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House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Ways and MeansRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Liberal

Andy Scott LiberalMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1) I have the honour to table a notice of a ways and means motion to implement certain provisions of the Labrador Inuit land claims agreement, which is part of this notice, and I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of this motion.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the great honour today to table the government's response to 70 petitions.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, in both official languages, concerning chapter 4, Accountability of Foundations, of the February 2005 report of the Auditor General of Canada. In accordance with Standing Order 109, your committee requests a government response within 120 days.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

June 2nd, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, Employment Insurance benefits paid to Canadians in areas of high unemployment (10% or greater unemployment rate) should be based on either: 1) the best 12 weeks of income in the last 52 weeks preceding the claim; or 2) the best 12 weeks of income since the beginning of the last claim, whichever is shorter.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all parties and I believe you would find consent for the following order:

That at the conclusion of the present debate on today's opposition motion, all questions necessary to dispose of this motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the end of government orders on Tuesday, June 7, 2005.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak today. I want to thank the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, who seconded the NDP motion on employment insurance, for giving such prominence to the employment insurance issue. The problem faced by seasonal workers across the country is so serious as to warrant putting before the House a motion that will be debated all day today.

Let us examine this motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance benefits paid to Canadians in areas of high unemployment (10% or greater unemployment rate) should be based on either: 1) the best 12 weeks of income in the last 52 weeks preceding the claim; or 2) the best 12 weeks of income since the beginning of the last claim, whichever is shorter.

I believe this is a step in the right direction, but I have to add that it is not what is really needed. Many Canadian workers are aware that I toured Canada in 1998. I have talked about it time and time again in the House of Commons. The purpose of this tour was to see how other parts of the country, besides the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, were affected by this problem.

At the time, the minister responsible for employment insurance said the problem existed in Atlantic Canada and nowhere else in the country. I travelled through 10 provinces and one territory, the Yukon. Everywhere I went, this problem existed.

The problem, as everyone knows by now, was so serious that during the various elections the Liberals would always tell voters that if they voted Liberal, then changes would be made to EI. They did that every time.

I remember one of our colleagues who used to be in the House of Commons, Georges Farrah, the representative for the riding of Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok. His first day at the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, a session the Minister of Human Resources Development attended, he made an appeal to the minister on behalf of the people of Gaspé and Îles-de-la-Madeleine. He said people were unable to qualify for benefits and that the divisor of 14 was the hindering factor for workers.

The current member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac clearly said—and I have the newspaper clippings to prove it—that officials in Ottawa did not understand seasonal workers and that the government needed to make changes to the system.

The former member for Shediac—Cap-Pelé, Bernard Richard, who is now the New Brunswick ombudsman, is someone who is quite respected in that province. One newspaper reported that Bernard Richard demanded that the federal government find solutions to the employment insurance program.

I introduced a bill in the House of Commons after tabling my report on my tour across Canada. The report included 15 recommendations. The Liberals and the Conservatives chose to vote against the bill. I want to thank the Bloc Québécois for voting in favour of it. We fought hard to improve the employment insurance system for seasonal workers.

That said, the following question might be asked today: why take the best 12 weeks in an area with an unemployment rate of 10% or greater? I predict someone will ask that question.

The reason is as follows. Bill C-2 was introduced prior to the 2000 election—I remember it quite clearly and, obviously, so do other members of the House of Commons. Subsequent to that election, we realized that not many amendments had been made. The parliamentary committee had written a report that went beyond Bill C-2. Then it made a number of recommendations that the government completely ignored.

During the 2004 election, a few more minor amendments were made, such as extending the number of weeks by five. We called for additional changes, but we were told that they would be made after the election.

The problems with EI are extremely important. The former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, struck a parliamentary committee comprising Liberals to travel around the country and identify these problems. After the report was tabled, the current Prime Minister even decided to follow up on this work. This committee still exists, as a matter of fact.

When the committee started to draft its report, the senator from Madawaska, Ms. Ringuette-Maltais, made a dissenting comment to the effect that it did not go far enough. However, the Liberal Party did not share that opinion.

