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House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-50.

Topics

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my turn to speak to Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits, and I am very pleased to do that today.

The Bloc Québécois has opposed Bill C-50 from the outset, as my colleagues have said several times. As we know, this bill does not in any way propose to open access to the employment insurance scheme, which has been locked up for several years, for a very long time. That is why we are opposed to Bill C-50. When, for example, we propose that the waiting period be eliminated, the reason is to offer people who have lost their jobs, to offer families, mothers with children or fathers who work for low wages, speedy access to income. Eliminating the waiting period provides them with income quickly so they can meet their needs. That is what eliminating the waiting period does. In order to receive the extended five weeks, someone still has to have access to employment insurance, and still has to run out of benefits, because those weeks are added only at the end of the benefit period.

Concerning Bill C-50, I am hearing the Conservatives criticize us for opposing a measure that could have helped some workers. I emphasize “some”.

Today I would like to take my allotted time to explain our position on this not only to the Conservatives, but also to the NDP members. We have examined the bill, we have met several times with officials from the department, and we have asked them questions. The reason we have been unable to come around to voting for the bill is, first and foremost, that we believe it is discriminatory, and thus necessarily unfair. In one way, the first goal of politics is justice, as Plato wrote and taught 2,500 years ago. I do not know whether an ideal city, or a just city as he called it, is possible, or even whether it is desirable, but I do know that to my mind, this is a principle that guides the decisions I have to make in my political career, as recent as it is.

And so I think that the yardstick to which this bill must be held up is justice, and in our view it is precisely that test that Bill C-50 fails. Our rejection of it is not based on some naïve idealism; the opposite is true. In a way, our rejection is pragmatic. If I may explain: in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and here in the House, the NDP has criticized us, in an analogy with bargaining between a union and employer, for rejecting what was on the table. In their view, we have to accept the improvement we are offered because we can always come back and get more later.

We think this view is very naïve, and I am sure my colleagues in the NDP suspect as much and actually know it. Whether real or phony, a matter of conviction or simply for electoral reasons, it is very naïve because it is obvious that there will not be anything else. We are already quite far into the economic crisis, at least in terms of job losses. Still, the government has not proposed anything to solve the most crucial problem facing employment insurance, that is, access, which remains under 50%. Are we going to pass a bill that will meet the needs of who knows how many employment insurance recipients simply because it is there, on the table? Are we going to pass it simply because it is on the table, telling ourselves that the government might propose something a bit later? I have a problem with that.

What is the logic in agreeing to what is proposed here? If the only argument in favour of its basically discriminatory provisions is to say that something else will come along, that is like saying this bill is unjust, unfair and discriminatory but we are confident another will come along to magically redress the disparity caused by this one. There is no reason, though, to think this will happen, and it is obvious that the bill introduced this morning will do nothing to solve the eligibility issue.

We are left, therefore, with the first half of what I said, “this bill is unjust, unfair and discriminatory”.

We have also been accused of refusing to support the bill because it does not reform employment insurance from top to bottom, as we have been demanding for a number of years. That is equally false, and I could point to several changes to the employment insurance system that we would have supported: eliminate the waiting period, restore the single eligibility requirement and set it at 360 hours, increase the wage-replacement rate to 60%, put an end to the presumption of guilt for people who are related to their employer, and so on. These are steps we would have supported without a second’s hesitation, even if they were not part of a comprehensive reform.

Not that there is no crying need for comprehensive reform. We still think there is. However, we would have voted in favour of the steps I just mentioned because they are basically fair and equitable. This is clearly not the case of Bill C-50, which literally creates two categories of unemployed people: the good and the bad.

Thus, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said in committee that the unemployed people targeted by Bill C-50 were those who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Does she know that ever since the 1990s people who voluntarily quit their jobs have been unable to collect employment insurance? That is like what my colleague across the aisle said a little while ago. People who have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes and made their contributions would qualify for the benefits provided under Bill C-50. I just wonder what these Conservatives think about other workers who have had to fall back, unfortunately, on employment insurance. Was she trying to insinuate that these people were doing all they could to defraud the employment insurance system by conniving to hide a voluntary departure? Was she trying to say that the unemployed who collected benefits in the past were guilty of having worked, for example, in plants that had to close in the summer because they did not have enough contracts? The minister’s words clearly betray the contempt this government has for people who have to fall back on employment insurance.

Passing this bill means creating two classes of unemployed workers: the deserving and the undeserving. Few, very few, are deserving. According to the deputy minister of Human Resources himself, the proposed measures would apply to no more than 6% of unemployed workers. In other words, 94% would be excluded. That is unbelievable. As we have been hearing since yesterday, it seems that the vast majority of forestry workers, whose industry has been going through crisis after crisis for years now, crises that affect hours worked and force workers to collect employment insurance benefits, would be excluded. This bill leaves out anyone who has collected more than 35 weeks of benefits over the past five years.

