Mr. Speaker, our party supports the bill in principle as long as there is adequate consultation. We think it is absolutely essential that there be broad based full consultations on the implications of this legislation.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the fact that this is an opportunity for us to examine the Employment Insurance Act and the impact it has had on Canadian society. Since the major changes happened in the Employment Insurance Act, we have seen a significant number of Canadians no longer covered by the Act.
For example, one of the key measures of protection is the percentage of unemployed workers who actually receive employment insurance. We have discovered a precipitous decline since 1990. In 1990, 74% of unemployed people actually received employment insurance. By the year 2001, only 39% of those unemployed were actually eligible.
There has been a significant number of changes to the Employment Insurance Act that have adversely impacted on Canadians' ability to take advantage of this social safety net. One of the more significant facts is that EI has more than tripled the minimum number of qualifying hours. It further reduced the length of the benefit period and quadrupled the number of weeks to qualify for thousands of part time workers. This meant a substantial erosion in the safety net for Canadians.
This is an opportunity for the department to take a look at implementing gender based analysis. The 1996 changes in the Employment Insurance Act have seriously impacted on women's ability to collect from the fund. For example, many women workers are either part time or seasonal workers and a substantial number of them no longer qualify for employment insurance.
Unemployed women are much less likely to qualify for EI benefits than men. The jobs of women are more precarious and insecure than those of men, and the level of precarious employment has increased in the 1990s. About 62% of working women were either full time permanent employees or full time self-employed employees compared to 73% of men. This decline has meant that women are less able to qualify for employment insurance.
In 2001 just 33% of women who were unemployed received regular benefits compared to 44% of men. One major reason has been the large increase in qualifying work requirements for part time workers. In addition, a significant number of women are now seeking self-employment. This means they do not qualify for employment insurance at all. This is best explained by the difficulty of finding paid employment rather than self-employment.
Gender based analysis is voluntary right now across departments. This would be a good time for the government to implement this in this particular department while it is doing this housekeeping. Gender based analysis would examine the full impact of these kinds of policies on women and children.
Today we heard in the House that there has been a rise in the poverty level of families with children and employment insurance directly plays into it. Another factor that can be considered with the employment insurance surplus is an opportunity to proactively invest in training. What we know from a variety of sources, including the Conference Board of Canada and the government's own reports, is that we are facing critical skill shortages over the next 10 to 15 years, not only as the baby boomers retire, but as we have new entrants in the workforce. We are seeing critical skill shortages in many areas, including the trades.
In reviewing this bill, we would look for a proactive approach to increase trades and skills investment in Canada. We need funds to address communities in transition. My community of Nanaimo--Cowichan has been adversely affected by a number of factors, including softwood lumber, BSE and fishing. We would like to see a proactive, responsible approach in supporting workers and their families when their communities are facing significant transitions due to changes in the workforce.
We need a comprehensive industrial policy that looks at many aspects which include, social, environmental and economic issues. This industrial policy would look at building long term community capacity and would foster the integration of economic, social and environmental issues in all aspects of how we look at economic development.
This is more commonly known as community economic development. There is a role for human resources in this aspect. Individual and community self-reliance, through collaborative action, capacity building and returning control of business enterprises, capital, labour and other resources to the community, is an essential part in a healthy and vibrant community.
There are many tools for community economic development which can be looked at through the employment insurance surplus. These include significant investments in small business, supporting capacity building so that people know how to increase and grow businesses in their community, and looking at import replacement in communities which talks about investment in our communities.
We need targeted, long term policies that promote and support our domestic economy. These include funding things like important job creation. These are policies that would require input from our communities and our provincial governments so that we have policies that are developed and that actually support initiatives that are grown in communities.
Again, I come back to softwood lumber. The softwood community adjustment is a good example of a policy that was developed without significant input from communities, and as a result does not meet community and worker needs.
We could also institute and support things like community development corporations, downtown development authorities, and loan funds. We need to walk the talk, and this includes things like government procurement, campaigns on buying local, and taxing the polluters to ensure that we are investing in things that we think are important in the environment.
Skills and training are important factors in community economic development, and we not only need to look at small business training but also at training for the future. This includes things like our apprenticeship programs. Right now, we are seeing an erosion of apprenticeship programs in some of our provinces, including British Columbia. In British Columbia we are seeing that some of our apprenticeship training programs are being divided and conquered so that we are not going to have things like interprovincial transfers possible.
We need to grow green business, and we can provide tax incentives and energy conservation initiatives that would support that.
Another aspect that the employment insurance fund could look at is supporting many of our rural economies. Right now, the definition of a rural economy is less than 50,000 people, yet we know many of our communities are far less than 50,000 and they get lost in policy development. When we are talking about a rural economy of only 1,000 people, a policy that is made for 50,000 just does not suit. Many of these smaller communities are losing out to these larger communities in their support and development.
One of the things that we need to do is reclaim our communities and grow our economies without sacrificing our livability. The revamping of this legislation is an opportunity to have a much broader labour market context and labour market policies that support the long term viability of our communities. I would urge the government and the committee to take a look at this.