be left wondering what will happen to them from one day to the next. We are simply putting off the problem every month through these temporary measures, when we should be introducing the permanent, structuring and useful measures that reflect the true reality of work for the people concerned.

I am outraged. My colleagues know me and may be sick of listening to me, but I am not done. Since my work in the House began, I have probably uttered the term “employment insurance” 200 times. I was thinking that perhaps I should start saying “unemployment insurance” and maybe that term would resonate with people.

I often say that we must be open, as legislators, to settling once and for all the issue of permanently increasing sickness leave benefits to 50 weeks.

I have been calling for this from day one for a reason. I strongly believed that the government would rise to the occasion during this crisis for which our EI program is inadequate. It could have taken the opportunity to change EI instead of viewing it as a threat and taking a piecemeal approach. The government had that mandate.

The pandemic is a convenient excuse for everything, and we are told that the crisis needs to be managed. That is what we are told when we point out that there needs to be a significant increase in the old age security pension. There has never been a measure brought in to permanently and predictably increase the pension. Temporary measures are brought in instead. The same goes for the Canada health transfers.

This same government had a mandate in 2015 to review the EI program. It has received countless reports and solutions for making the program suit the reality of the workforce and to address the fact that many people are ineligible.

This is unacceptable for a so-called social program designed to protect workers. The government had that mandate.

The minister found the mandate a bit too late, after the throne speech. The government claims to be working on it, but we know that the bill before us is another temporary measure that will expire on September 25, 2021, if I am not mistaken. It is March now, so there are six months left.

What is the government's plan beyond September 25, 2021? Has the government calculated that the job market will have recovered and that the existing EI system will be adequate?

The answer to that question should be “no”, because the system is inadequate. The system is based on the number of hours worked, which clearly needs to be changed.

I gave the House some examples on Monday. With the system that is now in place, women who hold what are increasingly non-standard, part-time jobs are finding it difficult to qualify for EI. Women take maternity or parental leave, using up their weeks of benefits, after which they cannot qualify for EI. If they lose their jobs, they are refused regular benefits. This flaw must be addressed.

Seasonal workers suffer a loss of revenue between periods of employment and end up without EI because of the gaps during which they were not working. This is also something we have to put an end to. No worker should have to go through that.

For them and for sick, suffering or injured workers for whom 15 weeks are not enough, temporary measures are insufficient. There needs to be a real system that will guarantee them 50 weeks of EI benefits.

That is the mission of the Bloc Québécois, a mission that outlines a vision, is promising and takes the reality of the people we represent into account.

In Quebec and Canada, workers are the lifeblood of our job market. We see how essential all of these people are in the health care, social services and other sectors. They are essential because they contribute to our economic strength, our social strength and the strength of our labour market. There has to be a balance, and we need permanent changes. I cannot emphasize that enough.

We will vote in favour of Bill C-24 because, as I said on Monday, we have no choice. Is there any other choice?

If we do not vote in favour of this bill, workers will find themselves without any income tomorrow morning. What is more, many people have reached out to us via telephone, press release and other methods to tell us just how necessary these measures still are.

That is why we are going to vote in favour of Bill C-24. It is not because we like the way the government is forcing us into this. On the contrary, I think that the government could and should do things differently. It has everything it needs to present a much more permanent and strategic vision in the future. I am calling on the government and urging it to do just that, when it has the opportunity to do so in the very near future in the next budget.

My Bloc Québécois colleague's bill, Bill C-265, could really make a difference by increasing EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks. That was yet another opportunity for the government to take action because it was an election issue last time around. There were plenty of commitments, promises and mandate letters, but nothing was done because the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and action had to be taken. The thing is, taking action during a pandemic does not mean doing the same thing forever after. It means thinking about what the future should look like and coming up with much more strategic measures. That is what people expect.

That is why I am working so hard and with such determination to make sure nobody else falls through the cracks. I also want to make sure that, in the course of our very important legislative work, we are never again called upon to rapidly approve a government bill to meet needs and achieve goals. We condemn that approach.