It will also exclude most women. Despite the fact that women now play as great a role in the labour market as men, they will have an even harder time than men qualifying for the very restrictive criteria proposed in this bill. The same goes for young people who cannot qualify because only those who have been in the labour market for at least seven years and have paid at least 30% of the maximum contribution can collect extra benefits—for a minimum of five weeks. Let us not forget that the bill proposes between five and 20 extra weeks. Young people simply will not qualify unless they have been working full time since the age of 16.

Yet young people are among the hardest hit by the economic crisis. As the saying goes, last in, first out. In fact, student employment is in the worst shape ever since 1977, when statistics were first compiled.

Essentially, this is a temporary measure designed to respond to the economic crisis. As the government said earlier, the budget already includes a proposal to extend employment insurance benefits by five weeks. This government chose to add extra weeks of benefits without taking into consideration access to the EI program.

In a difficult economic situation, to help young families, young parents and low-income parents of all ages with school-aged children and mouths to feed, the government should have improved access to the EI program.

It is self-evident that Bill C-50 is discriminatory and as a result, it may divide unemployed people into two factions.

It is hard to be opposed to a change that would make life easier for someone else. But at the same time, when someone is left out in the cold, it is hard not to envy someone else who is getting a break.

Within one company, some workers will be entitled to benefits under Bill C-50, while others will not. Those who are not entitled to benefits may have worked very hard over the past five years. They will have worked hard and paid their premiums and taxes week after week. But they may have received more than 35 weeks of employment insurance and will therefore not be eligible for benefits under Bill C-50.

It is as though all members on both sides of this House were starving and had not eaten for a week and it was decided that all those with red socks would be fed and all those with blue socks would have to wait. We wonder how this criterion for selecting people was set.The ship is sinking, but there are not enough lifeboats to save everyone. Priority will therefore be given to those who paid more for their tickets. They will be saved first, and the others will have to save themselves as best they can. That is more or less what is happening with this bill.

That is why this bill has come under harsh criticism from a number of organizations dedicated to defending the rights of the unemployed. For example, Ian Forand, who is involved in the Comité chômage de Montréal, wrote this in the September 24 issue of Le Devoir:

The Conservative government's Bill C-50, introduced on September 14, 2009, is a bad bill, and the government is merely trying to scam people by extending the number of weeks of benefits. ...it is very sad to see the NDP critics going out to defend them, not only without stepping back to take a critical look, but often on behalf of government ministers, and even taking credit for the initiative. ...Those who are familiar with the Employment Insurance Act and its application, those who have fought with their usual integrity and fervour—and there are many in the NDP—know that this bill is terrible and disgraceful for our citizens.

I would also like to quote the very respected Pierre Céré, spokesperson for the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses:

[In this case], it is not up to us to vote on this bill [C-50] to either reject it or pass it, however, we would like to share our opinion,...

And still quoting Mr. Céré:

This bill, in its current form, is unacceptable. It is discriminatory. It does not represent the kind of constructive, positive solutions that are needed to fix the employment insurance system. We believe, perhaps somewhat naively, that policy should provide solutions to problems and that our highest legislative officials should be able to work together.

I was saying earlier that practising politics is a quest for justice, the desire to give everyone his or her fair share. However, those shares are limited by the scarcity of resources. So we have no choice but to distribute them in a certain way.

Two things are certain. First of all, we believe that not enough resources are being allocated to employment insurance to meet current needs, considering all of the government's resources.

Second, supposing that it were impossible to increase the resources allocated to the employment insurance system, which is obviously not true, we still believe it would be fundamentally unfair to target one category of workers to the detriment of others, more specifically to 94% of the workers. That is not all. Apparently this bill is an emergency measure to respond, very timidly I must say, to the current economic crisis.

How do we explain to a person who lost his job in October 2008, when economic troubles consequently led to colossal job losses, that he is not entitled to the extension of benefits the government is proposing here? How can the government justify a crisis measure that does not apply to all those who were affected by the same economic crisis?

Here is another anomaly. Despite the fact that workers who receive severance pay have to exhaust that money before they can receive employment insurance benefits, a worker who lost his job in October 2008, but did not start receiving benefits until February 2009, would also be excluded since, contrary to all things logical, the date of the application and not the beginning of the benefits period is considered in determining the worker's eligibility. Even in the rare cases of those who could have been eligible under the restrictive criteria, there are other discriminatory and totally arbitrary factors in place.

These are very serious reasons why we cannot bring ourselves to vote in favour of this bill. It would certainly help some unemployed people, but the adverse affects it would have and the utterly unfair principle it is based on make it totally unacceptable in our view. Supporting this principle would mean accepting that there are two classes of citizens: the deserving and the undeserving. That is something we will never accept, in the name of justice that demands equality among citizens.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Saint-Lambert on her speech. We both sit on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Therefore, she is also in a position to understand the impact of this project on the unemployed.

