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House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Emergency Management ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m.?

Emergency Management ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, on October 18, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development a question regarding the march by workers and the unemployed, from Montreal to Ottawa, to ask the government for changes to employment insurance. We know that of those who pay into the plan, only 38% of men and 32% of women are eligible for employment insurance.

The government response is that 85% qualify. These are individuals who would normally qualify, but not individuals who really pay into the plan.

I will quote the minister:

As he knows, employment insurance is extremely broad, extremely complex. Any changes that are to be made, we have to make sure that they do not affect some other part of EI in an adverse way. That is why we are slowly going through and making sure we pay due attention to all the various aspects of EI so that it meets the needs of all Canadians.

That is the government's response. The Conservatives might say they are a new government, but while the Liberals were in power for 13 years, the Conservative Party—or the Reform Party or the Canadian Alliance Party—was in opposition for 13 years and it knows full well the harm this causes to seasonal workers.

The minister's response, as I was saying, is “cut and paste” in computer terms. It is the same thing. The minister's response is the same response the Liberals kept giving since 1996. It is exactly the same response that officials have written for the minister for the past 13 years, or since 1996. The minister comes back and says this needs to be studied. In the meantime, people are suffering, people are not qualifying for employment insurance.

What is more, there was a second question to do with older workers. This was the minister's response:

I would like to quote the president of the CPQ who said yesterday about our new program: Between being given a fish and learning to fish, the choice is clear. We have to help the affected workers retrain in different areas, and the sooner the better.

I think the minister does not understand what it takes to catch a fish. Back home they knew how to catch fish and now there are no fish left in the sea. They learned to catch fish, but now there are no fish left, which is why there are problems in the regions where there is seasonal work, in Atlantic Canada and in Quebec.

The issue of older workers applies as much to people working in the fishery as to people working in the textile industry. The government says it has no intention of abandoning older workers and that it plans to help them. The Conservative government has abandoned the workers. A new government had the opportunity to make changes to employment insurance.

Earlier, when people from Quebec marched from Montreal to Ottawa, they were only told that the government would slowly look into it. For the 13 years the Liberals were in power they had time to look into it. They were in parliamentary committee and they made recommendations to change employment insurance.

I would like to hear what theParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has to say about these questions and to the people from Quebec who marched from Montreal all the way here to Ottawa.

6:30 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I pleased to respond to the contention of the member for Acadie—Bathurst that access to employment insurance is severely restricted.

Access is an issue the Government of Canada closely monitors through the EI Commission's annual monitoring and assessment report. However, unlike what the member opposite would contend, successive reports have clearly shown that EI is meeting its objectives. For example, the 2005 report demonstrated that EI was sufficiently assisting Canadians experiencing temporary unemployment in terms of both the amount and duration of benefits. Indeed, over 80% of unemployed Canadians who pay into the program and had recent qualified job separation were eligible for benefits.

The story is similar when looking at EI special benefits with 90% of employees qualifying should they be unable to work for reasons of sickness, childbirth, parenting or because they are providing care to a gravely ill family member.

I should note that the member opposite when raising the topic of EI will often reference a figure known as the beneficiary to unemployment ratio or B/U ratio to suggest between 62% to 68% of Canadians are denied EI benefits. This is a flawed measure, presenting a distorted picture of access to EI.

First, it includes those unemployed individuals who have not paid premiums like the self-employed and those who have never worked or who have not worked in the past year.

Second, this measure includes those who paid premiums but are ineligible for EI because they voluntarily quit their job or were unemployed for less than two weeks.

As I indicated earlier, if we look at those for which the program is actually designed, people who have lost a job through no fault of their own, perhaps due to restructuring or a shortage of work, access is very high at over 80%. Moreover, evidence also indicates that access is at least as high in areas of relatively high unemployment as it is in other areas.

If we were, as the member opposite has suggested, to significantly reduce entrance requirements, this would have a marginal impact on the number of additional people qualifying for benefits and would disproportionately benefit those living in regions with low unemployment rates. Moreover, reducing entrance requirements may create disincentives to work as research has shown a significant number of individuals may choose not to work beyond the minimum entrance requirements.

