(Motion agreed to)
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.
Ways and MeansGovernment Orders
Some hon. members
(Motion agreed to)
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
June 2nd, 2005 / 3:50 p.m.
Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga--Brampton South.
I am pleased to join this vigorous debate on EI. It is extremely important that the House, from time to time, devote attention to this very important matter.
In the period that tends to be discussed, 10 or 15 years, there has been an extraordinary change in the nature of work in Canada and the nature of the labour force. The labour force is far more inclusive than it ever was. The percentage of the population which is involved in work, men and women, abled and disabled, increased extraordinarily in that period of time, and this is all for the good. I think it has been reflected in the way the EI program has evolved over those years.
I believe now that in the developed countries, we have the largest percentage of our population involved in the work force, which says something. One of the things it means is that when we say the unemployment rate in Canada is 6.8%, it is 6.8% of a much larger number than what we were talking about 10 or 15 years ago.
For more than six decades, employment insurance has been a mainstay of Canada's social safety net. From its inception down through the years to the present day, governments have adjusted the program in response to changing times. This government has been no exception.
The government recognizes the importance of keeping EI in tune with the needs of Canadians, and my preamble dealt with some of that. Through the budget proposals in budget 2005, which is still unfortunately before the House, on EI rate setting and the subsequent announcement of the enhancements to EI benefits, we have addressed many of the most pressing concerns.
This is the approach that we believe Canadians want us to take: careful study and deliberation in conjunction with sound policy decisions supported by thoroughly tested evidence to support this remarkable program. This is precisely the process the Government of Canada followed in proposing a new EI premium rate setting mechanism.
We recognized that the mechanism set out in the EI Act needed improvement. Therefore, in budget 2003 we committed to undertaking a review of the premium rate setting process and launched public consultations.
We promised the new process would be based on five principles: premium rates should be set transparently, in public; premium rates should be set on the basis of independent advice, not just on the basis of whims of government; the expected premium revenues should correspond to the expected program costs, so there would be a balance each year between the income and the out-pay of the program; premium rate setting should mitigate the impact on business cycles; and premium rates should be relatively stable over time so that employers and employees know what to expect from year to year.
Consultations were held with a wide variety of stakeholders. We heard from business and labour, economists and technical experts, EI commissioners for workers and employers, and individual members of the public.
In budget 2005, which is still before us, the Government of Canada proposes a new permanent rate setting mechanism that meets all five of the principles developed in 2003 and takes into consideration the views of the stakeholders and those of the standing committee, and is consistent with the views of the Auditor General of Canada, which is important.
Starting with the rate for 2006, the EI Commission will have the legislative authority to set the rate. In setting the rate, the EI Commission will take into account the principle of expected premium revenues matching expected program costs, which I mentioned. I also would take into account the report from the chief actuary, whose independence has been increased through a functional reporting relationship to the commission.
What this means is that for the first time the chief actuary who does the calculations of these things will be mentioned in the legislation. This is a step forward.
The commission will take into account input from the public and, as needed, the services of those with specialized knowledge in rate setting matters. Gone completely will be the requirement for the Government of Canada to improve this rate. We are talking about an independent, logical, transparent rate setting mechanism.
These new measures address issues raised by stakeholders and in the standing committee's reports by increasing the independence of the EI commission in EI rate setting and strengthening the transparency of the process.
With respect to EI benefit enhancements, the Government of Canada has taken a similar approach by considering the recommendations of a variety of stakeholders, coupled with the results of ongoing monitoring and assessment. The recent announcement of about $300 million, which I mentioned, in new targeted EI benefit enhancements reflects this process and addresses some of the standing committee's recommendations.
In conjunction with budget 2005, the government has announced three pilot projects to respond to the most pressing challenges facing Canadians who turn to EI for assistance. When fully implemented, these projects will be in effect across the country in regions of high unemployment.
The pilot projects are designed to test the effects on the labour market of the following: first, enabling individuals new to the market or returning after an extended absence to be eligible for EI benefits after 840 hours of work, rather than 910, when linked to EI employment programs; second, calculating EI benefits based on the highest 14 weeks of income over the 52 weeks preceding a claim, thus better reflecting individuals' full time work patterns; and, third, increasing the working while on claim threshold to allow claimants to earn the greater, as I mentioned, of $75 or 40% of benefits in an effort to encourage people to take work without reducing benefits.
