House of Commons Hansard #275 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should, in accordance with international law, recognize Quebec's inalienable right to choose its political destiny and consequently its right to self-determination.

Mr. Speaker, I am sorely tempted to dedicate my speech to the member for Kingston and the Islands. You will understand how proud I am to make this speech, because constitutional dialogue requires a discussion, not of a distinct society but rather of what is as plain as the nose on our face, what is an accepted fact and a sociological reality: Quebec is a nation.

As you know, when international law recognizes the right to self-determination, the holders of that right are individuals who together are characterized as a people and form a nation.

First and foremost, let me state that on this side we are totally convinced that Quebec is indeed a nation, which is to say it has its own vernacular, controls its territory, has its own legal system, and possesses a proud history which is the focus for its collective feeling of belonging. Obviously, there is a fifth element in Quebec's right to self-determination, a collective desire for it.

I feel that it would be important, to say the least, and one of the most positive indications for our future, if this House were to acknowledge this morning that Quebec is a nation and therefore entitled to self-determination. An examination of international law shows that the right to self-determination means specifically the right to freely choose a collective destiny. Most often, but not always, this takes the form of a referendum process.

I trust that all of the hon. members speaking in this debate will acknowledge that Quebec is blessed with highly democratic and up to date legislation on public consultation. No parliamentarian could object to the fact that Quebec held a referendum last October. Nothing could prevent Quebec from holding a referendum in 12 months, 26 months, 3 years or even six weeks if it so desires, to determine freely its collective future.

There is a paradox here, because to foreign observers, even those well up on the Canadian political scene, constitutional reform has been central to the political debate in this country for the past 30 years. When we started talking about constitutional reform 30 years ago, there were two tendencies. One said patriate the Constitution first and include a Canadian charter of human rights. Mr. Trudeau chose to take the same position during the eighties, but the fact remains this was already being discussed in the early sixties.

There was a second tendency, mainly in Quebec, to say that the important thing was not necessarily patriating the Constitution which at the time, I may recall, had no official French version while half of its sections were already obsolete, so Quebec's political leaders said, and I am sure the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands will remember this, that the important thing was not necessarily-that was how Quebec's leaders felt at the time, in any case-to patriate the Constitution but to revise thoroughly the balance of Canadian federalism, which meant reviewing sections 91 and 92.

This would be the position held by all Quebec's leaders, whatever their political stripe, from Jean Lesage onward. Among those who succeeded Lesage, there would be this insistence that for Quebecers, the crucial point was not the Constitution as that last trace of colonialism but the fact that Quebec should have a certain number of powers which were sadly lacking. It was on this basis that constitutional reform was to begin.

Of course the process, which would go on for 30 years, gave rise to a number of political doctrines. Some people became experts on the subject, including Richard Arès, who spent much of his life examining the national question. Of course there were many others, and we can say that during the past 30 years, constitutional reform has given rise to three major political anchors for Quebec.

In the 1960s, the idea that Quebec should have a special status was picked up by Gérard Fillion, who, at the time, was editor in chief of Le Devoir . This marked the first attempt to amend the Constitution and to change the colour of the constitutional debate.

With Le Devoir , Gérard Fillion and a number of other intellectuals, it was felt that all of Canada's institutions required reworking. There was even talk of the Senate. There was increasing discussion obviously of an official languages act as well. There was a feeling of special status. In other words, the fact that Quebec, in addition to being a province, was a nation and had a special responsibility towards all French speakers in this part of North America had to be recognized.

With this idea of special status, it became clear that Quebec had to be seen to be a French society in a binational context expressed in all of Canada's major institutions.

This idea was set aside to some extent and gave rise, a bit later, about five years later, to the idea of associated states. Those who remember the political and constitutional debate in Quebec will remember this idea. The idea of associated states or two nations, on an equal basis, involved the idea of full equality, an idea that reached a much fuller and much more concrete conclusion with the idea, proposed by the Parti Quebecois and its president and founder René Lévesque, of sovereignty association.

The common denominator, however, in these three ideologies, these three constitutional doctrines, is that Quebec is a nation. Each time a Quebec premier went along to the constitutional table, it was in this context. There is a reason for our always making this claim as one of Quebec's constitutional demands, including in Victoria.

I found that a little funny. As some veteran members of this House will recall, the Victoria formula was not only about regional vetoes but also about giving Quebec more power over language and social policies. According to then Premier Robert Bourassa, however, that did not go far enough.

Will the House of Commons, which is supposed to be a fairly accurate reflection of Canada, have the courage to recognize that there are two nations in Canada and that one of them will therefore probably move toward full and true sovereignty? This, of course, will be achieved through a referendum to be held in coming months.

Yet, it is difficult to understand how, 30 years after initiating the debate on constitutional renewal, we are now considering Bill C-110, which all but ignores the major constitutional demands traditionally made by Quebec. Even without going as far as recognizing Quebec's right to sovereignty in a bill, how can a Prime Minister such as the one now in office, who has been a key witness to the events of the past 30 years in Quebec, believe that he will satisfy a single Quebecer with a bill offering nothing but a hypothetical veto that is not even enshrined in the Constitution.

What prevented the Prime Minister and his government from considering Quebec's major constitutional demands and ensuring that federal spending powers are defined in Bill C-110, for example? For the past 30 years, this has been part of a set of demands that have been renewed by every successive administration and government.

If the Prime Minister had been serious, he would have included a minimum of demands in Bill C-110, namely to limit federal spending powers, resolve the issue of residual powers, give Quebec more power over language matters, and recognize that Quebec is the only authority on language.

Even the Pepin-Robarts report, that Pierre Elliott Trudeau liked quoting from ad nauseam, recommended, besides a Confederation Chamber, the notion of recognizing Quebec as distinct, because, through its National Assembly, the Quebec government is the only real government ever to have been run by francophones in this part of the country. What would have kept the Prime Minister from recognizing that Quebec does have, regarding language, certain prerogatives?

The key issue of manpower is also at the heart of Quebec's demands. But this issue does not basically mean that, within the context of national standards, the Government of Quebec will be allowed to manage a program. That certainly was not what all the people who, in the past 30 years, recognized the need for Quebec to manage what could be call globally labour market policies had in mind.

Now the situation emerges where Quebec is told: "You will have the right to take back manpower programs, provided however that your program is compatible with our national standards". That is the crux of the problem.

How can they think that national standards could be established regarding something as changing and fluctuating as the labour market, when we know full well that, even within an economic space as small as the Quebec economy, labour market policies vary from region to region. The reality in the Gaspesian Peninsula is not the same as in Montreal. We find ourselves in a relatively disturbing situation, to the extent that those who launched the constitutional debate, those who worked to ensure that Quebec is treated more fairly and more in accordance with its status as a nation within Confederation, now find themselves with a constitutional proposal that is disappointing to say the least.

We could have gone a lot farther. That is part of the list of demands. What keeps us from recognizing Quebec as a distinct society? The term "distinct society" is absolutely meaningless. Just ask Library of Parliament researchers to go through the literature on international law. They will not find a legal basis to the effect that we are a distinct society. That concept is absolutely

meaningless in terms of what Quebec truly is and in terms of its nationhood.

The government, and in particular the Minister of Justice, who seems somewhat reluctant, will have to take notice of that. We understand that the Minister of Justice may not the best informed person regarding claims made by Quebec in recent years, but there are well informed people in cabinet, including the Minister of Labour, who has some experience on the Quebec political arena, and who may miss it at times. In any case, there are people in this government who know very well that Quebec is a nation, that it has a right to self-determination, like any other group forming a people and a nation, and that nothing will keep Quebec from holding another referendum when it chooses to do so. Quebec will hold a referendum when it has democratically decided to ask its citizens to make the inevitable choice.

In a debate like this, we cannot help but think of someone like André Laurendeau. In some respects, André Laurendeau is like a spiritual father to the Bloc Quebecois because he too, in his days, believed it was important to have a sovereignist front right here in this Parliament, to protect Quebec's interests.

For several years, André Laurendeau was the member for Montréal-Sainte-Marie. He accepted Lester B. Pearson's invitation to co-chair the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission. When he and his team tabled the preliminary report, the white paper, I think he understood something which is at the heart of the present political and constitutional wranglings in Canada. You will recall that he wrote "Out of disappointment will come the irreparable". The irreparable, of course, is sovereignty.

André Laurendeau had clearly understood that the federal regime's inability to acknowledge that there are two nations which must be treated as equals, that there are two nations in fact and in law which must engage in dialogue and treat each other as perfect equals, and that from this inability of the federal regime and those who personify it to recognize those two nations the irreparable will ensue. The irreparable will be-already is-that feeling. There is great satisfaction in seeing that in less than a decade the soverignist option has made a ten per cent gain.

There are not many examples of an idea which was initially perceived as being really marginal ending up with democratic backing that has become more and more solid; it is now headed toward a majority.

We are not wrong in this. I would like to state in closing that we in Quebec are committed, as is the rest of Canada, to engaging in a dialogue on the basis of what we are, through and through, which is a nation. Discussions between nations are on a totally equal footing. That equality will be made official in a democratic referendum, which will be Quebec's next rendez-vous with destiny.

It is my belief that today's debate ought to afford an opportunity, particularly on the government side, for recognition that Quebec is a nation, that it is entitled to self-determination, and that this right to self-determination justifies its demands for full and complete sovereignty.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Warren Allmand Liberal Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have read the hon. member's motion and listened to him very carefully. Despite his sincerity I have to tell him and the House in the strongest possible terms that there is no provision in international law which would recognize Quebec's effort to become a separate, independent state.

In the months leading up to the Quebec referendum on October 30, many statements were made regarding international law and the right to self-determination. Unfortunately those statements have led to confusion and especially a false impression that international law gives Quebec the right to secede from Canada.

Quebec has no right to secede from Canada unilaterally either under the Canadian Constitution or under international law. There is no principle of international law according to which Quebec has the right to secede from Canada. This is the conclusion that was reached by five international law experts who produced a study on the question at the request of the National Assembly's 1991 commission on Quebec sovereignty.

As one author put it in that recent study on self-determination, the inhabitants of Quebec "do not have a legal right under international law to secede from Canada".

What then is meant by the right of self-determination? A statement of the right is found in various international documents. For example, the charter of the United Nations states that one of the purposes of the United Nations is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and the self-determination of peoples.

The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights state that all peoples have the right of self-determination. Affirmation of a people's right of self-determination is also found in the United Nations 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations.

We must note immediately that these documents speak of people's right to self-determination, not the right of a province, not the right of a county, not the right of a city. In Quebec there are several peoples: the descendants of New France, the aboriginal nations, the Inuit, the descendants of the British settlers and many

immigrants who simply call themselves Canadians. We have to be very clear on that point.

