Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having some time to talk on behalf of rural Canada and rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Certainly this is of great concern to my riding.
I would like to start by illustrating the theme I will bring forward in this debate. That theme is seasonal employment. We on this side of the House support Bill C-269. We think it will do a substantial amount for people who have invested over the past decades in seasonal work.
In my own riding I would like to talk about seasonal work in the fishery, forestry, construction work and many other areas. I would also like to talk about some of the arguments put forward by the other side. I will go back to when this debate first started and the comments by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, which were echoed by my hon. colleague from Niagara West—Glanbrook. They said that the evidence also shows that claimants in high unemployment regions rarely use more than 70% of the benefits. What they are doing is playing with the averages. There are people who slip through the cracks, especially those in seasonal work, and therein lies the problem.
The Conservatives keep using statistics on a national basis in saying that the job market is extremely hot right now. Yes, it is extremely hot in certain areas. I know that because it is not particularly hot in my area. Therefore, there is a huge amount of migration taking place. We call it outmigration from my riding to places farther west, such as Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and so on.
In coming up with certain amendments to the EI act illustrated in Bill C-269, we are giving some of the more vulnerable communities a chance to survive, a chance to make the effort to attract more investment, to be more diverse. That is why they look at this as something that is going to downplay the overall job market.
They are also saying that by doing this, they are picking on businesses by keeping rates at what they are, but we believe that this type of policy is a vanguard for local economic development in areas of higher unemployment. This is all about the pilot projects. I am glad my hon. colleague brought up the pilot projects, which the Liberals initiated back in 2003, but the Conservatives have yet to renew. The problem is that the deadline is approaching.
Let me give an example. Five weeks would be added at the end of a benefit period in areas of higher unemployment. Yes, my area is roughly around 20%. It hovers around that mark. In most cases it is a bit higher, depending on the community.
For those engaged in seasonal work, and the vast majority of them do engage in seasonal work, like the fishery, plant workers and people who work with particular crews in the fishery and forestry, this will add the five weeks at the end to allow them the increased benefit period to get them through what we call the black hole between the benefit period and when the season starts again. That program expires on December 9, which is not very far away, and yet we have not heard whether the government is going to renew it or not.
The other pilot program in areas of high unemployment such as my own deals with the best 14 weeks over the last 52. That allows people to claim the best weeks and get a higher benefit as a result.
There are a couple of other issues in this particular bill that interest me quite a bit. It increases the rate of weekly benefits to 60%. It also reduces the qualifying period by 70 hours, which we believe is just a modicum, a slight benefit, that will not really throw this program into disarray, like the government is pretending it will. It will not, but it will go a long way for the smaller communities with higher unemployment.
Interestingly enough, I am glad this debate came up today because tonight the Prime Minister will be in an area of high unemployment. There are beneficiaries of this pilot program in an area that exceeds 20% unemployment in the riding of Avalon. I hope it is put to the Prime Minister why he and his government and the member of Parliament for Avalon do not support Bill C-269 which means so much to the seasonal workers of that particular riding. I wish he were here to debate it; nonetheless, we will move on.
Here is another point about Bill C-269 that I think is a great idea. The bill eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm's length. This could go a long way toward benefiting smaller businesses in smaller communities. It becomes a family affair, a family endeavour, a family situation where they run the business and it allows them to collect EI at the same time. That helps to sustain communities. It is a good pilot project that allows employment to persevere in the smaller communities. It gives them a fighting chance. That is why I support that particular clause in Bill C-269.
Bill C-269 also increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $41,500 and introduces an indexing formula. This is also beneficial given the cost of living. Therefore, we support that as well.
I would encourage my hon. colleagues across the way to support the bill. We have received support from the majority of the members in this House, with the exception of course of the Conservative Party.
The government mentioned earlier about, I think it said, bringing it on the road, asking for consultation, taking it to the country. I would welcome that.
The government keeps talking about all the input it has received about premium rates from businesses across the country. I have no problem with a reduction in premium rates. However, the government never mentioned anything, not one iota, about receiving input or advice from the communities most affected.
What about the areas of higher unemployment? What about the areas that could greatly benefit from such small measures in Bill C-269? Yes, there are currently 19 private members' bills in the hopper. That alone should tell the government about how important it is for the most vulnerable communities.
This is about seasonal employment. This is about areas of high unemployment. It is about economic development. It is about sustaining our communities.
The migration patterns across this country for work are incredibly high. There is more migration now than we have ever seen in central Newfoundland and it is growing. I believe in my heart that if we go forward with only some of the provisions in this bill that allow workers the benefit of staying in their communities to help build their communities, the government could benefit greatly and our communities could benefit greatly.
Yes, there are 19 bills being discussed about EI reforms that provide greater benefits to seasonal workers. There is a reason. The demand is there in the most vulnerable of communities.
I would implore the government to stop abandoning the areas of higher unemployment. There are some key initiatives in Bill C-269 as well as other EI bills that will greatly benefit the country.
Again, I am disappointed the government does not support Bill C-269. I will always be in favour of greater initiatives for our most vulnerable communities in rural Canada, rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and for us as citizens dedicated to seasonal work.