House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.


Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I compliment the member for bringing this forward. I have a question about the exemption in the minister having to bring regulations before Parliament if she gives a written reason. If some time in the future we were to get a minister who might use that clause indiscriminately, Parliament might never see the changes in regulations. Is there any qualification on that clause?

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Madam Speaker, we tried to make the amendments and the language very consistent, which was already passed in the House with the human reproduction act. Therefore, the answer to the member's question is that the minister will act appropriately when she brings these things forward.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I think it is worth noting for the record and for all members that these amendments were put forward by the NDP.

I am not here to take credit. I am here to suggest that we worked very hard at trying to improve a bill around which many flaws were identified. Because we did not have the time or the wherewithal to actually amend the bill as we would have seen fit, my proposed amendment was in fact to ensure that all regulations would be brought back to the House. When that was discussed at committee, it was felt that it should also go back to the Senate for which I had no concerns. Unfortunately the minutes of our committee did not reflect that hard work.

The Liberal member who spoke before me suggested we ought to compliment the government. I will compliment the government, not for initiating this idea but for accepting something that was brought forward in good faith by the NDP opposition.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the NDP for her statement, but I would like to take this opportunity to compliment all members of the health committee.

This very important legislation is much overdue. There are over 4,000 laboratories in Canada that right now work with human pathogens. We need to ensure that we know where these pathogens and toxins are.

We had some excellent witnesses. We had great government witnesses and very good private witnesses. Each member of the health committee worked very hard to get proper input, not only the NDP but the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party.

I take this opportunity to thank all my colleagues on the health committee for being so helpful in getting this very important legislation put through.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, I was just wondering if you wanted to give the floor to my Liberal colleague before me. However, if you ask me to rise at this time, I will do so.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Her name was not on the list, but if the House agrees and there is no problem, I am glad to give her the floor.

The hon. member for Vancouver Quadra.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to make comments on Bill C-11, having been part of the committee and the process of reviewing the bill, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of it and taking action, as my Liberal colleagues and other committee members did, in what was, in the end, a very co-operative process.

Everyone in the committee was in accord about the importance of ensuring that the handling of pathogens and toxins in laboratory work and transportation of these goods protect the individual safety and public safety.

We did ascertain that there were risks with some of those products, greater risks with some than with others, and that the public good was best served by laws addressing that. Therefore, there was a common view that this was the right thing and a good thing to do.

My experience as a legislator tells me that the public good is sometimes served by laws addressing a problem, but government always needs to be very aware that there are risks arising from possible unintended consequences of the legislation being proposed.

Pretty classic risks of unintended consequences include things as: stepping into the jurisdiction of another level of government; duplicating existing work and licensing and processes already in place to protect the public; placing a regulatory burden that would be onerous given the benefits; the impacts on the delivery of a public good that we are trying to promote may reduce the delivery of that public good; stepping into information privacy terrain and risking the disclosure of personal and private information that is inappropriate or against the law; or even using, in effect, a sledgehammer to crush a flea by having very onerous provisions and penalties in situations where they are simply not warranted.

Those are classic potential downsides or pitfalls to making laws. I think all legislators would agree that we need to be mindful that we are not over-regulating and we are not creating more problems than we are solving just for the pure joy of addressing problems and making laws.

When the bill was first presented to the committee, there were very severe concerns and, in fact, those concerns fit into that whole range of unintended negative consequences, which I outlined as theoretical ones. They were in fact present in Bill C-11.

Why was a bill, which had so many problems, being pushed through for fast approval at committee? What was clear was the consultation the government should have done with respect to writing the bill to address the risks around the handling of toxins and pathogens had been completely inadequate. Although the committee members were assured that there had been extensive and adequate consultation, when the list of those activities was reviewed, it was clear that there was minimal consultation with the decision-makers in the province of British Columbia. I know some of the other provincial health officers had the same concerns.

A letter from the minister of healthy living and sport in British Columbia, for example, had very strong language of concern about Bill C-11 as it was first presented to the committee, words such as, “The schedules are over-reaching”, “The administrative burden of regulation is felt to be onerous”, and “it is our strong preference that a new bill be considered which is collaboratively developed through consultations with the provinces and territories”.

This is a strong indication that adequate consultation did not occur. The absolute foundation of good legislation, legislation that previews and corrects unintended consequences, is to talk to the very organizations and individuals affected by it. This has been consistent problem with the Conservative government.

I was very involved when Bill C-51 on natural products was brought forward last year. It infuriated organizations because they had been completely left out of the consultation process. Had they been involved, they would have made very constructive representations as to how to improve the bill. The bill was killed when the House, when the Conservative government called an election last September. We will see whether the necessary improvements have been made.

With Bill C-11, several provincial governments felt it was completely inappropriate to step into their jurisdiction, clearly duplicating activities that were already taking place in many of the provincially regulated laboratories, which are already under a very constructive and thorough system of regulation and licensing.

On the regulatory burden, the committee heard from some of the university labs and others. They said that this regulatory burden would be very costly and that there were no provisions to assist with those costs. In fact, we heard that similar legislation in the United States had caused research to stop at some university research facilities. This is an unintended consequence that we do not want in Canada. We know how important primary basic research is. We know the important research these laboratories do on pathogens and toxins. Shutting down a source of research is definitely counterproductive to the goals of the bill.

Concerns were expressed by information and privacy commissioners. There were major concerns with the penalties and the criminalization of what could be an inadvertent misstep on the part of a laboratory staff person, resulting in an action that under that bill could have called for criminal penalties. There were serious concerns about the bill. Opposition members argued very vigorously that the government should take the bill back and redo it, make the necessary amendments and bring it back to the committee with the key concerns solved. At first we were being asked to accept a “trust us” message, that these things would be corrected in committee later in the process. We were not willing to do that, notwithstanding the importance of the issues and the risk that the bill was attempting to address.

After having given that context to the situation, I am pleased to say the committee members from all parties worked very constructively together. The government and the agency that was the author of the bill had the wisdom to make amendments to address some of the grave concerns raised, and those amendments were outlined in some detail by the previous speaker.

The bill that came back to the committee addressed some of those concerns, but not all of them. That is why further amendments were proposed to ensure the regulations would go to Parliament and that an advisory committee would be brought into the process of regulation making. Those were absolutely necessary amendments. I am pleased to say they are part of the bill as it goes forward. This was an occasion where the unintended consequences were serious, but they were addressed. The committee did its work. I want to congratulate all the committee members for the work on this occasion. I look forward to seeing the bill in its next iteration.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, we think the bill is well-intentioned, but there are some ways to improve it.