It is our responsibility as members of this House to have parliamentary committees. The report of the Subcommittee on Employment Insurance Funds presented another 28 recommendations in February 2005. The Liberal Party had agreed to use the best 12 weeks. The Liberal members of the committee had even voted in favour of the report, which refers to the best 12 weeks, so that it could be tabled in the House of Commons. However, after the budget was tabled, the minister announced in a press release that she was in favour of the best 14 weeks in regions where the unemployment rate is 10% or higher.

Today is an opposition day, and we are proposing that the House adopt the best 12 weeks instead of the best 14, and we are using the government's own motion to do it. So we hope it will be adopted.

Consider the seasonal regions. We do not choose where we are born. We do not choose our parents. One fine day, bingo, we are here. We are born, and we learn whatever language we are taught. Nature, not us, determines who we are. However, I do think that Acadia, along Chaleur Bay, where I come from, is the most beautiful region in Canada.

My colleague over the way says he might like to move to Quebec in order to have a view of the beautiful St. Lawrence as it flows into the Atlantic. That is not far from where we live, but our cousins in Gaspé have the same problem we do. In fact, when the people of Gaspé and the North Shore invited me to Forestville, there were 2,500 people out in the streets. Workers from the local businesses, business owners and clergy were out to show us that this is no longer a political matter. It is a human matter. It is time the EI problem were addressed.

For Canadians in the regions who have to accumulate 14 weeks to qualify, the divisor is 14. If there are regions where 17 weeks are needed, then the divisor is 17. Yet there are regions where there is high unemployment and 12 weeks are required. Twelve weeks is 420 hours with an average work week of 35 hours.

So why punish these people and tell them the figure will be 14? They are already getting only 55% of their income, so they are being punished twice.

A problem has developed in the southeast of the province, where people work 17 or 18 weeks out of the year. Some 1,500 people there broke the law by stockpiling time. The Liberals understood the problem and settled it by proposing the 14 best weeks, since there are 17 or 18 weeks worked.

But the problem is not limited to this one place. People must be treated the same everywhere. Since the minimum required to quality for EI is 12 weeks, it is completely normal for those to be the best 12.

People who work in the fishery or forest industry—whether in northern Ontario, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Hornepayne, Manitouwadge or White River, or in northern Alberta, or in Prince George, British Columbia—everywhere I went, have the same problems with EI.

This week in parliamentary committee, when we were debating Bill C-280 proposed by the Bloc Québécois, the parliamentary secretary was worried. If money were taken from the employment insurance fund and put into an independent fund, our country could be driven to the verge of bankruptcy. We balanced our budget and paid our debts with it when we had a deficit.

Is it really up to working people who have lost their jobs to pay for the country's deficit and balance the government's budget? They are attacking families, children. They are taking money from these families that could be used to help them buy food and clothing and send their kids to school. They are creating poverty in Canada, and that is totally unacceptable.

When we speak about employment insurance, it is not only in Acadie—Bathurst. Newfoundland has similar problems. We could talk to the Minister of Natural Resources who said that he has the same problems in Newfoundland because it is a fishing region. It is not the fault of the working people if the fishery stocks have gone down in the Atlantic Ocean. It is not the fault of the fish plant workers if the fishery stocks have gone down around the Gaspé coast. It is not the fault of the working people, with all the high technology now even in the forestry sector, that the woodcutters have been removed. Even there they only have short weeks which are not enough.

Some are under the impression that if we bring it down to the best 12 week of earnings, it will encourage people to quit their jobs and go home. Who is encouraged to quit their job and take 55% of their wages? As a matter of fact, the law is very clear in employment insurance. If people quit their job, they will not have employment insurance because they will not qualify. This is an excuse the government is using to not give employment insurance. It is only an excuse to take that money and use it to balance the budget and have a zero deficit.

I recall in 1986 when the Conservatives moved the account from employment insurance to general revenues. People were on the street because they did not want the change to employment insurance.

