House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was internet.


Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to recognize a friend of mine, Kevin Shular, who happens to be in Ottawa today. He has been a valuable member of our community in Lincoln and the town of Beamsville. He is in the gallery today with his son. He is moving to the Edmonton area. I have a number of colleagues in the Edmonton area who are going to have the benefit of the great work that he has done. I wanted to recognize him and say that he is going to be greatly missed in our part of the world in Ontario.

I am pleased to speak to this motion. Our government's great concern is that all Canadian workers make it through this economic downturn and be prepared for the coming recovery.

The hon. member's motion calls on the government to implement a passive income support program for older workers who lose their job in order to ease their transition from active employment to pension benefits. In other words, the hon. member is giving up on workers aged 55 to 64.

A passive income support program is not even a band-aid solution. It does not really help anyone, workers, employers, communities or the country at large. In the face of challenges, I do not think taking a passive uninspired approach to experienced hard-working members of our workforce is becoming of Canadians. I do not think that is the kind of economy, society or country we want to build, nor is it the world that we want to build.

Witness the March 2009 meeting of the G8 employment and labour ministers at which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, called publicly subsidized early retirement schemes “a policy mistake”. Why was that? It was because such a passive approach reduces the long-term supply of experienced workers and increases dependency on pension and retirement benefits. Also, it is unquestionably not in the interests of workers themselves.

The fact is we are seeing encouraging signs of an economic recovery on the horizon, resulting in a greater demand for skilled workers. Employment has recently, albeit in small numbers, started to increase.

I know the fundamental point raised by that side of the House is that many affected older workers come from isolated or single-industry communities, and once unemployment hits, there is no alternative work available. I understand that point, but again I do not think being passive helps Canada or Canadians.

Communities are not static and the economy is not static. People are always coming up with ways to diversify, improve and build. When our government is there, we should be there to encourage and support. We should be proactive, not passive.

This government believes in an active approach, and we have a strong record of action. For example, Canada's economic action plan is helping communities restructure through investment in the community adjustment fund, which supports activities that foster economic development; science and technology initiatives; and other measures that promote economic diversification.

Through the Canada skills and transition strategy introduced in the economic action plan, our government is taking more concrete action. For example, we have set aside funds for older workers. Specifically, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years in the targeted initiative for older workers to continue to help older workers gain skills, upgrading and work experience so that they can transition to new jobs.

We have expanded the program's reach, allowing access to older workers in larger communities, as well as in smaller cities affected by significant downsizing or closures. The targeted initiative for older workers created by our government in 2006 is building on success. It is helping older workers get back into the workforce. It is an active, constructive program to help older workers. It is not passive.

We know that certain sectors of the economy have been hit harder than others. For example, the manufacturing sector, wood products and motor vehicle industries have experienced the most dramatic deterioration in their labour market conditions.

In the current global recession, we are all well aware that a significant number of Canadian workers, many who have spent their working lives in one industry, have lost their jobs.

To ensure that these workers have support to retrain for new jobs, possibly in another industry, their EI benefits will be extended up to a maximum of two years while they participate in long-term training. Over 40,000 Canadians could benefit from this career transition assistance over two years.

In addition, eligible workers will have earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using all or part of their severance package. Of course, the House and the human resources committee, of which I am the chairman, have been examining Bill C-50. We just passed that at the committee this afternoon, so that is great news. It will provide comparable measures for long-tenured workers, the same people who fit the criteria for career transition assistance.

These measures will help ensure that the long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for years are provided with the help they will need while they search for new employment. Our government will provide five to 20 weeks of additional benefits depending on how long an eligible individual has been working and paying into EI. It is fair and it is the right thing to do for these hard-working Canadians. We expect this measure to help approximately 190,000 long-term workers.

There is yet another program under EI that has received additional support under our economic action plan, namely, work-sharing. It helps to protect jobs that would otherwise be lost. The work-sharing program helps companies facing a temporary shutdown in business to avoid laying off their workers by offering EI to workers willing to work a reduced work week while the business recovers.

We have extended work-sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks over the next two years. We will allow more flexibility for the employers' recovery plan. As of this week, there are over 5,900 work-sharing agreements nationally, benefiting almost 167,000 Canadians.

Even when we talked to the people who came in to our committee to talk about Bill C-50, they told us about what a great program work-sharing is. Companies have the opportunity to share the work and some of the EI so that they do not need to shut down. It gives them additional time to get stronger and to get back on their feet. It was pretty much unanimous among all the people who came in to see us that it has been a great program.

Through our economic action plan, we are giving thousands of Canadians opportunities to upgrade their skills or train for a different career. We are investing under the action plan and training programs delivered by the provinces and territories, as they are closer to the labour market challenges in their respective areas.

