House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was weeks.


The House resumed from May 2, 1996, consideration of Bill C-12, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada, as reported (with amendments) from the committee; and Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10 a.m.


Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the debate on unemployment insurance reform. Like my colleagues, I will speak with the aim of shedding a little light on its impact on the world of culture.

This reform being proposed by the Liberal government will have a profoundly negative impact on people and employment, as the hearings of the parliamentary committee have shown. It appears to a number of people, including the Bloc Quebecois, that employment insurance, new terminology defined by the reform, is nothing more than impoverishment insurance. In other words, the unemployed have no more assurance of employment, but they have the certainty of going poor.

The conditions of eligibility have been tightened. Eligibility under this bill increases the threshold level from 12 to 15 15-hour weeks to 12 to 20 36-hour weeks, in fact more than double. The effect of this new eligibility criterion is to make the system less accessible to most employees, especially those who are currently working part time.

Whereas all workers will have to contribute as of the first hour, in Quebec, as in Canada, tens of thousands of workers will have to pay premiums without being assured of receiving a single cent of benefits in the event their job is terminated, and, in this regard, artists, creators and people working in culture will be penalized first.

Bill C-12 provides for employment insurance protection to part time workers and to those holding a number of jobs, but provides no such protection for self-employed artists. Artists are considered to be self-employed and therefore are not eligible for employment insurance. The government's main argument for excluding self-employed workers from the system lies in the fact that workers in this category can terminate their employment themselves, therefore voluntarily.

Of the 156,000 people working in the cultural sector surveyed by Statistics Canada, 29 per cent were self-employed, 47 per cent were employed and 24 per cent were both self-employed and employed. In other words, more than half the people working in the arts and culture are partially or fully self-employed and are therefore considered independent.

The number of independent jobs, that is, part time jobs and multiple jobs held by a single individual, increases much more quickly than the number of so-called traditional jobs.

Basically, the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, feels that Bill C-12 should be withdrawn. Our party wants the government to withdraw this bill and to have another consultation process to ensure a reform of the unemployment insurance system that is suited to the new realities of the job market, including the job market in non traditional areas.

Amazingly this bill on unemployment insurance reform does not allow self-employed workers to benefit from the system even though it was estimated that the costs to the system would be relatively low. Indeed, according to projections, extending protection would entail, percentage-wise, a relatively low increase of the system's net costs by the year 2004.

If Bill C-12 does not allow artists and many others workers in the creative and cultural fields to benefit from what is now called employment insurance, why levy premiums on their low wages when they are systematically excluded from the system? That does not make sense.

These people are denied access to the employment insurance but we levy premiums on their wages from the very first hour worked. Considering that most artists as well as numerous other workers in the cultural field cannot claim UI benefits or take advantage of employee assistance programs-they do not even have a pension plan-it is outrageous that Bill C-12, this UI reform project, does nothing to remedy the situation.

The employment insurance system conceived by the federal government and supposedly in tune with the 21st century's reality, offers no coverage to artists and workers in the cultural field. And I repeat, the new provisions concerning part time jobs and multiple jobs are no help at all for self-employed artists, who are not eligible for employment insurance benefits.

As official opposition critic in matters of heritage and cultural industries, it is my duty to condemn this government's lack of action and this reform's unfairness, since there is no definition of self-employment or independent work, and no rule or regulation is suggested concerning these cases.

The government did not deign to take into consideration the brief submitted by the cultural sector human resources council. To quote only one example, Revenue Canada recently communicated with several theatrical booking agencies in Toronto to tell them that since they were hiring actors, consequently they should contribute as employers to the unemployment insurance system. But the fact is actors are self-employed, they are the ones paying for the services of booking agencies, it is not the other way around.

It should be noted that in this particular case, Revenue Canada and its management are acting in such a way that they add insult to injury. Not only are actors, artists and creators not entitled to UI benefits, but Revenue Canada wants to extort UI premiums from casting agents or others, on behalf of people who are not entitled to benefits under this plan. We recognize here the Liberal way to do things for the sole purpose of padding the public purse and getting the deficit under control at the expense of ordinary people, especially artists, creators and cultural workers.

I would like to conclude by reminding this House that, in 1980, over 15 years ago, the federal government signed the UNESCO Belgrade recommendation concerning the status of the artist, clearly upheld in the Status of the Artist Act, which received royal assent on June 23, 1992.

The status of the artist, clearly defined by the Belgrade recommendation, endorses the notion that artists must be eligible to the same UI benefits as any other citizens.

As the opposition critic for heritage and cultural matters, I condemn this government's ignorance, its blatant ignorance regarding the Belgrade recommendation it signed. Nowhere in the bill on unemployment insurance reform, nowhere in Bill C-12 is there mention of the status of the artist, of the words artist, creator, cultural workers.

The words artist, worker, creator are not part of the vocabulary of the government or the Minister of Human Resources Development. We have every right, on this side of the House, to ask this government, in the name of justice and fairness, to withdraw this bill.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this bill. In particular, I want to comment on how disappointed I was to sit through part of the committee's deliberations on the bill. This committee meeting went on for 24 hours, three full working days. During that time the Bloc Quebecois did not put forward one single amendment of any substance whatsoever and certainly not on the issue of artists and employment, about which the member has just spoken.

