House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.


Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:50 p.m.

Roberval Québec


Michel Gauthier BlocLeader of the Opposition


That this House require the Minister of Human Resources Development to withdraw Bill C-12, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada, from the Order Paper immediately and go back to the drawing board, since this reform hits young people, women, seasonal workers and immigrants hard.

Mr. Speaker, if this House had any sensitivity whatsoever to the situation of the unemployed, we would have been involved in discussion of this extremely important motion for three hours by now. The House has taken up three hours with discussions of something far removed from the motion we have tabled. This clearly shows a lack of sensitivity to those Canadians who will be bearing the brunt of the severe cutbacks to the unemployment insurance system. I believe it also demonstrates how tenuous a grasp the people involved have of the realities in their ridings and their regions, whether in Quebec or elsewhere.

The matter under discussion will have dramatic repercussions all across Canada. The Minister of Human Resources Development, backed up so kindly by the Minister of Finance, has decided unemployment insurance needed reforming. There had been feelings that yes, perhaps the plan did need some modernizing, perhaps to make sure the money invested in it was used in the workers' best interests. Perhaps the time might have come for the government to review the use of the billions of dollars in the unemployment

insurance fund, so as to get better use from it. We are open to looking at an unemployment insurance system aimed at returning people to the work force, helping workers retrain, adapting the labour force to market needs. Well, we are open to considering this. No one can be against progress.

However, when this government came to power, two years ago, right from the start, on the pretence that it was going to overhaul the system, it announced a major social program reform. It said that it was going to issue a document explaining to Canadians how social programs, including unemployment insurance, were going to be modified. The then minister kept on postponing the release of drafts and, eventually, began to hint at an unemployment insurance reform that was going to hurt.

I remember how my colleague, the member for Mercier, would rise in this House and ask the then minister: "Is it true that the government is getting ready to cut the unemployment insurance system in such and such a way? Is it true that the government is getting ready to hit young people with its reform?" The only answer we ever got from the minister was that the member was ill informed. He never let on to what was being planned. The documents coming from his office were working papers, mere scraps of paper on which suggestions had been haphazardly scribbled for the minister's attention, recommending cuts here or there; but the minister claimed they were without foundation.

We were kept waiting. We were patient. We asked questions. We warned the government. Finally, a bill was introduced, then withdrawn and reintroduced, unchanged; its main objective is essentially to make cuts. Indeed, after cuts of $2.4 billion overall in the unemployment insurance system in 1994, current numbers show that within two years an additional $1.5 billion dollars will be cut from the program.

Granted, these days, we must expect cuts, and some reduction in benefits. But what really shocked us when we scrutinized the numbers was to find out-people might not believe this-that the federal government has not paid one penny into the unemployment insurance fund since 1990. Is it acceptable for a government which has not been paying one penny into the unemployment insurance fund to use employers' and employees' contributions to finance its deficit?

Yet, this is precisely what the federal government is doing. It is unacceptable that a government, a Minister of Finance-the figures are now known because the budget has been tabled-dare write in their budget papers: "Surplus of Unemployment Insurance Fund 1994-95, $4.1 billion; 1995-96, $5 billion; 1996-97, $5 billion; 1997-98, $5.3 billion". And the figures are not yet available for subsequent years.

What makes people mad in rural Quebec, or rural Canada for that matter, is that they must get 10, 12 or 15 weeks of employment per year if they work in a seasonal sector. Is it not appalling to realize that you might lose your unemployment insurance benefits because the Minister of Finance decided, right in the middle of an employment crisis, that he would take $5 billion out of the fund to help reduce the deficit?

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1 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

This is horrible. This is disgusting.

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An hon. member

Shame, shame.

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Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, there have been demonstrations just about everywhere. And there will be more, because the people who are victimized, who understand what the government is doing, refuse to accept and cannot understand. How can you understand, when your total income is $10,000, $12,000 or $15,000 per year, maybe less? How can you understand that the federal government is going to ask you to help pay for its poor management? How can you accept, when you are reduced to survive on the pittance provided under the unemployment insurance program, how can you accept with equanimity that the federal government will reduce your benefits? Especially when you know that the fund has a surplus.

This is the first time that we encounter a situation like this one. Some people might say: "Well the opposition is against it, this is its role, it has to oppose every project and every reform". This is not the case. This is the first time, as far as anyone can remember, that such a thing is being done during an employment crisis. All members have to do is find out what is happening in their ridings. We have an employment crisis, the unemployment rate is very high and the economy is not picking up, yet, this is the time that the government is choosing to take surplus money out of a fund to which it does not contribute. It takes the money and reduces the benefits provided through the fund. That is unprecedented.

You may recall the time when the Liberals were dashing across Canada to condemn the heartless changes made to the UI plan by the Tories. They were up in arms, making speeches in this House to explain how loathsome it was for the Conservative Party to dare tamper with the UI fund.

Today, they are the ones who are dealing with the deficit in the UI fund by taking $1.5 billion over two years away from the unemployed and taking back with both hands the $5 billion a year the finance minister needs to compensate for his government's mismanagement. This is unacceptable.

The minister is proposing a reform. I hope he will become more sensitive to the demonstrators, as well as to the motion we put forward today. I hope he will regain a little compassion for those who will be his next victims. I hope he will stop accusing those who demonstrate because they are being deprived of their liveli-

hoods of being lazy and reluctant to look for work and of being professional protesters.

