House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was compensation.


National Remembrance DayPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to speak to Motion No. 298 that the hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton has brought forward in which he calls for the establishment of Remembrance Day as a national holiday.

Canadians have a proud heritage of remembering our war veterans. Every November residents across Canada can be seen wearing the traditional red poppy in remembrance. We attend Remembrance Day services in our local community halls and legions. These traditions are dear to many of us and must continue.

We tend to think of Remembrance Day as a day to remember only those veterans who have fought in wars past. As World War I and World War II fade further into our past, it would be easy too for our memories of those events to fade. It has been said that understanding our past is essential if we truly want to be aware of our future. The men and women who served our country in the past deserve to be remembered.

Remembrance Day also affords us the opportunity to appreciate the efforts of those who are currently serving in the Canadian armed forces both at home and abroad. Canada currently has armed forces in many countries with the emphasis on peacekeeping.

Last November 11, I saw the blue beret of our peacekeepers being worn with great pride. How proud we are of our men and women who are serving our country today. We must remember and recognize the importance of their contributions and sacrifices. The involvement of our armed forces today is as important and worthy of recognition as those who fought in past wars. These sacrifices are made to ensure the safety of all Canadians.

November 11 is already recognized as a day of remembrance. There are provinces that have legislated that it be a holiday. Should it be a national holiday? There are arguments made on both sides. From the poem Flanders Fields:

To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep...

That quote from Flanders Fields allows us to see the importance of remembering those who fought on our behalf, and they must be remembered.

The question remains, would setting aside November 11 as a national holiday be the best way in which we could remember or would it simply be a day off for Canadians? My granddaughters attended our national Remembrance Day celebration in our home town last year. I was very proud of those two little girls when they stood at attention and remembered their uncles who fought in war.

There are dangers in not being fully aware of the sacrifices made by those who have fought on behalf of Canada. Last December 6 saw flags flying at half mast at every federal building across this country. This action was taken in remembrance of the 14 young women who were killed in the shootings in Montreal. This was a horrific event that deserves a moment of remembrance by all Canadians. Violence on such a scale cannot be tolerated in a society such as ours.

A month earlier on November 11 only one flag was mandated to fly at half mast, the flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa. Over 114,000 men and women have been killed defending our country from tyranny. Their lives should be remembered on a grand scale as well. Only one flag was lowered in their memory.

That action was met with outrage and dismay from veterans groups across this country. In fact, my colleague from Souris--Moose Mountain will be introducing a private member's bill to ensure that flags on all federal buildings fly at half mast in recognition of the sacrifices made by those in our Canadian armed forces.

What actions should be taken to ensure that the sacrifices of our veterans are effectively remembered? I believe that education is the key. Education of future generations of Canadians is needed to guarantee that our veterans are remembered.

Education on such a scale is easily undertaken in our school system. Every year thousands of children across the country are taught of wars past and the sacrifices made by those who fought to ensure their freedom. Veterans and legionnaires are allowed into schools to tell stories of past events and show children the importance of remembering. My granddaughters have had veterans visit their school. They have been truly impressed and have told me amazing stores.

Schoolchildren are encouraged to actively participate in poetry and poster contests. Last year the Royal Canadian Legion received over 65,000 entries. That is an outstanding number. Some 65,000 Canadian children took an active role in remembering the lives of Canadian veterans.

The knowledge gained by these children will have a direct impact on the lives of those around them. They will begin to ask their parents and grandparents about their own memories of wartime. The impact of the lessons will be carried with them as they grow.

Would the message of Remembrance Day reach these children if they had a day off school or would they spend the day watching television, hanging out at the mall or talking with friends on the phone? Is the message of Remembrance Day being delivered? Would schools participate in the same way to ensure children are taught these important lessons? Having a day a remembrance enables teachers and community groups to relay the message of the day.

