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House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The member for Repentigny has 15 seconds.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I just want to congratulate my colleague. Members will see that the Bloc Québécois has a talent for summing thing up. I wanted to say that I agree with him completely.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act. Even though we on this side of the House support the legislation in principle, I am disturbed by its implications. Despite the government's assertions, the bill does nothing to protect the rights of the child, especially those children under 18 years of age.

I will like to quote from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that:

States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

The government is not upholding its obligations under that convention when, as my colleague from St. Paul's, Ontario point out yesterday in responding to a question, that rolling back the taxes increases the buying power of cigarettes for children, which is what the government has done. If we do not want children and youth to be a target of the tobacco industry, we must not decrease the taxes on cigarettes. What we have done with the decrease of taxes on tobacco has taken $12 billion out of the treasury.

I would like to say a few words about a phenomenon which has not, to my knowledge, been addressed sufficiently by my colleagues, although two or three of them have just spoken of it. I want to speak of the extent of the role of smuggling in the trade and sale of tobacco products.

The Canadian government's decision on smuggling is not the best one. The 1999 report by the World Bank makes the point that even when there is a considerable amount of contraband, higher taxes increase government revenues and reduce smoking. Price hikes encourage smokers to quit, stop others from starting, and reduce the number of former smokers who start up again.

It is also difficult to understand the statement by the Minister of National Revenue reported in the Gazette on April 2, 2009. According to him, the federal government has issued 14 permits to Quebec companies out of a total of 38 across Canada, or 37%. This is in marked contradiction with the stated objective of the government to protect children and youth from the tobacco industry's marketing tactics.

Moreover, 11 of these cigarette manufacturers are located on the Mohawk reserve, where organized crime seems to have infiltrated the tobacco industry. Clearly, contraband is a growth industry. I am not the only one who says so. Other members from other parties have talked about this. It seems to me that it is more prevalent in Quebec than in the other provinces, because the members from the other provinces have not talked about it.

It is estimated that 30% to 40% of the cigarettes sold in Quebec are contraband. The shortfall for the province is in the order of $300 million. Although the government clearly does not have the means at present to effectively monitor the industry and make sure that manufacturers comply with their licences, which would require them to collect taxes on what is sold, this bill will not prevent children and young people from being able to buy tobacco from the lucrative illegal industry. The bill is weak and ineffective, even though it prohibits the packaging, importation for sale, distribution and sale of little cigars and blunt wraps unless they are in a package that contains at least 20 little cigars or blunt wraps.

According to a letter I received from Casa Cubana/Spike Marks Inc. of Montreal dated May 26, 2009, it said: “The government's proposed ban will not in the least address minors' access to tobacco issues. As importantly, the government's proposal will come to further fuel the contraband trade in tobacco by providing exclusive market rights to these products to Native manufacturers and criminal groups”.

The illegal industry will find a way to circumvent the laws if the kind of public education demanded under article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is to make the convention widely known to adults and children, is not carried out. Article 44.6 of the convention also requires Canada to make the reports on child rights widely available to the public and to have the public actively engage in children's rights.

For example, 71% of Canadians who participated in an Ipsos Reid study undertaken for Save the Children Canada in 2004, only five short years ago, gave Canada a C or lower in fulfilling its obligations to improve the lives of Canadian children. At the same time, only 33% of adults who were interviewed answered questions accurately when it came to Canadian children living with HIV, in poverty, with abuse or other social conditions as a result of the increasing marginalization of their parents.

The government has not only failed in its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to educate the public but it is also derelict in those obligations by failing to put in place the necessary legislative policies with effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to curb the lucrative contraband trade.

Here is what is fascinating about this entire approach. According to Luc Martial of Casa Cubana, he was surprised to learn during his meeting with Health Canada officials that the government had little or no actual relevant research on flavoured tobacco products, their market or the industry.

More precisely, Health Canada had no comprehensive understanding as to who exactly is consuming these products; what products are actually being consumed: little cigars or cigarillos, plain or flavoured and in what quantities and frequencies; where and how these products are actually being accessed, whether through friends, family, peers, legal channels or contraband; why consumers were beginning to access these products as opposed to other traditional cigars or cigarettes; and how the use of flavours actually impacts a consumer's decision to start or continue smoking. That seems to be an extremely important point, considering what other colleagues have said earlier.

I find all of that strange to understand because, according to the Canadian Cancer Society's website, findings from a 2006-07 youth smoking survey released on June 23, 2008, and funded by Health Canada, say:

--teenagers in Grades 10-12 use cigars and cigarillos the most. Thirty-five per cent said they had tried cigars, cigarillos and little cigars (39.5% were boys and 30% were girls), while 48% had tried cigarettes.

The Cancer Society's press release says:

Teenagers are very vulnerable to trying tobacco products. There is a risk that cigarillos, which can be just as addictive as cigarettes, could be a starter product for kids who would never start smoking.

The press release also says:

Cigarillos can be cheaper to buy than cigarettes because they come in smaller quantities and are easier to obtain because they are not regulated in the same way.