The minister should change his attitude, as it is unacceptable. He should be a little more open to people in need and understand that his reform is not wanted. It is not wanted in the regions of Quebec. It is not wanted in the Maritimes. It is not wanted in Ontario either because it is unfair. It is regressive. It creates unemployment and poverty.

The proposed reform is hardest on young people. Unfortunately, they are the first to be affected, as is often the case. It hits young people hard by reducing their benefits and those of all other workers. Students working less than 15 hours a week will now have to pay premiums, which they did not have to do before. In any case, they will never manage to accumulate enough hours to collect benefits. I have plenty of examples that I cannot help using. A student working 15 hours a week for 52 weeks will have 780 hours accumulated at the end of the year. Do you know how many hours will now be required to qualify for benefits under the minister's bill? A total of 910 hours. Someone who works 15 hours a week will not accumulate enough hours to collect benefits. And there are many other examples.

The plan contains nothing for young people. Not only does it not support them, but it also takes benefits away from them. This plan also hits women hard because they often have to make do with part time work, and God knows how hard this reform is on part time employees. As for seasonal workers, they are the ones in the regions now trying to alert public opinion. They cannot even begin to imagine the adverse effects this reform will have on their everyday lives, but they do know one thing-as fishermen, forestry workers or people working in the tourist industry, whether in the Gaspe Peninsula, in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region or in any other part of this country, they know that they need this system to earn a decent living. And the only alternative available to them, with this insensitive government dipping into the fund, their only way out will more than likely be to go on welfare.

There are examples galore. Virtually all classes of workers will be affected by this reform. But what is important to notice is that, while attacking these people in their very dignity, the government is telling the provinces: "Your transfer payments will be reduced. The Canada social transfer providing funding for social assistance, health care and so on will be cut". So much cutting has taken place that the Minister of Finance saw a need, in his budget speech, to set a threshold, realizing that the Canada social transfer had all but disappeared, which would have made it very awkward for the federal government to keep constantly interfering in jurisdictions that are not its own. But that is another story, and we will come back to it later.

By making cuts to the Canada social transfer, the Minister of Finance is attacking the provinces' budgets. He is shifting his responsibility onto provincial governments.

Did you know, Mr. Speaker, that the provinces will have to look after not only those workers whom the federal government will have deliberately kicked out of the UI system, but also individuals who will be forced onto social assistance, for which federal funding has been cut. Just imagine in what kind of predicament this government is putting the provinces and the regions. This is totally unacceptable.

The motion reads as follows:

That this House require the Minister of Human Resources Development to withdraw-

Not that he make a few minor amendments here and there and change this or that to keep helping himself to the fund, as he is doing now.

-withdraw Bill C-12, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada, from the Order Paper immediately and go back to the drawing board-

Because there is no way that the opposition, and the central labour bodies and organized labour groups, could agree to let this government feed on funds that belong to the workers.

Instead of attacking the workers, the government should-and we urge it to do so-go after those high income earners who do not pay any taxes and companies that take advantage of tax havens, the financial implications of which have not even been assessed by Finance Canada.

These would make interesting goals for the government, if only it believed in social justice. But no, the easiest and most obvious thing to do is to go after society's most disadvantaged, to try to take away from them the dignity of work, and the dignity of a system designed to provide support when they lose their jobs. We will not stand for that, Mr. Speaker. We will stop them.

To conclude, I would like to call upon the minister once again and warn him that it is certainly not with the kind of inflexible and arrogant attitude he has had from the outset that he will succeed in selling his plan to the people. The Liberal members opposite should think twice before supporting a minister who calls people lazy and professional demonstrators, and tells them that they lack motivation.

Our Liberal colleagues should think about it before associating with a minister who uses such language to describe individuals who face the harsh reality of life in their regions. When this minister visited his region and met real people faced with real problems that he is responsible for, we saw how it went.

I want to tell the Liberal members of this House that we from the Bloc Quebecois will not let you go ahead. We will not give you any respite. We hope that your constituents will not give you any either and that they will treat you the same way the Minister of Human Resources Development was treated by his constituents when he visited his riding.

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1:10 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick


Douglas Young LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, first I want to apologize to the Leader of the Opposition for what happened this morning. I had a commitment at noon and I regret not having been able to listen to all his comments, which, no doubt, were very interesting.

Today, we are debating the motion tabled by the official opposition asking that Bill C-12, formerly known as Bill C-111, be immediately withdrawn from the Order Paper. I regret to have to tell my hon. colleagues, from the outset, that the government has no intention whatsoever of doing that.

The important thing here is to recognize that we will now have an opportunity to get constructive proposals from the members of the parliamentary committee that will review this legislation. The importance that the government and, I am sure, all the members of this House attach to employment insurance must not be downplayed.

Regardless of where we come from, there is no doubt that this bill will affect a lot of people, many of whom are among the most vulnerable ones in our society. This is why my predecessor, Mr. Axworthy, indicated shortly after introduction of the bill last fall, that it was his personal intention, as well as that of the government, to look at possible changes in certain areas of the legislation, particularly the formula used to calculate benefits, which is based on what the bill defines as continuous work weeks.

There is also the whole issue of how far we can go. In any reform of this type, we have a duty, as parliamentarians, to ensure fairness, that is a balance between what is proposed in a budget planning outline, including job creation measures, and the impact of such measures on men, women, families and children.