I wonder where the lack of interest in this important sector of our economy is: on this side of the House or on the other side of the House.

I want to speak on what this legislation does for women who, as all of us know, have significant barriers to advancing in the workplace, to having equality economically as workers, and to talk about some of the ways in which this bill has significant advantages for women.

The bill ensures that women will have their benefits reduced less than men. Whereas men in the workforce will see a 10 per cent reduction it will be 7 per cent for women by the year 2001. This is important because Canada has been a world leader in its commitment to gender analysis of major new policy initiatives. This is the first major new policy initiative on which a gender analysis has been done and for which the minister, cabinet and members of Parliament have the full ability to understand how a piece of legislation affects women differently from men and ensures that we are moving toward equality rather than away from it in the measures we take.

All part time work will now be insured. This is a major boost to women in the workplace who are nearly 70 per cent of Canada's part time workforce. For the first time a quarter of a million women who hold down part time jobs will have their work insured. They will be entitled to claim employment insurance benefits if and when they lose their jobs.

Under employment insurance many women will be able to escape the so-called 14-hour job trap. Because all jobs will be insured, employers will no longer have an incentive to keep jobs under 15 hours a week. Women who hold down more than one job to make ends meet will now be fully insured.

Under the new process all hours worked, every single hour, will count toward a claim for people who become unemployed. This means that multiple job holders will be fully covered if they take sick, if they take maternity or paternity leave or lose one or more of their jobs for one reason or another.

While more women will be covered, many others will have premiums refunded. About 700,000 women who earn $2,000 or

less a year will receive a refund, including 495,000 who pay premiums today and have little chance of qualifying for benefits.

Equality of opportunity is a basic Canadian value. We have implemented measures to help single parents and low income families get back on their feet. Low income families, two-thirds of which we know are headed by women, will see their employment benefits actually increased by 12 per cent thanks to the family income supplement and other measures. Benefits for single parent families specifically will increase by 13 per cent.

The family income supplement will boost the weekly income of many low income families, many of which are headed by women. It will boost the living standard of children in this country. The family income supplement will provide an average top up of $800 per family for families with incomes of under $26,000 a year.

Exceptions to the intensity rule will also help women. We have also made a provision so that women returning to the workforce perhaps after having taken five years off to care for a child will have access to employment programs. It also means that low income women will be able to increase their weekly income while claiming benefits. The increased earnings exemption will mean women are able to earn up to $50 a week or 25 per cent of their benefits, whichever is higher, while on claim.

Because there has been so much discussion about this issue in the House and in public particularly in the last few weeks, I would like to talk about the role members of Parliament have played in this legislation. One of the commitments our government made when it was elected was to give members of Parliament a stronger role in developing legislation and in representing their constituents. This bill is a very good example of that process.

The bill was referred to committee before it was debated in Parliament and before it was subject to any approval or voting whatsoever. Through that process members of Parliament from all parties had an opportunity to shape the bill, to suggest changes to it and to bring back a full report without the constraints of it being government policy and something to which they had to adhere before Parliament debated the bill. Therefore, Parliament would be able to debate it in full awareness of the views of members of Parliament from all parties and from all regions of the country.

When the bill went back to committee, members of Parliament were very instrumental in amending the bill. I want to mention three members of my own party in particular who brought forward significant amendments. They told the minister this was not good enough for their constituents. This is the way members of Parliament effectively represent their constituents, by identifying problems and working to solve those problems.

I pay particular tribute to the member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury who dealt with the seasonal employment workers who work a bit, then do not work and then work again. He made sure it was their total working time that counted and that the gaps in between those periods of working did not discount their benefits.

I pay tribute to the member for Halifax West who ensured that there were higher payments in high unemployment regions.

I pay tribute to the member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore who made a significant change to encourage people to find work, which is one of the fundamental principles of this bill. This bill encourages people to find work and does not penalize them when they find an extra day, a week or an hour of work. The member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore was key in making a change that would make it more productive for people as they would not lose benefits by taking on extra work that supplemented their income.

This is the way our government has encouraged Parliament and members of our caucus to work. Through that, I believe it has encouraged members of Parliament from the different parties to work together more closely. That is why the consideration of this bill over the last few days has been very discouraging.

The Bloc Quebecois simply filibustered in the committee. It kept the committee sitting all night, not doing any work on the bill, but just debating. Bloc members talked endlessly, hour after hour throughout the night. Not one single amendment to the bill was put forward. There were no constructive ideas, no positive contributions. They just sat there and talked over and over again.

I am pleased to support the bill. As with every piece of legislation that passes through this House it is not perfect but it does make major progress for the workers of this country.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is unanimnous agreement on Bill C-12 dealing with employment insurance. For two years now, in Canada and in Quebec, we have seen Canadians and numerous groups representing them oppose this unfair bill which will only make workers poorer, especially young workers and women who already have a most difficult time on the labour market.

If government had not gagged the human resources committee, these groups could have explained once more how the bill will not help the jobless because the reform it proposes will create even more poverty and, by modifying eligibility criteria, will send more people onto welfare.

