House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.


Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

Ten motions in amendment are listed in the notice paper at the report stage of Bill C-2.

Motions Nos. 1 to 3 and 5 to 7 cannot be proposed to the House because they are not accompanied by a recommendation from Her Excellency the Governor General. Standing Order 76(3) requires that notice of such a recommendation be given no later than the sitting day before the beginning of report stage consideration of a bill.

Since the Standing Committee on Human Resources and the Status of Persons with Disabilities considered this bill at clause by clause stage on March 21, the same day as my statement outlining the guidelines for the selection of motions at report stage, the Chair will exercise discretion and select motions which could have been proposed in committee but were not.

I would ask all hon. members to note that this is the last report stage ruling where the Chair will be taking into account the timing of clause by clause study in committee, relative to my March 21 statement on the guidelines for the selection of motions at report stage.

Consequently, in connection with the report stage of future bills, I have asked my representatives to examine each motion in amendment submitted at report stage to see whether it could have been presented at committee stage, and if so not to select it.

That said, the Chair must acknowledge that one or two motions in amendment are sometimes indispensable to a debate on a bill, and hon. members could argue that they deserve to be examined in the House, even if there has already been an examination of them in committee. I will agree to hear such arguments and I encourage hon. members to examine this type of motion with my representatives as soon as the bill is returned to the House.

As we are all aware, there is often a very tight timeframe for the report stage, which may be a hindrance to debate. I am relying on the cooperation of hon. members to ensure that the Chair is kept fully informed, via its representatives, of their opinions when it examines each preliminary decision at report stage. I will do my utmost to be fair and impartial in the choice of amendments and I am convinced that hon. members will acknowledge and respect the principles set out in my decision of March 21 in order to assist me in this.

To repeat some of those words:

I...strongly urge all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to consider the committee report and the work that the committee has done, and to do such further work as it deems necessary to complete detailed consideration of the bill.

Motion No. 4 and Motions Nos. 8 through 10 will be grouped for debate. The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC


Motion No. 4

That Bill C-2, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing line 22 on page 3 with the following:

“in paragraph 12(3)(a), (b) or (c) in the period of”

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-2, in Clause 8, be amended by replacing lines 8 to 11 on page 4 with the following:

“(3) For greater certainty, weeks of benefits that are repaid as a result of an act or omission mentioned in subsection (1) are not deemed to be weeks of benefits paid”

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-2 be amended by deleting Clause 9.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB


Motion No. 10

That Bill C-2, in Clause 9, be amended by replacing lines 14 to 20 on page 4 with the following:

“9. Section 66 of the Act is replaced by the following:

  1. (1) The Commission shall, with the approval of the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Minister and the Minister of Finance, set the premium rate for each year at a rate that the Commission considers will, to the extent possible, a ) ensure that there will be enough revenue over a business cycle to pay the amounts authorized to be charged to the Employment Insurance Account; and b ) maintain relatively stable rate levels throughout the business cycle.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the premium rate shall not exceed $2.20 for the year 2002 and $2.10 for the year 2003.

(3) When setting the premium rate for a year in accordance with subsection (1), the Commission shall provide a written explanation as to why the premium rate is set at that level for the year.

(4) The Commission's explanation under subsection (3) shall be referred for review to the standing committee designated by Parliament for that purpose.”

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to speak to Bill C-2 at report stage, not so much for the amendments that are included therein, apart from the one on clause 9, but rather because the debate in committee clearly demonstrated that Bill C-2 did not meet the needs of those who appeared before the committee.

Instead of putting forward an indepth reform of the employment insurance plan, Bill C-2 proposes no more than a few amendments that have been called for for a long time, particularly the suppression of the intensity rule. Since 1997 this rule penalizes all seasonal workers. We are telling them that if we take away 1% of their benefits every 20 weeks, they should be more encouraged to work.

The government always assumed that seasonal workers preferred to collect EI instead of working. After denouncing that for many years, a statistical study finally proved that there was no correlation between the two.

Workers in seasonal industries want to work but unfortunately their jobs do not last the entire year, and the fact of penalizing these people by taking away up to 5% of their benefits after three years would not in any way make them work any harder as there were no more jobs for these people.

These people often work in natural resources such as forestry, fisheries, tourism or in areas where they cannot be readily trained for work in other sectors.

Bill C-2 did not really meet the requirements set out by over 60 groups that systematically came to tell us it was vital to reform the system much more thoroughly. Fortunately the committee unanimously adopted a motion I proposed, which provides:

That the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities report to the House of Commons all other amendments to the Employment Insurance Act and that this report be tabled to the House no later than June 1, 2001.

The committee will do the work the government refused to do during the period between the election and the reconvening of parliament. The government could have avoided this delay of several months and introduced a Bill C-2 that really reformed the employment insurance system. It did not do so, but all members of the committee assumed their responsibilities, listened to the evidence presented and clearly said they wanted to recommend other changes to the employment insurance system.

Obviously the current bill must be improved as much as possible, and this is what we are doing with the amendments proposed. There is one that is much more important, and we will discuss it later. It concerns the elimination of clause 9, the one that would, if the bill were passed as it stands, make it legal to misappropriate funds from the employment insurance fund.

We know that it has now grown to between $34 billion and $35 billion. With the provision in the bill that would allow the government to set the premium rate instead of letting the EI commission do it, the government could evade the application of the act and not have to put the money back in the EI fund.

When we get to the discussion on this clause, people will see that all the opposition parties have a common position in this regard, a position set out by the Bloc Quebecois but also supported by the auditor general who stated in committee that he preferred section 66 of the current act, in spite of its weaknesses, to this clause, which would allow the government to determine the premium rate.

We are at report stage on a bill we have to improve as much as possible, a bill we were unable to amend substantively to really reform the employment insurance system because this is impossible at the parliamentary level. Once Bill C-2 was introduced we could only amend its clauses as they stood.

For instance, we are not allowed to deal with important issues such as eliminating the waiting period. Those who have been on employment insurance know what we are talking about. It is the first two weeks after one has stopped working, when one has no income. That is an archaic rule dating back to the time when people qualified only after a number of weeks of benefits. Now they start paying premiums from their first hour of work. We have a system that is generating a huge surplus, so why could we not deal with this issue and eliminate the waiting period?

There is also, the fundamental issue of the creation of an independent EI fund. I think this will give rise to a major debate that should be held in committee for its June 1 recommendations.

There is the increase in coverage from 55% to 60%. We know we now have an employment insurance system where about $18 billion in premiums is collected year after year and about $12 billion is put back into the system. There is a surplus of about $6 billion, which is used to cover the government's general expenditures. This is being done by collecting premiums from people earning wages or a salary of less than $39,000. This means that people earning more, or those who do not pay into the system, do not contribute their share toward this portion of the government's general expenditures.

The government, considers the EI system as a payroll tax. This is a very regressive tax, because not everyone pays into the system. Even though he had been a member of parliament for about 20 years, it is here in the House that the Prime Minister found out that he pay, EI premiums. Such people are not paying their share. There should be a substantive debate on this issue to ensure that since the surplus is so high premiums are lowered or the conditions that apply in the system are improved.