Even so, we support the bill because we would never abandon thousands of workers whose EI benefits will come to an end tomorrow morning and who will be left without an income to make it through this crisis.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the member her opinion on the role of the opposition in the House of Commons.

The NDP thinks that Bill C-24 should include a provision on extending EI sickness benefits. In my opinion, it is our duty as politicians and members of the opposition to look for opportunities to push the government to include such measures.

Yesterday I presented an amendment to this bill in committee, which the chair ruled out of order because of a monarchist tradition here in Canada requiring royal assent. I think that tradition does not serve the interests of democracy. It is perfectly reasonable for an opposition politician to push the government, even if that means upsetting the prerogatives of the Crown a bit, in order to advance a good measure that would benefit Canadians.

My colleague chose to vote against the amendment and I would like her to say a few words about the role of the opposition and the degree to which we should look for opportunities and work—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his pertinent question on a topic I want to address.

Yesterday in committee, I heard someone say that the job of the opposition is to oppose, but that is not how we see it. If that were true, we would essentially be constrained. The opposition's job is to suggest solutions and a vision, and to ensure that bills have the every chance to be passed in the best possible way. I also want to bring up the use of the word “opportunity”. There is opportunity, and then there is opportunism.

Yesterday, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, I did not vote against the NDP's amendment, since it was ruled inadmissible, but I did think it was opportunistic. The NDP's amendment was an opportunistic attempt to build up political credibility that it had lost, maybe, using a bill that had a different objective. As I said, however, the amendment was inadmissible, so I did not vote against it.

As I said yesterday, I voted on the opportunity to strengthen Bill C-24 so that the House could pass it the following morning and extend the EI regular benefit period to 50 weeks.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2021 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be rising so soon on third reading of this bill, in that the NDP recognizes how important it is that these measures come into place to support people who, facing the end of their regular EI benefits in a very difficult economic context, need an extension of those benefits to take place. New Democrats have been very happy to support that measure and to work collaboratively to see the bill pass quickly.

That said, there are a number of things that are not in this bill that New Democrats think are a problem. The problem is not just in the sense of missed opportunities to make progress on some long-standing issues, such as the EI sickness benefit, but also in the sense of being a problem for many people in crisis right now as a result of the pandemic. To be sure, that relates to the EI sickness benefit, because there are people facing long-term conditions such as cancer who have had their normal course of medical treatment prolonged due to delays in the medical system caused by COVID.

It is also the case for people who are facing a new condition, long COVID. Even though the really intense initial period of sickness may have passed, there are some serious long-term recurring chronic conditions that are presenting themselves, whether as fatigue or shortness of breath or things of that nature. Those folks are falling through the cracks because Canada has not yet recognized long COVID as a condition. We have seen some leadership in other countries in creating specialized clinics and getting on track to research what this means as it emerges, but Canada, unfortunately, is not among those countries.

What that means is that private insurers here are able to say that people are not suffering from a condition they recognize, and so people are not getting access to their private benefits. It also means that folks have been falling through the cracks in some of the government benefits as well.

In the case of long COVID in particular, people who are facing these kinds of symptoms do not know when the symptoms are going to crop up. Sometimes it is very often and sometimes it is more infrequent. The symptoms appear sporadically, so people are not able to search for jobs because they cannot tell an employer in good faith that they are going to be able to regularly report to work. A condition of the Canada recovery benefit is that people actively seek work.

These are how those kinds of cracks develop. It is why the NDP thought it was important in the early days of the pandemic, and we argued very vigorously for a more universal approach, one that would capture all of these different kinds of situations, not because we had identified them all in advance but because we knew there would be unique challenges and situations that we could not hope to identify in advance. That is why a universal approach to income support would be better—one that would capture seniors, for instance, who did not lose their jobs due to COVID but had to face additional costs. It is the same for people living with disabilities and for other groups, such as students.

That is why New Democrats thought a universal approach was important. It was a very conscious decision of the Liberal government not to adopt that approach. We have spent a lot of time worrying about the people who are falling through the cracks and a lot of time fighting for policy solutions that will help them, but we are just not seeing enough of those solutions in this bill. Who does it leave behind? It leaves those people behind.