These things are being tested so that we can see what their effects are and what the benefits truly are to the people involved with the program.
In addition to these new pilot projects, the government also announced in the budget the continuation for a second year of the pilot project to provide workers in high unemployment regions with five additional weeks of EI regular benefits. This particular pilot helps to address the annual income gap faced by workers with limited work alternatives.
As well, the government has extended until October 2006 the EI transitional boundary provisions in two regions in Quebec and New Brunswick, pending a review of the EI economic boundaries.
These measures demonstrate the government's commitment to ensuring that EI remains responsive to the needs of Canada's workforce.
This approach has worked well. Successive monitoring and assessment reports indicate that overall the labour market is strong and the EI program is working well for the majority of Canadians. The government will continue to monitor and assess the program to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of Canadians.
Our response represents a balanced, grounded approach, one which includes the feedback of stakeholders, is supported by evidence and enhances the independence and transparency of the mechanisms that govern the EI program.
It is an approach that we will continue to follow because this government is committed to ensuring that the EI program remains responsive to the needs of the labour market and all Canadians.
Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague from Peterborough. How can he make such a speech in the House of Commons when he sat with me on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and recommended the best 12 weeks option?
Before the 2004 election, the Liberals went across Canada. After the election, they kept going. They came to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and recommended this best 12 weeks option.
Today we have a motion in the House of Commons on the best 12 weeks. I want to know how my colleague from Peterborough can get up in front of Canadians and say what he is saying when he was in the committee on EI and he recommended the best 12 weeks. He has a report in the House of Commons in which he recommends the best 12 weeks. He did it on Bill C-2 in 2001. He did it twice. How can he get up today and say the government is doing the right thing? He is saying two different things. I want him to get up in the House of Commons and tell me that. How could he do it?
Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is true that I am a very proud member of that committee and I appreciate the work that the committee has done.
I was talking about a balanced approach here. It is a balanced approach to a program which affects millions of people and which involves billions of dollars. The balanced approach includes appreciating that fact and appreciating that the millions of people involved, the people who are working and the people who are not working, because it includes both, deserve management decisions on the commission and for rate setting which take into account all the variables.
My colleague is perfectly right that the standing committee recommended a whole variety of things. There was something in this part of the EI program, something in that part of the EI program and so on. By the way, each one taken by itself has a benefit, but in the end if one is in government one makes decisions based on the whole thing. For example, over the years there has been an extension of maternity and parental benefits to a year in Canada. This is something that was not necessary 10 or 12 years ago, but we need to have it now. There is the new compassionate care benefit and so on.
My short answer to my colleague is that given the balance of all the changes and all the variables in the EI program, I believe the 14 weeks should be given a chance to run. Let us see what the effect is.
David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I heard the comments from the member for Peterborough. The last part of his comments was something to the effect that he took into account all the variables. I must tell members that the only variable here is that the whip came along and said that the position of the hon. member was going to change when this got to the House.
That is a totally inadequate answer to a very straightforward question. I am from Hamilton. We like to do things straight up. At committee, the hon. member felt this was a good idea. He cast his precious vote in favour. Now it is in the House a few months later and the member is voting against it. An explanation is in order.
Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON
Mr. Speaker, I believe, and I am sure one of my colleagues will remind me, that this was one of 29 or more recommendations that we were dealing with, so in one sense it is a small item and in another sense it is not.
We have put in place the experiment with 14 weeks and we are now being urged, on the spur of the moment, to change it to 12 weeks.
I do not like the implications about my whip. Our whip is a wonderful person. She is our best friend. She is a person who is fair and compassionate and someone who I respect deeply. I do regret my colleagues suggesting that a person such as that, such a wonderful member of Parliament, would treat me in some overly severe way.
Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague seems to indicate that there are a number of different projects being tried. He said that we have to find a balanced approach so that EI is not seen as the employment funding so to speak for an area or a region.
I am curious to know if he thinks this way because there is not enough money in the EI fund or if he somehow falls into the view that people who are doing seasonal jobs really do not want to work part of the time.
I have to admit that I am getting the impression from some members that they somehow feel that people who are doing seasonal jobs really do not want to work all the time and therefore do not deserve to have their employment insurance come into place when they are not employed for part of the year because the type of jobs they do are seasonal. I am wondering if maybe that is just part of not recognizing that different regions of the country have different jobs available and one cannot necessarily work year round in a specific job.