Schools throughout Canada hold Remembrance Day services. Children have the opportunity to meet with veterans. These interactions are invaluable in making Remembrance Day real for children. By meeting veterans children are able to see the reality of wars past. It is more than just stories and pictures. They are able to meet people who were in the wars and conflicts. There is no better teaching tool.

Many legions agree that the best way to connect with future generations is to maintain the educational element in the school environment. The title of the day, Remembrance Day, invites us to remember, pause and reflect on the actions and sacrifices of those who have fought for the freedom of our country. Would this be effectively accomplished by having a day off? Would the message be taken to heart more effectively if we were not required to be at work or school?

The education of future generations of Canadians about the sacrifices of our veterans is of utmost importance. Whatever decisions are made we must keep this in mind. We must find a way to effectively convey the importance of the day. Lest we forget.

National Remembrance DayPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to speak to the motion introduced by the hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton, which reads as follows:

That the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs be instructed, in accordance with Standing Order 68(4)(b), to prepare and bring in a bill in order to provide for the establishment of November 11th as a national holiday to be known as Remembrance Day.

Let us begin by saying that there are celebrations just about everywhere in Quebec and in Canada, on Remembrance Day, and in all the rest of the world on various dates.

One wonders, in connection with this motion, whether making this a mandatory holiday for everyone is the best way to honour the memory of the men and women who fought in the various wars.

Before addressing the motion per se, I wish to salute all veterans and ex-military personnel who are residents of my riding, and to thank them for what they have done to make it possible for us to live in freedom and peace.

I also extend my best wishes to all those who are serving at this time in various peacekeeping missions throughout the world. We admire their courage and determination, their skills and their sense of commitment, and are deeply grateful to them. Their sacrifices make it possible for our children to grow up in security and peace.

I would also like to take a few moments to extend my condolences to the family of Major Lefebvre, who passed away in my riding a few days ago. Major Lefebvre was a veteran who was very much involved in operations at the Sorel—Tracy branch of the Canadian Legion. His organization of the November 11 remembrance ceremony was masterfully done and he was respected by everyone with whom he came in contact.

He worked at Sorel Steel for 40 years at the executive level. He performed his duties impeccably and had an excellent relationship with the workers. In fact, the former president of the union came to the funeral to pay his respects to the family.

This was a man with a great heart. He was very much involved in community and social endeavours. For several years he was also involved with the school board, called the Carignan board at that time.

I would like to remind his whole family of the words of the great French author, Alexandre Dumas:

Those whom we have loved and lost are no longer where they were, but they continue forever to be wherever we are.

We salute Major Lefebvre for the last time. He has done his duty well.

The position the Bloc Québécois will defend is that this needs to be referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, or more precisely the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, because this is a proposal that raises a great many questions.

Our first reservation has to do with the jurisdiction involved. Should this not be a provincial rather than a federal jurisdiction, even though holidays have in the past been declared national holidays by the federal government? I think that the impact of that day, from an economic point of view and also in terms of recognition, is closer to the provincial level.

Moreover, a number of associations, including the Canadian Legion, did not officially protest but, during some debates, several issues were raised about this day being a holiday, in terms of whether this made people more sympathetic to veterans, and whether this heightened their awareness of Remembrance Day. This is far from obvious.

So, it may be that organizing activities on that day, through schools or other institutions, would better serve the cause of Remembrance Day than a holiday would.

We have a lot of reservations and we hope that the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, and more specifically the new Sub-Committee on Veterans Affairs, will look at the appropriateness of the hon. member's motion.

In conclusion, I hope that an in-depth debate will take place, and that jurisdictions, and above all those who fought for freedom and peace, will be respected.

National Remembrance DayPrivate Members' Business

February 20th, 2002 / 6:25 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great personal pleasure to rise today on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party to support my Liberal colleague's motion and give a little personal insight on why I think this is an extremely important bill that should be taken seriously. It is too bad that it is not votable.

We are one of the few western nations that does not have a statutory holiday for the remembrance of our soldiers, the men and women who died in various conflicts around the world.

