Mr. Speaker, as does the member for Windsor West, I have some experience in the automotive sector and the automotive parts sector. Of note, the commitment of the government to cut taxes is significant. The commitment to cut corporate taxes is significant, so that global corporations and Canadian corporations make that commitment to choose Canada as their first place to do business. Just this year we saw one of Canada's most iconic corporations make the decision to move back to this country, due in large part to the commitment to reducing corporate taxes.
The member for Windsor West see the situation as the glass being half empty. We on this side of the House see it as the glass being half full.
I was encouraged yesterday to hear the quarterly reports from Ford, an automotive manufacturer, a member of the sector the member for Windsor West alluded to in his speech, saying they made a $1 billion profit in the latest quarter. I am sure doing business in Canada is looking more favourable every single day.
However, I am not here to speak about the auto industry per se, I am here to speak about Bill , C-50, and I would like to begin, if I may.
I rise again to discuss Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits. We have an opportunity today to help experienced workers who have lost their jobs because of a recent downturn in the economy. This is an important time. Our economy is still fragile and a recovery is still in its infancy. It is important that we take prudent, responsible and affordable action to ensure our recovery blossoms and Canadians benefit in both the short and the long term.
Bill C-50 is legislation that will temporarily extend employment insurance regular benefits to unemployed, long-tenured workers so they have more time to look for a new job. It is prudent, responsible and affordable.
Who are these long-tenured workers? They are Canadians who have worked hard, paid their taxes and their employment insurance premiums for many years and have never or rarely collected employment insurance regular benefits. Then suddenly, they have lost their jobs and they have to start over. In times like these, in a time of a changing and recovering economy, such a prospect can be tough to handle.
We are concerned about all unemployed Canadians, but we are focusing now on long-tenured workers who have been particularly affected by the recent downturn in our economy. We know that Canadian workers work hard. We know they are prudent and care for themselves, their families and their communities. We know they want to get back to work when they find themselves without work to go to. Canadians work hard and want to help themselves, but we still have a responsibility to help them over the current hurdle.
We want to make sure that the employment insurance system, which Canadian workers have paid into, is flexible and responsive to their needs. After all, workers pay into the system and employers pay into the system, so the system should work for them when they need it. Bill C-50 is a temporary measure that will help workers who have never or rarely collected EI regular benefits.
Bill C-50 will provide from five to 20 weeks of additional benefits, depending how long an individual has been working and paying employment insurance premiums. Once a person meets the criteria of a long-tenured worker, the calculation is simple: the longer a person has worked, the more weeks of extended benefits they will get. The more they have paid into the system, the more they will get out of it. That applies to workers who have paid at least 30% of the annual maximum employment insurance premiums for seven out of ten calendar years.
Most workers working full time or close to full time for many years will have no trouble meeting this threshold, and we are making allowance for their having received up to 35 weeks of regular benefits in the past five years.
This part of the bill recognizes that workers from some industries, including manufacturing and forestry, have used EI during temporary shutdowns. This is just a natural part of our economy and it needs to be recognized. I think it is a prudent measure in the bill.
Adding to the prudence of the bill, we have made sure that the use of the special benefit aspect of employment insurance, like maternity and parental benefits, compassionate care and sickness benefits, will not affect a worker's eligibility, so let us be clear on that one.
Workers who have taken time off and used these special benefits will not be negatively affected in the application of the bill. They will be just as eligible as a person who has not used these benefits.
Another prudent measure is the coverage this bill would have throughout our economy. Our minister and her officials have estimated that up to 190,000 Canadians would be able to benefit from the measures contained within this bill. That is a large group of Canadians and a very large portion of the unemployed due to this recession. As such, this bill would be a huge help to Canadians and Canada as a whole.
Long-tenured workers come from all sectors of the economy, not only forestry and manufacturing, but also technology, the trades and the service sector. They also come from all across Canada. There is not an area in Canada which has not been touched by this recession, and there is not a corner of the country where we cannot find long-tenured workers who have been laid off and are having a tough time in this tough economy.
Within my great riding of Huron--Bruce there are many long-tenured workers who would benefit from this bill. That is why I am very passionate about it and the details that lie within it.
As many of my colleagues have said already, approximately one-third of those who have lost their jobs across Canada since the end of January have established an EI claim for long-tenured workers. Specifically, this new measure would provide continuing support to these workers while they look for jobs in our changing and recovering economy. For example, under the legislation, workers who paid premiums in seven of the past ten years would get five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. For every additional year of contribution, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to a maximum 20 weeks.
At this point I would like to address the three amendments that our government made to this bill, amendments that were endorsed by the House just yesterday. They are technical amendments that will further support long-tenured workers and ensure the bill maintains its wide scope.
The first two amendments establish that the measures in the bill now start on a fixed date, that date being January 4, 2009 for eligibility, regardless of the timing of royal assent for this bill, which is very encouraging. This will create certainty for our long-tenured workers. This will also ensure that all long-tenured workers who lost their jobs in 2009 will be eligible for the additional weeks of benefits, regardless of the length of time needed to approve the bill.
As part of these amendments, we have also made sure that Canadians or Americans who work in Canada but live in the United States may be able to receive employment insurance regular benefits. The only restriction is that they must meet the eligibility requirements of the employment insurance program.
Another amendment introduced is a transition provision. This will ensure that claimants have sufficient time within their benefit period to receive all the additional weeks of regular benefits provided by this measure.
