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Evidence of meeting #70 for Finance in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was clauses.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gordon Boissonneault  Senior Advisor, Economic Analysis and Forecasting Division, Demand and Labour Analysis, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Sue Foster  Acting Director General, Policy, Appeals and Quality, Service Canada
Margaret Strysio  Director, Strategic Planning and Reporting, Parks Canada Agency
Stephen Bolton  Director, Border Law Enforcement Strategies Division, Public Safety Canada
Michael Zigayer  Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Garry Jay  Chief Superintendent, Acting Director General, HR Workforce Programs and Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Jeff Hutcheson  Director, HQ Programs and Financial Advisory Services, Coporate Management and Comptrollership, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Darryl Hirsch  Senior Policy Analyst, Intelligence Policy and Coordination, Department of Public Safety
Ian Wright  Executive Advisor, Financial Markets Division, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Nigel Harrison  Manager, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
David Lee  Director, Office of Legislative and Regulatory Modernization, Policy, Planning and International Affairs Directorate, Health Products and Food Branch, Department of Health
Anthony Giles  Director General, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
Bruno Rodrigue  Chief, Income Security, Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Gerard Peets  Senior Director, Strategy and Planning Directorate, Department of Industry
Suzanne Brisebois  Director General, Policy and Operations, Parole Board of Canada, Public Safety Canada
Louise Laflamme  Chief, Marine Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Department of Transport
Judith Buchanan  Acting Senior Manager, Labour Standards Operations, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
Mark Hodgson  Senior Policy Analyst, Labour Markets, Employment and Learning, Department of Finance
Stephen Johnson  Director General, Evaluation Directorate, Strategic Policy and Research Branch, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
James McNamee  Deputy Director, Horizontal Immigration Policy Division, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Graham Barr  Director General, Transition Planning and Coordination, Shared Services Canada

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

All those in favour of amendment Liberal-3?

(Amendment negatived)

(Clause 214 agreed to on division)

(On clause 215)

I will ask you to move amendment Liberal-4, Mr. Brison.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Chair, I move amendment Liberal-4.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

All those in favour of amendment Liberal-4?

(Amendment negatived)

(Clause 215 agreed to on division)

(On clause 216)

Mr. Brison, you can now move amendment Liberal-5.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Chair, I move amendment Liberal-5.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

All those in favour of amendment Liberal-5?

(Amendment negatived)

(Clauses 216 and 217 agreed to on division)

Thank you.

We shall move, then, to division 5, clauses 218 to 222.

Colleagues, I have no amendments for these clauses. Is there discussion on division 5?

I see no discussion on division 5.

(Clauses 218 to 222 inclusive agreed to on division)

We shall move, then, to division 6. I have one amendment for division 6.

Division 6 deals with the social security tribunal and service delivery in clauses 223 to 281.

I'll have discussion.

Mr. Caron, please.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Thank you very much.

Should I move the amendment first?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Just because of the way we're proceeding, because we have so many clauses, I think we'd prefer it if we could have a general discussion, and then if you could move the amendment later.... Is that okay?

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

That's fine.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

We find division 6 of part 4, clauses 223 to 281, problematic for a number of reasons.

There are currently four tribunals or boards of referees that respectively deal with employment insurance, old age security and the Canada pension plan, and the fourth is an appeal tribunal. Those four tribunals will be replaced by one mega-tribunal, the Social Security Tribunal. That is problematic in a number of ways. Let us note that, last year, there were more than 27,000 appeals for employment insurance and some 4,500 appeals for the Canada pension plan and old age security. So that's over 31,000 appeals overall.

Right now, 1,000 part-time members are on these various tribunals, 900 of which deal with employment insurance. In addition, there is already a backlog of 80,000 employment insurance claims in Quebec alone. And it does not seem to be going down, on the contrary. The current administrative challenges suggest that those tribunals will be in demand.

It is important to know that three people are currently on the employment insurance tribunals or boards of referees: one person appointed by management, one by the union and one by the government. Of all the tribunals or boards of referees that are being eliminated, I am most familiar with those dealing with employment insurance. The proximity of these tribunals is very important. For example, there is a tribunal in Rimouski that handles cases from across the Lower St. Lawrence region. People can come from La Mitis, Haute-Gaspésie, western Lower St. Lawrence region, including Témiscouata or Les Basques, and they will find a tribunal that understands their concerns and realities.

