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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

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 16 petitions.

Fairness for the Self-Employed ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), l have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the following three reports of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association respecting its participation in, first, the visit to Rome, Italy by the Mediterranean Special Group, held in Naples, Italy June 14 and 15, 2009; second, the visit of the Science and Technology Committee held in Boston, Monterey and Livermore, U.S.A. from July 6-10, 2009; and finally, the Conference on NATO's New Strategic Concept: Launching the Process, held in Brussels, Belgium on July 7, 2009.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-476, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and other Acts (unfunded pension plan liabilities).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to table my latest bill in an ongoing effort to protect the pension plans of hard-working Canadians. The official name of my bill is an Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and other acts. In 1927, it was J.S. Woodsworth, the leader of the CCF, who introduced Canada's first pension legislation, the old age security pension, as a way to address seniors' poverty. It was adopted by the minority Liberal government of the day. In the mid-1960s, again it was the NDP member, Stanley Knowles, who forced the minority Liberal government of Lester Pearson to adopt CPP, again to further address seniors' poverty.

Clearly it has been and remains the NDP that has shown the way on pension reform in Canada, and we continue that work with the tabling of this significant bill. I refer to my bill as the Nortel bill, because it would address in a real way the very serious situation these workers find themselves in as Nortel goes through the CCAA process. The Nortel bill amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, among others, to ensure companies make good on their unfunded pension liabilities. The Nortel bill classifies these unfunded pension liabilities as preferred creditors and places them on the same tier as other secure debt to bondholders, investors and other such creditors. It is designed to prevent speculators from buying up assets on the cheap while leaving pension funds gutted and workers without the benefits they have earned.

In addition, the Nortel bill, through new procedures, helps former employees of bankrupt corporations to claim moneys owed. The bill also ensures that payouts resulting from bankruptcy will not be deducted from employment insurance benefits. Finally, unlike the situation with current pension protections, there is no cap on the amount of benefits protected. It would not be retroactive, meaning that for Nortel to benefit, a judge would need to order that the liquidation be conducted under the BIA.

Having consulted for many months with seniors' pension experts, I know the bill would give security and peace of mind to millions of Canadians.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Veterans AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present a petition signed by hundreds of people from the Waterloo region. They remind government that the veterans of Canada's armed forces have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice their lives in the service of our country and that currently there exists a chronic shortage of medical and convalescent facilities for veterans across Canada. They call on government to expand the range and scope of medical and convalescent facilities available to Canada's veterans and to commit publicly to expanding the number of beds in rest homes available for veterans. They ask government to initiate a re-evaluation of medical services provided to our veterans, specifically those in their senior years, to ensure that adequate resources and attention are being paid to those who have served our country.

Air Passenger Bill of RightsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my petition calls upon Parliament to adopt Canada's first air passenger bill of rights by supporting Bill C-310.

The bill would provide compensation to air passengers flying with all Canadian carriers, including charters, anywhere they fly.

The bill includes measures towards compensation for overbooked flights, cancelled flights and unreasonable tarmac delays. It also deals with late and misplaced baggage. It requires all-inclusive pricing by airlines in their advertising. Air Canada currently operates under European laws, so certainly Canadian customers should receive the same treatment in Canada as they do in Europe.

The bill would ensure that passengers are kept informed of flight changes, whether they are delays or cancellations.

The new rules must be posted at the airports and passengers must be kept informed of their rights for compensation. The bill is not meant to punish the airlines. If they follow the rules, they will not pay a cent in compensation.

The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to support Bill C-310, which would introduce Canada's first air passenger bill of rights.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits, be read the third time and passed.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it certainly gives me pleasure to rise and speak with respect to 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 the recent downturn in the economy. It is the fair and right thing to do. I hope all of my colleagues, particularly Liberal colleagues, will come around and agree to help with the passage of the final reading of this bill.

Before I continue, I would like to provide the House with some context, a quick rundown of some of the economic activities in the western provinces where I am from.

It is time for a reality check. Even though there is a lot of negative news, we do have some glimmers of hope. While we are continuing to take action to help Canadians who need help due to the recession, there are good news stories that we are hearing every day. I would like to share a few of those good news stories I have heard. I will start on the west coast and work my way east.

In British Columbia, for example, Nanaimo's restored Harmac pulp mill started a second shift in September and hired 265 of 500 former employees of the bankrupt and closed Pope and Talbot mill.

