This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

The bill does a number of things. It extends the period for the application of certain provisions of the Employment Insurance Act. It changes the method of calculating the maximum yearly insurable earnings. It exempts persons who receive certain special benefits from being considered as new entrants or re-entrants to the labour force. It removes the reduction of the rate of weekly benefits. It changes the premium rate applicable to insurable earnings. It reduces the number of cases in which benefits have to be repaid and it makes various other consequential amendments.

While I rise to indicate that the NDP supports the bill, the word support almost gets caught in my throat, because we do have some grave reservations around the legislation and what it attempts to do.

While it does take a step toward addressing the critical conditions of Canadian workers, especially those who are working in seasonal industries such as forestry, fishing, tourism, transportation, the auto industry, construction and various other trades, it does not go far enough, and I emphasize this, for the many workers who need help but cannot get any because some provisions of the Employment Insurance Act make them ineligible for EI benefits. While it is a step in the right direction, we feel a lot more has to be done.

The changes that are spelled out in the bill are changes that are important for people living in the Atlantic provinces. I should state right at the outset that people in the Atlantic provinces are not lazy, as the Canadian Alliance would like the public to believe. We are not lazy. We are not unwilling to go where the jobs are. We are not indifferent to the opportunities available to us.

In the Atlantic provinces we are very industrious. People in the Atlantic provinces are hardworking. They are more than willing to go to where the jobs are if the opportunities do not exist in the Atlantic provinces. Unfortunately over the years, because of the treatment of the Atlantic provinces by the Conservative and Liberal regimes, we have not had the opportunities to succeed on our home turf in the same manner that others have had.

However, I am pleased to say that I have travelled to many parts of Canada. Everywhere I go I always run into Nova Scotians, Newfoundlanders and New Brunswickers, people who have gone to where the jobs are because they are determined to care for and look after their families, so much so that they will pull up roots from the Atlantic provinces and move elsewhere to provide a living for their families.

We will dispel the myth being put out there by the Alliance. It indicates that people in Atlantic Canada are looking to the Alliance for guidance and support. That is far from the truth.

To turn to the government, the reason we have concerns about the bill is that we feel the government has not had the desire to make any real substantive changes. It is quite interesting to note that the changes being made are coming on the eve of an election.

The government has not learned yet that people in Atlantic Canada are not naive enough to accept handouts at the time of an election. While it is important to make changes, and these changes are important, let us not delude ourselves as to the timing. The government has had seven years during which it could have paid some very serious attention to unemployment in the Atlantic provinces and to making the situation much better for people who are unemployed.

While there are changes in the legislation that will have a positive effect on the lives of those who are unemployed, we still feel that major changes are required if one is to deal adequately with the problem of unemployment.

It is important when we are talking about unemployment not to treat unemployment after the fact, not to be coming in when there is a problem and saying that we will fix this and patch it up by doing this, this and this. There is an important connection between unemployment and the attitude that we in society take to preventing unemployment. We should adopt a preventive approach. There is a connection.

In that regard we should be looking at the kinds of training we are providing and the kinds of jobs we are putting forward for our youth. It is very important to invest in the young people of our country in a meaningful way. Yet look at what is happening to a lot of our young people. They are attending university and struggling to obtain an education so that they can become productive members of society, and they find themselves faced with huge tuition fees.

In Nova Scotia I believe we pay the highest tuition fees per capita in the country. Yet we expect our young people to be able to eke out a living for themselves under those conditions. What happens is that they come out of university with high debt loads before they even have an opportunity to have a job. In terms of student debt, they owe anywhere from $25,000 and up. That is one measure the government should be looking at very closely if it is concerned about this cycle of unemployment and this cycle of dependency that comes from unemployment.

We should also be investing in our women, in looking at the kinds of opportunities that should be made available to our women. Regardless of what people may say about how far we have come in terms of gender equality, it is still pretty much a man's world out there when we look at business, industry and various professions. I had the opportunity not too long ago to speak to the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering. The first thing that struck me when I looked around the room was that there was a whole roomful of men with one or two women in that profession.