There is a lot of discussion about the reform recently introduced by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, which we also find problematic. This reform will largely affect seasonal workers. The tribunals or boards of referees in areas like the Lower St. Lawrence region fully understand that reality. If we eliminate the structure of boards of referees or that of the tribunals for old age security and the Canada pension plan—which obviously does not affect Quebec as much—we run the risk of undermining the full understanding of regional realities, which these boards of referees could claim to have.

There will be a shift from 1,000 part-time members who sit on tribunals or boards of referees two or three times a week to only 74 full-time members. They will work full time, but their roles will be divided as of now, if we pass this amendment. They will have to decide on files dealing with employment insurance, old age security and the Canada pension plan, all at once. We will have full-time members, but they will not necessarily be able to absorb all the ramifications that are specific to the various issues handled by those tribunals.

I have talked to people, some of whom work in the administration of employment insurance, some on the union side and some on the management side, and they have some major concerns about that. Division 6, which has to do with the Social Security Tribunal, probably demonstrates best why this bill is problematic in its scope. We are talking about a major change, a major reform to a structure that has been around for decades, and we have barely had the time to address it, given that there are 753 clauses to go over. Some people have presented their technical expertise for about 10 to 15 minutes and they answered our questions about the technical aspects. But, since our time for the witnesses was limited, we were not able to get to the bottom of things.

As I said, that is a major reform of something crucial to the way social programs are run in this country. This issue should have been referred for further study to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. We are going to talk about it for a few minutes and that will be it. This will be passed with the entire Bill C-38, based on a single yes or no vote.

We honestly cannot vote in favour of those 58 clauses or so that have been presented to us, simply because we don't have any reliable indication of their potential impact. We have had very little data about how effective a tribunal like that can be, and how it would adequately address issues such as regional diversity, which are key to the success of programs, and of the tribunals and boards of referees that will deal with those issues. As a result, we would not be able to support an amendment like that in any way whatsoever. But we are still going to try to amend it so as to improve this bill, hoping that our friends in the government will give our amendment due consideration.

Unfortunately, I only have the English text.

I move that Bill C-38, in clause 224, be amended by adding after line 43 on page 201 the following....

I'll wait until after.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Mr. Caron, we're going to have a general discussion, and then we're going to vote on clause 223. Then we'll move to clause 224, and I'll ask you to move it.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Great.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

That's how I'll proceed.

I have the speaking list. I have Ms. Nash, Mr. Brison, Mr. Hoback, and Mr. Marston.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I guess I start from the question “if it ain't broke why fix it?”

4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

It's broke.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Well, I would challenge you on that. I think there are major challenges, for example, with the employment insurance system and the fact that only about 40% of Canadians who pay into it get access to benefits when they need them.

Certainly in my area in Toronto, not much more than a quarter of the people who are unemployed get benefits. So it's not that there aren't problems with employment insurance. Certainly we need a good review of employment insurance to take a look at some of the regional challenges, to take a look at the hours system and how that can undermine people's access to EI, and to take a look at how effectively retraining programs are doing. We are in a rapidly changing society with a lot of challenges in our labour market. Employment insurance is an adjustment program to help Canadians adapt to a changing economy. It is an adjustment program, so it's not designed to support people forever and a day, but it's designed to be there when people need it.

We'll have a further discussion about EI when other changes come up. But first I want to get on the record that I don't know why we're making this change to this particular part of EI, which is about the social security tribunal. I haven't heard anyone asking for it. I haven't heard anybody who is involved in EI or OAS appeals ask for it. I don't know where this has come from.

I know there are many changes that should be made to EI, but I just don't see this as being one of them. I also want to echo what my colleague has said, that this should not be before the finance committee; it should properly be before the parliamentarians who sit on the human resources skills development committee for examination.

My colleague mentioned the number of appeals that get referred to the boards. I also want to make the point that almost 54,000 appeals were made in the 2010-11 year, but about half of them were resolved before a hearing because officials recognized there was an error, there was an oversight, or there was incomplete information.

One of the major challenges we're hearing about today from unemployed workers is the great difficulty in getting to speak to a real person. It used to be that you went into an office, you spoke to someone in the UI office, and you made your case. You talked to a person who knew your community and might have known you, and you could explain the situation. Now people are lucky if they can ever get through on a phone line. We've heard awful examples of people waiting for hours to get through on the phone line.