The Catalyst Paper's Crofton kraft mill was looking to restart just a few weeks ago, bringing back one of its two shifts, recalling 104 of the 375 workers laid off in February when the kraft mill closed.

There is welcome news in Prince George as well. Walmart will expand into a super centre and increase its permanent staff by 70 to 310, as well as hiring 40 temporary staff for the grand opening.

In Alberta, the CrossIron Mills shopping centre opened in Balzac in July and hired 3,500 workers.

In the northwest, a $71 million contribution for Yukon's $160 million Mayo hydroelectric dam expansion has been finalized. Up to 300 people could be hired over the next two years.

Less than a year after Liquidation World closed its door in Whitehorse, it will move back and employ between 12 and 20 people. SSI Micro, a Yellowknife-based company, won a multi-million dollar contract to upgrade the government of Nunavut's it services and plans to hire more staff.

In Saskatchewan, Enbridge has the $2.4 billion Alberta Clipper pipeline project, creating about 12,000 person years of employment, as part of which 5,000 full- and part-time jobs are right in Saskatchewan.

The first phase of Loblaws' $350 million warehouse and distribution facility located in Regina will initially hire 500 people, and by 2017 up to 1,700 people will be hired at its distribution centre.

I have provided this information because it gives a realistic snapshot of what is happening. Yes, there is bad news, but it is mixed with flashes of hope on the horizon and there are more and more strong flashes of hope every week.

What our Conservative government is trying to do is create a few more flashes of hope through the actions that we can take. Certainly all of us realize that there is only so much we as a government can do. However, where we have been able to act, we have acted and we are continuing to act. Bill C-50 is an example of our action.

Bill C-50 is legislation that will extend regular employment insurance benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers so they can be ready for a recovering economy. It is for Canadians who need a little more time.

Who are these long-tenured workers? They are individuals who have worked and paid their taxes and EI premiums for many years. They have paid into the system for a long time. They have not needed much help in the past but they need help now. They have worked hard but suddenly have lost their jobs and have had to start over in a recovering economy.

Resiliency is a trademark of Canadian workers, but we still have a responsibility to help them over the current hurdle. Bill C-50 is a temporary measure that will help workers who have paid EI premiums for many years and have never or rarely collected EI regular benefits.

Bill C-50 will provide between five and twenty weeks of additional benefits, depending on how long an individual has been working and paying EI premiums. It will help bridge these workers over until the economy recovers.

It applies to workers who have paid at least 30% of the annual maximum EI premiums for seven out of ten years, and we will allow up to 35 weeks of regular benefits in the past five years. Why is that? It is because we recognize that workers from some industries, including manufacturing and forestry, have used EI during temporary shutdowns.

Lest members of the House believe that only a few Canadian workers will qualify for this extended measure, let me tell them that this temporary measure will ultimately benefit some 190,000 long-tenured workers. These long-tenured workers come from all sectors of the economy. More than one-third of those who have lost their jobs across Canada since the end of January and have established an EI claim are long-tenured workers. Many of those workers have been in the same job or the same industry all their lives and face the prospect of having to make a transition into a new job. This is never easy and it takes time.

That is why we are acting. Specifically, we are acting to provide continuing support to those workers while they look for jobs in a 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 contributions, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to a twenty week maximum.

The start date will be January 4, 2009, now that we have made the amendment, and the measure will remain in place until September 11, 2010. This means that payments of these extended benefits will continue until the fall of 2011 for those who need them. To gradually transition out of the measure, the level of additional benefits will be reduced in five week increments.

By extending EI for long-tenured workers, we are only doing what is beneficial for our economy. These are workers with solid experience. With some adjustments they will make it back into the workforce and continue to be productive. We believe this is fair. These workers can continue buying groceries for their families, pay for their heating costs as winter approaches, and buy clothes for their children. It helps unemployed workers who have worked hard over the years and are now in a vulnerable state. It is our responsibility to support them as they struggle to get through the recession. We stand behind them. They will get through this downturn.

Of course, this temporary measure has not been initiated in a vacuum. It builds on other initiatives we have introduced as part of Canada's economic action plan.

One of the most complementary actions we have taken in our action plan is the career transition assistance initiative. Through this initiative we are further supporting long-tenured workers by helping them train for future jobs. Workers can get their EI benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake longer term training. This will be very significant as the economy emerges.