I have heard the government say how important it is to move this bill forward, and we agree completely. I think it is fair to say that virtually all of the government speeches today at third reading condemned the Conservatives for their procedural delay tactics on a number of bills in the House, saying that they really should not be doing that with Bill C-24 because it is very important to get it passed.

We heard that at committee yesterday. I had proposed a very simple amendment, and this talk about delay and about the importance of getting this done came through, even though there is really no disagreement, and we see that with this bill. All parties have worked to get this bill through very quickly.

The fact is that we are only on the sixth sitting day since first reading of the bill. It is atypical for Parliament to have a guaranteed passage of a bill, but let us be clear that the bill is already guaranteed to pass at the end of the day, and rightly so. I am glad for that.

I hope all this talk about delay around Bill C-24 is not disingenuous. It is certainly misguided. I am trying to be parliamentary, despite the facts that I am trying to describe.

What I am trying to say is that I have heard very clearly from Liberals that they are very concerned about all the people on EI regular benefits who are facing a deadline at the end of the month. That is a concern we share. However, I would put to the government, what about the people who have seen their EI sick benefit expire already? Those people are already in the situation the Liberals are beseeching us to avoid when it comes to people who are on EI regular benefits. Not only do they find themselves in that situation, but also find themselves gravely ill with various kinds of conditions.

We really think it is important and have really been hoping that it be addressed, particularly because the government did not table this bill right away in January. In particular, we knew that we wanted to address the issue of people using the sick day benefit to self-isolate after non-essential travel. There was all-party agreement that this was not an appropriate use of that benefit. It was not foreseen when the benefit was negotiated and designed.

We had hoped that the delay meant the government was going to address some other very urgent and pandemic-related issues with simple solutions, like extending the EI sick benefit to 50 weeks, something that the House of Commons has already expressed support for, first by majority vote in favour of a Bloc Québécois opposition day motion, and then by unanimous consent. There was a unanimous consent motion reaffirming the House's commitment to that motion. Twice now the House has called for this. Once the government opposed it, and the other time it did not.

I do not know what more it would take to get this extension of the EI sickness benefit done. We have unanimity, apparently, in the House of Commons. We have a bill designed to reform the EI Act. We have a very simple legislative change that needs to be made. It needs to be implemented and although there can be complications in its implementation, let us get the ball rolling. It cannot be implemented until we make the legislative change.

The Liberals could propose an implementation date, a coming into force date, something they think would give them a reasonable period. We have the commitment now in Parliament. Let us get the legislative job done and assign a date for government to implement it by.

We have to get going on this. It is just wrong, frankly, to have a whole bunch of sick Canadians who have been advocating for this, some of them for years, and to cause them to continue to not only have to deal with their illness but also to become political advocates to get something done on which there seems to be widespread agreement. It is cruel. We had an opportunity yesterday to do something about it.

We know that bills and proposals that require public spending cannot be introduced by anyone but the government; yet members do it. The Bloc Québécois members have been very keen to remind us all that they have a private member's bill to extend the EI sickness benefit to 50 weeks. They will also have to reckon with the fact that that private member's bill, to be votable at third reading, will need a royal recommendation.

I have a private member's bill to extend the sickness benefit to 50 weeks. I know that if we get through that long process in the course of a Parliament, which would be lovely and I hope that we do, it would also need a royal recommendation. At that point, I will fight as hard as I can to find a way to either get the recommendation or some way around it.

It is ridiculous that a long-standing tradition that goes back to when we were ruled by a monarch, by hereditary right, could get in the way of democratically elected representatives doing the right thing on the EI sickness benefit. I think that is ridiculous. I have been frustrated in other fora, frankly, with the way that some of our long-standing traditions, whether for prorogation or dissolution of Parliament or royal recommendation, get in the way of democratic decision-making. I would add the Senate to that list as well.

There are a lot of ways in Canada where the democratic will of Canadians, expressed through their parliamentarians, their members of Parliament are thwarted by some of these traditions. I like a lot of the traditions in the House. I am a believer in Parliament. However, I do not think that means that we should self-censor and not challenge those things when they get in the way of what is in the best interests of people in Canada.