She also made the point that sweeping reform is required. With respect to this reform, little has been said to date in all our debates here about the situation of older workers, those 55 and over who lose their jobs. Could she tell us what happens to these people when they do not find jobs in the regions where they live?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas for his question. My colleague has a tremendous amount of experience and I am learning a great deal from him. It is true that there is nothing for older individuals.

My colleague opposite said earlier that the government is now offering training programs for older workers who have lost their jobs. For example, a 63-year-old worker will be sent back to the classroom for training. There are no transitional measures to give these people the time to reflect and find a new path in life. There are no transitional measures like the ones that used to be included in POWA, the program for older worker adjustment.

We would like this program to be revived because it allows older workers—and especially for some much older workers—to bridge the gap from the time they are unemployed until they are eligible for their pensions. We must help these workers and not force them to immediately enter a training program that may be unsuitable, without having time to give serious thought to this decision.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate the hon. member for Saint-Lambert. I think that members of this House, including Conservative members, will agree that she delivered a very good speech.

What is clear in her presentation is that Bill C-50 is unfair and discriminatory. Of course our colleague referred to the Bloc's position. I would like to hear her again briefly on the measures that the Bloc would have proposed to improve employment insurance and to make this legislation acceptable to us, had these measures been included in it. As we know, repetition is a pedagogical tool. It is useful in this House, and I hope that it will help Conservative members be more open-minded.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. The Bloc Québécois would have supported any measure that would have improved accessibility to employment insurance. The 360-hour eligibility criterion, which would establish a single eligibility threshold, is one example. I should also point out that, during an economic crisis, such a measure would have been extremely beneficial.

Eliminating the waiting period—which would allow workers who just lost their jobs to quickly get some income to sustain themselves—and increasing the benefit rate from 55% to 60% are also measures that we would have supported.

There are some very disturbing things about Bill C-50. For example, I received a letter from a Nortel worker in Quebec who, after 25 years with the company, was laid off in the fall of 2008. He filed a claim for EI benefits in the fall of 2008, but because he had received a severance package, he did not start collecting benefits until May 2009. This individual paid EI premiums for 25 years, he worked hard—as my colleague said—he paid taxes and yet he does not qualify for extended benefits. I should also point out—as the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas mentioned earlier in reference to a motion that was voted on yesterday evening—that EI claimants whose benefit period will have ended two weeks before this bill receives royal assent will not be eligible for extended EI benefits. This double standard applied to unemployed workers is a concern to us.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Saint-Lambert says that she is learning from me. I must say that I am also learning a lot from her, because she has quite an exceptional background. She has done a lot of work with the poor and with organizations helping the less fortunate in our society. And she shares her experience with other colleagues in this House.

She raised a very important point, namely the discriminatory nature of this bill that is based on the time worked, the contribution period and the benefit period. I would like the member to talk about those who are disadvantaged with regard to employment, because they seem to be automatically excluded from this bill, which means that they will not even be able to benefit from it.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his pertinent question.

That is basically what I said earlier: this will not do women any good. I followed the debate from home yesterday and heard my colleague from the NDP talk about the single mothers who will have access to this program under Bill C-50. Many, if not a majority of them will not qualify for these extended benefits because they will have used too many benefit weeks while working jobs that are often part time. Using benefit weeks will disqualify them, and they may not have held a full-time job in the past seven years. As a result, they will not be eligible for what Bill C-50 provides.

The same is true for low-wage working parents. I can put myself in their shoes and imagine them finding out that provisions of Bill C-50 apply to neighbours or acquaintances of theirs, but not to them. Distinctions are made between unemployed workers. We should also think of those who worked for the same company. Some of their neighbours might have access to the program, and others not. That is a problem. In times of economic crisis, the government has to ask itself what priority to give to workers in our society Do they want to help those workers who lose theirs jobs and help their families, or only to play politics on their backs by coming up with legislation like this, geared to the needs of I do not know who, perhaps those of the auto industry in Ontario? How many will benefit? We never got an exact figure, but it is approximately 6% of the unemployed. I think that the government has to ask itself serious questions about what priority, if any, it gives to workers in our society.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord with a brief question.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member.

She and I both heard the member for Jonquière—Alma tell this House that many workers will be able to take advantage of these benefits. But when we ask him, he is unable to tell us which province and which group of workers will benefit. My question for the member is, does she think that seasonal and forestry workers will be able to benefit from the measures?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Saint-Lambert for a brief answer.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is the problem. That is what is so unfair about this bill, that it excludes seasonal workers, who are often found in the tourism and forestry industries. These workers are excluded because their employers shut down temporarily. The main problem with this bill is that it is unfair, which is why we will not support it.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is unusual for two members of the same party to speak one after the other. Today, some opposition members decided to pass, which gives us more time to explain Bill C-50 and its repercussions, including its negative repercussions, to people.