They can also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part or all of their severance package. This initiative is available to the same type of worker, long-tenured workers, using the same criteria as is used for Bill C-50. Career transition assistance is complementary, and closely linked, to Bill C-50.

Through our economic action plan, we are also supporting unemployed Canadians through other measures. We are providing nationally five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. We have increased the maximum duration of EI regular benefits from 45 to 50 weeks available in regions of high unemployment.

We are also protecting tens of thousands of jobs through the work-sharing program. We have made changes that allow more flexibility for employer recovery plans. Agreements have also been extended for an additional 14 weeks to a maximum of 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. As of this week, over 5,900 active work-sharing agreements across the country are preserving the jobs of almost 167,000 Canadians. We are working for Canadians so that Canadians can continue working.

We are also providing an additional $1.5 billion towards skills training to be delivered by the provinces and territories.

Let me refer to another program, 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 significant downsizing or closures.

I am especially interested in pointing out the active, supportive and positive aims and methods of this program and contrasting its active approach with the passive, uninspiring so-called solutions that some members of the opposition have put forward for our older workers. We believe in our older workers, as we do in all of Canada's workers. We want to help them use their skills and experience to get back into the workforce and continue to contribute.

Our older workers have much to teach our younger workers and much to contribute to the work and value of our companies. We are going to help them remain active in the workforce. We are not going to give up on them.

Best of all, we are also supporting initiatives that focus on aboriginal Canadians. The aboriginal skills and employment partnership, ASEP as it is commonly known, has received an additional $100 million over three years to provide on the job training and work opportunities in sectors such as natural resources, construction and tourism. The initiatives funded under this program depend on partnerships between aboriginal communities and the major employers in the field.

In addition, the aboriginal skills and training strategic investment fund will help about 5,800 aboriginal people over two years to get the specific skills they need to benefit from economic opportunities now and into the future. This fund also supports greater investment in training for aboriginal people who face barriers to employment, such as low literacy or a lack of essential skills.

The economic action plan is helping Canadians access the labour market in all kinds of different ways. One way is by freezing EI premiums for 2010 at $1.73, the same rate as 2009. This rate is now at its lowest level in a quarter century. Right now freezing the EI premium rate translates into $10.5 billion stimulus to the economy at the exact time that the economy needs it.

Canadian employers and Canadian workers can be assured that the EI premium rate will not increase during the economic downturn. That would not make any sense.

We are delivering on our commitment to improve the governance and management of the EI account by establishing the Canada employment insurance financing board, the CEIFB. The board will be an independent arm's-length crown corporation. It will implement an improved EI premium rate setting mechanism that will ensure EI revenues and expenditures break even over time and will set the EI premium rate starting in 2011.

These important changes will ensure that EI premiums, all of them, will be there for Canadian workers when they need them. It will ensure that EI premiums, the hard-earned dollars of Canadian workers, will not again be used for pet political projects as was done in the past. No, the CEIFB will ensure that EI premiums will be used properly and will not be mismanaged like they were in the past by previous governments.

In closing, let me return to Bill C-50. The purpose of this bill is to help long-tenured workers directly affected by the force of this recession. As explained earlier, the legislation before us proposes a temporary measure that will provide 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. It will make a difference to industry. It is the fair and the right thing to do, so this government is doing it.

These are workers who have striven long and hard to support their families and to work hard for their employers. Now it is time for us to assist them in their hour and time of need and to support them while they find a job.

I ask my colleagues to join with us to get behind the bill and to help each and every one of those 190,000 people who are waiting for the bill to pass and to take effect.

I would ask members to unanimously support the passage of the bill.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my hon. colleague on his speech.

In his current function as parliamentary secretary certainly he has had a lot of conversations with stakeholders on this issue. When the government was formulating Bill C-50 I would imagine at that point the government would have addressed the issue of seasonal workers.

My question comes from an illustration in my riding that talks about a group of individuals who work in a shrimp processing plant. They are seasonal workers. They have been doing it for 35 years in some cases, for an extremely long time. The average age is above 50, so the member can well imagine how long they have been working at those jobs and how much they depend on them through their daily lives.

The problem is that because the work is seasonal in nature they do not qualify under Bill C-50 because of the rules stated, that if they claimed so many weeks in the past five years, per year, they are ineligible.

How does the parliamentary secretary square that issue? What is it that I should say from him to the individual shrimp worker on the Bonavista Peninsula in Newfoundland?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will have a question for the hon. member and I would like to know how he would square that.