During the last election campaign, the Liberals, besides promising to scrap the GST, also used another very important slogan: jobs, jobs, jobs. Now, Quebecers and Canadians know quite well the value of promises made by members of this government. What has the government accomplished since October 25, 1993? The answer is simple: it has just carried on with the previous government's program, the Mulroney agenda. Cut after cut, social programs, and therefore the have-nots, are the main targets.

Our harsh judgment is not based on an erratic bias against an intelligent reform of social programs or a logical reform of our unemployment insurance program. The proposed reform makes no sense. These programs must be reviewed so that they will equitably meet the real needs of people who are having a hard time finding and keeping jobs. But there is only one objective to the current reform: to make blind cuts that will hit hard the poorest and workers. The government is artificially reducing the deficit at the expense of employers and workers who contribute to the unemployment insurance fund.

Indeed, since 1990, that is for the last six years, the government has been pulling out of financing the fund, while continuing to manage it. The very substantial surpluses realized by the funds these last few years have been used to reduce the deficit. Premiums have been slyly disguised as a tax to reduce the deficit. Those who are lucky enough to work have the exceptional privilege of paying this new tax called unemployment insurance contribution, even though it is not being used exclusively to meet the needs of those who are not as privileged.

The Bloc Quebecois, in its minority report on social program reform, proposed "that the unemployment insurance fund be treated as a non-budget entity managed by an independent organization. The way the program is controlled and contributions used must be changed". Therefore, the preferred route chosen by the Bloc Quebecois would be to give management of the program to the provinces. We could also set up a new organization which would exercize a better control over unemployment insurance and would not come under the control of the Department of Human Resources Development.

Major labour confederations in Quebec and Canada, as well as organizations like the Canadian Manufacturers Association and the Conseil du patronat du Québec were highly critical of the the government's accumulation of surpluses in the unemployment insurance fund. Such surpluses, combined with the fact that the government continues to cut into the program, do not contribute in any way to job creation. On the contrary, they are a major obstacle.

As for unemployment insurance eligibility, Bill C-12, if passed, will have a devastating effect on the possibility of benefiting from unemployment insurance in case of job loss. In 1990, 87 per cent of unemployed people were receiving benefits, while only 46 per cent do today. It does not make sense to think that this percentage could decrease even further.

Yet, what the minister is proposing to us in his bill will not increase this percentage, quite the opposite. In fact, the number of hours required to qualify for benefits is more than doubled, going from 420 to 700 hours, instead of the 180 to 300 hours required at this time. For new workers, it will be even more dramatic, because they will have to work for 910 hours before qualifying.

Furthermore, the maximum benefit will decrease from $448 to $413 per week. This $35 cut thus reduces by more than 7 per cent the maximum a person losing his job will be entitled to, provided, of course, he meets the eligibility criteria. So, their reduced buying power will force the unemployed to curtail their lifestyle and cut into some of their most basic needs. It is a bread and butter matter. Everyone understands that, except the government, of course.

So, people will have to work longer to receive fewer benefits and for a shorter period. That is how the Liberal government sees the improvement of the system. These new eligibility criteria will particularly affect young people and women. Since these groups represent the majority of part time workers, they will need a very high number of hours to qualify for benefits.

The Minister of Human Resources Development should take example on his colleague from the finance department who, as recently as yesterday, in the House, during question period, reiterated his statement that the promise to abolish the GST had been a mistake. He even said he was making this statement on behalf of the government of the Liberal Party. It is high time the minister admitted that his bill is a gross error and that it must be withdrawn without delay.

In conclusion, I would like to draw the attention of the House to a statement in the May 1, 1989 issue of Hansard : ``The point I am trying to make, which many of us will have to look at seriously, is the whole notion of trust and credibility. Canadians are prepared to share the burden, if they think it is being done fairly. Unemployment insurance, family allowance, and old age pensions are a sacred trust. We must not allow the trust of Canadians to deteriorate to a point where they become cynical. I have listened to people talk about New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and about other countries and how they do it. This country is very special in how it deals across the board with men and women in every part of the country. There are basic standards, basic programs, universal programs, and programs that allow people to deal with their future with some degree of security''.

What stands out from these remarks made by the Minister of Human Resources Development when he was in opposition is that, with Bill C-12, the degree of security the minister is referring to

will certainly turn into income insecurity for those who will lose their jobs under the Employment Insurance Act. It is unfortunate that logic is dependent on which side of the House one sits on.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Roger Pomerleau Bloc Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-12, concerning the unemployment insurance reform. This bill has been shamefully entitled an act respecting employment insurance in Canada.

Through this bill, the government claims, and has clearly said so, to be pursuing two goals: first, to promote job creation, and, second, to improve the system's fairness. However, we will see that this bill will do exactly the opposite and that, here again, the government is about to increase the unfairness of the system, as was pointed out by my colleague who spoke just before me.

First, there will be no job creation. Why? As we all know, the Prime Minister has been repeating ad nauseam for a few weeks that the government is not there to create jobs. With the massive layoffs in the public service, the privatization of ports, airports, railway lines and bridges, and now the disposal of railway cars announced in Bill C-31, where at least 10,000 railway cars will be sold, it is clear that, instead of creating jobs, the government is organizing a gigantic closing sale.

