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House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is with some mixed feelings that I rise today to speak to this issue, simply because while the opportunity is afforded all members of Parliament to address this important issue, what we are talking about is a tragedy in the making. It is a prescription of government policy run out over years, manifesting itself in the devastation that we are seeing in homes and families across this country.

I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East, Madam Speaker.

In some ways, as a representative of northwestern British Columbia in the beautiful Skeena—Bulkley Valley, we have been to some extent the canaries in the coal mine. When Canadians hear about the recession, hear about the job losses and downturns, we, unfortunately, in the northwest of British Columbia are ahead of this particular tragedy in that we have seen the loss of thousands upon thousands of jobs across the mining, forestry and fishing sectors. We have seen what the consequences are when we take out the foundations, the very pillars of an economy, and what the ripple effects can be to all sectors.

The ability of local governments to handle the infrastructure requirements, the ability of schools to stay open, the ability of churches to gather their congregations together, the very fabric of communities can be torn apart when such economic devastation is visited upon them.

I have watched the government time and again, and I heard my colleague from the government side say that Canada is well prepared, that somehow the tens of thousands of job losses, 68,000 full time job loss in January in British Columbia alone, is somehow a government claiming that everything is fine and rosy.

I understand the government's need or desire to paint a positive and perfect picture of how it has handled things, but to any economist who studies issues such as this, and national economies, knows that Canada does not tend to lead in downturns nor lead in recoveries, that the global downturn that has been happening is now fully affecting itself upon the Canadian economy. The government is pretending that the corporate tax cuts that happened were somehow buffering the Canadian economy against this.

Thankfully, we have this strong and supportive banking sector, one that the Conservatives argued for years needed to be more deregulated. They argued for years that we should allow the bank mergers and cited examples like Citibank as something that we should allow here in Canada. Allow our banks to get together to be more competitive internationally was the call, hue and cry.

In 2003, 2004 and 2005 the New Democrats stood virtually alone in this place saying this was not a good idea. This was not supportive of a sound and safe banking sector to allow the mergers to go on. We were called anti-competitive. We were called too far left on the issue and that we should allow the banks in Canada that were pleading and crying with the government and previous governments to allow them to get together and merge. Thank goodness we did not. Thank goodness the government now feels that it is worthy to take credit for allowing a more regulated banking sector, a safer banking sector that has allowed Canada to not feel the full effects by showing no interest in the government policy at all. They were interested in the opposite.

In Skeena, in the northwest, we see time and again government skewing the numbers to fit their own purposes when it comes to employment and the unemployed. We know, time and again, when people who have paid in to an employment insurance program believing that the form they filled out every week or two weeks on their paycheque meant that they had employment insurance. When they go to the teller to find out what support they will get when they have lost their jobs, they find out that 60% of the workers in my region simply do not qualify. I am not talking 60% across the board. I am talking 60% who actually paid in to this insurance scheme who suddenly find themselves not eligible for the program.

Why is it? Does the government have a cold heart? Is the government uncaring about these things? One might suspect that. It helps the government establish numbers that it knows patently to not be true. It helps the government over-collect on employment insurance year after year and establish a slush fund that is now available to the government to spend in any way it sees fit.

It does not reduce the actual contributions from employers. We heard some strange, convoluted message from the parliamentary secretary earlier about freezing rates to employers and employees, where they are actually obligated to reduce rates at this point, and somehow then equating that to being economic stimulus, that they did not increase the penalty upon employers and employees and that will somehow derive itself to be now part of its stimulus package. What mad accounting is going on with the so-called conservative government?

In the northwest, they talk about the public forums and consultations. I know I might be agitating some of my Conservative colleagues who feel that this is not an important issue. At public consultations, we saw a bit of the Conservative travelling road show that went through the northwest.

I am not kidding. By some strange coincidence in the universe, some of these consultations would happen on the very night that I would be conducting community-wide consultations. We would have 80 to 120 people show up from the business community, the faith community, social justice and environment groups and general citizens. On the same day, the Conservatives would have their road show in town.

On two separate occasions, by some strange stroke of luck and coincidence, it happened on the same day or the day before. We found that two or three people had shown up. Two councillors had been phoned the day before from the local municipal council and were told that their government wanted to hear from them. They were asked if they would mind showing up for a cup of coffee. In some bewilderment, the councillors would show up and talk to the Conservative representative. That was a tick box of consultation. That was somehow seen as getting the pulse of the communities in my region.