I do not apologize for taking that thought to the government. I do not apologize for being willing to challenge those things and to try to seize on any opportunity I can to get good things done, like extending the EI sickness benefit to 50 weeks, which I know many members share across party lines as a goal in the House. I will continue to do that and to try to come up with new and creative ways of doing that, instead of just doing those things that so far have not been working. I think this was a missed opportunity. While I am glad for all of the people on EI regular benefits and we will continue to work in the spirit of collaboration to protect their interests and to protect their household finances, I am not going to do that by passing over in silence the incredible missed opportunity that we have had on the EI sickness benefit here.

I would be remiss also if I did not mention something that I spoke to it in my last speech. I think it bears repeating. There was time taken to table this bill. We have known for a long time now that there were a lot of people who were struggling financially before the pandemic and who have ended up applying for the CERB. In some cases they were told to. In fact, mean, a lot of provincial social assistance programs require people to apply for any other income assistance benefit they could be eligible for.

The application for CERB was a no-fail process. It was that way for the right reasons: the money needed to get out quickly, and all of that. What that meant is that in some cases people who were on social assistance were required by their provincial government to apply for the CERB and then got it. Now they are being told to pay it back. While they were receiving it, they were not receiving their social assistance. Where is the money supposed to come from?

This is not a new problem. We have known that this was shaping up to be a problem a long time ago. Campaign 2000 was calling for an amnesty as early as last summer, so this is no a surprise. It is not something that caught the government off guard, unless it was not paying attention in the first place and ought to have been. This is something we could have been doing in this legislation to address a very urgent need. I was frustrated to hear the minister responsible for this bill characterize the bill as just narrowing down and focusing on what is urgent.

The plight of sick Canadians who need a benefit to help them keep their homes while they deal with their illnesses in the context of the pandemic and who have already been cut-off from their benefits is urgent. If this is not urgent, I do not know what is. It is the plight of low-income Canadians who were told by provincial governments they had to apply for CERB, or of kids aging out of foster care at 18 in the pandemic, who were told that before they apply for social assistance they had to apply for the CERB, and who are now being told to pay it back with money they do not have. They are facing crushing debt. Even if they do not have to repay it by the end of this tax year, having that hanging over their heads is going to make it really hard for them to get a decent start in life. We all know that. Someone would have to be pretty darn rich for a long time to think $14,000 in debt does not matter and can be brushed off.

I know the former minister of finance forgot about a $40,000 bill, but that is not the situation of most Canadians, not at all. It is a debt of $14,000, $16,000 or $18,000 for a young person who just aged out of foster care and cannot get a job because of the pandemic, and who is wondering what their future looks like and may be told by the Canada Revenue Agency, a pretty serious organization in this country, that they are going to owe that $14,000 or $16,000 until they can pay it off. When is that going to be? When they get their first job in this difficult economy, whenever that will be, they will have to pay for their rent and food. It is not as if all of those wages are going to be available for them to pay back their debt to the Canada Revenue Agency.

I think there is a legitimate question here about the public interest and the extent to which Canadians are really going to benefit from the government's demand for this money back from the people who cannot pay it back. Given the time that has been taken, not only from January until now to prepare this bill but also the time we have lived through since the pandemic began, particularly since the first extension of CERB in the summertime when groups began to identify this problem and call for amnesty, there have been lots of opportunities to figure out how to do it and to present a coherent plan to Parliament that would work. There has been lots of time to quantify this problem. I asked the minister yesterday if she had an idea of how much money Canada would make if all the people who need a low-income CERB amnesty repaid their debt tomorrow. How much money would that be?

We do not have an answer to that. I hope they will follow up with an answer and I hope they do have the answer, because it seems to me that unless that is a compelling number, we should not be worrying a lot of people who are already struggling with the anxiety and real financial challenge of what, on the government books, would be a relatively small debt, particularly relative to all the spending that has taken place to get us through the pandemic.

The government will know I am not criticizing that spending. There are aspects of it I might criticize, particularly the money that was set aside for the WE Charity that never resulted in any concrete or tangible benefit to Canadians or Canadian students. In the details, there are criticisms to make, but we are not opposed to the idea that the government needed to step in to provide a lot of support to get our economy and Canadians through this.