The minister responsible for employment insurance in 1996 was Doug Young. When he was in the opposition in 1989, he asked all New Brunswickers to fight back against the changes in employment insurance because they would be a disaster for New Brunswick. In February 1993 Jean Chrétien himself, when he was in opposition and leader of the Liberal Party, said the Conservatives were wrong to make changes to employment insurance because the problem was not the people. He said we should not punish people. He added that the problem was economic development, and we had to create jobs and put people to work.

Sadly, in the fall, when the Liberals were elected, they continued to make the changes that the Conservatives had been doing which was to cut employment insurance. When the Liberals took the money from EI and put it in general revenues, it gave them a way to get money. Then they became greedy. It is not the workers who depend on EI any more. It is the government that depends on EI for all those surpluses. Some $46 billion of surplus on the backs of workers who lost their jobs is totally unacceptable in this country.

The employment insurance surplus is about $46 billion. It is no longer working people who depend on employment insurance but the government itself, which needs it to balance the budget and have a zero deficit.

In the case we are talking about, the best 12 weeks, people made arguments such as it would cost too much, be too expensive, cost $150 million.

For the information of the House and all the hon. members, I asked our researchers to look into this. When we were in parliamentary committee, some people from Human Resources Canada came and gave us some figures because we were pushing for the 12 best weeks out of 52. The best 12 weeks would cost $320 million.

In the minister's remarks after the budget was tabled, he announced some changes, saying that the 14 best weeks would be used, the number of hours would be reduced from 910 to 840, and one could also have earnings of $75 a day. The cost would be $300 million.

If the costs of the 12 best and 14 best weeks are compared, which would be $320 million compared with $300 million, the difference is $20 million and not $150 million. That is not very much—$20 million—to help families, children and industry, when they have a surplus of $46 billion. Just last year, in one year, the government generated a $3 billion surplus.

I ask my Conservative colleagues, who opposed the recommendations on employment insurance—apart from an independent fund—to take a look at their colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador and support them too. I ask all my colleagues in the House of Commons and in the Bloc Québécois to support the changes requested in the motion. I ask my Liberal colleagues to do a very honourable thing next week and support the motion before the House of Commons.

I am sure that working people will thank everyone in Parliament, all the political parties, because finally they will have put their political partisanship aside and done something for people in need, for working people.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the NDP member on his motion. What I find unfortunate is that, in the negotiations to sell NDP support to the Liberals, he did not think of this aspect of Canadians' needs he is so valiantly defending at the moment. When he asks for Liberal support I am not sure whether he really thinks he will get it. Indeed, with the Liberals' record for honouring their commitments, I am not sure it is worth the effort to make deals with such a party.

My question is in this vein. Does he really think the Liberals will agree to these changes, when they even reject the changes proposed by the committee?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Bloc colleague for his question.

I can only say, and am very proud to do so, that the NDP managed to get $4.6 billion from a minority government to help Canadians, through an amendment to the budget. In addition, if Parliament votes in favour of bills C-43 and C-48, we will have an opportunity to pay out this money in order to help people.

Today, we are asking a majority in Parliament, including the Liberals forming the government, to vote on the best 12 weeks rule. My colleague asked me whether I thought the Liberals would accept the changes. I hope so for the sake of the workers. However, it rests on a decision by the members of the House. If they wish to vote against the motion, it will be because they have chosen to, and they will be judged on that. They have before them an opportunity to vote in favour of the best 12 weeks, and by so doing of helping women, children, parents and families.

As I have learned from my past responsibilities as a negotiator, we must proceed one step at a time. Now we are at the step of employment insurance and the best 12 weeks. I call on all parties to support the motion. Canadians will judge Parliament and the political parties on they way they vote.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst for his tireless defence of workers in this country. As we know, the Employment Insurance Act has been a critical factor coast to coast to coast in supporting workers, their families and employers in the community.

The member alluded to the fact that this was a very important measure for workers who are hardest hit in regions with very high unemployment. That takes place coast to coast to coast and is very important for workers. The member also alluded to the fact that there are other necessary changes that need to happen to the Employment Insurance Act to ensure that our workers can rise above poverty in Canada.