Close to 150,000 workers across the country will benefit from these initiatives. They will help Canadians retrain to keep their jobs or transition to new work and they apply whether these workers are eligible for EI or not. It is clear that our government is aware that older workers face special difficulties re-entering the workforce once they have been laid off.

That is why we commissioned the work of the expert panel on older workers in 2007 to study the labour market conditions affecting older workers. Its report talked about two fundamental themes: enhancing labour market prospects for older workers and supporting older worker adjustment. It confirmed that our government is moving in the right direction with our active approach to older workers.

What the panel did not do is advocate a passive income program like the one members opposite are proposing. Older workers need to be valued. Their experience and skills should not be taken for granted and they should not be overlooked. Passive income support for older workers is an easy way out. It does not speak to the human potential to do better. It does not inspire us.

As I said in the beginning, such programs do not favour the workers, the employers, the community or the country at large. That is why I call on members of the House to defeat this motion.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join the debate and speak in support of Motion No. 285 brought forward to the House by the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour.

The motion calls for the implementation of a genuine income support program for older workers who lose their jobs. Such a program could assist them in making the transition from active employment to collecting benefits through the Canada pension plan.

The Liberal Party has always been supportive of quality initiatives that respond to the needs of Canada's older workers. I am sure all of us are aware of people, hard-working Canadians, who are unable to secure employment in today's difficult job market.

Any and all governments have a responsibility and an obligation to ensure that Canada's system of support for older workers addresses all of their needs.

We need to look at a system of support that includes retraining, job search assistance, possibly even relocation assistance and certainly income support. The reality is that there are older workers who will not want to be retrained for any number of reasons; they may not want to relocate for any number of reasons, one of which, for many, would be age. To exclude income support will create a situation where those individuals who are most vulnerable are excluded from federal support measures.

No unemployed older worker should have to contemplate a future in which there are no opportunities and no support. As I said earlier, I am sure we are all aware of older workers who have had a very difficult time when they have lost their jobs.

I know of an individual whose name is Gabriel who in fact found himself on hard times, out of work, with a wife who was sick, without any kind of drug support program and with two children. He could not find employment. For that particular individual it was embarrassing to have to come to a representative and ask for help.

It should not be embarrassing. These people are not losing jobs of their own accord. It is not by choice that they are out of work. I think it is incumbent on all of us, particularly this government, to make sure that there are measures put in place to help him through these difficult times.

Unemployment is a traumatic experience at any age. The current economic crisis has caused particular hardship for older workers right across our country and certainly in Newfoundland and Labrador, the province that I am from.

With the dramatic loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, individuals who have worked the same job for 20, 30 or 40 years and who expected to be in that job until they retired are now out of work through no fault of their own. These are people who want to work but who are now unemployed because of closures and downsizing as a result of the global economic crisis. Although many older workers are highly experienced, they are finding it challenging to obtain employment.

Programs that offer training, employment assistance and skill upgrades will be beneficial to many of the unemployed, both older and younger workers. However, we know that older workers demand special consideration. We cannot ignore those individuals who have contributed to their communities, the economy and their own financial well-being for many years only to now find themselves unemployed when they are on the verge of retirement.

People in the riding of Random—Burin—St. George's know the importance and the necessity of employment support programs. It is a riding that is home to many older workers. I represent a riding with a population that is older than the national average, that is largely rural and as a result, again through no choice of their own, for most of whom employment is seasonal in nature.

There is no doubt that older workers in rural areas will have more difficulty finding jobs when they are displaced. When a plant closes in a single-industry community, we often see young families relocate for employment, but older residents who have spent their entire lives in that community find it much more difficult to move. They own their own home. They own their vehicle if they have one. They own what they have. All of their earthly possessions they own. They have worked very hard to acquire these particular assets.

Asking them to uproot and move to another province at a time when they may not even find employment in that other province, to take on a mortgage, to take on the responsibility of a car, to have to find a means of earning a living, is very difficult for someone who is at an age where retraining may be difficult for them and relocating even much more difficult.

In the riding of Random--Burin--St. George's many residents have to leave home in search of employment. It is not uncommon for people throughout Newfoundland and Labrador to have to leave home to find employment. We have witnessed many people leaving home, leaving their families behind in order to provide for that family. To bring the family and to have to buy a home or rent a home would not be worth their while in terms of being able to actually provide for their family.

These people, many of them in their mid-50s, early 60s, move away and leave their families behind. They come home after three or four weeks of employment, spend a week depending on the arrangement that has been made, and then go back to their work, whether it is in Alberta, Ontario, up north, or some other part of the country.

This economic crisis will leave a string of ghost towns right across the country, if these people decide to take their families with them, unless the government takes more forward looking action that looks at the needs of the entire community, and particularly the needs of older workers who have been laid off and have not been able to secure new employment. It is a serious issue for rural communities in particular. We are indeed going to see many of our communities fall by the wayside.

