House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.


Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking and congratulating my colleague, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, for the work that she has done to bring forward this bill. It is something that we in the NDP are so proud to bring forward and to show leadership on behalf of so many Canadians who are living in such a difficult situation during these times.

This bill, that has been brought forward in this House, comes down to a fundamental question of justice. It is about ensuring that there is justice for people who have lost their jobs, not only as a result of this economic downturn but who lose their jobs even at the best of times, people who day in and day out work hard, pay into an employment insurance fund that they expect to be there when they fall on hard times.

The sad story here is that many Canadians are never able to access this fund. In fact, more than 50% of Canadians are unable to access a fund that they invested in time and time again. That is why we are proposing to deal with some of the major pieces attached to the employment insurance fund that would help and support more Canadians when they do fall on hard times and lose their jobs.

We are asking the government to implement a lowering of the threshold for claimants to 360 hours in order for them to be able to access EI. This is not only the right thing to do at this time of an economic downturn but this is the right thing to do at all times. This in fact reflects the challenges and the situation in which so many Canadians live.

I would like to talk a bit about some of the groups that stand to benefit particularly from changing the regulations of EI so that it is more accessible to them. For example, women are less able to access EI from coast to coast to coast, in part because they often find themselves in jobs where they are not able to accumulate that many hours, whether it is in service industries or part-time work.

It is what is referred to as the pink ghetto, the fact that many women end up working in jobs that, whether it is for lower pay or lower benefits, at the end of the day they are unable to accumulate the number of hours that would allow them to access a fund into which they have also paid.

The second point is seasonal workers. I am sure many of us in the House represent ridings in which much of the economic benefit comes from the hard work of seasonal workers. As the member of Parliament for Churchill, I represent many fishers who live across northern Manitoba, fishers who spend months out on Lake Winnipeg or on lakes all across northern Manitoba, bringing in economic stimulus to their first nations and northern communities.

In fact, I would like to recognize the hard work of elder Harold Disbrowe, who unfortunately passed away this week. He was a leader for the fishers in Berens River, who fought to have the recognition that seasonal workers who pay into the EI fund ought to be able to access it, despite the fewer hours that they often accumulate.

I would also like to juxtapose that to the fact that many of these people work in communities that do not have the employment that so many of us Canadians enjoy in our urban centres. In first nations and rural communities, the economic opportunities often are not there, so people and their families depend upon seasonal work such as the fishing industry.

That is why we need to ensure that when they fall on hard times, whether it is as a result of the drop in exports or whether it is the overall economic climate, they are also able to access the employment insurance fund.

I would also like to highlight the particular situation that young people face. In fact today, we heard that young people are facing some of the highest unemployment rates in 11 years. Young people find themselves working in industries and jobs where they are unable to accumulate the number of hours that, as it stands right now, would allow them to access employment insurance, something that they also pay into.

Is that the way we should be treating our future generations? Is that the way we should be treating seasonal workers who bring so much wealth and benefit to our communities? Is that the way we should be treating 51% of the population, women, who oftentimes are unable to accumulate the number of hours that would allow them to access employment insurance?

My colleague raised the issue of costing. I find it quite rich that the Conservatives, along with the Liberals in the nineties and ever since, have had no problem accessing money from the EI fund to pay off all sorts of things, including giving corporate tax cuts at the expense of workers when they are laid off. What happened to that $56 billion surplus in the EI fund, which was put there through the hard work of Canadians? Where did that money go?

When we talk about the costing of this particular measure, we need to recognize that this would be part of the EI fund. It would not come from general government coffers. It would come from the fund that accumulates based on the money that working Canadians contribute. The EI fund, after all, is meant to be there for workers when they lose their jobs, not for priorities based on whatever the government of the day sees them to be. It is something that ought to be there for workers to depend on and is guaranteed to be there for them to depend on in many ways. We need to ensure the money is there.

It has been referenced by my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing that there is a diversity of people, different stakeholders, different people across Canadian society who have expressed serious concern about the commitments that have been made by the government with respect to employment insurance, whether it is people from the labour community, our brothers and sisters in the Canadian Labour Congress, or people in the business and banking community.

A TD Bank economist pointed out that Canadian governments have a poor track record, allowing short term measures to lapse, recognizing that we need to be looking at long term changes to a fund as fundamental as the employment insurance fund to ensure the well-being of workers when they fall upon hard times.