In my conversations with many Canadians they believe that Remembrance Day is already a statutory holiday. When I tell them that it is not they get quite confused about it. The reality is, as we speak, November 11, Remembrance Day in honour of those who made the great sacrifice and their families, is not honoured through a statutory holiday. I find that a serious omission and one that I am very proud my colleague across the way has brought forward.

I also have a motion that will be debated within a couple of weeks which says exactly the same, that Remembrance Day should become a statutory holiday.

I will elaborate on a personal note. I was born in Holland. My parents were liberated through the sacrifices of the Canadian military. It is quite an honour for me to stand in the House where the decision was made to send troops overseas so that my family could be freed. Not only my family but millions of other people around the world were freed by the efforts of the allies in their fight against Nazi Germany and Japan in those years.

It is only understandable and the right thing to do. We are debating a motion and the relevance should not even be debated. It should be automatic. We should be able to take a motion or a bill of this nature, rush it to third reading, send it to the Senate and have it done.

If we can give ourselves a pay raise of over 20% in the matter of a few hours, certainly we can do something for our remaining veterans who are still alive and those who have passed on by honouring them with a special day on November 11.

November 11 in many ways is a special day, but by not making it a statutory holiday it basically says that we still have not honoured their sacrifices completely.

Some businesses have come to me and asked how they could afford it. I told them with great respect that if it were not for the sacrifices of those Canadian soldiers they would not have their businesses. We must never forget that.

I have a letter dated May 17, 1993, written by the official opposition member who is now the Prime Minister of Canada. He thanked a woman for her correspondence regarding private members' Bill C-289, a bill introduced by a former Nova Scotian Liberal, Mr. Ron MacDonald, to provide that Remembrance Day be included as a holiday in the public service collective agreement. He had narrowed it down just a bit.

He went to say that the Liberal Party understood her concern. Remembrance Day is a time when we honour the more than 100,000 Canadian men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country. Every year on November 11 we are given the opportunity to reflect on the values that Canadians fought and gave their lives to uphold. It is important that these ceremonies continue so that Canadians will always understand the extent and meaning of these sacrifices.

Then he stated that he supported the bill to guarantee Remembrance Day as a holiday for federal public servants. It was not just for public servants. Its intent was to make it a statutory holiday.

Unfortunately treasury board indicated that government members could not support the bill because it had collective bargaining implications and would cost too much. Liberals felt this reasoning was petty. He said they would continue to press the government to pass Bill C-289. As leader of the opposition he indicated that he appreciated the time taken to write and bring those views to his attention.

The Prime Minister took the time to have a letter written on his behalf telling someone that he supports making it a holiday for public servants. There is always speculation that the Prime Minister may decide to leave. In the last few remaining years he may have as a politician, why would he not want to leave a little memento for Canadians by making November 11 a statutory holiday? He has the power to be able to do something like that very quickly.

On November 11 members visit various legions in their ridings to say hello to current military personnel and their families and remaining veterans. It is a very sombre moment.

I personally go to eight legions on that day. I drive over 500 kilometres. I always make a presentation of the Canadian flag and of the national war poster of that year. We have them mounted and we present them to the legions on that specific day.

What an honour and privilege it is to represent not just my party but all members of the House of Commons. That is what we all do. Besides Canada Day, that is the other day when all members of parliament become equals. I have talked to many members of parliament who do the same. They go to the various legions in their ridings. They attend the functions. They shake the hands of the veterans and of the remaining spouses. They shake the hands of the current military and members of the legion. It truly is a wonderful blessed day.

It is time we put the debate aside and realize that now we need to have a proper statutory holiday in remembrance of the brave people who gave the supreme sacrifice. In the end military personnel always paid the ultimate liability. The ultimate responsibilities are up to government and members of parliament.

One of those responsibilities is to ensure that we never forget, that we pass the traditions and their sacrifices on to future generations. One of ways to do that is to have a statutory holiday from coast to coast to coast that properly and once and for all recognizes the supreme sacrifices that were made.