There is a basic condition that could be amended: benefits could be raised from 55% to 60% of average earnings.

All discrimination against youth, women and people re-entering the workforce must be eliminated.

Bill C-2 does not change anything in the requirement to work 910 hours to qualify. The government's logic is the same here as with the intensity rule. It is saying to young people “If the requirement is 910 hours, you will have to work harder to qualify”. Under the intensity rule it said “If benefits are reduced, people will be more anxious to work”.

Statistics show this was not the case with the intensity rule. We know from experience that it is not true for young people and that today they are the victims of intolerable discrimination.

It is important that we revisit this issue before long because we have no right to discriminate against our young people. We have no right to treat them like second class citizens, particularly as we are experiencing a period of economic growth. They must be able to reap the benefits of the effort that has been made to fight the deficit. We must not continue to take their money from them since they contribute right from the first hour of work without qualifying. Only some 25% of our young people qualify for benefits.

As far as all the conditions are concerned, these are examples of issues that should have been dealt with in Bill C-2 but were not. That shows the extent to which a thorough reform of EI is needed to make it more adequate.

Many amendments were proposed but they were rejected. I give the example of the retroactivity of the intensity rule. According to our proposal, the retroactive period would have gone back to January 1, 1997, instead of to October 1, 2000.

In other words, since it has been clearly established that rule was inefficient and that its only result was to penalize seasonal workers and frequent claimants, why not give these workers their money back? It is becoming obvious that they have been penalized without reason and that they should have received that money.

We introduced an amendment to make the payment retroactive to January 1, 1997, but the government rejected it because it would cost $250 million, which is not even 1% of the $35 billion surplus. If that is so much money for the government, think what this represents for seasonal workers, for people who contributed to the financing of the government due to an infamous and unacceptable rule.

That is the reason Bill C-2 must be amended. Everybody must realize that in the next few months the Standing Committee on Human Resources will be making a special effort to make recommendations for a thorough reform of EI to the government, one that will go a lot further than this half-baked Bill C-2.

PrivilegeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. At 10 o'clock this morning you tabled the annual report of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in the House. The commission, as an office of parliament, reports directly to the House.

I rose immediately thereafter, pointing out that my privileges had been breached by the fact that the report was all over the media this morning, in the Toronto Star , the Hamilton Spectator and the London Free Press , and that it should have been confidential until tabled in the House.

After I left the House at 10.25 a.m. I asked one of the pages to obtain the report for me. The page went to Journals and Journals said that it did not have the report. Journals checked with distribution and the report had not arrived. That was at 10.25 a.m.

At 11 o'clock the chair of the Human Rights Commission is having a press conference to speak about the report at the press conference centre. At 10.30 a.m. we do not have the report in the House available for members even though the chair is going to have a press conference to speak to Canadians. We have been denied a copy of the report that has been tabled in the House already. There are none available. None have been delivered.

This is an affront to the House. There seems to be no limit to what this commission will do to disregard its responsibility to report to the House.

PrivilegeGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I thank the hon. member for pointing this out to the Chair. I will take it under advisement. I will consult with the Speaker and ask him to report to the House later today.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-2, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance (Fishing) Regulations, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a few issues based on the amendments that have been placed before the House at report stage.

The Canadian Alliance is very much in support of an employment insurance program. We feel the government is justified in providing support to the unemployed to help them in times of stress.

We have heard many of the witnesses who have appeared before the committee over the last four or five weeks. We have heard many witnesses talking about the government's approach to making some minor amendments to the Employment Insurance Act through Bill C-2. In looking at the motions that have been allowed, with all due respect to the Chair, I have some concern with the process of limiting members on how they would present amendments on legislation, whether it would be through a more public process in the House or a more limited public exposure process in committee. I do want to point out that I have a concern with that.

However, I would like to make a few comments on a number of the motions that have been allowed to amend Bill C-2 at report stage. In my understanding, Motion No. 4 adds an exemption for a person who is considered to be a return claimant or a new entrant. We recognize that there are some exemptions such as maternity and paternal reasons. There is an omission that we agree needs to be addressed, and that is the omission of benefits for claimants by reason of illness, injury or quarantine. We have no problem in rectifying that omission in the amendments to the legislation. We feel it is justified.

Just flipping through the pages of those amendments that have not been allowed, we come to an amendment that is trying to address what is considered to be an unfairness. The feeling seems to be that someone who has fraudulently misrepresented the facts should not be penalized and should be treated the same as any other claimant under the EI program. We have difficulty with that, because one of the changes the government has put in is that those who have made a claim for employment benefits of more than a week in the last 10 years fall into the category of having 30% clawed back if they make more than $48,000.

If somebody who collected two weeks of insurable earnings 10 years ago is put under this 30% clawback for any income over $48,000, it is hard to justify not penalizing someone who has misrepresented the facts and who perhaps fraudulently claimed earnings he or she did not make. It is hard to imagine that people would not be penalized for doing so.

We will not be supporting that amendment. We find it very difficult to justify supporting somebody who deliberately scams the system while penalizing people who may have collected employment insurance 10 years ago for a couple of weeks. We are not prepared to support this.

However, I want to give most of my attention to clause 9 in this legislation, which causes us great concern. Clause 9 just supports the trend of the Liberal government, ever since I came to the House seven and a half years ago, of removing responsibility from the House of Commons, from parliament, and putting it into the hands of the cabinet, into the executive branch of government.

This has been a consistent trend in legislation. Through regulations, through using orders in council or through legislation itself, the Liberal government is transferring the responsibilities of the House of Commons, of parliament or of an independent commission to the hands of a handful of people in cabinet.

We heard from almost every witness that this is not acceptable. They had great difficulty with cabinet setting the rates of the employment insurance fund. They saw it as an intrusion of government into something that government should be removing itself from. They saw it as a grab for the wealth that has been created through surpluses in the EI fund. They felt it was a means for the government to try to control where the surplus goes. They felt that the surplus would not go where it is intended to go and where legislation says it must go, which is to the workers and the employers who contribute to that fund.

I believe the fund has a $35 billion surplus to date. There is concern that the government wants to get its hands on that surplus and take it out of the EI account. There is concern that the government wants to control rate setting so it can control this unwarranted increase in surplus in the EI fund. The chief actuary for the employment insurance fund has said that the surplus is unnecessary, that $35 billion is far too much and $15 billion would sustain the employment insurance program even at a time of recession, and that lowering rates to $1.75 for the employee would still sustain the employment insurance fund at a level during a recessionary period.

All the evidence is there that this $35 billion surplus is not necessary. Yet we have a cabinet that wants to take control of rate setting so it can maintain that surplus fund to use for purposes outside the Employment Insurance Act.

We very much oppose this clause and support the amendment put forward by both the Bloc and the Canadian Alliance to delete that clause from the legislation.