There are residents in the riding I represent who would benefit greatly from implementation of a support program for older workers. I find it puzzling and somewhat upsetting that the Conservative government has such little regard for these people and the employment challenges they face on a daily basis. It is the responsibility of government to bring forward initiatives that would be inclusive and responsive to the reality of the situation at hand.

The Liberal opposition supports quality programs that meet the needs of all of Canada's older workers. In fact, during the 2006 election campaign the Liberal Party called for the development of a pan-Canadian national older worker strategy that incorporated skills upgrading, flexible work environments, community level partnerships, and combined training with job placement services.

Previous Liberal governments have brought forward initiatives to help older workers in their efforts to find and retain employment. The older workers pilot projects initiative and Canada's workplace skills strategy in 2004 were designed to help workers enhance their skills and keep pace with the evolving workplace requirements. It is upsetting that the Conservative government showed such little foresight when it cut $17 million from the workplace skills strategy program.

We know that older workers face added challenges in obtaining work. They tend to remain out of work for a longer period of time. Rightly or wrongly, employers have demonstrated a tendency to look to younger employees who are assumed to be more competent in new technologies. More often than not, regrettably, experience is not looked upon as a tremendous asset when employees are hired.

The minority Conservative government has cut several programs aimed at assisting workers. We can find little value in the Conservative government's performance on pension reform and retirement income security.

Beyond the loss of regular employment, today's jobless have also suffered extensive losses through company pension plans. Years of pension contributions have been lost.

Further, swings in the financial market have had a tremendous impact on the value of retirement assets. Those individuals who believed they were near retirement have seen their savings diminish and are now forced to remain in the labour market.

The Prime Minister demonstrated his complete disregard for the savings of seniors and near retirees when he decided to tax income trusts after promising Canadians that he would not. The Conservative government's record on quality pension reform and retirement income security lacks vision and commitment.

We live in a country where almost one-third of older Canadians receive assistance through the old age security system. We also know that Canada's population is aging. We need a vision for our country that ensures older workers are not excluded nor left behind.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to the motion presented by the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. In the motion the member put forward the notion that the government should, as quickly as possible, implement a genuine income support program for older workers who lost their jobs in order to ease their transition from active employment to pension benefits. Of course, nowhere in that motion does the member indicate that there should not be other measures as well as income support to bridge people into pensions when they involuntarily lose their employment.

The New Democrats will be supporting this motion. We recognize that older workers in our communities from coast to coast to coast are suffering in the current economic downturn.

Sadly, this is not new information. I want to refer to an article from 1995. This article is called “Older Workers in Transition”. I think the words in this article capture exactly what older workers are facing right now in our communities. It said:

Many older workers today are perplexed and dismayed by the swift and dramatic changes occurring in the work place. For most of their adult lives, they have functioned successfully in stable work environments where they anticipated holding their jobs until retirement. These older workers are discovering that they may not achieve their dreams of spending the last years of their work lives productively and they may not achieve financially independent retirement.

It went on to talk about 15 years prior to 1995:

However, in the last 15 years, they have often found themselves outside of the plant gates wondering what happened, or still inside, but anticipating dramatic workplace changes that threaten their job security. Plant closures, downsizings, restructuring, new technologies, international trade agreements, ecological concerns, changing demographics, have affected the Canadian workforce.

That could have been written in this day and age because the older workers in our communities are facing exactly the same kinds of circumstances.

As other members have rightly pointed out, older workers have many skills. They have much work experience to bring to a new work opportunity. However, what we have to acknowledge is that older workers also come from a range of skill sets, a range of work experiences, a range of socio-economic backgrounds, and a range of communities. We need to have programs that are broad in spectrum in order to address this very diverse group of workers.

We know, of course, that in many of our communities, and some of the more rural communities, or some of the communities outside of large urban centres, that older workers simply do not have access to other kinds of employment once the single industry in their town has shut down. In this day and age I cannot understand why we would be saying to older workers that they have to disrupt their entire family. If they are 64 or 59, close to retirement, we are going to ask them to move away from their children and grandchildren, and their family connections. Instead, a much more humane approach, exactly as the Bloc has proposed, would be this bridging program that allows people to move and bridge from their work career into retirement.

For workers who choose this option there absolutely needs to be retraining programs, mobility assistance programs, counselling programs, and all of those other things for workers who are able and want to stay within the workforce. We absolutely need to support those workers, but we also need to recognize that for some workers this is just not an option.

I want to speak specifically for one moment about the forestry sector in my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, and this is throughout B.C. This is from an article from February 2009, but, again, we know that the forestry sector has not significantly turned around. This is from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, CCPA. It said:

B.C. has lost 65 sawmills, four pulp mills and about 20,000 jobs in the forest industry. With a spin off effect of about 1 to 3, this means a loss of about 60,000 jobs. And let's not forget about the tens of millions of dollars of revenue that is no longer being sent to government coffers to help pay for health care and education.

