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

12:05 p.m.


Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Madam Speaker, I am always very interested in talking about the employment insurance bill.

I have to say that I opposed the bill. I opposed it and I still oppose it, but a little less today because now I have hope.

I will first explain why the Bloc Quebecois and I oppose this bill as currently defined. First off, clause 9 of the bill gives the government the power to set the premium rates for 2002 and 2003, on the recommendation of the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance.

Under the existing act the premium rates are set by the commission, with the approval of the governor in council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance.

The nuance is significant since with the ousting of the commission for the rate setting process the rates could be adjusted according to the needs of the government and its deficit, rather than according to the needs of the unemployed and the amount of contributions received, as the chief actuary recommends.

If passed, clause 9 would legalize theft and the government's having full possession of the fund.

This morning people talked about a real employment insurance fund. However, with clause 9, we are making it legal for the government to draw from the fund surplus as it wishes. I therefore appeal to this government to have this clause repealed. If it were, I would vote in favour. The Bloc Quebecois would vote for the bill. Why?

If members read over my last speech concerning Bill C-2, they will find that I was very critical of that bill, which had nothing to do with the reality of the area I represent where seasonal work is a fact of life.

Why am I less critical today? It is because I have hope. Nevertheless, I remain concerned. I have hope, given the fact that a motion was adopted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development which was put forward by the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques and which said:

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

Hearings were held and people from Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean gave testimony before the committee. We were very happy about that. Several witnesses said that the actual reform was nonsense since it does not answer the needs of our fellow citizens.

I am still concerned today, but I see a glimmer of hope. What will be the content of the report tabled on June 1? I do not know. However my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques has all my confidence, because he is a man full of compassion and understanding toward Quebec workers. There are many things I would like to see in this report, and I hope it can generate major changes in the present plan.

The Employment Insurance Act as it stands now has a negative impact on my region and that of the hon. member for Charlevoix, because we both experienced the same kind of situation on July 1. This is not a problem affecting all our colleagues.

The act provides for a review of EI zones every five years. The number of hours and the number of weeks of benefits vary between an area with high unemployment and an area with a strong economy.

When the zoning is sensibly done it reflects the reality of regions. A new zone was established on July 1 last year without any real consultation. There were token consultations. I wrote to the minister to tell her I disagreed with this new EI zone. In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean her officials told her to keep the status quo. In spite of it all, the chief actuary established the new zone. Actually I do not know whether the actuary or the minister was involved, but that is not relevant. Still, a major change was made in that instead of having to work 420 hours to qualify workers from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region will now need 525 hours to get a maximum of 22 weeks of benefits, instead of 31.

This may be of little significance to us, in the comfort of our seats. This morning, I listened to the passionate speech made by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst on the realities experienced by the families and workers who will not qualify, or who will qualify but will only receive benefits until February. How will these people survive? From February to May when the tourist season starts and seasonal economic activities resume, these people will have to rely on income security, on welfare.

Do hon. members think this is what these people want? Absolutely not, particularly since they often have a house or a car, which is perfectly normal and something I wish on everyone. Because of that they cannot qualify for provincial income security. These people then find themselves without any income, and governments wonder why people turn to the underground economy. There comes a point where people have to get into survival mode. When the government comes up with measures like this one, with measures that do not reflect the workers' reality, some turn to the underground economy because they need to put bread and butter on the table.

That is why the minister, faced with an outcry from workers in our regions before the election was called, agreed to change the rules to propose transitional measures so that workers would have the time, the minister put it, to get used to the new EI rules which restrict eligibility and decrease the number of benefit weeks.

People do not get used to poverty. Even if we wanted to extend the tourism season, and we are working on it, the weather must be factored in. When the ground is frozen it is frozen, with the result that there are certain activities which are impossible during the winter season. Seasonal work is a reality in this country and must be taken into consideration.

I mentioned earlier that I hoped the committee would submit a report and that it would lead to amendments so that the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and North Shore regions would see a return to measures reflecting the economic reality of the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area. The result would be that seasonal workers could make both ends meet and that they would not find themselves facing poverty. This does not mean that they do not want to work. Far from it.

Once again, I listened to the speech by the member for Acadie—Bathurst who had heard in the House that some people are lazy and want to live off income security. There may be a percentage who do, but it is not true of most workers. Far from it. What people want are working conditions, work and decent pay, to which everyone is entitled.

If the existing rules are not amended the impact on the economy of my region and on businesses will be disastrous.

I mentioned workers who will face a gap in benefits in the spring. Businesses will be affected as well.

Unfortunately that is all the time I have.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-2 which really hurts seasonal workers.

During the election campaign the Prime Minister claimed loud and clear throughout Quebec that as soon as he was back in office in Ottawa his government would undertake an indepth reform of the EI plan.

In some regions Canadian voters believed him and in others they did not. In the Gaspé peninsula people believed that the Prime Minister, having finally wiped out the deficit, was promising in his red book to completely overhaul the EI plan.

The citizens of the Gaspé and the islands were fooled again. They were wrong in voting Liberal, even if the Liberal member made a heartfelt appeal to the Prime Minister during the campaign, asking him to finally listen and keep the election promises he had personally made.

The Prime Minister will not be easily moved by the heartfelt cry from my colleague from Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok. The Prime Minister has been in politics for 35 years. He has seen and done all kinds of things. He made promises and even acknowledged that he was mistaken when he had seasonal workers, women and students pitch in to help wipe out the deficit by cutting their EI benefits from 55% to 50%. This had a double effect.

The Prime Minister thought these cuts in their benefits would encourage them to improve their skills and work longer.

Several members mentioned that in several areas of Quebec such as Charlevoix and the North Shore there were a lot of seasonal jobs. Workers would like to have permanent jobs. Employers would like to be able to give them permanent jobs. As we know, if employers cannot guarantee a high enough number of hours of work to allow workers to qualify for employment insurance benefits, they tend to leave. It is very expensive for employers to have to constantly train new workers for these seasonal jobs.

Bill C-44 was on the table before the election campaign. The Prime Minister promised an indepth reform when parliament reconvened. He introduced Bill C-2. Bill C-2 is a photocopy of Bill C-44. If Bill C-44 was not acceptable, Bill C-2 is even less so because again it does not meet the commitments made by the government during the election campaign. The government was re-elected on these promises.

It would take some major changes right away. There was no need for Bill C-2 to go through all the stages: introduction and first reading, second reading, committee review to hear witnesses, back to the House for third reading and finally royal assent. I am convinced the Prime Minister would have had the unanimous consent of the House, of both government and opposition members, to split Bill C-2 into two separate parts.

We would have unanimously agreed to it if only the government had promised to immediately and retroactively give back all the money it took from the unemployed through the intensity rule, to bring in an increase from 50% to 55% to eliminate the clawback effect, and to bring in an increase from $28,000 to $38,000 to allow, mothers to stay on maternity leave instead of being unemployed for two or four years. We would have agreed unanimously to split the bill.

The government would have also made the commitment to proceed to a true reform of the employment insurance plan. The Prime Minister knows what a true reform of the EI plan is, and so do the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance since there was such a reform in 1996, the Axworthy reform, when drastic cuts were made to the plan.

