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Evidence of meeting #64 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was csis.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andrew Jackson  Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress
Pierre Céré  Spokesperson, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses
Jason Clemens  Director of Research, Macdonald-Laurier Institute
Greg Smith  Vice-President, Finance, Risk Administration and Chief Financial Officer, PPP Canada Inc.
Paul Kennedy  As an Individual
Jane Londerville  University of Guelph, As an Individual
Michael Zigayer  Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Jerome Brannagan  Deputy Chief, Operations, Windsor Police Service
Stephen Bolton  Director, Border Law Enforcement Strategies Division, Public Safety Canada
Superintendent Joe Oliver  Director General, Border Integrity, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Or the physical labourer.

5:35 p.m.

Director of Research, Macdonald-Laurier Institute

Jason Clemens

My concern would be the technical process through which we're going to make those determinations. Again, I think the easy lifting, so to speak, is to identify the clawback threshold for OAS, that is, to ask the question of better targeting. And I think it's fairly easy to do that for single seniors, since we already differentiate those benefits now.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Jackson, did you have something to say?

5:40 p.m.

Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress

Andrew Jackson

I think that, if you increase the clawback, it would be a less bad way of going about doing things. On the sustainability thing, we're phasing in this increase in such a way that it really only applies when the cost of OAS peaks, so it doesn't really make that much difference to the cost of the program. The average person of 65 is going to live past 80, so you're cutting off two years. It's not a huge percentage point reduction to the cost of the program.

What I would say is that I would not ignore the importance of OAS to people who aren't in a very low income situation. We know that baby boomers, or a significant section of middle-income baby boomers, aren't saving enough for retirement. CPP and OAS in combination replace 40% of the average wage, which is a very low public pension compared to the great majority of OECD countries. So there are a lot of couples who are going to lose a significant chunk of change, the ones who are fully affected by it. I guess basically they're going to have to work that much more to make up the difference, or save that much more, but we know people are having trouble saving.

I'm not sure whether the real motivation for this is the cost or the view that people are retiring too early. To my mind, there are all kinds of positive incentives we can put in place for people to continue working past 65 and to encourage employers to retain workers. We could talk about all those things, if that's what the debate is about.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

We're right at five minutes, Mr. Brison. Thank you.

We'll go to Mr. Jean, please.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I've been in Fort McMurray for 45 years, since there were 1,500 people. My community is built by people from the rest of Canada—the unemployed, mostly from eastern Canada, from Newfoundland and Labrador. Actually, they say that Fort McMurray is the second largest Newfoundland city in the world, which I think is probably true.

Once thing that resonates as true is exactly what my friend Mr. Hoback says: many people come to Fort McMurray to get the maximum number of weeks, and then they go home, wherever that home may be. I understand why; I'd like to be home too, right now, but I'm here working because I accepted this job.

Since it is such a common thing to have people work the minimum number of weeks and return to their home, do you think it's reasonable that they do that? What would be reasonable, in the circumstance, as a minimum number of weeks for people to work to be able to return home? The jobs are available. Let's face facts: they're there; they're just in a different part of the country.

5:40 p.m.

Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress

Andrew Jackson

I'm not sure I really understand the question. Presumably they wouldn't qualify for EI unless their employer in Fort McMurray laid them off. If they're—

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I also know that many people ask for layoffs and I've never heard of anybody refusing them. And if they do refuse, they go to the EI office and they complain for 15 seconds and they get their EI. That's common. I've worked in the labour unions, I've worked in those areas, and I know that this is what happens, because I've seen it happen consistently. I'm just asking you what would be a reasonable number of weeks for a person to come to western Canada and work in order to receive unemployment benefits for the rest of the year. That's my question. What do you think is reasonable?

5:40 p.m.

Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress

Andrew Jackson

I'm baulking slightly at the question. I don't object to the current rules. We haven't said workers who quit their jobs should be eligible for—

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Ignoring the current rules, what do you think is reasonable in the circumstances? You're opposed to these changes, so I'm asking you what you think is reasonable. It's a simple question.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Talk one at a time.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

It's a simple question: the number of weeks per year.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay, let's let the witness answer the question.