It would appear that the Conservative Minister of Health, even though she might fund surveys or, and I am giving her a lot of credit here, know what her own department's reports indicate, sales have grown in cigarillos over the last five years. There is obviously no plan in place to protect the most vulnerable. In 2001 about 50,000 cigarillos were sold and 80 million were sold in 2006. What an increase.

What a disaster for our youth. The Canadian Cancer Society also says that the steady decline in smoking observed in recent years among young Canadians aged 10 to 14, in grades 5 to 9, could very well have stopped.

The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of this government. The Conservatives' actions have led to an increase in the risk of mouth, throat, larynx, lung and esophagus cancer.

When will the government shoulder its responsibilities by putting policies and practices where they are really needed?

I support this bill even though it is weak and ineffective. I support it because I recommend referring this bill to committee so that the members can make the necessary amendments to it and turn it into a bill that really addresses the situation facing our young people.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Laval—Les Îles for her rather enlightening speech.

I would also like to ask her a question about the government's responsibility. She noted that ironically, the government had not yet targeted the real problem.

That real problem is associated not only with price point but with the consequences of that price point. She has noted that as taxes go up in order to increase the price of cigarettes, there is a consequent diminution of smoking, but there is as well there is an equally significant and troubling consequence, and that is the emergence of the contraband trade and those who are best equipped to address contraband, not only manufacturing but distribution. They are, by and large, associated with criminal elements who manufacture and distribute other equally noxious products.

French uses “noxious“ to talk about harmful products, but it is not the same in English.

My colleague used the language that is employed in the drug trade in reference to them.

The reason I say that this is ironic is because this is a government that has come forward on getting tough on crime, doing the right thing on criminal issues. As the member has indicated and other colleagues from the Bloc as well have noted, the contraband trade is worth at least $3 billion per annum in cigarette distribution.

There is a loss of $2 billion to the federal and provincial treasuries but not a penny has gone, at least through this bill, toward putting together a strategy for enforcement, for going to the root of the manufacturing and distribution systems, for putting in place a methodology and system to arrest, charge, and then incarcerate or otherwise punish those who would go against the intent of the legislation and the convention, which is, as my colleague has said, the health of young people initially and obviously their continued health as they get on in life.

I wonder if she would comment on this absolute abdication of responsibility, when it comes to doing the right thing from criminal activities and the imposition of the right laws to prevent criminal activity.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague raised an important, yet sensitive question.

It is true that the Conservative government, the Government of Canada, has huge responsibilities with respect to this issue, since some of these criminal elements come from reserves. There is no denying it. That does not mean that the reserves are criminal, and I want to make that clear, but we all know that there are criminal elements here and there.

Thus, the Conservative government has the responsibility to eliminate these criminal elements that work on both sides of the border, on the American side and the Canadian side.

Now, if the Conservative government were more understanding and fair towards aboriginal communities across Canada, these communities would perhaps be in a better position themselves to fight these criminal elements in their own communities. These aboriginal communities see the problem, but they often have no way of tackling it.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, we are supposed to find ways to eliminate smuggling. I have a question for the member for Laval—Les Îles. Instead of having retailers charge the sales tax on tobacco products, could the government not pass legislation to tax the manufacturers of tobacco products? This way, if aboriginal communities or organized crime groups that smuggle cigarettes want to get supplies from companies that produce cigarettes or cigars, they would be taxed directly at the source, and the tax would be charged to the company producing the tobacco products, instead of to the retailers, who then pass that along to consumers.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, we have to consider every step in the process that gets tobacco from the seed to a minor's lips. This is a big problem because the entire industry is going to have to disappear. Our country's political and psychological atmosphere discourages tobacco use. We have seen it, and members on both sides of the House have talked about it.

The tobacco industry is going out of style, much like how horses began to disappear as bicycles and cars became commonplace. People who raised horses found themselves in an industry, a trade that was no longer working for them. In my humble opinion, the tobacco industry is about to experience difficulties that will have an increasingly negative effect on both growers and cigarette manufacturers. We must not only consider the whole process; we must eliminate it.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, I find that my colleague is a lot more learned on this debate than any member of the government side has been prepared to demonstrate and so, I am going to ask her, because she took great pains to make distinctions between correct activity and that which contravenes the law. Now, one of the problems that we have had in fighting smoking and tobacco usage, of course, is getting the appropriate partners.

Some would argue, as I know she would, that some of the legitimate retailers, mom and pop shops, in some of the major cities, have been our greatest allies in deterring young people from purchasing because they refuse to sell. In fact, those proprietors of those stores are already under great surveillance and they do the very best they can to discourage the use of cigarettes, cigarillos and other tobacco products.