This particular bill is aimed at long-tenured workers who have worked hard for long periods of time, have not relied on the EI system, find themselves in a vulnerable position, are not able to find work and their benefits are running out.

As Craig Riddell, a University of British Columbia professor and member of the Expert Panel on Older Workers said on October 8 that the University of British Columbia public affairs study on long-tenured workers found that these workers are hardest hit by unemployment and take up to 35% longer to find new employment than other workers. He recommended a targeted increase in EI benefits for long-tenured workers.

Almost a billion dollars is going to 190,000 people. How does the member square the fact that the member voted against second reading and potentially third reading and against every clause that would help 190,000 people? How does he stand up and say to any one of those 190,000 people that he is not supporting extra benefits for them because he would like extra benefits for someone else? How does the member square that? How does his party square that?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for outlining the great list of initiatives our government has embarked upon to help unemployed people.

Recently I had the privilege of touring Conestoga College in my riding. There was a middle-aged gentleman who was taking advantage of the retraining opportunities that are available to him. He was really excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities this will give him.

I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary could expand for Canadians who are watching this, on the amazing opportunities that are available for retraining, which in fact is really the course we need to embark upon if we are going to provide long-term solutions for the unemployment problem.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, of course we cannot look at Bill C-50 in a vacuum. It is a bridge to other programs that already exist.

We have done a number of initiatives, and one of them is the career transition assistance program. We spent 1.5 billion additional dollars on top of $2.5 billion, with the provinces and territories, to ensure that people can be retrained and their skills can be upgraded to meet the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.

When we look at all that has been done, it is basically saying, “Let us use our dollars to our advantage, to prepare people for the economy that will be emerging, for the economy of the future”. Bill C-50 is a bridge to what we are already doing. It is just another example of how we put a package together through the economic action plan, through various specific bills to ensure that we help the most vulnerable at the time they need it most.

I would again urge all colleagues to get behind Bill C-50 and pass it.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, back in January when the budget was introduced following the disastrous economic update statement in November, there were some measures in it for EI. I do not think anybody outside the Conservative caucus would indicate that they were enough, but they did in fact add five weeks of EI for everybody who was on EI, which is a fair way to do it.

The minister, in her introduction to the estimates, actually boasts about that fact when she says that they have included extending five extra weeks of benefits, which is now only available in some regions, to all Canadians. She saw that as a step forward back in the spring, and now she has brought in a bill that clearly discriminates against people and decides who is deserving and who is not deserving.

How does the member juxtapose those two positions, and why has that changed from the spring to the fall?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I just referred to Craig Riddell, the University of British Columbia professor and member of the Expert Panel on Older Workers, who indicated that those who are having greater difficulty are the long-tenured workers, and they are the ones we specifically want to help.

What I find difficult to understand is how the member and the Liberal Party have chosen to turn their backs on the most vulnerable and the unemployed by walking away from the committee that was studying additional benefits that had to do with what might go forward into the future. They abandoned that track and allowed us to introduce this specific legislation and what we are proposing also for the self-employed. Then they had the audacity to vote against the bill and every clause of the bill as it proceeded through the House and through committee. They voted against 190,000 potential workers who could benefit from this program.

How does the member square that? What does he tell them? How does he look them in the face and say that he opposed this legislation and that if he had his way, they would get nothing?

I do not understand that. It makes absolutely no sense to me. No matter what other benefits we could provide, this is a particular benefit of almost $1 billion over three years. Why would he not support it?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have to compliment the parliamentary secretary on his speech. It is very exciting to hear of the possibilities that can happen in this country during a time of economic downturn.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary to expand on the benefits for long-tenured workers, who have had jobs and paid EI premiums over a number of years. Perhaps he could expand on the training aspect, the opportunities those workers have that will help support them during a time of stress, but also their hopes for the future.

Could he go over some of the programs that have been put in place by our government?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I get into the skills upgrading program, I would like to mention one of the other initiatives we took, which was the work-sharing program which allowed people to keep their jobs.

There have been many quotes from a number of industries stating that it was a win-win situation for employers. They were able to retain the workers they needed the most because it would be difficult to get trained staff when the economy recovers. Workers were able to continue their jobs. A significant number of workers, 167,000, were helped with this program.