I want to talk about the plan to provide enhanced inspection powers to help ensure compliance. We know that when it comes to inspectors the Conservative government has a habit of cutting them when it is convenient and then it ends up having to apologize for those mistakes later on. In this case it is to ensure compliance with laboratory biosafety guidelines, which is a pretty important part of the bill.

I want to ask my colleague if she has any concerns in that regard, whether that has been completely taken care of and what has to be done going forward. We obviously want to support the bill. I would like her to address the enhanced inspection powers.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, this was a different situation from the ones that have been in the media where, unfortunately, the absence of proper inspection and the deregulation and the pulling back of inspection caused Canadian fatalities. The Conservative government needs to take responsibility for those errors. This was the other situation where there was a duplication and an over-abundance of regulation and inspection in facilities, many of which were being adequately regulated already not only by the institution, perhaps a university, but also by the province whose laws governed those institutions already.

We were attempting to make sure there was no duplication of the inspection and compliance as opposed to what was happening in the listeria situation where the government fell down on the job.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, it is such a joy to have a new member of caucus, a former minister of the environment, who can bring such depth to the analysis of a lot of bills. It is very helpful for our party.

I want to ask the member the same question that I asked the parliamentary secretary. In his good comprehensive speech, he outlined the fact that regulations would be brought before both houses of Parliament. That is a refreshing change. I compliment all members on the health committee for doing that, because sometimes we do not see regulations at all.

There is an exemption for the minister. I am wondering if there is any written reason to exempt bringing those to Parliament. When that part of the bill was being designed I am wondering if any caveat was included to stop a minister from using that every time.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I have concerns about exemptions for the minister.

One of the premises that was put to committee was that the bill itself is not very detailed. The lowest level of toxic products, pathogens that may be found in soil, in a laundry basket, or even normally found on the human body, would not be subject to some of the very onerous and necessary restrictions and governance procedures for the highly toxic. That is the kind of thing that was really not addressed properly in the bill. We were assured it would be addressed in the regulations.

As the bill goes forward, we will be looking closely at any exemptions because creating a bill with improper consultation and inadequate attention to some of the matters that I raised earlier means that we really need to have parliamentary scrutiny as it goes forward to the regulations.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, I too, am pleased to have this opportunity to comment at the report stage of Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins.

I would like to begin by commenting on something the member for Yukon said. After the government moved Motion No. 1, which we will be voting on later, my colleague from Yukon seemed very pleased that the bill now includes a requirement for the government to table the regulatory framework in both houses of Parliament.

I would just like to say that that is the very least we could have agreed to, and that is why I proposed just such an amendment in committee. Allow me to review the beginnings of this bill so that I can explain all of the work that we had to do to improve this bill—even slightly—although I still find it unsatisfactory.

At second reading, after briefings from public servants who told us that they had done an excellent job of consulting all of the stakeholders affected by the bill, that everything had been done according to standard practice and that consultations had been held, we called on a certain number of stakeholders. What we heard from them was an entirely different story, and it did not sound as though they had been consulted properly. Many of them had major misgivings about how Bill C-11 was to be applied to their labs.

I did talk about that during my speech at second reading here in the House. At the time, the parliamentary secretary thought it would be a good idea to hear from these groups in committee, but I think he took it for granted that the debate in committee would go relatively quickly and that the committee would fast-track Bill C-11.

However, that was not the case. We heard witnesses, people who work daily with micro-organisms that fall primarily in risk group 2, which is a category that does not pose a serious risk to public health. We know that a number of standards are being followed in these laboratories regarding handling procedures, because in many cases the provinces have set operating rules.

So, we heard from these groups at committee stage. I will even go so far as to say that, just before the clause by clause study, these stakeholders still had serious and legitimate doubts about the negative impact that Bill C-11 might have on their activities.

At no time did we sense, on the part of the department or of the government, a will to reassure these researchers, and the students who work with them, on the negative consequences that the bill could have on their work.

Therefore, it was necessary to see that this regulatory framework would at least include all the flexibility required to ensure that these people would not be adversely affected.

However, we would have liked to go further in our committee report and to remove from the bill the provisions on laboratories that use pathogens that fall into risk group 2. A number of people felt that the risks posed by these pathogens are already controlled. Therefore, they should not be subjected to very strict standards that could—as I mentioned in my speech at second reading—generate significant costs. Such costs could jeopardize a number of important studies on the development of state-of-the-art technologies. The result would be that studies done by our researchers and by the postgraduate students they supervise would not be conducted, due to a lack of adequate funding caused by the costs generated by the implementation of Bill C-11. At no time were officials or the government able to reassure these people as to who would foot the bill for the improvements that would have to be made to these laboratories.

Another important thing that I would have liked to see included in the bill is the exclusion of activities conducted in any facility that is regulated, operated or funded by a province. Indeed, in many cases, the provinces have already put control structures in place. Therefore, we do not need the federal government to create more paperwork and to add another level of monitoring, particularly for those facilities that come directly under a provincial government, namely hospitals and universities. This is evidence again that the government claims, on the one hand, to want to respect provincial jurisdictions, but, on the other hand—and through its actions—deprives Quebec and the provinces of their ability to fully exercise their authority. Yet, they have already put structures in place to monitor this research.

The second point is that at committee stage we heard experts who told us that, given the way this bill is drafted, it could be deemed unconstitutional. Why move forward with legislation that has not been thoroughly examined by the government before introducing it, and even less so in committee, where we felt that the government was turning a deaf ear, instead of listening to those who did not agree with its bill? Why is it that before introducing a bill and adopting it here, the government does not make sure that it respects every constitutional requirement? We did not get an adequate answer from the government on this.

Clearly, we must ensure that the minimal amendments presented by the government are adopted, so that if Parliament has to deal with Bill C-11, it will see the regulatory framework before the legislation is passed. However, this Parliament could go much further in terms of the assurances that we could give to our researchers. They have told us that and we know it. For the past while, they have been very concerned about whether they can continue to conduct their activities adequately.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg-North.