In 1996, when the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the then Minister of Human Resources Development decided to reform the EI plan, their goal was to take in as much as possible and give out as little as possible. With eligibility requirements set at 910 hours, six persons out of ten who paid EI contributions were not eligible for benefits.

The need is in our ridings but the money is in Ottawa. The unemployed need the money but the Minister of Finance has it in his pockets. Of course the intensity rule made no sense at all. The Prime Minister recognized that fact following a question from the Bloc Quebecois and undertook to review the rule and change it. However we are asking for a lot more than that.

At least 60 to 70 witnesses came to say unanimously to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that Bill C-2 did not go far enough. The two week waiting period should also be abolished. We know that employment insurance is an insurance that employees and employers pay into in case there is a job loss or termination. It is part of the social benefits.

It is not because people apply for EI benefits that they must be penalized with a two week waiting period. Why keep the 910 hour requirement for seasonal workers? Whether they are temporary or part time employees, these people pay premiums and never receive benefits.

A seasonal worker status should be recognized. This would prevent regions from quarrelling among themselves. This would also somewhat prevent businesses, employers and employees from being in a difficult situation compared to others.

On the ferry, the boat belonging to the Société des traversiers du Québec which sails between Baie Sainte-Catherine and Tadoussac in my riding, I have seen Tadoussac and Baie Sainte-Catherine residents who did not have the same EI coverage. This is illogical because they have the same employer.

Also, when a seasonal employee was lucky enough to get some work in the last two or three years, he needed 420 hours to qualify for 32 insurable weeks. The minister wants to come back with her project in 2003-04. However this is done increasingly. In 2000-01, today, 420 hours are required to qualify for 32 weeks. In 2001-02 someone will have to work 420 hours to qualify for 28 weeks. Already next year four weeks will be cut. In 2002-03 it will be 455 hours for 24 weeks and in 2003-04 525 hours for 21 weeks.

At this time of year, at the end of March, we will be reading in the papers or hearing on the TV that according to Statistics Canada the unemployment rate has dropped in Quebec and Canada. Why has the unemployment rate dropped? It is because people are no longer covered by employment insurance. The government is not paying money out any more. It is paying out a lot less. Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate has dropped. It is not because people have entered the labour market. It is because they no longer get employment insurance cheques. At this point it is something like the principle of communicating vessels.

If people do not get EI cheques social assistance goes up. Who pays for social assistance? The workers do, through their taxes. The workers of Quebec pay for this assistance which provides some income security.

Thirty-six billion dollars have been in the government coffers since the 1996 reform. Six people in ten are not entitled to EI. The needs are in ridings and the money is in Ottawa. The unemployed need money, and the money is in the Minister of Finance's pockets.

There have been multiple demonstrations, at least 10,000 signatures on petitions—I have tabled some 10—and meetings with native communities, unions, Charlevoix—Côte-Nord coalitions in an effort to appeal to the minister. We almost had to wring her arm to get a meeting.

She promised a bill, training and programs, but unfortunately the transitional measures were empty because there is no money in the program.

In closing, we want a thorough reform by the government as soon as possible, because the unemployed have been penalized enough by Liberal government reforms.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak about Bill C-2 and the whole employment insurance saga.

We know that the reforms in the employment insurance program have made victims and that some people cannot collect insurance benefits any more when they loose their job.

Today we are asking for real action. We are asking for a real reform that will give more people access to employment insurance. Six people in ten are currently excluded. Such an insurance should allow any worker who loses his or her job to collect employment insurance benefits, but it is not the case any more since the 1996 reform of the employment insurance program.

Some changes were introduced through various bills, including Bill C-44 which only brought minor improvements. I cannot understand how the government could not respond to people's expectations. Our committee had several meetings to look at a real indepth reform of the employment insurance bill. We have heard groups that were very representative of the population.

The Bloc Quebecois went on a few fact finding tours to try and understand what was happening in the various areas, what impact this unfair and unwarranted reform was having. It has already hurt many, people who could not find work in time to go back to work within a reasonable time frame. We were talking about the spring gap. Many seasonal workers do not qualify for EI because their insurable period has been shortened.

Before the elections they were talking about true employment insurance reform, but now they are back with Bill C-2. It does not go far enough. It will hurt the unemployed without really overhauling the system.

Our critic on human resources development, the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, has really worked hard in committee. He is very familiar with this issue. After listening to the concerns of the various witnesses, he came back with amendments to the overall Employment Insurance Act and asked the government to consider them.

About 60 organizations appeared before the committee to talk about the reality faced by the unemployed, by all those who lose their jobs and can no longer qualify. The legislation limits access to EI benefits. The Bloc Quebecois is bringing forward all the changes he has been asking for. The Bloc's concern is not new. This has been an issue for the Bloc ever since 1993, because we are very much aware of the hardship faced by the people who were discriminated against because they cannot qualify.

We can also talk about eliminating the waiting period, something that was set to target workers who were claiming UI benefits too often. They were not doing so out of malice but because they were unable to find work.

We know that the 1996 reform, which was unprecedented in this government, made it even harder for workers to qualify. Those who used EI too often were penalized and saw their benefit rate reduced by as much as 5%.

During those five years recipients could no longer get benefits at a rate of 55% of insurable earnings since they could lose up to 50% of their benefit rate.

Why are we calling for the establishment of a separate employment insurance fund? It is because what is happening right now is unacceptable. The government is dipping into the EI fund. It is doing it to eliminate the deficit, which makes it look like a government that has a lot of money to hand out in grants to friends of the party or in grants with no particular objective in terms of helping the unemployed.

We know there is $36 billion in the EI fund today. We could have a separate fund administered by those who contribute to it, namely workers and employers. That fund must be managed separately.

We are calling for an increase in insurable earnings from 55% to 60% to respond to the rising cost of living. Right now the rate is 55%. This increase is totally justified to give the unemployed slightly higher benefits to help them make ends meet while they look for a job.

We are requesting a change in the definition of the rate calculation period from 26 weeks to 52 weeks. At present, those who qualify are few and they have fewer weeks of insurable employment.

The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord keeps saying that we should be fair with the regions. Often workers in some areas depend on seasonal or unstable jobs. Twenty-six weeks is clearly not enough in a context where there may not be any jobs available.

Another serious change we would like to see is the insurability of independent workers through a voluntary plan. Had the reform of employment insurance been tailored to the needs of the labour market, an assessment of the impact on independent workers would have been made.

I also know, because I was told about it, that the cultural industry should have been taken into consideration Human resources people in the cultural industry have formed a coalition, asking for a pilot project for cultural workers. These are very often independent workers, with incomes at or below the poverty level. That is another aspect of the labour market which has not been taken into account.

We wanted to bring down to 300 hours the eligibility requirement for special benefits. In some areas those who want to take a maternal or parental leave with special benefits, or those who are sick, have to work more hours. They need 600 hours before they qualify for EI benefits.

We would like to bring that figure down to 300 hours. In some areas workers need 420 hours to be eligible. It is unacceptable that people who experience very special conditions cannot be treated just like other workers.