Within the Canadian federation there is one province of Quebec but there are many peoples in that province, a point to which I will return in a moment. The first question to be answered is what does the right of self-determination mean? This is a difficult question which may be best answered by first looking to what is not included within a right of self-determination in international law.

Most important, a people's right of self-determination is not the same thing as a people's right to secede from an existing state. In most situations the right of self-determination must be exercised without causing any detriment to the territorial integrity or political unity of existing states.

The United Nations 1970 declaration on friendly relations states that the exercise of the right of self-determination must not dismember or impair, totally or partially, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states. This means that a right of self-determination must, except in unusual circumstances where a people is subject to a non-representative government, be exercised within the context of existing states. A people's right of self-determination then means the ability to participate fully and freely in the democratic process of governing the existing state. Certainly the population of Quebec participates fully and freely in the democratic process of governing Canada. This was the conclusion of the five international law experts who prepared a study for the national assembly's 1991 commission.

Canada is a federal state in which the province of Quebec has its own national assembly that exercises exclusive powers under the Canadian Constitution over such important subjects as property and civil rights, natural resources, education, health and social services and the administration of justice, among other things.

At the federal level, representatives from the province of Quebec hold roughly one-quarter of the seats in the House of Commons. Many of Canada's prime ministers, including the current Prime Minister, have come from Quebec. Quebec is and has long been well represented in the federal cabinet. The Leader of the Opposition is also from Quebec. Quebecers, therefore, play a large role in governing the nation both through their own national assembly and through their representation in the federal Parliament and government.

Quebec has its own legal system, based on French civil law. Quebec is always represented by three of the nine appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada. The current chief justice is also from Quebec.

Quebecers also benefit from a strong set of cultural and linguistic guarantees under the Canadian Constitution, under federal legislation, such as the Official Languages Act, and through various programs and activities. Cultural initiatives are strongly supported by Radio-Canada, the Canada Council, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada and other Canadian institutions. Therefore, the population of Quebec enjoys everything that a right to internal self-determination implies.

Since self-determination is a right of people, there has never been a consensus exactly on what the term people means. To some, people is synonymous with the population of a state, such as the Canadian people, especially where the entire population of the state participates fully and freely in the governing of the state. Others take a broad view that the term people means any group that meets certain basic criteria, such as common language and history, along with a sense of collective identity.

Given these different views of what the term people means, it is not self-evident that the political entity known as the province of Quebec, which embraces a diverse range of people and a diverse range of cultures and linguistic groups, would qualify for the spectrum of people able to assert the right to self-determination.

Quebecers have had a direct say on their future within Canada through two referenda held in Quebec in the last 15 years. In both 1980 and 1995 a majority of Quebecers reaffirmed their commitment to Canada and rejected attempts to break up the country. Even had the result of the referendum been yes to the question formulated by the Parti Quebecois government, international law would not have recognized the yes vote as a legal basis for the creation of a new state.

International law demands that a political entity meet several specific criteria before it can be considered a state. Along with satisfying these criteria, a political entity trying to achieve statehood must also receive international recognition. Recognition by other states is both an acknowledgement that the new state meets the criteria of statehood and an expression of willingness to enter into relations with the new state.

Therefore, any movement toward the independence of Quebec would not only be without legal foundation in international law, it would have to meet the legal criteria for statehood and the practical necessity of international recognition, which in both cases would be extremely difficult.

In conclusion, and in response to the motion before the House, there is no right in international law for Quebec to secede from Canada. To imply otherwise, as this motion does, is to depart from international law in contravention of Canada's right to continued existence.

Those who support such a proposal as is before the House today are living in an unreal world of illusion and misrepresentation. I suggest the House reject this motion.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Reform Party to speak against this motion on Quebec's right to self-determination. I want to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve for presenting this motion and thus recognizing the right of this federal Parliament to debate and judge this question.

In speaking against this, it is the position of the Reform Party that Quebec has no inherent right under international law to self-determination because it is neither a colony nor an occupied country, and that the Quebecois are probably not a people within the meaning of international law. For this I cite almost exclusively the work of the Bélanger-Campeau commission on the sovereignty of Quebec. The strongest argument in support of the view that Quebec is neither a colony nor an occupied country is found at pages 382 to 383 of its report:

"According to those who support Quebec's accession to sovereignty, the right to self-determination constitutes the basis of the alleged right of the Quebec people to form a distinct state, but pursuing the same reasoning, many of their opponents and the spokespersons for most aboriginal peoples take the position that:

If Quebec can opt out of Canada then obviously sections of Quebec that preferred to remain part of Canada could opt out of Quebec.

This analysis is based on a postulate we believe to be erroneous, according to which the right to self-determination implies the right to independence".

The report then suggests on pages 419 to 422 that the principle of self-determination implies the right of people to participate in shaping their political, economic, social and cultural future, and that due to the principles of respecting the territorial integrity of states, self-determination could result in independence only in the rarest circumstances.

The report suggests the principle really only applies to non-autonomous or colonized people who have been recognized as such by the United Nations. This is clearly not the case in Quebec.

And this quote again from page 422: "On the evidence, that is not the situation of Quebecers nor that of the various minorities within Quebec's territory".

For non-colonial peoples, self-determination has "at least for now stopped being a principle of exclusion and became one of inclusion; the right to participate. The right now entitles peoples in all states to free, fair and and open participation in the democratic process of governance freely chosen by each state". The report goes on at page 425 to endorse this position.

Another quote: "One cannot reasonably maintain that Quebecers are colonial people nor that they are deprived of the right to their own existence within the Canadian federation or exercise their democratic rights. Consequently, the Quebec people have no legal basis for invoking the right to self-determination to justify a future accession to independence".

The conclusion of the report is clearly stated:

"From the legal point of view, a possible accession to sovereignty by Quebec cannot be based on the principle of the equal rights of peoples and their right to self-determination, which implies the right to independence only in the case of colonial peoples or of those whose territory is occupied by a foreign power".

The second point is that the Quebecois are not a people within the meaning of international law. Even the Bélanger-Campeau commission is not sure whether the Quebecois constitute a people.

At page 418 the commission recognizes that the Quebecois can either be French speaking or English speaking. At page 425 the commission states:

"Some authors have tried, with some success, to establish the existence of a Quebec or, alternatively, French Canadian people".

Although the commission is not explicit, undoubtedly its members were aware that for the purposes of international law, a nation is defined in Black's Law Dictionary as follows:

A people, or aggregation of men, existing the form of an organized jural society, usually inhabiting a distinct portion of the earth, speaking the same language, using the same customs, possessing historic continuity, and distinguished from

other like groups by their racial origin and characteristics, and generally, but not necessarily, living under the same government and sovereignty.

Obviously given the ethnic and sociocultural make-up of modern Quebec society, only the pûre laine Quebecois could arguably be considered a people. While they constitute a majority of the Quebec population, they do not constitute a majority in each region of Quebec. This produces a curious result, that if the Quebecois pûre laine are a people and if they have a right to secede, they could not claim the right to territorial integrity. Therefore Quebec separatists cannot have this both ways.

If the strict definition of the word people is applied, only the aboriginal people in the north would likely qualify. This is clearly not in the interest of sovereignists and quite probably the reason why the Bélanger-Campeau commission did not explore the point further.

While Quebec does not have the right to self-determination, this does not mean that whatever Quebecers decide in a referendum is unimportant from a democratic standpoint. We in the Reform Party have said it is very important. However, the Government of Quebec would also have to admit to the importance of a large number of Quebecers opting for federalism. So far it continues to be a majority. Even if a minority opted for Canada this would also constitute an important democratic fact which the Government of Quebec would have to take into account.

From the standpoint of the Reform Party and I believe from the standpoint of the majority of Parliament, the motion is not based on international law or fact. Quebec does not have the right of self-determination other than by negotiating its future in Canada and with the rest of Canada.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Hochelaga for a sparkling address which had the added advantage of reminding me that I have been there before. My colleague, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, also brought me back to time past.

I advise the hon. member opposite to beware of experts and especially people who claim the title of expert. I was also invited and gave evidence as an expert before l'Assemblée nationale de Quebec on these and related issues. I admire and respect the five experts who have been cited very often by the Quebec government and others for their different interpretations. They are experts but I would have thought in other domains than those in which they gave their opinions which might suggest that perhaps l'Assemblée nationale did not do its homework.

I have little difficulty in returning to the point made by my colleague, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, in international law. There is no explicit joining of the right of self-determination which is a comparatively recent principle of international law with the fission or break-up of existing states or with the outright entry into independence.

If we trace the history of this principle, it is related, as so many things in contemporary constitutionalism are, to Emperor Napoleon and the liberating ideas of the French Revolution which sometimes are put forward without necessarily the intentions of the founders.

The spirit of liberalism, the spirit of nationalism and the spirit of independence are somewhat antinomic and conflicting principles of the heritage of the 19th century, the 19th century of the French Revolution, and carried through into the 20th century in Woodrow Wilson's 14 points. I suppose the apogee of the concept of self-determination as a historical imperative, not a legal one, meaning the break-up of large multinational states, was reached in the Treaty of Versailles.

The tragedy is that it was a principle carried historically to its logical and perhaps foolish conclusion. Most historians today would trace as one of the causal factors of the conflict in World War II the creation of a vacuum in central Europe by the creation of a plethora of mini states, incapable of forming common economic policies and incapable of co-operating militarily to resist the larger threats from the east and west, from Nazi Germany and from the Soviet Union.

This is one of the reasons why in San Francisco in 1945 the principle of self-determination represented a learning from the lessons of history and less enthusiasm for the categorical imperative that some had asserted: that every time one is identify as a nation or a people-the terms in the UN have been used interchangeably and somewhat confusedly-one did not have to break up a state to assert one's right of self-determination.

The classic demonstration of this is the principle that the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce referred to, friendly relation and co-operation among states. It was a symbolic ending of the cold war. It is the last great act of east-west relations. It supplements the United Nations charter. It is a code of conduct between communist Russia and the west when the cold war is still on.

It contains this very important historical exception. It was agreed by all parties that there was nothing in the principle of self-determination put in the declaration of friendly relations requiring the break-up of existing multinational states, specifically federal states like Canada and the claimed federal state, the Soviet Union, which specifically were adverted to in the friendly relations conference agenda.

One can find it over the whole 10 years of the history of this. It was pleasant to be reminded of it. I wrote several books that I thought were persuasive on this some years ago and it is nice to have them brought back.

Let me come back to present reality. If members look at the situation in Bosnia, at Yugoslavia, I suppose some might even argue that what has happened there is worse than what existed before, a centralized authority imposing unity on a multinational society.

If self-determination led to the break away, members can see the rule of reason emerging in the current settlements. One saw immediately with the Vance-Owen plan for Bosnia 11 cantons on the Swiss model, and one said it will not work. There is no legal imperative requiring it. It historically does not make sense.

