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House of Commons Hansard #271 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague opposite a question.

Given that the opposition motion before us today deals with the perpetuation of duplication and overlap in the area of manpower, how does he react, as a Quebec member representing the interests of Quebec in this House, to the resolution unanimously carried yesterday in the Quebec National Assembly requesting that the federal government withdraw totally and completely from the whole area of occupational training and everything that pertains to it?

First, what is his reaction and, second, how can he reconcile not acceding to the unanimous request or wish expressed yesterday by the National Assembly with regard to this government's so-called good intentions in recognizing Quebec as a distinct society? If the federal government were not to comply with the resolution passed yesterday, how could he reconcile all that, as an elected representative supposedly here to represent the interests of the Quebec people?

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois for his question.

I think it is relatively easy to reconcile the federal government's position and the interests of the people of Quebec, because our focus is on job creation. I believe that the Quebec government is looking into the matter and that future legislation passed in the National Assembly will also focus on job creation now that the referendum was defeated in Quebec.

As far as our reform proposal is concerned-and you referred to occupational training in particular-we feel that the bill now before the House of Commons makes it quite clear that the government intends to withdraw from occupational training completely.

I think that what must be understood with this bill is that the federal government would like all provincial and territorial governments of Canada to get together and look at how duplication can be eliminated. As I indicated in my remarks, as far as we are concerned, there is no question of us buying any occupational training courses whatsoever as we know them, because we must withdraw from occupational training with the consent of the province of Quebec.

I reach out to my hon. colleague and suggest that he ask his leader, who is very likely to become the next Quebec premier, to be not so kind but rather so wise as to come and sit down with the federal government to negotiate federal-provincial agreements on manpower training.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Georgette Sheridan Liberal Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, as a western Canadian, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on the motion of the opposition party concerning our government's plans to reform the old system of unemployment insurance in Canada.

So far most of the discussion that has taken place since the Minister of Human Resources Development introduced the new act on Friday last has focused on the impact in the eastern parts of the country, in Quebec and Atlantic Canada in particular. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these reforms will impact in all parts of Canada. Canadians in every province will be potentially better off because of them.

A number of respected and knowledgeable Canadians, including several from western Canada, have already spoken publicly in support of the new legislation. There is indeed broad support for the new program all across the country.

It is important that members of the House should assess the new employment insurance act in terms of what it will do for unemployed Canadians, not on how it fits with one political ideology or the other. It is also essential that we use this opportunity to help Canadians to better understand the new act, and especially to clarify some of the misconceptions that have arisen in some of the public discussion in the past few days.

The first thing that needs to be clarified is the question of the reserve, how in fact the reserve that is expected to accumulate in the insurance fund will be used. I raise this because there has been concern expressed that any surpluses that may accumulate will be used to pay down the government's debt or reduce the operating deficit.

Let me be perfectly clear on this. Surpluses in the insurance fund will not be used to reduce the government's debt or deficit. The unemployment insurance fund has operated under a separate set of accounts in the past, and that will not change with the new law. The federal government acts as a lender of last resort for the account when it is in deficit, which by the way must be repaid with interest. Alternatively, when the account accumulates a surplus it will earn interest.

Since 1986, following the recommendation of the auditor general of the day, the unemployment insurance account has been part of the government's consolidated account. This is simply to provide an integrated report of the government's financial operations.

As with the unemployment insurance account, the employment insurance account will be separate from the government's consolidated revenue fund. It cannot be used for purposes other than those designated in the legislation. Thus, should there be any surpluses in the employment insurance fund, which is self-financed out of employer and employee contributions, it will stay in the EI account. To make it abundantly clear, EI premiums will not be used to pay down the debt.

It is true that the unemployment insurance fund is currently in a small surplus position. It is true that the minister has said it is the government's intention to increase the reserve in the account. The reason for this is quite apart from issues of deficit and debt reduction. The reason for this is to ensure the stability and long-term sustainability of the EI program itself.

Members of the House may remember that during the last recession the unemployment insurance program was in serious financial difficulty. Benefit claims were climbing sharply, contributions were not covering the increased payouts, and the unemployment fund operating deficit was growing at an alarming rate. As everyone knows, for an insurance program a growing deficit between claims and premiums spells disaster.

The government of the day, in reaction to this impending disaster, was forced to raise premiums and then to raise them again. In a two-year period premiums increased by about 25 per cent. In fact over a five-year period premiums rose by 36 per cent, from $2.25 to $3.07.