This is relative to that spending and the work that the country is going to have to do to manage its finances going forward. We should be letting these folks off the hook for something that, in some cases, was frankly beyond their control. I do not think they were acting in bad faith. Being compelled by provincial governments to apply for this benefit is not something they could just say no to, because then they would not qualify for provincial assistance. They cannot just walk out on the street and get a job, so I ask what they were supposed to do.

Can we not extend some compassion to the folks in this situation in this difficult time and clear that debt, instead of making it a 20-year project for them to pay off with whatever small amounts of disposable income they may have and get for themselves? Instead of sending all of that to the CRA, they might be able to keep some of it for themselves or to invest it in something that improves their situation in life or affords them some opportunities to live a little and enjoy their life, as they work hard to try to get by. Those are the kinds of small, but important and tangible things that we would potentially be taking away from some of our most vulnerable people, when we refuse the idea of an amnesty.

I think that is important to bear in mind, because we do not just have a financial responsibility here, but I think this has been a time when members of Parliament and the government have been, and ought to be, called to meet the moral responsibility of this place and to really think about the long-term interest in people. I think that if we do not proceed with this kind of amnesty, we would be failing people in that regard.

I just want to end on that note. Yes, these are important reforms. Yes, we needed to move forward quickly. We have done that in good faith. We in the NDP have tried to use the opportunity to press other important and related issues. Unfortunately, we did not find enough support on the other benches to make that happen. We stand ready to help the government quickly, in the fastest way possible, expand the EI sickness benefit. The only thing getting in the way yesterday at committee was the need for a royal recommendation. The only thing getting in the way was the fact that the government is not on board. If the government would kindly get on board with helping out sick Canadians, as is the will of the House of Commons, we will act as we did on Bill C-24 to move that through quickly and without delay, so that those folks who are already not receiving any kind of income assistance could get it.

I hope that some of the issues that we have been able to raise in this debate have been heard by the government and that we will soon see some kind of concrete response in legislation, in the case of the EI sickness benefit. If they are able to do the CERB amnesty without any legislation and it can happen more quickly, that would be awesome. We would support that too, but if there is legislation required, we would hope to see it come forward quickly. We regret that this was not already a part of the legislation before us and that we were not able to make it part of it, but let us get on with making sure that we are not just talking about who the government has decided to help through all of this, but that are actually filling the cracks so that there is not a long list of people who need support and have not received it.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 11th, 2021 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, there have been discussions amongst the parties, and if you seek it, I think you will find unanimous consent to adopt the following motion:

I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order, special order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (additional regular benefits), the Canada Recovery Benefits Act (restriction on eligibility) and another Act in response to COVID-19, be disposed of as follows:

(a) if the bill is adopted at second reading, consideration in committee take place on Thursday, March 11, 2021, and the committee be instructed to report the bill to the House that same day by depositing it with the Clerk of the House, provided that the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, be ordered to appear as a witness, and that if the Committee has not completed clause-by-clause consideration by 11:00 p.m., all remaining amendments submitted to the Committee shall be deemed moved, the Chair shall put the question, forthwith and successively without further debate, on all remaining clauses and amendments submitted to the Committee, as well as each and every question necessary to dispose of clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill;

(b) no notice of motion of amendment at report stage shall be given; and

(c) report stage and third reading stage of the bill be ordered for consideration on Friday, March 12, 2021, and that, when the Order is read for consideration for the motion at report stage, the motion to concur in the bill at report stage be deemed carried on division and the House then proceed immediately to consideration of the Bill at third reading, provided that, at the conclusion of the time provided for Government Orders or when no member rises to speak, whichever is earlier, the bill be deemed read a third time and passed on division.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 11th, 2021 / 11 a.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, as always, I am incredibly honoured to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and to speak to Bill C-24, a bill that we need to pass as quickly as possible. There is an urgency to act because so many people are out of work and their EI is running out.