The Prime Minister is perfectly right in saying that a government does not create jobs. However, the Prime Minister says: "Government does not create jobs. I urge the private sector to join with us to make that job growth happen; the private sector will create jobs".

Again, this is only partly true, because it is not large companies that create jobs. In fact, these companies are the ones laying off the largest number of people, this at a time when their profits are higher than ever before. General Motors made profits of $1.39 billion, but laid off 2,500 employees. In 1995, Bell Canada made profits of $502 million, but laid off 3,200 employees, in addition to the 8,000 that had already been let go since 1990. Petro-Canada, which sort of belongs to us since we paid for it, made profits of $196 million, but laid off 564 employees. Shell made profits of $523 million in one year, but laid off 471 employees. Imperial Oil made profits of $514 million, but laid off 452 employees.

And, last but not least, the five major Canadian banks, which made total profits of $4.9 billion. This means 5,000 million dollars in profits. Still, these banks laid off 2,800 employees.

Do not tell us that major companies create jobs when they make profits. Do not tell us, as the Prime Minister did, that private companies are the ones that will create jobs.

The presidents of these banks are paid incredibly high salaries. Jeffrey Simpson, from the Globe and Mail , recently wrote a very good article on this issue. He said the situation was totally unacceptable, because these undue benefits and enormous salaries are not related to performance. Just remember Canary Wharf, in which Canadian banks lost hundreds of millions because they made bad investment decisions. The banks do not always make the right decisions. Yet, not one of these bank presidents had his salary cut. There is no connection between performance and salaries. Their salaries go up each year, while employees are being laid off. This is what is happening.

If, as the Prime Minister says, it is not the government that creates jobs, and if, as we can see, it is not large companies either, then who will create jobs? It is small and medium size businesses, it is, as Mr. Parizeau said, the "tiny, tiny businesses". They are the ones creating jobs; yet, they are also the ones that will be penalized with Bill C-12, as we shall see.

Under the old system-I use the word "old" but I should say "current"-workers and employers start paying unemployment insurance premiums after 15 hours of work or $163 in earnings. The amount earned is called the insurable earnings. This is what the current system provides for.

But with the changes being introduced, employees and employers will pay UI premiums from the very first hour of work. Who usually hires people for less than 15 hours a week? Not large corporations, not Bell Canada, not General Motors, not Petro Canada; small and medium size businesses do. What will it mean for them?

Previously, people could work for up to 15 hours a week without either the employee or the employer having to pay UI premiums. Now, as soon as a person works an hour, both that person and the business will have to pay premiums. That means that the whole payroll is covered, from the first hour of work, which directly hits small and medium size businesses.

This new grab for premiums will bring close to $1 billion into the unemployment insurance account, and that huge amount will come from low wage earners and from all small businesses, which are the only ones creating jobs in Canada. And they talk about job creation.

Meanwhile, what is happening at the other end of the system? They are lowering the contribution ceilings. Previously, people were contributing into the UI account up to maximum earnings of $42,380. This meant the worker contributed up to that amount and the employer was also paying his or her share up to that amount. That ceiling is now being lowered to $39,000 and both workers and businesses will pay less.

Therefore, that billion dollars will be taken from the small business sector, the one that creates jobs, which will allow for the same amount of savings for large corporations that are laying off people in droves. So, Bill C-12 will not create, but kill jobs.

It is easy to understand. Here is an example. Under the present plan, if a company has an employee who earns $40,000 a year, both the employee and the company contribute to the UI fund on those $40,000.

Since the earnings ceiling is $42,000, contributions would be paid on the whole amount. But under the new plan, if the company has a surplus of work, it will be much more profitable to have the same employee work overtime for $30,000 or more, with his annual earnings going up to $70,000 a year or more, because there are no contributions for the earnings over $39,000.

Instead of hiring another employee to do the work, it is much better for the company to have its existing workers work overtime. This bill will not accelerate, but slow down job creation. We talk about work sharing, but it is obvious that this bill does not deal with this issue at all.

We have also been told that greater equity was another goal. That was their second argument. But the bill will actually make things more unfair. High income earners will pay $900 million less in premiums.

With Bill C-12, high income earners and big companies, which do not create jobs, will get a $900 million cut in contributions. That is a nice little gift. But to compensate that, low income workers and small businesses, which do create jobs, will have to pay more. That is what is happening with Bill C-12.

I remind the House that 82 per cent of all spending cuts across federal programs are in unemployment insurance. Needless to say, Mr. Speaker, as you are indicating that my time is almost over, that with Bill C-12, the government not only breaks its promises to create justice but also balances the budget with the workers's money. This is a collective salary grab of $5 billion, since the money in the UI fund is not the government's money but has been contributed by workers and businesses, and the government is using this money to reduce its deficit.

In our view, this bill will stimulate poverty instead of employment.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


René Laurin Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleagues did earlier, I would like to say a few words about this bill, not about each of its clauses, because it is a rather thick, not to say dense, document and I would need more than one day to go over everything.

The fact that some 220 amendments to what the government thinks is a perfect or almost perfect bill have been moved goes to show that it is in fact far from perfect and needs a few alterations at least to make it better.