Do not even try to pretend this is a consultation exercise where there is no public notice or actual requirement or desire on the government's part to hear from ordinary working Canadians. It is some sort of selective wandering process to say that they met with so many communities. It is false, cynical and simply not true. It goes to the very ideology of the government. Unprepared for the economic firestorm now upon our country, the government has stepped its way into a place of denial. It has put itself into a place where everything is fine, that the people who are losing their jobs are in some other land, not Canada. The people in the northwest of British Columbia and Skeena who have been losing their jobs by the thousands are not in line with the government's message that everything is okay.

Second, they moved to anger. Just last week, we saw the Prime Minister rattling the sabre again in anger, asking for his $3 billion blank cheque or he will force us all back to the polls. Two weeks before, he said that Canadians needed an election like a hole in the head. It is a government that has simply not gotten to the point of accepting the reality. The reality is that Canadians are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate. The very foundations of the Canadian economy, the value-added manufacturing foundation that has built this economy for many decades, are being eroded as we speak, in part due to policies that are prescribed by the government.

We all remember that the ideology and rhetoric was that if we keep cutting corporate taxes, even for those most profitable, things will be fine. I spoke to the forestry companies in my region and asked them how the tax break was helping them out right now. They said that they were losing money. They are in the red. What does a tax break mean to companies that are going out of business? Nothing. What does it mean to the small businesses and the contractors in my region who are unable to even get to or qualify for the employment insurance program? How is the government supportive of small business when it will not even consider that?

The aspect of seasonal workers goes right across this country. I imagine that even those who are heckling right now have some seasonal workers in their constituencies. If they fall below these threshold requirements for employment insurance, which are raised year after year by the government and therefore remove more people who have in good faith and conscience paid into the employment insurance program, they cannot collect. Go to those families in their constituencies. Sit at those kitchen tables and tell them that the employment insurance program is just fine as it is and does not need to be affected at all. It is absolutely irresponsible.

The government tacks on five weeks and suggests that this is the fix when it knows that, with 60% of the people who actually paid into the program not qualifying, this five week extension does nothing for them. At the end of the day, the government simply must move past denial. It must move past its sabre-rattling, prompting an election, proposing that $3 billion slush funds are the solution to this, and that we should simply trust them. It must move to a place of acceptance and realize that employment insurance reform is an actual part of the recovery package that this country should be considering and implementing.

The last budget that the government brought forward, supported by the so-called official opposition, does nothing to address this key factor in Canada's need to recover as an economy. The pain will be felt, not by members in this place but by those hardworking families who thought they were paying into an insurance program and were paying into nothing but a scheme.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member will know that one of the elements in the government's budget is that EI premium rates will be frozen. The member will know that a previous Conservative member made an interesting argument. Everyone should understand that freezing EI rates would have no effect on stimulus. People still have the same amount of money in their pockets.

The government said that it was freezing the rates and that it should not have any effect. However, the member stood and said that the government was freezing rates and that would provide a $4.5 billion stimulus. I do not understand that. However, we do know that we have been reducing rates each and every year for the last dozen years and the employers and employees have expected a decrease in the EI premium because there is a notional EI surplus that should go down.

If we reduce EI premium rates to workers and employers, it means that is less money out of their pockets to the government and more money for them to spend, which means that lowering the EI rate is stimulative. Freezing the rate does nothing and yet the Conservatives say that it is a stimulus.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, if it is the Conservative government's intention to talk about a thing not happening somehow representing a stimulus, where Canadians will see no difference in the money in their pockets, employers will see no difference in the amount that they are meant to contribute and the non-increase in payments is somehow now meant to be added into the stimulus package, it would give one pause to question the entire notion of stimulus under the government.

What else does the government call a stimulus in its $30 billion to $40 billion package? If it is $4.5 billion, that represents more than 10% of what it has offered to the country so far, which is air, which simply does not exist. It causes mistrust and Canadians are want to have concern for the government's handling of the economy at this point.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to clarify for the hon. member for Mississauga South and the hon. member across the way about the employment insurance premiums.