First, for those watching the proceedings on television, we are talking about Bill C-50, which is summarized as follows:

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act until September 11, 2010 to increase the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants. It also increases the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants not in Canada.

Before I criticize the bill any further, I would like to explain how it came to be here in the House of Commons. The Conservatives introduced the bill, which required a confidence vote. The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois voted against it. The NDP voted for it to keep the current government in power. Did the New Democrats think that this bill would help workers? NDP members said it would not, but they thought it was a first step toward helping workers. So what is it, really? Maisonneuve en direct aired an interview with Pierre Céré. If I may, I would like to quote a portion of that interview.

Pierre Maisonneuve: Are some of the opposition parties right? Is this a step in the right direction?

Pierre Céré: I would say that the Conservative government is playing a little political game with the opposition parties because it did not have to introduce a bill to implement this measure. In fact, the cabinet minister said that it was not going to be a matter of legislation.

Pierre Maisonneuve: In other words, the government could have gone ahead and done it without holding a vote—

Pierre Céré: Proposing a pilot project is an administrative matter, an executive decision, so at the press conference yesterday, they should have simply announced that they were introducing a pilot project that could have been brought in immediately, and there you have it, on to the next thing. With this bill, however, the opposition parties will be forced to state their position, and then debate and vote on it.

Pierre Maisonneuve: And not bring down the government.

Pierre Céré: They cannot even make a bill like this a matter of confidence, since it must be voted through several readings, passed by a parliamentary committee, be sent over to the Senate, and so on. It is a very long process, a month and a half to two months. They are playing a little political game with the opposition parties, that is very clear. So if one opposition party supports them, that party has fallen into the trap.

The Conservatives set the trap, and the NDP fell into it. Here we are today discussing a bill that offers 5 to 20 additional weeks of benefits. But who will be entitled to those additional weeks? Are they for all unemployed workers? No, it targets only a small number of people who will be able to benefit from them. Who are those people?

The Globe and Mail has said that this measure favours the Ontario auto industry. That is clear. Indeed, the Quebec forestry industry cannot benefit from it, because it lays people off every year. So this bill does not apply. If people have worked 7 years out of 10, they are eligible for the additional weeks offered by the government. This part is unclear. What is also unclear is that the government is saying that this will help many people. According to the government, this measure will cost $935 million and will affect 190,000 workers.

We in the Bloc Québécois have taken steps to learn the real government figures, to find out if these figures are correct and if the bill will affect so many workers.

We asked a lot of questions in order to learn how the costs were calculated and which workers are targeted. This proposal is still unclear. Even the officials agreed that an evaluation could be made using the career transition program that was put in place as a result of the last budget. Instead of wondering about the government's estimate for this bill, the Bloc asked for written explanations of the costs arising from the bill, as well as the calculation of the number of workers affected.

We have not received any reply.

These figures are just more wild guesses by the government, which is trying to look good to the voters. Having said that, I do not believe that voters in general are the real target. In my opinion, they are trying to target people who have lost their jobs after working for 25 to 30 years. That program is called the Program for Older Worker Adjustment or POWA.

Let us remember that the Liberals erased that term from their vocabulary because, in the past, people aged 55 and older working in the textile industry benefited from that legislation and its funding. Today, however, we are seeing a lot of layoffs in many sectors, and even the closing of businesses. Moreover, the OECD forecasts for 2010 include more layoffs, more business failures and an unemployment rate between 8% and 10%.

The Minister of National Revenue said in the House that this was a golden bridge for older people. They will have to wait a little longer for the golden bridge. If they really wanted to help older people, the Conservatives should have first restored POWA and they would not have tabled Bill C-50. There would have been no need to debate the subject and a pilot project would have been enough.

The government only wants to look good; but it does not deserve to look good on this issue.

In my opinion, POWA is important. Here is a specific example. A person in my riding, whom I met during the last election campaign, told me that the plant where he was working was going to close. That person, who was 60 years old and had been working at the same plant for 35 years, would receive one year of employment insurance benefits. Who would hire him after that? We already know that many businesses are closing. How could that man, with limited formal education because he started working at a young age, find a new job? What could that man do? Absolutely nothing!

The Program for Older Worker Adjustment provided that a 55-year-old worker could receive employment insurance until the age of 60. Then, once the worker reached 60, the Quebec pension plan benefits would replace some employment insurance benefits and the worker would continue to receive some income until the retirement age of 65.

We see too many of these people: men and women who have worked hard all their lives to provide food for their families, to educate their children so that they could go to university and have a better life with jobs that would be safe from unemployment.

At the end of their working days, these people will end up unemployed, with children still in school and a house to pay off.