Before the hon. member begins, I should advise her that we will be ending at about 6:08 p.m., so she has about four minutes. We will continue her intervention afterwards.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague in the Bloc Québécois for his excellent speech and his analysis of this bill. Moreover, I agree with a number of aspects in his analysis.

I want to indicate that we in the NDP also have grave concerns with this bill and with the government's whole approach to what were supposed to have been routine proceedings. In fact, we found out shortly after about the ruse created by the government that full dialogue had taken place with all players. That was not true. There was enormous concern all over this country, with provincial health officers, universities and researchers feeling that they had not been consulted and that this bill would create serious problems in terms of their research capacity by setting out all aspects dealing with level 2 toxins as coming under this rubric of criminal activity and being subsumed under this broad, heavy-handed approach.

I find it offensive that the government stands up today pretending that it brought forward amendments to improve the bill by making all regulations in the future come before Parliament. I want to put clearly on the record that in fact it was the New Democratic Party that proposed the amendments because of our deep concerns about this bill, amendments that were also initiated by the members of the Bloc and I thank them for their contribution.

I think we are dealing with a complete charade by the Conservatives on this front, because the amendment passed by the committee on March 31 said, with a friendly amendment, that the regulations should be put before both houses of Parliament. It was clearly established in our committee hearings that it was the agreed-upon amendment by all sides, yet we find the government coming forward today with an amendment that varies that wording slightly and pretends it is its own amendment.

The government does not acknowledge the fact that there were serious problems with this bill and that in the process it had to accept certain recommendations by the opposition. We remain concerned by the government's approach today. We are not satisfied that the government has treated all the concerns of the committee seriously. While we have said that we might be prepared to support the bill in final reading, I am certainly getting concerned day by day with the arrogance of the government and its attitude of pretending and creating a mythology that it has no lessons to learn, knows everything, and will not admit to any errors.

From beginning to end, the government blew this bill, to the point where the Minister of Health was almost faced with the embarrassment of having to pull the bill right off the agenda because it was so flawed. Given the almost unanimous concerns we heard from witnesses, it was clear to me that without work by all committee members in a cooperative fashion and without the government actually accepting some of the opposition amendments, that would have been the case. The minister would have been faced with pulling her very first bill, in terms of legislation, as Minister of Health for the Government of Canada.

Let it be clear that we are going to continue to monitor this process and ask questions about the government's intentions. We had proposed an amendment to delete all level 2 pathogens from this bill, because that was the expressed wish of researchers and scientists across this country. That would have been the appropriate way to go. There would be no reason to believe that research in this country could be curtailed because of the criminal sanctions being imposed on anyone handling pathogens and toxins in this area. The government refused to accept that amendment.

The Bloc makes a very good point about outstanding concerns. I certainly share those concerns, and I want the government members to know we will be further analyzing the bill and determining why the government is playing games with the amendment process. By that I mean denying the work of the committee, pretending there was a flaw in the wording and coming to the House with an amendment that has already been adopted by the House as a result of the work of the NDP and the Bloc.

We have much more to do to try to make the government realize that it is accountable to Parliament and Canadians. It cannot run as though it has no responsibility to Canadians for its actions or to members of Parliament. We believe that the government has shown disregard for the parliamentary process. It ought to learn from the mistakes of this bill. It ought to recognize that proper accountability, transparency and dialogue is needed at every step of the way. I hope the government has learned some lessons from this sorry chapter in the history of its short term in government.

Motions in AmendmentHuman Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Winnipeg North will have four minutes left to finish her remarks the next time this bill is before the House.

It being 6:08, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on February 26, 2009, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), standing in the name of the member for Brome—Missisquoi. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary, as well as the member for Joliette, for having brought this issue to the attention of the chair.

Bill C-241 seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act by removing the waiting period that precedes the commencement of benefits after an interruption of earnings, and repeals provisions that refer to that waiting period.

At issue is whether the removal of the waiting period during the benefit period would require additional funds being disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund, or as a result of legislative changes flowing from the 2008 budget, from a separate account administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.

This question is of critical importance, since matters related to the appropriation of moneys outside the consolidated revenue fund do not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown and therefore do not require a royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the parliamentary secretary argued that the bill should be accompanied by a royal recommendation since it would require the expenditure of funds in a manner not authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. He further pointed out that the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimated that the removal of the two-week waiting period could cost as much as $1 billion per year.

The member for Joliette for his part, felt that the bill did not need to be accompanied by a royal recommendation since it does not have to do with monies within the control of the Crown but instead with monies in the account administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. His position was based in particular on a ruling made on October 3, 2005 concerning C-363, which had to do with the use of the surplus in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reserve fund. The Speaker ruled at the time, on page 8294 of the Debates, that:

The transfer of monies from the CMHC reserve fund to the Consolidated Revenue Fund—or in this case to the provinces—is not a matter relating to the appropriation of monies from the Crown. Therefore, Bill C-363 does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown.

The Chair has carefully examined Bill C-241, as well as the arguments put forward by the parliamentary secretary and the member for Joliette. It should be noted at the outset that subsection 77(1) of the Employment Insurance Act makes it clear that EI benefits are disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund. It states:

There shall be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and charged to the Employment Insurance Account

(a) all amounts paid as or on account of benefits under this Act;

As the member for Joliette mentioned in his point of order, it is true that the Budget Implementation Act, 2008 made certain amendments to the Employment Insurance Act in addition to creating the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.

The object of the Board was, in particular, to set the premium rate under section 66 of the Employment Insurance Act and to maintain a reserve in accordance with that section. The specific purpose of the separate account in question is to make it possible to reduce premiums. There is no provision for using the account to pay for additional outlays that could result from eliminating the waiting period for the payment of benefits. The amendments to the Employment Insurance Act specified, among other things, the conditions for any interim payment to or by the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. It is important to note that these amendments did not remove the EI Account from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Therefore, it is clear that despite the creation of a new Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, the payment of benefits to eligible workers continues to be made from the consolidated revenue fund through the EI account. Consequently, the chair is of the opinion that the provisions of Bill C-241 would authorize a new and distinct charge on the public treasury. Since such spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation, I will therefore decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form, unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today, however, the debate is on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

On debate, the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to speak today on the bill which proposes to remove the two week waiting period required presently by the employment insurance program.

The EI program is a key element of Canada's social safety net. It enables Canadian workers to better adjust to labour market challenges and changes, and it acts as an economic stabilizer for our country. That being the case, we need to give some fairly careful and deliberate thought to any changes to the program so that we do not rush into it. We want to avoid rash moves that we might later regret.