We only need to look at the title to see all the problems the government had to deal with to make this bill look more attractive. The government wants to replace an insurance against unemployment by an insurance that almost goes against employment, but of course, it cannot put it this way. I had a professor, at university, who used to teach us about insurance and explain the principle behind insurance, as was developed by the British, as follows. He would say it in English and we would be very impressed since, at the time, although we did not speak English fluently, we paid a lot of attention to whatever was said in English or to English principles.

The professor used to say: "The principle behind insurance is as follows: "To divide amongst the many the losses of the few"". He would then explain in French, for those who like me at the time did not understand a word of English, that it meant to divide amongst the majority of the people concerned the losses of a number of them. So, the object of the unemployment insurance program we used to know was to divide among the majority of the people who were lucky enough to have a job the losses incurred by the few who had the misfortune to lose their jobs and end up on unemployment. That is the fundamental principle behind ou unemployment insurance system.

Now, we see that the government wants to change the name, probably to suggest that we want to divide among as many people as possible or among the majority the losses incurred by those who would find a job. I hope that is not what it means. You do not get insurance against a job, although that could make some kind of sense, because the government kept talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, and people could say: "What if I suddenly find a job, maybe it could hurt me. It might be better to keep receiving UI benefits or to find something else", since the jobs currently available are not enough to make a decent living.

I am kidding when I say that, because it would be ridiculous for the government to seek passage for a bill that would protect us against the risk of finding a job. What the government tells us, and I think this is how we must interpret it, is that this bill seeks to assure people that they will keep or find a job on the labour force.

Now we must ask ourselves this: Does the bill, as drafted, reach this goal? I cannot demonstrate that every section of the bill does not meet this goal, but I would like to give some examples of real cases in our ridings, particularly in mine.

I will give the example of women or men, but as it happens it is more frequently women, who want to re-enter the labour force after

having raised their children or for some other reason, after having been outside the labour force for some years. What happens to these women? Those who are lucky enough to find a job will have to pay UI premiums as soon as they start working. But to be entitled to benefits, even if their job is a short term one and if they work only for a few weeks or months, they will have to have worked at least 910 hours. What does that mean, in practical terms? We have to compare because for people who are already working and lose their job, the number of hours is not as high. I believe it is something like 700 hours.

What does that mean in practice for these women? After having raised their family, they cannot rest on their laurels because they want to get back to work. Let us say a woman finds a job where she works 3 hours a day, from 9 to noon, 5 days a week, which amounts to 15 hours. If this person is very hard working and really wants to make more money, she also works on Saturday. So she works 6 days a week, 3 hours a day, for a total of 18 hours. At a rate of 18 hours a week, this person will have accumulated at the end of the year-and I am counting only 50 weeks because this person really deserves 2 weeks holidays-900 hours of work. It would only be 750 hours if she worked 15 hours a week. Since the law requires a minimum of 910 hours to be eligible for employment insurance, this person, after having worked 900 hours during the year, will not be deemed eligible for employment insurance if she loses her job.

So this person pulls herself together and tries again the following year. She starts working in January at a rate of 15 hours a week because there is no other job to be had, and her boss needs her for only 15 hours, or 18 hours, a week. She starts working again, and will accumulate 750 hours if she works 15 hours a week or 900 hours if she works 6 days a week. At the end of the second year, she will have accumulated 900 hours again. If she loses her job at the end of the second year, she will not be eligible for employment insurance again. But she will have paid premiums from the beginning.

From the very first hour of work, this worker has paid premiums for unemployment insurance, or employment insurance as we must call it now. At $2.95 for each $100 earned, her contribution will total $186 at the end of the year. After two years, it is two times $186. After 5 years at $186 a year, those contributions amount to close to $1,000. However, that worker would still not be eligible for employment insurance. If that is what the government calls helping people to get back to work, I think that it will have to realize that it is not the right way of helping people.

We could take the example of day care workers. In remote areas, families where the father and the mother work have difficulty finding people to take care of their children. These people do not want to declare their earnings because, of course, they do not make enough and they would be penalized. How does unemployment insurance help those people? It cannot help them because there is no way for them to become eligible for unemployment insurance.

I would also have liked to give the example of training courses denied to people who are already too resourceful. When they find themselves unemployed and they want to improve their skills to redirect their career, they are told that they are too resourceful or too highly educated to have access to the courses and that they must continue to get unemployment insurance benefits and look for a job without additional training. This is ridiculous.

I would have liked to talk about self-employed workers but, since my time is running out, I will leave that to my colleagues. Maybe I will have an opportunity to do so myself later on if the government allows us to debate this bill all day today and again next Monday and Tuesday. We will have the opportunity to deal with these points and to say how this legislation does nothing to help people who are unemployed or who want to find steady employment.

Mr. Speaker, I see that you are listening to me with great interest and respect, as you always do, and I thank you for that. Once you leave the Chair, you will no doubt help me convince your colleagues of the validity of my remarks.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I am sure the member for Joliette understands full well that, as your Speaker, I never let party politics get in the way of my work.

Unemployment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Maud Debien Bloc Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-12, an act respecting employment insurance in Canada.