Concerning the increase in the duration of benefits I believe that if we do not take into account what is really going on in the field, some people will find themselves without any EI benefits and that their duration is too insignificant to meet their needs.

Harmonizing to 25% the earnings of all claimants before EI benefits are cut, this is a main theme of the Bloc Quebecois. Members can be assured that all the reforms asked for by the Bloc are shared by all the people who testified before the committee on human resources development and the status of people with disabilities.

Insurable yearly earnings must be indexed and raised to $41,500.

I think the government has a lot of work to do to correct this inequity going back to the 1996 reform, which resulted in several poverty level people having to apply for welfare. Finally, the provincial governments had to step in and take over the federal government's responsibility.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address the bill before us today.

Let me begin by saying that in my opinion the employment insurance issue has evolved somewhat, but in a negative way. Let me explain.

There was a time when the federal government contributed to the employment insurance fund, then called the unemployment insurance fund, to the tune of about 25%. Of course the rest of the money came from employers and workers. All of a sudden in the 1980s, the government said “We will no longer contribute to the employment insurance fund. We will no longer put in our 25%. From now on all the money will come from employers and workers”.

A number of economic and financial studies have shown that our businesses have since lost a degree of competitivity, because they must make greater contributions to the employment insurance fund.

That decision has been a costly one. At the same time that the government was withdrawing from the plan in the 1980s a number of bills were introduced to make it harder for people to qualify for benefits. Before these changes seven or eight people in ten who would lose their jobs would qualify for EI benefits, compared to only four now.

The federal government is putting less money into the fund. In fact, it is not putting any and it is tightening eligibility rules and a whole set of other rules, which my colleague described very well. These will, if I understand correctly, be raised before the House on June 1, 2001, when the standing committee tables a report.

The rules were tightened and made stricter. The government withdrew and contributed less money while at the same time wanting more control. Hon. members will tell me there is nothing new about that. That is more or less what the federal government has been doing for several years. It wants to contribute less and less but to centralize more and more.

This has had repercussions. In my riding of Saint-Jean a PSAC survey has shown clearly that Saint-Jean was losing $21 million yearly because of all the restrictions relating to employment insurance: restrictions on eligibility, on the number of weeks, on what the federal government contributes. Saint-Jean has received $21 million less than it did under the generous, previous plan.

Saint-Jean is not alone. In all ridings of Quebec and all ridings of Canada similar things have been happening. As a result, people losing their jobs have found themselves dependent on provincial welfare once they were no longer eligible for employment insurance.

I hardly need point out that Ottawa has also reduced the amounts earmarked for transfer payments to the provinces for health, education and social assistance. Thus the provinces are hit with exorbitantly heavy costs.

Why are we against this bill at the moment? It is because of clause 9. If the government agreed to delete clause 9 there would be no problem. Under the current legislation the premium rate is set by the Employment Insurance Commission on the recommendation of the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance.

The bill before us goes further. The Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance will make their recommendations directly to the government. They will no longer have to go through the commission. As I was saying earlier, the government no longer contributes to the EI fund. This means that from now on there is a great risk that the decisions made by the department, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Human Resources Development in terms of setting the premium rate will be based on government needs.

A lot of people question the legitimacy of a fund like the one we now have, with a $6 to $7 billion a year surplus for a cumulative total of about $25 billion over the last few years, when that money is used for purposes other than the one for which it was intended, namely helping people who lose their jobs.

There is a major problem with clause 9 and we cannot agree to it. Many people have criticized this clause. In Quebec businesses and employers have spoken out against this because they have realized that they are now paying more without getting anything out of it, practically. They know that by paying more surpluses are building up in Ottawa and that part of what they are paying is used by the government to meet its own needs, which is not what the EI fund was designed to do.

Employees who pay premiums every week have come to the same conclusion. They are saying that it does not only provide a safety net for those who lose their jobs. They understand that with what the government is taking out of the fund it can pay back its debts or inject money in its daily operations.

There is a big problem. If the government could come to terms with this issue and say that it will forget about clause 9 and leave it up the commission to set the rate, then it could have the support of the Bloc Quebecois. Until it change its mind, it will have to do without our support.

I also want to commend our colleague for making a list of very specific items that are not in the bill but that will eventually have be considered. Let me review some of them. There is the elimination of the waiting period, which is very important to us. During the 1998 ice storm in my riding of Saint-Jean people who had paid EI premiums all their lives and were laid off when their employers had to close shop because they were out of power were told “You have to wait two weeks”. I thought that was too much. These people had been paying in all their lives and needed these benefits, but the federal government had found a way to turn them down.

The way I see it, it is not an employee's fault when there are no longer any jobs. Employment insurance is a safety net. The only purpose I can see for the government in a waiting period is to ensure a supply of additional funds or fewer expenditures.

It is the same with the creation of older workers' benefits. Since the government wrapped up the POWA program, which was designed to help older workers, we have had terrible problems in our ridings. People regularly come to my office telling me “Listen, I am 55 or 58, and I swear to you that when I apply for work people look at me in an odd way and I never get an interview”. This is only normal. Employers are going to select from a much younger pool. They feel that even though older workers have accumulated a lot of experience, they will not be with the company as long. They do not tell them “We are not going to hire you”. They say “We are sorry, but we have selected someone else. We are not able to hire you, but we will keep your name on file”.

Be that as it may, these people are unable to find another job, and this causes a problem. This is one of the things that must be looked at a little later on, I imagine, when the standing committee submits its report on June 1. For now, there are a whole series of issues that have not been resolved. One of these is the benefit rate. It is now 55% instead of the 60% it used to be.

This is part of what I was saying earlier, that the government has tightened and tightened in order to go on increasing its surpluses for its own needs. This is something that is difficult to accept.

I appeal to the government's sense of reason. If it wants the support of the Bloc Quebecois, all it has to do is delete clause 9 and arrange things so that the commission, which sets premium rates on the recommendation of the two ministers, is maintained, so that it at least avoids the appearance of the government wanting to help itself to the fund.

If the government withdraws clause 9 the Bloc Quebecois would be pleased to support Bill C-2.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak during report stage of Bill C-2 and in particular to address my remarks to the amendments the House is now dealing with.

The perspective I bring to the Chamber this afternoon is one of equality for women and parents. In my view if one addressed and analyzed the bill from the point of view of gender fairness and non-discrimination it would fail the test.

I have, as do I think many others in the House, a question for the government. Was a gender analysis done for the bill? Were the concerns of Canadians about the discriminatory features of the existing Employment Insurance Act addressed in preparation for Bill C-2?

It would seem that on every count and in every instance the government has failed to address those concerns and has perpetuated the enormous inequalities and discriminatory features of the act and of the legislation before us.

We have raised before in the House our concerns about the changes introduced by the government in 1997. We have raised the concern that the government has taken important revenue away from workers and unemployed Canadians to deal with its preoccupation of balancing the budget and addressing the debt and deficit.

We had hoped, in this time of surplus and given the intentions of the government to redress its previous mistakes, that the bill would be a step forward. Unfortunately that is not the case.