As one follows, as Secretary General Boutros-Ghali has, the trend away from Vance-Owen to Owen-Stoltenberg to what we could call the Clinton or the Dayton plan, there is the 11, now down to 3. The implicit element in it is that two of the three may rejoin their neighbouring states, their so-called mother states.

What we are really saying is we live in a period of historical transition where the main historical currents are contradictory. The trend to supra-nationalism, the imperative of larger and larger regional supra-national associations, economic, political, replacing the old military one, is accompanied by a fragmentation which most historians would regard as a pathological condition today.

The future of the world community is not a series of little Basutolands, enclaves within larger states; nor is it breaking up viable economic political units into a plethora of smaller units. It is basically in recognizing that the lesson of today is constitutional pluralism. People can work together. A state that can successfully combine several different peoples or nations, if one wants to use those terms interchangeably, is a stronger state.

The unity comes from the diversity in the original sense of the term used by the great Austro-Hungarian and late Israeli philosopher who coined the term community of communities. It is that larger concept.

To a certain extent when self-determination is preached there is the false statement that international law requires it. It does not. International law is neutral. In a certain sense it is running counter to the preferred view of how history is unfolding: an interdependent world community and larger and larger associations transcending national frontiers, rendering nationalism in its pathological sense out of date, and making Bosnia-Hercegovina and the conflicts there an absurd survival at the end of the 20th century of an anarchic past that is better left behind. The nation state has been the master institution of western European thinking for the last 300 years, but it is out of date.

This is the biggest lesson. There is no international law imperative here. There are lessons of history but there are good historical trends, trends that rest upon sound scientific evaluation of the past, and there are the bad lessons. It is for us to choose on this basis.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve for presenting this motion, which I have here before me, and all other members who gave very well documented presentations on the subject.

It would be interesting to see the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce patriated to the National Assembly, if he tries to run for election once Quebec has opted by way of self-determination to obtain its sovereignty.

Historically, the Canada of today, of 1995, which is also the Canada of 1867, was created with the consent of the partners who joined the Canadian federation.

You will permit me to quote the first "whereas" from the British North America Act of 1867. It reads as follows: "Whereas the Provinces of Canada [Upper and Lower Canada], Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom".

There are, however, three other "whereas" clauses. The first "whereas" is crucial. The text continues: "The Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled"-that is the Parliament of the United Kingdom of 1867. The imperial Parliament of 1867 would never have enacted the British North America Act without the consent of the colonies, of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Provinces of Canada to form the Dominion of Canada, as we know it now.

So the consent of the colonies already established at the time of Confederation was vital to the existence of the Canadian federation as we know it today. Its existence is contingent on the continued consent, at least of the well-defined colonies that made up the preconfederational British North America and that were joined by the colonies of the Pacific coast, essentially today's British Columbia and, in 1949, the Dominion of Newfoundland, which decided to join the Canadian family.

We can see from the documents approved by the imperial Parliament following the Charlottetown and Quebec City resolutions that the consent of the colonies at the time was fundamental to the creation of the present federation. If constituents withdraw that consent at some point-and the real constituents are those who were asked in London: "Do you give final approval to the Quebec resolutions we agreed on?"-and this is what the British Parliament did in 1867. This was within their right; for all practical

purposes, they ratified the Quebec resolutions by giving them force of law. For all practical purposes, the imperial Parliament gave up its legislative authority over British North America in 1982.

As my colleague for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve pointed out earlier, Quebec has, of course, a people, a language, a territory, a history, rules and regulations, legal institutions, and a common will to live together, which are the basic requirements in exercising the right to self-determination.

I want to focus on the issue of territory. As we recently heard, our Reform colleagues, in particular their leader-I think the hon. member for Calgary West put less emphasis on the issue, since he felt uncomfortable with his leader's position-, would like to turn Quebec into a Switzerland-type country, that is to say, full of holes with enclaves and removable parts. This essentially amounts to asymetrical federalism at its best.

I see that the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands belongs to a totally different school of thought; he is already fully committed to Quebec's right to self-determination.

Although the hon. member for Calgary West was uncomfortable about explaining his party's position, he still referred to this Swiss-cheese Quebec, this Quebec full of holes.

One of the basic elements of the right to self-determination is territorial control. The Quebec National Assembly, our provincial legislature, has control over the territory it was given under the acts that led to establishment of the 1912 boundaries, according to the interpretation given by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1927. These are the present boundaries of Quebec, stretching from the Outaouais to the Magdalen Islands, and from the Gaspesian Peninsula to the Abitibi. This territory is clearly defined, here, with the Ottawa river, as well as with the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the U.S. border and the polar circle.

These are clear boundaries, over which the Parliament of Quebec has absolute power, and no one is challenging that. When we hear Quebec being described as Swiss cheese, full of holes, with enclaves, corridors and ports that would remain under federal jurisdiction, that does not reflect the reality.

No one is disputing the authority of the Parliament of Quebec over the entire territory of Quebec. Every rule of international law recognizes that a people, a nation has authority over the territory under its control at the time it achieves sovereignty.

If the people of Quebec had voted yes to the question put to them on October 30, there is no doubt that Quebec would have control over the entire territory of Quebec. No one is denying that every RCM, municipality and local government in Quebec is subject to the legislative and constitutional authority of the Parliament of Quebec under section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

That being said, in order for the territorial integrity of Quebec to be affected, the suggestion-I would say the seditious suggestion-would have to made that some portions of Quebec rebel against the legislative authority of the Parliament of Quebec, which neither Reform members nor our other colleagues in this House are suggesting.

I think that the greatest lesson we were taught by the October 30 referendum and will be again in the future is the fundamental respect not only for our institutions and our territories but also, fundamentally, for the people. Because sovereignty is not something that happens first and foremost at the institutional level but fundamentally at the grassroots level.

Because we have been living for decades, and even centuries, under a regime that largely reflects British values and precedents, we have a tendency to rely more on institutions than on the peoples for whom these institutions exist. However, when a people wants to achieve self-determination, there is a basic obligation to respect that fundamental choice.

On October 30, Quebecers said no to the question put to them. And it is with the utmost respect for democracy that everyone accepted that decision, even though it was, for all intents and purposes, taken by the smallest of majority.

In a democratic system, the rule is 50 per cent plus one. In this case, it played in favour of the no side. Had the results been reversed, the Prime Minister himself said that he might not have recognized them. But the rules cannot be set once the game is over.

These rules must be agreed on before the beginning of the game. For example, it would be preposterous if, during a final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers, the governors of the league decided, at the end of the best of seven series, that the series would now be a best of nine, because Toronto won. Again, the rules are established before the game begins. And the rule here is that the people is sovereign.

I am pleased that the hon. member for Saint-Henri-Westmount, who is here and who supported Bill 150 in Quebec's National Assembly, which affirmed Quebec's right to self-determination, now sits in this House, because she will hopefully convince her colleagues from the Liberal caucus of the validity of these claims.

This said, I will have an opportunity later today to speak at the report stage on Bill C-110 and to talk more about the bogus veto the government wants to give every man and his brother.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Before giving right of reply to the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, under whose name the motion we are presently debating stands, I want it to be very clearly understood by all members of the House that his will be the last words spoken on the motion.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I consider our debate particularly rewarding. I believe the word "gall" will pass in parliamentary language, but I will use the word "nerve" instead. It takes a certain amount of nerve on the part of our colleague and continued friend for Calgary West for him to rise in this House and say we are not a people, because, as the people of Quebec watching will have understood, the member, in his sometimes unparliamentary spontaneity, clearly said that he did not consider Quebec was entitled to self-determination, because Quebecers were not a people. I find something extremely disquieting in the desire to engage in dialogue on this basis.

I realize that there has been a federalist movement in this House and throughout our history. It is entitled to be heard and to speak. I do not think, however, that you will find many in Quebec, whatever the family, who will not acknowledge that we are a people.

Quebec's parliament, the National Assembly, has in three official documents acknowledged that Quebecers are a people and, in doing so, has accorded the province the right to self-determination. These documents, which have been fairly unanimously approved are: the act to establish the commission to determine the political and constitutional future of Quebec, the act respecting the process for determining the political and constitutional future of Quebec and the motion of the National Assembly of 1991.

When I was a student, I read with pleasure, whether the reading was assigned or optional I read with equal pleasure, the writings of the member for Vancouver Quadra, who joined with Senator Beaudoin in writing a book. I thought he belonged to a school that recognized Quebecers as a people. It is true that our being a people does not automatically entitle us, under international law, to the right to secede. What prompted the five legal experts to conclude that we did have the right to secede was the rejection of the 1982 Constitution. There is a convention in international law which says that a people cannot decide by itself it has a right to self-determination unless that right has been recognized. As part of their grounds for determining the right to self-determination under international law they used the fact that Quebec did not ratify the 1982 Constitition through the most legal of channels possible.

At any rate, as the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve I understand, as do my colleagues, that in a democracy one cannot be more sovereignist that democratic. One is equally sovereignist and

democratic, but by virtue of being as sovereignist as we are democratic, we are well placed to understand our right to hold a referendum in future. No smoke and mirrors on the part of the federal government can deny Quebec the right under a law passed by the National Assembly, a law on public consultation, to go to the people and offer them the opportunity to choose and to mandate their government to accede to sovereignty.

When that day comes and there is a majority behind that mandate I am sure our colleagues, both in the government party and in the Reform party, will understand that they have no choice but to sit down at the negotiating table and engage in a dialogue on the basis of total equality, nation to nation, as should have always been the case.

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 96, this item is dropped from the Order Paper.

Later today the House will go through the procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill. In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?

Quebec's Right To Self-DeterminationPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


On the Order: Government Orders:

December 1, 1995-Minister of Human Resources Development-Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development of Bill C-111, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders


Winnipeg South Centre Manitoba


Lloyd Axworthy LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-111, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this motion is to refer the new employment insurance bill to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. By referring the bill directly to the committee, we signal our commitment to invite and engage the largest amount of direct public participation.

This bill was derived from the very extensive public consultation which has taken place over the past year. The work of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development has pulled together much of that information and has provided extraordinarily valuable input toward the development of the original legislation. It is our hope that by giving the committee the earliest opportunity to listen to Canadians and hear their various points of view, we can improve the legislation even further and ensure that we get an active and involved commitment and engagement.

We all recognize that this is important legislation. It affects the lives of millions of Canadians. It is a major restructuring and modernization of a bill which will provide for new opportunities for people to get work and to have a hope of once again being employed.

We have come up with an approach which has been carefully constructed and is balanced and fair. It may not satisfy one special interest or the other but it does provide a proper equitable balancing of interests across Canada. We believe the bill is consistent with what Canadians want. We listened very carefully to them and we listened very carefully to what the committee said.