The member does make a good point. The rates have gone down in the past 12 years. We have seen employment increase all those 12 years. The reason freezing employment insurance rates is a stimulus at this point in time is because the unemployment rate is increasing, which is why it is stimulus, because rates would go up. That is why the government has taken action to freeze employment insurance rates. Does the hon. member across the way dispute that fact? Please answer the question.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, under the member's calculations, if we lose more jobs we will have more stimulus. This is some sort of bizarre logic the government has when it says that because a bunch of jobs were lost it needed to freeze rates, which was a stimulus.

Should everything not be getting better? When we lose jobs, government loses revenue and families lose income. The capacity of the Canadian economy to recover is reduced. Is the member wishing for more job losses to acquire more stimulus in subsequent budgets?

It makes no sense. Stimulus means we put money into the economy with the hopes of regenerating job growth. What we have seen from the government is a ham-fisted approach, a shotgun approach to this economy, and the effects will be known by Canadian families. The effects will also be known in this place in the following elections.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I heard the hon. member say that 60% of the people who are unemployed do not qualify for EI. I would like him to tell me how this would not only affect the families that do not qualify for EI but also the municipalities where they live.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it has been very much argued that the level of government at the municipal level has the hardest time out of all three levels accomplishing what they need to accomplish for their citizens.

When we have an employment insurance program as broken as this one, when an economy faces, as many of our communities are now facing, drastic fundamental job losses, the inability for those employees, those workers, to now go out and collect EI has a ripple effect, not only within their homes but across their communities. There simply is no money in their economy and it creates a vicious cycle where the community gets poorer and poorer and it is so much more difficult to recover from that point.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to follow on from my very good colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley and to hear his passion about this motion. This is a very good motion before the House today and I am proud to speak to it.

The reason the NDP put this motion before the House today, which calls for some basic reforms to our employment insurance program, is because they were not contained in the budget. We looked at that budget and expected to see an economic stimulus package that would be real for people and would deliver real assistance on the ground to people but it was not there. The badly needed reform of our EI system to help people with coverage, eligibility and training was not in the budget. We, in the NDP, put this motion front and centre in Parliament to say that this is the most basic fundamental of getting it right in terms of helping people.

This morning the NDP held its third annual International Women's Day breakfast. We had a packed house in the parliamentary restaurant, with excellent speakers. One of those speakers was Peggy Nash, the former member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park. She spoke about what was happening to women in this country and made a very good point when she said that the strongest economic stabilizer in a recession was a sound EI system. That is the most important element that gets support and relief to people in their pocket. As my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley pointed out, the money then goes back into the real economy, helps local businesses and supports families in need.

It is quite an outrage and a travesty that the budget, which was approved yesterday by the Conservative-Liberal alliance, contained virtually nothing on EI, except the one change in terms of extending EI for five weeks. The basic reforms needed to ensure that Canadian workers who are losing their jobs, the part-time workers who are being particularly hard hit and, in particular, women, there was nothing in the budget for them. The budget contained no substantial EI changes even though day after day the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has faced questions in the House about how absolutely pathetic the changes are that were being made. The changes are so minimal that they will not get to the people who really need them.

I want to talk about the impact on my community of Vancouver East. It is a low income community and already statistics show that regular EI claims rose 41% in December from the previous year. In January 2009, metro Vancouver lost nearly 57,000 full-time jobs and 27,000 part-time jobs, but those are only numbers. We need to translate that into the human reality and the experience of what that means in a local community and what it means for an individual worker and his or her family. In my community there are often two parents who are working. Many families have a single parent who is working, often at multiple jobs. When we see these kinds of statistics, they do not even begin to portray the difficulty and the hardships people are now facing as a result of this recession.

It seems to me that the very foundation of responsible government would be to ensure that an employment insurance program, paid for by workers and by employers, with not a dime of government money in that program, in terms of employee and employer deductions every month, would not be allowed to fail so systematically. Today we know that only 43% of people qualify for EI and only 39% of women qualify, which means that the vast majority of people who should be eligible for employment insurance when they need it, will file a claim only to find out that they do not even qualify.

I find that reprehensible. It is the most tragic failure of public policy. We have seen this year after year. The over $54 billion that was contributed by workers were literally taken by the government for other programs. The money was not used to strengthen the employment insurance program. This is the biggest ripoff of workers. We, in the NDP, feel a great sense of anger and outrage that this has taken place. It did not just begin with the current government. It began with previous governments that decided to start using these surpluses that actually belong to workers.

