I can assure my hon. colleague and all members of the House that his concerns for the plight of unemployed workers are shared by all members of the government, including this member. In fact, I am sure there is not a single member in the House from whatever party who is not equally concerned with the needs of laid off workers and their families. Each and every one of us has stories of hardship in our own riding. All members of the House are determined to do whatever we can to help our constituents.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources previously said during this debate, one of the things that came up constantly through the government's consultations was that EI benefits needed to be lengthened in order to provide greater assistance to those facing long-term challenges in looking for work. That is why the government's economic action plan has provided that for the next two years we will make available nationally the five weeks of extended EI benefits that had previously been available through a pilot project only in regions with the highest unemployment. The government will also increase the maximum duration of benefits to 50 weeks, up from the current 45.
As a result, 400,000 Canadians could benefit from these changes. These measures will provide financial support for a longer period of time to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits. This means unemployed workers will have more time to seek employment while still receiving benefits from the employment insurance mechanism.
It is my opinion, and I believe the opinion of members on this side of the House, that this approach better suits the needs of Canadians than simply eliminating the two week waiting period. The fact is that during these uncertain times many people will be off work for longer periods of time. That is where our EI help needs to be targeted and that is where this government has targeted.
To address the most pressing needs of workers today Canada's economic action plan is investing $8.3 billion for the Canada skills and transition strategy. To ensure that more Canadians could access the training and skills upgrading they need to land the jobs of the future, our government has invested unprecedented amounts in training programs.
These investments will help 160,000 people, including long tenured and older workers, get retrained to find a new job and put food on the table for their families. The government will also help those who normally would not qualify for employment insurance access to training they need to re-enter the workforce.
Ensuring that our country has the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world is vital for our long-term economic recovery. Supporting the development and training of unemployed workers will keep the Canadian economy growing and our communities prospering. Equally important, with the right training, people can get good jobs and have better opportunities for themselves, their families and their future.
We listened to the concerns of many employers and also employees. This is why the government is freezing EI premium rates for 2010 at $1.73 per $100. This is the same rate as 2009 and is projected to provide $4.5 billion in economic stimulus.
To help companies and employees adapt to the current economic downturn we are also extending the duration of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. This will enable Canadians to continue working while companies adjust to a temporary slowdown and recover.
To complement this measure we are also proposing to increase access to work sharing agreements through greater flexibility in the qualifying criteria. This measure will help many Canadians stay working through these uncertain economic times.
The government has weighed the options and decided to focus our resources on helping workers and families that need help the most. Our actions will provide more support to Canadians for a longer period of time, something that this bill will not do.
It is clear that the government has listened and responded to the needs of Canadian workers and their employers to enable them to get through this rough economic patch as quickly as possible.
Like all elements of the government's economic action plan, these improvements in investments will help Canadians weather the current economic downturn and come out stronger than ever.
Therefore, with all due respect for the good intentions that this bill attempts to portray, I urge all members of the House to defeat this bill. Instead, I call on all parties to work together with the government to advance Canada's economic action plan, the real long-term solution to our current challenges.
In closing, Canada's economic action plan will help more Canadians for a longer period of time with much more lasting benefit. I think that deserves wholehearted support by all members of this honourable House.