Yet we know that when it comes to designing infrastructure and looking at what is important for our society, women, who constitute at least 50% of our society, have a very important role to play. Quite often they bring a much different perspective to what the needs are than men do. We must have that balance in our approach.

The government should be looking at the kinds of things that support women in the jobs they are doing, in the professions they are seeking. We had a good example of how that was not done until the government was forced to the wall when we look at the pay equity issue and how hard we had to fight to have it dealt with by the government. All of this ties in with the question of unemployment.

We can look at investing in our minority groups and in the aboriginal people of our country. When we look at the conditions on reserves and in the aboriginal communities we see that the poverty rate is much higher than elsewhere, as are the death rate, the incidence of diabetes and all kinds of things. Also the unemployment level is much higher.

Yet when opportunities come up whereby aboriginal people are desirous of making a living for themselves, when they want to enter into sharing resources and make a living in a very productive way, we see the government taking a hard line rather than sitting down and starting negotiations before a crisis arises, a crisis where we can look out on the water and see small fishing boats being rammed by huge government boats. These things are not right.

This is not right. This all ties in with the attitude that we have when we approach problems and start devising legislation. Is obtaining votes the only motive for devising change in legislation? Do we devise change only at a time when we feel it will be popular to do so?

I suggest that we talk about the high degree of unemployment in our aboriginal communities and that we look at the lack of opportunity that quite often exists for people of minority status. I look at people who have come here from other parts of the world and are driving taxis. All they can do is drive taxis because we have some kind of magic formula which determines that only people born in Canada who have degrees in engineering can be engineers, or that only people born in Canada who have degrees in trades can perform those trades. We have to change our attitudes if we want to make the country work, if we want to produce a society that is fair and just.

I will conclude on that note. We have to be serious about the underlying root causes of the problem and not just tinker around with the symptoms of the disease. Let us deal with the disease itself, bring about a cure for that disease, and work hard to make the country the kind of country of which we all can be proud.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Yorkton-Melville, Gun Registry; the hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, Employment Insurance.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my New Democratic colleague, I have a hard time supporting Bill C-44.

In my region, hundreds of thousands of workers have taken to the streets in recent weeks to oppose this bill, which does not go far enough as far as seasonal workers are concerned.

They also oppose the fact that Bill C-44 offers nothing to older workers. In the riding of Jonquière, in a few weeks, 250 older workers will lose their job. They have been unable to put enough into the pension plan to enjoy an honourable retirement. They hoped that the government would include passive measures in Bill C-44 to help older workers.

I do not know whether my colleague in the New Democratic Party has this problem in his riding, but I think that everywhere in Canada at the moment, beyond what the government is saying about the employment insurance fund, it could have established passive measures enabling workers who have contributed for years, who have worked hard to earn decent salaries, to have a decent retirement so they could step aside to make room for younger people to take their place.

I would like to hear my colleague from the New Democratic Party speak on this problem, which the government is ignoring.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her question. She is right. It is a real problem because the government is not listening to the people.

It is becoming more apparent, when we see the large number of demonstrations in our streets today, that governments are not listening to the people, and they should be. It is disturbing to see women marching in order to put forward to the government their need to be treated fairly. We have aboriginal people blockading roads and so forth to get the government to seriously consider their treaty rights. We have older people taking measures to get their rights.

The hon. member is quite right. This is a problem, not only in Quebec, but right across the country. It is time we had a government that is sensitive to and responds and listens to the people so that we will have a society that is fair, appropriate and just.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a supplementary question.

The government is taking money out of the EI fund. This money belongs to the workers and the employers. Does my colleague not find it outrageous that the government is using money that belongs to the workers?

The Prime Minister says that we must be compassionate and that this is the difference between his government and the Alliance. Does my colleague not think that the government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth? There is a hidden tax in the EI fund, which does nothing to help workers.

Only about 40% of all workers currently have access to EI. I would like to hear what the hon. member has to say about the government helping itself to the workers' money.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Again, the hon. member is right, Mr. Speaker. Our employment insurance critic, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, addressed this issue on many occasions. He even used unparliamentary language—“to steal”—but he was right.