What will they do? A year later, they will end up on welfare. Is it rewarding for someone who has worked their entire life, to end up on welfare and have to use up all their assets such as their RRSPs and their little nest egg they painstakingly saved over the years to buy a cottage some day?

Those people will have to liquidate all the assets they saved up over their lives just to make ends meet. It is quite something to make ends meet. It is tough for someone who is used to getting a salary.

The hon. member for Saint-Lambert talked about this bill earlier and mentioned all of its negative effects. In her speech, she truly put her finger on the problem with this bill. We have to find a solution to help our seniors.

Some opposition members have said that the Bloc Québécois will never accomplish anything because it will never be in power. I am here to say that they are wrong. We have often talked about the fact that self-employed people should have the right to opt into the employment insurance system. In fact, that is one of the Bloc Québécois' requests. Surprisingly, today, the Conservatives have decided to resolve this problem and allow self-employed people to receive employment insurance.

And so you can see the relevance of the Bloc Québécois here in this House. This party's ideas to try to help workers and all the people of Quebec are important. We see the opposition parties taking up the ideas of the Bloc as their own, and I think they are being ungrateful when they say they can do this or that. Of course, it is always easier using someone else's ideas, but there are laws such as the one on intellectual property. I think they should take time to think it over before they take up other people's ideas. They should tell people that they have taken a really good idea of the Bloc's and brought it forward in the House. From an intellectual property point of view, it seems to me it would only be fair to acknowledge such things.

But no. The Conservatives will not do it. According to the government, it is the source of everything. There are people at home who watch us debate every day. They see what goes on in this House of Commons. They can also see other parties taking all the work done by the Bloc and running with it. They must surely be saying that today the Bloc has a purpose here. It is here to protect the interests of Quebeckers.

So, who benefits? According to the Globe and Mail, Ontario and British Columbia were likely to benefit from the Conservatives' bill. At the end of 2008, the Conference Board of Canada announced that Canada would lose 15,000 jobs in the automobile sector, which is located in Ontario.

The president of the Quebec forestry industry council, Guy Chevrette, notes that nearly all forestry workers are unemployed at least ten weeks a year. It is therefore very clear that this political move by the Conservatives is aimed at drawing support from people in Ontario. When the automobile sector was in decline, the government decided to pay out billions of dollars in order to save the industry. And what did this same government do to try to save the forestry industry, which has been in decline for five years—zilch.

If I may be allowed to go further. There is $70 million over two years for all of Canada. That makes a big difference. Counting all the provinces and territories, that amounts to about $2 million each. Divided by two, because it is over two years, that makes $1 million.

That is a far cry from the billions of dollars given in Ontario. At that point, the political intent of the Conservatives became clear, as I was saying earlier. A pilot project could have done the job and would have achieved the same end for these workers. But no, the government decided to introduce a bill, thinking it would be defeated in the House and would head to elections. The NDP, as I was saying, is hiding behind the workers to avoid an election. So the government was saved. However, is it really helping workers in these circumstances? I do not think so.

Is it possible to go further in this regard? Is it possible to speak for the workers who contribute to EI? It is not always easy, because these workers have a very hard time making ends meet, and the worst is yet to come. It is true not only for Quebec, but for all of Canadians, because they will not benefit from these five to twenty weeks. It is disgraceful to see that, to see a government thinking it is helping people but is not.

On August 15, Quebec's Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife released a report on job losses in the wood and paper processing industry. The report indicates that since April 1, 2005, 130 plants in this industry have closed permanently, 10,251 workers have been laid off and 89 industries have closed temporarily, affecting 5,585 workers. This means that a total of 16,000 workers have lost their jobs. Workers who have been laid off every year will not qualify for these additional weeks of benefits.

What about the automotive sector in Quebec? I will give some examples. They saved the auto sector in Ontario, but there are also auto workers in Quebec. The eastern townships have the largest concentration of jobs in auto parts in Quebec, behind the Montreal area. The manufacturer of gaskets for car doors closed its operation in the eastern townships in February 2008. The company had cut staff significantly since 2005 and laid off more than 1,500 workers. Dana, in the same region, laid off 140 employees. In Rivière-Beaudette, in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Montupet, a French company, has closed its aluminum engine parts plant, and 195 people will lose their jobs. In Trois-Rivières, Aleris and Dayco closed their doors in late 2008, putting more than 500 people out of work. In Quebec City, Veyance Technologies has also laid off workers. Most of these jobs were lost in late 2008. These employees will not qualify for the extended benefits proposed in this bill.