This is certainly a strange name for a bill that will be harmful to certain groups of Canadians and Quebecers, denying them the protection of the UI system and plunging them deeper into poverty. 1996 is the International Year for the Elimination of Poverty, a fact the government seems to have forgotten.

I would like to begin by saying that Bloc members are not opposed to social program reform. We are, and have always been, in favour of UI reform in order to keep the system up to date.

In our opinion, Bill C-12 fails completely to meet this need to move with the times. Under the reform now before us, the poorest members of society would essentially end up paying for the financial irresponsibility of the financial government, and the latter would see its role in provincial areas of jurisdiction increased.

In fact, this is quite the opposite of the promises made by this government barely six months ago in Quebec. One that is particularly representative comes to mind, something about having to face the music. In light of what has happened since, it is clear that the Prime Minister was addressing not just the Quebec government, but also had in mind Quebecers who were unemployed, particularly women and young people.

We must analyse this bill for what it is and not for what certain Liberal members would have us think it is. It is estimated that over 30,000 Quebecers and Canadians will be forced to turn to welfare if this bill is passed. As recently as yesterday, an article in Le Devoir reminded us, and I quote: ``According to a study commissioned by the Quebec Department of Manpower and Income Security, single mothers were the group particularly affected by unemployment insurance reform. A sizeable number of them would be forced onto welfare rolls''.

The situation is clear. Several of the measures contained in the bill will affect the disadvantaged, whose jobs are generally unstable and at the bottom of the scale. For example, at present, workers are required to contribute to unemployment insurance once they have worked 15 hours in a week, or have earned $163. Bill C-12 proposes to make everyone contribute from the first hour worked.

Workers get their contributions back only if they have earned less than $2,000 in a year, and only when filing their income tax return. Until then, the government has the use of the workers' contributions, and the interest earned on them. This simple measure will affect part time workers in particular, and 70 per cent of these are women or young people. Let us not forget, as well, that the government can dip just as freely into the UI fund, to which it does not contribute one red cent.

The reform proposed by the Liberal government will also restrict access to the plan. At present, a worker has to work at least 15 hours a week, for 12 to 20 weeks, to be eligible for unemployment insurance.

Amendments in Bill C-12 will force possible claimants to work at least 35 hours a week for 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the area. Keep in mind that 31 per cent of women in Canada and Quebec work less than 35 hours a week. Therefore this is a double penalty.

Moreover new workers will be forced to work more than 910 hours before being eligible, a three-fold increase. This measure will seriously impact on women who return to work after have stayed home for a while. Young people just coming onto the job market are also hard hit. Many women and young people will contribute to the unemployment insurance fund but will not accumulate enough hours to be entitled to claim. They will pay premiums without ever being able to receive UI benefits.

It is no wonder therefore that so many women's groups and student associations have submitted briefs against the proposals. They understood, just as we did, that because of those measures they could very well be prevented from ever participating in the system. The Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec maintains that this legislation is violating section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because of its discriminatory impact on some disadvantaged groups.

Moreover, certain provisions of the bill provide for a 1 per cent reduction in benefits for workers who have claimed benefits for 20 weeks or more during the last five years, up to a maximum of 5 per cent. Again, this will have a negative impact on seasonal and contract workers.

Again, women and young people can be found in great numbers in areas where seasonal and contract work is the norm. The government wants to punish women and young people for being too often on UI, treating them as if they were to be blamed for losing their job and for the precarious nature of the labour market.

Using family income to determine eligibility for the family supplement has harmful effects. This is a form of income support which is closely related to welfare. This is not the role of unemployment insurance. Why not increase the child tax benefit instead? Shamefully, this measure brings women back to square one with regard to their financial autonomy.

Finally, since I am running out of time, I would like to mention one last measure contained in Bill C-12, which discriminates against women in the area of maternity leave. Fewer and fewer women are entitled to maternity leave. Current statutory provisions require a minimum of twenty 15 hour work weeks to be eligible for maternity leave. Under the new provisions, over 700 hours of work will be needed.

However, the very person in charge of the status of women keeps on denying that these measures are disastrous for women and young people. The Secretary of State for the Status of Women, appearing before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, claimed that, far from penalizing women, the unemployment insurance reform would benefit them.

And yet, even the Minister of Human Resources Development has recognized that his reform would be harmful and that the bill should be amended. This incident reminds us that since the government abolished the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, there is no longer any group defending women's interests within government.

What can we say about this government's attitude and its lack of compassion for young people? The only measure it implemented was to create a training program called "Experience Canada", which constitutes another intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. But the best part is, just listen to this, the program is managed by the Council for Canadian Unity. As young people would say, things are not cool between the Council for Canadian Unity and young people. Do not treat us like a bunch of twits.

Ultimately, what we are asking today is that the Minister of Human Resources Development do what his ex-colleague Sheila Copps did and keep his word by withdrawing his unfair Bill C-12.

Science FairStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ron Fewchuk Liberal Selkirk—Red River, MB

Mr. Speaker, recently I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremonies of the Science Fair at River East Collegiate in my riding. I was impressed by the fact that some 20,000 students participate in science fairs at the regional level.

About 400 of Canada's finest will go to a Canada-wide science fair this month in Ontario and will compete for more than $100,000 in awards. Five students from River East Collegiate will be among them.