It is a particularly sad day for us to be here addressing the bill when at this very moment and as we speak a charter challenge is being heard in the courts. It is a charter challenge that could have been avoided had the government put its money where its mouth was. If it had adhered to and respected its own rhetoric the challenge would not be before the courts today.

The witnesses and testimonies for the charter challenge were heard on February 19. It is expected that we will soon hear the results of the challenge. All expectations are that it will be successful and that the government will need to deal with the situation. It will need to deal with its neglect in terms of equality for women, part time workers and parents.

I acknowledge the work and contribution to the country by the Community Unemployed Help Centre of Winnipeg, which has taken up the challenge and supported a woman by the name of Kelly Lesiuk in her charter challenge.

Following the 1997 changes, the Community Unemployed Help Centre of Winnipeg surveyed organizations and individuals to determine how the act might be improved. It heard very clearly from participants that the present act was having a profound effect on workers with the most tenuous attachment to the labour force, including part time workers, new entrants and re-entrants.

The people who responded to the survey felt that unless the government addressed those concerns a charter challenge was perfectly in order and that there was incredible merit for such a case.

Kelly Lesiuk, a part time nurse from Winnipeg, came forward with her situation. I will describe her case briefly so members can see how the act and the bill before us fail to address a fundamental right and freedom in our society.

Kelly Lesiuk worked part time for five years while also raising a child. When Kelly's husband found alternate employment in Winnipeg the family moved from Brandon, Manitoba and were faced with a difficult situation. Kelly was five months pregnant with her second child. She applied for employment insurance in Winnipeg. It was her justifiable expectation to obtain regular EI benefits while seeking employment. She expected that when she was no longer able to work she could switch her claim to maternity and then to parental benefit.

Needless to say, the Lesiuks were shocked to find that Kelly failed to qualify for benefits because she had fallen 33 hours short of the 700 hours required at the time of her application. As Kelly said in an interview in the spring of 1999:

To make it through, we've had to deplete our savings, RRSPs, max out our credit cards and borrow money. I have had to return to work just six weeks after having my baby boy by cesarean section. The safety net that we felt was there for us was not.

Kelly is not alone in the situation she experienced. Hundreds of other women, part time workers and parents are in similar situations. Some 60 other cases based on similar circumstances are waiting to be heard pending the final word on the charter challenge.

It is a shame that women like Kelly must go through such a lengthy legal process. It is a shame that when the government had an opportunity to act so many other women are left waiting to hear how things will unfold.

We are dealing with a failure on the part of the government to address a systemic problem. The government and society must recognize that today women represent 70% of part time workers. That means they bear a disproportionate negative impact under the government's approach to employment insurance. They are the hardest hit by the Liberals' rules on employment insurance.

To drive home the point, let us remember that seven out of ten unemployed women have no access to benefits. Let us also remind ourselves that only 15% of young women now qualify for employment insurance. Finally, let us recognize that only half of women who give birth receive maternity benefits under existing EI rules. This is because so many women are in part time, temporary or on call contracts that the government cannot meet the requirements.

It would have been very important for the government at this opportune moment to address those concerns and bring forward appropriate amendments to ensure there is no discriminatory impact on women in our society today. For goodness' sake, we are in the year 2001.

For some 30 years women and women's movements across Canada have been fighting for legislation that has no gender bias. They have been fighting for pay equity, recognition under employment insurance rules and fair treatment with respect to pensions.

Women have asked the government over and over again to ensure that every law is looked at from the point of view of its impact on women and that every proposal before the House comes with a gender based analysis. There could not have been a gender based analysis with respect to this bill, or we would not be here today talking about its impact on women. It is a matter of acting on the facts.

In conclusion, the government has talked a lot about equality and about redressing the problems it created through its changes to the Employment Insurance Act in 1997. This is the moment and the opportune time to make those changes.

We have a bill before us that could correct both problems and ensure that women, particularly women who work part time and women who continue to have the primary responsibility for the raising of children, are not discriminated against by actions of the government. That is the fair, the just and the right thing to do.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to bring to your attention the fact that with regard to this debate dealing, with the status of women, among other things, there are still only a few of us in the House to advance the status of women.

I would also like to bring to the attention of the House, not out of some mean-spiritedness, that every time there is a major debate in the House on women's issues I see very few women rising on the other side. Instead I see quite a few men. This saddens me a little.

I had not planned to take part in today's debate on EI. I will be speaking off the cuff, straight from the heart. This is a unique opportunity for me to raise the awareness of members of this House on the impact of some of the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act on the living conditions of women.

On the weekend and again on Monday and Tuesday, I was fortunate to take part in a national forum on birth and rebirth. It dealt with the time in the life of a woman between the moment when she becomes pregnant and 18 or 24 months after the birth of her child. The lack of tools available to women to escape poverty when they have a child was among the topics discussed.

Another topic was how through the whole process women find themselves isolated from everyone except perhaps the father. Quite often fathers, and increasingly so with young fathers, are present and involved. However, when we talk about single parent, people with children living in poverty, we are talking about women. When we talk about precarious jobs, we are talking about women.

We know that 70% of precarious jobs, and probably even more, are held by women. They bear the brunt of precarious employment. Of course when they have not worked enough hours to qualify for EI benefits they do not get any. What do they do? That is the question.

I am also thinking about self-employed women. Often women have been taken for a ride in this whole situation. They are often told “Become self-employed, work at home and you will be able to care for your children at the same time”. However self-employed women are not eligible for employment insurance benefits and they will not have access to parental leave either, because there is nothing about that in the bill. Moreover, they often do not make enough money to be eligible.

Last weekend, I was very surprised to find out that there is a committee of mothers who are being denied their maternity and parental leave. It is true. I have the brochure right here.

These women decided to form a group a few years ago because they are not eligible for leave or benefits. They asked that changes be made to the Employment Insurance Act. I Hope the committee in charge of reviewing the EI plan heard them. Everything revolves around the eligibility criterion and the extension of parental leave.

It is a good thing that the government was able to take this eligibility criterion into account. It helps a little, except that when the benefit period was extended some of the negative effects were ignored. Some workers are not eligible. I will give an example and I will try to be very specific because it is a complex situation.

For example, a pregnant woman who is on preventive withdrawal because her health or the baby's health is in danger and who receives benefits from the CSST is not eligible for EI benefits. That is a delicate situation.

These women are penalized because they received money from the CSST. They are penalized because they used preventive withdrawal to ensure their safety and the safety of their unborn baby. In doing that they cannot accumulate the required number of hours to qualify for maternity or parental leave.

They are denied benefits; they are denied their rights. They are forced to choose, which I think is totally unacceptable. I believe this puts the government in a very awkward position.

The government says “We will help mothers because we believe the first years of life are the most important. We will help parents get closer to their children”. What about the women who cannot get employment insurance benefits and who are not entitled to parental leave? They are forced to go back to work.

Fortunately in Quebec we have a child care program. It helps a little. It offers support, but day care centres will never replace parents. The mother has a choice to make. She either takes parental leave at her own expense or she goes back to work. It is one of the bad elements.