The government has in fact taken money, which we know belongs to the unemployed workers and the employers who have paid into this fund, and used it to augment its budget and build a huge surplus. It is now tossing that money back in little dribs and drabs to the people of Atlantic Canada and telling them they should be grateful for getting a little back.

Again the member is quite right. It comes down to attitude and sensitivity on the part of government. It should be listening to the people. It should do what is right and do it by the standards which Canadians pride themselves in, which demand respect for each other and our government. In turn, the government should have respect for its citizens.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

It is almost ironic that we are here tonight talking about the Liberals tinkering with the unemployment insurance, given that over the course of the last seven days, day after day, minute after minute, all of us have heard Canadians talking about our former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the legacy he left them.

Although at times not all Canadians agreed with the former prime minister, I think there is a sense across the country that he did believe in justice for all Canadians. What he also taught Canadians was to reach for the unreachable, to touch the untouchable and to dream the impossible dream. In order to do that he taught us to believe in ourselves and that it was the responsibility of the government to empower its citizens, and that it was also the responsibility of the federal government to play an active role in that empowerment.

Now I stand here in the Chamber and ask myself what kind of legacy the Liberal government will leave Canadians. What kind of legacy is the Prime Minister going to leave children, like my 11 year old daughter and my two year old son? Today in the discussions we had some sense of what that legacy is going to be. It is going to be about long waiting lines for health care and people who cannot access critical surgeries they need.

When we talk about the unemployed, what legacy has the government left? Being from Atlantic Canada I have to say it has been very clear that since 1993 the Liberal government has clearly made a frontal assault on not only seasonal workers but on Atlantic Canadians.

As my colleague from Halifax West noted, we have to ask ourselves, why now? Why at this point in time? We know there are a number of members on the opposite side of the House who have urged the government to recognize the problems its changes to EI have made and to effect some change. I guess the question is can we deny that in this bill there is no change? No we cannot say that. There has been some tinkering with the legislation.

The Minister of HRDC stood time and time again in the House and told us that her department was monitoring the changes to the employment insurance. Up until approximately two months ago she continued to tell us that Canadians thought it was working fine. We know that is not a reality.

In my part of the country people are not seasonal workers because they want to be. There is no such thing in the country as a seasonal worker. It is the work that is seasonal. People in my riding want nothing more than to work 365 days a year with holidays and vacations. However, at the hands of the Liberal government they have had difficulty doing that.

Some people on the opposite side of the House talk about the dependency on the government in Atlantic Canada. In my part of the country the dependency was created by the same Liberal government. We had walls which cost Canadian taxpayers over a million dollars. We heard about projects like Scotia Rainbow. Cape Breton Island is full of those kinds of projects. Were those projects initiated to assist people in gaining employment? No, they were not.

The reason for those projects and others was to make sure that the Liberal government could continue to funnel money to its friends and do it on the backs of poor individuals in Cape Breton who wanted nothing more than to get up every morning, go to work, come home and feel good about their ability to feed and clothe their kids.

When we talk about dependency, it has been created by the government. In 1997 less than 20% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 qualified for unemployment insurance. We heard the government stand up time and time again to talk about how good it had been and how much it had done for youth. Today that figure is only 15%. That is the good job the government has done.

Thirty-two per cent of women who are unemployed receive employment insurance benefits. I even have a problem referring to it as the government employment insurance. As we know, it originated as a safety net, as unemployment insurance. We paid into it in the event there was a possibility that some day we might have to take out of that. However, when the name changed the government abandoned the unemployed of this country.

Why change it now? Are we on the eve of an election? Mr. Speaker, you might have more of an inside track than I do, but it sure sounds like it.

In 1995 the finance minister's own words were that any economic recovery would bypass Cape Breton. This is about buying votes. Everyone knows it. Backbenchers on the government side know that is what it is about. This is not about helping the unemployed. This is not about helping seasonal workers. This is about taking money from an individual's cheque for a specific purpose and then using it for another purpose.

I think that is the definition of fraud, when we take something meant for something specific and use it for something entirely different. We have a finance minister who sits in the House and who goes across the country and boasts about his $33 billion surplus. What does this legislation mean in terms of putting anything back? It means 1.5% of that $33 billion.