I would like to congratulate the moms and dads and the many volunteers for their time and hard work. I would also like to wish them the best of luck.

Goods And Services TaxStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Jean H. Leroux Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Wednesday, following the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister called a byelection in the riding of Hamilton East for June 17.

What is the real meaning of this election? If the former Deputy Prime Minister is re-elected, will we be able to reasonably conclude that the people have absolved the government for reneging on its promise to scrap the GST? We do not think so.

For quite a while now, politicians have not been getting a passing mark as far as credibility is concerned, and this government, which does not hesitate to sacrifice the neediest in its fight against the deficit, must recognize its mistakes and reaffirm clearly its willingness to treat people with fairness and common sense.

Absolve the government on the GST, no, never.

Paul And Elizabeth PetersStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, for a few days each year, Paul and Elizabeth Peters gather with others who share their joys and concerns parenting handicapped children.

I want to extend this tribute to the Peters in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the annual retreat they initiated at Camp Assiniboia in response to the needs of these families.

The camps have provided a very valuable service to our local communities over the years and have helped address the special needs of the participants. Through the Peters' efforts, families have been able to share their experiences and learn more about opportunities for the handicapped.

In these challenging times, I am encouraged by the generous acts of outstanding Canadians like Elizabeth and Paul Peters.

The Prime MinisterStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Vic Althouse NDP Mackenzie, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is blaming the current public awareness of his incompetence on acts of God. I disagree.

It was not an act of God that produced his government's acceptance of NAFTA nor the subsequent problems over the tariffication of supply managed products. It was bad advice and bad decision making.

It was not God that tried to cover up facts in the Somali affair, it was trusted officials. Nor did God start the multimillion dollar lawsuit against a former Prime Minister over Airbus. It was government officials.

God did not tell Public Works to push Anne Rainey off the Peace Tower project because she was a woman, nor did God cause the discrimination against Chander Grover at the NRC. Government officials did and they gave financial backing to the perpetrators of this inequality.

God did not kill the Crow rate, nor the GST promise, nor the day care promise. The government did.

In our system of parliamentary government, the Prime Minister is god. His acts are indeed the problem.

Partners In Your SuccessStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to host, along with members of the Canadian Bankers' Association and the Ottawa Carleton Board of Trade, "Partners in Your Success" a seminar for business owners, entrepreneurs and interested members of the community.

This event also involves many key business organizations, including the Business Development Bank, the Export Development Corporation, Canadian Commercial Corporation, OC-EDCO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Industry Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

We are also delighted to have the Minister of Industry as our honoured guest and keynote speaker.

I would like to congratulate and thank all of the organizers for their hard work and dedication in putting this important event together.

Reform PartyStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to learn last night that the leader of the Reform Party was finally going to take action and teach his caucus members something about respect for human rights.

I have a few questions. Where was the leader of the third party when other members of his caucus have shown the same intolerant attitudes? Where was the leader this week when another member of his party supported discrimination against gays in the workplace?

When the immigration critic said Jamaicans were responsible for crime in Toronto, the leader blamed it on the media and said there was no need to apologize for grassroot conversations. When a member of his party blamed women for domestic violence, the leader said it was a question of political correctness. Where was he when a member of his caucus mused aloud in this Chamber that the country might be better off without francophones?

Intolerance is not a new problem in the third party.

Developing CountriesStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Maud Debien Bloc Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, in this difficult period of increasing globalization and competition, where some are tempted to withdraw into their shell, it is reassuring to note that some Quebecers continue to be care about developing countries and do not hesitate to get personally involved.

It is therefore with much pride that I salute Claude St-Hilaire, Viateur Alain and Mario Ferland for their work in Senegal in their respective fields of endeavour, that is management of a building company, recycling of plastic waste and the establishment of a school of commerce at graduate level. Their volunteer work overseas, for the International Services of CESO, deserves our admiration.

We are very glad to note that human solidarity with developing countries remain an important value, which should inspire our governments in their relations with our political and trade partners.

Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation Of CanadaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Carolyn Parrish Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation of Canada is working with local partners in the region of Peel, metro Toronto and Montreal to help high schools implement a four-hour CPR program into the core curriculum of health and physical education.

The program is based on ACT's successful 1994 project in Ottawa which now involves 10,000 grade nine students each year. Students learn heart health and how to help a family member in an emergency.

ACT's corporate support is led by Astra Pharma, Hoechst Marion Roussel, Merk Frosst and a number of other pharmaceutical companies. As the CPR program expands, local corporate support is necessary to equip schools with CPR mannequins.

I urge members to support the high school CPR initiative as they move into their constituencies and to encourage local corporate support for the CPR mannequins needed to empower our youth and to save lives.

Goods And Services TaxStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the people of the Atlantic provinces really are aware of how much extra tax they will have to pay because their provincial Liberal governments have come to the rescue of the federal Liberal government as it desperately tries to save face on the GST nightmare.

The actions of their governments will mean that consumers will now pay taxes on such things as children's clothing, second hand goods, heating oil, gasoline, new homes and funerals. While the rest of the country's taxpayers will pay for their government's inability to keep a promise, the people of the east coast will ultimately be the ones to suffer under this harmonization scheme.