The bad news is that these hefty increases in premiums, which I would remind hon. members are paid by the employers and the employees, were not enough to balance the account. At the end of the day, the fund eventually ran up a cumulative deficit of $6 billion.

People are tired of these big numbers. They are getting very used to them. I would like to put this in perspective. The impact of a $6 billion deficit on a fund like this means hardship for the employers and the employees. In the first place, employers were faced with higher payroll taxes at a time in the economic cycle when they could least afford it. In effect, this served as a drag on job creation. Some estimates suggested that the premium increases killed as many as 40,000 jobs.

As for the workers, they too were faced with paying higher premiums, which meant they had less money in their pockets after deductions. The increased premiums in fact reduced their after-tax income at a time when the economy needed stimulation in the form of more consumer spending.

Fortunately, the system is now back in equilibrium. As I said earlier, we have a small but positive surplus in the account. The financial disaster in the UI fund was averted. No one wants that kind of situation to happen again. That is why it is extremely important that we build a surplus in the EI fund.

Should we get into a position where the reserve is judged to be sufficient, it will allow us to consider whether further premium

reductions may be possible. The review of the adjustment to the reforms, which the legislation itself requires must take place by December 1998, will provide us with an opportunity to reassess the financial stability of the fund and contemplate any such changes.

Where did the suggestions for these changes come from? As it turns out, the proposal to accumulate a reserve in the UI account came from the House of Commons committee which studied this issue and whose members recognized the necessity of maintaining a stable account through the economic cycle. They recognized the need to have money set aside in case of a downturn in the business cycle and the consequent need for higher UI payouts should this occur. For this reason they made a recommendation to keep a reserve against that possibility. This is what the term insurance reserve is all about. It is a matter of prudent fiscal management and has nothing whatsoever to do with deficit reduction.

This is not to say that our government has lost any of its firm resolve to deal with the deficit and debt situation we inherited. We remain firmly committed to the objective set out by the Minister of Finance. We are meeting our deficit reduction targets through operating efficiencies and other spending cuts. In fact, we expect to make significant savings with the new employment insurance act. How can this be? There are some very practical ways this could occur.

The first is that we are reducing the cost of premiums for both employers and workers. We are restructuring the system of benefits as we come to grips with a program whose costs have doubled from around $8 billion in 1982 to over $16 billion this year. We are introducing a number of new administrative efficiencies which will reduce the overhead costs of operating the unemployment program and will result in a more decentralized program delivery system.

These are important measures for western Canadians and in fact for all Canadians. Reducing premiums means that western Canadians will pay less for the benefit program and will receive more back for every dollar they contribute. This will reduce the amount of cross-subsidization of the program by western Canadians.

These are big changes. Of course sometimes big changes need a time of transition. For this reason, government is committed to ensuring that in special needs areas, for example, where unemployment rates are higher than 12 per cent, those areas will receive transitional assistance during adjustment to the reforms.

In addition, the family income supplement will mean that low income parents on unemployment insurance could collect up to 80 per cent of their previous earnings. An important aspect of this new measure is that it treats the family as a unit for unemployment insurance purposes and not as a set of individuals.

We know that the best way to reduce costs in the unemployment program is to get people working again. It is not for nothing that the new program is called employment insurance. The new employment insurance program introduced last Friday contains a set of employment benefits that have been described as pro work. Some $800 million of the savings from unemployment reforms will be reinvested in these measures which are designed to help unemployed workers re-enter the workforce.

Western Canadian provinces will also have full access to the employment benefit measures. The objective of these employment benefits is to improve incentives to work and to reduce dependency on the EI system.

The new employment benefits include well targeted, results oriented measures such as wage subsidies, earning supplements, self-employment assistance, job creation partnerships and loans and grants to help workers improve their skills. Use of these employment measures will be tailored to meet specific labour market needs and priorities as determined within a decentralized context. The emphasis will be on flexibility, common sense and practical experience.

In addition, the future service delivery and decision making will take place as close to the local level as possible. Local skills and expertise will be used working in partnership with other levels of government, community groups, educators and others from the business community and labour organizations.

This new approach to unemployment assistance is based on the idea that effective programs can be designed and delivered in the region that will use them. Ottawa does not have to make all the decisions. It is based on our belief that people want to work. They do not want to draw UI time after time. With the new employment insurance program, we are giving them the tools to get back to work.