Do Atlantic Canadians buy this? No way. Do Canadians buy this? No way. We have a Liberal government that talks about values and talks about its commitment to social programs, but Canadians have suffered from the actions of the Liberal government.

I have no doubt that the government should never under estimate Atlantic Canadians. Atlantic Canadians sent them a clear message in 1997 and said “No more. You are not going to use us any more”. Atlantic Canadians will say that again.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. I have here an OECD document entitled “The OECD Jobs Strategy”. It makes several recommendations. Some of these recommendations are to make work schedules more flexible, and to review unemployment packages and related benefits.

The report says further:

In order to bring more flexibility to the labour market in a number of countries, it was essential to make unemployment packages and other social benefits less generous, to tighten up eligibility rules.

The following quote can be found further in the report:

Canada is the only country which appears to have implemented the recommendations regarding the reduction of the level and length of benefits made as a result of the first set of studies.

Does this mean that the government is implementing international strategies dictated by the OECD in the belief that if benefits are too generous, workers will become lazy and will no longer want to work? People do not want handouts; they want work. That is abundantly clear.

We have seen the government make indiscriminate cuts without a care about their impact on families. I have people coming to my office who in February will experience the spring gap. They will not qualify for social assistance and their unemployment benefits will run out. What are they going to live on? Thin air? I believe the government is completely out of touch with the harsh economic realities in certain regions. It makes no sense whatsoever.

I ask the government to go further with this bill, it can do it. All summer long, we heard it say it could not do anything without introducing a bill. Here is that bill, but it does nothing. It is totally absurd. I am looking forward to my colleague's remarks on this.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is a doubt in anybody's mind how much more difficult the government has made it for Canadians, whether it is people trying to access health care, whether it is people trying to access unemployment insurance or whether it is our youth who are trying to access a quality education, one they can afford.

Tonight there will be 1.5 million Canadian children going to bed hungry. The reality is very clear, especially to the people in my part of the country. This is about an election, not about the unemployed. What a legacy for this Prime Minister to leave Canada: 1.5 million Canadian children who will be going to bed hungry tonight. Children are not poor. They come from poor families.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak in the debate this evening. Before I get into the substance of my speech, I want to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Cumberland—Colchester.

Atlantic Canada has a big seasonal economy. We have a lot of seasonal workers in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. As we are all very well aware, the first set of changes brought in by the Liberal government a few years ago had the effect of making life totally and completely miserable for seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada.

We should be under no illusions. The changes that the Liberals are bringing in today in Bill C-44 will not make life any better for seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada. As a matter of fact, they will make very little change at all because most of the changes coming forth under Bill C-44 are really only cosmetic changes.

There are a a couple of changes to the clawback provision and the intensity rule. It also makes it a little bit easier on folks who are on maternity leave to get back into the system again. We fully intend to support these kinds of changes but we have to make it perfectly clear what Bill C-44 does not do. Bill C-44 will be looked at for what it does not do more than for what it does.

We have to stress that the new rules will not change, in any way, shape or form, the qualifying time for a seasonal worker. It will not change the number of hours that a seasonal worker will need to qualify for employment insurance.

The new rules will not change the duration of time that an individual can draw employment insurance for.

The new rules, believe it or not, will not do a single thing with respect to the devisor rule, which is a millstone around the neck of a seasonal worker because it lowers the benefits of seasonal workers by as much as $100 or $120 a week.

For the last two and a half to three years we have been screaming for those kinds of changes and we have not been able to effect these changes. However, the Liberals have brought in a couple of cosmetic changes that they feel will get them through an election campaign over the next couple of months.

The net result of all the various cutbacks the government has made over the last three and a half year period to employment insurance has been that only 35% of people who get laid off actually qualify for benefits. Because women happen to be in a different work pattern than men, maybe it is because of family—

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize for interrupting the hon. member's remarks.

There have been consultations among political parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion in order to permit consideration of the veterans bill tomorrow, which only came through committee today. I move:

That notwithstanding Standing Order 76.1(1), the House authorizes the consideration of Bill C-41 on Friday, October 6, 2000.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the motion as presented by the government House leader. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2000 / 5:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying a moment ago, only 30% of the women who get laid off in this nation will qualify for benefits. That is absolutely horrendous for seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada.

