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Evidence of meeting #18 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was board.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Janice Charette  Deputy Minister, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
Karen Kinsley  President, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

In this global economic climate, it was very important that we not impose job-killing payroll rates.

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

If I may, basically, the answer is they were not consulted. The decision was made at your level.

11:40 a.m.

Janice Charette Deputy Minister, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Perhaps I could help respond to Mr. Lessard's question.

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

If you do not mind, I would like the minister to answer, as it was a political decision.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

That woman is the chairperson of the commission, which makes her the expert in this area.

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

It was you who made the decision, not, as you say, that woman.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

I did not make the decision. It would not have been possible.

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

When I say you, I mean that it was your government that made the decision.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

We are trying to....

What we wanted to do was to prevent job-killing payroll taxes from going up. The freezing of the EI premiums is estimated to be a $4.5 billion injection into our economy, so that we can keep people working in these tough times. The rates are frozen, so that—

May 5th, 2009 / 11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Fine.

If I may, my intention was not for you to justify the decision, but rather to establish that it was made at your level—meaning that the government made the decision and that it was not on the recommendation of the two competent bodies.

When Bill C-50 was passed and received royal assent in June 2008, a decision was made to set up a $2 billion fund. Can you tell me where that $2 billion came from?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

There were several questions there. What I'd like to point out is that the CEIFB was proposed by the government, it was voted on and passed by Parliament, and we're moving to put the board in place. We expect they will set the rates from 2011 going forward.

That was part of your question.

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

My question had to do with the role of the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. So the board is not set up. The commission was not taken into account. I would now like to hear about the initial $2 billion that was used to set up the fund.

Is it true that the money came from the public purse and that it was set up because we had run surpluses in the past, as your predecessor said?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

In any insurance type of program—CMHC has them, EI has one—there needs to be a buffer. If they're going to stand as independent accounts, they need to have some flexibility for times such as now, when claims may go higher than anticipated. This way, they'll be able to pay them out. The $2 billion is being established as a buffer, as would be normal practice.

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

I understand. Since the board is still not in place, you are using the same system as before.

Where is the $2 billion right now? Is it earning interest?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

It has not been transferred yet, no. We're still in the process of setting up the board and hope to have them in place to set the premium rates by 2011. They will be doing so, as they set them, in such a way that the account remains in a break-even position over time.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much. That's all the time we have.

We're now going to move to Mr. Martin, who has seven minutes.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you very much, Chair, and thanks to the ministers and their staff for being here this morning.

My first question is on EI. We have a 31% increase in people receiving EI in my own community. When you consider the statistics we're seeing now, that 99% of the jobless in Newfoundland and Labrador are eligible for EI, while 31% are eligible in Ontario, do you and your government think there should be one EI system for all Canadians, given that we're all citizens paying into the system and should expect that those services would be available to us wherever we live when we need them? Is it yes or no?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

First of all, those numbers—the 31% in Ontario who are eligible—are not an accurate reflection at all. Right across the country, more than 82% of Canadians who pay into EI and who don't quit their jobs voluntarily or go back to school—those who lose their jobs for reasons that aren't their own fault—are eligible, across the country.

It's important to recognize that the country is set up in 58 different EI regions. Each one of those regions is evaluated monthly, based on the local economic circumstances, and adjustments are made to accessibility. The worse the economy gets locally, the easier it is for people to collect EI there, and they can collect those benefits for a longer period of time. Already we have seen, in 32 of the 58 regions since October, an increase in the accessibility, which is good news for those who need it. And those people are able to draw benefits in some cases for up to 13 weeks longer, which is good for them to help their families in these tough times.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I hear you, and I've heard you say that over and over again in the House. But the folks out there who are analyzing this and working with people on the front lines who are trying to get EI so they can pay their rent and feed their families are saying differently. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, for example, was here last week suggesting we have a huge crisis that could be stopped. It seems to me that as Canadian citizens we should have the right to timely access to programs like EI when we need them. We obviously differ on statistics.

It's interesting that this morning I read in the paper that one of your own, Ms. Elliott, who is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party in Ontario, agrees with our position on this. She thinks Ontario is being discriminated against where this is concerned.

You talked about an investment in skills and training of $8.3 billion. In the Sault, we've had an increase of 31% in people collecting EI. We have a number of factories that have not stopped work completely but are slowing down. They would like to take you up on the training and skills development. They'd like to train their people, so that when they come out of this recession they'll be ready to go. But so far we've not been able to determine how we access that money, through the province or the federal government. It's not clear where the money is to come from or when it might be available. Maybe you could enlighten us.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

In our economic action plan, we tried to make sure that we could get these programs flowing quickly, so we structured them through existing programs. We have an agreement with the Province of Ontario to provide this kind of training, and we're expanding it. It requires negotiating and signing new agreements with them. We have signed several with the different provinces. We're in the process of signing more, quickly.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

So there's no agreement with Ontario today?

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

There is an existing agreement. We're going to be expanding it for the additional funds. My cousin is taking advantage of this program right now. She's been home with young children for a number of years. She's gone back to school to become a patient support worker. This is in Ontario and it exists already.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

We have a number of important industries in Sault Ste. Marie. I've gone and spoken to some of them, and one of the first things they'll say to me is, “Tony, how can we get our hands on some of that training money”? I've tried to help them, but we can't seem to find it. We don't know where it is or how they could access that money. They'd dearly love to get going and start training and retraining some of their people, so they wouldn't have to lay them off and see them leave town to look for work someplace else.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

I'm glad to hear that they're trying to do that, because that's what we're trying to do too. Actually, Service Canada is working with companies like that. They're happy to work with them to develop work-sharing programs, to advise on the training options. If there is a layoff coming, Service Canada has been excellent about moving in quickly, working with the employer, the unions, the employees, to make those information sessions available to them.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I wanted to ask a question about the new social housing program you talked about this morning. I heard you earlier in the month talk about this being a loan program. I have to say to you that none of the not-for-profits out there who are ready to go on new affordable housing are able to afford a loan. It's just not a route that they're willing to take. As for the 50-50, with tapped-out municipalities trying to access the infrastructure money, and some of them not even able to do that, where's the 50%? Where do you anticipate the 50% will come from to go with the other 50%?

I have two or three not-for-profit organizations in the Sault ready to go with projects that are developed and shovel-ready, but I know the 50-50 isn't going to work for them.