Other sceptics may ask: Will this innovative approach work in western Canada? The answer is, it already is. The human resources development department has undertaken a number of pilot projects in western Canada which are based on this model.

There is a job creation partnership project in the area of tourism in Medicine Hat. Twenty-six seasonal or displaced workers became involved in a project jointly funded by the federal department and the city of Medicine Hat to help the city plan for an expansion of its tourism industry.

In the area of business start ups, in my home city of Saskatoon there is a self-employment assistance project which has helped 17 entrepreneurs start new businesses. A number of these people have in turn hired new workers.

Another example is in that very important area of making the transition from welfare to work. There is a self-sufficiency project in the lower mainland of British Columbia, a co-operative venture which provides earnings supplements to help single parents get off welfare and get back to work.

These are all practical working examples, not just airy-fairy hopes and dreams. This is why we know it will work in western Canada just as its works in all parts of the country. The door is open for the development of co-operative ventures with each and every province.

With the new employment insurance act this government has opened the way for individual provinces to work with the federal government to develop unique labour market programs which meet the needs of individual governments, regions and people. Because of this, I must disagree with the motion put forward by the hon. member for Mercier. It is my belief that contrary to that motion this government is doing everything-

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

I am sorry, the hon. member's time has expired.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

December 5th, 1995 / 4:05 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think you would find unanimous consent for a couple of motions.

I move:

That members of the Standing Committee on Health be authorized to travel to hold a briefing session on Preventative Strategies for Healthy Children in North Gower, Ontario, on February 8 and 9, 1996, and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee.

(Motion agreed to.)

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I move:

That the House, pursuant to Standing Order 119.1(1), authorize the Subcommittee on HIV/AIDS of the Standing Committee on Health to televise its meetings scheduled for Wednesday, December 6, Wednesday, December 13 and Thursday, December 14, 1995 in accordance with the guidelines pertaining to televising committee proceedings.

(Motion agreed to.)

Recognition Of Quebec As A Distinct SocietyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Windsor West Ontario

Liberal

Herb Gray LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I wish to give notice that with respect to the consideration of Motion No. 26 under Government Orders, Government Business, at the next sitting I shall move pursuant to Standing Order 57 that debate be not further adjourned.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Philippe Paré Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, in her speech, the hon. member for Saskatoon-Humboldt claimed that, generally speaking, Canadians were enthusiastic and appreciative as regards the reform proposed in the bill.

I can say that I heard of lot of opinions to the contrary. Many people have opposed several aspects of this legislation.

The hon. member also says, and I agree with her on that issue, that some decisions had to be made to try to reduce, if not eliminate, the UI fund deficit. It is true that something had to be done sooner or later about that.

However, based on what principle of social equity does Bill C-96 lower the contribution of high income earners, while increasing that of those who hold precarious jobs, particularly part-time workers?

In the end, the deficit will be reduced at the expense of the poor, not the rich. I would appreciate it if the hon. member could comment on that principle, because I cannot figure it out.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Georgette Sheridan Liberal Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I do not disagree with the hon. member opposite that there are some discordant notes and most of them are being played from that region of this House of Parliament.

As with any bill there is going to be debate across the country but I would only say that the provisions of the bill responded to a need that committee members heard when they travelled across the country just over a year ago. They heard a need for reforms to the unemployment insurance fund and the act, not only to the underlying principles but to the way the service is delivered. This piece of legislation goes a long way to providing that service delivery.

The second question concerned what principles of social equity this was based on. The provisions of the bill will go a long way to ensure there is greater equity among all Canadians. I would quote again as an example the changes from a minimum number of weeks to hours to take in part time workers.

I am not sure if I misunderstood what the hon. member said or if he misunderstood what I said. In terms of using the employment fund to reduce the deficit, I went to great lengths to say that is not in fact what the reserve will be used for. If that was his suggestion, I will say once more that the reserve in the employment insurance fund will not be used to reduce the debt and deficit. The surplus which is there will exist as a contingency. If it ever becomes large enough it will be used to reduce premiums. That would benefit both the employers and the employees which is quite an equitable solution.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, first, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Champlain.

I am very pleased to participate in the debate on the motion tabled by the hon. member for Mercier, which reads:

That this House condemn the government for choosing to reform unemployment insurance in a way that maintains overlap and duplication in the manpower sector and thus prevents the government of Quebec from adopting a true manpower development policy of its own.