I noted with interest an amendment that was put forward by the Conservative Party. Unfortunately, we in our party only got it this morning and did not have time to deal with it. We noted with interest that the Conservatives have proposed an amendment to that clause which details how we would treat rate setting and how we would re-establish the commission's authority. However, although we like the concept, there is no evidence to support the numbers that have been proposed. Nothing suggests they are the right numbers, so we would not at this time be prepared to support that amendment. We feel that more time is needed and we feel that more evidence is needed to support the numbers brought before us for consideration today.

My remarks have been a brief summary of where the Canadian Alliance stands on the amendments being proposed at report stage. I want to reiterate my concern that the Chair is going to take away from members of parliament their discretion in regard to when they want amendments to be dealt with, whether that is in less public circumstances like committees or a more public situation such as the House of Commons during report stage. I want it to be noted that I have a problem with this.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate on Bill C-2 today.

Unfortunately my Motion No. 5 on increasing from four to five years the authorized period of absence was rejected. This is unfortunate because the purpose of the motion was to harmonize our system with what the government grants its own employees who are authorized a period of absence of five years.

One thing that can be said about the bill on employment insurance is that the more than 60 witnesses we heard at the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development did not talk about what was in Bill C-2 but mostly about what Bill C-2 was not providing for Canadians and workers.

For example, on the issue of the divisor rule there is the period during which the unemployed receive employment insurance benefits. The amount they receive; is now equal to 50% of their wages or salary, but even 55% would not be enough.

We must keep in mind that 55% of $7 is only $3.75. This is less than welfare; it is less than social assistance. That is our employment insurance plan in Canada, a plan which is funded by Canadian workers. The federal government grabbed the cash in the fund to pay its own debt and balance the budget, at the expense of people who had lost their jobs.

That is crystal clear. During the committee hearings all Canadians who came to Ottawa to testify and express their views on behalf of the Prince Edward Island chamber of commerce, labour federations or municipalities with many seasonal workers described how workers were hurt by employment insurance changes.

Today the government brings us Bill C-2, a clone of Bill C-44. This is mere cloning, a procedure which should not be legal in Canada. The government did not make a single change in Bill C-2 which is before the House. During the election campaign the Liberals themselves promised some changes.

I remember my colleague for Madawaska—Restigouche stating that he would run as a Liberal because he wanted to be elected as a member for the governing party. He felt Bill C-44 did not go far enough and he wanted to make changes to the employment insurance plan. What kind of changes did we get? None, if we compare Bill C-2 with Bill C-44.

The hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok boasted about wanting to be on the government's side to make changes to the employment insurance because the changes brought in by the Liberals were hurting workers in the Gaspé. I remember the first meeting with the minister when he said “I make a heartfelt appeal to the minister”. This was broadcast in all news programs: he wanted to change the EI plan. Precious little has changed.

The result is a measly 5% for the poor and the clawback rule for full time workers. This is what we got, but this is not what we need. The problem lies in the fact that some families are without any income from February to May. When families are suffering there is a problem.

The two members who ran as Liberal candidates, as did the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, said “I want to be on the government side like my father, so as to be able to bring about changes”. However we have yet to hear from him since his election. We have never heard him. We have never heard from him state his position.

Today I am pleased that the committee, regardless of the party to which his members belong, approved a motion from the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, whose objective is that a report be submitted to parliament by June 1. We hope that the members who made promises in their ridings will have enough backbone to make the Liberals change their mind, including the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister who know that they are hurting Canadians.

Let us not forget that when there is a father or mother whose EI benefits run out and is without any income in February there are children involved. If we want to eliminate poverty in Canada, we should begin at that level.

I am ashamed when I think that there are 800,000 people who cannot qualify for employment insurance and that government investigators harass workers, call them into their offices and tell them behind closed doors “You realize that if you do not tell me the truth you could end up in jail”, something which the police itself cannot do with criminals on the street. That is shameful.

I am ashamed of the way the Departement of Human Resources Development is run. A thorough clean-up is in order in that department because this plan belongs to the workers and businesses that contribute to it. Seasonal work in Canada is a fact of life.

We do not want our loggers, our factory workers and our tourism industry workers to be forced to rely on social assistance. The same goes for people working in peat bogs.

Is it the only solution that the government can propose to us? I do not accept that. I do not agree with the way the Liberals are handling the employment insurance issue. Their robbery is the biggest ever covered in Canada by an insurance company. This is unbelievable and unacceptable.

I hope that the cry from the heart of the hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok will touch the heart of the Prime Minister once and for all and will cause him to change his position and do something. We know that the Liberals are under dictatorship. Before retiring after 38 years of service to the House of Commons the Prime Minister could do a good thing for Canadians for once by taking care of the most disadvantaged in our society.

When people who worked all their life as loggers, in fish plants and in peat bogs see their electrical service cut off because they cannot even pay their bills from February to May, we must realize that action is needed.

I have said it often, almost every day, in committee that one cannot catch lobster on Yonge Street in Toronto or cod on St. Catherine Street in Montreal. One has to go to Chaleur Bay or to the Pacific. These jobs are seasonal jobs.

For those who do not know, Chaleur Bay freezes over in winter. One cannot catch cod as if it were sportfishing, by making a hole in the ice. This is not the way it works. One needs boats plying the waters of Chaleur Bay to catch this fish. People like to have this fish on their table.

We are happy to have products from the farm, but it is quite difficult to grow carrots under snow.

We will have to acknowledge the fact that there are seasonal jobs in Canada. There is not a single seasonal worker in our country but there are seasonal jobs. Workers are not the ones who decide. There is nothing they can do if a week before their employer tells them that there is no more work for them because he has reached his lumber quota and can no longer cut down trees.

Workers are not responsible if their employer tells them, after August 15, which is the feast of the Acadians and when there are no tourists left, that he now has to lay them off for winter. The employee is not the one who decides. He is not seasonal, but jobs are.

I know that some members across believe what I say. It is not a coincidence if sometimes when we leave the House some Liberals shake our hands and say “Continue the fight, go on. We must make the government aware of the issue”.

I would like to draw the government's attention to the fact that that money is not its own to spend. I have full confidence in Canadians. I can say very confidently that there are no lazybones in Canada.

I said once that if my predecessor, Doug Young, had been paid $5.50 an hour, he too would have been lazy and unwilling to work. If we had good jobs for people they would be happy to get up in the morning, go to work and get their paycheque at the end of the week in order to pay their bills and take part in activities with their families.

Members across the way went so far as to call the unemployed lazybones unwilling to work, something I never accepted. I said I would never accept such statements as long as I represented the people of Acadie—Bathurst in the House. I know that my time has expired, but I could talk for hours about the injustices committed by the Liberals.

I will now conclude by saying that today I am asking the Liberals to listen to what I have said in the name of workers across Canada, those of Quebec as well as all the others, to change their mind about employment insurance by the end of June and to ensure that we have a bill that is good for workers.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I request unanimous consent of the House to allow my friend, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, to carry on with his speech.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I can be as entertaining as the member from Bathurst, but I will do my best.

We support the bill before us. We will not hold up the legislation. There are many deficiencies in it, as pointed out by many members. However the truth is that some of the changes they are bringing in, especially the elimination of the intensity rule which discriminates against and penalizes workers who have drawn unemployment over a series of years, would eliminate some of those deficiencies. The intensity rule amounts to about 5% of a person's benefit if he or she has collected employment insurance in the past. We support its elimination.