What we have heard is directly reflected in many of the recommendations and parts of the legislation. It upholds our responsibility to ensure the program is based on solid insurance principles while at the same time provides a strong combination of incentives which enable people to get back into the job market. It is about jobs; it is about people. It is about jobs finding people and people finding jobs. It has shown that we as a government and as a Parliament can construct a new system. We can restore for many Canadians an opportunity to once again become full participants in Canada's labour market.

If it is shown, as I believe it can be, that legitimate improvements and constructive proposals are needed, we will look to the committee to bring those ideas forward and apply its judgment and wisdom in that application.

For example, in the last week or so we have heard that some areas are concerned about work patterns in parts of Canada. We hope that the committee will take a careful look at that.

Minority groups have expressed concern that they will not have full access to training because of the new development of transferring training to the provinces. Some are concerned that their rights be protected. We certainly hope the committee will take those matters into account.

We are also very interested in how the transitional jobs fund will work to create good, solid, long term jobs for people who are in high unemployment areas. Again, we expect and hope that the committee can provide major guidance in this area.

These are just some of the issues I believe the committee may want to look into.

We should not lose sight of the hard evidence that has been provided throughout the debate which has been encouraged over the last week. The House and the committee will be looking at how the new program will extend eligibility for coverage under the program to over 500,000 Canadians, something they have not had before. We demonstrated that the change of going from a weekly to an hourly based formula will be equitable, particularly for tens of thousands of seasonal workers who work long hours for short periods of time and who could not qualify under the old system, or who were not given full credit for all their hours of work.

We have also spoken about the innovative family income supplement which has been widely approved across the country. It will provide 80 per cent of benefits for families of low income, those earning under $25,000, mainly single parents, by introducing a form of guaranteed annual income which has been talked about in this country for a long time. As a result, over 350,000 low income families will receive on average 7 per cent to 15 per cent higher benefits in the new program than under the old program. This is a true, progressive, liberal-minded initiative.

I mentioned new partnerships with all levels of government and of the opportunity for federal, provincial and municipal governments to concentrate their efforts where it counts, at the local level, in our communities, while respecting the responsibilities of all concerned.

In the brief time I have today I want to go back to the importance of developing this partnership for jobs, bringing the levels of government together to work in common, harmonize and work in partnership so that we can help create employment for Canadians in every part of Canada.

A key impact of this reform has to do with income. Not benefits but income. Providing ways for people to earn more money, to sustain themselves, their families and their communities is a key component of the objectives of the program. Many unemployed Canadians need more than just income support as a bridge between jobs. The new employment insurance system will build a better, stronger, wider bridge to help them make a more solid, long lasting connection to the work world.

The employment benefits we are proposing are made up of five new back to work measures and provide real, positive help to get people back into jobs. We have tested these measures and we know they work. We know that wage subsidies can help level the playing field for people facing a disadvantage in the workplace, especially women and young people.

I want to underline that we are seeing a 70 per cent to 80 per cent improvement in job retention, allowing 14 to 15 more weeks of work and up to $5,000 more a year in income earnings. This is far more than would be received under a benefit program.

Self-employment assistance will help people start a business. During the past two years, this program has helped 30,000 individuals start their own business and thus has created 60,000 jobs for Canadians.

Also in these employment measures are the job partnership projects. For example, one in New Brunswick is now enabling 1,000 older workers who lost their jobs in the forestry industry to go back to work, particularly in reforestation, rebuilding a resource, replanting for the next generation. They are now involved in passing on their skills and doing so in a rewarding and satisfying way.

There is also the individualized skills, loans and grants which, if the provinces agree, will enable people to use the opportunity to upgrade themselves so that they can get the new jobs available in the new economy.

Another tool, the income supplements, will increase the incomes of people by encouraging them to take jobs sooner. For example, this will help unemployed single parents to get back on their feet and gain new skills and experience. The early analysis of a self-sufficiency project we have been running in British Columbia and New Brunswick shows that the average hourly starting wage during the first year was $7.63 and that one-third of the participants were making at least $2 more than the minimum wage. Thirty-five per cent of single parents offered supplements leave welfare to work within a year compared to an average of 2 per cent or 3 per cent under normal circumstances. Again it shows that the tools work and work effectively.

We will be investing $800 million on these five extra tools of savings. This will be added to the existing $1.9 billion of our programs. There will be a total of $2.7 billion in helping people get jobs. Those who dismiss this reform as mere cuts should reflect on this number and what it represents in terms of new opportunities for Canadians. It means that 400,000 unemployed workers will get additional help to find a job. Therefore, those who are opposed to such reforms are basically saying to over 400,000 Canadians that they do not want to help them.

This legislation is designed to provide the opposite, to provide a new bridge and a new tool. I can only say we are very much looking forward to the active and engaged work of the committee. We hope it will provide us with an opportunity to hear the best judgments and accumulated ideas of Canadians and in particular, to let the committee help formulate the legislation in a way that can most effectively service its basic opportunity, which is to get people back to work.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I simply want to advise the House that for the purposes of this debate, hon. members are entitled to 10-minute speeches, without questions or comments.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the official opposition deeply regrets that the government should resort to this exceptional procedure and thus deprive the public of information, of a debate, televised for the benefit of individuals across Canada, on this extremely important bill.

At this stage, according to the usual procedure in Parliament for dealing with bills, we would normally be on second reading, and the official opposition would be entitled to one 40-minute speech, followed by 20-minute speeches by as many members as wish to speak. We could then propose amendments and keep the public informed.

The official opposition and the third party play a crucial role in ensuring that citizens are aware of the subject and substance of a bill as important as these unemployment insurance reforms which, over the years, will affect hundreds of thousands of Quebecers and Canadians.

However, within the very short time frame we have been allowed, we will hardly have time to say that this bill, despite all the denials of the minister and his attempts to claim the opposite, and despite the improvements he will make in the bill, and we will certainly participate in that process, that basically this bill is aimed at making more savage cuts in benefits for the unemployed.

This $2 billion in drastic cuts is in addition-I can never repeat it often enough-to this year's cuts of $735 million in Quebec and $620 million in the maritimes. Quebec will lose another $640 million by the year 2001.

Contrary to what the government implies, $800 million of this additional $2 billion will not be set aside for other active measures, as the information papers we have been given clearly specify. It is right there in black and white.

The truth is that this $800 million from the UI fund will replace the $600 million that used to come from the consolidated revenue fund, which means that, in reality, all of Canada will get only $200 million more over five years. What is true is that $600 million will come from the UI fund rather than the consolidated revenue fund, as indicated in the papers and information given to us by senior officials during the briefing.

The reality of this bill is that qualifying for UI will become much more difficult for women, young people, seasonal workers, new immigrants, and all those not already eligible. It will become much more difficult in a labour market of precarious, short term jobs that often arouse feelings of anxiety, frustration and despondency in those trying to make a living in such a market.

This reform targets certain classes of persons. It is directed at specific job markets, starting with the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec.

Looking at the charts prepared by senior officials of Manpower and Immigration Canada, we are astounded to find that certain classes of persons, namely repeat claimants, seasonal workers and newcomers, are indeed larger in eastern Canada and Quebec.

I think it is safe to say, at any rate, this is not a matter of human nature because this would mean that human nature has special characteristics in the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec that it does not have in western Canada. It is not human nature that is different, but the job market.

The official opposition will be participating very actively in this committee. Not only will we listen to every person or group of persons who want to come and tell us what is wrong with the UI plan and who expect this plan to really be an employment insurance plan but we will also denounce, every chance we get, this unhelpful attitude of hiding a deficit cutting measure behind fancy rhetoric.

The official opposition will make every effort to ensure that workers, in fact any person who may have to rely on UI, can have access to it in the way that is the most beneficial to them. Yes, some active measures are required, and we in Quebec have implemented such measures and asked for such measures to be implemented, so that people can have access to benefits derived directly from premiums paid by workers and businesses.

Having listened to the people of Canada and Quebec, we know that these active measures designed to help people find a job must not in any way take the place of jobs. We were told right across Canada, because we did tour the country, that the real issue is employment. It is not the will of people to work: it is employment.

Sure, we must do everything possible to help people qualify when there are jobs available. However, we must also stop making the jobless feel guilty by saying that it is their fault, particularly in light of the dramatic increase in the number of people actively looking for work, who can no longer tolerate not being able to live decently, have some hope, and have some stability in order, for example, to have children.

This bill seeks to introduce twisted family policy measures, and we do not hesitate to say so. What is needed is a true family policy.

As for the UI program, it should help by bridging the gap between jobs. Active measures should be left to the decision makers who are best able to decide. Quebec, as we know, wants to have total control over manpower policies.

It is unfortunate that the government withheld the information that would have put Canadians on track, in terms of the reforms needed, instead of merely making speeches that do not reflect reality.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the history of unemployment insurance in Canada dates back to 1919 when the concept was first discussed. It finally became a legislated labour market institution under the government of Mackenzie King.

Let me read some of the quotes from that great debate in 1940 which focused on the original intent of unemployment insurance:

We recommend to your government the question of making some provision by a system of state social insurance for those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to work, whether the inability arises from lack of opportunity, sickness, invalidity or old age. Such insurance would remove the spectre of fear which now haunts the wage earner and makes him a more contented and better citizen.

I have a second quote:

How much unemployment there will be and over what period it will last is impossible to forecast. But, whatever it be, there must be a great deal of unemployment which can only be dealt with in one of two ways: either by a considered scheme of insurance or by state doles, hurriedly and indiscriminately issued when the moment of crisis arrives. There can be no question which is the better way. State doles lead straight to pauperization. A well devised scheme of insurance preserves the self-respect of the worker and assists and encourages him to supplement it by provision made industrially through an association.

I am well aware that we are debating a motion to refer this bill to committee prior to second reading and that the government will tell us that doing so is supposed to provide the committee with greater opportunity to make amendments to the bill. However, as we all know, the fact is that this mechanism which the government introduced into the standing orders shortly after taking power, has been consistently used to limit debate in the House and as a mechanism to speedily move controversial legislation through the parliamentary process in a manner which minimizes opposition.

I vehemently oppose sending the bill to committee prior to second reading. I believe that every member of Parliament should have an adequate opportunity to speak to the bill in the House of Commons, where they may both pose and respond to questions from their colleagues and opposition members. By drastically limiting debate, the government is demonstrating its complete disdain for such a parliamentary process.

Nevertheless, this is a House of free speech and I have written something which reflects my view of Bill C-111. Goodness knows, it is always a challenge to pique interest in House debates. In any event, I give the House my version of the 12 days of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas the Minister of Human Resources Development, known as HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us one more long awaited non-reform. Carried along on the mantra of job creation, we received our year end Christmas gift: employment insurance.

On the second day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us two hard-working Canadians who, despite their considerable financial contributions to UI over all of their working lives, died without ever having received a penny of benefits: taxed to the grave.