But what about the Bloc Québécois? I will tell you what the government could do. It could even appropriate the Bloc's intellectual property and come up with bills that should be almost perfect. It could introduce an eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all regions, permanently increase the benefit rate from 55% to 60%, create a POWA, increase from $2,000 to $3,000 the threshold of insurable earnings to qualify for benefits and allowing self-employed workers to contribute voluntarily to the employment insurance plan. We have already proposed these measures. The government could take them as its own and claim to be the saviour of the unemployed and the people of Canada.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great attention to the remarks of my colleague, the member for Shefford. As always, he very clearly explained the position of the Bloc Québécois. He also explained why the Conservatives and the New Democrats defend the indefensible, especially concerning the utility of this bill for workers and the unemployed in Quebec. My colleague gave pertinent examples of the completely ridiculous reasoning of the Conservatives with regard to Bill C-50.

I would like my colleague from Shefford to give me his opinion of the NDP position. We know that if Bill C-50 is passed, it will be thanks to the support of the New Democratic Party. In our view, that support is completely irrational since the NDP has condemned the Conservative government for many years. It recently boasted that it has always opposed the government’s plans; but we recognize now that for electoral reasons the NDP has sold its soul to the devil for peanuts, as I said yesterday.

I would be interested to know what my colleague from Shefford thinks of the NDP support.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Repentigny. I listened to his remarks yesterday, which were also pertinent. We see him rising in the House nearly every day to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. He is a very young member who will make his mark within our party. I believe he is on the right path, and I encourage him to continue along it. That is the way to advance the ideas of the Bloc Québécois in this place.

To answer his question, I would say that he is perfectly correct. If this were not a vote with electoral impact, I do not believe the NDP would be in favour of the bill. However, the NDP is propping up the government to avoid an election. The New Democrats are hiding behind the workers. It is easy to speak with passion about working men and women. I, myself, come from the ranks of organized labour and my heart is with the workers. When it is time to defend their interests, because they are the hardest hit when they lose their jobs, I am one of the first to stand. However, I would never speak up for workers for electoral reasons, and I would never hide behind them. I would never do that. I agree with my colleague: that is a disloyal action.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention and speech. I will call him brother because we both come from labour movements. There is no question we represent them ably and there is no question that we stand for them. Both he and I would probably agree that when we end up going to the bargaining table, we do not get everything we want. It would be nice if we could, but there is no question about that.

To my other colleague who said that this was perhaps peanuts, I would invite him to come to Welland and talk to John Deere workers who are facing foreclosures on their mortgages because their employment insurance is about to run out, and tell them it is peanuts as they lose their home and perhaps their family breaks up. If that is peanuts, I will vote for the peanuts to ensure that families stay in their houses and that families stay together.

There is no question this does not cover all workers, and we would love it to cover all workers. I think we are in agreement with the Bloc on that fact. That is what we ultimately want to do, but those of us who come from a labour world understand that when we have demands on the table, we just do not get them all. It would be nice if we did.

The one thing about living a long time is life experience teaches us that we do not get all things when we want them. Sometimes we have to accept the fact that we only get some of the things we would like. In this particular case, only some of the folks will be covered; others will not.

To my colleague from the Bloc I say that there are probably members in a labour union in some places in Quebec who will get some, and there are those who will be left out, just like in my province of Ontario. Clearly, Canadians will be winners when it comes to this, in the sense that they will get coverage that they otherwise would not have. Voting it down will give them nothing.

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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that my colleague comes from the same background as I do—the union movement. He will agree with me that if the government really wanted to help workers it would not have introduced a bill that will take months before having an effect. That was pointless. A pilot project would have served the purpose.

And there was a trap. Some political parties must have been very reluctant to vote in favour of this bill. Yesterday, I heard a member from New Brunswick say that it was not the best bill but it was a step in the right direction. I would say that step in the right direction is being taken at the expense of workers because they will have to wait until the bill receives royal assent. Retroactivity will be no farther than January 2009. That is almost one year, if we are starting from December. This should have been passed in October. However, it was not. Why did the government again hold workers hostage for a year, when a pilot project would have done?

I thank my colleague for his pertinent question.

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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the member from Shefford for his speech. We know that he is a hard worker.

We have heard some pretty large numbers on several occasions in this House when questioning the government about the number of workers who would benefit from this bill. And yet, when we ask the government which province and what type of worker will benefit from this bill, we do not get an answer.

According to the member, which regions of Canada and what type of worker will benefit from Bill C-50? Are forestry and seasonal workers excluded from this bill?

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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Bloc Québécois critic on industry, science and technology, who is doing a fantastic job. My colleague is defending the interests of the forestry industry because of his expertise and also because the largest number of forestry workers live in his riding. That is the reason he is asking this pertinent question.

Will this bill help the many forestry workers in my colleague's riding? No, because they are laid off year after year. These laid-off workers will not have access to the 5 to 20 weeks, even if there is a plant closing, because they received employment insurance benefits previously.

I understand the pertinence of my colleague's question. He truly wants to defend the interests of the workers in his riding and I think that he is doing an extraordinary job. I encourage him to continue defending their interests because the government will not.

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Repentigny for a very brief question.

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question will be very short.