My point in raising this with respect to the social security tribunal is that rather than having these thousand part-time people, who represent labour and management across the country in the regions, who are there in the community, who people can go and speak to face to face—and they are encouraged to go and meet with them face to face—we're going to have these 39 people across the country. I'm very concerned about access and about people's ability to actually get face to face, even if it's only through Skype, with these folks, and about how long the wait time is going to be, because a lot of people who get laid off are living paycheque to paycheque. If that paycheque stops coming in...and we've seen so many workplaces across this country that have closed unexpectedly. People show up for work and the door is closed: no paycheque. Often you're owed back-pay. Often you're owed vacation. You're owed severance.

Then, when you go to apply for EI, if there's a problem, you have to wait. People can't pay their bills. So a speedy resolution...especially when we're finding that so many appeals are resolved quite quickly when people do get access to a real person to speak with who can resolve their complaint.

I want to say that I'm opposed to making this change, which, without adequate study, has the potential to further limit people's access to get their due justice when it comes to making a claim for EI and EI benefits. In a country that's changing as rapidly as Canada is, and with the global economic changes taking place, I think we owe it to Canadians to have a strong and effective labour market adjustment program that can help people when they get into difficulty through no fault of their own when they lose their jobs.

At a time when our economy is still so sluggish, and so many people are still out of work—our unemployment rate is still higher than it was before the start of the last downturn—it's the wrong time to make it potentially more difficult to get EI. If we're doing anything, we should be making strides to see how we can make people's lives easier as we go through this downturn.

I'll conclude my remarks there, Chair.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you.

Mr. Brison, please.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Chair, I remember that, in the past, the Conservatives were against centralizing government operations, but in this case, they are the ones pushing for centralization.

The ironic part is that it doesn't just indicate a change in direction of government; in this specific case, the previous operation was cost-effective. It was efficient. The decisions, we were told by witnesses, benefited from and were informed by.... In fact, the decisions were made close to the people, to the industries and the regions being affected.

When you look at the overall job numbers in Canada, for instance, we do know that unemployment is almost two points higher than it was four years ago. But when you break it down by regions and by provinces, you recognize that almost 70% of the jobs created in Canada last year were created in two provinces, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There's a balkanization of the Canadian economy. We're hemorrhaging jobs in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes.

So this is a time when a less centralized approach actually makes more sense and is even more essential. I find it not only a reversal of Conservative historic policy of being opposed to centralizing these types of decision-making bodies, but also, at a time when the nature of the work and the nature of the decisions being made require regional sensitivities because of the balkanization of the Canadian labour market and economy, I think this is a very wrong-headed decision.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you, Mr. Brison.

Mr. Hoback, please.

June 5th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Thank you, Chair.

I'm going to be very short and simple here.

You know, we hear this complaint from the NDP all the time about not enough time to go through this, but if they spent less time complaining about the fact and more time working, they'd probably get the work done.

I think it's a very straightforward process that we're seeing here in the social security tribunal. We're getting rid of duplication in the administration. We still expect the level of service to be more than adequate and to be professional and proper. We still expect that to happen. I don't think anybody else will say that it's not happening.

As you look at the government and our fiscal situation, and at the ability to make sure we balance our budget books by 2015, we have to look for efficiencies. We have to take advantage of new technologies that have come into play. In this case, if you look at the Internet and if you look at Skype, as Ms. Nash talked about, there are lots of new technologies in play where we no longer have to be face to face, necessarily, to hear an appeal.

Again, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. This is just the straight movement forward of making government more efficient yet still providing proper and efficient service, and saving the taxpayer money while doing it. It's very, very simple.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Thank you, Mr. Hoback.

Do you have a point of order, Ms. Nash?

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Yes.

Mr. Chair, as you know, we may have political disagreements, but in the spirit of wanting to go through this process—we have spent long hours together and we will spend long hours together going through this—I just have to say that I really don't appreciate Mr. Hoback lecturing us and implying that the NDP members on this committee are lazy because we have a different view—

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

I didn't say that—

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

You've said that we spend more time whining about work than doing the work. I find that offensive. I would really appreciate not being lectured by members on the other side. I'd rather just stick to the issues.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Rajotte

Okay.

Mr. Hoback, do you want to address that?