I will give another example. In the former Employment Insurance Act a woman was entitled to collect employment insurance benefits from the moment she had delivered the baby or at the expected time of delivery. The new act now says that a woman who has delivered a baby on or after January 1, 2000, is entitled to parental leave.

Madam Speaker, I have heard that you are aware of this problem. I am personally trying to collect signatures. As a member of parliament you might be doing an excellent job in this regard. What I am saying is that under the new act a woman who was expected to deliver her baby on January 5, 2001, but who did so on December 12, 2000, is not entitled to extended parental leave. She is not allowed the maximum period under the new legislation.

I find that a bit unfortunate. As members know, as the critic for the status of women I will do my best to explain, to change and to improve women's living conditions.

All this should be taken into account, if possible, because women represent 52% of the population in Canada. Women are in charge of bringing children up. It is the women who make Canada and Quebec what they are.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to speak today in the House to Bill C-2 and, in particular, to the amendment.

I would first like to pay tribute to the incredible amount of work that has taken place to bring the bill to where it is today, limited as it is.

I along with many of my colleagues were elected in 1997. From day one of being elected to parliament, members of the New Democratic Party took up the issue of the discrimination and unfairness in the Employment Insurance Act which was brought in 1996. In particular, our spokesperson on unemployment insurance, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, has taken this issue up with an absolute passion and is an advocate for the unemployed men and women in this country. It is the work of that member and of other members in the opposition that has forced this issue on to the political agenda. It is quite ironic to see the amount of effort that was needed to force the government to bring forward even the very limited changes that are before us today in Bill C-2.

In looking over the bill and the amendments, there is no question that if the bill is approved in its present form it would still act as a discriminatory piece of legislation and hurt those members of society who need the most protection and support.

A glaring contradiction to the bill are the statements the government side has made in the House professing to be concerned about the increase in child poverty. I remember the unanimous resolution that was approved by the House in 1989, moved by the then leader of the NDP, Mr. Ed Broadbent, calling for the elimination of child poverty by the year 2000. It was a noble goal. Not only have we not reached that goal, we have fallen further behind. We now have more children living in poverty as a result of public policies. One of those public policies is what has taken place with employment insurance.

My colleague from Winnipeg North Centre spoke very eloquently on how the bill historically, and even today, would have a very negative impact on women. When we look at the provisions of the bill we realize that even though women pay into employment insurance they will not qualify.

On the one hand, with great respect, we have come to this point only because of the absolute determination of members in our party and other parties to bring this forward. On the other hand, it is with a note of frustration and anxiety when I see that the bill still does not fundamentally address the inequities that exist within the system.

As the member for Winnipeg North Centre noted earlier, if the bill had come forward with a gender based analysis, as the government side said that it would, we would not be debating the bill in its current form today.

I am concerned that the provisions before us today will not help part time workers. They will not help women and they will not help all new parents. One of the positive things about the bill is that it does provide new provisions for new parents, but not all new parents will qualify.

I can tell members, and I am sure it is true for other members of the House, about the phone calls I am getting in my constituency office in Vancouver East from people who are desperate for support for their families.

My constituents hear about the debate in the House of Commons. They look with a sense of hope that some changes could be coming to provide them with some relief to pay the rent, to put food on the table, and to have bus fare to go to school and to go to various activities in the community. Constituents phone and ask whether the bill would help them, whether they would qualify for employment insurance.

Reading the fine print we find that there are still huge numbers of people, particularly women, part time workers and seasonal workers, who will be left behind.

The New Democratic Party is concerned that Bill C-2, the employment insurance bill, further entrenches growing inequality. Members have an opportunity to recognize that the moneys that flow into the fund come from the workers of Canada. We have a financial, social and political responsibility to make sure that unemployed workers, parents who are seeking re-entry into the workforce and members of our society are protected.

We have a responsibility to ensure that they are treated with fairness and that they are not penalized by clawback measures which still exist in the current bill. Unfortunately that is not the case. The changes in the bill are so limited that the number of people who would be affected is very small.

The New Democratic Party and I know we are joined by other members who understand that the political process is determined and resolved in its efforts to make sure the issue stays at the top of the political agenda. It is about fairness and equality. It is about recognizing how women have been discriminated against.

We believe in the charter of rights and in equality. We believe that when workers pay into a fund they have a right to income security when they are either unemployed, laid off or seasonal workers. New parents should have access to parental leave. They have a right to a certain level of comfort and security.

We will continue to work very hard to make sure that the amendments before us today that deal with some of the worst aspects of the bill and try to improve it are passed. There is no question that a much more indepth analysis is required on the whole question of employment insurance.

I urge all members of the House to support the amendments before us today that deal with some of the problems in the bill. It must not stop there. It is only one small step. We must be committed to ensuring there are further changes to the system to end discrimination against unemployed people and women. We must accept a very basic premise that unemployed people in Canada have a right to access their own insurance funds.

One of the worst scandals is how the fund has been raided over the years by the Government of Canada. Thirty-five billion dollars has been taken in tax cuts to balance the books. That does not help poor people. In any other instance this would be a completely intolerable situation, yet it has been allowed to happen here.

It is so shameful that we see people desperately trying to keep a roof over their heads, to pay bills every month, and to have their kids go to school. Yet these billions of dollars have been accumulated in the surplus fund and the money will not go to the people who most desperately need it. There is no other example that is as outrageous, as discriminatory and as unfair as this one.

We on this side of the House and in this party will continue to fight what appears to be the agenda of the government, to ensure that unemployed people do not get what they deserve. We want to make sure they have full access to income security and are treated with fairness and without discrimination.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, it is passing strange that we should still be discussing this EI reform in 2001. When I was the secretary general of the CSN back in 1995-96 we were discussing exactly the same issues.

When Mr. Axworthy brought in this reform as human resources minister we warned him that it would penalize many workers, and it did.

At this very moment 6 out of 10 workers who contribute and then lose their jobs do not qualify. It is totally unacceptable in a society that is supposed to be democratic and value its safety net.

Obviously the bill before us does not correct the fundamental flaws we pointed out in 1995-96 and still condemn.

In my riding of Joliette, for example, there are many farm workers. Because of the kind of harvesting they are hired for, many of them do not work a sufficient number of weeks to qualify for benefits. They leave for big cities like Montreal to find jobs and make ends meet. We are therefore losing highly skilled farm workers.

Perhaps the federal government thinks anybody can be turned into a farm worker when the harvesting season comes. This is not the way it works. It takes people who, after several years of experience, know when it is appropriate to harvest. If there are no experienced workers, choices will have to be made. They will cost thousands of dollars, sometimes even millions of dollars, in terms of farm income. This will penalize not only farm producers but also the region as a whole, like my region of Joliette. Lanaudière is also a region where there are more independent workers than the Canadian average.

I remember quite well Mr. Axworthy saying at the time that this reform was precisely aimed at adapting the EI plan to make it more compatible with the new realities in the labour market. We see that since 1995-96 the number of independent workers has increased and our plan is still not adapted to this new reality in the labour market.