What could that money have been used for? For one thing, it could have been used to increase the level of eligibility, as suggested in our motion, to 60% so that at least people would be getting some modest level of income when they are unemployed.

Why would we tell people that they need to live below the poverty line, that they need to scratch day by day and week by week to put food on the table or that they need to worry about paying the rent or being evicted? That is what we are seeing with the way the program is run now.

The other important aspect is that the fund should be used to encourage training and retraining. I am sure other members find that every day people come into our constituency office and tell us that they have a part-time job that they will soon be losing and that they want to get better training. They want to know if they can access EI to do that. The answer is invariably no because the restrictions are so narrow that fewer and fewer people even qualify for that.

To add insult to injury, for the people who miraculously do qualify for something, when they go to apply they find out that they have a two week so-called waiting period. The processing times that used to take maybe 20 days are now taking more than a month, up to 40 days. We have had many complaints about that.

I want to relate that back to a separate issue, which is the lack of staff resources. I have heard the Minister of Human Resources stand in this House, with sort of a gleeful look on her face, and say that the government was providing wonderful service to people, but that is completely untrue.

Most of the Service Canada offices are completely overburdened. We should be thanking those people because they bear the brunt of complaints and grievances from people who know that they are not getting what they need. It is those front-line civil servants who are trying to do the best that they can but they do not have the resources they need to service people who have a legitimate claim to file and who need the money as quickly as possible.

We did not cover that in our motion today because it does not deal with any kind of legislative change. It deals with a lack of resources, which is the direct responsibility of the minister and the government who deliberately undermined the system and made it difficult for people, even if they do qualify, to get the help when they need it.

We now have an incredibly serious situation in just about every region across Canada. I just cannot believe that, as members of Parliament, we would not understand that we have it within our power to easily fix the wrongs that have been done. We easily can fix the system to make it accessible and ensure people are getting better coverage.

The motion before us today is about getting help to people in a recession: the money they deserve, the money they are owed and the money they paid into their own employment insurance fund.

We hope the motion will pass and that the government will finally acknowledge what it needs to do to be responsible and to ensure that people who are unemployed or who are losing their jobs do not get left out in limbo and need to hit the welfare lines and live in poverty. This is something that should not be allowed to happen in this country.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for speaking so passionately about unemployment insurance.

There is the question of the $57 billion being taken from the EI fund and being put into a slush fund to be dispensed as the government sees fit. If the $57 billion were still in the EI fund, what does my hon. colleague think we could do today to help unemployed Canadians?

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I know my colleague's local community is being hit hard with unemployment. Like those of us in the NDP, he is fighting hard to ensure that fairness, equity and accessibility is put back into the system.

My colleague raised the question about the enormous surplus, which is now over $50 billion. That surplus has developed over the years, and workers have literally been robbed of that money. On the one hand, what makes it so painful for people is they know the money they have paid into the EI fund is there and yet they cannot access it. On the other hand, the Conservative government wants to have a blank cheque for $3 billion with no oversight. What is going on?

We have to act in a responsible way. We have to recognize the harm that has been done as a result of these decisions around EI. Workers should be paid the money they are owed. Until we do that, a lot of people will suffer.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate our NDP colleague on her speech. She put her finger on a number of injustices, especially toward women. I would like her to comment on certain provisions of the budget implementation bill that the Liberals supported yesterday. Under one provision of the bill, women will no longer be able to file pay equity complaints in court. Even worse, unions will no longer be able to defend them, because they would face a $50,000 fine.

Would the member agree with me that this measure also has an impact in terms of inequity in employment insurance benefits? Because women earn less than men, their benefits will be lower, because they are calculated as a percentage of earnings.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has asked a very timely question, considering we are approaching International Women's Day and should be celebrating the gains women have made.

Yesterday we saw the clock literally being turned back with the passage of Bill C-10 and the budget. The hard won gains that women have made over many decades for pay equity, for the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, have now been completely sabotaged by the government.

The member is correct. We know a woman earns about 70¢ to each $1 earned by a man. We know women's wages are lower. If they qualify for EI, and that is a big if in the first place, their benefit rates are lower too. They face barriers on two levels.