What struck me almost since the moment that we introduced this bill is the very widespread and well-founded support enjoyed by the reform throughout the country. Every poll, every indicator of public opinion shows support, in every province, for a comprehensive reform of the whole UI system as we have known it for a long time.

I have also been aware for some time now that there is a feeling of compassion and sympathy among Canadians from all regions, who want to ensure that we look after those who need to be protected, those who are most vulnerable.

As I explained yesterday in this House to my hon. colleague, the critic of the member's party on this issue, I am convinced that the committee, under these circumstances, will come up with proposals to help us respect the will for change as expressed throughout the country, but also to meet the needs of those who will be the most directly affected by all of this.

I would like to take a minute to talk about the protests taking place lately and about the people who use all the means at their disposal to voice their concerns about this bill. Some would go as far as to imply that these protesters are talking on behalf of the majority of the population. Having had the honour to be elected several times to the New-Brunswick legislature, as representative of my native area, in Acadia, and to be elected and re-elected to this House of Commons, I think I am well aware of the needs of the citizens of my riding.

I also understand the concerns these people have. I respect my constituents and I do think that they also respect me, generally speaking. This is why I felt the need to say openly, without any spitefulness, that when we see the same people week-end after week-end, in various areas in northern New-Brunswick and near the Quebec border, the same faces, and hear the same speeches, we are aware of the impact they can have throughout the country on the people who watch them on television or read about them in the paper; they wonder about this situation. They wonder why these people who called themselves community leaders do not ask for more jobs, economic development, changes to the act to promote training programs or subsidies to employers, but keep asking vigorously and unequivocally for this bill to be withdrawn.

This came as quite a shock to me, since no one in the last five or ten years had told me that the Unemployment Insurance Act, as it stood, was perfect. Quite the opposite. Not a week or a day has gone by without my riding office receiving requests from concerned citizens or groups who thought the program did not work and that changes needed to be made.

Of course, our predecessors made some changes a few years ago. But what is surprising and even frustrating is to see some people telling us: "You have to withdraw this piece of legislation." Very few recommendations were made on ways to improve not only Bill C-111, now known as Bill C-12, but also the existing system.

No one came up with proposals or changes that we could consider seriously and that would have made us say: "Yes, maybe what our government has put forward is not the perfect solution." But, in terms of the existing program, has anyone made proposals that would have improved the situation of the people who have come to us throughout the years, as I said earlier, with all kinds of problems?

One of the things that is essential is we have to have some equity and fairness in all the things we do, particularly as we deal with social programs.

A major attempt had been made by people who are employed full time, who make very good salaries. Everybody is told on a regular basis what members of the government make, what members of Parliament make, what members of the opposition make, what the Leader of the Opposition earns as a salary. It is a constant public discussion.

I had a guest in my constituency a couple of weeks ago who is the head of the Canadian Labour Congress. It would be interesting to know how much Bob White makes a year, what his salary is, what his working conditions are, what kind of situation he is involved in, how many times he has been on unemployment, how many times he has been into fish plants, how many times he has gone into the woods to see how people work.

When I discuss this issue, I discuss it as a person who has lived all of his life in an area where seasonal industries are a reality. They are not a choice. They are imposed by climate. They are imposed by government legislation. Whether it applies to total allowable cuts in the forest, whether it is total allowable catch in the sea, whether it is the tourism industry which is heavily influenced by our climate, whatever the circumstances, the situation is the result of conditions far beyond the capacity of individuals or their families to influence.

When we look at the changes I hope we will be able to discuss as we consider Bill C-12, I hope there will be constructive suggestions that reflect the need for equity and fairness across the country.

The unfortunate thing is that Bob White is a perfect example of someone constantly bringing up the problems on the Gaspé coast, in northern New Brunswick, in Shippegan, Tracadie, Caraquet, and talking about the impact of these changes in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

I say to my friends in the Bloc Quebecois: Do you think Bob White is your friend? Do you enjoy having him come in with his colleagues or cohorts-it depends on how I feel as to how I describe them-to tell people in our areas in Quebec and northern New Brunswick what their problems are? Think about who the messenger is when analysing the message.

I looked through the information available in my department as to what the impact of employment legislation is on real people, real men, real women, real families, real problems. I realized we were talking about an act of this government that would impact on construction workers, that would impact on single mothers, that would impact on low income families. It would have an impact on people who work in British Columbia, in Manitoba, in Ontario, in many other parts of the country.

Is it the climate in Atlantic Canada that attracts the likes of Bob White in midwinter to walk in the streets of Bathurst? We would think he would be walking in the streets of Victoria. Or is it because, as is often the case, people who have an agenda exploit the vulnerable, the weak, the people who do not understand the implications of what is being done to them?

I have confidence in the parliamentary process. I believe that where I stand in this place today for over decades and for more than a century women and men who have been elected to serve in this place have found ways to provide solutions for people with problems. That is why I have been constant in my belief since the day I was asked to take on this responsibility that the women and men who sit on the parliamentary committee, as a result of input from members of Parliament on both sides of this House, will be able to provide us with some assistance.

I do not want to pass on all of the responsibility. I recognize the government introduced the bill originally and that we will have to deal with it. The hon. Minister of Finance also made undertakings in last year's budget on the fiscal requirements he put forward that will have to be respected. I recognize all of that.

When we have come to the end of the day, when the parliamentary committee has considered what needs to be done and has made its recommendations, I believe we will have addressed the question of how to calculate benefits and how to deal with consecutive weeks of work. I am confident we will have dealt with the intensity rule. It was meant to avoid disincentives for people to go back to work. We will make sure that disincentive is removed but that fairness is maintained.

