Thank you, Mr. Chair. I thought I had 10 minutes. That is what they told us in the documents, but fine.
First of all, on behalf of our organization, the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, I would like to thank you and the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources for this invitation to discuss Bill C-50, which would extend the duration of employment insurance benefits.
But, regrettably, we must disagree with this bill, strongly disagree.
First, we disagree with the approach. The government has in fact chosen to use legislation to play a political trick on the opposition when, on September 14, it could have simply announced a pilot project. The government obviously opted for a game of political chess, using the victims of the recession as pawns.
We oppose this bill because it creates two categories of unemployed persons: the good ones who have hardly drawn any benefits in recent years and the bad ones who have drawn on employment insurance in the last five years.
We disagree with and are very skeptical of the department's figures: $1 billion and 190,000 unemployed persons to be helped by the bill.
And finally, Mr. Chair, we disagree because this bill further complicates an already complicated piece of legislation by creating all kinds of exceptions and applications.
For 20 years or so, successive governments in Ottawa have worked to make employment insurance a many-headed beast, a complex act with multiple exceptions and special measures. With Bill C-50, the current government is adding further complications. It is replacing subsection 12(2) of the act, which is about six or eight lines long, with over three pages of all kinds of exceptions. So subsection 12(2) becomes 12(2.1), 12(2.2), 12(2.3) and 12(2.4), creating a distinction as to when employment insurance benefits are claimed—four different periods—and setting out up to six possible types of extensions depending on the number of years of premiums paid. The 20-week extension would be granted only to those who applied before June 5, 2010, and who paid, and I quote from the bill, “at least 30% of the maximum annual employee's premium in at least 12 of the 15 years before the beginning of the claimant's benefit period.” All other claimants, Mr. Chair, would receive less, often only five weeks. Most importantly, workers who have received more than 35 weeks of benefits in the last five years would be excluded. That, of course, means all workers in unstable situations, all seasonal, part-time and casual workers, all workers affected by economic slowdowns and those laid off, even for short periods, in recent years. Therefore, whole areas of our economy are excluded: the lumber industry, the construction industry and a large part of the manufacturing industry, to name only a few. The measure also excludes all workers with less labour market seniority.
As a result, some unemployed persons will receive a few additional weeks of benefits while others will not be entitled to receive them, even if they are from the same workplace, the same factory, and live in the same town, if not the same neighbourhood.
It is all too clear to us as well that the department's figures do not stand up, if only because the $1 billion announced is necessarily based on a calculation of the average benefits, of $348 per week, for 190,000 unemployed persons. That simple calculation, taking $1 billion and dividing it by 190,000, translates to an average extension of 15 weeks. Let me ask the following question, Mr. Chair: is the bill designed to grant that average extension? Of course not. And if there truly was the political will to grant a 15-week extension, why did the government not proceed accordingly, with a simple, clear and direct bill that is much less complicated than the one before us now?
Similarly, will there really be 190,000 long-term unemployed persons who can benefit from this measure? We seriously doubt it, Mr. Chair, based on two facts: first, just 27.9% of employment insurance recipients exhaust their benefits.
I still have two minutes, right?
Second, the bill excludes all those who have drawn benefits for more than 35 weeks in the last five years. That excludes a whole bunch of people. We think it is wrong to claim that Bill C-50 will provide $1 billion to 190,000 persons. We believe that older workers deserve more than these few weeks of additional discriminatory benefits and that they deserve a real assistance program for older workers, such as POWA.
In our opinion, the problems with the employment insurance system have not been addressed at all, including the pressing problem of eligibility. At the end of July this past summer, the 10 premiers of the 10 provinces called on the Prime Minister to resolve this problem. Most Quebec municipalities signed a declaration demanding that the eligibility question be solved at the federal level. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as many economists and observers, associations and unions, even the church, have all called on the government to resolve the eligibility problem.
In the present case, it is not up to us to vote on this bill, to defeat it or to pass it. However, we respectfully maintain that, in its current form, Bill C-50 is unacceptable. It is discriminatory. It does not represent the type of constructive and structural solutions that are expected to repair the employment insurance program. We believe, perhaps naïvely, that policy must provide solutions to problems and our highest legislative officials must be able to work together.
Can the Standing Committee on Human Resources make use of its voice and legislative powers to raise the issues pertaining to employment insurance and put them forth to the Canadian Parliament and before the Canadian people? We believe so. That is why we are here today, and that is our continued hope.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.