Some things should have been addressed in the bill which are important to the people of Canada, especially in communities where seasonal work is a reality. That is where the bill falls down. As members of the opposition we cannot have everything our way, and we understand that. However one thing that should be considered in future legislation is a better identification of areas that depend on seasonal workers. Those areas are penalized under the existing rules which determine the unemployment rate in regions.

For example, in southwestern New Brunswick communities that depend on seasonal workers are lumped in with bigger communities like Saint John and Fredericton which have their own problems in terms of unemployment. It makes the number artificially low in some areas where it is in fact a lot higher. The government has the capacity to more accurately measure the unemployment rate within those communities. That is important because the number of hours people must work to qualify for employment insurance varies depending on the rate of unemployment within their area.

For example, in the last official census, which I believe was in 1996, the unemployment rate in communities in and around Black's Harbour, New Brunswick, and some of the Fundy Islands was as high as 45%. However when lumped in with bigger centres the unemployment rate in those communities is disguised, in a sense, or not obvious. It goes from 45% down to 7% or 8% because of the larger population in the city areas. That is unfair and it punishes seasonal workers. It is not addressed in the bill and it should be.

Another point with regard to seasonal workers is the premium rate. The premium rate is the money we all pay in Canada as employees, and it is much higher than it should be. Between an employee and an employer about $5 is paid in for every $100 of earnings. That is too high. As evidence of exactly how high it is, the government now has a surplus of $35 billion in the employment insurance fund.

The government's own chief actuary has told us the premium rate should be lower. For example, employees across the country are paying in $2.25 on $100 of earnings. The chief actuary has told the government the rate could be as low as $1.75. That does not seem like a lot of money except when we see that the total figure between an employee and an employer is $5 on $100 of earnings. That is 5%.

That is one of the reasons every man, woman and child in the country who is contributing is making the finance minister look a lot better than what he would have been. The surplus is being used to balance the books and to make debt reduction more of a success than it otherwise would have been.

We have a $35 billion surplus in the fund. None of that is addressed in the bill, except in the perverse sense that the government wants to keep the $35 billion and enhance it. It wants to take away the right of the commission to set the rate.

I have moved an amendment today that we are discussing, Motion No. 10. The amendment says that the commission should be left intact. It should be provided with the ability to set the rate. In the bill the government would take away the right of the commission to set the rate. It is blatantly attempting to politicize the EI fund. It is a question of greed.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Keep all the money.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Keep the money, as the member for Saint John says. The $35 billion is just a notational entry in the finance minister's books. The government says the money is from the EI fund and it is for the finance minister to keep. However it is the workers and the employers, rich and poor, who contributed to that $35 billion. The government has the audacity to want to keep the rate as high as it is for its own purposes, for its own bookkeeping purposes.

That is what my amendment addresses. It says to let the commission do its job. The chief actuary should do his job, and when he makes a recommendation to the government or to the commission it should be acted upon. Up to now it has not been able to do anything because the government is stripping away its power.

Every time the government wants to do something, the commission kowtows to the power of the government. That is even more blatant in the act. It would completely take away the power of the commission which is wrong.

The government's intent is to maximize premiums and minimize benefits. It has a great record for doing that and the bill would allow it to continue doing that. That is one of our problems as an opposition party. We do not want to hold up the bill because there are some good parts in it that we support.

The danger in opposition is that if we hold up the bill or stall it, the government will then accuse us of holding up a bill that will do some good, which is true. Some things are right in the bill, but the truth is that the bill should have been a little wider in scope. It should not take away the power of the commission to set the rates.

The auditor general has said the same. It is wrong for the government to take away the powers of the commission and to ignore the reality that the rate could be a lot lower than it is today. The rate could be as low as $1.75 per $100 of earnings. That $1.75 could sustain the fund even during a downturn in the economy.

The government wants to take away the powers of the commission, which we feel is wrong. It has to take a look at its internal guidelines in terms of how it interprets the employment insurance act and be a little more considerate of those people who need employment insurance. The auditor general has mentioned this as well.

The investigative powers, the proficiency and the knowledge level of some of the people within the department have to be addressed. A lot of people are being unfairly discriminated against in terms of their abilities to collect employment insurance, which was borne out last night in a CBC documentary film called Country Canada . The headline story was “P.E.I. fishers fight government to clear their names”. The same thing is taking place in other parts of Canada.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are debating report stage of Bill C-2, the minor reforms to the existing EI legislation that the government brought forward.

We saw a large number of witnesses in committee, all of whom contributed their time and input to give us a better understanding of the potential impact of the legislation. We heard from business and labour, from fishermen from both coasts, from restaurateurs, and from a host of others. Not one of them could bring themselves to support the bill in its entirety.

My colleague and chief critic from South Surrey—White Rock—Langley and I, together with the witnesses, agree that the bill is tinkering at its best. It addresses what the government considers flaws in the 1996 EI reforms, but it fails even at that small task.

Rather than continue what it began in 1996, that is to discourage repeat users of the EI as a wage supplement program, the bill actually takes a step backward. During the testimony in committee most of the witnesses were looking for a more indepth review of the entire employment insurance system. We concur that the bill is not broad enough to cover their concerns.

At report stage we deal with amendments. My colleague has moved an amendment calling for the deletion of clause 9 of the bill and our colleagues from the Bloc have essentially moved the same amendment as well. I hope all hon. members support the amendment. The clause as written would give EI premium rate setting powers to the governor in council for the next two years. Clause 9 is a blatant hijacking of the rights of the employment insurance commission.

The government indicates that it is only giving rate setting powers to the cabinet for two years. If hon. members believe that the cabinet would give the powers back after those two years, I have some land in Shawinigan that they may want to have a look at.

I will explain what the clause means. It is an issue that has widespread opposition from both employers and unions. They may have different objectives with the rates, but they all have problems with the way the government uses EI premiums in general revenue. Employers and unions objected that cabinet was taking control of the EI rate setting process since the Liberal government balanced the EI books on the backs of employers and employees.

The government wants complete control over the billions in the EI surplus. It is one more unhealthy, undemocratic example of the government consolidating control in cabinet. The Canadian business community is in almost unanimous opposition to the bill. It is not that it feels that people in seasonal industries do not need assistance. It feels it should not come from the EI fund to which it provides 60% of the funding.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce thinks Bill C-2 is inconsistent with the development of advanced skills or entrepreneurial spirit and that it does not advance competitiveness. Catherine Swift of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business had this to say about the legislation:

After several years of making some steps in the right direction on EI policy, this is a U-turn that hearkens back to the 1970s—a big spending government promoting dependency on programs, instead of solid economic growth. We thought they had learned something from the mistakes of the past.

We have a flawed bill which seeks only to roll back earlier reforms and enhance the power of cabinet. What are the alternatives?