One of the best ways of doing this is by basing changes to the EI program on hard empirical evidence and by conducting a pretty sound analysis of that evidence which takes into account the likely labour market impacts and the costs of the measures under consideration. It is only then that we can be sure that the changes will improve the program, not harm it or make it less efficient or less helpful than other alternatives. Such a disciplined, fact based approach is especially important during the current economic downturn where it is essential to avoid those kinds of missteps that might lead to a bad situation and make things worse.

I mentioned the matter of cost. The bill does have a significant cost associated with it, over $1 billion per year in fact. Mr. Speaker, you just made a ruling with respect to the issue of the $1 billion. During the first hour of debate, even the Bloc member for Gatineau agreed that implementing this legislation would cost huge sums of money.

Given that we are talking about substantial sums of money, it is critical that we ensure that any future changes to the employment insurance program are properly costed and assessed versus other options or possibilities.

That being said, I believe that this proposal before us today is not where we should be focusing our efforts. This government has in fact been very busy from the very first day in office helping Canadians and working to improve the EI program and its ability to help Canadians.

For example, we increased eligibility for EI compassionate care benefits by expanding the definition of ”family member” to include a wider range of individuals. I had a number of calls from constituents asking for that in advance of making that change, and affirming and commending us for having so done after that change was made.

We are improving the management and the governance of the EI account through the establishment of the Canada employment insurance financing board, a federal crown corporation that will report to Parliament through the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and be responsible for EI financing.

We are testing new approaches along the way through a number of ongoing pilot projects which seek new and better ways to help Canadians and respond to the changing economic conditions.

We are also doing many things to ensure that Canadians are getting their EI benefits as soon as possible. We have allocated an additional $60 million for faster EI processing which includes hiring additional staff.

Beyond this we have taken many steps to meet the increased demand and serve Canadians better. These steps include hiring or recalling additional employees and retirees across the country, redistributing the workload to increase speed and efficiency and to help maintain consistent service levels all across the regions of Canada, increasing overtime, increasing the level of automation of claims processing, and opening EI call centres on Saturdays.

Through these measures the department has processed significantly more claims nationally this year than over the same period of time last year. We continue to take action to meet the increasing demand. All of this brings me to the bill before us today.

To begin with, this is just one of a number of private members' bills relating to the EI program currently on the order paper, each with its own different recommendations for changing this or that feature of the program, most without any reference to the larger labour market issues or the other proposals put forward by opposition members. Such an ad hoc approach is not an efficient way of addressing such a large and complex program as the EI program is. It is not wise to consider many different recommendations separately without looking at the combined impact on workers and employers who pay the EI premiums and rely on the program.

That is why the government is pursuing a broader based approach aimed at doing three things: creating jobs, preserving jobs and helping those who have been unfortunate enough to lose their jobs and are trying to re-enter the workforce. That broader based three-pronged approach involves several components, including helping Canadians participate in the labour market by investing in skills upgrading and injecting a significant stimulus into our economy.

That approach is outlined in the very good document, our economic action plan, which seeks to protect Canadians during the global recession and invest in Canada's long-term growth through the investment of an unprecedented $8.3 billion in the Canada skills and transition strategy, aimed at supporting workers and their families. It increases funding for training delivered through the employment insurance program by $1 billion over two years under the existing labour market development agreement so that provinces and territories can train an additional 100,000 EI eligible individuals, and to help workers while they are looking for work, we are providing nationally the advantages of an extra five weeks of benefits currently offered as part of a pilot project that until now have only been provided in specific regions with high unemployment.

The maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program has been increased by five weeks, from 45 to 50 weeks, which is significant. It is estimated that this extension alone will benefit 400,000 Canadians in the first year alone. In my opinion, this is money very well spent.

To my mind, we should be investing in those who need it the most, namely, those Canadians who have been out of work for an extended period of time who are coming up against the end of their benefits. An extra five weeks will go a long way to help Canadians who otherwise would be facing further uncertainty.

Requiring a two week waiting period is prudent, and it keeps resources focused on those in greater need of support.

On this point, Mr. David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, had some interesting comments. On December 18, Mr. Dodge appeared on the CTV Newsnet program, Mike Duffy Live. When asked whether eliminating the two-week waiting period for EI was an expenditure worth making, Mr. Dodge responded forcefully. He said, “The answer is no. That would probably be the worst waste of money we could make...because there's a lot of churn in the labour market”. Mr. Dodge also said, “That two weeks is there for a very good reason...the real issue is that some of these people are going to be off work for a rather long period of time”.

We agree with the comments of the former governor of the Bank of Canada. The fact is that during these somewhat uncertain times, many people will be off work for longer periods of time. That is where our EI needs to be targeted, and that is where we have targeted it.

Our government shares the concern of the member for Brome—Missisquoi for the challenges facing unemployed Canadians. However, in our efforts to make a real difference in the lives of Canadians, we need to ensure that the policy decisions we make are well thought through and are in the best interests of those we are trying to help.

Just as an aside more than anything, I should comment on the remarks made by the Liberal member for Cape Breton—Canso in respect of Mr. Dodge's statements. The member said that it was something that Mr. Dodge probably has not had to experience, at least not for some time.

I am not certain that we should be dismissing the judgments of wise people like that, with great amounts of experience with our economy, highly respected voices, simply because they have not recently experienced the precise matter under discussion. I would venture to guess a lot of members around this House have not had to experience directly some of the things that we discuss in this House and their contributions are no less important for that particular reason.

The approaches we take must be guided by hard facts and sound analysis. As a responsible government, that is what we are doing.

In closing, we all know that in the challenges that Canadians face in these uncertain economic times, particularly as unemployment rises, our government has already taken unprecedented steps to help Canadians by extending EI by an extra five weeks, by increasing the maximum benefit period to 50 weeks, and by expanding the work sharing program, for example. I could mention other things as well. That said, we will continue to monitor the current EI system to ensure that the program is working and responding effectively to our ever-changing economic circumstances.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill. I congratulate my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi, who has brought this bill forward.

I had the chance to get to know the member a little bit a couple of years ago when I travelled with him. He is a very civilized and decent person who obviously has a very keen social conscience. We had a chance to talk about social housing and some of those investments we need to make, and his concern extends beyond that in a lot of areas. Obviously EI is one area.