Fundamentally, we need to be looking at restructuring a fund that is so important, not just for the survival of people who have lost their jobs and the survival of their families, but also recognizing that it brings an economic stimulus of, I believe, a 1.6% return on every $1 of EI that is given out. It also prevents people from entering into the welfare system, which, for many people, is hard to come out of.

We need to ensure we are standing up for the well-being of Canadians who have been unfortunate enough to lose their jobs. We need to be looking at measures that are not just short term but are looking at the well-being of Canadians in the long term sense.

I am encouraged to note that our seatmates on the Liberal side of the House are looking positively at these measures. However, my concern is their past track record in terms of dipping their hands into the EI surplus fund.

I stand here to call upon the Government of Canada to recognize that this bill is fundamentally about the justice that Canadians deserve as they work hard, day in and day out, to ensure there is something for the well-being of all of us.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-280 proposed by the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. The bill seeks to change a number of provisions of the Employment Insurance Act regarding benefit calculations and qualifications.

Before I address the bill, I would like to speak about our government's responsible and substantial actions to help Canadians get back to work through our unprecedented investments in skills development and programs that will help Canadians prepare for the jobs of the future.

As announced in our economic action plan, our government is implementing targeted actions that will inject immediate stimulus to the economy, promote long term growth and directly help unemployed Canadians deal with this economic downturn.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said it best when she recently appeared before the human resources committee and said:

...we're well aware of the challenges that many Canadians are facing in these uncertain economic times particularly as unemployment rises. To address these challenges, our government is making record investments to stimulate the economy, to support the unemployed, to preserve jobs, and to retrain workers for the jobs of the future. With the co-operation of our provincial and territorial partners the federal government's economic action plan will inject almost $52 billion into the Canadian economy over the next two years. We know that jobs are the key to economic recovery and that's where our economic action plan is built on three pillars: creating jobs, preserving jobs, and preparing Canadians for the jobs of the future.

Creating jobs, preserving jobs and preparing Canadians for the jobs of the future, that is what our plan is all about. Among other things, we are providing an additional $1 billion over two years for the provinces and territories through existing labour market development agreements for skills training. This initiative is only one part of our $8.3 billion Canada skills and transition strategy.

This strategy will help Canadian workers through the EI system by strengthening benefits. It is will enhance and increase the availability of training to Canadians who qualify for EI and for those who do not. It will also keep EI premiums rates frozen, ensuring that workers and employers are not further hurt by an increase in EI premiums during this difficult economic time.

We are also acting to protect Canadian jobs. We have improved the work sharing program by extending the duration of work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development shared with this House earlier in the week, over 93,000—

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The member for Niagara West—Glanbrook will have seven minutes when the House next returns to this matter.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, on February 3, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development a question with regard to helping unemployed Canadians.

Since that time, the situation for many has only become worse. My office has been inundated with more and more cases of constituents who, through no fault of their own, have been laid off. The problem is further made difficult by the fact that there is unequal treatment.

Those unemployed Canadians who live in Toronto must work twice as many hours as Canadians who are laid off, for example, in the Maritimes, Quebec or other regions of the country. This unequal treatment is unfair, not only to my constituents of Don Valley East, but to those in the GTA.

The current system, which was introduced by the previous Liberal governments, worked well during the economic good times. However, with the current economic crisis, circumstances are different and Canadians coast to coast to coast are suffering. It is imperative that the current government do what it was elected to do, and that is govern and help the people by ensuring changes to the EI that we Liberals have been asking for.

According to the latest release from the Statistics Canada labour force survey of April 9, unemployment in Ontario this year rose by 11,000 in March. Since October, it has risen to 171,000, and mostly in full time work. That is 171,000 people out of work. The unemployment rate has risen two percentage points, and that has devastated Canadians.

Many workers in these uncertain times are only managing to find short term, sometimes part time employment at very low levels of pay. Therefore, it is necessary that to get over this difficult period there be changes to the EI. It is difficult for these people to get enough qualifying hours and that creates a double whammy. Many of these workers have paid into the EI for many years without making a claim and they are now being forced onto the municipal welfare rolls.