You will understand the relevance of that motion, following an almost historical event yesterday, in that a resolution was unanimously approved. Indeed, it is rare that western parliaments unanimously approve such resolutions. Yet, that was the case yesterday in Quebec City, where the three parties at the National Assembly, namely the Parti Quebecois, the Liberal Party and the Action démocratique, unanimously agreed on a resolution which provides, in part, that:

Quebec must have sole responsibility for policies pertaining to manpower adjustment and occupational training within its borders and patriate accordingly the funding allocated by the federal government for these programs in Quebec;

Within the current constitutional framework and in order to improve services to customers, Quebec must take over the control and management of various services pertaining to employment and manpower development and all programs that may be funded through the Unemployment Insurance Fund within Quebec's borders, and must therefore receive the funding appropriate to such responsibilities;

The Government of Quebec and representatives of business, labour and the co-operative sector agree to oppose any initiative by the federal government that would constitute an invasion of Quebec's prerogatives.

This is a resolution that was unanimously approved, by a vote of 96 to nil, by the three parties sitting in Quebec's National Assembly. The timing of this resolution is all the more appropriate, given a particular aspect of that reform mentioned on page 3 of the release. I am referring to the national employment service. It is said that "a modernized employment service will help out of work Canadians organize and conduct job searches. The computerized information network on the labour market will be more powerful and will tell people where they can find work in every region of the country. To that end, the implementation of an improved and universalized version of the service delivery system in Canada's human resource centres was announced in August 1995".

People in Trois-Rivières know all about the implications of that announcement. This is the other reason why I am pleased to speak today and to discuss, for the third time in the last two or three weeks, issues that plague Trois-Rivières.

These are linked to one of the aspects of the minister's reform and relate to the creation of a new national placement system. It will be centred on the Department of Human Resources Development employment centres, and in our area it has been decided that the regional administrative centre, the focal point of departmental activities in our region, will be located, not where it would normally and naturally be at Trois-Rivières, the regional capital which I have the honour to represent, but at Shawinigan instead.

This is, of course, a worthy city as well, one which knew glory in the days of natural resource development by the Shawinigan Water and Power, and is now represented as best he can by the hon. member for Saint-Maurice, the Prime Minister of Canada. The decision was made at the Department of Human Resources Development to have Shawinigan be the one to benefit from the regional administrative centre, rather than Trois-Rivières.

The question remains-since we are totally in the dark as to the reasons for this decision-was this a technocratic decision or a political one? If technocratic, it is confirmation of all of the public's prejudices against the judgment of technocrats in their ivory towers, away from life's realities, away from the grassroots, making decisions among themselves in comfort and behind closed doors. They hold meeting after meeting at which they convince each other of how justified their decisions are, without ever really worrying about whether those decisions are in the least bit rational.

If this is a technocratic decision, then we must condemn it out of hand, because it is based on absolutely nothing rational. I will offer you proof very shortly that it even contradicts the parameters set by the department itself.

The other explanation, perhaps a more plausible one, is that all-mighty, all-rational, all-giving politics were involved. That the Prime Minister might have let it be known that common sense and interest ought to prevail, including the self-interest of the member for Saint-Maurice, to ensure that the residents of his riding, with all logic, all rationality thrown to the winds, would reap the benefit of the creation of this new centre, rather than the region of Trois-Rivières, the city of Trois-Rivières, where workers are merely shuffled around, and never a job created. In fact, if memory serves, there was more than shuffling, there were cuts, with 58 positions lost due to office closures.

Whether technocracy or politics were involved, the decision is indisputably illogical and arbitrary. As I have said, it contradicts the parameters the department has set for itself with respect to creating these regional centres. The parliamentary secretary will agree there was some kind of rationale. It is never easy to make these decisions, and that is why you need certain criteria.

The main criteria when making these decisions include the population affected, the number of unemployment insurance recipients affected, the number of welfare recipients and the number of businesses and employers likely to hire people on unemployment insurance and welfare.

In each case, Trois-Rivières represents more or less twice the activity, population, number of employers and number of unemployment and welfare recipients. That is why Trois-Rivières is the regional capital. It is the largest urban area and the most important one in terms of economic activity and population in the whole region. That is why it made good sense to have and keep this kind of service in Trois-Rivières.