Is the member's reasoning because there is not enough money in the EI fund or does he fall into that trap of believing that people who are on EI really do not want to work?
Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my colleague from Mississauga—Brampton South had to say. It is one of these difficult things because we all have compassion for people who are out of work, and particularly people who are out of work either frequently or for long periods of time.
In the modern economy it is not unusual for people to change jobs and to have a number of careers in a lifetime. It is different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I mention also that the nature and size of our labour force has increased extraordinarily to where the unemployment level is now at 6.8% nationwide. It was 12.2% in the early 1990s, the sort of period that we are looking at. The ideal rate of unemployment is zero but that is impossible given that people are in transition.
In the Atlantic provinces the rate fell in that time 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 fell from 10.2% to 5.1%. We now have less long term unemployment in Canada than any other G-7 nation and that is because of the job growth that my colleague was talking about. Job creation is very important.
I have great concerns about the unemployed but the unemployment program is for employed people and unemployed people. I would like my colleague's comments on that.
Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to my party's motion to close a gap in Canada's employment insurance program. I will be splitting my time, and am pleased to do so, with the member for Churchill.
This motion addresses one aspect of the problems faced by Canadian workers, who the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has defended tirelessly since he first came to this House eight years ago and for whom I have the utmost respect.
Members of the House know that in regions all across the country from coast to coast to coast there are communities that suffer from endemic unemployment. Seasonal economies simply make it difficult for men and particularly women of those regions to find long term and stable income that will sustain their families. As the seasonal work cycles ebb and flow, many workers will simply not qualify for EI benefits because of the limitations of their seasonal jobs.
A number of affected workers are women and aboriginals. Many of them are among the most vulnerable in our workforce and often have minimum wage jobs. After all deductions are made, their net pay is only 55% of their salary. Try to imagine how it is possible for a family to live with only 55% of the minimum wage.
It is high time for the Government of Canada to take measures to resolve these systematic injustices.
By calculating benefits based on the best 12 weeks of work instead of 14, we would, in effect, be reducing the period without employment that currently reduces the amount of benefits received. This is a much fairer and more equitable approach.
In recent years, the EI system has moved further away from actually helping the people who it was meant to protect. When only 35% to 40% of workers qualified for the benefits that they paid for, there is clearly a problem with the program. These are the individuals who are paying for the program and yet they do not qualify when they need its help. Something is wrong.
For 12 years, Canadians have listened to Liberal rhetoric on EI reform. During each election, the Liberals pledge to correct the failings of the EI system, but after each election the Liberal governments quickly forget the very commitments that they made to workers and their families. We have seen it time and again.
The Liberals know that their policies are causing great harm to workers in many parts of the country but they simply will not act to bring about real change even when the evidence and the recommendations are right before their eyes and even when some of their own members have participated in the creation of those recommendations.
The Liberals like to argue that calculating the benefits based on 14 weeks is an incentive for workers to keep working as though these hard-working men and women have some kind of a choice. The government would have Canadians believe that it is the workers in seasonal jobs who are hooked on employment insurance. It is a destructive, patronizing, negative attitude toward the working people who do the work that we all need done in our society.
It is not the workers it turns out who are hooked on EI. Far from it, it is the federal government. It has discovered a source of revenue so it can give away its large corporate tax cuts and carry on with that sort of program. Forty-six billion dollars in the EI slush fund, whose money is that? It is the money that belongs to the workers. It was put in the fund for the benefit of the workers when they most need it, when their families have been forced out of work, because of no decision by the worker but because, in this case that we are talking about today, of the seasons of work coming and going and they simply do not have a paycheque.This is the system that they paid into to help ensure they would have a little bit of income so that when their children came home from school they would put a meal on the table. That is what we are talking about.
The government continues to inject hundreds of millions more into the system as a result of contributions by workers. The NDP is not alone in calling for changes. The Auditor General has continued to demand that the government reform EI.
The fact is that there are many jobs that must be done in this country, jobs that we all expect will be done, but those jobs can only be done during particular times of the year. Let us take the fishery and farms in Nova Scotia, the crab industry in Newfoundland or the fishery on the north coast of British Columbia as examples. Workers there must work as the seasons permit and then they have to find other employment in the interim months. It is a really tough process.