These are people who do extremely important work in terms of general economic activity. These people are needed, but they are excluded from the social safety net and unduly penalized.

It would be very easy to find ways to include in the EI plan some protection for independent workers. Indeed, Quebec was able to do so in its—

And the fire alarm having rung:

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

We will suspend for a few minutes.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 1.21 p.m.)

(The House resumed at 1.38 p.m.)

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I hope it is not my fiery comments that triggered the alarm. Anyway my mother would be very pleased with my speech.

To pick up where I left off, I was saying that the debate we are having today is somewhat preposterous because the flaws and the adverse impact of the EI reform have now been experienced for more than five years throughout Quebec and Canada. It has penalized farm workers, as I mentioned with regard to my riding, self-employed workers who are excluded and young families.

My colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville talked about this at length a while ago, but it is important for me to mention it again, as my riding of Joliette includes suburbs such as Le Gardeur and L'Assomption where many young families are finding it extremely difficult to get their lives organized, to combine work and family, and who should have access to sensible parental leave.

As a matter of fact, as I was winding up my speech when the alarm sounded I was saying that in Quebec we were imaginative enough to include self-employed workers in the parental leave program introduced by the minister of the day. Therefore, if the federal government had any imagination, we could solve all the problems that have been identified in the EI reform.

It is obvious that Bill C-2, just like its predecessor Bill C-44, solves none of the basic problems which have been identified by everybody. I am happy that the committee unanimously adopted the motion by my colleague, the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, asking that it report back on all these aspects by June 1.

I will concentrate on a particular aspect of Bill C-2 that we on this side consider fundamental, that is clause 9 in which the government claims the right to set the rate of EI premiums currently set by the Employment Insurance Commission with the approval of the governor in council and under the recommendation of the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance.

I know that the Minister of Finance has repeatedly ignored the commission's recommendations over the last few years, but there is at least a debate held regularly on the rate required to finance the measures provided for in the employment insurance program.

With clause 9 of Bill C-2 the government is trying to legalize what it is doing already, that is to legalize the misappropriation of funds we are witnessing with the creation of a surplus completely unrelated to the needs of the EI fund, a $35 billion surplus accumulated since 1995. This is totally unacceptable.

The premiums are paid by the workers and by the employers. We believe that it should be up to them, and only them, to set the rates needed for funding the measures provided for in the employment insurance plan.

The federal government accomplished quite a feat, and it is not the first time, when it achieved a consensus in Quebec among all partners in the labour market against clause 9, indeed against Bill C-2. When we see that the FTQ and the Conseil du patronat both denounce clause 9 by which the government is giving itself the right to establish contribution rates, I think there is a problem and the government should do something right now to convince us not to vote against Bill C-2. Obviously the Bloc finds the bill totally unacceptable because of clause 9.

However we must go further. How can the government justify giving itself the right to set premium rates under clause 9? I believe the government does not see the full impact of that provision because there are relatively few social consensus building fora in Canada. We know that labour relations have been rather stormy in the past and still are today.

Our unionization rate is not as high as I would like it to be but it is still one of the highest in the western world. In Quebec, for example, it is about 40% while in Canada it is around 34%. A government must have a social relation vision in order to be able to make labour market partners accountable on a number of issues.

With workers and employers each having a representative the EI commission was a consensus building forum. It encouraged social dialogue. By eliminating that forum through clause 9 the government is directly depriving labour market partners of their responsibilities and giving itself the right to decide the contribution rate of a plan to which it is not giving a cent. By taking that responsibility away from partners on the labour market it contributes to creating, I would even say generating, a vision of confrontation in terms of labour relations. In that regard I think the federal government is not acting responsibly.

Instead of doing what everyone is trying to do now in the western world, that is creating forums for social dialogue, it is eliminating one by giving itself the right to set the premium rates. I think that the approach taken in clause 9 goes beyond, and far beyond, the issue of employment insurance, even though that is already unacceptable. It goes to show that the government has no vision as far as the development of social relations within our society is concerned.

In that regard I urge the government to accept the amendment we brought in to delete clause 9 so that we can vote for Bill C-2, although we are aware that the legislation does not resolve the problems I have pointed out concerning admissibility. I hope this can be addressed after the committee tables its report in early June.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I will say a few words on this important but incomplete bill which obviously does not answer the needs of workers in Quebec and Canada in terms of improving on the Axworthy reform.

As the member for Joliette said, we have been discussing the issue of employment insurance, formerly unemployment insurance, reform for ages. We have been discussing it since the days of Mr. Axworthy, who was replaced by the current Minister for International Trade, who was himself replaced by Mr. Dingwall, then by Mr. Doug Young, and finally by the incredible current Minister of Human Resources Development who had some problems we are all familiar with. Thus it is not the first time that members opposite are proposing major changes. They already did that with the disastrous impact we are all too familiar with.

In a riding like Trois-Rivières, in 1989 83% of workers were eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in the unhappy event that they lost their jobs because they contributed to the UI fund. Now only 34% of those who contribute to the EI fund qualify. This is what this government has managed to do. It is a scandal we are faced with daily.

This means that the Mauricie, which includes the ridings of Trois-Rivières, Champlain and Saint-Maurice, the Prime Minister's riding, is being short-changed by tens of millions of dollars in funds that could have been invested to keep the economy going.

It is a bit ironic to hear the member for Saint-Maurice, the Prime Minister, with all the problems he is experiencing with the Auberge Grand-Mère, say that it was to maintain and create jobs that he invested there and that consequently he is entitled to get his money back. We know that he was involved in some of the administrative measures taken by his own government, which have deprived our region of hundreds of millions of dollars since 1994. Therefore it is indecent on his part to say such irresponsible things, which show a lack of respect and contempt for the workers of his own riding.

There are some very serious omissions in this reform, as we can see from what happened to the surplus in the employment insurance fund. We know that in less than 10 years the surplus has grown to the point where it now stands at $35 billion. The government had maintained the 1997 decision to abolish the program for older worker adjustment, better known as POWA. This program was the result of cutbacks to a more generous program, work adjustment training or WAT. This program was designed specifically for the workers in the Canadian textile industry which fell victim to decisions made in Ottawa concerning a foreign trade deal with countries less developed than ours whereby we would exchange wheat for textiles. This measure affected the economy in Quebec where 70% of the textiles were produced in those days.

There was a program specifically created for the closing of textile plants, and it was known as WAT. It was designed for all textile workers. The program was fundamentally changed and became the program for older worker adjustment, POWA, which was more universal but had more stringent rules. In 1997 the federal government had too much on its plate in its fight against the deficit on the backs of poor people, so it decided to completely abolish POWA without any reservations and any further compensation.

Today, despite the $35 billion surplus, we still have to live with the same administrative decision. When plants close, sometimes ruthlessly or for external reasons of non- profitability compared to foreign competition or management negligence, workers are footing the bill and those who are 55 years of age and over are not receiving any compensation.