The department, for reasons that remain obscure, decided to locate the service in Shawinigan. The decision was not only arbitrary and illogical but also very unpopular. Since September, a petition has been circulating, signed by more than 25,000 people, condemning this decision by the federal government. Seventy agencies took the trouble to draft resolutions condemning this decision, including 40 municipalities as well as community agencies.

This case has attracted the support of the Fédération des caisses populaires and the Fédération de l'âge d'or, because the elderly become anxious when they see changes coming, while the regional federation got involved as well.

We are seeing a chorus of protests in the riding of Trois-Rivières and in the region, including Cap-de-la-Madeleine, a riding represented by my colleague from Champlain, Trois-Rivières-Ouest, in my riding, and even on the other side of the river in Bécancour, which historically has always done business with Trois-Rivières because of its location.

So this illogical and unpopular decision will have certain practical consequences. This is not about protest for its own sake. The fact is that the paperwork, under the new system, will be done by the regional management centre in Shawinigan. People will register in Trois-Rivières where the facts will be noted, without further processing. And any intervention subsequent to registration with the manpower centre, which happens in three out of four cases, according to our statistics, which always require additional processing, will be originated from Shawinigan instead of being processed in Trois-Rivières as is now the case.

The minister claims it will make no difference and will not in any way change the quality of the services now enjoyed by the people of Trois-Rivières and surrounding area. Nevertheless, we should realize that departmental investigations following registration and all appeals to the UI board of referees, for instance, will from now on, according to our information, be done in Shawinigan instead of Trois-Rivières.

Do not tell us there will be no drop in the quality of service for the Trois-Rivières area. That is just not true.

This decision is arbitrary, illogical, technocratic and political, and above all, it was made without any consultation with regional partners.

As I said before, the government has three alternatives, one being the status quo, leaving Trois-Rivières as is and setting up a centre in Shawinigan for the northern Saint-Maurice area, but the government should not locate a regional management centre in Shawinigan for the whole region, as it is about to do.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Madam Speaker, as I listened to the member's comments about this bill I became very confused. He started off criticizing the federal government's spending power, presumably under the whole aspect of manpower training. Basically what has been asked for is the federal government not use that power in such a way that it would create duplication and overlap within provincial jurisdictions.

I hear the federal government has consented to that and has basically said it will not use its spending powers. However, they want the government to do both. They want the government to give them the money in addition to curbing its powers. The reality is they want to have their cake and eat it too.

Worse than that, the hon. member went on to give us a dissertation from the national assembly in Quebec City which would, as I understand it, basically say we should have no presence there whatsoever. The member continued to argue why we should have a placement centre in his riding of Trois-Rivières. It would be more consistent if he argued there should be no placement facilities either in Shawinigan or his own riding.

It seems terribly inconsistent to me. The argument seems to have developed into "we want to have the spending, we do not want you around, but we kind of want you around too". We had a very looped discussion.

What really concerns me is the discussion about labour mobility. Basically what has been stated is that the federal government has no presence in the whole aspect of placement throughout the whole country as a nation. I do not know what the member is saying. If he has unemployed workers in Trois-Rivières and there are jobs available in New Brunswick or possibly Ontario or another jurisdiction, would he rather have those people in Trois-Rivières continue to be unemployed? Is that basically the philosophy behind these comments? Possibly the member could clarify that for me.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. It gives me the opportunity to pursue my line of thought and show the arbitrariness and illogic of the decision or proposal, because we hope it is still a proposal, to locate the centre in Shawinigan rather than in Trois-Rivières. It is a matter of good common sense. It is clear. Trois-Rivières is the regional capital of the Mauricie region; this is a fact.

Certainly, if we undermine its character like this, take the stuffing out of the regional capital, maybe we will no longer have one. Shawinigan may not be a desirable choice, because it is not as well situated.

We have to bear in mind that this decision is not only arbitrary, it is political. It has all the earmarks, at least according to our information. We can see that the Prime Minister is looking after his own political interest to show he is working for his constituents, while leaving far behind the collective interest of the Mauricie region.

There are two types of people. The people of Shawinigan, and they have a lot of good common sense, are very aware of the outlandishness of the situation. They are also increasingly uncomfortable, like the federalists in Trois-Rivières, who are well aware that, in logical terms, the decision is untenable, because, historically, economic activity has been focussed in Trois-Rivières primarily. They know a major centre has to be maintained. Everyone knows that the decision, with its obvious political overtones, is untenable.