I do not know if all members of the House fully realize and respect what seasonal workers go through in Atlantic Canada. We have a big seasonal economy in Atlantic Canada. We have a lot of fishermen, loggers and construction workers, people who make a very valuable contribution to this country, and that contribution is not recognized.

I was appalled a few days ago when I heard the member for Calgary—Nose Hill make the statement that the government is changing the unemployment insurance rules when seasonal workers are already making a comfortable living. She is saying this to the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, who a couple of days ago informed the House that 75% of the seasonal workers in New Brunswick make less than $10,000 a year. I would imagine that these numbers also apply everywhere in the Atlantic region, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island: 75% of seasonal workers make less than $10,000 a year.

I cannot understand how the member for Calgary—Nose Hill could say that fishermen make a comfortable living. Sure we have some fishermen who make a comfortable living but, for the most part, most of them do not. What about the loggers in—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member knows that the member for Calgary—Nose Hill clarified what her remarks were. He is deliberately misrepresenting—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

That is not a point of order. That is debate.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, we know what the reform alliance said about Atlantic Canadians and what its attitude is toward employment insurance. It has been documented. It has been in the press a great deal. I know those members are very sensitive about that but they will have to live with it.

The member for Calgary—Nose Hill feels that the fishermen, the loggers and the construction workers in Atlantic Canada are making a comfortable living and says that we should not be giving them employment insurance. I was astounded to hear those kinds of remarks. It shows the blatant ignorance that the Alliance Party has of Atlantic Canadians.

I do not see any changes in this bill with regard to easing the qualifying requirements for regular benefits or anything that increases the time that an individual can draw benefits. Seasonal workers often refer to that time as the black hole, the time when they run out of employment insurance benefits and the time when they will be starting their seasonal job. They often find that employment insurance runs out about half-way through. They may have to go to welfare or to savings that they have accumulated over a number of years in order to get by until the seasonal job starts again.

It is terrible the way government has treated seasonal workers. It has not recognized the kind of valuable contribution that seasonal workers make to the economy.

Can we do without fishermen? No. Can we do without loggers? No. Can we do without construction workers? No. We in this House have to recognize the kind of contribution that seasonal workers make not only to Atlantic Canada, but to Quebec, to northern Ontario and to Alberta. Virtually all of Canada has, to some extent, seasonal employment in certain parts of various provinces.

It is no wonder the government has a $32 billion surplus.

I went to a briefing a couple of days ago over at HRDC and I asked the question “How much money do you have in surplus in the EI account?” They gave me the official numbers, “$32 billion”. I said “How much are you going to spend on these changes?” They said “$500 million”.

What we find is that the federal government is giving back 1.5% to the seasonal workers of Canada, who depend so much on a decent employment insurance system to see them through.

I am terribly disappointed that the cabinet representative for Newfoundland has not spoken to the bill and has not spoken about employment insurance in the House over the last three and a half years that I have been here. Virtually none of the Liberal members from Newfoundland have had anything to say about seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada or in Newfoundland and what changes should be made to the Employment Insurance Act to make it a little bit better for these people.

I am terribly disappointed the Liberals have decided to abandon the seasonal workers in Newfoundland and the rest of Atlantic Canada. The growing reality is the pending federal election and it has finally gotten to the Liberals to make these few cosmetic changes. They could have easily made these changes three months ago, or three and a half years ago when they were elected.

These changes could have been made but now with the pending federal election they want to give the impression to the seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada that they are doing something substantive to help them. They are doing absolutely nothing. The Liberal Party has not yet found its social conscience. It did not rediscover its social conscience.

I have a few words to say on EI as it pertains to women in the workforce. I said earlier that only 30% of unemployed Canadian women actually qualify for benefits these days.

In the spring budget the Liberals made much of the fact that EI maternity benefits would be extended from six months to a full year. Given the fact that 30% of women qualified for benefits and given that it is harder to qualify for maternity benefits in this day and age, much more difficult than for regular benefits, only a political party with the gall of the Liberal Party would boast about the improvement it has made to the maternity benefits. However, I cannot pursue this subject because my time has expired.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech made by my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party.