I would like to ask the member, what other measures does he think are really important to be addressed in the long run for workers in Canada?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, that is why the committee made 28 recommendations, one being the number of hours needed to qualify. It totally does not make sense that a person needs 910 hours to qualify for employment insurance. We have people all across the country who are working in the restaurant industry which is seasonal work. The tourists arrive in the summer and after August, when school starts, many people lose their jobs. It is not easy to find 910 hours of work. The committee recommended to the government 360 hours in order to be fair to the people.

I have said this so many times. It is not the fault of the workers. We do not have any seasonal workers; we have seasonal jobs. There is a difference between seasonal workers and seasonal jobs. I am proud of Canadians. People are not lazy. They do want to work, they do want good decent jobs and they do want to earn a living. However when an employee is told on Friday that he is not needed the following week or in two weeks time, the employee has no control over that. We have a an employment insurance system to help those people.

If we look at the study that was done we see that people are upset with the employment insurance because they do not understand why people who lose their jobs cannot qualify for EI while there is a $46 billion surplus in the fund, a fund that has a $3 billion surplus every year. This is totally unacceptable, which why our recommendations go further than the best 12 weeks that we are asking for. At this time we are asking Parliament to support the best 12 week plan because the other one does not make sense.

One would not believe how much people are hurt by the small earnings they take home. Most of the people working in seasonal jobs are working for minimal wages and when they get EI it is less than if they were on welfare. We should be ashamed for treating our workers like that, especially since they and the employers are the ones paying into it. It is not the government. It has been out of it for years and years. The money belongs to two groups, the employers and the employees and they should have some say in it. They are telling us that it should be the best 12 weeks and that the qualifying hours should go down.

We are hoping to go further than that and to bring forward changes for the employment insurance plan at a level that will be acceptable to the labour market in the country

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the points raised by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst. Seasonal workers are faced with situations that are out of their control, situations having to do with the working conditions in their area. I find it very appropriate that we address this issue today.

But at the same time, I am wondering why this proposal should apply only to those areas where the unemployment rate is greater than 10%. I think this is creating unnecessary inequity. The member estimated the cost of this measure at $320 million for all affected workers. Incidentally, this was one of the 28 recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

I would like him to tell me: How can he justify creating unfairness, from one area to the other? In areas where the unemployment rate happens to be slightly lower than 10%, the workers would not benefit from this proposal which will mean so much to others.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for this very important question concerning the percentage. I want to put it all together so that we have the best chance of eventually getting the 12 best weeks, as announced. That is why I say that the committee has to continue its work on this.

Nothing, however, can stop the government from changing its mind, listening to the arguments raised in the House of Commons, deciding that the 10% cutoff is unnecessary and eliminating it. But, after the budget was tabled, the minister announced that calculations will be based on the best 14 weeks of 52 in areas where the unemployment rate is 10% or greater. So, I figured, why not 12 weeks, since there had already been a recommendation made about a 12% rate?

So, I did it this way to make sure the odds were in our favour for getting this motion passed. We shall see what Parliament decides and what we can do in committee to restore justice in every area where there are problems with employment insurance.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the debate that is scheduled for later this day on the motion to concur in the third report of Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and I believe you would find consent for the following:

That the debate on the motion to concur in the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, moved by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, be deemed to have taken place, the question deemed to have been put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Does the hon. government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Liberal

Belinda Stronach LiberalMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal

Madam Speaker, as the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, I am proud to be responsible for a department that touches the lives of so many Canadians. Programs that support employment, workplace skills and learning, such as employment insurance, the Canada student loans program and the Canada education savings grant, are all part of this mandate.

These programs all aim to help improve the standard of living and the quality of life for all Canadians by providing workers the support they need to find and to keep work. As such, any motion that deals with helping unemployed Canadians make the transition into employment is of great interest to me and the department that I represent.

