Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, on behalf of the Conseil national des chômeurs (CNC), I would like to thank you for inviting me here.
I have come here to share our viewpoint on Part 4 of BillC-10which deals with governmental proposals relative to employment insurance. These proposals are found on page 223. I have to tell you that we are not at all surprised to see clauses 227 and 228 on page 225 of the bill. These provisions deal with the retroactive setting of the contribution rate for years 2002, 2003 and 2005, further to the December 11, 2008 Supreme Court decision.
I will, however, say one thing: The planned measures designed to offer employment insurance assistance to workers who lose or will lose their jobs are, to all intents and purposes, insignificant in the current context of economic recession and completely out of touch with measures put in place by other countries. In a document made public on December 29, 2008 and entitled “Fiscal Policy for the Crisis“, the International Monetary Fund urged all governments in the industrialized world to make enhancements to employment insurance schemes in such as areas as length of benefit coverage, benefit eligibility and benefit rate, as these constitute key elements to weathering the economic crisis effectively.
As recently as last week, French President Sarkozy announced not only that the length of the benefit period would be extended, but also that the benefit rate would increase from 60% to 70% of the average salary. The Obama Plan in the United States clearly states that employment insurance eligibility must be improved. According to the Plan, extending employment insurance coverage is one of the most effective ways of fighting the global economic crisis. Each dollar invested in employment insurance benefits provides a return of $1.73 in economic terms.
Mr. Chair, what is the Canadian government doing in reaction to the net loss in a single month of 129,000 jobs? What has our government been doing while Canada's unemployment insurance rate has risen by 10% to stand at 7.2%? In Ontario, the unemployment rate stands at 8%, its highest level since 1976. What has our government been doing while the Toronto Dominion Bank is predicting that unemployment will reach 8.8% by the end of this year?
Well, our government has merely announced the renewal of a pre-existing pilot project, the difference being that this pilot project, labelled “number 10“, has been around since 2004. The program, which provides for an additional five weeks of benefits, will now be made available to all administrative regions of Canada. In a few rare cases, it will provide for up to 50 weeks of benefits. I invite you to take a look at the chart showing the added number of weeks of benefits appended to the bill. Mr. Chair, there really is no cause for celebration here.
Nothing has been done to come to the aid of the first victims of unemployment, namely people holding precarious jobs such as part-time workers. Many of these people will not qualify for employment insurance benefits. EI eligibility has been so severely restricted that according to figures for 2006—the last year for which official figures are available—the ratio of claimants to unemployed stood at 46.1%. This number is established by considering the ratio of recipients to unemployed persons. It represents the traditional way of assessing the coverage of the employment insurance scheme. On looking at this figure, we see that for every 1,000 unemployment persons, only 461 have access to employment insurance. This number comes from official data published by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Apparently, the Minister of Human Resources, Ms. Diane Finley, disagrees with this data and prefers to use a new calculation method developed early in this decade. That method can be found on page 63 of the document. There is a reference to the eligibility rate for all unemployed individuals with a recent job separation that qualified under the EI Program. In fact, in 82% of cases, applicants who had qualified under the EI program were covered. The problem with this is that all those who did not meet the EI eligibility requirements were not covered.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, this number twisting game must end. As we speak, individuals are losing their jobs and still more will experience the same fate. We must ensure their economic security and that is the role of the employment insurance program. Ensuring the well-being of its citizens is also the role of a responsible government.
Mr. Chair, there is a widespread consensus among members of society. If I have the chance, I will come back to this later. However, right now let me reiterate that society is united in calling upon government to relax EI eligibility rules. This is why we believe our government must amend Part 4 of the Budget 2009 implementation bill by adding provisions that allow for broader access to the EI program.
I think I deserve a medal for getting everything in in the five minutes allotted to me.