This is so patently unfair. All members of the House should feel a sense of outrage that this has been allowed to happen. We should support the motion to redress the wrongs that have taken place. We are talking about basic living standards. People are being denied a basic quality of life because of the terrible decisions that have been made around our EI system in the past decade.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. friend from Labrador.

The NDP motion proposes certain changes to employment insurance. This is an important issue to me, because I come from a very rural region where natural resources are a priority. Natural resources are the bread and butter of many families in Madawaska—Restigouche.

Every year, people in my riding have to rely on employment insurance, not to live, but to survive.

The economic crisis we are going through is nothing new. I repeatedly tried to make the Conservative government understand that the people of Madawaska—Restigouche were facing a serious crisis. That crisis is completely destroying many industries in my riding, The Conservatives always answered that there was nothing to worry about and that the economy was in good shape.

In the most recent federal election, the Prime Minister said that Canada's economy was in good shape. The people in Madawaska—Restigouche and other parts of the country had warned the government that the crisis was real and would get worse. But the Conservatives said nothing, put their fingers in their ears and hid their heads in the sand like ostriches.

The reality is that people were already suffering even before the government finally admitted that there was an economic crisis.

The number of unemployed is increasing. The motion mentions the alarming growth in the number of unemployed Canadians. These unemployed Canadians are people.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that the department is hiring more people, especially retirees, to process more employment insurance applications. It is shameful to hear such comments. It was like listening to the Minister of Foreign Affairs who, not long ago, explained how they were handling the huge increase in passport applications. A passport is just a document. Today, we are talking about human beings and families who are suffering every day. The only thing that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development can say is that more people are being hired to process employment insurance applications.

Why did the Conservatives wait until it was too late to take action? Why was the government not there to prevent this from happening? Like a good father, the government is supposed to be present to ensure the welfare and future of its children.

The Conservatives told themselves that there was not a crisis. That is what they tried to make us believe for many months. They must have told themselves that it would pass without anyone noticing. Later they could have said that they were right. The government was not right.

Today, now that the crisis is alarming, the only thing they are trying to make us believe is that they are going to deal with the increase in employment insurance applications in the same way that they dealt with the increase in passport applications. That is not how you help people. They have to ensure that there is better accessibility.

Last week, I introduced for first reading in this House, a private member's bill asking the government—I hope to have its support for this—to make parents of sick children eligible for employment insurance so that they can accompany their children who must be treated in far away hospitals. That is a great example of accessibility. That is one way to help the most vulnerable, those in greatest need, survive and to have the financial resources needed to get through these difficult moments. Whether a child is ill or a parent loses their job, these moments are equally difficult.

The NDP motion mentions the waiting period. The waiting period is definitely a crucial element when we take into consideration how long people wait to receive their first unemployment cheque.

During the two week waiting period, citizens are not able to pay their bills or living expenses. We have to think a bit further ahead and consider the current delay that exists before people get their first employment insurance cheque. This delay is absolutely unacceptable.

I would like the members of the government to think about that. First I would like them to really listen and think for a second about the situations that arise daily in the constituency offices, certainly in my riding and in some of my colleagues' ridings.

By the way, I would like to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, my colleague and the natural resources critic, for doing such a fine job on this file and showing the Conservative government that it is not on the right track.

I would like to come back to what I was saying earlier about the waiting period, waiting for the first employment insurance cheque to arrive. People in my riding have waited 55 days for the department to decide that the information they provided in their application was complete. In the end, these same people had to wait 75 days between their last day of work and their first cheque.

That is 75 days before they receive their first cheque while no money is going into their bank accounts and they have to pay their electricity and grocery bills. Children and parents still have to keep eating to stay healthy. As I said earlier, this is not about lifestyle, but about survival. Then there is rent, mortgage and car payments.

In my rural area of Madawaska—Restigouche, working people have sent me messages and emails saying they had to give up their apartments. Where will they live? The government is telling us that even if they are not paid quickly, that is no problem: they can just become homeless. Then they have to get rid of their cars because they cannot make the payments any more. The government says no problem, people living in rural areas can use public transit. There is no problem going to work because they can use the subway or buses.

But there is a problem. When rural people live half an hour or three-quarters of an hour from their jobs, out in the middle of the woods, they cannot use the subway or public transit. There is no way they can walk or use a bicycle. These people need their cars.