First and foremost, we must state that seasonal industries are just that, seasonal. Seasonal industries are very important and those involved in them must be supported. Those who are rendered unemployed for other reasons must also be supported.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that the two are not the same. The solution to the seasonal work dilemma must lie in the direction of education and training. Young people in communities which traditionally rely on seasonal employment must be properly equipped with the job skills for the workplace of the 21st century. We must provide training for those currently involved in traditionally seasonal employment as an alternative to EI.

In conclusion, as the first bill introduced in this parliament it is quite a disappointment. Bill C-2 attempts to address flaws in the EI system but succeeds at only minor tweaking. The government was moving in the right direction before but has taken an about-face with the legislation. I encourage all hon. colleagues to join with us in opposition to the bill.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-2.

First I want to tell members how deeply moving I found the 60 statements or so that we heard during the committee's hearings. They disturbed me because they were a cold and profound reflection of the needs of the Canadian and Quebec societies.

To briefly resume the situation, we now have before us Bill C-2, the former Bill C-40 introduced in 1996. This bill does not bring about the radical changes requested by Canadians as a whole, unions, women's groups, young people, boards of trade, employers and all the representatives of the Canadian and Quebec populations.

I would like to quote parts of some briefs tabled by people who appeared before the committee. I think it is important to read them into the record and to remember what those people had to say.

As the House knows, and I would like to congratulate my Bloc colleague who introduced this motion, in committee we succeeded, with the assistance of the government, in asking for a report from the committee which will be able to examine all the briefs and report back to the House before June 1.

We hope that it will advance the cause of unemployed workers and not just ease the government's conscience. This report has to lead to something concrete, to major changes in the EI plan.

I want to come back to certain labour unions, including the CSN, which represents a good 250,000 workers in Quebec. The following is a short passage from its brief:

As for the amendments in Bill C-2, the CSN feels that these are half measures which will not result in access for those workers who have lost their job because of changes in the work place.

I will now read a few lines from the FTQ brief.

FTQ members would have hoped for much more from EI reform. We feel that the legislator does not go far enough to right the wrongs of past reforms.

That was what the FTQ had to say. Another labour confederation in Quebec, the CSD, put it this way:

A decent reform would not give the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance the authority to set premium rates, when it was the employment insurance commission that used to have this authority.

This is an unacceptable ploy that will give the government unfettered access to surpluses in the EI fund, because premium rates will no longer hinge on self-funding but on the government's financial needs.

We are not the ones saying so; the CSD is.

My last quotations will be from the auditor general, in whom we have the utmost confidence.

Bill C-2, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, and Chapter 34 of the December 2000 Report, lack clarity on the basis used in setting employment insurance rates.

A little later on in his statement the auditor general adds:

The introduction of Bill C-2 has not alleviated our concern. There is no requirement for the interim rate-setting process to be more transparent.

Furthermore, unlike the introduction of Bill C-44, there is no information on, or commitment to review, the rate-setting process while section 66 is suspended. In other words, the scope and nature of the review, if any, are unclear.

When the committee met with the various witnesses our awareness of a number of areas was greatly improved. Perhaps I do not have enough time in my 10 minutes to give them all, but I shall try to touch on them briefly.

There was discussion of the seasonal industries, for the truth is that it is the work that is seasonal and not the workers. I can speak with authority on this because my riding depends on tourism, which is a seasonal industry.

When the snow is gone, so are the jobs. People have to wait until the summer tourist season comes along to work in golf clubs and the like.

Between those two seasons, however, they have no work. They go off to apply for employment insurance. They are faced with a two week penalty because every time a person applies he or she has to wait two weeks before drawing maybe a month of benefits. These people return to the labour market for the summer, and with the arrival of fall they are again penalized for two weeks because they apply for employment insurance for three or four weeks while looking for work for the winter.

Is this what these people want? Do we think they go out of their way to get half their salary twice a year for two months? They lose a month's salary, a month of income in their budget. They have to live with that. They have to plan their lives around it. These people depend on this industry. Why are they penalized? This is totally unacceptable.

Do we think that the women working in seasonal industry are happy at losing their spots in day care? Not at all. They have to continue sending their children to day care while they are not working to make sure they do not lose their place. They pay for that.

It is not true that people are encouraged to go on employment insurance. It is totally false. If these people could do without it, they would do a lot better.

There is also the whole issue of self-employed workers. In Quebec there are a lot of small businesses. Elsewhere in Canada too, but primarily in Quebec, a lot of small and medium size businesses have been established.

Self-employed workers have become a fact of life. There were perhaps fewer of them in the past than there are now, but it is a fact of life in Quebec and Canada.

These people often work very hard for long hours and they are not protected by any system. They represent perhaps 18% of the population. That is a lot of people. They would like to be included in the employment insurance plan if possible or in something like it. They want to be part of a plan that would allow them to have employment insurance. They are prepared to pay the money necessary for the protection. They need it just as much as the person working for a business.

This will increasingly be the case in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. These people cannot be excluded. Yet there is absolutely nothing in the bill for them.

Another very important issue for me is the case of young workers. It almost makes no sense to require young workers to work 910 hours. It is absurd. They are penalized because they are part of the labour market. Does the government realize the result of this? It leads some employers to abuse, to tell a young person “You better work and do your job, otherwise you will not get employment insurance benefits”.

I could have elaborated on other issues such as the case of pregnant women. Why are pregnant women penalized when a newborn child should be the most wonderful thing that can happen to a family? Pregnant women are being penalized. From now on, women may decide to have children or not based on whether they qualify for employment insurance benefits. Otherwise they will not be able to afford it. This does not make sense.

There is $35 billion in a fund that belongs to people who have contributed to it throughout their lives but who will not qualify. This is totally absurd.

I would like to end with clause 9. We asked that this clause be deleted. It is the most important one in the bill. It reads:

Notwithstanding section 66, the premium rate for each of the years 2002 and 2003 is the rate set for the year by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Minister and the Minister of Finance.

We want that clause deleted. We do not want it. We do not want these people to set the premium rate and to decide who will be entitled to employment insurance benefits.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member and understand the major concerns. Having lived in the province of New Brunswick and having grown up there all my life, it hurts when I hear someone refer to our seasonal workers in a negative way.

When this matter was being discussed before, the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill stated:

Now that he is about to call an election, the Prime Minister has decided to increase EI payments to seasonal workers who already earn a comfortable annual income.

Yesterday the member for Calgary—Nose Hill revealed her party's position on low income seasonal workers when she said again that seasonal workers already earned a comfortable income.

I want to present some figures to the House. In 1996, before the Liberals slashed the EI program, 75% of seasonal workers in New Brunswick made less than $10,000 a year. How could anyone say they have a comfortable income on $10,000 a year? Everyone in the House knows that anyone making $10,000 a year cannot live in a comfortable manner.

As was mentioned by the hon. member from the NDP, over 800,000 people are not eligible for EI. Seasonal workers could be fishermen or lumberjacks. They could work in tourism. They could be construction workers. When the snow comes and the frost hits the ground they are not working.

They want to work. They do not want to sit on their hands, and they do not. Most of them work for the United Way. If their next door neighbour is having a problem, they are right there to help. That is the kind of people there are in the maritime provinces. Hopefully that is the way it is across the whole country.