The system we can construct together will be one that will respect the needs of men and women and their families across the country. We will also have to make sure that we respect the fairness and equity which is inherent in any program where millions of Canadians work every day of the working week every month of the year. They are saying, and I agree with them, that they are prepared to be compassionate and they are prepared to make their contributions so long as the system is fair and equitable and not exploited unduly.

In that context I want to make it clear today that I look to my colleagues from all parties to make suggestions which I hope will be forthcoming soon. We must have the legislation, however the final form may evolve, through Parliament and implemented by July 1 this year.

I want to make one contribution today. Although there will be changes that will be respected, Canadians can be assured we will make every effort that there will be no abuse of this system to the extent that we can control it.

Canadians are fair and equitable. It is essential that we go to a basis of zero tolerance of anyone who wants to take advantage of their peers. When employment levels are high enough in the country, this money is a fund that comes from the employer and the

employee. The Government of Canada plays a role in the unemployment insurance fund only when it is in deficit. It was in deficit until a very short time ago.

People are now talking about surpluses. There is no doubt that if we are fortunate enough to continue to build up surpluses we will have to control what is happening to premiums, to employers and employees and make sure there is no undue surplus accumulating. However, I do not think we want to go back to a situation of there being a deficit and the spectre of having the taxpayers of Canada make a major contribution. It has also been our experience in the past that there was a huge increase in premiums which have been very difficult to handle as we try to rebuild the economy.

There will be a balance. There will be fairness between those people who need to be assured that the employment insurance system will be there for them when they need it and those people who continue to contribute in good faith because they believe it is the proper way to ensure that those who are vulnerable in our society are taken care of.

There is a great deal of potential for divisiveness, depending on how we approach the bill. For example, I hope Canadians will note that I never use the term seasonal workers. Every man and woman I know in this country, practically without exception, when given the choice between a full time year round job and a full time seasonal job will always go for the maximum amount of benefits they can get for their families, which is to work as much as possible.

Some people are confronted with the inevitability of working in an industry where the Government of Canada says, for example: "Sorry, you can only fish certain times of the year because of environmental reasons and we want to protect the species", or the provincial governments say: "Sorry, you cannot cut wood because you have a total allowable cut. We cannot afford to have clear cutting; we have to make sure that we practice good silviculture and forestry practices". We cannot tell those people when we are imposing a set of rules that we are not going to take those rules into account when we look at a program like employment insurance.

There is the potential for divisiveness when people in different parts of the country are provided with misinformation or are exploited. We can turn people against each other; not just looking at whether somebody is happy with the way the program works in a given clause.

The same phenomenon occurs in a given city where people work 12 months of the year in the traditional type of job activity. Other people work, for example, in the construction industry where through no fault of their own, but by the nature of the work they do, from time to time are not able to work, not because they are not full time workers.

Do not tell a plumber, an electrician, a mason, an iron worker and people in the construction industry that they are seasonal or part time workers. That is their profession, that is their job. They are faced with the unfortunate reality that the nature of the work they do has been impacted on by all kinds of situations beyond their control.

I hope we will be able to look at Bill C-12 together. We have to recognize we are not working in a vacuum. We have decades of experience with unemployment insurance. We have a bill that is working right now, for better or for worse, that is in place.

I am frustrated by those who say that this bill should be repealed, should be withdrawn, should be scrapped, as though somehow we could go back to what some people apparently think is the appropriate situation where you work for 10 weeks and you get unemployment for 42 weeks. That is not in the cards for anyone. Canadians would not accept the kind of a system that was prevalent in the seventies and through part of the eighties.

We have to work together. The law that is in place now has to be changed. I hope that when we come back to this place to deal with the recommendations of the standing committee that those recommendations will be compared to what is in place now and not what was proposed last fall.

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1:30 p.m.


Yvan Bernier Bloc Gaspé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I may have one thing in common with the Minister of Human Resources Development who has just spoken, namely frustration, but we certainly do not have a common reason for that frustration. He says he is frustrated by lobbyists and by us in the opposition calling for withdrawal of his bill, while I am frustrated by his refusal to listen to what is being said at the grass roots level. Again this morning, there were 5,000 people in Amqui, in the riding of Matapédia-Matane, out demonstrating in order to get the message across to the minister. That figure represents more than 100 per cent of the working population.

The basic premises of the minister's bill, as presented by his predecessor, are unacceptable to those concerned most directly by unemployment insurance, that is the victims of job shortages.

And why do I say that the basic premises are wrong? Because they are not related to the need for reform. Many have expressed their support for the need to review and reform the system. But to those of us in the opposition-and for the present minister when he was in opposition-reforming something means changing it for the better.

What we are faced with now is a bill which seeks to make a 10 to 12 per cent cut, in order to satisfy the financial constraints of the Minister of Finance, a reduction of $1.5 billion. And the gap between employees' and employers' contributions will mean, in terms of benefits paid out, that the government will have an additional $5 billion in its back pocket.

On these assumptions, we clearly cannot agree. The minister mentioned two irritants, because we helped make people understand what they were. He said he was interested in hearing ways of softening the intensity rule, which I call the penalty rule. I really want to see how it is calculated, so I am sure it is eliminated. We do not want it to be calculated over the set period of 14 weeks. The minister seems to be saying the same thing. I want to see if that is really going to be the case.