In Trois-Rivières this has had the following result: the Tripaq plant, despite considerable assistance from the Fonds de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec, which should be recognized, that did everything in its power to save it, had to close its doors for objective reasons. The federal government totally washed its hands of the matter. However much we appeal to the government as we do on other issues, it was useless, I am thinking of my colleague from Drummond who on the issue of the Celanese plant had some people come here to show their frustration and express their hope of being able to rely on public funds they themselves contributed to, it was useless.

I want to remind the House that the federal government has no money in the EI fund. It is $35 billion that belongs to workers and employers. Today the federal government wants to maintain the rates it talked about during its totally demagogic election campaign because the Bloc courageously opposed this before the campaign. It wants to maintain control as if this was its own money, and this is totally indecent.

If members were to ask workers and business people if they wanted POWA to be reintroduced, with all the financial help and social solidarity this program entailed, I am sure that they would agree to have substantial help provided to older workers who lose their jobs.

In a riding like Trois-Rivières this can be devastating. Despite all its promises and all its billions of dollars, the federal government's lack of concern and understanding is quite shameful. What we are talking about here is a hidden tax, a special tax paid by workers earning $39,000 or less. With only 34% instead of 83% of the people getting benefits, this is a misappropriation of funds.

We will keep on criticizing the federal government for not spending public funds most effectively, for not showing more compassion to fathers, mothers and children facing hard times, and for not strengthening the social fabric.

When we go from 83% to 34% women working part time and seasonal workers are hard hit. I thought it was shameful and totally immoral for the federal government to stop talking about seasonal jobs and start talking about seasonal workers. These workers are full time workers who unfortunately have seasonal jobs. This is something we should remind the people in charge of the EI system and their minister of. We have to adapt the system to the realities these workers are facing.

Also, this legislation goes after the students. They have summer jobs and pay EI premiums, and yet they know they will never be able to collect any benefit.

The lack of concern of the federal government applies also to the POWA file, as I mentioned, but in view of the government's surplus it also applies to an issue that has to do with the pulp and paper industry, the existence of which I am pleased to mention today. I am referring to the integrated centre for pulp and paper technology, a natural field for the Saint Maurice valley, which is vital to how we have traditionally defined ourselves.

There is a plan to merge the research centre of the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières with the Centre for Pulp and Paper Technology at the cégep de Trois-Rivières. The Quebec government has already announced its intention to be financially involved in this project, pledging tens of millions of dollars. It is a $85 million to $100 million project.

Hopefully this afternoon the minister of finance of Quebec is going to reaffirm her intention to support this project. However the federal government is stalling. The infamous Canada Foundation for Innovation, set up by the current Minister of Finance with $1.3 billion of taxpayer money, has so far said no.

To this day nobody in this government has cared to make up for this seemingly totally arbitrary decision. This project, which is a top priority in Quebec, does not even register on Canada's radar screen.

This issue is the perfect illustration of our two solitudes. It reflects two different ways of seeing things. It shows that our priorities are very seldom the same. Hopefully Quebecers will understand that they have no future in this country, and that it is only when we are masters of our own destiny once and for all that we will be able to work within a true partnership between Quebec and Canada.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise to express my opposition to Bill C-2.

My colleagues presented many aspects of the legislation that show that the government has no respect for employees as well as employers by not addressing their problems.

This legislation is hurting workers by refusing to address urgent situations and to correct the deficiencies of the current act.

What the Bloc Quebecois is asking for is clear. The measures the Bloc Quebecois is asking for are meant to correct flaws in the plan by taking into account the day to day condition of workers and a labour market that keeps changing, with students who have to combine a job and studying and an increasing number of independent workers. These two groups are not taken into account in the bill, but they will have to be soon.

It is the duty of the federal government to address the issue right away so that these two groups of workers are included just like other workers already covered by the plan.

The Bloc Quebecois is asking the federal government to respond to the hopes of workers, to further improve the EI plan and to eliminate discrimination in EI requirements.

We have to abolish the definition of labour force, because it penalizes directly the young and women in that they have to work a total of 910 hours in 52 weeks to qualify.

A women who re-enters the labour market after two years is considered a new entrant and not a member of the labour market. What a shame.

The same is true of young people who are also considered new entrants, because they are in their first job. This same definition allows certain workers to be eligible for the same plan with no more than 420 hours accumulated.

The self-employed have been completely forgotten. It might even be said that this segment does not exist at all, or worse, is not worth the bother to the government. Self-employed workers represented 12% of the total workforce in 1976. They represented 18% in 1999. The government cannot deny this segment of the population which now represents one worker in five. The figure is huge.

We must absolutely not forget that this sector of workers is growing. The federal government must, right now, include these workers fully in the employment insurance plan.

Another group penalized by this bill is that of young people. It creates a dichotomy in that students must go to school as well as work in order to survive and in the hopes of finding well paid work. However the standards in this bill give them no help at all.

The latest census in 1996 reported over 2.8 million full time students. According to the monitoring and assessment report one million individuals earned less than $2,000 and were therefore entitled to a refund.

However, only 40% of these people applied for a refund and 42% of them were under 25 years of age. In short, 2.6 million students are being taxed to study. Young people—

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but it is 2 p.m. and we must proceed to statements by members. He will have five and a half minutes to complete his remarks after oral question period.

HockeyStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Bras D'Or—Cape Breton, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to stand in the House and share with all members information on a truly unique event taking place in my constituency this weekend. The 12th annual Vince Ryan Old Timers Hockey Tournament is being held in Cape Breton beginning today and will see 125 teams from across Canada and the United States converge on my community.

The tournament's namesake, Vince Ryan, was recognized throughout Cape Breton and indeed the Atlantic provinces as a skilled athlete, a fierce competitor and a man who held high a sense of fair play and sportsmanship.

Upward of 2,000 players will compete in the spirit of fellowship in the country's national winter pastime in what has become one of Atlantic Canada's premier adult recreational sporting events.

I thank Duddy Ryan, the entire Ryan family, Ritchie Warren and his committed group of volunteers for ensuring that this annual event continues to be a highlight of our Cape Breton winters. I wish them all the very best in this week's tournament.

Auditor GeneralStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, on Saturday, March 31, Denis Desautels, the Auditor General of Canada, will retire after 10 years of dedicated service as an officer of parliament. I rise today to acknowledge his contribution as one of Canada's most dedicated and trusted public servants.

He has served our country well. As members of parliament our integrity is often questioned in the House, but his integrity is beyond question. He has been our conscience and our watchdog. When he speaks, the nation listens.

Many of his reports have highlighted the problems of waste and mismanagement in government and the need for transparency and openness in government. At times he fundamentally disagreed with government and held his ground, but they all speak amply of his dedication to improving the service Canadians receive from their government.

On behalf of all members of parliament and senators, I thank the auditor general. We wish him a happy retirement or a new career, but whatever the future holds and wherever it may take him, he goes with the best wishes of all in the House and indeed of all Canadians whom he has served so well.

F. R. CrawleyStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is Oscar week and the 25th anniversary of Canada's first academy award for a documentary film The Man Who Skied Down Everest .

This was won by F. R. Budge Crawley who in his acceptance speech said:

Thank you...for this American award for a Canadian film about a Japanese...who skied down a mountain in Nepal.