He reminds me a little of his party's official critic, the member for Chambly—Borduas, who is also a very decent and civilized passionate advocate for the unemployed. We may not agree at all times on all issues, but he is sincerely concerned about the people who need help, and those are the unemployed in this country.

I would be remiss if I did not say that the member for Brome—Missisquoi has a wonderful partner as well. My wife likes her very much. I pass on my regards to her, should she be monitoring what he is doing tonight.

The member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin referred to the comments made by the member for Cape Breton—Canso about Mr. Dodge. I have a huge regard for David Dodge, but I think my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso was entirely right. What he actually said was, “I bet it has been quite some time since Mr. Dodge had to walk in the back door, look at his wife who is trying to feed four kids and wonder where the next quart of milk is coming from”. It is not an insult to Mr. Dodge; it is just a simple fact of life. It is our job as parliamentarians not to reflect just our own views, but the views of the people we represent. A lot of those people are hurting. They have been hurting for some time, but they are really hurting right now.

This country's social infrastructure is the only thing that is saving a lot of people from an even worse time. It is our job in this place and in committee to make sure that we bring forward legislation that reflects that. Therefore, I support my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi on this bill. I am not suggesting that this is the answer to the employment insurance system. There is a whole host of ways that we can make the EI system more robust, but we have got to send a message to the government that more needs to be done.

Our EI system has been changed in the last number of years. I am not here to defend those changes, nor am I here to say that those changes were not necessary. They were a reflection of the times we went through. Now we are into a recession that is very, very different and a lot of people are hurting.

The history of the EI system was such that it really was borne out of the Great Depression, by Mr. Bennett, first of all, in 1935 and then it was brought back in 1940. It started off mainly for blue collar workers. It was expanded in the 1970s and the 1980s. At one point in time over 80% of people in this country who were unemployed had access to employment insurance. There were changes made starting in 1990. Also in 1990 the federal government stopped making contributions. It no longer contributed to EI. It was now contributed to by employers and employees. The system has gone through some changes. In 1995 there were further changes made to the EI system.

We cannot compare 1995-96 to 2008-09. In 1995-96, we were coming out of a Conservative recession; now we are heading into a Conservative recession. The recession is similar, but the perspective is different. Back in 1995-96, we were looking at increasing job opportunities for Canadians. The issue then was not stimulus. I did not hear anybody in 1997 say we needed more stimulus. What I heard was that our deficit and debt are out of control.

Canada was a laughing stock. The Economist referred to Canada as a third world economy. We had to do something. Changes were made. Even though the employment situation was not too bad in the 1990s, there were areas of seasonal and high unemployment. When that became obvious, pilot projects were put in place to account for that in the EI system. We also brought in maternal parental benefits.

There is no question that we are now entering a recession for which this country is ill-equipped. We have to do something. We are talking about stimulating the economy.

Infrastructure is important, but when we look at infrastructure projects, we have to look at physical infrastructure and we have to look at social infrastructure. There are lots of economists, I would dare say most, who would say that the best stimulus for an economy is to invest in people, people who actually need the money. The people who get EI, who have lost their jobs, will spend that money. They have no choice. Learned economists, such as Ian Lee from the Sprott School of Business, say that this is the best way to get money into the economy. It is good for the individual. It is good for the economy. So, what do we do?

The government sent great signals in January that there were going to be big changes to EI. We now have five extra weeks and some money for training. Five extra weeks are important. That was part of many private members' bills in the House, but it is only one piece out of many. There is the whole issue of access and there are large parts of this country where people do not have access to employment insurance. There is the two week waiting period that my colleague has brought forward in the bill today. We can increase the rate of benefits or increase the maximum insurable earnings. We could use the divisor rule, use the best 12 or 14 weeks to determine how people qualify for EI.

We could look at the issue of increasing further the rate that people could actually earn while on EI without getting their benefits clawed back. We could also look specifically at the length of benefits, the duration. However, whatever we do needs to be a complex and sincere attempt to say that we have to address the needs of Canadians who through no fault of their own are losing their jobs in this economy.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has referred to EI in ways that I think are insulting to people who have to draw employment insurance. When asked why she was not doing more to improve EI, she said she did not want to make it too lucrative and she did not want to pay people not to work. That hearkens back to a previous day, to the Reform Party of the 1990s and its views of how employment insurance should be. That is alarming.

We also have the issue of delays in processing EI. If people are out of work, they do not know if they qualify for EI. They assume they do because they have paid into it, but in some cases they do not even find out for weeks. The standard had been 28 days that 80% of claims would be processed.

On November 27 last year in the House I raised the issue of delays in processing of EI. On December 19 I sent a letter to the minister asking for her attention to this very important issue. On February 27 I received a response. I raised the issue in 2008 and received a response in 2009. The opening line in the letter from the minister to me is, “I'm writing in response to your letter of December 19, concerning the processing time of employment insurance claims. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying”.

I sent a letter to the minister saying there are delays and she sent me a letter three months later saying she is sorry there were delays. She does not have to apologize to me, but she should be apologizing to the people in this country who are not getting the response that they need to a circumstance that is clearly not of their own making, which is that they are unemployed.

Last year the Prime Minister of the country said “no problem”. Instead of dealing with the worsening economy, he called an election. In the fall, instead of dealing with the worsening economy, he brought in an economic update when everyone in the country knew that we needed economic stimulus and political stability. He had it reversed. He gave us political stimulus with that economic update. Then in January, instead of fully solving the problem, Conservatives came in with five weeks and some money for training.

Who thought that was not enough? Obviously, the labour unions who advocated for their people said that is not enough. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives who advocated for enhanced, more robust EI, said it was not enough. Even the C.D. Howe Institute said it was surprised that more was not done to enhance access to EI. So, it is everyone in the country except for about 150 seats on the other side. Everyone else knows there is a problem. We have to do something to address this and get serious about helping Canadians who are out of work through no fault of their own.

I stand here in support of my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi and I will be supporting the bill when it comes to a vote to send a message to the government that it has to get serious about employment insurance, specifically for people who deserve better than they are getting from the government.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to thank the member for Brome—Missisquoi for his bill dealing with employment insurance and the waiting period. It is not the first time that we have debated this issue in the House. Personally, I have brought this issue forward on several occasions. We are talking about the two-week waiting period. A lot of people do not understand what it really means. In my area, they know what it means. It is not a two-week period during which an unemployed person is waiting for a cheque, but a two-week period for which such a person is not entitled to EI benefits.