What he does not mention is the entitlement rule in the regions-be it the Gaspe or Acadian region. The requirement for eligibility is 910 hours, which is equivalent to 26 weeks. He has just said himself, in fact, that it is hard for people, and that fishing does not give them more than 10 or 12 weeks' work.

How are those newly arrived on the labour market going to be eligible for unemployment insurance, if they have to have worked 910 hours or 26 weeks? In his answer later, I hope he will correct the remarks of the member for Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine in the paper last week to the effect that a minimum of 700 hours might only be required in the Gaspe. Either the minister confirms this change or the hon. member retracts. At some point we need to know what is happening.

I would also like to include another point in my remarks. When the minister-

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1:35 p.m.


Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON


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1:35 p.m.


Yvan Bernier Bloc Gaspé, QC

This is the period set aside for questions and comments. I know that government members are anxious. If there is unanimous consent, maybe an extra 10 minutes could be added to the period for questions and comments.

The minister mentioned earlier that Canadians all over the country feel that the unemployed should be protected. If, indeed, people in the rest of Canada want social peace and want everyone to have a place in the sun, why would they not exert some pressure in their own way? They may not have time to take part in protests because, as the minister said, their agenda may not be the same. But the rest of Canada should pressure the Minister of Finance into giving some room to manoeuvre to the Minister for Human Resources Development, because he does not have any right now.

How can the government come up with true job creation initiatives when money is taken from the unemployed, only to be used, at least partly, to implement minor employability measures? The federal government is again starting to fight with the provinces over manpower training.

I wish the minister would say loud and clear that he needs the co-operation of the rest of Canadians to put pressure on his colleague, the Minister of Finance. Some tools are required.

I can make a few suggestions to the minister. Why is it that the number of insurable weeks is based on the unemployment rate? Here is a good suggestion for the Minister of Finance. Given the lack of catalysts in our regions, why not create investment corridors, that is regions where tax credits would be available? The unemployment rate in my region is currently at 18.9 per cent. Why not start a pilot project in our region to help its economic recovery?

Worse still is the fact that in the Gaspe Peninsula, only 43 per cent or so of the active population actually does work. This means that only 4 adults in 10 work. The others have given up. People need hope. They need messages of hope. They do not need to get hit on the head.

Provided there is unanimous consent, I would appreciate it if the minister had an extra 10 minutes to answer these questions.

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1:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. minister will have the same time as the hon. member who put the question.

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1:35 p.m.


Douglas Young Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, when the hon. colleague speaks of frustration, that is of course something not easily eliminated, since he proposes no changes to us in his comments. He wants us to withdraw the bill, and talked about this and that. He wants to know what I will be doing, what we will be doing, to settle the issue of benefit calculation, how we will make use of the rule on intensity, which he considers a penalty.

What I would like to see, however-and I hope that we will be informed of it in committee-is what is being formally proposed. If you do not like Bill C-12, tell us what you would do with the present bill to improve it. Give us some ideas. That would be one way of showing that you are equal to the task.

When we refer to those who contribute to the employment insurance program throughout the country, it must always be kept in mind that one of the reasons why we always want to describe the system as employment insurance is that 80 per cent of people across the country who are generally employed are actually working. That is a minimum figure at all times across Canada.

What is very hard to understand is that the 910 hours to which the hon. member refers are, as he knows very well, for new workers. He did not say whether the calculation was during one year, that is 910 hours over 12 months, or whether there is a carry

back to the year before in meeting the number proposed by my hon. colleague, the gentleman who wanted to be sure the figures were accurate.

It is very easy to deform facts, to get people off track, if that is what one wants to do. For example, when reference is made to the surplus, to the Minister of Finance's ability to pocket the unemployment insurance fund surplus, no he cannot. This is a surplus that belongs to the employment insurance fund to which employers and employees have contributed. It cannot disappear into the government's general revenue fund. This business of bending the truth somewhat is what we find a bit frustrating.

I have one final point to make. Only someone from the Bloc Quebecois could tell us that $800 million, the reinvestment fund of $800 million at maturity, is small change. Three hundred million for the transition fund over the first three years, to be allocated to those regions most affected by the reform: small change? For the Bloc Quebecois it is easy to understand that this is nothing, when we see how their Quebec cousin is managing the affairs of the Quebec government.

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1:40 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the motion proposed by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague from Mercier for her leadership bid. I may disagree with her politics but certainly I admire her ambition and tenacity.

I did not get an opportunity to speak to this bill under its former name of Bill C-111 because the government rammed it through to committee before Christmas. I remind my colleagues of how the government rushed the House legislative agenda, ramming the bill through in its haste. Then what did the government do? It prorogued the House. That shows me what kind of manipulation the Liberals undertake to give the appearance of integrity of process.

The government gave us a new throne speech. It wanted to wipe the slate clean, to start anew, to make amends for all the mistakes made, especially during the referendum. Now we have a new session and the government has the opportunity to demonstrate it means what it says and will work to implement responses and responsible legislation.

Unfortunately instead of working with us, the government has chosen to ram this bill through the House of Commons once again. Only four days ago this monster bill was tabled and we will spend only 50 hours with witnesses at committee.

The bill is the single most important piece of social policy legislation the Liberals have yet introduced. They want to rush it through committee. I am well aware we have had this bill, in its old form, for months. The Canadian public were lead to believe that the bill died on the Order Paper at prorogation. The public took the Liberals at their procedural word and assumed that the bill died. In typical Liberal fashion they pulled their old tricks, and by invoking closure managed to bring the bill back, this time through the back door.