Out of those 20,000 workers, we know that there is an aging workforce in the forestry sector. We know that many of these workers have spent their entire lives in forestry, some of them in logging, sawmills, and some in the value-added. Literally, we are talking about workers who have often spent 35 or 40 years in the forestry sector, and some of them are living in the more rural and remote communities.

Now we are going to say, “I'm sorry, forestry worker, despite all of the years that you've put into your company, your community, we're not going to recognize those years and we're not going to provide you with that bridging so that you can have a dignified retirement. Instead, we are going to force you to move out of province,” in my case, off Vancouver Island, “to somewhere else, and we're going to ask you to disrupt your family in the years where you should actually be looking at enjoying some of your retirement or looking forward to your retirement”.

Many times, of course, what is happening with these workers is that, as they leave our communities, they are forced into other seasonal, part-time, contract work, which still does not provide them with any income security.

In terms of the forestry sector, we know that we recently had the black liquor subsidy where there was some money provided to try to offset the impact in the forestry sector, but we are now looking at further threats from the U.S. around an additional kind of subsidy that is going to continue to harm our forestry sector from coast to coast to coast. I would argue that these workers simply do not deserve to be treated in this fashion.

We do have a program right now that is a targeted initiative for older workers. It provides some support for workers who do wish to continue with employment. However, when we look at it, it talks about employment assistance activities, such as assessment counselling, resumé writing, interview techniques, job-finding clubs and so on. But nowhere in that targeted initiative for older workers is there mention of any kind of income support or pension bridging.

We know that there was formerly a program for older workers that was in effect until sometime in the 1990s. We also know that program was cancelled in all the program cuts that were happening in the 1990s and those workers were hung out to dry, essentially, by previous governments.

What we also understand is that the program, this income support, this pension bridging for older workers, needs to be only one aspect of a program for workers. New Democrats have put forward some suggestions around what needs to happen with pensions. We have seen the Nortel demonstration that happened last week on Parliament Hill, where Nortel workers were raising issues around the fact that because of the insolvency of Nortel many of these workers were looking at the fact that they were going to have their pension income substantially reduced.

What we know, as well, is that many Canadians are simply relying on CPP, Canada pension or old age security, OAS, for their retirement income because they simply have not been in the kinds of employment that provided them with the opportunity to have a company pension plan. Many low wage seasonal workers and many women have never had the wherewithal to save for retirement.

We know that as the baby boomers are moving toward retirement, this country is going to face significant challenges with pension retirement income. We know that in the past, women were adversely affected. There were some efforts made about 20 years ago to reverse the situation for women because women are often in seasonal, contract, low-wage jobs. That is not always the case, but a significant number of women are in that kind of employment. We know that as the baby boomers retire, we are going to see more women falling deeper into poverty.

New Democrats have put together a proposal for some of the things that we think need to be included in pension reform. These include: an increasingly guaranteed income supplement to end seniors' poverty; strengthening the Canada pension plan and Quebec pension plan, in consultation with the provinces, with the goal of doubling benefits; developing a national pension insurance scheme funded by employer pension plans; and creating a national facility to adopt workplace pension plans of companies in bankruptcy.

New Democrats will be supporting this motion, but we are also urging the government to take very seriously the looming crisis in pension income that is facing this country.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House to defend the motion of my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, which states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should as quickly as possible implement a genuine income support program for older workers who lost their job in order to ease their transition from active employment to pension benefits.

Must I remind members that for 12 years, the Bloc Québécois has been calling on this House to put a stop to the injustice facing workers at the end of their careers who lose their jobs because of the ups and downs of the global economy?

Must I also remind members that during the last economic recession in the 1990s, the government renewed the program for older worker adjustment, commonly known as POWA? This program, in collaboration with the provinces, supported workers 55 and older who lost their jobs in massive layoffs by providing monthly benefits once their EI benefits had run out. This measure supported workers during a particularly difficult time so that they could find a new job or retrain, and was not meant to discourage them from returning to the labour force as some claimed.

Paul Martin's Liberal government abolished the program in 2005. Despite requests for assistance from all of the manufacturing sectors in Quebec and Canada that have been negatively affected over the years by economic globalization, the Conservative government has done no better since coming to power.

On one of its opposition days, the Bloc proposed measures to get workers out of the black hole they were facing. Our proposal was unsuccessful despite a majority vote in the House because the Conservatives have stubbornly refused to listen to workers who have fallen prey to this large-scale industrial transformation.

In 2006, the human resources minister proposed the targeted initiative for older workers, but all it set out to do was re-evaluate and recognize knowledge, skills and experience with a view to potential new fields of employment. The initiative supported workers with the potential to retrain, not those whose field of employment was at risk of disappearing entirely from Quebec and Canada.

In 2005, Canada's Employment Insurance Commission itself acknowledged that training programs for people aged 55 to 64, those too young to retire but too old to retrain successfully, were inadequate.