Before going into this debate on today's motion, let me underline the overall labour market picture and the tremendous gains Canada has made over the last few years.

Canada's 6.8% unemployment rate is well below its peak of 12.1% in 1992. The good news is that all regions of this country have seen a falling unemployment rate. The rate in the Atlantic provinces fell from 15.7% to 10.4%. Quebec's rate fell from 14.3% to 7.9%. Ontario's rate fell from 11.5% to 6.8%. The rate in the western provinces is down from 10.2% to 5.1%.

We now have less long term unemployment than any other G-7 country. Canada has enjoyed significant job growth, faster than any other G-7 country. In 2004, and so far in 2005, the level of employment has risen by close to 280,000 jobs. The Atlantic provinces created 13,000 jobs, Quebec created 51,000 jobs, Ontario created 107,000 jobs and the western provinces created 108,000 jobs.

The labour market is inclusive. Canada's 67.2% labour market participation rate is at a near record level and above the U.S. rate of 66%. The foregoing statistics, in my opinion, are a tribute to all Canadians. As the Government of Canada, we are only one player in the whole labour market equation.

At the same time, we must not forget those areas of the country and those Canadians who are not benefiting to the same extent from the expansion in our economy. As Canadians, we are a much stronger country when we are all pulling together. That is why employment insurance is a valuable program and the reason today's debate is important.

Employment insurance matters to Canadians. It plays an important role in our labour market for millions of Canadian workers, employers and communities across Canada. The EI program provides workers with temporary income support while they look for another job. It also helps clients who cannot work for reasons of sickness, childbirth or parenting, or need to take time off work to provide care and support for a gravely ill family member.

The employment insurance program also provides for active re-employment measures to help clients acquire the skills needed to return to work quickly and to stay employed.

In 2004 and 2005, approximately 635,000 Canadians participated in employment program interventions and a further 50,000 young Canadians participated in the summer career placement program. Over 220,000 Canadians found employment or became self-employed through these measures.

The government is committed to ensuring that EI remains relevant to the needs of Canadians. Let me give some context.

Today's debate is timely as it follows the tabling of the government's response to recommendations by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities dealing with this important national program which have provided us with considerable food for thought. It comes on the heels of the release of the most recent EI monitoring and assessment report that provides us an annual snapshot of how the program is performing.

Given the size and the complexity of the program and its impact on individual workers, communities and our economy, care must be exercised in implementing any changes to employment insurance. A balanced approached is called for so Canadians can have adequate benefits and reasonable entrance requirements while avoiding any changes that could jeopardize our labour market, economy and sustainability of the program.

An excellent way of getting feedback on specific issues is for annual EI monitoring and assessment reports. We need to ensure that EI can continue to serve Canadians in our dynamic labour market as well in the future as it does now.

As we know, the Employment Insurance Act allows the government to implement pilot projects to test new approaches before deciding whether to implement them nationally or permanently.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has proposed that we calculate EI benefits based on the best 12 weeks of earnings over the past 52 weeks. In fact, on February 23, the Government of Canada announced enhancements to the EI program that take into account many recommendations that were brought forward concerning EI. Indeed, one of the pilot projects that we announced in February aims to address the same issue as the best 12 weeks proposal. However, we do not support the motion because we feel the government's approach of a best 14 weeks benefit rate calculation balances the need to ensure income adequacy while maintaining work incentives.

The best 14 weeks pilot project aims to ensure that EI benefit levels are more reflective of full time work patterns for workers who experience weekly changes in their hours of employment and earnings. It is designed to test whether this benefit rate calculation will encourage workers to accept work that could lower their weekly benefit rate and they may otherwise refuse.

The new enhancements also include two additional pilot projects in areas of high unemployment that will test the labour market impacts of reducing the hours new and returning workers need to qualify for EI from 910 hours to 840 hours when linked with employment measures and increasing the while-on-claim threshold to encourage more people to accept work while collecting EI benefits.