On the third day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us three French Canadian leaders who, to no one's surprise, babbled on incessantly about Quebec and how unemployment in Quebec was distinct from all other unemployment in the rest of Canada and who felt, as always, that no one understood them.

On the fourth day of Christmas, the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us four calling premiers from the Atlantic region; calling for this, calling for that and finally, completely worn out from all of the calling, the minister of HRD called it quits to reform and went back to tinkering.

Five suffering regions, formally known as ten equal provinces, are all demanding more from less. Regional development boondoggles remain an active ingredient in the magic of creating jobs, jobs, jobs.

On the sixth day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us six government strategists laying future plots for further tax grabs. After all, the implementation of the employment insurance scheme does not begin until July 1996, with a phase-in period to full implementation extending to the year 2000.

On the seventh day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us seven assistant deputy ministers swimming in UI cash surpluses. These new found friends of the finance minister will help him meet his deficit target of 3 per cent of GDP in hidden taxes, EI premiums and not reduced spending.

On the eighth day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us eight milking tax collectors who targeted the part time worker, the working mom and the small business owner. So much for tax relief; just continued taxes on the tax oppressed.

On the ninth day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us nine drumming seasonal workers who expressed outrage at being encouraged to accept available jobs in the shoulder season. But the government forgot to mention that under the new rules, claimants can still receive UI benefits equal to as much as 110 per cent of their earnings from employment.

On the tenth day of Christmas the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us ten piping journalists who heralded the miracle of changing UI to EI and gave us the new meaning of "un".

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us 11 dancing parliamentary committee members who, as the good Liberals they are, followed Government Orders to limit debate and refer Bill C-111 to committee before second reading, another promise broken by a government whose promise was for openness.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the minister of HRD, having no understanding of the meaning of insurance, gave us 12 leaping bureaucrats to promote jobs and growth. They called this new program the job fund. This $300 million initiative is sure to sustain at least the 12 jobs enjoyed by these bureaucrats.

Merry Christmas.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Saint-Henri—Westmount Québec


Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the motion before us today, since it will allow us to consider Bill C-111, on employment insurance immediately.

With this motion, the government shows the importance of this legislative measure and the need to immediately undertake detailed consideration of its content.

The proposed reform is a very complex one. It has been discussed for months and months now, openly and publicly across Canada, and if there is one consensus that has emerged from these consultations, it is to give a new orientation to the entire unemployment insurance program.

It was quite a challenge: how to give a new direction to unemployment insurance? During these consultations, a number of ideas were proposed. What we have before us today represents a real change of direction, a major reform of what used to be unemployment insurance. It needs to be really well understood, which is why we shall need to take all of the time available in

committee to study this change of direction and to ensure that the bill before us will really meet the objectives we have set.

Those objectives are, of course, part of our overall job strategy. I believe that each and every person in this country understands just what a priority it is for all Canadians have jobs, to keep their jobs, or to create jobs. Unemployment insurance reform was considered in that overall context. It is but one element in this government's strategy for maintaining jobs and creating new ones, not a strategy in itself.

Over the years, we have seen that the unemployment insurance program as it existed led to a number of problems. First of all, we have seen how very quickly the costs have risen. Just think, in 1982 the program cost $8 billion, while by 1995 it was up to $16 billion. With the passing years we have seen the program being overused. When I say overuse, it is certainly not my intention to blame workers who receive unemployment insurance benefits, as the official opposition seems to imply, but it is a fact that over the years, the unemployment insurance plan had become more like an income support plan. We also found that the system was overused by employers to the extent that it influenced their hiring approach. That is why we had to get back to basics.

We also found that over the years inequities had developed in the system. It was designed at a time when employment was widely available, when people worked from 9 to 5, 35 hours a week. That is no longer the case in 1995. So a number of inequities had developed in the system, and I am thinking more particularly of part time workers. Working part time has become a way of life, so how can we make the system available to part-time workers as well?

We also found that the system tended to favour those on higher salaries, when we looked at how benefits were distributed. Could we restore a measure of equity to the unemployment insurance system? That is why what we have here is a thorough reform. This is a new system that wants to give workers and employers an incentive to maintain jobs and create jobs.

So there are three important elements in this reform. Number one: unemployment insurance benefits; number two: employment benefits, and number three: a transitional job creation fund to help the most disadvantaged regions in our country. I think this reform is comprehensive in its approach to these dimensions.

I would like to say a few words about employment benefits, because since this reform was announced by my colleague, the Minister of Human Resources Development, we have heard a number of views on these employment benefits, how they will be implemented, how we will work together with the provinces to give our workers an incentive to be on the labour market and our employers an incentive to maintain jobs.

I think it was very clear that in this reform the government was intent on developing pro-active employment measures. That is why it has specifically identified five employment benefit measures. The government intends to develop, implement and evaluate them with the provinces. So, imagine my surprise at discovering last week that the Bloc Quebecois in its opposition day motion was criticizing the unemployment insurance reform, saying it increased overlap and duplication.

I must say that I could see our friends opposite had not yet read the bill, because the reverse is clearly true. We are in fact trying to avoid overlap and duplication. I also heard it said that the federal government wanted to supervise the provinces, because the bill defined requirements for employment measures. So, here again, you can imagine my surprise.

The bill talks of guidelines. There is nothing about national standards. It talks about guidelines. There are six different guidelines. Let us have a look at them and see how a provincial government could object to them. The first really aims at avoiding overlap and duplication. Clause 57 of the bill provides that we are to aim for: a ) harmonization with provincial employment initiatives to ensure that there is no unnecessary overlap or duplication;

That seems clear. Every effort must be made to ensure that there is no overlap but rather complementarity when a province already has employment measures.

In this regard, as far as Quebec is concerned, I must tell you that it is quite a challenge, because there are now something like three service delivery networks in Quebec. There is the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, which has offices in all regions of Quebec; the Travail Québec centres, which are scattered throughout the province; and the Employment Canada centres.

Even within the province of Quebec, there is an obvious need for harmonization between the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, the Travail Québec centres and the Employment Canada centres.

This is one of the guidelines; there are five others that show our desire to be as flexible as possible. I cannot see how a province could object. But again, this bill will be referred to a committee for consideration and we will see how it can be enhanced.

Looking at the overall impact of this bill on all Canadian provinces and at Quebec's situation, I can tell you that Quebec comes out ahead. At the present time, for every dollar contributed, Quebec receives $1.33. After the reform, for every dollar contributed, it will receive $1.31. Quebec will still come out ahead.

In addition, like any other province, Quebec will have control over employment benefits, as it has always demanded over the years.

Both sides must show some goodwill. In this regard, I want to commend the open-mindedness of Quebec's Minister of Employment who, unlike the Bloc Quebecois, agreed to sit down with us to determine how we can provide better services to Quebec workers.

In conclusion, I hope that the committee will help improve and enhance the bill before us.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is not how I had originally planned to start my speech and, even though we are given only ten minutes, I would like to share my first reactions with the Minister of Labour.

She claims to have been very surprised by our response. She did not look that surprised when I saw her on television over the weekend, as she addressed a group of Quebecers, including members of the Liberal Party of Quebec, who reminded her and the public at large of the consensus in Quebec in favour of seeing all the money earmarked for employability development and occupational training measures as well as all employment-related services be handed over to the Quebec government, which must be in charge.

In our view, being in charge does not mean being responsible for implementing national standards or reaching national goals imposed by the federal government. This is a clarification I wanted to make at this stage. In a certain way, the Minister of Labour tried to divert the debate onto that subject. I would like to come back to the substance of this bill, such as the objectives that the Minister of Human Resources Development outlined this morning.

He started by saying: "You know, we are taking a special measure in the House to ensure that this bill goes to committee as soon as possible". He made this out to be positive.

It should be pointed out, and you know that it is, Mr. Speaker, that this is an exceptional measure, a type of measure that this government has used three or four times already over the past two years, supposedly to speed up the process. We must look at the context.

If consideration by the committee was so urgent, and I am putting the question to the government, why did it wait for so long after tabling the green paper and after last year's tour, to bring this bill back to the House? The government waited for something called the Quebec referendum on sovereignty.

It waited for the referendum, because it knew that introducing a bill that provides for cuts totalling some $2 billion, including $600 million in Quebec, might influence the outcome of the referendum. So, the government waited until after the referendum. Still, it could have tabled its bill a few days, or even a few weeks after the referendum. Instead, the government brings this legislation back to the House on the Monday of the last week before the Christmas recess.

Why? To get a better idea of what Canadians think of the bill. Oh, sure. The minister knows full well that December is like the summer months. The media are less interested in such debates, and the public does not read the papers or follow the media as much, because it is busy doing other things.

The government has the nerve to say that it is to make things easier. Come, now. The human resources committee will probably sit this week. What does that mean? Interested groups will be asked to submit briefs in January; in short, those wishing to present such a brief will have to take time during the holiday season to prepare a brief, have it approved by their officials, and make sure it gets here before the deadline. This is not democracy, it is just the opposite.

It is an old trick used by many bodies. I have seen it used by municipal governments, namely to present controversial projects during the Christmas or summer holidays. It is an old trick often used. It is not very clever, it has been done before, and anyone with any degree of critical sense can see right through it.

We are being presented with this and, of course, we will attend committee proceedings. But for the sake of this, we are sacrificing the debate which should have taken place in the House, starting with 40 minute speeches followed by 20 minute speeches by as many members as were interested in expressing their views, from both sides of the House, the official opposition, the government, and the third party.

But instead, the government wants to consult. The parliamentary secretary might remember the consultations we held last year in December. The weather was not very cold yet. We started in mid-November and kept at it until the Christmas holidays. We went all over the place, in every major city, and no one, no organization supported the government 's position, on the contrary. Between 75 and 80 per cent of the people we heard were against the government's proposals.

And this is supposed to be a government that listens? No, Mr. Speaker, it does not. It does remember, though. Last year, in every city it toured, it was met with protests. It remembers and is thinking: "If we act faster, we might hold the hearings in Ottawa, and people will appear in committee there".

I challenge the government to go and present its UI project in major cities. I bet it will not do it, hoping to proceed unnoticed, in the deep of winter. The committee will get briefs from national organizations, but not from citizens. I remember the last hearing, last year in Bathurst, when Acadians came to tell us how difficult and dangerous it would be for this part of New Brunswick. They

feared the worst, because of the cuts the government said it would make somewhere. This time, we are not going to do the same.

As opposition critic for training and youth, I would like to take the last few minutes I have left to tell you how much damage this bill will do to young people in particular. The minister was saying: "This bill is very progressive". I say this bill is regressive. The minister was talking about fairness for everybody, I say that, on the contrary, it is unfair for young people. Why? Because from now on, to be eligible to unemployment insurance, you will need 910 hours of work, instead of the present 300 hours.

This bill is not only bad for young people, it is also bad for women who re-enter the workforce. After raising their children, many women would like to get a job, but they will be in the same situation as young people. This legislation is also regressive for new immigrants looking for jobs after landing in this country.