In too many cases, retraining does not result in employment. These workers find themselves back at square one and have to spend all of their savings just to make it to retirement age. Many of them have to resign themselves to living below the poverty line. I am sure everyone agrees that this is a rotten way to thank people who have spent their lives contributing to our society.

Since then, for nearly a year, the Conservatives have put off their 2006 commitment to assess the relevance of implementing a new program. Last year, when it was time to act, the government once again ducked out with neo-Liberal rhetoric about the regulatory power of the free market and re-skilling workers despite the fact that thousands of them have received no support while waiting for the market to make room for them and enable them to reach retirement with their dignity intact.

The Bloc Québécois has consulted workers and is now proposing a complete overhaul of programs for older workers to help people avoid this black hole.

In that sense, the new program will have to be designed for those workers 55 and over affected by mass layoffs or business shutdown, who can show a labour market attachment period of at least 10 years over the past 30 years and for whom the gap between the skills acquired and those required on the labour market is too large to allow them to find truly gainful employment in their own region.

To be eligible to the program, the workers will have to meet the various criteria I just outlined. Once their eligibility determined, older workers, men and women, would receive benefits that would allow them to maintain their real property assets.

It is important that older workers not suffer economic decline to the point of being forced to sell assets accumulated over many years of hard work, as they sometimes have to do when applying for employment insurance benefits. These workers are already grieving the loss of their jobs, on top of facing systematic rejection when trying to get hired during the months after they were laid off or the business they worked for shut down.

We believe it would be inhumane to add further to their hardship.

Therefore, the support provided through the program should match the income replacement rate under the EI program, and a minimum threshold should be established, as provided in the POWA since 1987.

As for the cap under this program, it would be the same as for EI, which is currently $447 per week. This would only add up to a few thousands of dollars each year, but it would still be enough to live on.

We have calculated that, if implemented tomorrow, the program would provide between $1,300 and $1,900 in support every month. Within these limits, the benefit level would be set the same way as for EI, that is, an income replacement rate of 55%, based on earnings before the mass layoff or business shutdown.

Regarding how this new program would be funded, the option selected was cost sharing between the federal government and the provinces, based on a 70/30 ratio, as it was for the POWA.

Finally, we are proposing that the mechanism included in the latest POWA with respect to amounts that can be deducted from support amounts under the new proposed program be retained, so as to take advantage of the consensus achieved by the two levels of government in that regard.

The need for this program rests, for the most part, on observations made by older workers who are dealing with a number of obstacles: their life-long skills are no longer in demand, they lack the relevant skills for positions in growth industries, they have lower levels of literacy and education, they lack experience in job searching and they are less willing to move because of all that. To them, moving might represent a heavy financial and social burden.

It should be noted that since the purpose of this program is to allow older workers to end their working lives in dignity, we think it is imperative to allow people to live where they see fit and not unduly force them to go where there might be jobs.

Contrary to POWA and the OWA program, admission to the recommended program, as proposed by the major unions, would be done on an individual basis and not collectively. That way, if an older worker loses his job after a business closes or after a mass lay-off and he meets the other conditions, he would be entitled to the program if the gap between the skills acquired and those required is too big for him to find truly gainful employment in the region, or employment at the average rate of pay for the region.

Furthermore, such a program is also needed because it is clear that job re-entry measures have not been producing any significant results nor can any be expected in certain cases. However, this situation could be different and could eventually change as more educated generations enter the age bracket of 55 and older. That is why we would like to see the new program reviewed every five years, either to adjust it or eliminate it altogether, if an analysis shows that the program is no longer fulfilling its mission.

The program that we are calling for is not only feasible, but for us, it is essential to taking into account the real situation facing older workers affected by mass layoffs or company closures, some of whom, despite their best efforts and good intentions, are unable to re-enter the work force.

I would remind the House that the Conservatives' bill, which provides an additional 5 to 20 weeks of benefits to long-tenured workers, does not address the same clientele.

Today's motion targets workers aged 55 to 64. In spite of the government's bill, the need persists for a bridge between EI benefits and the old age pension, which would be provided by an income support program for older workers.

We are talking about the implementation of a real income support program for older workers aged 55 to 64, and not long-tenured workers as defined by the government.

The measure we are proposing should be brought in immediately, out of respect for all older citizens who have worked their entire lives to build our society and who deserve much more than what the Conservative government is trying to give them.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There being no further members rising, the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour now has five minutes for his right to reply.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, I would like to talk briefly about this motion and its objective in the hope that by tomorrow's vote the Conservatives will have taken notice and will respect the wishes of workers and also of all communities, especially the regions, throughout Canada.

You will recall that the Program for Older Worker Adjustment was established in 1988. It provided eligible workers between 55 and 64 years of age, who had lost their jobs as a result of major, permanent layoffs, with benefits in order to bridge the gap between their employment insurance and old age pension. Unfortunately, the program ended in 1997.