The Liberals want it all and will do anything to have their cake and eat it too. They want both a clean slate and to keep the bill. The only way for them to accomplish this is to use the crass closure measures on their peculiar motion to reintroduce bills at the same stage as they were at prorogation.

In short, they abused, stomped on, ignored, rigged, manipulated, fudged and grossly took for granted the established democratic practices of the House. Ironically, in a typical Liberal hypocritical fashion they reintroduced the bill in the same manner as the Progressive Conservatives after they prorogued. Liberal, Tory, same old story.

The Liberal government demonstrates not only its disinterest in job creation but also a lack of innovation in this bill. The bill will not create a single job. Let us face up to the fact that the government has given up its job agenda because it knows how much of a failure it has been.

Let us look at its broken promises. From January 1995 to January 1996 there was a net loss of jobs in the Canadian economy totalling 227,000. This is a lacklustre performance at best. This is not job creation. Due to the Liberal government policy a total of 227,000 jobs were killed last fiscal year. This is the true reality of the Liberal jobs agenda. They may not like to hear the truth over there but the fact is my source of information for this sad statistic is, ironically, Statistics Canada. It comes from their employment trends survey, January 1996.

We know the government will tell us that by ramming the bill through committee it will be able to implement more quickly the necessary changes needed to better serve Canadians in the area of unemployment insurance.

I can tell by the heckling over there that these are comments that hurt.

The government has consistently abused its power 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. The best way to help Canadians with UI would be to return to the principles of true insurance, a true insurance plan.

During debate prior to second reading I stated I believe every member of Parliament should have an adequate opportunity to speak to this bill in the House of Commons. To date they have not. There have been a great number of demonstrations around the

country on this bill, particularly in the maritimes, and we have had a total of only three hours of debate. Members must have the opportunity to both pose and respond to questions from their colleagues and opposition members. By drastically limiting debate on this bill the government is demonstrating its complete disdain for the parliamentary process.

Remember, the process is not about our scoring points or ramming through bills simply to brag to the media that we have accomplished something. The process means more than that. The process allows members to reflect with their colleagues here in Ottawa what their constituents are telling them in their ridings about the legislation in question, which is important.

That is the issue. This is especially significant when working with a bill which has such a profound impact on the lives and welfare of millions of Canadians. The Liberals have never allowed us to do that in the House. They do not even believe their own rhetoric. They are hypocrites who say one thing and do another.

The heritage minister stated: "I have already said personally and very directly that if the GST is not abolished I will resign. I do not know how clear you can get. I think you have to be accountable on the things you say you are going to do and you have to deliver on it". As a Liberal candidate, the Prime Minister stated in 1993: "We will scrap the GST". The have very clearly broken that promise, and yet the heritage minister has not resigned. It shows us how good her word is. Scrapping the GST means scrapping the GST.

On October 18, 1993 the Prime Minister stated: "The Liberal Party is committed to maintaining old age security", but last week in the budget the government killed it. Maintaining means maintaining, not killing. The Liberals said they would make unemployment insurance more like true insurance. Instead they have made it more like welfare. I warn all not to succumb to the misleading line the government has taken on unemployment insurance with its pompous intention to get input from the Canadian public.

First, it is clear the government has little interest in hearing the views of Canadians when it comes to legislation. For example, the former chairman of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development refused the request to have witnesses at committee to express their concerns over the new powers given to the government in Bill C-96. Instead, by some executive fiat he decided that each party would be limited to only one witness and that all witnesses would appear simultaneously as a panel. This is not exactly inclusive policy development.

The second reason we should be rather circumspect about the intention of the government to seriously review the bill has to do with a broken promise by the former parliamentary secretary of human resources development and the former chairman of the HRD committee.

During deliberations on future business of the committee, in response to my inquiries, they committed to all those present that neither of the UI bills would be referred to committee prior to second reading. The question was put to them clearly and without ambiguity. The response by them was that the bills would not be referred to committee prior to second reading.

It is clear the government did exactly what it had confirmed it would not. The intentions of the government most often are the exact opposite of what it would like the public to believe. It is this kind of hypocrisy, inconsistency and insincerity that the government has come to expect from the political hack dictating the government agenda.

The third reason for being circumspect to the government's rhetoric of inclusive policy development is quite simple. The government limited debate to three hours before referring the bill to committee. Even if we had defeated the government's motion to refer the bill to committee prior to second reading there would still have been ample opportunity for extensive witness consultation at committee which would have allowed members to speak to the bill.

I fail to comprehend why the government wishes to preclude members of Parliament from speaking to this bill. The only reason I can surmise is that the dissension in the backbenches of the Liberal Party is so great with the members, especially from Atlantic Canada, opposing this bill so vigorously that the government cannot afford to give them the opportunity to criticize it before the House.

Thanks to the motion put forward by the Bloc Quebecois those Liberal backbenchers will now be able to tell the House how their constituents feel about this misguided legislation.

Let me address some components of the minister's so-called reforms of UI. The former minister advised the House to read Hansard from the time at which UI was originally introduced. It is clear that such a request by him demonstrates that he had not done so himself. If he had, he would have been embarrassed that his EI program is diametrically opposed to what the original framers of this legislation intended back in 1940 or even in 1919 when the idea was first discussed in Canada.