My mother is watching the debate as it is taking place. She is almost 80 years old. We came to Canada in 1956. My dad was a POW. He met a Canadian soldier and asked him why Canada sent so many young people to Holland, why it sacrificed so much. The answer was that they had a job to do. That was it. Then he walked away.

In 1956 the economic situation in Holland was not that good so the only answer for my family and thousands of other people was migration. My father remembered the words of that Canadian soldier and said that if Canada has such a military he could not imagine what kind of country it was.

My family came here in 1956 and has been able to prosper because of the efforts of Canadians. It is only fair and right that we as members of parliament put aside our partisanship this one time and recognize the value of men and women who served in the past and the men and women who are currently overseas in defence of freedom and democracy.

We should honour the motion of my hon. member across the way and recognize that this is a serious bill. We should address it and move on it very quickly. I cannot for the life of me see one reason we would not want to support the bill.

I do not want to talk only about Canadian sacrifices. There is a province in our country that was part of the British empire at that time. It also sacrificed tremendously. That is the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador. No one should ever forget the sacrifices it has made.

If members of the House want to see a lobby dedicated to the sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorans they should go to the house of assembly in St. John's, Newfoundland. I know my colleague from St. John's East will mention it. They will see something that will bring tears to their eyes. These people have done it right. They understand the sacrifices. We in the rest of Canada should do the same.

On behalf of my late father, mother and family I want to thank the hon. member very much for this motion. Hopefully it succeeds in being passed very quickly.

National Remembrance DayPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for introducing Motion No. 298 to make November 11 a national holiday.

Coming from Newfoundland I really am surprised that November 11 is not a national holiday. In my home province all the shops, stores and government offices are closed on November 11, as if it were Christmas Day or Canada Day. It is a very important day to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador because at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, World War I ended and brought to a close one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of what was then the dominion of Newfoundland, not the province of Newfoundland.

We had a very special place in the first and second world wars. Newfoundland was the first overseas colony of the British empire. When Sir Humphrey Gilbert planted the British flag in St. John's in 1583, St. John's was already a thriving seaport. The island grew as a British colony despite British laws that forbade settlement there at that time. Responsible government was attained by the early 1800s. By the time the 20th century rolled around, Newfoundland was essentially a self-governing dominion within the British empire.

It was not surprising therefore that when war broke out between Britain and Germany in 1914, Newfoundland rushed to the defence of the empire. It outfitted an infantry regiment, for heaven's sake, at its own cost and sent it overseas to serve with the British forces.

November 11 is very important to us. It is very important to Canada and it should be an official national holiday in this country of ours.

On July 1, 1916 the Newfoundland regiment was all but wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Losing the regiment meant that the flower of a generation of Newfoundlanders was lost to the young dominion on that one fateful day.

November 11 a national holiday? By all means let us make it a national holiday.

World War I had a very profound effect on Newfoundland. It cost us a generation of young men, many of them leaders. Our financial support for the war effort drained the treasury and helped lead to the bankruptcy of the dominion of Newfoundland after the war. We were then ruled by a British appointed commission until a national referendum decided that Newfoundland would become a province in Canada in 1949.

Because of the loss of our infantry regiment in the first world war, the British refused us infantry service in World War II. During that war we provided manpower for two British artillery regiments instead. These days we again have an infantry regiment, this time a reserve regiment in the Canadian armed forces. We can never forget the great contribution the land forces made and the great contribution made by the merchant marines, the navy and the air force as well.

That regiment, which we even have today, carries the title “royal” because of its service in the first world war. It is called the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. That is why July 1 is a day of mixed sentiments for Newfoundlanders. It is the birthday of our nation Canada, which we joined in 1949 and it is also our memorial day in honour of the regiment which we lost on that one day.