We have targeted $60 million specifically for older workers for skills training. These workers have a lot to add to our society given their wisdom and their age.

Our government has invested $500 million in training to help about 40,000 long-tenured workers participate in these programs so they will be upgraded. Some of these programs last 104 weeks, that is almost two years, a significant period of time.

We have provided $1.5 billion to the provinces and territories under existing labour agreements. They have the infrastructure to do something with this money. It can get out there very quickly and it allows them to manage it.

When we add all this together, we have made a significant effort toward helping those who are most vulnerable and in particular need because of the economy as it is now, but not only for now but into the future as well.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague describe the whole fabric of interconnected programs and how Bill C-50 is just one part of a comprehensive package to help workers. I just sit here in puzzlement. I would ask my colleague to explain why there might not be unanimous endorsement in the House

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I quite frankly cannot understand it. I do not know what the Bloc would have against older workers or the vulnerable. I do not understand that. With regard to the Liberal Party specifically, I have no idea why those members would turn their backs on the most vulnerable and the unemployed. They walked away from having any input in the system, and then when we brought forward a program, they vote against it.

The only rationalization I can see is that the Liberal leader, in his own self-interest and for his own personal reasons, would like to have an opportunistic election that no one else in Canada wants. Not one Canadian can understand why he would want an election, why he would oppose a bill simply to bring us down even if it would help those who need help the most. It is not--

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity again to speak to Bill C-50 in the House. We spoke to it when it was introduced and we have dealt with it in committee.

We had a vote on an amendment yesterday that Liberals supported. One of our key concerns about this bill, shared even by those who have agreed to go along with this bill, is that it already disenfranchises so many workers. We did not want to see further workers disenfranchised because this bill has to work its way through Parliament.

It is impossible to look at Bill C-50 without considering the context, the situation that this country is in, what we have gone through in the last year and a half in Canada, and the economic crisis that the bill is supposed to address. The background, as we know, is that the crisis started last year. Questions were raised as far back as last spring in the House and outside the House about the potential for Canada facing some economic difficulties. Of course, the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and everybody else told us not to worry, but to be happy. They told us that the sky was not falling and that Canada was not in any kind of trouble.

I have an article here from the National Post, a great Liberal institution, dated May 30. The headline is “[Finance minister] denies Canada headed for recession”. He goes into his thing about the economic fundamentals being strong. He said that we should not worry and that Canada was not heading into a recession. He also told us not to worry and that Canada would never go into a deficit. We were doing great, living off the strong fiscal management of the Liberal Party. The finance minister told us that we did not have to worry and that we could not mess it up that badly.

On September 27, in the middle of a federal election, when Canadians were worried about what was happening with the economy in Canada, we already had action in the United States from then-President Bush and incoming, soon-to-be-elected President Barack Obama, who said that we needed some stimulus and activity.

On September 27, the headline in the paper said “[Prime Minister] says Canada not in deficit, despite opposition claims”. The Prime Minister said:

The opposition tries to tell people that we’re in deficit when we’re in surplus. Tries to tell people we’re in recession when our economy is still growing. Tries to tell people we are losing jobs when actually more people are working.

That was only a year ago. The Prime Minister assured the people of this country that they should not worry, that people were working, that we were not in deficit, that we were not going to go into deficit, that we were not in recession, and that we were just fine. Then, we came back after the election.

The Prime Minister used a strategy to address this issue with Canadians. First, it was to tell them that it was a buying opportunity when their stocks went down. Second, it was to bring in an economic update that did nothing except throw political tricks into an economic update. Third, it was to prorogue Parliament. Fourth, it was to conjure up separatist-socialist coalitions. Finally, in January, prodding by the Liberal Party made the government say that it will try to have a look at this. It finally brought forward the budget in January of this year.

There were some things in there. Nobody would suggest it was enough. In fact, if one were to look at the reports that came out from the Caledon Institute, the CCPA, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, labour union groups and other social policy networks, they said that this would not be enough to help Canadians. However, at least there was that five extra weeks.

Everybody who was unemployed and had a claim was eligible. It did nothing to increase eligibility, which was and continues to be the number one issue with employment insurance, but at least it offered five weeks. It offered those five weeks to everybody. I have asked two members of the Conservative Party if they could explain the juxtaposition of the Minister of Human Resources who, in talking about those extra five weeks in her own estimates tabled here, said:

--including extending five extra weeks of benefits, which is now only available in some regions, to all Canadians.