I only hope the new Minister of Human Resources Development takes the advice of his colleague, who was so free with it, and that he takes the trouble to learn about the original intention of UI. Maybe then he would quickly ascertain what he should do with this legislation.

Ironically, when the Liberal government of Mackenzie King introduced unemployment insurance legislation in July 1940, he too tried to ram it through Parliament at the end of a session. It would appear this trick of ramming important legislation through the House is one with a long tradition.

Our side of the House is not motivated by the calendar or the clock. We have a responsibility to fulfil, a duty to the Canadian people. I believe no one in this assembly is more anxious than any other to perform that duty. There is no monopoly on the desire to accomplish a public good. If by giving the House full debate at second reading it takes a few additional days to pass a measure of legislation which affects millions of Canadians, then this is my challenge: why have the Liberals been so averse to giving extra time to debate this bill?

The employment insurance bill which we debate today has taken us very far away from what UI was intended to be when its framer originally designed it. Today EI is thought of by the Liberal government as an income supplement, not as insurance. Let me quote from the Liberal minister of labour in 1940, who in supporting the concept of individuals caring for their own unemployment situations quoted from the report penned by Mr. Justice Mathers, chief justice of Manitoba in 1919:

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 a lack of opportunity, sickness, invalidity or old age. Such insurance would remove the spectre of fear which now haunts the wage earner and make him a more contented and better citizen.

I agree with the then minister of labour who was concerned that UI be used to get people from one job for short periods of time into another job. The minister of labour of the time was also concerned that UI never become a way of life for people and that measures should be taken to avoid people's ever coming to rely heavily if not completely on UI as a way of life or a continual subsistence.

To make his point he quoted from a report by the Civil War Workers of Great Britain:

-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 may lead straight to pauperization. A well devised scheme of insurance preserves the self respect of the workers and assists and encourages them to supplement it by provision made industrially through an association.

It is exactly this original intent which the minister has allowed to slip away. UI today is for too many people a way of life. For too many people UI is the dole to which the then minister of labour referred.

With the new changes to UI the Minister of Human Resources Development announced over $1 billion in training programs for areas of high unemployment. This is exactly the kind of dole that the government of Mackenzie King argued against. Look at what these programs have done for the areas for which they have been targeted: nothing but force people to perpetually rely on the state.

We need only look at the colossal failure of the TAGS program to know what these mega social engineering projects fail to create, long term sustainable jobs.

I will acknowledge that EI changes made some very small baby steps in the right direction such as rolling back payroll taxes and maximum insurable earnings and tightening eligibility requirements. However, the steps are so tiny and slow that the creeping of a glacier seems like the pace of a greyhound in comparison.

Let me address the issue of payroll taxes for a moment. The government states it will stimulate job creation by reducing taxes to both employers and employees. Would it not follow then that if a tax roll back of 5 cents creates some 25,000 jobs, a bigger roll back would create more jobs? If the government cared about job creation, in the budget last week would it not have rolled back payroll taxes? Instead it is continuing to gouge wage earners. It is running an annual UI surplus of over $5 billion which it is just sucking into its major deficit reduction plan.

As well, if the government believes that rolling back payroll taxes creates jobs, when it introduce the 7 per cent payroll tax on part time workers, will it not be choking off job creation?

The government only appears anxious to provide against the future ill effects of unemployment. There is a real question here as to whether part time employees should be asked to bear at this time a new charge against their wages in addition to those currently imposed.

These two fundamental logical contradictions demonstrate that either the government is not sincere about its jobs, jobs, jobs mantra or that it does not really understand what it is doing when it attempts to reform UI.

Mr. Speaker, I understand question period will starting in a few moments. How much time do I have left?

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member will have three minutes left on her debate and there will be 10 minutes of questions and comments at the end.

I ask the hon. member, because we are close to two o'clock, if she would hold any further comments until after question period. She could then wrap up without interruption.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would be more propitious to do that. I have an amendment I would like to bring forward at that time as well.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 2 p.m., we will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Women's Curling ChampionshipStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate Ontario skip Marilyn Bodogh and the St. Catharines Curling Club on winning the Canadian Women's Curling Championship at Thunder Bay on February 25, 1996.

The victory at the nine-day Scott Tournament of Hearts saw the Ontario team from St. Catharines emerge as Canada's team for the world tournament later this month in Hamilton.

After the victory Ms. Bodogh was quoted as saying: "We knew when we put this team together we were going to win. We never thought about losing". That positive energy and attitude is a great example to everyone in our country.

Congratulations to Marilyn Bodogh of St. Catharines for putting together a winning team for Canada. Good luck in the world championships.

Indian AffairsStatements By Members

March 12th, 1996 / 1:55 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, newspaper reports indicate that the minister is to enter into an agreement for $10 million in compensation for 17 Inuit families that were voluntarily relocated to the high Arctic in the 1950s. Although the move was not without its hardships, the new community is reported to be among the most successful in the high Arctic.

Contrary to documentary evidence and the good reputation of government officials at the time, the politically predictable Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples condemned the move and recommended compensation. The Globe and Mail suggested that this would apply a retroactive morality, satisfying a need to assert the contemporary cant of political correctness.

Rather than engaging in historical revisionism and settling old grievances, imagined or real, the government would be better advised to focus on contemporary needs.

Cheese Capital Of CanadaStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Larry McCormick Liberal Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to congratulate Hastings county on having achieved recognition as the cheese capital of Canada.