At the same time, we also announced extensions to a pilot project that provides five additional weeks of EI benefits which is designed to help address the annual income gap faced by workers with limited work alternatives and transitional boundary measures in EI economic regions at Madawaska-Charlotte, New Brunswick, and Bas-Saint-Laurent-Côte-Nord, Quebec, until October 2006, pending a boundary review.

These enhancements demonstrate the government's ongoing commitment to meet the needs of Canadian workers and regions while maintaining sound management of the program.

These latest enhancements build on past adjustments based on ongoing monitoring of the program to identify areas where some fine tuning may be required. A good example was the elimination of the intensity rule in 2000, which was not working as had been originally intended.

Another example involved the modification of the clawback provision to make it fairer to low and middle income claimants.

We also adjust to the changing trends in the labour market.

In December 2000 we enhanced EI's ability to help parents balance family and workplace demands by doubling the duration of maternity and parental benefits from six months to one full year, a move that resulted in a significant increase in the number of parents accessing parental benefits.

Alongside our efforts to make adjustments to EI that meet the needs of Canadian workers, premium rates have been reduced for 11 consecutive years.

In 2005 the EI premium rate was reduced to $1.95 for $100 of insurable earnings, compared to a rate of $3.07 in 1994. As a result, employers and employees now pay $10 billion less in premiums than would have been the case using the 1994 rate.

Our goal is to maintain the sound management of the EI program while ensuring that it remains responsive to Canada's labour market.

We also have to be proactive in meeting the challenges of today's economy. Just the past week, I helped open the Newmarket Human Resource Centre of Canada for Students . I was impressed by the enthusiasm of our young people and our partners in the community, including employers, to help open the doors for young Canadians to help them get over that incredible challenge to finding work, with no experience.

I only point this out because in each community each Canadian is faced with the challenge of accessing and creating opportunities for employment.

Human Resources and Skills Development has been active on many fronts. We know that today's labour market requires Canadians to hone and sharpen their skills so they can remain engaged in the workforce. We know that lifelong learning is a key for each and every one of us.

What about those Canadians who are in seasonal economies, whose jobs are essential for our economy and their skills crucial? The same learning principles apply to all Canadians. The fact is, people change and industries change. Nobody can afford to pretend a situation will remain static.

However, there is another challenge that faces us. What about those Canadians who feel they have been left behind and who perhaps do not have the strong foundations that will allow them to absorb new training? Indeed, the Government of Canada is working with the provinces, the territories, employer groups, labour and the non-profit sector to develop a comprehensive strategy to support learning, literacy and essential skills development.

My colleague, the hon. Minister of State for Human Resources Development, will be a major force in this endeavour, along with the National Literacy Secretariat which is investing $30 million in collaborative efforts to enhance literacy and essential skills in communities across Canada.

HRSDC has also put in place the aboriginal human resources development and the aboriginal skills and employment partnership to enhance the skills of Canada's aboriginal workforce.

If we accept the need for lifelong learning, it follows that skills development must continue on the job to meet that need. That is why the Government of Canada is also developing a workplace skills strategy aimed at ensuring the Canadian workforce is highly skilled, adaptable and resilient.

By shaping a labour market that is flexible and efficient, the strategy also responds to the needs of employers for productive, innovative and competitive workplaces.

With those objectives in mind, Budget 2005 invested another $125 million over three years to strengthen apprenticeship programs in Canada, to test new workplace skills development initiatives and to spur discussions on skills issues among business, labour and training leaders.

As a government, we are committed to maintaining and raising the skills level of Canadians. We see this as critical for two reasons: to help individual Canadians find stable and well paying work, good quality, high paying jobs to improve their standard of living and to take part in society; and to secure Canada's economic competitiveness, productivity and prosperity, especially at a time when other leading industrialized nations are investing heavily in the literacy and essential skills of their citizens.

Clearly, we cannot do this alone. We have worked and will continue to work with the provinces and territories as well as stakeholders in the public, private, non-profit and voluntary sector to further boost the literacy and essential skills of Canadians. Literacy and essential skills are nurtured in families, in schools, in the workplace and in communities, with special recognition for the voluntary sector.

