Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, vice-chair and committee members.
I'm speaking on behalf of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. We represent 200,000 businesses across the country, across sectors and across sizes with our network that includes 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade from coast to coast to coast. I am delighted to be here successfully this afternoon, and I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak about the importance of employment insurance program reform.
For a number of years, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been calling for a comprehensive review of the EI program, and the pandemic has further demonstrated the acute need for EI modernization. I appeared before the previous iteration of this committee just about a year ago, in May 2020, and in speaking to the need for EI reform I stated that in moving forward we needed to identify the reform needed to build a system that can respond to current and future workforce needs, ensure Canadians remain connected to the labour force, and ensure that somewhere there is a strong component of upskilling and re-skilling for displaced workers.
I say the same thing today. Our recommendation is as follows.
The Canadian chamber recommends that the federal government immediately start a tripartite-led comprehensive review of the EI insurance program through discussion and data-driven decision-making to ensure that the EI's governance, programs, policies and operations are viable and sustainable, responsive and adaptive, non-partisan, inclusive and relevant for current and future generations of Canadian employers and employees.
In the time I have remaining, I will make a few brief comments on aspects contained in this recommendation to provide further contextualization. I'm actually going to start with my last one and work my way back. Hopefully I'll have time.
My fourth and likely most important comment is that the EI system must be viable and sustainable. Under the current iteration of EI support, you have heard from ESDC officials that there is an additional $10 billion in EI benefits that are being paid under the expanded EI eligibility, admittedly mostly by government, as premiums are frozen, along with over $10 billion in expenditures for three additional benefit programs: the CRB, CRCB and CRSB. Further, over the past weeks in this review, you have heard recommendations that have included permanently expanding EI eligibility, changing zones, expanding sick leave and adding additional income supports, raising the payment floors and including other active measures.
Quite simply, how much does this cost and how can it reasonably be funded? I will return to my first comment and close with that in a moment.
Another recommendation within this is that the reform system must be inclusive. We believe that with one important caveat, which is the fact that the gig economy does not wholly equate to precarious work. Again, I spoke in front of a previous iteration of this committee at length in April 2019 about this and can further elaborate in the Q and A period, but the bottom line is that, until we determine where the challenges and issues lie with the gig economy, we should not be jumping to program solutions and any solutions should be optional, responding to the needs and desires of the gig workers and self-employed themselves.
Our third recommendation here is that this review must involve discussions—not consultations—that are tripartite-led, a true social dialogue. As a reminder, the EI system is supported seven-twelfths or 58% by employers, and five-twelfths or 42% by employees. Business and labour must be at the table in a meaningful way, and the EI Commission must continue to play a central governance role.
Our final recommendation is to first note that the EI program is complex. This review must be comprehensive, examining both parts I and II, with all the moving pieces therein. A necessary approach is to take a step back and look at modernization through a lens that focuses on the future of work and what is needed to have an adaptable system.
This includes some of the following points: (a) teleworking and working from home, suburbanization and ruralization, and labour mobility, both within and outside Canada; (b) professional pivots, upskilling, lifelong learning, education and training; (c) digitization, automation, industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence; (d) all sorts of workers: foreign workers, seasonal workers, older workers staying longer in the workforce, self-employed workers and gig workers; and (e), the foundation for all of this, economic competitiveness.
In conclusion, we must take a look at the big picture and look forward to what is needed and where it belongs, because not everything can or should fit into the EI program. We must look at how it could be afforded. In this regard, decisions need to be data-driven and costed. We can look at other examples, either internationally—at Australia, Denmark and Germany—or here in Canada, for example, the Canada pension plan, workers' compensation plan or the QPIP.
Thank you. I look forward to answering any questions.