Nevertheless, to reflect differences in unemployment rates across regions, the EI program uses a variable entrance requirement for eligibility, adjusted monthly in each region based on the latest unemployment statistics. Accordingly, when a region's unemployment rate rises, the entrance requirement lowers and the benefit duration increases, allowing for an extended job search period. This measure helps provide consistently high program access. For example, as a result of the variable entrance requirement, individuals with the equivalent of 12 weeks work in a high unemployment zone can access between 31 and 37 weeks of benefits.

Therefore, I would like to again suggest that the member needs to understand the framework of employment insurance and why it has been set up as it is.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the truth is that in 1986, when the Conservatives were in power, the Auditor General said that they should take the money from the employment insurance and put it in the general fund. What happened is that the Government of Canada wanted the employment insurance. It depended on the employment insurance. If we look at just this year, the government took the $2 billion surplus in EI and put it on the debt. It balanced the budget on the backs of working people who lost their job.

We did a study last year on the employment insurance program. The Conservatives were in opposition at the time and the Liberals were in government. Government officials are on the public record saying that of the people paying into EI and the people qualifying for EI, only 32% of women qualified and 38% of men qualified.

The minister said that 80% of the people who qualify for EI receive it, but she is not talking about the people who pay into it but never get the 910 hours to qualify or the 840 hours in the pilot project to qualify. That is what the minister is not talking about.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, being that the member talks about Conservatives, I would like to talk about the NDP. Unlike the NDP, Canada's new government believes the best solution to unemployment is economic growth.

It is not just our government that rejects the tired ideas of the NDP. The Moncton Times & Transcript called the member for Acadie—Bathurst's proposed EI expansion “misguided and ill-conceived”, saying that it would actually encourage people not to work rather than encourage them to work. At a time of low unemployment and labour shortages across Canada, the suggested course of action from the member opposite would be clearly unsound.

Nonetheless, our new government has made changes to EI to ensure its effectiveness, like expanding the compassionate care benefit eligibility criteria and introducing the extended EI benefits pilot project.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, as an immigrant who has worked hard to make a contribution to Canada, I am extremely disappointed with the state of our immigration system. It is failing our country.

Thirteen years of Liberal neglect have been followed by nine months of Conservative neglect. As a result, families are torn apart while they wait many years to be reunited. Well-qualified professionals are not able to work in their professions. The skilled labourers we need cannot get enough points to immigrate. Refugees and people under appeal are vulnerable to federally appointed officials who may abuse their positions and tragically, hard-working, taxpaying people live in fear of deportation.

Thousands of hard-working undocumented workers live in my riding in Toronto and tens of thousands more live across this country. Many were encouraged to stay over the years by the countless Liberal promises to regularize their status, but the Liberals turned a blind eye to undocumented workers. They never changed the law to help give some protection to these workers and their families, including children born and raised in Canada.

A former Liberal immigration minister running for the Liberal leadership gave a stirring speech at the convention in Montreal a couple of Fridays ago, yet he neglected the immigration system. He was guilty of letting it slide. He was guilty of promising new programs to regularize undocumented workers. He was guilty of breaking promises and failing to deliver. He left a lot of these people in limbo.

The Conservative government and its Minister of Citizenship and Immigration have been in place for nine months and the minister is following the same pattern as the Liberals. He says no regularization, just deportation of undocumented workers, but he knows that 200,000 people and families are undocumented. He knows that they are essential to many sectors, particularly the construction trade. He cannot possibly contemplate deporting every one of them. He knows the scope of this problem. He knows that with the threat of deportation, people are going underground. He knows it is a threat to their health and a threat to the health of their families, of their children. Some of them might be kept away from school for fear of discovery. He knows that people are vulnerable and may be exploited by employers, neighbours and even government officials.

He knows all that, yet he has not done anything. He has had nine months, yet there has been no attempt to deal with this issue. It is just like the Liberals.

The current programs are not working. The announcement last Friday in Ontario to improve the foreign workers program will not work. Why? Because none of the jobs that the undocumented workers are doing now are listed as an occupation that qualifies for the foreign workers program so it is not going to work. They do not work because too many workers are being refused, even with a job offer the skilled workers category does not work as it does not recognize the skills of the workers and does not give them the points they need.