This is the anniversary of the calling of the pandemic. I think of how our world has been turned upside down and how it has been fundamentally transformed 365 days ago. I look back to a year ago today when we realized Parliament was going to be shut down. We thought it would maybe for two weeks. It was just impossible to think that it could be shut for three weeks. We did not have the cultural or historic imagination to find ourselves and understand ourselves in a pandemic.

I think of the first time I walked the streets wearing a mask and how strange I felt. We did not understand how the pandemic had such a powerful effect.

I have been reading Camus throughout this pandemic, because I though there had to be a way to understand it. What Camus said so powerfully of his people, his village, was that they were not any more arrogant or dismissive than anyone else, but they had forgot to learn to be humble in the face of a pandemic. We understand wars, Camus said, but we do not understand pandemics because we cannot see them, yet they upend and transform us.

Over the past year, we have seen a complete upending of so many of our preconceived ideas. A year ago, when the pandemic was called, within two weeks, millions of Canadians could no longer pay their rent. That is a staggering thing for a Prime Minister who talked about the middle class and those wanting to join it. The Prime Minister's line again and again was the middle class and those wanting to join it. What we have realized from the pandemic is that the middle class has been wiped out, that middle class no longer exists. What exists is precarious work, people without pensions, people working on contract. It is not just a blue-collar issue. Professors working in universities, without any kind of tenure, without any kind of support, get paid basically what people get paid at Tim Hortons. People have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their education. They are burdened with student debt. When the pandemic came, they, like front-line workers and people who work in groceries stores, could not pay their rent if they were not able to work.

The pandemic showed us that our notions of our Canadian health system were based so much on hope and myth of this ideologized system, yet we were unable to protect the lives of hundreds of senior citizens who died needlessly in long-term care homes that were run for profit. We learned that we did not have the capacity in a nation as big as ours to produce our own PPE to keep workers safe, and we had to beg for it from other countries.

Of course, we suddenly remembered all those great ideas that Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien had about not needing our own system, that we could rely on global markets, that we could not produce our own vaccine. A hundred years ago, Canada established the Connaught Labs to be a world leader in vaccine production, and it was. However, the privatization agenda of the Liberals and the Conservatives erased that.

I have been thinking about my grandmother, Lola MacNeil, who was a tough woman. She same from the Ottawa Valley and went to northern Ontario where the mining camps were booming. She met my grandfather who was a Cape Bretoner, Joseph MacNeil. He had broken his back underground in the mines. My grandmother was in the first graduating class of St. Mary's Hospital, working under the nuns, and she nursed my grandfather back to health.

My grandmother worked 12-hours shifts. When I was a child, my grandmother was hard with me sometimes. In those 12-hours shifts, she had dealt with diphtheria, small pox and she was haunted by polio.

I remember that she did not want us to go swimming up at Gillies lake, which was a little lake in Timmins. It was an offshoot of the water from where the Hollinger mine used to dump its water. My grandmother would tell us not to go swimming there, that this was where we would get polio. I asked my grandmother what polio was. When we would go to the doctor because we had a little toothache, we would get penicillin. We thought we were immune from all these things.

We did not have the cultural or historic imagination to understand the pandemic. I have been conjuring my grandmother Lola. She would know what to do. She would know how to prepare

I would like to say that we have learned things that will transform how we see the world for the coming generations and this young generation, generation Z. This generation has been schooled and transformed and will never see the world in the same way again. The many the things of this pandemic is the failing to generation Z, to this young generation coming up that is living in such precarity. This is why we need to get Bill C-24 passed.

I know many people who have no work to go back to, people who are doing precarious work, people who are working in the arts, the incredible arts network that we have across Canada. People have gone a year without working and their EI is running out. I think of people who worked multiple jobs in restaurants, but restaurants are no longer around. Their EI is running out.

The Conservatives always talk about the debt that we will be leaving. The biggest debt that we could leave would be the debt of destroying the family and personal economies of Canadians. Through no fault of their own, they were victims of a pandemic that upended the economic system that had existed through the 20th century.