I cannot believe some of the things I am hearing here. The member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin says that we must respect the former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mr. Dodge, that he is an honourable man. Indeed he is an honourable Canadian, like everyone else. However, he missed the boat when he made that comment. I also want to echo the comments made by the member for Cape Breton—Canso when he said that it seems that Mr. Dodge never missed a paycheque. He would have people believe that they have to wait two weeks before receiving EI benefits, but this is not what it means at all. We are talking here about a two-week period for which people will receive no benefits. It is a penalty.

The Conservatives are saying that it is better to give five weeks at the end. Let us set the record straight. The Conservatives think that if they add five weeks at the end, by then people will have found a job and they will never benefit from these additional five weeks. This means there will be no cost to the government. It is all nice and dandy to speak on behalf of workers, but we should ask the CLC, which represents them, or construction workers, whether it is better to have five additional weeks or to remove the two-week waiting period, or penalty.

Just think about those who work for minimum wage, or for very low wages, and who are laid off, as is the case back home with workers in fish plants, who are going to get 55% of their salary. This is already a financial burden for their families, and the government then deprives them of two weeks of benefits. That is where the problem is, at the beginning of the period. This affects seasonal workers in the forestry or tourism industry, who are laid off every year. After August 15, there is not much tourism in Acadia. When we are finished celebrating, after August 15, parents get ready to send their kids back to school, and some people lose their job.

I hope Mr. Dodge is listening, or that he will hear about it. I do not agree with him. With all due respect, I do not agree with him. Companies are also facing the problems generated by the economic crisis. According to the Conservatives, we have to determine how we can help large companies that were not properly managed. We can see what is happening now. The government is bending over backwards to help them. It does not impose a two-week waiting period on them. It does not punish them. Rather, it gives them money immediately to save their skin. But when it comes to workers, if we gave them money immediately, it would, according to the Conservatives, encourage them to rely on employment insurance benefits. It is not the first time that I have heard this comment.

The worst case of hypocrisy concerns the Liberal members who spoke this evening. They say it is insulting to hear the Conservatives tell the workers that the reason they cannot give them money right away is because that would encourage them to say home. I have been sitting in this House since 1997. The Liberals used the same line when they were in power. We can check the record and read the speeches they made in this place. The Liberals used the same line. In fact, that is the line we get from senior EI officials. I heard the same thing said when the Liberals were in power. Now I am hearing it from the Conservatives. They are playing the same tape, saying the same thing.

The Liberals are telling us that what they did back in 1996 was right because there was a deficit, which is different from a recession. Families affected by job losses suffer a terrible deficit. The Liberals attacked the workers in 1996 by making cuts to the EI program.

To eliminate the country's deficit, they stole from the workers, those who lost their jobs and the needy families. The Liberals did pay down the debt and achieve zero deficit, but they did so on the backs of the workers. Now, they have the hypocrisy to stand here and blame the Conservatives, but for different reasons. That makes no difference when, at the end of the day, workers lose their jobs. What matters is those families. The Liberals say that there was no economic crisis in those days. I am sorry, but we in Atlantic Canada had an economic crisis a while back. In 1992, all our fish shops and plants closed. We lost the cod fishery and the redfish fishery.

No economic crisis in my part of the country? We had our own crisis in the Maritimes and at the time, they said we were a bunch of lazy slackers and that we did not want to work. That is why the Liberals made cuts to employment insurance. That is why the Conservatives supported that decision. They have always treated us like a bunch of lazy slackers. People from our part of the country are leaving and going to work in northern Ontario, in Oshawa and Hamilton; they are going to work in Alberta, in Fort McMurray. People like Doug Young treated us like slackers. Those people said they were going to deal with people who abused employment insurance. Those people were Liberals.

The Conservatives are no better today. In the midst of this economic crisis, they are telling us that adding five weeks of EI benefits will satisfy workers. It is shameful and unacceptable. We are talking about people who are losing their houses, families who have nothing left to eat in the refrigerator. There is not a single member here who will lose his or her pay at the end of the week. Mr. Dodge has never lost his pay. Consider a husband and wife who both lose their jobs at GM and will have no income for two weeks, and on the third week, will receive 55% of $750. How dare anyone say they are not in trouble.

Consider the people in Quebec and the Gaspé. How dare anyone say they do not have problems. They are definitely not slackers and not lazy. All Canadians and Quebeckers are proud people. It is shameful to think that the reason the Conservatives do not want to pay them for the two week waiting period is because they are afraid that these people will actually receive benefits. It is time for this attitude to change. It is time we think about these people and not only about GM, Ford and Chrysler. We must think about the people involved.

When election time comes, the Liberals and the Conservatives are happy to get their votes, but the day after the election, they forget about the human beings who voted for them. Now they must think about the families who are losing their houses and the families who are heavily in debt to the banks. Instead of offering them loans that they would be able to pay back, the banks give them credit cards with 19% interest rates. The Liberals and the Conservatives must think about these people and start doing something to help ordinary Canadians. It is not an abuse of the system.

The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour forgot to mention in his speech that the Liberals did the same thing to ordinary people who were in need. The Liberals did not care at all. In addition, changes were made in 1996, but the government had stopped contributing since 1992. At least, had the government been contributing, it would have had a reason to want to cut the program, but it was not even its money. The money did not belong to the government, and it does not belong to the Conservatives who will boast about balancing the budget and achieving zero deficit with money that belonged to others. Come on, that is highway robbery.

I was surprised by the Supreme Court's decision when it ruled that the government could do as it pleases with the workers' money. I realize that we have a legal system and that decisions are handed down by the courts, but we can nonetheless express the opinion that the judges made the wrong decision. I think they were wrong in this case. I am saying it in this place, I will say the same thing outside this place and I will tell them as well. They were wrong. That money belonged to the workers. On the books, there is a $57 billion surplus, but that is stolen money. That is the biggest robbery in Canadian history.

No one will ever admit that. Yet, attacks continue on workers who have lost their jobs and have no money to defend themselves, on the poor, on social assistance recipients, on anyone who cannot defend themselves.