The GST rate may be lower for the time being, but when the so-called subsidy runs out and the provincial governments find they have to make up this difference, where will it come from? According to the memorandum of understanding it could come from the Atlantic Canadians themselves as they face increased provincial taxes to cover the shortfall.

Harmonization is not what the government promised on the campaign trail and harmonization, plain and simple, means higher taxes for all. Talk about government by broken promises.

Reform PartyStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the problems of racism and intolerance go beyond a few misspoken words. It is a matter of action as well.

Events of the past week cause all of us to examine our actions and positions as well as our words. I hope that members of the third party will take seriously the challenge to tackle the roots of racism and not try to paper it over by simply cleaning up some language.

Since the last election we have seen a pattern in the intolerant statements of members of the third party. Sometimes they are dismissed, like the slur on Chinese culture, or blaming blacks for crime. Sometimes there is an apology for the language, like the comments about Muslim veils, but no change in position or action.

This time I hope we will see some action and change in position to show that they have really learned something about the meaning of equality in this country.

The third party came here with a promise to do politics differently. So far, the differences it has introduced have not been very encouraging.

Reform PartyStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Beryl Gaffney Liberal Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the third party has chosen in the 11th hour to discipline the member for Athabasca for his bigoted comments against gays. Unfortunately, for the people of Canada who have been hurt by the continuous stream of harmful and discriminatory comments made by Reform MPs, the action is too little and much too late.

Why has he not asked for the resignation of those three MPs making discriminatory comments: the members for Nanaimo-Cowichan, Athabasca and Wild Rose?

Further, why did he not take action against the member for New Westminster-Burnaby in December 1994, who offended all Canadians when he blamed women for domestic violence? What does the leader of the third party have to say to the member for Macleod who says that unwanted sexual touching is not an act of violence?

The leader of the third party dismisses his members' comments as politically incorrect. He has never apologized. I say shame, shame, shame.

Reform PartyStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


John Harvard Liberal Winnipeg—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see that the leader of the third party has finally taken action, although belatedly, to deal with the offensive and disgusting behaviour of two of his caucus members. I hope this will finally force him to review the record of all members of his caucus when it comes to human rights.

I hold out little hope that this will actually happen when the leader of the third party has attempted shamefully to minimize their actions and to blame the media for his members' outbursts. I am sorry, it is not the media that is responsible for the long record of intolerant statements made by Reform Party members.

Was it the media that prompted the member for New Westminster-Burnaby to blame gay men for violence against gays? Did the media make the member for Athabasca repeat his offensive remarks? How can the member for Nanaimo-Cowichan now blame the media for his bigoted comments when he stated similar views in 1994?

I hope we will see genuine action against intolerance-

Freedom Of The PressStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, today is the world day in favour of freedom of the press.

The Bloc Quebecois joins with all those who will rise to remind us of the importance of a conscientious and honest press in a democratic society. We deplore the killing, the imprisonment and the disappearance of journalists whose only crime was to want to inform. In 1995, in Algeria alone, 22 journalists were killed while fulfilling their duties.

Although such a tragic situation does not exist in Canada, we must be vigilant, as evidenced by recent statements by Joan Crockatt, news desk officer of the Calgary Herald , who said that Southam News should create news on national unity and that it had a plan to promote national unity. This shows how fragile our system is.

In the debate that is currently-

Freedom Of The PressStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I am sorry, but the hon. member's time is up.

Freedom Of The PressStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The hon. member for Yorkton-Melville.

Correctional ServicesStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have a correctional system which is no longer effective in deterring criminal behaviour because it has lost the will to punish.

Three decades of correctional experiments in which many violent and serious criminals are forced against their will to participate in rehabilitation programs has proven costly and largely ineffective. The collapse of Edmonton's facility for women illustrates the failure of Canadian corrections to manage criminals, let alone change their behaviour.

Making prison conditions too easy only undercuts the deterrent effect of imprisonment. The philosophy that dangerous, violent and repeat offenders serving hard time should live in residential style cottage units, benefit from taxpayer funded perks such as university education, cable and colour television and special meals is wrong-headed.

Canadians want dangerous offenders held in maximum security institutions, not in prisons where the electronic door locks and alarm systems do not work. Canadians are demanding public safety first, punishment second and rehabilitation third. When will the Liberals learn from their mistakes?

Reform PartyStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the third time in one week we have witnessed offensive and hurtful comments being spread by members of the Reform Party.

I am referring to the comments made on Wednesday by the member for Yorkton-Melville. Once again a member of the Reform Party has lashed out against a minority group, this time Canada's aboriginal community. This Reform member made derogatory remarks about Canada's native leadership when he said that its leadership will turn native self-government into fascist states. These statements are inexcusable. He has chosen to condone Neanderthal sentiments by repeating them in this chamber.

The Reform Party leader has assured Canadians he would no longer tolerate this behaviour in his caucus. Further outbreaks would warrant their expulsion.

Canadians must count on the leader of the Reform Party to keep his promise and ask for the resignation of the member for Yorkton-Melville. Canadians must be assured that even Reformers can keep their promises.