That was one of the boasting factors that the Minister of Human Resources talked about from the January budget. She said that Canada has projects where people get an extra five weeks and that five extra weeks of benefits is something that was always part of private members' bills, initiatives and proposals put forward by other people. That is not a panacea, but she is saying that the government has taken it and given it to all Canadians. One would assume that she said that because she felt proud of it.

It is almost as if she believed in equality. It is almost as if she felt that everybody was equally deserving of assistance. Now, we are debating a bill that goes in exactly the opposite direction. It divides Canadians into those who are deserving and those who are not deserving. That is a very significant contradiction in view, expressed over a period of a few months.

We have had employment insurance bills in the House for some time that talked about reforming EI. In the last Parliament they were Bills C-265 and C-269. We looked at those bills. What did they ask for? They consistently asked for the elimination of the two week waiting period. As people know, when they get their employment insurance, it is not really a waiting period. My colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor would agree with me that people who lose their job do not wait two weeks; they wait a lot longer than two weeks. In some cases they wait two months. The standard for Service Canada is that 80% of people get their claim processed in 28 days. We brought that to this House of Commons 12 months ago and the minister denied there was a problem. Then in the spring, she admitted there was a problem and she spent $60 million hiring people, but eliminating the two week waiting period is a possibility.

Increasing the rate of benefits is a possibility. It is now 55%. A number of private members' motions, opposition motions, social policy groups have indicated that should be 60%. The way we calculate benefits, perhaps going to the best 12 weeks is another way of looking at this; increasing the maximum insurable earnings. If somebody is making $70,000 and loses their job and they qualify for EI, they do not get 55% of their salary of $70,000, they get 55% of the maximum insurable earnings, which is in the low forties.

There are a number of ways we can change EI if we are serious about reform. Who else was talking about that back in the spring, and what were they talking about? “To be locked into a system which has 58 separate employment insurance regions, where one Canadian gets treated dramatically different than another Canadian, it doesn't seem right to me”. That was British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, who supported the call of the Leader of the Opposition for a national 360 hour standard of eligibility during the period of the recession.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said, “Here is an example where the recession's impact in Canada has moved from east to west, and we are feeling the effects”. Brad Wall supported the call of Mr. Campbell for some kind of national standard for employment insurance eligibility.

Again, Premier Gordon Campbell on May 29 called on the federal government to have one employment insurance standard throughout Canada. The Premier of Ontario had a position that said we should have one national standard across Canada, and 360 hours made sense. That is what people called for. Maybe it is 420 hours, which is the lowest eligibility, but the point is, we should have some equality in the system.

Premier Campbell is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “The federal government needs to overhaul a clearly discriminatory employment insurance system to help the swelling ranks of the jobless in western Canada”.

The Premier of Ontario called for a national standard of employment insurance. It was not just the premier. Christine Elliott, who was at the time I believe running to be the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, had some pretty sharp words for the Minister of Finance, with whom she enjoys a particularly close relationship, saying, “Ideally, the federal government will quickly reform EI to better meet Ontario's needs. The federal EI program is unfair to Ontario”.

Premier Stelmach said, “Alberta has complained about varying eligibility rules”. Premier Stelmach weighed in as well, so every western province has indicated that there was a problem. This was not the Liberals, the NDP or the Bloc saying that there was a problem. These were Canadians from coast to coast to coast suggesting that there was a problem.

We had an opposition day motion on March 5 brought forward by the New Democrats which called for a number of changes: eliminating the two week waiting period; reducing the qualifying period to 360 hours; allowing self-employed workers to participate, and we will have a look at that in the next few days as the government unveils its plan; and raising the rate of benefits to 60% and basing those benefits on best 12 weeks. Those were all things that were mentioned.

I mentioned Bills C-265 and C-269 in the last Parliament. There is Bill C-280, which we have debated in this Parliament and which we will be looking at today or Thursday in the human resources committee. It calls for 360 hours, increasing the weekly benefit, and reducing the qualifying period.

The member for Brome—Missisquoi brought forward Bill C-241 that we looked at in committee last Thursday. It will be coming back to the House. It calls for the elimination of the two week waiting period. There was another bill brought forward by the NDP member for Welland, which referred to severance payments and how they are treated in EI.