POWA was a shared-cost program, 70% funded by the federal government and 30% by the participating provinces. Quebec has expressed an interest in participating in a new program if established. In 1996, 11,700 people were registered in the program after 900 layoffs.

Since the disappearance of the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, in March 1997, there have not been any more income support programs targeted specifically at older workers affected by mass layoffs or company closures. Recent government legislation simply added weeks of benefits for the unemployed.

It is a well-known fact, though, that age is a particular problem after job losses because employers are very reluctant to hire older people. This means that even though workers 55 years of age or more are generally less likely to be unemployed than young people, when they do find themselves unemployed, it is usually for a much longer time than the average. In its 2004 monitoring and assessment report, released in March 2005, the Employment Insurance Commission said this:

Although older workers enjoyed considerable employment growth in 2003-04 (5.8% unemployment rate), it is widely acknowledged that once unemployed, older workers may face challenges becoming re-employed. Older workers are over-represented among the long-term unemployed, representing 21.3% of this group and only 12.5% of the labour force.

The pilot projects created in response to the mass layoffs are aimed mainly at providing training for older workers who have been laid off. However, older workers do not participate very much in this kind of training, and measures like this are clearly inappropriate for them.

Here is what the four big central labour bodies have to say:

Studies have also shown that the older they are, the harder it is for workers to get training. Losing a job is much harder on older workers than on younger workers because the skills of older workers, who have not had access to training, are increasingly out of sync with the skills required by the current labour market.

The numbers speak volumes: workers over 55 years of age account for only 3.5% of participants in the regular skills development component, that is, training programs. Moreover, the Employment Insurance Commission has already recommended such a program. I would also remind the House that workers have been calling for this program to be reinstated since it was abolished in 1997.

I also want to point out that when POWA was around, it made a tremendous contribution to improving the lives of its participants. On February 15, 2005, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities released a report containing recommendation 13, which dealt with this issue. In addition, the Bloc passed a unanimous motion calling for a special program for older workers in the wake of multiple plant closures due to globalization. Furthermore, the House unanimously passed a subamendment to the 2006 Speech from the Throne recommending a similar measure.

I will close by saying that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development talked about a feasibility study in the spring of 2006. We have not yet seen this study.

The Bloc also dedicated another opposition day to this issue, obtaining a 155 to 124 vote in favour of its motion.

I therefore urge all members of the House to vote in favour of this motion.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members



Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Income Support Program for Older WorkersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 28, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

6:15 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, last May 26, I asked a question in the House concerning employment insurance and the regional disparities and discrimination based on eligibility rules that picked out winners and losers.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development went on about some of the changes that had been made to EI benefits but refused to address the issue of regional disparity and in fact regional fairness. I would again like to hear what the government has to say.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge. The Prime Minister and my leader, the Leader of the Opposition, put together a bipartisan working group composed of three Conservatives and three Liberals, and I was one of them, to work over the summer. The only party that put forward any kind of proposal at that particular working group was the Liberal Party.

In their usual manner, the Conservatives came out with figures that inflated the actual cost of the Liberal proposal. Members do not need to take my word for it, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer did an independent assessment of the government's estimate of the Liberal proposal and said that the government had overestimated and that the Liberal proposal for one eligibility rate standard of 360 hours would cost approximately $1.2 billion and not the $4 billion that the government claimed and continues to repeat, notwithstanding that the independent assessment proved it wrong.

The government has now come out with Bill C-50, which would extend benefits anywhere from 5 to 20 weeks but, again, has not addressed the issue of regional fairness.

The government has claimed that Bill C-50 would help approximately 190,000 Canadians. However, the veracity of that particular number has been questioned in the media, by third parties and in committee itself. The bill is now before committee at second reading.

Experts are saying that the figure is not 190,000. In fact, they believe the number of beneficiaries would be as low as 60,000. The government has refused to provide clarity on how it comes up with its figure of 190,000 Canadians who will be assisted by the changes it is proposing in Bill C-50.

How can the government justify throwing numbers out for which there is no basis? It refuses to explain its methodology. It refuses to provide the actual figures. It is doing the same thing with the issue of Bill C-50 and backing up the exact number of Canadians who will actually be assisted by it that it has been doing with the infrastructure and stimulus plan.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that the government is providing information in such an obscure manner that it is impossible to independently verify the government's claims.

6:20 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I listened to what the member had to say about the regional variable entrance requirements but I should remind her and her party that that was introduced during their term of office when the unemployment rate was at 8.7%. I might also remind the member that the Liberals tried to balance the budget and the books on the backs of the unemployed by taking approximately $50 billion from the EI fund and using it for general revenue. At the same time, they tried to balance the budget by taking $25 billion and cutting it from the transfer payments to the provinces and municipalities. The member needs to remember where this came from and she needs to look at the larger picture.