Where that is not possible, our motion proposes a more equitable access to those workers to receive sufficient benefits to help them get by until the next season. We cannot harvest the crops or the snow crabs in January and we can do nothing to change that. Unless we are saying that we do not want such industries to exist at all, then we need a system that allows families to get by if they are unable to find other work.
We are not the only ones to recommend this. It was recommended by a standing committee consisting of all parties that travelled the country and heard witnesses from across the country.
The forestry industry is facing the same situation. Be it in The Pas, Manitoba, Charlevoix, Quebec, or Prince George, British Columbia, forestry workers are finding themselves out of work during the off season.
We are simply proposing to do right by them.
Tourism is an expanding industry in a number of regions in Canada and draws hundreds of thousands of tourists. This is good, but not many sites are able to attract visitors 12 months a year. From Summerside to Sault Ste. Marie to Whitehorse, when the information kiosks, tourism attractions, historic sites and festivals close for the season, we should provide these workers with EI benefits so they can make ends meet until the next tourism season.
The motion is not sweeping in scope. It does not, by any means, correct all the various problems with the employment insurance program. It simply takes one important initiative that had been brought forward in a recommendation from a standing committee in an effort to see it adopted by the House, to get something done.
However it is a very important change because it is a change that can happen now and it is a change that would affect workers and they could see the results immediately, not years from now. It would address the needs of some of those most in need in our society. It is a modest step forward but it is an essential step in a long battle to expand the access to employment insurance, to make it fair and to improve the benefits that these workers have earned.
There are always some people who do not qualify under every major federal programs such as EI. Today's motion seeks to fix these flaws and assist the thousands of Canadians living in regions hard hit by unemployment and working, of necessity, in industries that do not provide year-round employment.
It is going to help people out. It is not going to replace full reform but it is a positive step for Canadians.
Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Toronto--Danforth, our leader, for participating in today's debate. It is important to recognize his effort to do so. This is a very important issue and, as we have already said today, it is a modest step forward on an issue that is very divided in terms of how the House feels about it.
I would like to ask him about the things he has witnessed as he has travelled the country among family members and what they have said about the instability of work and how it is affecting their lives and their future. We have looked at areas with over 10% unemployment where people are having a difficult time planning for their families because of the instability of work. This motion would be a modest improvement.
I would like to hear what the member has heard from Canadians about what they want government to do in the way of assisting and facilitating them. They do not want a hand-out. They want a hand up. This is their money that they paid into the fund to ensure their dreams were fulfilled.
Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments. There is no question that he is a member of Parliament who is standing up for the workers in his community as well, and on a whole series of fronts.
I was very struck by my visit to the riding of the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, who has been a champion of this issue. The hon. member, as we all know, has been a champion of reform for employment insurance. He speaks with great passion about the situations of the families.
When I had a chance to actually visit with some of those workers, quite a large number of them met with us. Most of them were women. These people were earning a very low income, but they had a lot of pride in the work they did. It is hard work to go into one of those fish plants. It is cold in a fish plant so that the fish we love to eat, and I love to eat fresh fish, remain fresh. I am thankful that someone is doing the hard work of filleting the fish in that cold environment to make sure that this wonderful product is available when we sit down with our families to have a meal.
The fact of the matter is that in these plants the fish come in at certain times and there is work to do. It is not very well paid work, I have to say. The wages are quite low and the work is hard, but nonetheless there they are, the people preparing that food for us and our families.
Yet when the fish stop arriving and there is nothing more to be processed in the plant, naturally the plant has to close down. Suddenly, those individuals who have been paying into the employment insurance program, with money taken right off their paycheques and put right into the very fund we are talking about right now, are simply unable to go to that fund, even though it has billions of dollars of surplus in it, to get a little bit of help to buy food for their families.
I will bet that a lot of them simply cannot afford the fresh fish we eat, the fish that we are buying in the stores and that they have worked to pack for us. They cannot even afford it for themselves. Or they have to turn to a food bank. This hard work can affect their health. I know there are injuries associated with it. It is not an easy job. These individuals are struggling to get by between the times when the fish come in for packing and when they do not.
As for anyone who stands up and tries to suggest that these workers are not interested in working or that we need to see if the “labour market” effects are positive or negative, let us just analyze what those people are really saying. They are really trying to suggest that if we give these workers some fair access to their own money in the employment insurance fund they are not going to do the work.
That is an insult. It is a complete insult. It is not fair. It really does not represent a respectful attitude toward the working people of this country in our key communities and industries, and it is time that it changed. Our motion would be a small step toward recognizing that those workers deserve some respect from us.