The government should agree to waive the six month penalty for working illegally and instruct officers to issue work permits. Otherwise the situation will continue to get worse.

Every Canadian should be disappointed by the government's inaction and its callous approach. Every Canadian should be outraged by the harm that has been done to our immigration system. We--

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, but the four minutes have expired.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

6:40 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat surprising to hear the member for Trinity—Spadina's views on this issue.

What would Canadian workers say about her party's decision to abandon them and instead reward those who have been working in Canada illegally, especially when they see it draw another wave of illegal workers here? What would immigrant communities who have shown respect for the rule of law by coming here legally say about the NDP's plans for an immigration system that diverts resources away from processing the settlement and integration of legitimate immigrants in favour of those who have ignored our laws? Why is the member for Trinity—Spadina abandoning Canadian workers and those who follow the rules?

Where is the member when it comes to children and families waiting in the immigration queue? Where is she when it comes to reversing the declining outcomes of newcomers to Canada over the past decade? Where does she stand on funding for services for immigrant and refugee literacy, language training and skills development?

Where does she stand on providing provinces and communities the resources they need to retain the immigrants they work so hard to attract? Where is she when it comes to helping settlement and adaptation agencies build their capacity to deliver services that help immigrants and refugees get off to the right start in Canada as they pursue the Canadian dream?

That member voted against every one of those measures that Canada's new government introduced to improve the lives of immigrants, refugees and new Canadians. She voted against $307 million and an increase in funds to go to immigrant literacy, language and skills training. She voted against these funds which help newcomers with routine things that ordinary Canadians take for granted, like assisting newcomers with making doctor's appointments or finding schools for their children.

Her decision to vote against funding that would benefit those who arrive in Canada through Canada's immigration system is puzzling to say the least. Canadians must wonder what is going through the minds of the member and her NDP colleagues. Why is she and her party opting to pursue narrow ideology theory over improving the lives of real people?

It seems the member is literally working the opposite side of the street of the member for Davenport who has been using this issue to pander for votes rather than offering any meaningful suggestions of how to reform Canada's immigration system, to encourage legitimate immigration and support newcomers.

What distinguishes these two members from neighbouring ridings is that both opposed the increase in funding for immigrants in budget 2006. Both appear to be ready to abandon fairness and respect for the rule of law that Canadians and immigrants who come here hold dear. Both seem bent on putting their parties' electoral fortunes ahead of the broader public good of improving Canada's immigration system.

Torontonians, like all Canadians, want an immigration system that works. Canada's new government shares their views. With or without the Liberals and the NDP, we passed a budget that increased the funding for immigrants by $307 million. We increased immigration targets to their highest level in 15 years. We are working with the province of Ontario on improving temporary worker programs, looking for ways to give people who take part in these legitimate programs a chance to call Canada home.

In short, we are working to give Canadians an immigration system that works for all of Canada.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government seems set on following the sorry lead of the Liberals. It seems set on leaving people in limbo and in an unprotected status, leaving children vulnerable and driving immigrants underground. It seems set on ignoring their plight, allowing them to continue to live in fear, being exploited and living in a state of uncertainty.

The needs of up to 200,000 people, fellow workers, neighbours, classmates, taxpayers, are being ignored. I want to remind the member that the needs of some of the children born in Canada are also being ignored. These are people who want nothing more than to live in peace in Canada and make a positive contribution to this country. They are already paying taxes.

What kind of cynical approach is the government taking? Canadians expect and deserve better.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, let me be quite clear on this. As I mentioned in my speech, it appears that the member seems to be supporting illegal workers as opposed to those who legitimately come to Canada through the immigration process. It appears that she votes against all of the initiatives, including $307 million in new funding, for immigrants and the immigration system and instead, rather favours those people who have entered this country illegally. It seems that the NDP has nothing to do except oppose initiatives that the government has brought forward in the House, such as protection for victims of human trafficking that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration introduced.

Why would NDP members oppose the very things they profess in their ideology to protect, to love and to cherish? It makes no sense to me and I would guarantee it makes no sense to the average Canadian.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

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

(The House adjourned at 6:48 p.m.)