Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide the answer requested by the hon. member on the extended EI benefits pilot project.
This represents a continuation of the previous pilot that will provide more information about the labour market effects of the initiative, while continuing to respond to the needs of seasonal gappers on an interim basis.
Seasonal work presents unique challenges for individual Canadians. Often these individuals face a limited working season, sporadic work durations and, in many rural areas, a lack of off-season alternatives.
To address this issue the government has announced the extended EI benefits pilot project, which will provide access to five additional weeks of benefits to EI claimants, up to a maximum of 45 weeks of benefits. This project will continue to test whether providing additional weeks of EI benefits will help to address the annual income gap faced by seasonal workers whose weeks of work and EI benefits are not sufficient to provide income throughout the year, and have any adverse labour market effects on other EI claimants.
The extended EI benefits pilot will run for 18 months, offering the same level of benefits, in all the same employment insurance economic regions originally included in the increased weeks of employment insurance benefits pilot project, with the exception of three regions where economic conditions have strengthened significantly over the past two years. By retaining the same regions, we will ensure we have the information necessary to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the pilot in those regions.
The extended employment insurance benefits pilot project is good news for seasonal workers. It demonstrates the effectiveness and flexibility of the employment insurance program in meeting the needs of Canadian workers. It also demonstrates the government's commitment to exploring solutions to address the unique needs of individuals who are employed in seasonal work.
During the course of the extended employment insurance benefits pilot project, the government will have the opportunity to gather more data and gain a better understanding of the project's effect on the labour market, while continuing to provide seasonal gappers with access to additional weeks of benefits.
I wish to stress, however, that this is an interim measure and the government's priority continues to be helping Canadians participate in the labour market.