Hastings county is home to four fine cheesemakers: Eldorado Cheese, Ivanhoe Cheese, Maple Dale Cheese and Riverside Cheese. These cheesemakers make fine, distinctive products that I am proud to recommend to you.

In addition to the pleasure experienced by our taste buds, each company contributes to the local economy, from utilizing milk produced by dairy farmers, to providing jobs for production staff in their plants and jobs for retail staff in their stores.

The fine cheesemakers of Hastings county continue a long and esteemed tradition of fine cheesemaking in central and eastern Ontario.

I would ask hon. members to please join me in congratulating four Hastings county processors and the county of Hastings in gaining the designation of cheese capital of Canada.

Simon Peter HallahanStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, my riding of Huron-Bruce was saddened by the recent passing of a very prominent community figure, Simon Peter Hallahan. He was in his 96th year.

Simon was hard working and dedicated not only to his family but also to his community. He was always deeply involved in community and farm organizations in the township.

His accomplishments were many, as a member of the Wawanosh Federation of Agriculture, the township council, township reeve, active in the Huron County Ploughman's Association, Huron County Milk Producers, Huron County Pork Producers, Huron County Holstein Association, the Knights of Columbus and the Blyth Fire Board, just to name a few.

Simon was also a lifelong member of the Liberal association and was honoured by a visit to his family farm by the Prime Minister during his 1992 tour of Huron county.

Throughout Simon's life he truly lived. He gave his best for his family, his community and his country.

At this time I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Beatrice and his family. He will be deeply missed by all those who were honoured to know him.

Tribute To Craig KielburgerStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Saint-Denis, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning some of the members of this House had the privilege of meeting someone who can be considered a role model for our young people.

Craig Keilburger, who is in the gallery today, has proven that there are young people in our society who take charge and empower themselves to become spokespeople for the young people in the world who are suffering from abuse and neglect.

I invite all parliamentarians to work together, along with Craig and Free the Children, to stop child labour in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and even our trading partner, Mexico.

The government has already launched initiatives that will work directly with countries to reinforce these programs but it is not enough. Through measures such as these, as well as labelling products that are made by children and increasing awareness in the Canadian public, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of children who live in servitude around the world.

Let us all applaud one of the heroes of Canada.

Asbestos RegionStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Asbestos region in the Quebec riding of Richmond-Wolfe, which has been struggling with major economic difficulties, is about to experience major developments relating to the asbestos industry.

The first good news is that J.M. Asbestos will be investing $125 million in the development of an underground mine, thus guaranteeing 700 people work for the next 20 years.

The second is that Métallurgie Noranda has decided on Asbestos as the site of a $525 million magnesium plant, which will create some 375 direct jobs.

I wish, in closing, to express my congratulations to all concerned, particularly the President and CEO of J.M. Asbestos, Bernard Coulombe, without whom everyone agrees these two projects could never have seen the light of day.

Asbestos is being born again. We wish it every success in its return to prosperity.

Learning Disabilities MonthStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, March is Learning Disabilities Month and 1996 commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.

An organization of dedicated individuals works at the local, provincial and federal levels, committed to improving the lives of people with learning disabilities. The association provides the resources, education and tools necessary to assist children and adults with these problems to lead full productive lives. These courageous individuals, through their perseverance and the assistance of the volunteers at the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, succeed at work, school and in the community.

Between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of Canadians have learning disabilities. Canadians with learning disabilities and the association joined together to show us the true meaning of co-operation, courage and dedication. I encourage Canadians to wear the lapel pin proudly as a symbol.

I ask my fellow parliamentarians today to join me in a salute to Learning Disabilities Month, and to those outstanding individuals with learning disabilities who strive for a lifetime of achievement and happiness.

The Medicine BeatStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Audrey McLaughlin NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the recent success of Canadian artists at the Grammy Awards in the United States indicates the importance of investment in the arts in Canada. At the recent Juno Awards aboriginal Canadians have also shown the great talent of First Nations people.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate a unique musical group from the Yukon who this week won the Juno for best music in the aboriginal Canadian recording category. Jerry Alfred and his group the Medicine Beat, Marc Paradis, Bob Hamilton, Andrea McColeman and Marie Gogo have travelled widely in Canada and their unique style of music has touched many Canadians. The Medicine Beat derives its music from traditional northern Tutchone songs. Jerry Alfred credits his father for encouraging him to continue the tradition of northern Tutchone music.

Bob Hamilton, the owner of Old Crow Recording, produced and also performed on their hit song Elsin Shon, his grandfather's song and the title of their CD.

Foreign AffairsStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Anna Terrana Liberal Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the situation between China and Taiwan is becoming more and more tense.

Vancouver has a large community of Taiwanese, which is a great addition to the fabric of our society. They are serious participants in the life of our city and country. So are the Chinese, who have been in this country for over a century and who have worked hard, through difficulties and great challenges, to contribute a great deal, not only to Canadian multiculturalism but to the building of this great country.

Both communities are distraught to hear that a serious conflict is taking place between their countries of origin, a conflict that may bring grief and sorrow to a lot of people whose goal is the welfare of their families and country.

I would like to make mention of the government's efforts to create dialogue between China and Taiwan. Canada has always been considered a peaceful country, whose people have always been able to negotiate differences of opinion and reach compromise. We must avoid what has happened in other countries. Conflict must be avoided.

Our government must continue to offer its assistance to both China and Taiwan.