I reiterate the three options open to the government. It could maintain the status quo, keeping Trois-Rivières as the main centre of activity for the entire region; it could set up a centre in Shawinigan to satisfy the Prime Minister's fancy while retaining Trois-Rivière's regional nature, incorporating Bécancour; or it could implement its plan, which should not be done, especially as regards Shawinigan becoming the regional capital. Shawinigan lacks the attributes of a regional capital-although the people there are very nice-but it lacks a pool of employers and of people and claimants, who do benefit arbitrarily although highly politically, at the expense of individuals, employers, seniors and community organizations. We will never agree with a decision that means we have to go all the way to Shawinigan.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

It is my duty pursuant, to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt: national defence; the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra: Vietnam.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to remind the members of this House that job training has historically been an area of provincial jurisdiction.

The federal government sneaked in through its jurisdiction over unemployment insurance and put in place a multitude of employability development programs. Over time, and given the costs involved, the federal government has decided to restructure its authority, reduce its financial involvement, and increase its visibility. This is probably the basis of the reform proposed by Minister Axworthy.

However, for several years now, there has been in Quebec a consensus to repatriate manpower training powers. The government, labour unions, and the Conseil du patronat du Québec are hoping the federal government will take a concrete step in this direction in the interest of users, both employees and employers, as outlined in a 1991 letter made public by Quebec employment minister Louise Harel and signed by her Liberal predecessor, André Bourbeau, which condemns any attempt by the federal government to fund labour training through groups and organizations.

The Prime Minister of Canada is using the principle of decentralization to play politics by sending directly to Quebecers cheques allowing them to adapt their training to the new realities in the labour force. He has just missed a good opportunity to establish constructive relations between the Canadian federation and its provinces.

The federal government's position in this area denotes a lack of respect for Canada's provinces and supports its efforts to centralize powers. By acting this way, the federal government is trading effectiveness for visibility while contributing to anarchy.

The minister's bill specifies that he will try to conclude with the provinces official agreements on the implementation of four manpower programs designed to put people back to work. However, should he be unable to come to an agreement with the provinces, he reserves the right to implement his programs with or without their consent. The federal government gives itself the right to bypass the provinces, in case no agreement can be worked out. Does the Minister of Human Resources Development agree with us that the provinces will negotiate with a knife at their throats?

The fifth program announced by the minister provides for the establishment of a job creation fund amounting to $300 million over three years, which is not distributed among the provinces. To obtain federal funds, the provinces and perhaps even the municipalities will have to inject an equivalent amount. This type of funding favours the richest provinces. This goes against the objective of the fund, which is to create jobs in high unemployment regions.

On the one hand, the minister is promoting overlap between the various levels of government and supporting the costs, and on the other hand, he is tightening UI qualifying conditions and reducing UI benefits.

For the second year in a row and in spite of the UI account surplus, the Minister of Finance announced in his February budget speech that the funds allocated by the Treasury Board to the Canadian job strategy administered under the unemployment insurance program would be cut by an additional $1.1 billion for fiscal years 1996 and 1997.

At the same time, the Minister of Human Resources Development is announcing that $800 million will be allocated to training programs to promote job readiness. This new resource envelope being funded through the UI fund, the government is able to save $300 million on the backs of employers and employees just by shifting the load.

By introducing in his reform the notion of weekly hours of work and by increasing the number of weeks of work required to qualify for benefits, the minister is going after part time workers, most of whom are women, and seasonal workers, the most vulnerable segment of our society. By acting this way, the minister is giving a one-way ticket for social assistance to a larger number of Quebecers, as more than 40 per cent of new welfare recipients were previously on UI.

Once all of minister Axworthy's proposals will have been implemented, they will represent a $640 million shortfall for the people of Quebec. In my riding, the economy is heavily dependent on the expansion of the tourist, forestry, farm and business industries, all of which provide mostly part time and seasonal employment.

On the whole, UI reform represents a shortfall of approximately $7 million just in my riding.

The federal government is drawing its inspiration from the cuts Alberta and Ontario made on the backs of workers and the disadvantaged. The Chrétien government could show some initiative and daring in cutting tax benefits for large companies and the best paid members of our society, but apparently he would rather disguise his deficit reduction effort as a social program reform.