There were a number of changes across the board, some of which are very standard, that people were calling for. Primarily, they wanted a national standard of 360 hours for EI eligibility and a two-week waiting period. They wanted to take a look at the rate of benefits, the maximum insurable earnings and how benefits are calculated. Those are all things we have talked about. I have not seen any academic, social policy expert, anybody, suggest that the answer to the crisis was to further provide benefits and then to limit those benefits to only a few people.

In the spring the leader of the Liberal Party made his point clear, that we would call for a national standard of 360 hours for employment insurance eligibility. That was the call of the Leader of the Opposition, supported by many people across the country.

Our proposal was that it would be temporary in nature during a difficult period of time. One thing that often gets lost in this debate is the importance of EI as a stimulative measure to the economy. Those people who get EI need EI. Those people who get EI spend that money on food and shelter, things that they need for themselves and their families. That money goes back into the economy. This is a country that went crazy for stimulus back in January and February. Everybody was calling for stimulus. Those who evaluate stimulus said that the best stimulus is to invest in social infrastructure, particularly EI because that means the money will go into the economy. The second best stimulus was in infrastructure. The third best stimulus was tax cuts, particularly tax cuts that do not disproportionately put money into the hands of those who need it the most, low-income and middle-income Canadians. It is a very important stimulative effect.

What was the government saying to all this at that point in time? It was discouraging.

The Minister of Human Resources was quoted as saying, at the end of January, after the Conservatives brought forward the budget and were being criticized for not having addressed the key issues of EI:

Our goal is to help people get back to work, and get back to work quickly in jobs that will last. We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it--

That quotation was never retracted. It raised the hackles of people across the country, particularly those who are on EI, not because they want to be on EI but because they have to be on EI.

There was a running smear campaign against people on EI, that it was a nine-week work year, as if people would find a way to get fired from their jobs. Members must keep in mind that people cannot collect EI if they quit their jobs. That is a change that was made. The minister's suggestion was that people would be rushing out, trying to find a way to get fired so that they could go on EI for a maximum of 55% of what they were earning in their job for a maximum of anywhere from 19 to 45 weeks, or 50 weeks with the extension, most of them at the low end of that. It does not make any sense. Who would do that? It is an insult to Canadians who lose their jobs.

She changed her tune a bit in June. The minister was quoted as saying, “There is no need to change the threshold for employment insurance eligibility because as the economy worsens, more and more Canadians will find it easier to qualify”. She also said, “If the unemployment rate goes up in a given region, then it gets easier for people there to access EI for a longer period of time, and most of the regions around Canada now have become easier to access”.

Let us think about that. The United States has Barack Obama's version of hope: equality for all; benefits for those who need them. Canada has the Conservative government's version of hope: “Don't worry. Things are getting worse. We are not doing anything to help you. But you will find it easier to get EI because more of your friends and neighbours will be unemployed and then the unemployment rate will go up in the region and it will be easier to qualify”. That is what passes for hope from the Conservative government, “Wait. Don't worry. Things are getting worse. It is good news for you, but bad news for your neighbours, bad news for your friends, bad news for Canadians”. That is what we heard from the government.

A very important report was released in June by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The committee held hearings specifically about how EI affects women. I do not think it is much of a secret that with the system as it currently exists fewer women qualify for EI benefits and they get less payments. That is an inherent problem with EI that needs to be fixed. It is a problem which the Leader of the Opposition addressed when he called for a 360-hour national standard. That would have helped women and part-time workers.

He also called for an overhaul of the EI system. That is what is needed. We cannot do it piecemeal. There are things that we should do in the time of a recession. We do need an overhaul of the employment insurance system.

Changes came in. People were hurt. The economy was different. We were coming out of a time of recession and into a period of a long sustained recovery under Liberal governments. We are now back into a Conservative recession. Things have changed. That is just a fact of life. The circumstances are different now than they were in the 1990s. I could debate with colleagues in this House about what happened in the 1990s to no effect, but what we can do is impact people today who need help at a difficult time.

The status of women committee heard from a number of people. Richard Shillington testified at the committee hearings. He said:

Think of EI as a series of hurdles. To be eligible for your benefit, you first of all have to have had paid employment.... You have to have a certain number of hours. You have to have left your job for the right reason--you can't be fired; it has to be a lay-off.