Because of what has been happening and because of the changes that have negatively impacted on our people back home, a lot of them have had to leave. In the city of Saint John, the largest city in the province, people travel by bus for one hour in the morning to work at one of the fish farms in another county. Because they live in Saint John, New Brunswick, and because the government says our unemployment rate is so low, they pay a higher EI rate. Yet they are working in another county where the rate is lower for the people who live there. That is wrong and needs to be corrected.

Thank God for those men and women who do it because they do not want to be on welfare. They want to show their children and their families that they have their dignity. That is why they do what they do. Our people are like that back home. They want to have dignity. They want to work.

One member in the Bloc mentioned about the independent businessman, that small businessman who is out there. I know about that because my son is one of them.

This past winter a man came to the door of Stephen's TV shop and said that he did not have any money to pay for a TV but he would like to have one. He had not been working for almost six months but wanted the TV for his children for Christmas. My son said that he could have it and asked whether his mother made mincemeat pies. He said yes, his mother made mincemeat pies, that he had deer meat that he could give her to make the pies, and asked whether that would pay for the TV.

They are people who care, who want to go to work. The government has over $35 billion of their money in its pockets to make the government look good. It says that it will pay down the debt. That money should be in the pockets of men, women and employers who put it there. It should be an independent fund which no one could touch. It should be there for them so that they will have quality lives.

The premiums taken from their paycheques are far too high, yet the government has increased them and reduced the benefits to the people. It has put more money into the bank account.

It tugs at my heart when people come to me and say they want to go to work. It tugs at my heart when I see our shipbuilders, 4,000 men, many of whom are now on welfare. A lot of them are down in Louisiana. The Trudeau government built and put money into the shipyard. The Mulroney government also put money into the shipyard. We have the most modern shipyard anywhere in the world sitting idle.

We should be building the ships for our military right here, not buying new submarines from London, England, and then spending $800 million to make them float. We should be doing it through the Davie shipyard and the Saint John shipyard. Those two shipyards built the frigates.

Those men do not know where to go. They do not know where to turn. All they are saying is that they want to contribute to the economy. They want to contribute to Canada. They want to work. They want their dignity. The sooner we give them their dignity, the sooner they will do more in their communities to make a better way of life.

I look at our young people today. We educate them. They want to work where their moms and dads are, where their families, their sisters, their brothers, their nannies and their grampies are. They do not want to have to go away. We do not want them to go away.

A person from Vancouver came to our city market in Saint John. It is the oldest open common market of its kind in Canada. I was walking down the aisle and she came over to me and said that my people were very special, the friendliest people she had ever met. I told her that was the way we were back east. Our people are friendly, outreaching and generous.

When it comes to the commission, the commission should stay in place. The commission should handle the funds. We must get the politics out of the EI fund. We must leave it with that independent commission and then deal with it. The commission is not there to play politics. It has to be there to do what is right. That is why the hon. member from Charlotte county said the commission should remain.

That is why he included the motion. If we do not have the commission we will have politics again. Heaven knows what the men and the employers will be paying for premiums and how little they will have in their pockets to feed their little families.

I say please, every one of us here, let us take the politics out of the bill. Let us do what is right for the man and the woman of Canada, right from Vancouver and the Northwest Territories through to Newfoundland and Labrador. Let us do what is right for our people. Let us all be Canadians today. Let us all be equal in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker, I have to tell you for sure that everybody will be watching what the government does with that $37 billion, which those men and women worked so hard for to put in a bank account where they knew there was security for their future.

I have to say that my party is pleased that the intensity rule will be removed. That rule was wrong and it really hurt. However, we are also saying that the commission must stay in place.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Laval West Québec


Raymonde Folco LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to react to the comments of my colleagues. Before commenting on what my colleagues said about Bill C-2, I wish to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. As several members across the way have said, thanks to our spirit of co-operation almost all members of the committee recognized the importance of this bill. They also recognized that it was important to pass this bill as quickly as possible in this House and also in the other place.

Having acknowledged this spirit of co-operation in committee, I would also like to clarify certain comments made by my colleagues, especially regarding the motions on Bill C-2 brought forward in the House.

First, Motion No. 4, by my the Bloc Quebecois colleague, proposes to include sickness benefits in the retroactivity period for parents who are going back to work. The government designed this provision after concerns were expressed about the possibility of parents staying at home with their children and going back on the labour market later on.

At present, people are eligible for 15 weeks of sickness benefits. As far as the retroactivity period is concerned, we had promised to introduce Bill C-2 in September. Therefore, a retroactivity cheque will be sent to those eligible as soon as this bill is enacted.

The government is aware of the needs and concerns of Canadians, especially those who are too sick to work. This is why the government has improved access to sickness benefits by reducing from 700 to 600 the number of hours people have to work to be eligible.

Like any member of a government that gives thought to what it does, I, as well as the government and the minister, would like to proceed carefully and understand all aspects of the issue, which is an extremely complex one.

For instance, this system is designed to provide assistance to workers during temporary absences from the labour market. I believe that a decision about the level of support we should offer Canadians who are out of the labour market for an extended period is one which requires a much deeper and comprehensive analysis, one which will probably take in more than the EI system. For instance, assistance is available from the Canada pension plan.

Benefits from workers compensation programs, as well as the taxation system, also play a role. We should therefore approach this problem comprehensively and this is the direction in which the government is headed.

The second motion, which was deemed debatable here in the House, has to do with the clawback provision, which would not apply to fraudulent claims for benefit weeks. The member who moved this amendment in the House is suggesting that we should be more tolerant of those who defraud the EI system. His proposal would mean that Canadians who made honest claims for benefits would be required to give back a portion of their benefits, while those who made fraudulent claims would be exempt from having to do so.

In effect, the member is suggesting that we introduce an incentive for people to defraud the EI system. I cannot believe that this is the intention of the member who moved this amendment, but it is the potential impact of the amendment if ever it were passed. It is obvious that the government cannot go along with such an amendment to Bill C-2, and we therefore reject it.

Third, I would like to dwell on the famous clause 9 discussed earnestly by several members opposite. The purpose is to delete clause 9 of the bill that would change the way the premium rate is set in relation with the role of the EI commission.

Let us look at the facts. What is the bill saying? It is saying that the government wishes to suspend the commission's role in the determination of the premium rate, but contrary to what my hon. colleague of the Canadian Alliance said, it is not a suspension forever. It is a suspension for a period limited to two years in order to allow the government to review the way the rate is set.

Why are we asking for that? It is because we too happen to follow the advice of the auditor general who, as my hon. colleague said, is well accepted and recognized in this House. We are following the advice of the auditor general who indicated that the premium rate determination process was not clear enough. The Standing Committee on Finance of the House of Commons has also indicated that the mechanism should be reviewed.

It is in the perspective of a review aimed at making the rates fairer that we want to suspend the role of the commission. I repeat that the suspension would be extremely limited and would not exceed a two year period.

The review will deal with rates and premium rate determination. We believe, on the government side, that it is not appropriate to have the commission keep on setting the rates under those conditions. We want to review the system.