The Deputy Speaker
Order please. It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, Deportation of the Acadians.
Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on our opposition day motion.
The motion itself does not encompass all of the wrongs within the unemployment system. That has been acknowledged today. We have been criticized by the other opposition parties, whose members have said that somehow we should have fixed everything in this one opposition day motion. Either of the other two opposition parties could have on numerous occasions also tried to fix it, but they have in a number of instances failed to do so. I want everyone to reflect on the fact that we are addressing only one of the faults in the unemployment system.
My riding, including both land and water, is about four-fifths of the province of Manitoba. There are only about 80,000 people in the riding. Over half of the first nations in Manitoba are in my riding.
In my riding, there are large numbers of people working in seasonal employment in the forestry industry, as the member for Toronto—Danforth said. There are a number in the fishing industry and others within the tourism industry, whether they are guiding or helping out. This motion would definitely increase their opportunity to have more dollars coming into their households, there is no question about it, and ultimately that means more dollars going into their communities.
The people who are collecting unemployment insurance are not taking holidays in the Cayman Islands. They are not going to Mexico. They are not whipping off to Hawaii to spend their money. They are buying milk and bread to put on their tables. They are spending that money in their local communities. If they do not have the dollars coming in from employment insurance, a lot of them will end up having to collect social assistance. They do not want to be collecting social assistance. They have rightfully earned the right to receive employment insurance.
What has happened is that year after year the government has cut the benefits within employment insurance. I have been working pretty much every year since I was 12 years old. I worked every summer. I have been in full time employment since I was 17 or 18. During that course of time I have worked summer jobs that started in May and ended in September, and I had enough weeks in that I was able to collect employment insurance.
As a newly married young mother I moved to where I now live and was able to collect employment insurance for a period of time, but I still went out to look for work. I did not sit back and say, “Gosh, I have all this money”. Members must bear in mind that I was probably getting a good percentage more than a lot of the individuals are getting now. I still looked for work. I expect that most people on employment insurance want to do the same thing.
Over time, after I had each of my children I was able to take time off and receive maternity benefits because there was a program that helped offset the costs. We were a young family and were able to hold our own while doing that. I went back to work each time. I expect that most people on employment insurance want to do the same. It is not their fault that they are living in communities where there is no employment and they cannot do it.
It is being suggested by those who oppose this motion that these individuals should somehow travel across the country with all the money they have stashed away because they must have stashed away a pile of money in their seasonal jobs from which they are trying to earn enough of a living to support their families. They must be able to stash a pile away, those who oppose this motion say, so that when they are unemployed they can take a $2,000 or $3,000 trip from one end of the country to a place where there may be some employment for a few weeks. How ridiculous is that?
These are individuals who cannot afford to travel that far without getting some money. There used to be money within the employment insurance system for relocating for periods of time. There used to be dollars available for that. That is gone. It was one of the benefits that was stripped out of the employment insurance program.
On top of taking away those dollars and cutting benefits, percentage rates have been established so that if people have collected once they are going to be punished for having to collect again and they will lose more dollars.
All we asking for in this motion is to put a little of that money back in. It would be one thing if the money were not there, but there is $46 billion from employment insurance premiums that the government is using for other things. Is that fair? Is that just? Is it fair that all of those people who are working and paying their premiums into their insurance plan now cannot get decent benefits because the government wants to use the money, as my colleague from Toronto—Danforth said, to give $4.6 billion in corporate tax cuts?
What is wrong with this picture? Who are members representing here in this House? Is it not those workers and those employers who have paid in the money?
Should we not be improving the benefits and putting dollars back into local communities? This is not money to use on a holiday to the Cayman Islands or Mexico. This is money going back into Prince Rupert, The Pas, Thompson, Bras d'Or and Acadie—Bathurst, into numerous communities across the country. I am sure some would even end up going into Alberta, as rich as people are in Alberta. We all hear about how rich people are in Alberta, but I know there are people who are unemployed in Alberta and who need some additional dollars, who want to work but maybe at certain times do not have those jobs available.
It is not as if the dollars are not there within the employment insurance program, but we have a government that wants to use those dollars for other things. How dare the Liberals? How dare they come into the House and talk about their wonderful surplus when time and time again benefits have been cut from the employment insurance program?