According to a document released by the HRD department, the reform making the unemployment insurance into an employment insurance is designed, among other things, to help unemployed workers meet the challenges of new job requirements and career renewal.

Could the minister tell us how, concretely, his reform proposal will resolve the persistent disparity between the ever increasing number of unemployed and the 300,000 jobs that remain vacant every year in Canada, because the unemployed lack adequate training?

This reform will certainly perpetuate overlap between levels of government and the associated costs, but it will also force all those who are looking for a job or for further training to go back and forth between their Canada employment centre, the regional office of the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, educational institutions and aid agencies. The people of Quebec and Canada will not only have to bear the brunt of this reform, but they will also have to put up with the drawbacks of overlap. That is the real impact of the Axworthy reform.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to the comments of the hon. member. I must admit it seemed there was more discussion about governments and partisan issues than about people. I was concerned that the member had not really addressed the basic issues and the needs of the workers of Canada, regardless of what province they live in. We only have one taxpayer. The important issue is that we really make sure the services provided to Canadians are focused and efficient.

The member talked a little about the fact that in his opinion job training is the sole jurisdiction of Quebec. He said there was federal encroachment by this legislation that has come forward before the House and basically reduced it to a simple matter of petty politics. He then concluded that Quebecers needed full control over manpower training but then concluded we need a constructive partnership. In itself, that is a total contradiction. You cannot have full control and a constructive partnership at the same time.

My real question has to do with the whole UI issue. The member seems to talk about the UI distribution as some sort of instrument of equalization of benefits. Quite frankly, every region of Canada should have one objective, and that is to eliminate all benefits for all Canadians because we will not need them. We need people to

get jobs. UI is not a matter of equalization. Our objective should be to reduce the amount of benefits paid through job creation.

Would the member try to deal with the essence of the subject really being not equalization but rather the best interests of Canadians?

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, earlier I listened to the speeches made by several members opposite. I listened carefully. One of them mentioned that, under the new program, a worker unemployed for 52 weeks would-

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4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

The hon. member must addresss his comments to the member who just spoke, namely the member for Mississauga South.

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I will remember that. One of his colleagues said that a person working 14 to 15 hours a week for 52 weeks would benefit-

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4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Again, I remind the hon. member for Champlain that his observations must relate to comments made by the member who asked the question, not to those of another speaker.

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

I understand, Madam Speaker. It is because I do not have the name of the hon. member's riding.

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4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Mississauga.

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Mississauga. Fine. I will now continue. The member opposite told us that the new UI program is beneficial to those who never collected UI benefits. He referred to people working 14 to 15 hours. However, if we multiply those 14 or 15 hours by 52 weeks, we realize that it is impossible for these people to be eligible for UI benefits. The numbers do not add up.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Wells Liberal South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to address the Bloc motion on the subject of unemployment insurance reform. I can only begin by saying how astounded I am that such a motion could have been drafted, let alone introduced at this time.

What is the source of the motion? What unemployment insurance reforms are the hon. members of the opposition thinking about? I presume it is not the same reform that was introduced by the Minister of Human Resources Development last Friday.

I heard the Prime Minister's announcement a little over a week ago. I read the documents. What I and millions of Canadians heard was a statement from the Prime Minister that the federal government respects and recognizes the jurisdiction of the provinces in education and training. Millions of us heard him say that the federal government is therefore withdrawing from the direct purchase of training, from apprenticeship training, co-operative education programs, and workplace-based training. We heard him announce that agreements with the provinces will be sought on the design and delivery of proposed employment benefits in order to harmonize them with provincial programs. We heard him explain that in some cases the provincial government or a provincial agency could be responsible for delivering these federal measures. Indeed, he was at pains to point out that in other cases provincial programs could be used instead of the proposed federal measures.

He made it perfectly clear to millions of us that funding for training will only be provided by the federal government with the consent of the province concerned. Depending on the agreement reached, it could be provided to individuals, to the provincial government, or to a third party. He stated clearly and ultimately that this arrangement can allow a province, if it wishes, to assume full responsibility for these employment measures, subject only to the proviso that the federal government's responsibilities to ensure the needs of the unemployed are addressed and that the measures that allow them to return quickly to the workforce are met.

The employment insurance reforms specifically and deliberately seek to eliminate overlap and duplication. The reforms will mean that even more than ever a province will be able to develop a comprehensive labour market strategy and policy. It is surely a distortion to maintain otherwise.