Finally, Motion No. 10, which was proposed by my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party and also addresses clause 9, would fundamentally change the purpose of clause 9. I would like to remind hon. members that clause 9 relates to the role of the commission in fixing the premium rate.

In fact, as I have just said in French, we are suspending the EI commission's role in rate setting for two years to allow time for the government to review how the rate is set.

Once again I will say in answer to my colleague from the Progressive Conservative that it is the auditor general who suggested that rate setting is not clear enough and hon. members on the other side of the House have said it before. The finance committee has also said that it needs to be revised. I remind all members that the finance committee of the House of Commons is made up of all parties present in the House.

These issues need to be addressed in the review. It is not appropriate to ask the commission to continue to set rates in these circumstances. Therefore, we are suspending their rate setting role while we conduct the review.

Finally, I would like to address an extremely important point that was raised by several members of this House, particularly members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois, about the fact that Bill C-2 does not respond to the needs of the people of Canada.

The government has already made the commitment at the standing committee of this House to start examining suggestions made to us by witnesses who appeared before the committee and to make some recommendations to the minister.

However, I would like to quote once again the auditor general, who said to us on February 22, while appearing before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts:

—in the next two years—work will be done on how this should be done in the future. So I think the bill buys some time to come up with a better way of calculating the rates paid by the workers and their employers.

We thus have the support of the auditor general.

Before concluding, I have two other quotations. The first is from Mr. Robert Blakely, director of Canadian affairs, building and construction trades department, AFL-CIO, who said “In general, we support the reforms proposed under Bill C-2”.

Another quotation—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I regret to interrupt the parliamentary secretary, but, to be fair to all of our colleagues, I must. The hon. member for St. John's West.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2001 / 11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words about this bill, which I look upon as a blackmail bill, to a degree, simply because government is throwing out enough to the people involved to encourage all of us to support the bill, yet is holding back so many other changes that are so necessary we are torn between supporting the bill and voting against it.

However, our party is supporting the bill simply because we in our party know that if we do not accept the changes offered right now, small as they are, those affected may have to wait for prolonged periods, as they did during the fall, of course, when the bill was first introduced. It should have been passed before the election was called but was not and people have suffered decreased incomes throughout this winter.

I congratulate some of the members who spoke this morning. I agree with everything, I think, that was said on this side and I can appreciate exactly where these hon. members are coming from. I especially was impressed with the speech given by my colleague from the NDP who did a magnificent job in outlining some of the concerns his constituents face.

One of the rules that has not been touched at all in this new piece of legislation is the divisor rule. We ask why it has been there from the beginning. If some seasonal employee is fortunate enough to find x number of weeks of work, why should it be divided by a larger number to directly increase his income?

The bill deals with the intensity rule, again a rule that should never have been brought in. It seems the government has been looking at people who are contributing to a fund well in excess of what is required and has been taking money from employers well in excess of what is required, to the extent that we have a surplus of some $32 billion, instead of asking how we could use this money to help the people who were meant to be helped in the beginning, the people who contribute and the employers who contribute on their behalf. We say to the employers that we will not allow their advisory council to have any say in rate setting. That is how we treat them. We say to the employees that we will try to find as many ways as we can to reduce their benefits. We will increase the number of hours of employment needed to qualify. We will bring in the intensity rule which reduces their payment every year. We will bring in the divisor rule which artificially divides their income. Consequently we end up with 50% of nothing being nothing which is what an awful lot of seasonal employees have been getting over the last few years.

The intensity rule change is a positive one, and we agree with it. We also agree with assisting some people to get back into the workforce without having the heavy onus of paying in excessive hours.

In relation to the required hours, if we go back, the original changes were brought in to offset what was always referred to as the 10-42 syndrome. People would work 10 weeks, get 15 or 20 hours of work a week and get stamps, as they used to say then, to draw unemployment for the next 42 weeks. Nobody was happy with that system. However it is like everything else the government does. Once it starts swinging the pendulum, it lets it go from one end to the other and the people who suffer in this case are seasonal employees.

We have regions where the economy has been disastrous during the last few years, in particular, the ground fishery in Atlantic Canada. The bottom has fallen right out of it. This not only affects people involved in the fishery, it affects an awful lot of people who work in the processing industry, the fish plants and associated back up activities.

When there is a shortage of resource, as we have seen in recent years, and when we have demands from the market, especially the Japanese market, looking for product that requires little or no processing, the opportunity for the people working in that industry to obtain employment becomes less and less and the hours are fewer and fewer.

We have made no provision to address times of disaster. Earlier in the year I remember some of my colleagues from the Bloc Party talking about people employed in the forest industry. They were having the same problem. When the work was scarce, they had a problem finding the number of hours required.

We do not want to go back to the old 10-42 syndrome, a handful of hours and a person can draw on the employment insurance all year. That is not the case. However there has to be some special provisions made for individuals who live in areas that have been devastated by lack of resource, or slowdowns in the industry, or lack of construction, or major strikes or whatever the case might be. We do not have that flexibility and people are suffering. Ironically, they are suffering while they themselves have contributed to a fund that was supposed to look them, a fund in the amount of $32 billion which the government lumped in with general revenues.

This is not the way we are supposed to look after the people in our country. This is certainly not the way we are supposed to look after people who really need our help, people who in trying to help themselves get the door slammed in their face.

The bill needs to be amended in several ways and there are amendments on the floor. Certainly, we will be supporting many of them, and perhaps all of them. However amendments should not have been necessary. A government with a conscience, a government that is supposed to know what is going on should have brought in a full bill to deal with all the issues. It is not enough to placate a few and bribe politicians into supporting it so that these people will at least have some benefits, while completely rejecting other benefits that are necessary.

Let us talk about the EI funding and the Department of Human Resources Development. There are provinces which have a lot of seasonal workers. This in itself creates high unemployment in those areas. These people are looking for work and asking government to help out. At the same time we see the end of March approaching, which is the fiscal year end.

Some provinces use the word dump, which in this case means millions of dollars from small, poor provinces are being dumped back into government coffers because of the tight reins the government has on local offices. The flexibility is not there to deliver even the meagre amounts that are assigned to the various regions. It is amazing.

For the first half of this year and part of the previous year, most of the employees of HRDC were busy trying to correct mistakes of the past as a result of the looseness of the government. With the reduction in staff in the department, the manpower was not there to educate people on what was involved in putting forward good, solid proposals which could generate activity in the communities and create employment.

The local offices have been hammered by their own department. What happened? Through no fault of their own, they have not been able to deliver the funds available. Money has been sent back to government. It is unheard of.

It is time the government become aware of what is happening, especially in the rural areas. Somebody mentioned today that small communities adjacent to bigger ones have been lumped together. The small communities are paying the price because they live near areas of high employment.

All of these things have to be looked at. Hopefully we will see changes before the final vote and will be only too glad to see such changes occur.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my speech by asking a question, and I am sure the answer will be yes.

I would imagine that you are quite familiar with the works of Jean de La Fontaine. I see that you are nodding your approval. I am convinced that everyone in the House knows Jean de La Fontaine, a famous French poet who lived from 1621 to 1695. He is particularly well known all over the world for his Fables .