Yesterday the NDP tried to corner me, if I may put it that way, with a very poorly worded question about whether or not my constituents supported Bill C-50.

I would like to ask the same question of the member for Shefford. Have his constituents spoken to him about Bill C-50? Have they told him, as my constituents told me, to oppose Bill C-50 since it serves no purpose?

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, yes, people have come directly to my office to talk to me about this bill.

I told them that, in their specific case, too much time will have passed between the time the bill is passed and the time they filed their EI claim, and they will not be covered by the bill. We cannot go back that far.

So they think the bill is pointless. They want to know why they would not be entitled to benefits, and why the cut-off would be January, when their claim went back to November 2008. They will not be entitled because the Conservatives have decided to do things that way, with a pointless bill, when they could have done things differently with a regulation. It would have served the same purpose, and this gentleman could have had his money.

This government's inaction is causing hardship for some of these workers.

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1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in the House to join in the debate on Bill C-50. But before I start, I would like to take a few moments, if you will allow me, to congratulate some very deserving people.

I want to congratulate Mr. Gilles Vaillancourt, who was re-elected as mayor of Laval on Sunday, November 1. I also want to congratulate our former colleague, Mr. Réal Ménard, who was elected as mayor of the Hochelaga borough, in Montreal, and Ms. Caroline Saint-Hilaire, another former colleague, who was elected as mayor of Longueuil, one of Quebec's largest cities. I am very proud of our colleagues who decide to go elsewhere to fight other battles. When they win those battles, I am all the more proud because these people have very strong convictions that they showed here, in this House, and they were able to learn about politics and to bring this knowledge into a different level of the political sphere, that of municipal politics.

I am also rising because I listened to my colleague from Chambly—Borduas this morning. It struck me when he said that this bill was nothing but a smokescreen on the part of the Conservative government. I told myself that, once again, we have before us a bill that is just smoke and mirrors, that targets only certain people and the only objective of which is to satisfy the needs of certain people that the Conservatives would very much like to see vote for them.

Instead of meeting the needs of the whole population, the Conservative government is targeting certain groups, as is the case with many of the measures that it puts forward. The Conservatives are targeting specific groups, and wondering which group they will need next. For example, if they do not have enough votes in Ontario, in the north and also in the south, they try to figure out which riding they need. What are these people missing? Are they unemployed or do they want children? Do they need specific measures for their businesses? What exactly do they need? Make no mistake about it: the leader of that party is very crafty, to say the least. The measures are always very targeted and very specific so as to please a certain segment of the population and ensure that these people will vote for the Conservative government.

The only place where they are failing is in Quebec. Indeed, Quebeckers are not fooled by such measures. They are not fooled because they have seen this before. In 1995, the Liberal Party decided that the employment insurance account was no longer a fund created by workers to get benefits when they would find themselves out of work. From then on, that fund would belong to the government. So, Quebeckers have seen this before the previous Conservative Party, which promised them the moon, but did not deliver at all. They have also seen this with the current Conservative Party. And they are not fooled by the New Democratic Party, which barely managed to get one member elected in Quebec. Incidentally, the NDP is now losing ground because it changes its mind whenever the wind shifts direction, which is not normal.

The only party in this House that always stands up, that always has the same convictions, and that has always achieved success is the Bloc Québécois. Why? Because the top priority of Bloc Québécois members is to ensure that the people whom they represent are well represented, regardless of the riding and regardless of who may have voted for them. Once we are elected, we represent our whole population. All our fellow citizens can rest assured that we are going to fight tooth and nail for them in this House.

This is why, this morning, when the member said that this bill was nothing but a smokescreen, that immediately caught my attention. I thought that, indeed, this legislation is just a smokescreen. We are going through an economic period where people really need support. People really need their government to support them with true measures that will help them make it through the worst crisis ever, even worse than the Great Depression, in 1929.

The impact of this crisis is noticeable in my riding. At the Laval volunteer centre, where the Christmas basket campaign is getting underway, we help, year in and year out, 52 organizations and we distribute 540,000 kilos of food products, so that families can feed themselves. Increasingly, the people who need the food provided by the volunteer centre also rely on these other organizations. We are talking about people who work five days a week but who, unfortunately, have a spouse who has lost his job and was only able to find part-time work, at a much lower salary. These people cannot make ends meet anymore, and they do not have access to EI, because access is limited. Not all workers can qualify for EI, even though everyone pays premiums.

Because so few people can access it, many find themselves in awful situations, such as losing their house, their car, and the opportunity to send their children to school. Some people are having a hard time because they have to choose between paying the power bill and buying groceries.

These people have no choice but to take any job they can find. The problem is not that these people are lazy or do not want to work. The problem is that they cannot continue working where they used to work because there have been so many layoffs.

The hardest-hit sector after forestry and manufacturing is probably tourism. In Quebec, 30,000 businesses and 300,000 people work in the tourism industry. Most of the workers are women: 59% in food services and 71% to 72% in the travel sector.