Parents have had to choose between putting food on the table for their children and families and saving the car. They made a wise decision and got rid of the car, knowing very well that there was no more work and their jobs were in jeopardy. That is the everyday reality. The NDP motion deals with some of these things, while the employment insurance reality imagined by the Conservatives is not what people experience every day.

I remember when the Liberal government introduced the best weeks concept in the 2005 budget. I had started working on this as soon as I was elected in June 2004. It was very important. Instead of penalizing people by using their final weeks on the job when they worked the fewest hours—and that is the reality in seasonal industries—they were allowed to use their best weeks. Who voted against it? The Conservatives. It is hard to believe that they will really be open to this motion, but I want to tell them that they should start being open.

In Conservative ridings, people are losing their jobs and need to survive. The Conservatives have to realize that people all over the country have to get through this crisis. Getting through this crisis requires that they demonstrate some openness when it comes to employment insurance in order to assure our future and keep the economy going.

People are waiting 75 days for their first employment insurance cheque. How can they help to keep the economy going? It is impossible to keep the economy going because people do not have any savings in their pockets or under their mattresses nowadays to meet their regular expenses.

If we want to stimulate the economy, the people waiting for their employment insurance cheques have to receive them. Why is the government unable to understand that citizens and working people need their first employment insurance cheques in a reasonable amount of time?

A 55-day wait after applying is far from reasonable. That is two months of waiting, two car payments, two mortgage payments, two rent payments, and so forth. That is the reality people experience every day and the Conservative government must finally realize it. I strongly advise the government to listen to what the hon. members in this House are saying and show more openness so that our citizens, our working people, can survive and get through this crisis.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I thought I heard the hon. Liberal member say that the Conservative government is burying its head in the sand. I would like to ask him where the Liberals' heads were when they voted to attack women concerning pay equity? Where were the Liberals' heads when they decided to support the Conservative attack against students? Where were the Liberals' heads when they decided to support the Conservatives at the expense of workers? How deep in the sand did the Liberals have their heads then?

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I could ask my hon. NDP colleague the same question.

In November 2005, when they decided to defeat the Liberal government and give the Conservatives the opportunity to take power, they created the prospect of our current situation, that is, seeing the elimination of women's right to pay equity and preventing the implementation of measures desperately needed in the regions. Measures for employment insurance cannot be just temporary; they must be permanent. That is the reality.

I hear the NDP members shouting their heads off in the House, but the fact is, in November 2005, they had the opportunity to make Parliament work and ensure that more and more would be given to Canadians. They decided to vote with the Conservatives instead. They gave the Conservatives power and now they are complaining. The fact is, I am in favour of the motion. They should therefore calm down and, now that I have refreshed their memories, bear in mind that they voted against us and handed power to the Conservatives.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I do not doubt the sincerity of my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche. Knowing him, I consider his remarks very sincere. We must question the position of his party, though. I would remind him that it was not the opposition that unseated them, but the public. The public did not vote for them and brought in the Conservatives. That phase will not last long, given the way they operate.

My question is as follows. The Bloc Québécois has tabled two bills, namely Bill C-241, to remove the waiting period, and Bill C-308, to improve the system. Will the Liberals follow the same logic, support these bills and ensure that the Prime Minister does not call for a royal recommendation?

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, any member of this House introducing a private member's bill wants to ensure that the government will consider it. I thank my colleague for his question, which was much more friendly than the question put to me earlier. At least he is speaking to me in a normal voice and not shouting at me as I answer. I want to congratulate and thank him.

I am having the same experience with my bill to entitle parents of children who are ill to employment insurance. For my part, and I hope to have the support of the Bloc, I hope that the government will consider my bill and do what is best for the public. The employment insurance system must have more heart. If we are to be able to help our fellow citizens, we must also ensure that both EI and the government have more heart when the time comes to make changes and improvements to the employment insurance system.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I have a really quick question. I want to make sure that I heard what I thought I heard. I think I heard the member say that the government is meant to be like a concerned parent looking after its children.

I would like to clarify whether the hon. member was referring to all Canadians as children. I just want to make sure that I actually heard what I thought I heard.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, it is incredible to hear such childishness. I said the government had to act like a good parent. It must look after its children. The government must be a good parent and be concerned for its children. A government must look after its citizens. If the member is trying to denigrate the remarks of another member in this way, the member should be careful.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Labrador will have four minutes to begin with and then the rest of his allotted time after question period.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, I certainly will use my six minutes after question period.