We have taken steps under the economic action plan and under the employment insurance program to help those who are unemployed. We have given five extra weeks of benefits across the country to those who require it. We have spent billions of dollars to help people upgrade their skills and their training. We froze the EI premiums for 2010-11 to the same level as they were in 2009 and 2008, the lowest level in a quarter century.

We have assisted employers and employees with work-sharing agreements, allowing people to claim EI and continue to work share. We have helped about 5,000 employers across the country and 167,000 Canadians.

We put the career transition assistance program together, helping about 40,000 long term workers to benefit from training for two years or more. We have put together the bill that the hon. member refers to, Bill C-50, which would bridge that particular program by adding 5 to 20 weeks of benefits to help ensure these long tenured workers who have paid into EI for years, who have not benefited from the system and who now find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, are able to quality for extra benefits.

I have a hard time understanding how that member, her leader and all members of that party stood in the House and voted against helping approximately 190,000 long tenured workers, a figure that I know she disagrees with. If she had been in committee today, she would know how the 190,000 was justified, but it is a lot of workers who are being helped with 5 to 20 weeks.

How does she sit in the House and face those workers and say that she voted against that bill in the House and voted against every clause? We went through the bill clause by clause today in committee and every member from her party voted against that. On top of all of the other benefits that we are doing for the unemployed, why would they stand in the House and vote against them, except for the purpose of wanting an election. The basis and the premise of their voting against the bill in the first place was self-interest as opposed to the interest of the unemployed who find themselves without work and who need extra benefits.

We are putting a bill before the House that, fortunately, is being supported and will eventually pass through the House. How does the hon. member justify not supporting that? Is that finding solutions? No, it is not. Is it finding solutions for long tenured workers? No, it is not.

We are working to extend benefits to self-employed workers. We are getting Canadians back to work, not only through historic investments, through infrastructure and through the steps we have taken on the economic action plan, but, for those who are not able to do that, we have taken steps to bridge the gap, to be there for them when they need us and we have not done it on their backs. We have not balanced the books, as the Liberal Party did back in the nineties, on the backs of the unemployed, on RNs, on municipalities and on the lack of infrastructure. We are not doing that and we will not do that. We will take steps to stand behind those who need us at this difficult economic time, and that is exactly what we have done.

The member and her party should get behind us and support Bill C-50 that would help approximately 190,000 Canadians who are out of work and would have the benefit of approximately $1 billion over three years. That is something that is significant and substantive and she should support it.

6:25 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I and my party will not support Bill C-50 because we believe that it does not treat Canadian workers equally and fairly, and it does not address the issue of regional fairness.

If we want to talk about a government's record, let us look at the record of the government that took office in 2006 with a $13 billion surplus and has frittered that surplus. One of the first actions the government did was to break a promise that it made during the 2006 election that it would not tax income trusts. It turned around and did that less than a week after it was elected to government.

Let us look at the government that claims it is reducing s taxes and yet, when one reads the budget very carefully, it has a $15 billion payroll tax that will start at the end of 2010, but it claims that it is lowering taxes. That is not lowering taxes.

Under the Liberals, the EI taxes went down every year. That is not happening under the Conservatives. They froze them and now they are going to raise them.

6:25 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member cannot have it both ways. She wants to lower premiums and at the same time spend more.

What we will not do is balance the budget on the backs of the unemployed, as the Liberals did. We will not take $50 billion from the EI program and we will not cut transfers to provinces and municipalities by $25 billion. Anyone can balance the budget doing that kind of thing. We will not do that.

Liberals have two ideas, a 360-hour work year or a two-month work year, in which people would work for two months of the year and then collect EI. We will not support that.

Liberals also like to say no. They said no to Bill C-50. They said no to Canadians, they said no to long-tenured workers. What good is saying no to any Canadian, even one Canadian? What does that do for hard-working Canadians who have worked for many years in the automotive industry and find themselves out of work? It does nothing. No will not help them.

What will it do for forestry workers? It will do nothing. It will not help one forestry worker if Liberals vote no on Bill C-50 or any of its clauses. What will it do for manufacturing workers? It will do absolutely nothing. The stand the Liberals are taking will do nothing and that is wrong.

6:25 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Federal Court in its decision on the Abdelrazik case that the government had breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its treatment of Mr. Abdelrazik and that the Canadian government should take immediate action so that Mr. Abdelrazik would be returned to Canada was clear in its findings of fact and conclusions of law. In addition, however, its factual findings and legal conclusions actually bring shame to the government. I will give some examples.

The government promised Mr. Abdelrazik a passport and then it renegued. Our security agencies cleared him of terrorist ties and then our government called him a security threat. Our government heard a UN official say Canada can bring Mr. Abdelrazik home but then it argued in court that it could not because the United Nations stood in the way.