The data suggest that these women are the ones who will suffer the most because of limited access to employment insurance. The Conservative Party introduced a bill, but it could have simply implemented a pilot project. If the Conservatives really wanted to help unemployed men and women, they would not have brought this measure in as a bill. They would have brought in a pilot project so that people could access it right away.

A lot of people might already have benefited if it were already in effect. The Bloc Québécois would have preferred to fast-track this. Unfortunately, I think that we are the only ones here who want to move things forward, who want the government to do something for unemployed workers and give them the help they need.

Unfortunately, but also fortunately, all of the stakeholders in Quebec and Canada agree with us, even Ken Lewensa, who says that these measures will not help unemployed workers, that they will only be good for a small group of people. It is now November 3 and well past October 29, when this bill should have been passed or received royal assent. People would have had the opportunity to collect employment insurance benefits for more weeks. As things stand, people who lost their jobs in January will not be eligible.

We know how many people have lost their jobs every month, every week, every day since January.

This government does not really want to bring in measures to facilitate access to employment insurance, as we have been calling for through the bills we have been introducing diligently and in good faith for some time now. We have been working closely with the people involved, with groups that represent the unemployed, and with groups of workers affected by employment insurance accessibility measures. We have been working diligently. In spite of that, the Conservative Party has always refused to vote with us on these bills. Yet when it was in opposition and we talked about the POWA, for instance, it agreed with us. But not any more.

It is always surprising that when a party moves from one side of the House to the other, it changes its ideology. It no longer believes in the same things, the same people, the same needs, but its needs change based on its political needs. It is surprising and upsetting for citizens who believe that by electing a government, they will be listened to, heard and defended.

At present, this government is not defending our citizens. Under the pretense of maintaining law and order, they are introducing all kinds of justice bills. Yes, some of them are beneficial and we are supporting them, but others are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, targeting only part of the population. This is exactly what they did with the child tax benefit. Instead of developing a network of child care centres like we have in Quebec, instead of making sure that mothers are able to work because they have reliable child care for their children, the government decided to give mothers $1,000 a month per child.

The mothers who unfortunately could not receive preventive withdrawal benefits if their lives were in danger were probably forced to turn to employment insurance benefits to use their 17 weeks of sick leave, although they were not sick, but pregnant. If they had two children in two years, they were able to benefit from those 17 weeks twice, for a total of 34 weeks. If they were laid off for one week, they are not even eligible for the program. Yet some of them have been working for a very long time.

This bill makes no sense. It is out of touch with reality. It does not take into account the fact that people who lose their jobs will look for news one right away and not wait 20 weeks, 45 weeks or 50 weeks. They will move quickly because they need to work. They need that financial contribution. People do not work these days to buy luxury items. Both spouses go to work these days because they need two incomes. It is not because they want to live in luxury. They want to ensure that their family, their children, have everything they need for their development and comfort.

It is very disappointing to have a government that promised so much transparency and so much support offer so little. However, when it comes to defence and the oil companies, it is ready to invest. It is ready to lose money, to give out unprecedented opportunities not to pay taxes, and to give tax credits the likes of which we will never get. This government is prepared to let people who have money in tax havens get away with not paying taxes.

We need all of our money in times of economic crisis. We need to have a government that supports the people instead of its party's supporters.

It is clear that we will vote against this bill. Like all bills we vote against, it does not adequately meet the needs of the people we represent.

In Quebec, as I was saying earlier, people are not fooled. They know that the Bloc Québécois is here to defend their interests and that we will always do so.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague with great interest. I think we are all aware that we have a global economic recession. Within British Colombia, we have been doubly impacted with the pine beetle infestation. I know there is also a great deal of logging in her province and people are suffering there. However, when talking to my constituents, they are very grateful for the improvements our government is making to the EI program.

I also know the colleague to be someone with heart. I have worked with her on committee. However, how can she possibly impact workers negatively by not supporting a bill that clearly is going to be of benefit to some? It might not be perfect in how she believes EI should be, but it certainly will help people in her community.

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her question. As I was saying earlier, we are voting against this bill because it does not meet the needs of the people. It meets the needs of a specific target group that the government wants in its corner come election time. That is all.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of my hon. colleague.

This bill is somewhat discriminatory. The way I interpret it—and I would like to know whether the member agrees or not—is that there seems to be a desire to help the most fortunate. When we talk about long-tenured workers, they are often those who started working at a young age in strong, growing and stable businesses or industries. Moreover, they are often the same people who benefited from the advantages that go with seniority in a union environment.

Those people have obviously worked hard, often with good pay and job security. The government wants to give them advantages over other people who may have been involved in a more entrepreneurial or seasonal type of work and who are said to be less deserving of help. Help is being given to those who have already benefited from a lot of advantages within the economy.