The 910 hours mean 26 weeks at 35 hours per week. This is a considerable number of hours.

Before that 20 fifteen-hour weeks, that is to say 300 hours of work, were enough for first time claimants to qualify for benefits. After the reform you will need 26 thirty-five-hour weeks, that is to say 910 hours of work, to be eligible for benefits.

Before the reform 12 fifteen-hour weeks, or 180 hours, were enough to qualify for benefits in areas of high unemployment.

After the reform 28 fifteen-hour weeks, or 420 hours of work, will be necessary to be eligible for benefits in areas of high unemployment.

Before the reform, people who were already entitled to unemployment insurance and who had worked 20 fifteen hour weeks, or 300 hours, were able to collect benefits in low unemployment areas. After the reform, they will be able to collect benefits if they have worked 20 thirty-five weeks, or 700 hours.

Here is another case of inequality. For frequent users, that is people who have been on UI three times in five years, there is an absolute guarantee that their benefits will be reduced by at least 1 per cent each year, which is at least 5 per cent in five years. This category of unemployed workers will definitely lose out. And the government says yes to equity? What the minister is saying about equity is that a number of people who were working less that 15 hours a week did not have to pay UI premiums. Now, everyone must pay from the first hour of work. However, there is no guarantee that they will be able to benefit from it, quite the contrary.

According to the Canadian Labour Congress, in 1970, 77 per cent of unemployed workers were covered by UI. This percentage would be less than 50 per cent today. The Canadian Labour Congress estimates that, with the reform, two unemployed workers out of three will not be eligible for benefits. Is that equitable? Is that progressive? I say no.

Since you are inviting me to do so, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude by pointing out that if this reform had been known in detail in the form of a bill and if a real consultation was still going on in an appropriate context and an appropriate period, and if this period had been established before the Quebec referendum, I tell you sincerely that we would now be talking about other things in this House, because this reform would not have been adopted.

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12:50 p.m.


Herb Grubel Reform Capilano—Howe Sound, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak against the Bloc motion being debated today. The reforms of Canada's unemployment insurance are not only overdue. In many ways they do not go far enough and are too complex. While the reforms will impose hardship on some Canadians, they will at the same time bring much larger economic and social benefits to society as a whole.

I make this judgment after much study. In my career as a professional economist I was deeply concerned with the economic and social effects of unemployment insurance. In the mid-1970s I published a number of studies and organized an international conference that examined the effect of the level of benefits and ease of access to UI on recorded unemployment rates in Canada.

A few years ago I published a study that argued the large gap between Canadian and U.S. unemployment rates, which first appeared in the early 1970s, was caused by the increased generosity of our system initiated by Canadian reforms at that time. Incidentally the co-author of this study was Dr. Josef Bonnici, a former student of mine who is presently the minister of finance for the Government of Malta.

In February 1996 I will participate in a major conference of social scientists which will re-examine the issue of Canada-U.S. differences in unemployment rates to be held in Ottawa. My work on the effects of unemployment insurance on unemployment was fundamental economic theory which in turn guided reproducible econometric measurement co-authored by several colleagues and experts in this field.

Our results were verified by the economic council. It is fair to say that today even the left leaning part of the chattering class of academics, journalists and other intellectuals has accepted the validity of the basic premise.

Assar Lindbeck, a famous Swedish economist who is a strong supporter of social democratic policies, recently published a paper in which he noted that social support programs like unemployment

insurance induce the creation of institutions and ethical norms which increase the demand for the support programs.

The chattering classes in the past tended to infer from my analysis that I recommended the abandonment of unemployment insurance. I never did. The policy issue has always been the correct level of UI benefits and ease of access which maximize overall social welfare. There is no doubt the more generous the system is, the higher is the welfare of those receiving the benefits. However, on the other hand, the higher the benefits, the higher the unemployment, the higher the premiums payable by workers, the higher the risk of dependency of habitual users, and a host of other economic and social costs.

For a long time the political culture in Canada has resulted in the denial that these costs exist or, if they exist, that they are largely relative to the benefits received by unemployed.

About 15 years ago I was asked to be a guest on "Cross Country Check-Up". The views expressed during that period on the subject were most extreme. However, most important, as Claude Forget told me after he found that his report on the issue was ignored by the political system, the case for a less generous system has no political constituency quite simply because the economic and social benefits are diffused and poorly understood.

Those suffering from the reduction of benefits are clearly identified and well organized. No political party in Canada could afford to make the system less generous. This was true until recently when the Canadian debt and deficit began to threaten the very existence of all social programs.

The shift in the perceived political payoff from doing nothing and making UI less generous has not come easy to people like the Minister of Human Resources Development who used to deny vehemently even the existence of insurance induced unemployment and other costs. The timid and convoluted reforms to which his ministry gave birth reflect the struggle he had in admitting that these undesirable effects not only exist but are very costly to society.

Let me return to the Bloc resolution being debated today. It is true, as it states, that UI reforms will make some Canadians worse off, especially those in seasonal industries. However, my long and intense study of the UI system has convinced me that these reforms at the same time bring substantial benefits to many other Canadians so that overall welfare has increased. This certainly has been the finding of a number of royal commissions which looked at the question.

A basic theorem in economics is that under conditions like these, where some gain and some lose from a given policy, the government should offer assistance to those who have been asked to carry the burden of adjustment. After all it was a government created system, not their own fault, which caused them to enter these seasonal industries in excessive numbers and at non-economic wages. At the same time the rest of society which benefits from the changes may be expected to pay for easing the costs of transition for those asked to bear them.

For this reason I take the opportunity to urge the government to stick to its reforms and possibly strengthen them while at the same time make more generous provisions to ease the pain of transition felt by those affected adversely and directly by the reforms.

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1 p.m.

York North Ontario


Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the motion made by the Minister of Human Resources Development to refer Bill C-111 to the standing committee.

We have every reason to move forward with a thorough examination of this bill by a committee of the House. We have every reason to allow an early public review of its provisions. We have no reason to hold back and nothing to gain by preventing the broad consultations necessary with such an important piece of legislation.

All members of this House recognize that this is a very important bill. It has been the subject of vigorous debate and intense questioning from all sides, yet throughout the debate we have seen something very rare: the unanimous agreement on the central point of this legislation. We all agree that we need to reform the old UI program. Throughout all the debate and questioning, no one has suggested that the status quo is acceptable. No one has suggested that we can afford to leave things as they are. Everyone has spoken of the need to find a better way to help unemployed Canadians.

This rare unanimity reflects a broad consensus throughout the country. More than 100,000 people who took part in the consultations said we need a better jobs system for Canadians. Almost nine out of ten Canadians told us we need a fundamental overhaul of the old UI program to make it work. Provincial leaders, business groups, professionals and community organizations have spoken clearly over the past weeks about the need for change. Bill C-111 presents a clear and progressive agenda for change.

Now we have an opportunity to hear from Canadians about this agenda. Members of the House have an opportunity to subject the bill to the rigorous examination of standing committee hearings. We have an opportunity to use our time well over the coming weeks to make the debate on Bill C-111 more inclusive, to open up the process, to consult and to listen before we proceed with the legislative process when the House resumes.

It would be inexcusable to delay these consultations. Every day we delay we put jobs and hope for thousands of Canadians on hold. Every day we delay we are perpetuating a UI program that is not only out of date but is actually hurting the people it is supposed to help. We are perpetuating a system that leaves too many Canadians

stuck in the past when what they need is a springboard to help them change, adjust and adapt to the future.

The new jobs system, employment insurance, will make it easier for people at risk to work longer and encourage employers to keep people in their jobs longer. Think about what that means. Think about what it means to the 400,000 Canadians right now who find themselves stuck in a constant rut of getting from one benefit program to another.

If the new system can get those people just one additional work week, we will save the entire system $50 million, money we can plough back into the system to turn that one extra week of work into two, two weeks into four, four weeks into eight. Instead of a cycle of joblessness we can create a new cycle of employment and hope for almost half a million Canadians who want to work and deserve an even break.

That is what this new jobs system is all about. Think what it means for the thousands of people who can move into new jobs created by small businesses across the country. Right now the old UI program is killing those jobs every day. A survey of small businesses in Atlantic Canada tells us that employers just cannot compete with the UI system for workers.

With our new jobs system we will cut insurance premiums, the tax on jobs, to assist them. We will create a system that supports employment and job creation instead of one that perpetuates unemployment. Think of what it means to the hundreds of thousands of job seekers who will get direct help through new employment benefits, help that is more effective, that is more flexible, that will get results faster than anything they can get now.

With wage subsidies, each year we will be able to help some 65,000 people get off benefits and into jobs. Studies show that these subsidies can help each one of these people increase their income and gain an average of 17 additional weeks of employment each year.

With earnings supplements we can help make work pay for some 75,000 workers each year, people who deserve more than the old UI treadmill. We know from joint pilot projects with New Brunswick and British Columbia that these supplements get results and help people secure their place in the workforce.

We will help thousands of Canadians each year create their own jobs through self-employment, a key driving force for job creation and growth in the new economy. Studies show that by providing the right kind of support at the right time, people who were without work can create businesses that last and create new jobs by hiring employees.

We can create new job creation partnerships, mobilizing the resources of the provinces, community groups and organizations across the country to help people adapt to the demands of the new workplace, increase their earnings and gain the independence that only a job can provide.

We can work with the provinces to help individuals through skills loans and grants, giving more opportunities for people to make a real investment in their own future, to get the kind of skills required to enter the job market of the 21st century from a position of strength.

We can make this kind of assistance, all of these employment benefits more accessible to more people: to some 500,000 part time workers who are not even covered by the UI program; to people who have simply been abandoned by the old system, marginalized by a system that does not reflect the realities of the 1990s.

Employment insurance is not just another version of the old UI program. It is truly Canada's jobs system for the 21st century. It is part of this government's agenda for jobs and growth. This agenda for jobs and growth is on track and it is working. We are getting the deficit under control in reality, not just in rhetoric. By 1997-98 the government's new borrowing requirements in relation to the size of the economy will be at the lowest level since 1969.

We are matching deficit reduction with an all out drive for job creation. Over the past year we generated almost half a million full time jobs, more than in any year since 1987. That is what this government was elected to do. We were given a mandate to get Canada and Canadians back to work. Bill C-111, employment insurance, is part of our agenda to fulfil that mandate.

Canadians need the opportunity now to review Bill C-111 through the kind of forum that only a standing committee of the House of Commons can provide. We can give them this forum now. We have no reason to put this very important review of an extremely important piece of legislation on hold. We owe it to Canadians to move forward. I urge all members of the House to support this motion so that we can look to the future.

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1:05 p.m.


Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel that it is my duty to take the floor today to support the motion put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Mercier.