The government instructed Mr. Abdelrazik that he needed to get his name off the UN watch list though it knew that this was effectively impossible. The government continued to argue in Parliament that it could not comment on the case for weeks and months in debates before the House because the matter was before the courts, and yet the matter was before the courts because the government itself had breached the rights of a Canadian citizen.

It is not surprising that the court called it disingenuous for the government to argue that Mr. Abdelrazik should apply to the United Nations committee for de-listing. It also held, on the basis of the evidence before it, that “CSIS was complicit” in the detention of a Canadian by a foreign government.

Had it been necessary, the decision stated, the court would have no hesitation finding that the government had acted in bad faith. It also stated, “There is no reason to challenge the applicant's assertion in his affidavit that he was tortured while in detention”.

From the beginning, as the court stated, the process that got Mr. Abdelrazik listed recalls the situation “of Josef K. in Kafka's The Trial, who awakens one morning and, for reasons never revealed to him or the reader, is arrested and prosecuted for an unspecified crime”. In the end, the court had so little faith in our government that it ordered Mr. Abdelrazik to be physically brought before it to prove that he was finally on Canadian soil.

While at this point there is a security review of the actions of CSIS and while Mr. Abdelrazik has sued the Canadian government and officials for damages for the reasons to which I have referred, some disturbing questions remain, questions that can only be addressed and resolved by a complete judicial inquiry.

I will list only some questions for reasons of time. They are as follows. Why was the Canadian government so committed to refusing passage home to a Canadian citizen, a position that appeared to have no basis in law and, indeed, violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the court said?

Why did the government risk a third straight adverse decision in which the courts admonished it for failing to come to the protection of its citizens? Why did the government invoke dubious security considerations in its defence, ignoring the fact that its own security services, both CSIS and the RCMP, openly stated that they had no information connecting Mr. Abdelrazik to terrorism?

Why did the government appear to acquiesce to both the detention and the torture of a Canadian citizen? Why did it seek to bring about Mr. Abdelrazik's detention to begin with? If Canada turned a blind eye to torture, who knew, who approved it, how high up did it go?

There is a whole series of questions, but I want to close by saying the following. When Canadians travel abroad, they should leave their country confident that their government will stand behind them, that whatever accusations other countries make against them, their government will work to ensure their rights are protected and that, as a bare minimum principle, their government will not be an obstacle to their safe return home.

Only a judicial inquiry will be able to address these questions and satisfy the necessary accountability at this point of what the government knew, when it knew it and why it acted in such a way so as to systematically violate the rights of a Canadian citizen.

6:30 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the former justice minister in the former Liberal government.

This Conservative government came to power in 2006. Many of the questions that the hon. colleague is asking today are questions he himself and his colleagues should answer because they were the ones in government.

As a matter of fact, the hon. member stated that Abdelrazik has sued the Government of Canada. Mr. Abdelrazik has chosen to go through the court. If the hon. member sees who Mr. Abdelrazik has sued, he will find to his astonishment that it is members of his own government when the Liberals were in power. Therefore, many of the member's questions need to be addressed over there.

However, let us be very clear on this matter. Mr. Abdelrazik has taken the government to court. What is even more surprising is that as a former justice minister, the member should know that we cannot comment when a matter is in front of the court. In this new instance which he is talking about, let us say one thing quite clearly. Mr. Abdelrazik is in this country and all these things he is talking about are past. Mr. Abdelrazik has already launched a suit, and I am sure the member would agree it would be very prudent not to comment further on this case.

6:35 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my remarks, the government is continuing its practice of arguing in Parliament that it cannot respond because a matter is before the court.

All these matters went before the court because the government breached Mr. Abdelrazik's rights to begin with. Had the Conservative government not breached Mr. Abdelrazik's rights, the matter never would have been before the court. The matter could have been resolved without a court procedure simply by the Conservative government, on its watch, when these things were taking place, undertaking its responsibilities and bringing Mr. Abdelrazik home, and not continuing to sustain a Kafkaesque process which the court itself identified in terms of the government's breach of its obligations.

If there are any questions that an inquiry would raise that have to do with the former government, so be it. We need an inquiry to get at the truth. We will not get to the truth simply by court actions which deal with damages but not in how the government acted, in what way was it complicit, as the court stated, how far the approvals went, et cetera.

We need to do this in order to protect Canadian citizens wherever detained abroad.

6:35 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, this government takes the issues of Canadians abroad very seriously. In all occasions we intervene when it is necessary and where it is required. However, in this particular instance, as I have stated before, it was under his government's watch that all these things happened. At the same time, I have asked him a simple question, does he know how many members of his own government have been sued by Mr. Abdelrazik in the court case.

As I have stated before, as a former justice minister, he should know that whatever he wants to say on this matter, it is not fair to comment when the matter is in front of the court. We will leave it at that.

6:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:37 p.m.)