In a few days, we will have the march of women. Women have a lot of demands with regard to poverty. The majority of self-employed and part time workers are women. These jobs pay less for women.

We would have thought that, on the eve of the march of women, the government would have been more open to the demands of women in Bill C-44. Unfortunately, it chose to turn a deaf ear. The Prime Minister also refused to meet with them.

Can the member from the Progressive Conservative Party tell us what the government should have done in this bill to counter rising poverty for women in modern society?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am very well aware of the problem the member raises with respect to women looking for that meeting with the Prime Minister. Only yesterday I contacted the Prime Minister's office on behalf of women to request that he meet with them when they come to Ottawa.

The government has done very little for women with the employment insurance changes. We are all very much aware of what the statistics are. Thirty-five per cent of people nationally qualify for employment insurance when they are unemployed but the figures are a whole lot worse for women. Thirty per cent—and I think a member a moment ago said 32%—of women qualify for employment insurance.

With a $32 billion surplus the government could have made it a little better on everyone, including women, great numbers of whom are in the seasonal workforce, especially in the tourism industry and what have you. The Liberals have neglected women and Canadians generally. I think they will find that people will not treat them kindly when the election is called.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will read for my hon. colleague a little comment that comes from my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on the human face of unemployment insurance. It is from a mother and says “It shows the complete lack of compassion on the part of the government when a mother is not given an opportunity to support her children and when instead her money is used to balance the budget”. This clearly shows the direct correlation between the hungry Canadian children that there are as we sit in the Chamber tonight, and the government's devastation of unemployment insurance.

Would the member like to comment on whether the government could have gone further with the EI legislation and in effect made some good strides toward eliminating poverty in the country?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member made very good comments.

I was on a poverty committee that travelled to every single province in Canada speaking to people about their problems. The main point so many people made when they came before us to present their briefs was that with respect to poverty and children, the children come from poor parents, from mothers and fathers who cannot find work, mothers and fathers who have been denied benefits through employment insurance. The employment insurance scheme and the government cutbacks over the last couple of years have played a very big part in the poverty in families. The government could have done a whole lot more. Some $32 billion is a massive amount of money to accumulate on the backs of parents and workers who are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. The government could have done a whole lot more.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to discuss this issue today because it has been on my mind for a long time.

The government proceeds to do things that the private sector cannot do. It would be fraudulent and dishonest and it would be subject to fines if in private life or in business in the private sector I did what the government does every single payday. Every single payday every single employee in the country gets a paycheque and on the stub there is a little column marked EI, employment insurance premiums. It is not employment insurance premiums. That is false labelling. It would not comply according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, consumer affairs or anything else because it is not accurate. It is not true and it is not honest.

Every single person in Canada who gets paid tomorrow will get a cheque and a certain amount will have been taken off their pay for an employment insurance premium. That is not what it is. It is false labelling. It is a surcharge for working.

Already the government has a $32 billion dollar surplus gathered together in its unemployment insurance fund. It does not need any more money as far as that goes. Certainly it should not be marked as an employment insurance premium when it is not. At the very least there should be two columns. One should be marked employment insurance premiums and one should be marked surcharge for working or work tax because that is exactly what it is. It goes into general revenues. It has nothing to do with unemployment insurance premiums. It happens every single payday to every single person. Even government paycheques are marked the same way.

If in business I sold a garment that was said to be 100% cotton and it was not 100% cotton, I would be charged with false labelling. If I sold a car that had 40,000 kilometres on it but I said it only had 20,000 kilometres on it, I could be put in jail. I have to say what I am charging money for but the government does not have to do that. It is false labelling. It is misleading, it is dishonest and it is unfair. It is a tax on working and it should be labelled as such.

One would not get away with that in the private sector. Recently there was a case where a grocery store mislabelled a chicken. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency came down on that grocery store because it had mislabelled the chicken and the person who was paying a certain amount of money thought that he was getting a certain product and he was not.