If people are paying into an insurance plan for their house or even for car insurance and they see the plan building up and there is money there, they want to see the benefits improved. Is that not right? People are not expecting that this year the company is going to say, “No, we want another $500 and the deductible for accidents is going to be increased by another $500”. That is not acceptable, people would say. If the company is making the money from this and not spending it, people want to see the benefits improved. They would want to see their deductible lowered. Rightfully so. It is their money.
In this case, it is our money and our employers' money. We want to see the benefits. It is no different. We are asking for an improvement in the benefits. The dollars are there. As for anyone who talks about irresponsible spending, that is just not the case. These are dollars that are in the employment insurance program.
Now if we want to keep that program honest and if we want to keep the government honest with the employment insurance program, there is no question about it: a separate fund should be set up. I understand that we are going to hear that the Auditor General thinks it should be included in general revenue and the government may at some point have to offset the cost. At $46 billion, that is a whole lot of offsetting, so that just does not cut it with me.
The reality is that there is room to improve the benefits within the employment insurance program. This is one aspect of improvement that we want to see. The dollars are there. Not doing it is irresponsible and it is unconscionable. Quite frankly, I would like to say that it is almost like extortion to keep taking money from workers and not putting dollars back into the program that they and their employers are paying the premiums for.
There are things that can be done to improve the program. That is what should be happening. That is what we are calling for here. We are calling for an improvement in the benefits by way of reducing the number of weeks. We are not asking for anything unreasonable. We are not asking for the moon. We are not asking for additional tax dollars to be paid. The premiums have been paid and the money is there. I hope everyone in the House will support the motion.
Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciated the hon. member's speech.
We are all aware of the obvious bad faith emanating from the Liberal side, from the member for Bourassa in particular. He was in Jonquière in 2000, and promised some union members, steelworkers if I remember correctly, that there would be changes made to EI but these were never forthcoming. Again this week, I am told, he did his utmost in committee to delay the study of a bill to improve one aspect of EI.
When it comes down to it, are not the federal Liberals nothing more than proponents of that neo-liberalism so unpopular everywhere in the world for its propensity to make working and living conditions worse for workers to turn them into more flexible tools for big business? When they are not able to earn a decent living, they are forced to accept just any job. One might therefore say that the Liberals are contributing to worsening working conditions everywhere in Canada.
This is my question for the hon. member. Are we not dealing here with neo-liberal politics, pure and simple?
Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, there is no question. One certainly would get that impression. I honestly do not believe that each and every one of my colleagues on the Liberal side think that way. I do believe they are getting rooked into doing something that is not right because they have a controlling body that says they have to do this because it wants to give corporate tax cuts. I think a lot of good people on the governing side are getting rooked in and they are falling into it, somehow believing they cannot do anything for working people.
There is no question that if people in the fishing industry or the forestry industry are unable to get some assistance in downtimes, they will have to move or go on social assistance or their industry will be wiped out. Maybe there is some unscrupulous plan to put them out of business for good so a large corporation can take over the fishing industry. We hear these different stories of different things happening.
I would ask that all my colleagues on the governing side not get rooked in by those people within their party who want to benefit large corporations.
Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON
Mr. Speaker, as an employer over quite a number of years, the biggest asset I had in my company were my employees. Employment insurance was a big cost to our company and it was one thing for which I never objected paying.
There were various times over my years when I would have people come to me who needed one or two more weeks so they could qualify for employment insurance. I would hire them on whether I needed them or not to ensure they got their weeks. I felt they paid in and they deserved that.
However, I have been in and out of the House today. I look across at all the government people who are so interested in this today, the people whom the NDP members aligned themselves with in this recent budget. All I have heard today coming from that corner at various times was how wrong the Conservative Party is. It has not been the Conservative Party that has been in power for the last 12 years when lot of these changes were made.
I stand wholeheartedly for a lot of the things that have been said over there, but we have to remember from where this has been coming. Sometimes when you are looking for support for something, you do not keep beating on someone who might support it. I would just leave you with that bit of advice.
The Deputy Speaker
I would remind all members to make their comments through the Chair. The hon. member for Churchill.
Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond. One would pretty much have to be around the debate the whole day to see where the initial blows come from before the other ones start coming back. I guess it would be nice if the ball would not go back and forth sometimes in the House, Mr. Speaker, and you have to catch it in the middle to put a halt to it.