These amendments will ensure that all eligible long-tenured workers have full access to the extended benefits. Though technical, they are important for the success of this bill, and I am pleased that the House supported them.
By extending employment insurance for long-tenured workers, we are taking action that is beneficial for our economy and for Canadian workers. With some adjustments, they will make it back into the workforce and continue to be productive.
It is our responsibility to support our unemployed workers as they work to recover from this recent recession just as the economy as a whole must work to recover. We stand behind them. They will get through the downturn, and this Conservative government is helping them.
Bill C-50, a temporary measure like many of our other measures, builds on other initiatives that we have introduced in Canada's economic action plan. It is a temporary measure for a temporary situation.
Most certainly, it is a trying time for those who are unemployed. We have faith that our work as a government will work in concert with the work of Canadians throughout our economy and with people working in other countries to ensure that our economy recovers and that our workforce is healthy, skilled and most importantly, back to work.
I want to cover a few of the measures in Canada's economic action plan just to ensure that all of my colleagues realize all the good things this Conservative government is doing for Canadians. I also want to cover some recent history. I do this not because my colleagues have not heard me and others talk about the economic action plan but because many of my opposition colleagues have a mixed record on the action plan, so they may need a refresher.
First, I would point out that the Liberals across the way supported this Conservative government and its economic action plan before they opposed it. The Liberal leader, in fact, could not find a whole lot to complain about. That was before he decided that time was up and that Canadians needed an unnecessary election. So he opposed the unnecessary election before he supported it. These are not promising signs from the Liberal opposition members. They seem unreliable and unable to make up their minds. They seem unable to decide on a course of action that is best for Canadians. They seem unable to commit. The Liberals seem to act with their own interests at heart. They seem to be in it for themselves. This is unfortunate, not for our government but for Canadians.
What is promising, however, is the support we have gained from our colleagues in the NDP on Bill C-50. Yes, we have had our differences certainly but they seem to be looking out for Canadians in the bill as is our government. NDP members seem to want to ensure that Canadians get the help they need from this bill. We agree that this help should get to Canadians, so we are glad they have decided to support the bill and our government's actions even though they were less supportive earlier in the year.
As for the Bloc, not only can they not deliver for Quebeckers, now they are simply opposing things that are good for Quebec and proposing irresponsible measures this government simply cannot support. As I said earlier, I would like to talk briefly about the measures our Conservative government has taken in the economic action plan to help Canadians.
First among them is an initiative that is complementary to the measures in Bill C-50. I am talking about the career transition assistance initiative in which we are further supporting long-tenured workers by helping them train for future jobs. Workers can get their employment insurance benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake longer term training. They could also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part of their severance package or all of it. I would like to add that some of my former colleagues have actually participated in this program and shortly they will see the benefits of their commitment to their future.
Under the economic action plan we are providing unemployed Canadians with five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. We are increasing the maximum duration of weeks of EI regular benefits from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. We are also providing billions toward skills training both for people who are on EI and for those who do not qualify. We are also preserving jobs through the work-sharing program. We have allowed more flexibility for employers and agreements can now be extended up to 52 weeks. It supports employees who might otherwise be laid off. It allows them to continue working a reduced work week while they receive EI benefits for the days they do not work. Importantly, it will allow firms to recover quickly once demand rises again and I can speak specifically to my own experience.
It is important that we keep these employees who have skills, who are trained in the jobs that they have done for many years, in order to stay within a company so that when the recovery does come, and we are seeing it start already, the company does not have to hire a new group and train them, because we know this is extremely expensive, especially when we start talking about hundreds of employees across a corporation.
As of this week, almost 7,000 active work-sharing agreements across Canada are preserving the jobs of more than 167,000 Canadians. Again, this comes back to the fact that we were the latest to come into the downturn and we will be the first to come out of it. One of the reasons is because we are going to have 167,000 of these long-tenured employees who are currently in work-share programs return right back into a full work week and be able to contribute fully to our Canadian economy.
Let me refer to another program called the targeted initiative for older workers, which applies to people who are 55 to 64 years of age. Under the economic action plan, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years to provide upgrading and work experience to help older workers make the transition to new employment. Further, we have expanded the program so that it extends access to older workers in major communities as well as smaller cities affected by a significant downsizing or closure.
We are also delivering on our Conservative government's commitment to improve the governance and management of the EI fund. We have established the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, an independent, arm's length body that will implement and improve the EI premium rate-setting mechanism that will ensure EI revenues and expenditures break even over time, and set the employment insurance premium rate starting in 2011.
This is important for Canadian workers because it will ensure that their hard-earned EI premiums are used to fund the EI system, and only the EI system, when they need it. EI premiums will not disappear again like they did under a previous government. EI programs will not be used for purposes for which they were not intended and will not be used on political pet projects.
However, let me return to Bill C-50. The purpose of the bill is to help long-tenured workers directly affected by the force and depth of this recent recession. As I mentioned earlier, the bill before us, Bill C-50, proposes a temporary measure that will provide some much needed assistance to long-tenured workers throughout the country. The passage of this bill will make a difference in their lives. It will make a difference in the lives of their families and will make a difference to our economy.
It is the right and fair thing to do for these Canadian workers who have worked long and hard, and who have not asked for much help in return. Let us help them in their time of need and support them while they find jobs.