Would the parliamentary secretary to the minister explain why people who lose their job in my riding of Don Valley East should not be entitled to the same benefits as people in another area of our country? Why does the government refuse to take the urgent action requested by my leader, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, that proposes a temporary across-the-country reduction in the time needed to qualify for EI benefits to 360 hours? Reducing the amount of hours would directly pump approximately $1 billion a year into the economy and act as an immediate stimulus.

Also, the thousands of Canadians who have lost their jobs due to the recession now face another hurdle when applying for EI benefits. With a higher volume of applicants, my constituents are telling me that it is virtually impossible for people to reach their EI call centre for vital information. When will the government expand the number of people operating the EI call centres? Is it just a matter of the government not knowing what to do or is it the fact that the Conservative government just does not care?

6:30 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, at least the hon. member was prepared to admit that it was her government that, as I quoted earlier from an article, gutted the EI program and system in 1997 in particular.

I might say that the issue she takes with the variable entry rate in that system was something that was amended by the previous Liberal government when the unemployment rate was 8.4%, higher than it is today and higher than it was last month. They take a lot of responsibility for what happened, but we have taken a number of steps to enhance and expand the system and also to deal with the issue raised in terms of dealing with the volumes that we now have.

I will outline very shortly the many measures we have taken to ensure that Canadian workers who have unfortunately lost their jobs receive their employment insurance benefits as quickly as possible. As I said during the adjournment proceedings last night on this very same topic, our government recognized the increased need for processing and service capacity. We have acted and we will continue to act to meet the needs of Canadians in this regard.

As all members of the House know, during this economic downturn there has been a significant increase of EI claims and inquiries. The difficult economic circumstances facing Canadians have made for historically high volumes of calls being received in our service centres. To serve Canadians who need help and to ensure that they receive that help as quickly as possible, this government has taken action. We have allocated an additional $60 million for EI processing. These funds are being used to hire additional staff to ensure that Canadians who need help are getting it as soon as possible. To date, we have hired over 900 people to help deal with the increased volumes. As the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said in the House, we are in the process of hiring 400 more people to help Canadians.

Beyond this, we have taken many other steps. We have recalled recent retirees and reassigned staff members to EI processing. Call centre agents are working overtime on a voluntary basis. Call centre hours of service have been extended and work loads are being shared to accelerate speed of payment and ensure that Canadians across the country will receive speedy, uniform service. We are also increasing the automation of claims processing. We have processed significantly more claims this year over the same time last year. We continue to monitor EI service very closely and we continue to take action to ensure that we are meeting the needs of Canadians.

We have also taken action to help Canadians through our economic action plan. We will help over 400,000 Canadians benefit from an additional five weeks of EI benefits. We will help 190,000 people, including long-tenured and older workers, get retrained to find a new job and to put food on the table for their families. Right now, we are helping over 93,000 Canadians stay working through our expansion and improvement of the work-sharing program. We have cut much of the red tape. We extended the weeks.

We recognize as a government the needs of Canadian workers and we are delivering the help they need to get through these difficult times by many of the initiatives I have outlined and many of the steps that have been taken, including the infusion of additional resources to ensure that we can handle the capacity.

6:35 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians need a government that takes action, not a government that hides its head in the sand like an ostrich hoping that the problem will go away.

Too many people are suffering needlessly because of the inaction of the government. The member still has not given me an answer to my most pressing question, so I will give him another opportunity. Knowing that allowing more laid-off workers to collect EI rather than go on welfare will bring an almost immediate boost to the economy, knowing that the so-called stimulus package has not put a single person back to work yet and knowing that fairness needs to be applied country-wide to the rules, action must be taken immediately to avoid further economic retraction.

When will the government change EI hours to 360, or does it just not care?

6:35 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt and it is unfortunate that many Canadian families have suffered at the hands of these difficult economic times. Many Canadians have lost their jobs through circumstances beyond their control. We understand that these are tough and uncertain times for many Canadians.

That is why we have taken action through our economic action plan. We have extended billions of dollars into stimulus. Indeed, just a freezing of EI premiums is an injection of $4.5 billion into our economy. It is significant action to ensure that we have the resources to assist Canadians. We have allocated $60 million to ensure that claims can be processed quickly and families can get access to EI benefits just as fast as they can.

6:40 p.m.


Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, last month the city of Winnipeg was hit with one of the worst floods in its history. Signs of trouble were there to be seen well ahead of time. All the experts predicted high river levels, ice jams and potentially catastrophic outcomes. All eyes were fixed on weather reports and residents made their own plans to protect their property and investments.

Some eyes were also fixed on the reaction of the provincial and local governments. They did not ever suggest that the flood would somehow miss Manitoba. They did not point to a single day of sunshine as something to celebrate while rain and floods were in the forecast. They did not deny that there was a flood until they saw boats floating down main street. No, they took action to protect their citizens from the inevitable. They built flood walls, patrolled dikes and pumps in low-lying areas and later took action to support victims whose homes were badly damaged.

Compare that response to the government response. With an impending economic storm, the government denied that Canada would be hit. It refused to see a rising flood of red ink that would sink the nation into deficit. It said there was no need for sandbags, Canada would be fine and dry.

As for the victims, sadly, Conservatives said to them, “We cannot guarantee your jobs and we will not improve employment insurance much because we do not want to make unemployment too lucrative”.

We watched as the minister highlighted one company contract as a cause to celebrate and then said nothing as the same company laid off thousands of workers just two weeks later.

We see mass layoffs in the auto parts sector with no government strategy for that industry to emerge stronger on the other side of the recession. We have seen no action to keep jobs in Canada as multinationals close Canadian plants and move production elsewhere. Already, over 400,000 jobs have been lost in the recession. Most of these jobs have been lost in industries that need to be a part of a national strategy to emerge from this recession with the strength to capitalize on renewed growth around the world. In fact, it appears that the government strategy is to deny, delay and do little.

The minister has had two months to think about his answer, so I will ask him the same question again. When will the government stop guaranteeing more job losses by refusing to act in the interest of Canada's workers?

6:40 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta


Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in my place to respond to the question asked in the House by the hon. member. My hon. colleague was concerned, among other things, by recent decisions by foreign-based multinationals to close production in Canada and the loss of jobs that resulted.

The Government of Canada shares the hon. member's disappointment in the decisions made by U.S. Steel and Xstrata Nickel. These are challenging economic times and these decisions hit hard the communities and the families that have relied upon these companies for their livelihood.

All around the world companies are making tough decisions in order to secure their future. We want to work with these companies to help them weather the economic storms and ensure that they regard Canada as the best place to do business once the economy begins to improve again. We are also taking steps to ensure that these companies abide by their responsibilities and commitments.

For example, when it acquired Stelco, U.S. Steel agreed to legally binding undertakings. The government is concerned by the actions of U.S. Steel in cutting operations in Canada and by the impact this will have on its workers. While we recognize that these are challenging economic times, we expect the company to live up to its commitments.

The Minister of Industry has sent U.S. Steel a demand letter under section 39 of the Investment Canada Act asking the company to comply with its undertakings. A demand letter is the first step in the enforcement process under the Investment Canada Act.

As for Xstrata, I would like to remind the House that the company has invested over $1.5 billion in Canada over the last two and a half years and it is clear that Canada is still a key part of its future growth strategy.

It is important to keep in mind that although foreign investors have announced reductions in their activities in Canada, they continue to invest billions of dollars in the Canadian economy and they create jobs for Canadians.

6:45 p.m.


Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the parliamentary secretary for a valiant attempt to put a happy face on the saddest of government records.

Economists estimate that Canada lost yet another 50,000 jobs in April. Fifty thousand people in one month have moved from employment to employment insurance.

What positives could the parliamentary secretary find in a government whose inaction has worsened the unemployment rate and yet refuses to make employment insurance fair for all Canadians?

6:45 p.m.


Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are going through tough economic times, but while we try to protect and preserve the jobs that sustain Canadian families and communities we also look to the future.

We must ensure that Canada is open for investment and for new jobs and new opportunities. We must ensure that around the world Canada is seen as the best place to do business.

That does not mean we will not ensure that companies live up to their obligations. Where appropriate we will secure undertakings from foreign companies that wish to do business in Canada. It certainly means that we expect companies to live up to their agreements.

We on this side of the House believe that we can get better results working with these companies where possible in these tough economic times.

I will finish with a quote. This is what foreign commentators have to say about what the Canadian government has done. This quote is from the London Telegraph. Speaking of the Canadian government, it said:

If the rest of the world had comported itself with similar modesty and prudence, we might not be in this mess.

6:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:47 p.m.)