I want to thank the member for bringing forward this motion and spurring debate on what is an important program, a needed program. It is a program that helps many families, individuals and communities within our country. I also want to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who has been a strong advocate for EI reform. I also want to thank the Liberal caucus which has been supportive of EI reform not only today but in past years. From 2000 to 2005 the Liberal government made major overhauls of the EI system to help Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Many people in my riding, which is primarily a rural riding, depend on EI to pay their bills, to send their kids to school, to heat their homes and to buy food. This is a reality in the riding of Labrador. Many people in my riding are disappointed in the Conservatives' approach to EI reform, if it can be called reform. All they have done is tacked on five weeks. Some would say that is a move in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. It does not meet the needs of Canadians who are in more trouble today than they have been in a generation.

We have to remind people of the attitude of the Conservatives in the past. They called EI nothing but a welfare system. They said that EI was only a handout to people. We have to remind Canadians of what the minister said not too long ago, that the EI program was too lucrative. I think the attitude of the Conservative government permeates the fact that they have taken so little action on EI reform. Many groups and communities across the country say that EI reform is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy.

When the minister talks about EI being too lucrative, I would like her to go to the communities in Labrador where the average EI payment in many places is $350 every two weeks. Can that be called too lucrative? Is that meeting the needs of Canadians? Not one person in this House would dare stand up and say that was too lucrative. I know hundreds of families and individuals who are in that particular situation and it is not good.

This program is an insurance program. People pay into it and they expect help when times are tough. That is why I and the Liberal Party are supporting this particular motion.

Opposition Motion -- Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but it being two o'clock, we have to move on to other items. When we resume debate on this matter, he will have a good seven minutes remaining to conclude his remarks.

It being two o'clock, we will now proceed with statements by members.

Violent CrimeStatements By Members

March 5th, 2009 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are shocked and dismayed at the recent wave of gangster violence in British Columbia.

Previous Liberal governments all but ignored the problem of violent crime, but there is good news. Last week Canada's Minister of Justice tabled two new laws which tackle organized crime and get tough on serious drug criminals. These build on our Conservative government's Tackling Violent Crime Act, which imposed mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes and made it much tougher for repeat gun criminals to get bail.

Last week the opposition parties suddenly got religion and claimed that it wanted to get tough on crime. Sadly, these johnny-come-latelies to the crime issue talk tough at election time but then obstruct, delay, water down and even oppose our efforts to protect Canadians.

Canadians expect more from these born again crime fighters. When will Liberal and NDP MPs finally protect the victims of crime and start standing up for Canadians?

Ted PateyStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to pay tribute to and honour a fellow Newfoundlander, Ted Patey of Badger, who passed away on December 6, 2008. He was 66 years old.

He was known as a cheerful sports reporter across the province, who hosted a popular sports program in the 1980s for nearly 400 episodes. His most memorable event was the play-by-play commentary for the 1991-92 Herder Memorial championship hockey series that was won by his beloved Badger Bombers. In 2006, he was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame. The same year he was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the town of Badger for his outstanding dedication, love and support of the town. Ted took great pride in his community and was always there to lend a helping hand.

In April of this year, a heritage park will be named and dedicated to his many accomplishments in the town of Badger. It will be named the Ted Patey Heritage Park.

Ted's legacy will be long remembered in his hometown of Badger. Ted Patey will be greatly missed by his family, his town, his province and his many friends.

Louise Fourtané BordonadoStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I want to pay tribute to an exceptional person, Louise Fourtané Bordonado. Although she is leaving active municipal politics, her hard work on numerous committees has left an indelible mark, for example on the members of the Table de concertation de condition féminine des Moulins.

In 1999 this woman of compassion who stood by her word, who encouraged women to run for office while she was vice-president of the Comité national d'action politique des femmes du Parti Québécois, decided to practise what she had been preaching and dedicated herself to the service of her fellow citizens. Her contribution will serve as an example for many amongst us.

On behalf of women from the Moulins area, I would like to thank Mrs. Bordonado for her 10 years as municipal counsellor for Mascouche and wish her the very best in her future endeavours.