We are now seeing the aftermath of the Martin budget presented last February. As we feared, and it is even worse in the opinion of many, the unemployment insurance reform hits the most vulnerable among us.

The people in my riding, Lotbinière, already have an axe to grind against the Minister, Mr. Axworthy, who, with his reform, has

deprived them of the services of the Victoriaville employment centre. In the middle of July, thousands of my constituents were by my side in an effort to save personalized services near their homes. We got the assurance that that minimum would be maintained.

However, since then, the minister has been avoiding me and any opportunity to meet with me in order to settle the issue. I can tell you this was a prelude to the harmful effects of the Liberal government's reform.

People were afraid, and rightly so, that their employment centre would become a mere booth, which would have forced them to drive over 100 kilometres to get person to person services; you can imagine their reaction now that the reform is truly coming to light.

Before dealing with manpower development, I would like to warn people against the series of measures that, for the most part, are to come into force on Canada Day, the 1st of July. It is already a sad day, the government chose the date well. The Axworthy reform will hit those most in need hardest-

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Order, please. I can understand that it is a slight oversight, but we must always refer to our colleagues either by their riding's name or the name of their department, not by their family name. I would simply ask the hon. member for Lotbinière to abide by that rule.

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1:10 p.m.


Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. An impact study by the federal government demonstrates that people whose income is under $25,000 will be those hardest hit. This shift in policy by a supposedly Liberal government follows the lead of the Ontario and Alberta governments. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that the people opposite are not Conservatives.

The government resorts to policies that smack of the Reaganism of the 1980s, and are still being advocated by the American right wing. Apparently, some Canadians have been contaminated.

It is an understatement to say that the most disadvantaged among us will be affected. Women, young people, and part time workers will be subjected to a treatment that is far from benign. Considering that 1.5 million part time workers are women, that women make up 70 per cent of the part time working force, that one third of them would prefer to work full time, that 40 per cent of part time workers are under 24, you can tell which groups the Liberals are targeting. Eligibility criteria will drive them onto welfare.

The qualifying period will be increased from 12 to 28 fifteen hour weeks, or from 180 to 420 hours. Part time workers working from 15 to 35 hours a week will be hardest hit. This new eligibility criterion will impact most on women, young people and new UI claimants, that is those asking for assistance for the first time.

These people will have to work 26 thirty-five hour weeks, or 910 hours. In fact, eligibility requirements will triple for those who are filing their first application. As I said, this will greatly impact on women and young people, whether at the end of their schooling or when they return to the job market after a long absence.

Moreover, while the government is trying to make us believe it is ready to withdraw from any direct commitment in manpower training, it is in fact ignoring the consensus reached in Quebec about the transfer of federal resources and powers.

The minister and his leader claim they are withdrawing from manpower training, but in fact they are once again suggesting what the then Quebec premier, Daniel Johnson, a Liberal, had described as a bargain agreement back in 1994. Under the bill introduced last Friday, if there is no agreement with a province, the money invested in training could be given directly to individuals.

How can Quebec adopt an efficient manpower policy- which is what everybody wants, even the National Assembly, unions and employers-when Ottawa could go over its head and get away with it?In the previous legislation, the minister did not have the power to make agreements with one province or a group of provinces. From now on, it will deal with anybody it chooses. Provinces will be considered in the same way as municipalities or local organizations. Previously, under the national legislation on training, the minister had to consult with provinces before launching a program in this area of jurisdiction. Now, no limit is placed on federal actions. The sky is the limit.

If we look at the way the federal government does things, it seems highly improbable that it will eliminate overlap and duplication in the area of manpower training. The 1994 offer provided for the withdrawal of the federal government with financial compensation.

Under the Training Loans and Grants Program, Ottawa will bypass the Government of Quebec by giving directly to the unemployed funds that used to be transferred to the provinces. André Bourbeau, the Quebec employment minister in 1991, has condemned this tactic, declaring that what was unacceptable was that this approach was a total improvisation despite the fact that more than ever before government actions regarding manpower training must be planned and based on priorities.

Two years earlier, the Forum for employment had been a decisive step in the claims of Quebec regarding the transfer of responsibilities in manpower training.

As I said earlier, it was at that time that partners in the Quebec labour market, namely unions, employers and the government, agreed to ask that Ottawa hand over all of the responsibilities regarding manpower training.

No later that last week, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed a resolution asking for the withdrawal of the federal government and repatriation of funds invested by Ottawa in manpower training.

Yet, both governments agree that changes are needed to manpower training programs. Minister Axworthy did declare, on page 30 of his discussion paper on the social program reform, the following, and I quote: "However, the system now is too hit-or-miss. That's why the results have been inadequate-There are too many mismatched programs, with inconsistent rules and too much red tape-Programs offered by different levels of government are often not coordinated. In short, the system must change."

In fact, the control that the federal wants to keep is only a pretext. Ottawa wants to use the $5 billion UI fund surplus to meet its deficit reduction targets. This clearly means misappropriating premiums paid by employees and employers, nothing more and nothing less.

Last Friday, the Conseil du patronat du Québec, whose members are definitely not sovereignists, asked Ottawa to leave manpower training to Quebec. So, if one considers what has been happening in the past few years, one realizes that men and women from all parties, of all political stripes, are demanding control over manpower training. I say it once again, I believe that Quebec or the Yukon, or any Canadian province, is in a better position to really know what is needed.

So, I wish that one day the federal government, as well as the hon. members opposite, will understand that not only manpower training, but also all related areas should come under Quebec jurisdiction. Money should not be given directly to the unemployed, but, for the sake of a consistent policy, we should be given all necessary tools and levers. When I say tool chest, of course I mean all the tools we have inside it as well. Not just the box, but the contents, are needed for the thing to really work. Like the tools in their chest, people too need to find a fit within a province, whatever the province.

Whether that province is Quebec or one of the maritime or western provinces, I think we are all grown up enough to do our homework on our own. Only this past week the Conseil du patronat du Québec submitted a document, the stated purpose of which was to prove that federalism can work very well with decentralized manpower training. I am not worried in the least; over time the federal government will learn, and our friends across the way will realize that there is a place for everyone. Let us give to each his due. Then those with jobs, those without jobs, everybody will be happy.

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1:15 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to oppose Bill C-111 because I see this as the government playing political football with the UI system.

I had the opportunity recently of doing a householder questionnaire in my riding with regard to UI. Out of 1,110 replies, 608 said the government should get out of UI and turn the entire program over to joint management, as it is already being funded by employers and employees.

I have to go along with that when I look at the cost of administering the unemployment act today: $1.2 billion taken right off the backs of the working people. It is too unmanageable.

If there are concerns in terms of the unemployment insurance program, it should be left up to the people who are contributing directly to it, the workers and the employers, not the government. This government, along with the other governments, has done absolutely nothing with regard to correcting unemployment.

Out of that survey, 436 or 39 per cent said to tighten up and streamline the existing programs; 675 said to give employers and employees greater say in how it is run; 633 said to have the same qualifying period across Canada and forget all these differences; 628 said to shorten the period people can collect; 608 said to establish a separate fund for fishermen outside of the UI program; 569 said there should be a longer qualifying period but only 369 or 33 per cent out of 1,110 said to lower the amounts people can collect.

From this survey there seems to be a widespread awareness with regard to seasonal workers. In my constituency there are a number of seasonal workers in agriculture, tourism and forestry. These are the three biggest areas in my constituency. These are the three biggest contributors to the UI program. They see nothing here that would do anything to help that situation in order to collect.

Families are hard pressed in Canada today. We look at what is going on. We wonder what has really happened here. We have forced both parents out into the work world in order to pay rising taxes. We have lost the total concept of family unity because of government policies.

I regard this tax grab by the government as just another policy, another penalty to put on the working people, another way to keep the government satisfied with the way it lives and not the way the working people of Canada have to live.

Why are so many people unemployed? What has the government been doing for two years? This is the question out there. We can

talk to educated people coming out of our universities. They are the people looking for work. What has the government done? Its fancy spin doctors put in all kinds of things they have done, this and that, but the bottom line is the unemployment level is still there and the people on welfare are still there.

There is a mine waiting to come into production in northern B.C. It is called Kemess. There has been a large amount of money spent on the exploration work of this mine. There are a lot of people waiting, a lot of jobs waiting. They went through the whole scenario, through the provincial jurisdictions. They went to every office they had to go to.

The province passed the environmental part of it. It passed everything. It signed off. It told these people to go ahead. Now comes the federal government. Here comes this caring, sharing, worrying federal government. It says: "We checked this lake out and there are nine pair of bull trout and so this mine cannot go ahead". Five hundred jobs this caring, sharing government has put on hold; $350 million. It means nothing to the people in the House sitting over there. Do we really have much faith in any program regarding unemployment which the government can bring in? I think not.

Where has industry gone? What has happened to our jobs? We spend too much. The government spends too much so it has to raise taxes. When we raise taxes we drive industry out. When we drive industry out we have high unemployment.

We listened to the government. It made promises in its beautiful fancy red book. It was presented on a platter for the people to look at so they could judge the government. This was before the election. It mentioned the GST. The GST has hit employers something fierce. They spend a lot of their time after hours trying to collect taxes for the government while not getting paid for it.

They have no more holidays like they used to have. Again it takes away one or both from the family so the government can feed off the taxpayer. The government promised it was to get rid of the GST. Liberals stood on the platforms all across the country. They swore to the people out there because they wanted their votes. They said the GST will be gone within two years. If I remember correctly the Deputy Prime Minister offered to resign; another unkept promise and the GST is still there.

The big fear now is maybe the Liberals will try to introduce something else twice as expensive. They say they will change the name: UI to EI, unemployment insurance to employment insurance. I ask the hon. members on the other side, what is the cost to the taxpayer of the government's changing a lousy name in order to introduce this?

Why could you not still call it unemployment insurance and make your changes, because one of you wanted to get a little star on a book beside your name? That will cost us another million dollars or so. You think people out there are stupid. They are not stupid. They know exactly what you are doing.

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1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I hesitate to interrupt any member at any time but I ask members for their co-operation to direct all their interventions through the Chair and not directly across the floor at one another.

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1:25 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I ask members on the other side if they really think the people out there, the taxpayers, the working people, the people who have to give up their home lives in order to support the government, do not know what is going on. I think they know full well what is going on. The government will have to answer to them in a few years, unfortunately. In Canada that is what it takes, years and years of trial and error.

Here is another example of government regulations. The cost of logging on the British Columbia coast has gone from $67 per cubic metre in 1992 to over $100 per cubic metre today. Does government, federal and provincial-we might as well throw it in because it is one and the same-forget these people have to be competitive in the world market in order to sell their product? I think it does. When jobs shut down, when companies shut down we have unemployment.

It is nice to sit here and talk about how concerned we are for the Canadian people as we chase their jobs out through regulations, through overtaxation. We can sit here and pat ourselves on the back and say what a wonderful country we have. It really makes one wonder what a wonderful country we have.