We hope that the House will pass this bill which is good for the workers.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the House; it is just a shame that it has to be on this subject. We should have wrapped up discussions on this issue long before now given the awful situation in which the employment insurance system has placed unemployed workers.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, I would like to thank my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi and congratulate him on introducing this bill. I also want to point out that the best gift we could give him would be for everyone joining today's debate in the House to tell him that they intend to support his bill. Why? Because today is his birthday. He has not only reached a venerable age, but sometimes we tease him by saying that he is now the patriarch of the House. However, to see him, one would have no trouble believing that he has lost none of his youthful vigour. Once again, I would like to wish him the best of birthdays, as well as good health and happiness, of course. One of his birthday wishes, something very important to him, is for the House to pass this bill.

This bill covers only one of the changes that should be made to the system. The good thing about this bill is that it will tell us just how sincere the members are when they say that they care about the people who lose their jobs and society's least fortunate. They say that the employment insurance system must be reformed, but when it is time to vote or to take a stand on a bill like this one, the Conservative members do not walk the walk.

This bill will cost very little because it would eliminate the two-week waiting period. These weeks would not be added to the number of weeks of benefits. People would receive benefits for the same number of weeks, but with this measure, they would begin to receive them from the very beginning. What is the advantage of that? When people lose their jobs, they suddenly have no income. In many cases, before anyone gets laid off, the company has already experienced some turmoil. Added to the tragedy of job loss is the fact that people have to wait for benefits. As we all know, the waiting period is unjustified and people collect nothing for the first two weeks.

This is a most relevant bill, especially in these difficult economic times. According to the OECD, Canada's unemployment rate will exceed 10% in 2010. It presently stands at 8%. In addition, last year, thus over the course of one year, 350,000 jobs have disappeared in Canada. The OECD estimates that 822,000 jobs will be lost by 2010, which means that there will be more than 2 million unemployed people in Canada. In the forestry industry alone, there are 122 communities in Quebec and 300 in Canada that have been affected by plant closures and layoffs.

The impact is rather dramatic and is felt quickly. In my own riding, working couples, sometimes with children, had the usual financial obligations and their entire income was already committed. After losing their jobs, it was not long before the two partners turned to the food bank.

Two successive governments have relied on this type of independent social safety net to fill the void left by legislation and the Canadian government. We rely on it. Take, for example, the food banks that are currently overtaxed and can no longer meet needs. More and more of these people, even the middle class, though quite embarrassed, are turning to food banks because they have no other option and must obtain food for their children and themselves.

Yesterday, the leader of my party and I met with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, who confirmed what we have observed and stated the following. The first ones to be affected by such a crisis are the children, and that is obvious at school. It is difficult to motivate the children to learn, some experience cognitive delays, receive lower marks, participate less in extra-curricular activities, even have lower career expectations, have gaps in attendance, and have a greater risk of being illiterate because, as I was saying earlier, lower attendance rates result in higher drop-out rates. Thus, children are especially vulnerable in these times.

When they talk about the crisis or the problems experienced by people who lose their jobs, nearly all the members of this House inevitably talk about poverty. There is a consensus that we must take action against poverty. Poverty has nothing to do with providence. There are conditions and factors that contribute to poverty, and an employment insurance system that does not meet its obligations adds to poverty.

One of my predecessors in this House made the point that this system became dysfunctional because of the way the employment insurance fund was used through the years. The role and purpose of the fund were radically altered. Of course, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the government, but on a technicality, saying that the government has the authority to legislate to levy taxes. Any deduction from Canadians' income is considered a tax. The fact that the government made the employment insurance fund part of the consolidated revenue fund also contributed to that conclusion.

But just because the Supreme Court of Canada says that what the Liberal and Conservative governments did was legal, that does not make it legitimate. What they did was illegitimate and deplorable, because they deprived people of benefits they had paid for during their employment, when money from the employment insurance fund would have let them provide for their families and pay their bills.

There was a reason why the previous government changed the name of the unemployment insurance fund to the employment insurance fund. The government deliberately renamed the fund in order to use it differently. This is deplorable, and it is a serious economic crime against people who have lost their jobs, against their families, against the regions concerned and against the provinces and Quebec.

In conclusion, the provinces have to shoulder the burden that should fall to the fund, and—

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Huron—Bruce.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.


Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the issue of EI with respect to Bill C-241.

Meeting the needs of Canadians in these increasingly uncertain economic times is a priority for our government. To determine these needs, our government engaged in the most extensive prebudget consultations in Canada's history. We listened closely to the concerns of Canadians, especially with regard to employment insurance. We listened and are taking action.

Through Canada's economic plan, we are taking unprecedented steps to create jobs, preserve jobs and to provide support to those who have lost their jobs and are now looking for work.

Our government understands that Canadians are worried about putting food on the table and finding work to keep their homes and provide for their families. That is why we have taken the unprecedented steps to support the unemployed, preserve jobs and retrain workers for the jobs of the future.

With respect to employment insurance benefits, we have extended, nationally, the advantage of an extra five weeks of benefits currently offered as part of a pilot project that, until now, was only provided in specific regions with high unemployment. In addition, the maximum duration of benefits available under the employment insurance program has increased by five weeks, from 45 to 50 weeks. It is estimated that this extension will benefit 400,000 Canadians in the first year alone.

We believe that this measure is a better option than removing the two week waiting period because it would help those most in need of additional benefits. While removing the two week waiting period would result in an additional payment of two weeks for claimants who do not use their full entitlement, it would not provide assistance to workers who exhaust their employment insurance benefits. Eliminating the two week waiting period simply means that their benefits would start two weeks earlier but would also end two weeks earlier.

Our additional weeks of employment insurance benefits would provide regular employment insurance clients with the assurance that, should they require it, they will have the financial support for a longer period of time while they pursue their job searches.

Exhaustion of EI benefits is a tough prospect to face. Providing additional support to unemployed Canadians who would otherwise have exhausted their benefits helps those who need it the most.

I would point out, too, that this proposed measure would be in addition to the automatic adjustments in the employment insurance program that respond quickly to changes in economic conditions. Through the variable entrance requirement, the current EI program has built-in flexibility specifically designed to respond automatically to changes in local labour markets.

The entrance requirements ease and the duration of benefits increase as the rates rise. These requirements are adjusted on a monthly basis to reflect the latest regional unemployment rates. This system ensures that the amount of assistance provided increases as the unemployment rate rises. Support flows to regions and communities that need it the most.