That is what happens every single day on every single paycheque in Canada. People think they are buying unemployment insurance when in fact it is just a surcharge, a tax that goes into general revenues. I could not get away with that in the private sector and I do not know how the government can get away with it either. That is one thing I wanted to talk about.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is the seasonal worker issue which comes up so often. People who are fortunate enough to live in areas where there are low unemployment rates do not understand what it is like to live in an area where there are seasonal workers and employment is difficult to find.

I recently went to Calgary, Alberta. What impressed me the most was not the buildings, the fancy cars or the people, but the signs in the windows everywhere which read now hiring and help wanted. They were everywhere. If a person were to put up help wanted signs in my town, he or she would need police protection because there would be so many people trying to get the job. People who make comments about the lazy Atlantic Canadians who do not want to work and about the people who live high on unemployment insurance just do not have a clue what they are talking about.

I was in the house manufacturing business before I went into politics. We had 125 employees and we tried our best to maintain a 12 month a year operation but, come October or November, there was just no market and nobody to buy the houses. It was too cold to place them, set them up and establish them so we had to have layoffs. The management and the employees worked together to try to get through as long as they could, but when there was no other choice, a layoff was required. They were seasonal workers. There was no choice. There was no alternative. That is all that could happen. Everybody tried to avoid it. Nobody wanted to go on unemployment insurance. Nobody wanted to receive half pay or 55% of their pay. Who can live on 55%?

That is what happens in certain areas of the country. Certain areas do not have the opportunities and the resources or what have you to provide full time employment. Those people who are on unemployment should not be punished just because next year the same thing is going to happen. It is not their choice. They do not have any opportunities or alternatives. It just happens. Everybody tries to work around it. Everybody tries to find alternatives for work, but in some cases there just is not any. In that case there is unemployment insurance.

To fine people, to punish them because they are forced onto unemployment is not fair. This bill removes that condition and at least that is an improvement. It is amazing that a Liberal government would bring it in in the first place when the Liberals claim to have a social conscience and have the interests of Canadians at heart, especially those Canadians who need help. For them to devise such a scheme and punish people because they cannot find year round work is unbelievable.

It is incredible that only 35% of the applicants for unemployment insurance will be paid. Only 35% of the unemployed are able to qualify for benefits but 100% of the working people pay in. It does not seem fair. Again it is mislabelling. For 100% of the people to pay in and only 35% or fewer, especially in the case of unemployed women who get less, to be paid is completely unacceptable. It indicates how out of touch the Liberals are with the areas that have unemployment. It is a policy that punishes people. To change it now with these token election changes is almost offensive and insulting because it would be done just because an election is on the horizon.

For years we have been complaining about this, groups have been lobbying to get a change and there has not even been an acknowledgement of the problem. Now that there is an election on the horizon, all of a sudden we are going to make these changes and ram them through real fast. The Liberals are going to repeal these offensive changes which they were so delighted at putting in. Certainly we welcome the changes but the timing is offensive.

The focus should be on job creation. Instead of focusing on unemployment insurance, the whole focus should be on job creation. There should be a program to develop jobs and to provide the incentives for employers to hire more people. There should be incentives to reduce trade barriers among the provinces and among countries. There should be ways to overcome all the barriers to trade for industry and small business in areas of high unemployment. Are there any? No.

In fact we had a program called the Canada jobs fund. It was abused and neglected and because of that we have lost that fund. That was a good fund. In my own area it was a good fund. It was delivered by people in my own community and now it has been taken away and given to a regional office of ACOA. I am afraid we are going to lose the benefits of that program.

I can see, Mr. Speaker, that you are going to shut me down any minute so I will end my speech. Those are my main issues on this bill. I will be delighted to answer any questions members may have.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I have received notice from the hon. member for Repentigny that he is unable to move his motion during private members' hour on Friday, October 6. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence.

Accordingly I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence. Private members' hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members' hour.

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government of Canada should immediately double the “basic personal deduction” for Canadian taxpayers over the age of 69.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to introduce the motion which would double the basic personal exemption for people over the age of 69.

Before I enter into an explanation of the rationale behind the motion, I would like to seek unanimous consent of the House to deem it votable since the subcommittee deemed it non-votable.