Crawley Films received hundreds of awards for its thousands of films and TV shows. It was a springboard for stars with names like Bujold, Davis, Greene, Grierson, Little, Pinsent and Plummer.

The late Budge Crawley was a pioneer cameraman, director and producer. He received an honorary degree from Trent University and was a member of the Order of Canada. His work, including much Arctic footage, now forms the Crawley Collection in the National Archives.

He was recognized for his Oscar in the House of Commons on March 30, 1976. We honour him again today.

Figure SkatingStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, last week the World Figure Skating Championships were held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Over 200 athletes from 55 countries and 540 volunteers participated in this global event which took place from March 19 to March 25. The federal government provided financial support of $250,000 through the hosting of major sporting events in Canada program.

Special thanks to the minister for amateur sport for his presence and support for this unique project in B.C. He, Senator Joyce Fairbairn and I worked together as a Liberal team to help promote B.C. and Canada to the world.

I extend congratulations to everyone involved in this successful event.

Student Achievement In Brome—MissisquoiStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like to salute nine young students from Brome—Missisquoi for distinguished achievements over the past year.

Mélissa Arbour, of Magog, Joël Brault, of Cowansville, and Francis-Yan Cyr-Racine, of Bedford, received the Governor General's History Medal for the Millennium.

Isabelle Fontaine, of the Canton of Magog, and Adam Hooper, of Sutton, received the Governor General's Academic Medal.

Marie-Ève DuGrenier and Kim Desrochers, of Farnham, Joanie Beauséjour and Michelle Campbell, of Bedford, came away with honours from the Bell Science Fair Eastern Township regional finals.

Congratulations to these young people. They must be proud of their accomplishments. I admire their determination, creativity and desire to excel. A future full of promise is before them.

On behalf of the people of Brome—Missisquoi, I to tell them know how proud we are of their success.

Grants And ContributionsStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the summit of the Americas takes place in Quebec City in three weeks, bringing together heads of state from 34 nations to discuss a number of issues including the creation of a free trade agreement for the Americas.

A parallel people's summit is being organized around the same time to protest the summit of the Americas. Groups who are participating in the people's summit include the Council of Canadians, Canadian Auto Workers and our very own NDP members of parliament, as well as many others.

What I find very disturbing is that some groups are advocating that people should break the law. They are very public in their intentions to train activists in the skills of civil disobedience.

What is even more disturbing is that these groups, through the people's summit, are being funded by our federal government. The Prime Minister has handed out $300,000 to these organizations. It is appalling that the government would spend taxpayer money to support people who intend to break the law.

Aboriginal Achievement AwardsStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, two Nunavummiut, Mariano Aupilardjuk of Rankin Inlet and Zacharias Kunuk of Igloolik, are recipients of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation 2001 awards.

Both Mariano Aupilardjuk and Zacharias Kunuk are well known for their work in promoting Inuit culture within Nunavut and throughout the world.

Mariano Aupilardjuk is a teacher of Inuit traditional knowledge, a great performer known for his drum dancing and song writing and for the beautiful carvings he makes.

Zacharias Kunuk co-founded the first independent Inuit film company, Isuma Productions of Igloolik. He has just completed his own feature length movie, made in Igloolik and performed by local actors and actresses.

I know their families and friends are very proud of the two recipients. I wish to extend my congratulations to Mariano Aupilardjuk and Zacharias Kunuk.

Salon Du Livre De L'OutaouaisStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday marked the opening of the 22nd Salon du livre de l'Outaouais, at the Palais des congrès de Hull. The theme this year is “Lire aux éclats”, which alludes to the great joy of reading.

The book fair runs for five days and will feature panel discussions, meet-the-authors, literary games, literary receptions, book-signings, interviews, and books, books and still more books, as well as hours of delightful readings.

This international event is the work of a remarkable team of people who have devoted their time, energy and passion to it for some months. Congratulations to them, and thank you.

Particular mention needs to be made of the generous contribution of Estelle Desfossés, chairman of the board of the Salon du livre de l'Outaouais, who is also the committee co-ordinator for the Bloc Quebecois.

We wish the Salon du livre de l'Outaouais every success.

ImmigrationStatements By Members

March 29th, 2001 / 2:05 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the citizenship and immigration committee is hearing witnesses on Bill C-11 to help rewrite the Immigration Act for the first time in 25 years. It deals with issues such as visitor visas, landed immigrant status, permanent residency and refugee determination.

We want to hear from as many Canadians as possible. Our plan was to travel to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and London, Ontario to hear people's concerns. Schedules were laid out, but the Canadian Alliance says it will not go. Instead we will be relegated to hearing people who can get to Ottawa and to teleconferencing.

The Canadian Alliance now wants to hijack committees the same way it has hijacked parliament. Canadians are fed up with these tactics. Instead of listening to concerns from across the country, the Canadian Alliance would rather throw mud and destroy parliament. It is doing a disservice to the country.

National War MuseumStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, veterans and friends of the war museum from across Canada have raised millions of dollars toward the building of the new national war museum. They were told that it would be built in Rockcliffe to complement the aviation museum and the new military cemetery.

In 1998 when the federal government announced a new $70 million war museum there was great joy. Today it appears the location will be changed to LeBreton Flats. The original joy has now turned to bitter disappointment.

Why does the government feel that it has a right to change the original location without any consultation whatsoever with those who have donated so generously?

If this move takes place without total agreement from the loyal supporters of the war museum, it will be a national betrayal. Who will benefit from the property that was originally reserved for the war museum? Certainly not the vets.

Organized CrimeStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.


Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, since opposition members are silent on the important events taking place in the country, I would like to draw the attention of this House to the impressive job done by our police forces to fight organized crime.

By launching Operation Printemps 2001, police forces have destabilized criminal motorcycle gangs. In all, over 200 searches were conducted and 125 arrests were made, this following an investigation that lasted over two years. Let us acknowledge the remarkable work done by our police officers.

The message sent to criminal gangs is clear: criminal activities will not be tolerated in Canada. Our government is very concerned about the activities of criminal gangs. Our communities must not live in fear.

The commitments made during the last election campaign are clear. This week's operation shows more than ever that our government is on the right track.

InfrastructureStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the new Liberal government is only four months old and already we see that what the Liberals said during the election has nothing to do with their actions once elected. There is a long list of broken promises, from scrapping the GST and eliminating child poverty to an independent ethics counsellor.

What are Liberal members doing that they never talked about during the election? They never said a word about toll roads, but now the transport minister cannot wait for Canadians to start paying to use their own highways.

Another example is airport fees. It already costs an arm and a leg to fly. Now the Liberal government is letting airports jack up landing fees, taking even more money out of the pockets of travellers. The transport minister states that people voted for this when they voted in the Liberals. I wonder why the red book did not say a word about it.

Toll roads and airport fees would not be necessary if the Liberal government adequately funded infrastructure. Canadians expect their taxes to fund public infrastructure. They should not have to pay even more in the form of road tolls and landing fees.

The government has the money and it should commit the necessary funding for our highways and infrastructure. That is what Canadians deserve, not more Liberal neglect.