As we can see, a great deal has been done across the board to ensure that we are responding to the needs of unemployed Canadians while at the same time looking ahead to the future to ensure that Canadians have the opportunity to develop their skills for this new economy.

While much has been accomplished, still a great deal more needs to be done. Therefore, I call on the members of the House to work with the government as it seeks to ensure that EI can serve future generations of clients as well as it does the current ones. It is only by working together that we can ensure the responsiveness and relevance of this important national program will continue to help Canadians build their skills for a better future and for a better quality of life.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pretty discouraged with the position of the government. I thought it understood the problem, after it made the decision to send the committee across the country to look at the problem affecting our workforce and seasonal workers. When the committee came back, it recommended paying benefits for the best 12 weeks of income.

I am waiting to see the result of the vote on Tuesday. I am waiting to see if Liberal members will vote for the motion to save their seats in the Atlantic provinces while the rest of them vote against it as they have always done.

The member of Parliament for Beauséjour said in a newspaper article on January 29, 2003:

Rich people hire lawyers and accountants to manipulate the Income Tax Act and poor people manipulate the Employment Insurance Act...These people are at the bottom end of the economic ladder.

Let us be honest here. In the riding of Beauséjour, 1,500 people violated the Employment Insurance Act. Now have to pay the government back. To pay benefits for the best 14 weeks helped the member of Parliament from Beauséjour, but it did not help workers across the country. Everybody knows that.

Will the minister do what she has to do now? She is responsible for the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. Will she apply the laws of our country? Will she go into the riding of Beauséjour and charge the 1,500 people who violated the law?

I had no intention of bringing this up in the House today, but this is not fair. What the Liberal Party did with the best 14 weeks only protected their ridings. It is wrong. I hope the government thinks about this from now until Tuesday. I hope those members change their minds and help working people instead of only helping their own people. Their reputation is on a thin line right now. Why do they not try to save it a bit?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the sincere passion and concern the hon. member has shown for people in his community. I take his comments very seriously.

There has been a lot of consultation over the past while and extensive work has been done by the committee. A report was tabled recently in the House, which the department looked at seriously. A number of improvements have been made.

It is important to look at this in a broader context.

We understand that this is a sensitive issue and that there are areas of the country which have different issues that need to be addressed and we need to be more sensitive to them. It is for that reason that a number of measures have been put in place over the years, but most recently in 2005. We have come up with a strategy which tries to deal with the issue of the best weeks. We have decided that 14 weeks makes the most sense. It is a balanced and fair approach given the fact that this is a new pilot program. We will be testing it over the next three years with a view to looking at how it works and to making improvements.

EI used to be calculated by using the most recent 26 weeks. By going to the best 14 weeks, we feel that it is a balanced approach and that it will address the needs of seasonal workers who face more sporadic working conditions. It is a fair approach.

That is not the only thing we are doing. We have looked at other enhancements. In fact, we announced enhancements to look at this in a more comprehensive way. We have made it easier for new workers to reduce the number of hours they must work before qualifying for benefits. We also have taken a look at allowing people to work while on a claim. Therefore, they are encouraged to take up new work. This will allow them to work while receiving benefits.

There are a number of things that we have done. It is important to take a look at the overall package.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for her speech and particularly for the sensible approach she has taken since her appointment as minister to studying this entire file, which she has said is a complex one.

My colleagues have spoken with the minister on several occasions, and we are very pleased at her understanding of seasonal work and seasonal business. I would like to congratulate her and thank her for that.

In my constituency, as the member for Acadie—Bathurst noted, we celebrated the pilot projects that the government announced in February. The seasonal workers and local officials had a party to celebrate this great victory for seasonal employees and employers. The one concern we have is with the implementation date.

There is a great concern that these important measures, all three of them which were included in the budget in February, will not be available in time to benefit workers this season. We were hoping they would all be in place and available to benefit workers in October of this year and not later, as some people had suggested. Could the minister update us on when we can expect to see these three pilot projects fully implemented?