5:40 p.m.

Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress

Andrew Jackson

We accept the status quo: that workers should not be eligible for EI unless they have lost a job through no fault of their own. They have to be laid off by an employer. The vast majority of unemployed workers, given those circumstances, will seek another job. As you've suggested, huge numbers of workers from rural Atlantic Canada, the high unemployment regions, have moved west in search of—

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

A welder in most parts of the country makes $30,000 to $40,000 a year. In Fort McMurray, they're making $150,000 to $180,000 a year. That's because there are not enough of them there. What I'm suggesting is, clearly the jobs are there. They're all over Alberta, they're all over Saskatchewan.

So, for a person coming to western Canada from Quebec or from the Maritimes or Newfoundland and Labrador, what is a reasonable expectation for the government to have of them to work? How many weeks do they need to work per year to collect unemployment insurance for the rest of the year?

5:45 p.m.

Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress

Andrew Jackson

I think the great majority of unemployed workers would like to work 52 weeks a year like full-time, permanent workers. It's not a matter of the government saying—

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

The jobs are there for 52 weeks a year; I promise you they are. I've been there my whole life. I can promise you they are there.

Can you answer the question? You can avoid it if you want. Just tell me you don't want to answer the question. What do you think is reasonable? You're opposed to our changes, so what do you think is reasonable? The jobs are there.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay, Mr. Jean, let's let him answer. We have to give him an opportunity to answer the question.

Mr. Jackson, we'll give you the opportunity to answer.

5:45 p.m.

Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress

Andrew Jackson

I think we're talking past each other. I mean, under the current system, whether you're eligible for EI is going to depend on the local unemployment rate. If you're working in Fort McMurray and are laid off from your job, you have a much shorter eligibility for EI than if you were working in Corner Brook.

I would frankly dispute your assertion that there are workers who go to EI, who collude with employers to have themselves laid off so that they can go back to Atlantic Canada. Typically people work very long shifts. When they fly in, they go back home for the off-shift, but—

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

They work very hard. They pay the taxes for the EI benefits—some people do, and a lot of my people do, and they support me in my position with the government in relation to Bill C-38 and the changes we're making. A lot of people do. In fact, I haven't found anybody who doesn't who works in Fort McMurray.

What I'm asking is how many weeks do you think it is reasonable to put in per year?

And Mr. Céré, you've avoided the question. So Mr. Céré, do you have any comments?

5:45 p.m.

Spokesperson, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses

Pierre Céré

I certainly do have some comments. Sir, the bill in no way changes the eligibility requirements or the benefit period. That is not the issue. Once people are receiving employment insurance, three classes of claimants are being created and they do not have the same rights and requirements. The ones called frequent claimants are seasonal workers and they are in eastern Canada. This is a declaration of war on eastern Canada.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Do you have an answer to the question?

5:45 p.m.

Spokesperson, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses

Pierre Céré

Let me give you an example. Not so long ago in a region of Quebec called Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the unemployment rate was about 13% or 14%. Today in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where there is a lot of seasonal activity, the unemployment rate is 6%, not far off full employment. What does that mean? Does it mean that jobs were created so that people can work, or does it mean that they are less lazy now? Go and ask the people there and listen carefully to the answer.

People want to work, sir.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

I'll just mention the following. I know that members have a short time, but I'd encourage colleagues to pose a question and let a witness answer. And let's allow enough time for the witness to answer within the five-minute time period.

Ms. Blanchette-Lamothe, you have five minutes.

May 29th, 2012 / 5:45 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you.

My questions are specifically about the Old Age Security program.

Mr. Jackson, what do you think about the changes to the Old Age Security program? What consequences will they have? Who will suffer most from the changes, in your opinion? As you mentioned, some people will be able to adapt to the changes more easily than others. In your opinion, which segments of society will not be able to adapt to the changes and will become poorer?