As far as the budget goes, the New Democratic Party has supported a budget that made changes that reflected things we wanted to see happen. Over the course of time, I have to admit there have been times I have supported items that have come from the Conservatives when they were good, although they have been few and far between. I have supported items that have come from the Bloc. We have done that all around
However, in dealing with this issue today, my colleague and I have talked about work issues before. I know he thinks an awful lot along the same lines as we do on a good many issues. In this case, he should look at the issue and vote accordingly to the issue and the motion rather than deal with everything that has come before the House or will come in the upcoming years.
Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, we could fully endorse what was said by the last two speakers, especially by the leader of the NDP. He is completely right to say that the need is great. The difficulties endured by the unemployed, and consequently by their families, are the result of unacceptable policies. This is how one of my neo-liberal friends described these policies just a little while ago. They are based, actually, on a total refusal to improve the lives of these people, in order to give other things priority.
Where our views diverge—I might add, in passing, that my colleagues and I are going to vote in favour of this motion—because we perceive things differently, is in our approach. They say that the need is great. So why not do what is necessary to meet the need?
Something does not make sense in their approach. It seems rooted in some kind of embarrassment about being considered—I am not exactly sure—demanding or unreasonable. However, the 28 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development give us an idea of the extent of the measures that should be taken to deal with this problem.
The need is too great, under the circumstances, to feel embarrassed about maybe being considered unreasonable. We have a lot of difficulty understanding the NDP's approach in this regard.
In politics, you will agree, it is often a question of perception. It is hard to avoid considering them in a similar situation. With all due respect for my colleagues in the NDP, I must say that our perception is that the Liberal government did not want to offend its friends of convenience so that the budget would pass.
At the same time, the Liberal government did not want to give the impression that it was abandoning the unemployed, because it had abandoned them during the negotiations over the budget. It therefore had to find some half measure, which was not close to meeting the need of course, in order to give the impression that the NDP had obtained something.
We are going to vote in favour of this motion and I encourage all my colleagues to do the same. Nevertheless, it does not go far enough. The perception that the people and we ourselves are left with is the one I just described.
We do not share the NDP's piecemeal approach. However, the approach that we take is one that my friend in the NDP supported until just recently, that is to say, until the debate and vote at second reading of the budget. We feel—and I say this with all due respect for our colleagues—that the NDP turned its back on the unemployed in all these dealings.
Was it intentional? I am not ascribing motives to them. I think that they are sincere, as we all are, in wanting to address the unemployment situation. They are going about it the wrong way, however, in light of the strategic considerations I raised earlier.
On December 13, Senator Pierrette Ringuette, who was sitting on the Prime Minister's task force, raised a dissenting voice, advocating for 12 weeks. Like the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, she did not make the assistance conditional on a 10% unemployment rate. This means that the recommendation is now being watered down.
On December 16, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities tabled part one of its report, which contained the first eight recommendations, unanimous recommendations that is. This report included the recommendation for an independent employment insurance fund—to keep the government from dipping into it—to be managed by commissioners representing both groups of contributors: employers and employees. It provided for a mechanism to ensure that the fund is managed safely at arm's length and, more importantly, in the interest of the workers and employers who pay into it, especially the unemployed, of course.
On February 15, the second part of this report was tabled. It contained a total of 28 recommendations. Recommendation 14 contains the 12 week measure, but without the condition of 10% or more unemployment in each region. This explains why we cannot support the NDP's reasoning in this regard.
On February 23, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, at the time, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, put forward three measures and tabled them. Her riding is not the poorest in the country. In Quebec this is where the highest rate of income and lowest rate of unemployment are to be found. So, one of these measures is the best 14 weeks with the rate of unemployment indicator of 10% and over.
The NDP's motion unfortunately is influenced by the measure of the minister of the time.
Finally, Bill C-280 tabled by my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord institutionalizes the creation of the independent EI fund. The EI file is brought to attention of the whole House. Our NDP colleagues were present when all these measures were put forward, when parliamentarians and the House took these steps. They joined in. I really think they agree with us that all these measures must be adopted.
I am going to repeat what I have said. I do not want to tell them off, but I think that we have to speak the truth to one another. We have a lot of difficulty understanding today why the measure before us falls short. In terms of perception, it does not fit with the concerns expressed by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Some hon. members
Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC
I do not know whether it is House practice to have people speak as if they are at a meeting. It seems to me there is only one forum here, that of the House of Commons.