We heard in the spring that 80% of people who were eligible were getting EI. That is incorrect. There was testimony from another witness who indicated:

The government likes to argue that 80% of all currently employed workers would qualify for regular EI benefits if they were to lose their jobs. However, this ignores the fact that job loss particularly affects those with unstable patterns of work, such as workers on reduced hours before a layoff as well as part-time, temporary, and contract workers. It also ignores the fact that many unemployed workers qualify for EI for a shorter period of time but quickly exhaust their benefits.

Those people would not be helped by Bill C-50 in the least.

There were a number of recommendations, a whole host of them which I will not read but I recommend this to all members for their consideration. One of the recommendations is that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada implement a uniform 360-hour qualification requirement. There is another about increasing the maximum benefit entitlement. There is one about the two-week waiting period. There are some recommendations about self-employment which I think we will be looking at in the next few days to see if they meet the needs of those who are most in need.

We had the EI working group over the summer, in which I took part. I have talked about that in this House on many occasions. I do not want to belabour people with that process, or how I spent my summer vacation. It was a discouraging time.

The government came up with numbers that were patently false, indicating that a 360-hour national standard would cost $4.4 billion. A week later the government said that it had made a bit of a mistake, that it would cost $2.5 billion. The actual cost as verified by the Parliamentary Budget Officer was $1.2 billion, but there still are government members, including the Prime Minister, who stand in the House and use the $4.4 billion figure. Unbelievable. There was documentation given to the committee that was marked “not for distribution” which had already been given to the media. That documentation showed those false numbers.

That is what we dealt with over the summer. I have talked about that before. It was a frustrating time.

I believe Parliament can work. I believe Canadians want Parliament to work. I had hopes that if we got together away from question period and used the strong resources of the human resources department that we could have effected some change. We could have all taken a little bit of water in our wine and come up with something that would have helped Canadian workers, but that was not to be, which is too bad.

The government came back in the fall and introduced Bill C-50. That is the bill we are talking about today. The fundamental problem with Bill C-50 is that it is discriminatory. Even the government would have to acknowledge that it picks winners and losers. It determines who is deserving of benefits. The minister has used this terminology herself, even at committee, “helping the most deserved workers”.

It is a discriminatory bill. Imagine a government coming forward with a health care system and saying, “We have a great new health care system. The only hitch is that if you have ever used the health care system, you do not get that health care. It is only for the deserving ones who have never used health care in Canada”. What would the outcry be to that? The outcry would be that that is clearly unacceptable. That is not what governments do. Governments do not pick winners and losers. Governments are governments for all the people.

Bill C-50 does not meet the needs of most Canadians. It does not meet the needs of most unemployed Canadians. It does not even meet the needs of most characterized long-term unemployed Canadians. It is a bill that is flawed. It is a bill that does nothing to address the number one concern of Canadians, which is to increase access to employment insurance for those who need it.

The bill does nothing to help seasonal workers who through no fault of their own work in the fishery, the forestry industry, or the tourism business. It does nothing for part-time workers. It is not a bill that we can support.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour on his speech.

I must admit that his speech was more reassuring than what we have heard from his party in the past since he recognizes that the policies implemented by the Liberal Party were bad policies that hurt the unemployed. I will come back to that later in my own speech.

Now I have a question for my colleague. I will say at the outset that I find it encouraging indeed to hear that the member and his party want to improve our employment insurance system. I know that my colleague is very sincere in that regard. Yesterday, they voted against Bill C-50, just like we did, but they did vote in favour of the amendment.

I would like to hear what he has to say on the amendment, more precisely on Motion No. 1, subparagraph (a)(i). Because of this provision, entire regions are excluded with each day that passes, starting this week.

Have they had the opportunity to look at that provision? If they have, do they understand it the same way we do?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the work my colleague has done for the people of his province on employment insurance.

Bill C-50 is going to pass this House probably today. We are opposed to the bill. We do not like the bill. If we look at what a government should be spending, the money that is available in its envelope, this is not a priority. We think most people who have looked at this in a learned way would agree.

One of our major concerns about the bill is that not enough people are covered. By fixing a start date of January 4 on the bill it means that some people will be covered by the bill who might not otherwise be covered as it works its way through Parliament. The amendment may be far from perfect, but at the very least the bill is going to pass. We do not want to disenfranchise people who will get help. We do not think people are not deserving. We just disagree that the people who are excluded are not deserving. We want to make sure that people at least get coverage from the bill. We do not think it is the right way to go forward, but we do not want to see people get hurt as the bill works its way through Parliament.