Coming out of this pandemic, we need a vision for a 21st century economy and to understand the old 20th century ideologies of trusting the market, that things will be okay, that we will give to the big boys, such as the Prime Minister cut a deal with Amazon, one of the crappiest corporations in the world. It is a corporation where the billionaire class has made more and more money, while their workers have suffered on the front lines, keeping the economy going.

We need a 21st century economy coming out of this, one that is resilient, one that understands that we have to rebuild some of the social supports our grandparents built coming out of the Second World War for a proper social safety net so no one is left behind. We need to rebuild a strong health care system, one that the profiteers are unable to exploit our parents and our grandparents in long-term care, so no one ever has to call in the army again to keep senior citizens from dying. We need to build that type of economy. To get there, Bill C-24 is one of the intermediate steps that we need to have in place.

While we reflect on the issue of our society suddenly having to deal with precarity and insecurity, many people in the country have lived with precarity, insecurity and failing health systems for decades. They are the first nations peoples of our country, living in reserves on incredible territories of natural wealth. The treaties took them off their territories and put them on what are essentially internal displacement camps with substandard housing, substandard infrastructure and no access to clean water. I mention that because yesterday the Minister of Indigenous Services made an announcement that he would create a new website to deal with the water crisis, a website.

When the Prime Minister was first elected, he said that his number one priority was to guarantee clean water to first nations. People across Canada said, of course. How could one of the richest countries in the world not guarantee clean water for its citizens? Citizens questioned how it was possible that in a country with so much beautiful, natural clean water people would have to drink from dirty and polluted water, not just in one community but in community after community. The Prime Minister said that we would have mission accomplished by March 2021. We are not even close to that. Last week, the Auditor General put out in a damning report that it would be years. The website that the minister is bringing out is to show the successes that the government has had, to turn away the attention from the ongoing systemic failures.

I mention this issue with respect to the pandemic because of the insecurity, the precariousness and the need to get these false 20th century ideologies that somehow it is the fault of the first nation communities for the fact that they do not have access to clean water. These systems have been put in place by Indian Affairs. They remain in place despite the fact that in 2005 the auditor general wrote a condemning report about Indian Affairs and the crisis in water. I remember when Paul Martin announced that he would spend billions of dollars to clean the water systems. Was his mission accomplished? Not a chance.

In 2011, the auditor general wrote a damning report on the crisis of water. People might not remember, but one of the very first acts prime minister Stephen Harper brought in when he was elected was a plan to get clean water to reserves, yet in 2011 the Auditor General report read just like in 2005.

In 2018, the parliamentary budget officer issued a report that said the government would not meet its promise. Of course, last week we had the damning report by the Auditor General.

This is not a great mystery, and I would like to walk people through why these things happen. It is structural, it is systemic and it is based on a system of racist colonialism. What happens with first nations communities is that the federal government will always insist on spending the cheapest amount of money to fix the problem. This policy of the lowest bid has meant that we have had in community after community operators come in and say they will do the job for cheap, because other more credible companies will not touch the project. They are doing them in isolated fly-in communities, where the costs are elevated. These companies know this. They will take the bid, there will be cost overruns, there will be delays and if there are problems, they will just cut corners.

That is the first failing. The minister has refused to change the policy on that.

The second issue, as the Auditor General points out, is that the government is using the same failed funding formula that goes back over 30 years, which is the refusal to put in proper operations and maintenance funding. Indian Affairs wants to keep the ministers happy and the ministers want to cut a ribbon. They want to announce “mission accomplished” and move on. However, if we do not have an operations and maintenance budget, the plants fail.

In Marten Falls First Nation, lightning hit the sewage lift. It is an isolated community, so how will it fix that on its own? The government says that it is not its problem. A failed sewage lift begins as a problem, then becomes more systemic and then the government will spend upwards of $2 million a year flying bottled water into a community like Marten Falls, but it will not deal with the systemic failings in the first place. We need to have operations maintenance training to ensure these plants work.

The other issue that the government has is that it will build a plant and declare victory. Plants have been built that do not meet building codes. If that happened in a provincial jurisdiction or in a municipality, there would be an investigation. When it comes to Indian Affairs, it is just another day at the office. The company that did not meet the building code at one project can get hired at the next project. Why? Because it will do it on the cheap.