We have a government that does not know how to live within its means. It can only raise taxes in order to survive. It says "this is a big deal, we are cutting here. The employee will not have to pay as much". It forgets it jacked the prices up for two years running. It jacks them up 7 cents and cuts back 5 cents. It is a five-year increase no matter how one looks at it. However, the government thinks we will overlook it because of the 5-cent reduction. People have a long memory and the government will have to answer to them at the next election.

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1:30 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB

Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion to refer Bill C-111 to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

While the proposals to reform the UI system contained in this bill will impact on all parts of Canada, it is widely recognized that the new system will have a significant impact in the Atlantic provinces.

By referring the bill to the standing committee, members of the House and many other concerned Canadians will have a full opportunity to review and discuss the legislation. For my part, I believe it is important that the special needs of Atlantic Canada be considered and understood and that the capacity of the measures presented in the bill to meet these special needs be understood. The standing committee will offer the appropriate forum to do that.

I am convinced that as Canadians better understand the new approaches being presented and the special employment generating measures contained in the bill, they will recognize that there are substantial advantages to be gained from this legislation, both individually and collectively, for our region. At the same time, the committee offers an opportunity to bring all our unique perspective to this debate to make sure that these changes look after the interests of Atlantic Canada and Atlantic Canadian workers.

In moving the new employment insurance act from the House to the standing committee, and in considering how we can best serve the needs of Canadians, there are a number of points that should be kept in mind by our colleagues in the House, by the members of the committee and by all concerned Canadians affected by this legislation.

To begin with, we should recognize the important role the Minister of Human Resources Development has had in developing this comprehensive new program. In particular, he should be congratulated for having already given Atlantic Canadians his full attention in these matters. He has taken the time to meet with us in the Atlantic Canada caucus. He has met with the provincial premiers. He has met with business and labour leaders from Atlantic Canada. He has met with many others who have asked to have their special needs considered.

There has been no shortage of consultation between Atlantic Canadians and the minister and his officials as they grappled with this very complex situation. I can only say that the minister's office has replaced my wife's phone number on my speed dial as the first call that I make for the last three weeks.

The minister has consistently shown a personal willingness to consider various and often directly conflicting points of view with an open mind and has demonstrated a capacity to understand and integrate them. It is my personal impression that he has shown a great deal of integrity in dealing with these issues and that he realizes there is a special concern for unemployed people in Atlantic Canada.

I would like to identify some of the very specific benefits of the new EI bill. First, the new bill will give broader coverage. According to the department as many as 500,000 more people will have access to employment insurance than had access to unemployment insurance. That is a huge improvement that comes as a result of the shift from weeks of work to hours of work as the measure to establish eligibility for benefits.

Atlantic Canadians have a short season where people can find large numbers of hours of work. Therefore, it is very important that all of those hours receive credit when establishing eligibility for benefits. By using hours rather than weeks, all of those hours will count in establishing the minimum requirement for benefits and also in establishing the duration of benefits. That is a big improvement.

We also have low income protection so that those people who, through no fault of their own, cannot find enough work in the course of a year to establish an income that would sustain a family can get relief. This new legislation on the threshold of the child tax credit offers the opportunity for up to 80 per cent in replacement income which is another significant improvement over the unemployment insurance program of the past.

Also, there is going to be a clawback on the high income side. I am very supportive of this. Employment insurance is designed to meet two needs, to serve two purposes. First, if one loses a job, employment insurance is designed to give income while one seeks employment. A second function is performed by employment insurance. It sustains a workforce in many communities-and many of them are in Atlantic Canada-where there is not sufficient income through employment to keep a family year round. Through the employment insurance program incomes have been supplemented to keep that labour force in place and keep those communities alive.

The argument for income supplements cannot be applied to high incomes. It does not serve that function. Therefore I am very supportive of a graduated clawback and I am pleased to see it in the new bill.

The employment benefits that are unrelated to the income benefits of which there will be five replacing 39 will be locally administered. The department in Ottawa will not be deciding on a whole series of programs, budgeting for those programs and then sending the package, in my case, to the local office in Fredericton. Rather it will be determined what are the criteria for those five programs and the local office can decide which of those five programs makes the most sense in my community and in my region. That is a big improvement. It will mean a lot more flexibility for the local office.

Another important point is that by distinguishing between eligibility for income benefits and eligibility for employment related benefits, many people who were ineligible for benefits in the past will be eligible if they have been on employment insurance over the last three years or the last five years in the case of maternity benefits. This is a big improvement.

In the past people would exhaust their benefits while they were in a training program, or in some other kind of a program and they would no longer be eligible. Now they will be eligible for the duration of that program.

In many cases the workers exhaust their benefits before their seasonal jobs start again. If someone is working in a park, in the woods or in a fish plant and draws a certain duration of benefits those benefits are exhausted but the fish plant does not open again for three weeks, four weeks and in some case ten weeks. Those people will now be eligible for the employment benefits in the package. They will have the opportunity to receive other kinds of programs that will allow them to supplement their incomes and therefore not have to go on income assistance.

Probably most important is that all members will have the opportunity to speak to additional improvements to this legislation. That is why I believe it is going to committee before second reading, so we can express to the committee the needs of Atlantic Canadians. I would like to speak specifically to the question of consecutive weeks as the method by which the rate of benefit is calculated.

I would make the suggestion to the committee when the bill gets there that all the weeks where work is involved should be considered when establishing the rate or the income level against which the benefit should apply. It is very important to recognize that in Atlantic Canada very often work comes in pieces. There are spaces in between those pieces of work. People could work in the spring, have the summer off and then work again in the fall. All of that work should be considered. Otherwise many people will be paying premiums on employment that will not be factored in when calculating income to establish benefits. That is very important. I hope the committee will be sensitive to this issue. I understand the minister made reference to it when introducing the bill. I see that as a good sign. I hope the committee will take it under consideration and make that improvement in the bill.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take part today in the debate on the second reading of Bill C-111, an act respecting unemployment insurance in Canada. I should point out immediately that I and the rest of the Bloc will be voting against this bill, which is underhanded, unfair, regressive, anti-social, anti-worker and above all anti-unemployed.

This new program will be called employment insurance instead of unemployment insurance. It could just as well be called poverty insurance, or destitution insurance. The government has finally tabled its unemployment insurance reform, which it kept hidden until after the Quebec referendum on October 30.

Basically, as a result of this bill, eligibility criteria will be much stricter and frequent users will be severely penalized. The first

victims of these cutbacks will be young people, women, seasonal workers and immigrants. Program cuts will total two billion dollars annually, including $640 million in Quebec.

The bill, which is to come into force on July 1, 1996, is worse than was implied in the leaks that appeared in the media. It is particularly hard on part time workers, in other words, individuals who work fewer than 35 hours per week. These wage earners will now have to work from 420 to 700 hours to be entitled to benefits or 910 hours for first-time recipients. I was a referee with the Unemployment Insurance Commission for eight years, from 1984 to 1992, and people kept telling me-benefit recipients, the unions and counsel-that the Unemployment Insurance should be improved, not dismantled as the Liberal government is doing today.

As a result of this bill, the number of people eligible for benefits will be considerably reduced. Consequently, the number of people on welfare will continue to rise over the years to come. In fact, stricter eligibility criteria result in a transfer from unemployment insurance to welfare. In Quebec, more than 40 per cent of new welfare recipients have a connection with unemployment insurance. They are on welfare because they are not eligible for unemployment insurance or because they have already exhausted their benefits.

The maximum duration of benefits will be reduced from 50 to 45 weeks. This measure will further accelerate the shift from unemployment insurance to welfare. I repeat, the federal government is offloading its responsibilities on the provinces. And I may add that since this Liberal government was elected on October 25, 1993, the number of welfare recipients in Quebec has increased by nearly 50,000, which means more than 800,000 altogether.

In my own riding, Bourassa in Montreal North, one third of the population is either on welfare or on unemployment insurance. Nearly 70 per cent of part time workers, in other words, 1.5 million, are women. I may point out that one woman out of three who works part time would rather work full time. Almost 40 per cent of part time workers are under 24.

As we might expect, the reaction of the union movement was quick, critical and utterly opposed to this bill.

The CSN and the FTQ, the two largest union federations in Quebec, launched a strong appeal to union members and the public to mobilize against the social upheaval currently taking place in Canada.

They criticized the bill in the following terms: "It is no reform, it is the blatant destruction of the thin net of this social protection plan. The situation is now very clear. Workers in Quebec can expect nothing more from the federal government, which has axed one of the main tools for distributing wealth in Canada. Ottawa is now making those in the most precarious situation, women and young people, bear the burden of deficit reduction. The worst and

most unacceptable part of this whole destruction operation is that it will not resolve Canada's financial problems. Enough is enough".

The two federations are demanding Ottawa return to Quebec its share of the unemployment insurance fund and they are asking Quebec to take every possible measure to recover all of its jurisdiction in the area of unemployment insurance. They point out that, since the federal government's withdrawal in 1990, the unemployment insurance fund has been financed solely by the contributions of workers and employers.

The FTQ and the CSN have decided to organize resistance and a strong and solid fight against this reform together with community and popular groups and in co-ordination with the union movement in Canada.

I take this opportunity to salute the thousands of workers in London, Ontario who are striking today to protest against the cuts proposed by the Harris government.

According to the CLC, unemployment insurance changes promote a low wage economy. Executive vice-president Nancy Riche said: "The federal Liberals are bent on dismantling and destroying our unemployment insurance program and they do not care what happens to thousands and thousands of unemployed Canadians".

This last series of cuts will reduce UI benefits by $2 billion, in addition to the $5 billion already chopped by the federal government.

The vice-president of the CLC went on to say:

"This legislation will take money from unemployed workers and put it directly into the pockets of business. It is an obvious response to business demands for lower unemployment insurance premiums".

The percentage of unemployed Canadians receiving UI benefits has fallen dramatically over the past five years. In 1990, 87 per cent of unemployed workers were eligible to benefit. In 1993, after the changes made by Mr. Mulroney's Tory government, this percentage was 64 per cent. When the Liberal Party came to office, this percentage dropped again to 50 per cent. With this reform, the CLC estimates that two thirds of the unemployed could be deprived of their right to collect UI benefits.

It must be noted that the UI program is fully self-financed. The federal government does not fund this program in any way. Furthermore, the UI fund runs very large annual surpluses. The accumulated surplus will reach $7 billion to $8 billion by the end of the next fiscal year.

Nancy Riche stated: "This legislation is just a way of robbing Canadians of their unemployment benefits. The finance minister wants to meet his deficit target and he wants to do it on the backs of the unemployed. It is all quite dishonest and very, very heartless".

For all these reasons, I am opposed to this bill and will vote in favour of the motion tabled by the Bloc Quebecois.