If Jean de La Fontaine were still living today, he would find that the ideal conditions, the winning conditions for writing a new fable, are all brought together in the employment insurance plan. Let me explain.

When Jean de La Fontaine personified an animal, he did it for two very specific reasons. First, it underlines human and social behaviours and helps us understand how they work. Second, it is a means by which to draw attention to the sensitivity and intelligence of animals that should at times be a source of inspiration for us. We would be better off. I can easily imagine a fable he could have entitled the nasty chickens and the nice geese”.

Mr. Speaker, just like me, you were once small, even though it does not show any more, and young. When I was a child there was a tradition which still exists. At Easter, my brothers would go out and buy cute little chicks. Spring being the time of renewal, of rebirth, we used to love to buy these animals.

I was six or seven years younger than my brothers. Who do you think had to feed the chickens every morning? Me, of course.

As time went by, the chickens got bigger. However, I had noticed that one was a bit smaller than the others. I wondered what was happening. I began to observe it. I realized that the smaller chicken was excluded by the others until one day it finally died. We know how it is when one chicken is weaker than the others. They begin pecking at it and hurt it until it dies. That is the first part of the fable.

Here is the second part. I was a little older at that time. My brothers took me fishing and hunting. One day, they showed me a flight of Canada geese. We know that these birds travel over fairly long distances. We also know how it is with Canada geese. When one of them becomes too weak or too tired, the strongest goose will go just under it and support it in flight. When that goose gets tired another one takes its place, and in the end the weak goose reaches its destination.

We saw that nasty chickens exclude whereas nice geese include. That is a very good illustration of how EI works at present.

It is pretty serious business to lose a job. People have responsibilities. They feel helpless. Then the nasty chickens come along to peck at them. Here we have someone who has lost a job. What is the first question we ask? “Eligible or not eligible?” Then we pick, pick, pick away at eligibility. We make sure that the rules are as strict as possible. If we find a person is eligible that bugs us, so we pick, pick, pick away again, adding the two week waiting period. Tactics of exclusion are constantly being used.

At one point benefits were 60% of earnings. We say that is too much, so we pick away some more and bring it down to 55%. Then we pick away again at the seasonal workers because they apply every year and reduce benefits by 1% per year. The institutional tactic of exclusion is obvious. I could go on, in fact I will.

Construction workers are also seasonal workers. They have to be looking for work, however. The department says that construction workers who go through their unions, their construction board where all the available jobs are posted, are not considered to have been looking for work. We are picking away again.

Then there are the young workers, women who are excluded from eligibility, parental leave. Earlier in my introduction I spoke of spring, which is a call to life. A man and a woman who decide to have a child are again virtually excluded. They are not eligible under the terms of employment insurance. If the expectant mother has to make use of preventive withdrawal from the workplace, here there is another exclusion. In this employment insurance system, it is exclusion from A to Z.

Then, there are the older workers. It is certainly difficult when a person is 55 and has been in one job for 35 years. Here again we exclude them. Assistance programs which could help them until retirement are taken away. As far as I know, there was a commitment to reinstate such a program. It has not yet appeared. Once again exclusion is the rule.

Basically the Bloc Quebecois and the opposition believe that we are doing what we are doing because of what we are. We are the nice geese.

If for some reason someone is going through hard times, such as the loss of a job, there must be some system somewhere to help him, to support him until he gets back on his feet.

All the amendments brought forward by my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois and other colleagues in the opposition are along that line. We do not want the employment insurance system to be exclusive. We want it to be an inclusive plan.

We could go on for hours about various issues. We could add amendments. However now they are restricting debate partially in this case, but it will probably come to total closure very soon.

I am sure Jean de La Fontaine would have been delighted to write a fable about the nasty chickens and the nice geese. This does not only apply to employment insurance. We could also apply it to federalism and sovereignty.

There are nasty chickens that are leading us, the nice geese, to support sovereignty in Quebec. We want a nation that once it fully controls its own employment insurance fund will be able to include persons who are going through hard times so that they are not excluded from society but are helped and can later return to society with pride and dignity, thanks to the assistance they received from support programs, just like a nice goose would do.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

That was a fairly picturesque speech. The hon. member for Windsor—St. Clair.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders



Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to reiterate the points made by my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party about the inadequacies of the legislation being proposed, specifically the short list of the amendments and changes that would be made, depending upon the outcome of the vote. Many more issues need to be addressed and I will draw them to the attention of the House at this time.

One issue that has been of particular import to my riding in the last few months is the change concerning the 85% rule that is required in one of the regulations under the act. It establishes that if an employee does not return to work in a strike lockout situation, the reason must be because of lack of work and not because of lack of work or production generated as a result of the strike lockout.

The rule is wide open to abuse on the part of employers if after the strike lockout they wish to be vindictive. The offensive part of the regulation is that the employer is the one who is sought out and asked for information on whether the 85% rule is being met.

I wish to make a side point here. The 85% rule is not only with regard to 85% of the employees being called back to work but also 85% of production being restored. It is a double opportunity for the employer to have the final decision on whether individual employees will qualify. We had two recent situations in Windsor where this specific situation arose.

The interesting part is that as a result of work done by the CAW union and my office, the department reversed the original decision disqualifying all those workers. Literally hundreds of them were disqualified. I still have not had a response from the minister in terms of the interpretation placed on the rule, but there seems to be some policy where during certain periods of time the rule is not enforced. Our party's position is that the rule should be done away with completely. The general application of the act and the regulations should flow once a strike lockout situation has terminated.

Another concern I have, and one that I run across in my riding repeatedly, is with one of the penalties under the legislation. It is in regard to individuals who know that they will be unemployed and they make arrangements in all good faith to seek retraining.

The government is actively pressing individuals who are unemployed to upgrade themselves. It constantly publishes figures about the need for people to recognize that in the course of their working career they will be repeatedly required to return to some educational or retraining program in order to maintain full employment.

In spite of the figures that we have all seen, and the position that the government is taking, individuals who wish to return to work by way of upgrading their skills and knowing that they will need to do that in order to get favourable employment situations, are in effect penalized by being required to go without employment benefits for a full two week period. They leave the workforce, usually not voluntarily, and then they are without any form of income for a full two weeks while in an educational program.

It is particularly offensive to single parent families with children who rely on that income to have a waiting period of two weeks. It has a very negative effect, particularly for women in the workforce, as it forces them to go on social service benefits rather than get the retraining that they really require. Retraining would be much better for them as it would enhance the overall economy and it would be good of society. That is another change that is required and we see no signs of the government moving on it.

My final point deals with the inaction on the part of the government to deal with the taking of the money that has been paid for by both employees and employers to the tune of $35 billion. It has also refused to even acknowledge a responsibility to replace those funds.

If the government returned those funds, there is no question that the amount the employer or employee would have to contribute would be significantly reduced. We need those funds available in case of a significant economic downturn, which we may be confronting at this period of time.

We need action on the part the government on each one of those items. As Bill C-2 and the proposed amendments show, we are not getting it at this time.