In fact, since October 2008, EI claimants in 32 of the 58 regions across the country can now access EI benefits with fewer hours of work while benefiting from the EI benefits for a longer period of time. For example, since October 2008, EI claimants in the region of Kitchener, not too far from my hometown, can now access an additional 13 weeks of benefits while working 4 weeks less to access these benefits.

We have also made significant efforts and investments to process the increasing number of EI claims so that employment insurance claimants can receive the benefits they need as quickly as possible. In this regard, we have allocated $60 million toward hiring additional staff and increasing capacity. We are redistributing workloads across the country and recalling recent retirees. We are also increasing overtime, opening employment insurance call centres on Saturdays and increasing automation of the claims process.

All of those actions are helping to ensure that unemployed Canadians and their families get the support they need in the fastest possible manner.

I also remind the House that we have not hesitated to test new approaches to make EI changes when they are proven to be warranted. I will give some of my own experiences in life to further explain how the five weeks are really impacting those Canadians we are trying to reach.

I heard my colleagues across the floor comment about certain parts of our employment insurance enhancements. I worked for an auto parts manufacturer, Westcast Industries in Southwestern Ontario, for many years. Like many other companies in the auto sector, it has felt the tougher times. When I started there in 2000, there were 353 employees. At the end of this month, that facility will be mothballed.

While I was in my riding over the past two weeks, I went out to various events and worked hard in the community. I ran into a number of my former colleagues, who unfortunately have been unable to find jobs. The first thing did was thank our government for extending those five weeks. They were not sure what lay ahead in the future, but they certainly appreciated the five weeks we added to the back end of their employment insurance.

Another fantastic example of what is working is the retraining. I have a number of former colleagues who fortunately look at the world as a cup that is half full, as do I. They have been able to get retraining. Some friends of mine who I used to work with are going through to be millwrights. They are exploring all sorts of different career options. It is a new chapter in their lives. This government has responded in many different manners. One of them is the $60 million recently announced to help process the claims as fast as possible.

I would also like to recognize our Service Canada workers and the great job they do. Our regional office is in Kitchener. The director, Ross Tayler, has his staff working around the clock, doing the very best job they can. I think it is important that we recognize those workers. They are taking time away from their families to ensure those dollars begin to flow in a timely manner to those who have just lost their jobs.

I was fortunate to be able to move on to a new position and a new career before the large number of layoffs occurred at the company for which I worked, but the weight and burden of the unknown of whether people's jobs will be there tomorrow is an extremely tough thing on their family and their psyche. The one piece out of this, which is so important, is the extra five weeks at the end of their employment insurance. They know they have an extra month and week, just in case they are unable to get that job. They are able to get out and continue to search for a job.

We have invested over $1 billion in training, which is excellent. This will allow those who have recently lost their jobs or who are currently in the workforce and are looking for a change in career to look to the new economies: a green economy, our information technology and our new high tech and skilled positions. Believe it or not, there are a number of positions in my riding in the aeronautical industry. Currently 50 positions are available in that area.

The programs we have put in place for retraining will allow people who have lost their jobs in a riding such as Huron—Bruce to get retrained and get those skills so they can gain new employment in new industries and sectors. That is why I am so proud of this government. I am so proud of the minister and her staff for how hard they have worked and for the consultation they have done with Canadians.

It is no coincidence that we have added five weeks to the end of the employment insurance process. It is no mistake that when I go out into my community, the additional five weeks of employment insurance is the first thing mention to me. They thank our government. It shows that our government is listening to Canadians and reacting in a timely matter. Good government is all about that.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi now has a five minute right of reply.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think I should have the support of the members across the floor, including, for example, the hon. member for Huron—Bruce, who just spoke, and the hon. member for Essex, both from ridings where many workers are losing their jobs at this time. It is incomprehensible. These members are going to be criticized by the workers in their respective ridings and will lose their seats in the next election.

Our bill to eliminate the two week waiting period is a crucial bill, since those two weeks are a crucial time for workers who have just lost their jobs.

When people have jobs, they are earning money, a salary, but probably not enough to be able to save money. That is what my colleague does not understand, because he is in a position to save money.

What happens to people who receive a salary that allows them to support their families and pay for their housing, but then suddenly lose their jobs? What happens is that those people have no money and do not receive any help from anyone to get through the first two weeks. Those are the worst weeks, because that is when they are going through the shock of having lost their job, although they must continue to feed their family and pay their rent or their mortgage.

The first two weeks are crucial. We are not against adding 5, 10 or 15 weeks of benefits, but that does not replace the first two weeks lost. That will never replace them. The Conservatives are saying they oppose this bill because it will cost $900 million. That is what the minister said. Now they are talking about $1 billion. That is completely false, because the bill would only move the benefit period forward, to when the recipients have just lost their jobs.

It is rather incredible that, just a week ago, we saw the Minister of National Revenue and Minister of State (Agriculture) rise in this House on a question he had been asked specifically about the two week waiting period, to say that it was like cars. Unemployed workers are like cars. Frankly, that comparison is disdainful. That is a terrible thing to say, because it is not the same at all. Of course there is a deductible for a car, but it is an object. A car accident is not the same thing. If we do not have the money to have our car repaired, we simply do not do it right away. But unemployed workers need their money and there are more unemployed people right now, precisely because of the crisis.

We are calling for this because, during a crisis, it is important for people to have the time to get back on their feet and to be able to live properly during that time, to survive I might even say. They ought not to have to descend into poverty and have to ask for help from food banks. It is already hard on morale to lose one's job but if, on top of that, there is no help forthcoming in the first two weeks, that hits a family hard.

In closing—since I know I have only five minutes—this bill is a just one link in a chain. It does not reform employment insurance as a whole, because it reforms only one aspect. Obviously, there is plenty left to reform, but we have to start somewhere, and this first step is absolutely necessary.

It is said that Mr. Dodge was not in favour and that he was speaking for management. But the newspaper clippings—from Sherbrooke in particular—are interesting and refer to an unspeakable scandal. The only thing they keep referring to in the article is the two week waiting period. This is indeed an unspeakable scandal and that, in my opinion, is stronger than anything that Mr. Dodge could have said.

I am therefore calling upon all hon. members to be responsible and sensitive to the situation of the working men and women who have fallen victim to the global capitalist crisis. I am asking the members of this House to remedy this injustice and to vote in favour of this bill.