World War I was a coming of age for Canada. On Vimy Ridge Canadian troops established themselves as a force to be reckoned with among the various Dominion forces fighting for king and country. November 11 commemorates the ending of the war that had a profound affect on the future of British North America. Therefore as a Canadian, and as a Newfoundlander, I have no hesitation in supporting a motion to make November 11 a national holiday.

We would do well to remember our wars and the young men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedom that we hold dear today. These days our young men and women are serving in the Balkans and strife torn Afghanistan. It is only fitting that the nation set aside a national holiday to commemorate its war dead as a mark of respect for their continued efforts and in remembrance of their forebears who paid the supreme sacrifice.

November 11 is already widely celebrated across the country. It should be elevated to the appropriate status by the House of Commons. Accordingly, I am pleased and proud to support the motion.

National Remembrance DayPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Sarmite Bulte LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be speaking on such a worthy subject as remembrance. I applaud the intentions of my hon. colleague from Sarnia--Lambton in bringing the motion before the House.

How long have humans warred with one another? How long have we fought and killed one another? If archeologists and sociologists are right, there has been conflict since our very beginnings. When will it stop? When will we put an end to all of it?

Sometimes, in times like the present, war is necessary. Sometimes peaceful nations must rise up to stop those who would get their way through terrorism and intimidation. Sometimes, sadly, war is unavoidable.

However, we must make certain it is only entered into as a last, dreadful and inescapable resort. We must make certain that we enter into the hell of war only after all other means of resolution have been exhausted. Finally, we must make very certain that we never forget the horror of war. We must never forget what war looks like and the terrible toll that it takes on a nation, on the young men and women of a country and on their loved ones.

We must never forget our brave soldiers, passing by the thousands through the brutal and bloody theatres of battle, their shattered ranks bravely returning home, battered, scarred and wounded. We must never forget the weeping of those at home who lost their dearest and their best.

We must never forget those who died for Canada, those who lived and dedicated their lives to the service of our nation, or those who gave of themselves in the desperate and honourable fight to uphold the values that we cherish as Canadians.

We must never forget those things for which they fought for and for which members of our proud armed forces continue to fight. They fought to protect our freedoms: the freedom of thought, speech and religion for all people regardless of nationality, religion or race. They fought against tyranny, despotism and terrorism. They fought for the values we cherish as Canadians. They fought in the hope that future generations would not have to. We must never forget the men and women of the armed forces and the merchant marine.

Valour, honour, glory and bravery are found in war, not because of war itself but despite it. War and conflict challenge us to stand up for our most valued ideals. The virtues we hold highest are often most easily seen in war's crucible. It has always been true with Canadian soldiers that wherever we fought, uncommon valour was indeed a common virtue.

When we remember, we must remember war as it was and as it is. We must not disguise in eloquence or rhetoric the raw and appalling nature of violence. We must be on guard against those who would glorify or glamorize war. To borrow from Thomas Chalmers, a 19th century Scottish preacher, we must be on guard against anyone who would:

Spread a delusive colouring over war and remove its shocking barbarities to the background of our contemplations altogether. I see it in the history which tells me of the superb appearance of the troops and the brilliancy of their successive charges. I see it in the poetry which lends the magic of its numbers to the narrative of blood, and transports its many admirers, as by its images and its figures and its nodding plumes of chivalry it throws its treacherous embellishments over a scene of slaughter...the death tones of the thickening contest and the moans of the wounded men, as they fade away upon the ear and sink into lifeless silence.

It is said that no one hates war more than the solider. No one is more aware of the fact that war cannot and must not be entered into lightly. No one can speak of its horrors more truly and powerfully than those who bravely endure them; those who fought in the trenches, shells raining, crashing down night and day, hours on end; those who charged through hail storms of steel and shrapnel; those who watched as torpedoes streaked toward their ships or flak exploded around their wings; those who endured the fields of Europe, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of Africa and the oceans and skies of the world.

What did they fight and die for? What do the men and women of our armed forces continue to fight for? It is for peace.