We had a community in the northwest where a water plant was built, the ribbon was cut, an announcement was made and people left. The next day grandmothers had to walk to the river with buckets for water. Why? The water plant was built but no money was set aside to get pipes into the homes. Again, if that was done in a municipality, there would be an investigation. If it was done at the provincial level, people would be fired. If it was done at Indian Affairs, someone might get promoted, because it is another day at the office.

These inequities are not just in the far north. I will talk about Maniwaki. It is just up the road. There is a municipality in Maniwaki and there is the Kitigan Zibi reserve. One has clean water and one does not. How is that possible? One is under the provincial jurisdiction in Quebec that has water standards and the other is under the federal government.

In Attawapiskat, as well as in many other communities, they will not look at the source of where the water comes from. They want to take it from the cheapest source. If we take water from a stagnant pool, we are going to have problems. However, if the stagnant pool is close to the plant, then Indian Affairs says that is the water source. There might be a much cleaner source down the road, but Indian Affairs will not spend that money. They will take a stagnant water pool, run it into the plant, which means they will have to use an enormous amount of chemicals to keep it clean, and then they will run it through substandard pipes that cause more chemical contamination. The point is that by the time the water reaches people's homes, it is toxic.

Every region of this country has water standards that have to be met. The only place where water standards do not exist is on reserve. Why is that? The reason is that if the federal government actually had standards, it would have to spend money, and it will not spend money.

The other issue is that with the website the government is going to create, every community is going to have its own page on a website. We already have a website and the government lies on the website. The government has, for instance, Bearskin Lake as “under construction”. Bearskin Lake is not under construction. We have been waiting over a year to get the feasibility report agreed to.

I have a report here called “The Project Implementation Procedures Manual for Water and Wastewater Systems” by the Public Works and Government Services Canada client service team for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. I run out of breath just saying that title. If we look at this report, it consists of page after page of hoops that indigenous communities have to jump through to satisfy the department, despite many of these communities being impoverished and in the far north.

Chief Shining Turtle, who has been a very strong voice on the need to listen to first nations and to put in place coherent systems, has told the government again and again that these manuals are manuals for failure. When I hear the Minister of Indigenous Services say that the department does not want to impose a solution and wants to work with them, he is making it sound like he is their best life coach. What he is really doing is gaslighting communities by making it seem as though it is their fault that bad decisions are made. We look at these reports and the number of hoops communities have to go through, and yet we still see communities ending up with underfunded systems that fail.

I want to give people a couple of more examples so that they really understand how this failure works systemically. The government will say that a community will get clean water, say in Attawapiskat, but it does not want to look at the whole system. The fact is that we might build a water system, a water plant, but we do not have the proper pipes to actually get clean water, so by the time the water runs through the plant to the homes, it is already contaminated with chemicals.

The government says it will get the mission accomplished on that, but what does that mean? That means that a little girl who heard that I was coming to Attawapiskat met me on a street corner. She was wearing a cardboard sign that said that she had only one kidney and needed fresh water to live. No child should have to put on a cardboard sign to say how their very life is threatened by bad water. Why does that child have only one kidney? It is because in Attawapiskat the children have been poisoned for decades by toluene and benzene that was underneath a school. Kidney damage is one of the fundamental symptoms of that.

I think of the little girl in Kashechewan whose skin rashes are so bad that the international media covered it and said that this is Canada. Every few months, my office sends her medication because they are 600 miles from a pharmacy. That is the failure of government. These are children whose lives get cut short by a precarious failed system. We are here today to push through the legislation to keep workers safe, but my call to the government is that it needs to stop playing games with the lives of first nations people when it comes to water and that we need to get a credible system in place.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 11th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his excellent speech. I appreciate his extensive knowledge on boil water advisories and learned a lot from his remarks. I also appreciated his story about his grandmother. It was very inspiring and I can relate to that.

My question about Bill C-24 is as follows. I agree with the member that it is important that we pass this bill. I am glad to see the parties in the House come together on this.

Is the member of the opinion that the Liberal government should have introduced this bill far sooner? I would love to hear the member's comments on that.