It is always difficult to bring about true reform. In the case of a program as well ingrained in the economic and social fabric of Canada as the unemployment insurance program, it is doubly difficult. I am concerned that factual distortion of the sort presented by this motion will damage public understanding of the reform package, especially in Atlantic Canada, where a sound understanding of the new system is of paramount importance.

I believe it is important for Atlantic Canadians to know the facts so they can be aware that the reforms provide much needed structural adjustments, which are absolutely necessary and which over the long term will be good for Canada and for Atlantic Canada.

The opposition members should also take note of the fact that these reforms will help high unemployment regions like Atlantic Canada. In fact this reform package will create 100,000 to 150,000 new jobs, and 45,000 part-time workers in Atlantic Canada who are now not eligible for benefits will qualify under these reforms.

Unemployment insurance was never a solution to the Atlantic regional unemployment, nor was it meant to be. We are now facing the fact that it has actually become a cause of unemployment. In other words, it is part of the problem and not the solution. Many

people are better off collecting UI than accepting the work that is available. In a recent survey of small businesses in Atlantic Canada, 45 per cent of respondents said they want to hire but cannot compete for workers with the social programs, particularly UI.

The new employment insurance legislation is a balanced package that improves work incentives, reduces dependency, and increases fairness while helping Canadians get back to work.

Specifically what does this mean for the Atlantic provinces? It is true that we are cutting overall spending. There will be impacts on Atlantic Canada. We should remember that when reinvestment is taken into account the overall reduction in the region will be no more than 7 per cent. On the whole each of the four Atlantic provinces currently receives more in benefits than it pays in premiums. Although the ratio will be lower they will still be net recipients after reform.

Another important impact for Atlantic Canada is that during the transitional period regions with high unemployment will receive more in terms of job support programs. About $800 million in savings from the new system would be reinvested in proven job support programs to create opportunities and to help more people get into the job market.

By fiscal year 2000-01, $214 million or 27 per cent of that amount will go to Atlantic Canada. Further, to stimulate the economy in high unemployment areas transitional job funds will provide $300 million for job creation over a three-year period. This is in addition to the $800 million being invested in job support programs.

On the benefit side, people in high unemployment areas will need fewer hours of work to qualify for benefits and will be able to receive benefits for a longer period.

There are other provisions affecting seasonal workers and as we all know Atlantic Canada has more than its share. Under the new system, although some seasonal workers in industries like fishing, forestry and agriculture will receive lower benefits, they will nonetheless get more out of the program than they pay in premiums. They will have more incentive to work outside the peak season because additional work will now not only increase earned income but provide increased benefits as well.

Workers, employers and communities have to be able to cope with the substantial change the employment insurance scheme will bring to the Atlantic region, so the new system will be introduced gradually over several years.

The new employment insurance system will bring essential change to the Atlantic region. We believe the employment insurance active employment measures will lead to stronger labour markets and a more skilled workforce, which in turn will attract investment and jobs.

In the Atlantic region the federal government already works in partnership with the provinces, municipalities, community organizations and the private sector to design and deliver re-employment programs. There are education and training initiatives, personal and business counselling, wage subsidies, self-employment assistance and special programs for women, youth, aboriginal people, individuals with disabilities and members of racial minorities.

Whenever possible both individuals and local communities are encouraged to take responsibility for their own development.

The old UI system trapped people in a cycle of dependence. The new system is designed to help people help themselves. I want Atlantic Canadians to understand that fact and not be distracted by the naysayers. This is why I say the motion before us should be viewed in Atlantic Canada and across the country as the distortion it truly represents.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for South Shore for providing the House with an insight into the situation in Atlantic Canada. There has been much said in the media and among members of Parliament who perhaps do not know the situation very well in Atlantic Canada.

One of the impressions given in some media reports is that it is somehow the norm in Atlantic Canada that people would work for only a few months and make a substantial amount of money, that it was simply a way of life to go on UI. The member has dispelled that very well. The constituents of South Shore should know how very hard and how very ably their member has represented the interests of Atlantic Canada.

With regard to the media impression that has been given, could the member elaborate a bit more on the kinds of things that have been happening, from his experience in South Shore and Atlantic Canada, in reaction to the proposals and on his expectations with regard to the potential benefits of the new program?