The intent of the motion is obvious and most commendable. The member no doubt wishes to make certain that the sacrifices of the men and women of our armed forces and merchant navy are never forgotten. The motion speaks to the need for our country to remember and the need for all of us to realize and recall what many Canadians gave up, and what many give every day in the task of attaining peace and the efforts to keep it. Indeed, peace is the ultimate goal. Peace and the end to violence are paradoxically but always clearly what we have fought for and what we fight for today.

According to the Holidays Act, the holiday that falls on November 11 every year is called Remembrance Day. It is a day on which we stand sombre and silent, putting aside our affairs to take time to think about the wars and the struggles, the war dead and the scarred survivors, the veterans that walk so humbly among us, those who have passed, and those who presently serve our country in the noble uniforms of Canada.

I think of the sacrifices of our soldiers and our peacekeepers and I wonder, like a great many people before me, can we who benefit feel gratitude warm enough to requite the gifts that have been given us? Can we speak in language glowing enough to duly sound their praise? Can we build monuments high enough to tell the story of their deeds?

The answer is no, we cannot, but we can remember. By remembering the bravery and sacrifice of the past we can show our armed forces members how thankful we are that they are there to fight for us, defending the transcendent causes of freedom, justice and security. Our forces go now to fight against terrorism the way their forebears fought against tyranny. Their fight too will be remembered.

The importance of this day cannot be understated. The necessity to recall what has been given so that we might enjoy what we have cannot be trivialized. In 1919 the Government of Canada realized this and took measures to ensure it. In 1931, with the passage into law of the Holidays Act, the government bestowed upon this day the honour that it deserves. The Holidays Act, as it stands, guarantees that November 11 shall forever be a holiday known as Remembrance Day.

For his efforts to enhance the prominence of this day, my hon. colleague is to be commended and applauded. He shows a love for his nation and for his fellows that all of us would do well to emulate. We look forward with longing to the time when quiet truth and peace reign everywhere in the world, triumphing over those whose cruelty, ambition, treachery and violence call us to arms in defence of the virtues and values we cherish. We look forward and in the meantime we remember.

I thank my colleague for his endeavours to preserving the memories of our valiant men and women of the armed forces by calling attention to the holiday we call Remembrance Day.

National Remembrance DayPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

National Remembrance DayAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, on November 1, 2001, I asked a question in the House of the Minister of Human Resources Development concerning the economic slowdown and the softwood lumber crisis.

I asked her whether she was prepared to take special action to improve the employment insurance protection of those affected in the forestry regions as well as those affected by the economic slowdown. I asked that their protection be improved so that things do not go from bad to worse.

In my region, one out of four unemployed workers reaches the end of his or her benefits and then falls into the spring gap, a period during which he or she qualifies for neither EI benefits nor social assistance. Often these people own a home or have assets. They are then asked to withdraw their RRSP savings. Ultimately, they grow poorer because the EI system does not provide them with sufficient income.

When I asked the minister this question, she answered that the current system met the standards adequately. We realize that this is not the case. Many people are affected by the softwood lumber crisis, workers who are being asked to support Canada's and Quebec's position in the difficult negotiations underway with the United States.

Would it not be appropriate for these workers to benefit from better conditions, more satisfactory conditions? The Bloc Québécois proposed extending the EI benefit periods to avoid the predicament of one in four unemployed persons, whose benefits run out, or even one in two, which may soon be the case due to the economic downturn and the enduring softwood crisis that, unfortunately, is not being resolved.

When the minister visited my riding a few weeks ago, she announced a program that would allow some one hundred workers to take part in a program for workers who are 55 and older, or that would allow forestry workers to extend their number of weeks of work. This would apply to some 100 people, but there are 3,500 people in our region alone whose benefits will run out. It is akin to drop in the ocean.

Will the government, through the minister or the parliamentary secretary, not give some hope to workers that they will be able to benefit from an improved system?

The current system, in addition to the fact that it does not provide benefits for a sufficient number of weeks, has been accumulating a surplus in the fund for several years now. For a few months now, we appear to be heading towards a deficit. However, the reason the government is not ready to improve the conditions of EI is that it has not set aside sufficient reserves in the past. It allocated all of the EI fund surplus toward debt reduction. Today, when that money is needed, it finds itself in a pinch.

Given this situation, could the government not decide to improve the system, to increase the number of weeks in the benefits period in all of the regions, particularly those affected by the softwood lumber crisis? This would avoid pitching families into misery.

National Remembrance DayAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Laval West Québec


Raymonde Folco LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the member on the other side concerning the position of the Government of Canada. As he is well aware, the government is concerned about the impact of the softwood lumber conflict on the workers. As we have already said, the employment insurance program is there to help workers who have lost their jobs.

We in Canada have the good fortune to have an EI system that is solid, flexible and there to help when Canadians lose their jobs. In the minister's response to the report of the standing committee of which I am a member, as is the hon. member, she has agreed with the committee that the basic elements of the new employment insurance program put in place in 1996 are working well.

We know, the committee knows, the hon. member over there knows as well that the EI program fulfills its main objectives, which are to provide temporary income support to those who lose their jobs and to help them find other jobs.

Employment Insurance is responsive to changes in local unemployment rates. Through the variable entrance requirement, and this is highly technical but it works, when unemployment rates go up Canadians need fewer hours to qualify for EI and can receive benefits for longer periods. The requirement is adjusted every four weeks based on the latest unemployment statistics.

When a region experiences a very high rate of unemployment, the EI rate is adjusted to that specific region. A review of each region is carried out every four weeks.

We anticipate that the majority of workers in the softwood lumber sector will be eligible for employment insurance should they need it. In addition, most employment insurance claimants only use two-thirds of their entitlement. Even in high unemployment areas claimants rarely use more than 70% of their entitlement.

We are always prepared—and I am speaking on behalf of the Minister of Human Resources Development—to meet with workers and employers to examine the types of assistance that the employment insurance system can provide. The minister's office is in contact with the Council of Forest Industries to share any information it may need to support its members.

Human Resources Development Canada comes to the assistance of employees and employers in the case of mass layoffs. We go on-site to assist workers in filling in their EI applications and we process them as quickly as possible. An automated program also allows employers to send pay data electronically and helps local offices deal with situations of mass layoffs. We also inform employees about programs and services available to them to help them re-enter the workforce.

A wide range of programs are available under the Employment Insurance Act, Part II. The programs help laid off individuals get back to work through skills development, training and other employability supports.

Human Resources Development Canada provides other services to employment insurance clients who want to re-enter the workforce: job finding clubs, resumé writing, job search techniques, counselling and interview preparation.

As always, our goal is to help Canadians re-enter the workforce. We are ready, and we have always been ready, to work with workers and employers in this difficult period that they are going through.

National Remembrance DayAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am rather surprised to hear the hon. parliamentary secretary say that it is acceptable for one worker in four in my region to use up all his benefits. If, as members of parliament, this type of situation happened to us and if we were treated in that fashion, I think that we would find this unacceptable.

It is true that there are training programs. Quebec has had a devolution and it uses these powers very effectively to provide training. However, our biggest problem is not the training provided by Emploi Québec, but the fact that one worker in four in my region and one in three in Quebec uses up all his entitlement. This situation goes back to before the current economic crisis.

Will the parliamentary secretary wait until it is one worker in two who uses up all his benefits and sources of income? Is this what is acceptable to the government?

National Remembrance DayAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member's comment, I wish to add that we have worked hard with the industries. To give just a few examples, I am thinking of the situation of Doman, Abitibi Consolidated, Bowater, of the fact that we helped the workers in British Columbia, and that we helped people get back into the labour market.

There is not just one program that is going to help these people. What will help is the whole spectrum of programs governed by part II of the Employment Insurance Act.

National Remembrance DayAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.01 p.m.)