What has happened with the emergence of the great contraband trade is that we no longer have a distribution system that is willing to be compliant with the law and, in fact, is in a position where it can be surveyed by law enforcement officers. I am talking about that illegal distribution system. I know she would want to take a moment to point out that legitimate retail operations have been our allies and we are losing them because this act does not address that distinction.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague put it so well that I am hesitant to repeat what he said, but he is absolutely right. Legitimate retailers are disappearing and the illegal trade is gaining strength. That is why I said at the end of my speech that when this bill goes to the Standing Committee on Health, we will have to make amendments that crack down on all contraband, particularly tobacco.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate.

Is the House ready for the question?

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Tobacco ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Hearing no opposition, I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

moved that Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am speaking to Bill C-34, an act to amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

The amendments we are proposing here today will make the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank more effective tools to help the government fight crime, a objective that, I am sure, will be supported by all Canadians and all parliamentarians.

Bill C-34 will implement fundamental reforms to the national sex offender information registry. First and foremost, the government will ensure that in future every individual who is convicted of a serious sexual offence is automatically registered with the national sex offender registry.

Offenders convicted of a serious designated offence under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act will also be required to provide a DNA sample to the national DNA data bank.

As hon. members all know, at this time, not all sex offenders are registered, since crown prosecutors must make a special request for an order to have an offender included on the registry when he or she is convicted of a sex offence, and the presiding judge has the discretion to deny such an order.

The amendments that the government is proposing here today would eliminate that flaw, which allows Canadian sex offenders who have been convicted to avoid being added to the registry, which hampers future police investigations and exposes Canadians to greater risk.

We are taking action to ensure that every individual who is convicted of a serious sexual offence is automatically registered with the national sex offender registry and is required to provide a DNA sample to the national DNA database.

Under the reforms the government is proposing today, the police will also be able to use the national sex offender registry, not only to investigate crimes after the fact but also to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Under the present system, police can only make use of information in the sex offender registry after a crime has happened. They are unable to use that information as a preventive measure to ensure the protection of Canadian communities.

If police see suspicious activity near a school ground, for example, if this law is passed they will be able to request access to the registry to find out if the person involved is a registered sex offender and obtain more information to assist them in their prevention work.

Police and victims' groups have requested these changes for some time. Our government is delivering on them.

The proposed amendments will also allow police services in one region of Canada to advise other foreign or Canadian police jurisdictions that registered sex offenders are traveling to their area.

Furthermore, federal and provincial correctional agencies would have authority to advise registry officials of registered sex offenders’ releases from and any re-admissions to custody.

Currently, travelling sex offenders escape the national sex offender registry. We are changing that. Canadians being transferred to complete a sentence in Canada for a sexual offence conviction committed in another country will automatically be registered. Any Canadian who returns to Canada after having completed a sentence for a sex offence committed outside of Canada will be required to provide written notice of that fact to the police in the province or territory where they are returning and will be required to register if served with a notice to do so.

Many Canadians are shocked to find out that travellers who commit sexual offences can escape the registry upon returning to Canada under the present system. Under Bill C-34, Canada will no longer be a safe haven that protects travelling sex offenders.

Our proposals will help police officers investigate serious sex offences and will protect the Canadian public. Our proposals will increase the amount of information to be included in the registry and will force sex offenders to notify authorities of any absences from their home address of seven days or more.

The bill before us today responds to the concerns expressed by thousands of Canadians about the inadequacies of the present national sex offender registry. It responds to the concerns and recommendations expressed by provincial and territorial governments that have been widely consulted about the present system and how it can be improved. It responds to the concerns and recommendations of law enforcement officials as well as to various victims' groups, all of whom see almost every day the pain and suffering that heinous sexual crimes can cause to victims and their families.

All of this is why I am confident that the hon. members in this House will give speedy passage to the bill under debate. All of us have an interest in preventing crime.

We care deeply about crime prevention, and we all want our streets and our communities to be safe. That is precisely the goal of this bill. That is the opportunity we are being given here today.

This is our opportunity, as Canadians, as members of this House, to take a step to correct the deficiencies in the national sex offender registry. While well intentioned, in practice it has simply not worked to protect Canadians.

We are making the changes today. We are asking this House to make the changes today to make that registry work to protect Canadians. We owe it to all Canadians, to children, to those who have been victims of sexual crimes and to their families. We need to do this, and we need to do it now.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

We will have questions and comments at a later date. It being 6:48 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before resuming debate on this bill, I would like to issue a ruling.

On May 7, prior to the second reading debate on Bill C-280, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) standing in the name of the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, a point of order was raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to the effect that this bill requires a royal recommendation.

The parliamentary secretary argued that Bill C-280 would result in significant new expenditures by lowering the threshold for eligibility for some claimants and changing the formula for the calculation of benefits.

He further noted that Bill C-280 was virtually identical to another private member's bill introduced in the last Parliament, Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits), which had been found to require a royal recommendation.

In replying to the parliamentary secretary's point of order, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh expressed the opinion that a royal recommendation was not required since any new expenditure would be covered by contributions from workers and employers and not by the government.

I have examined the bills carefully and found that as the parliamentary secretary noted, Bill C-280 and Bill C-265 are indeed virtually identical. They both contain proposed changes to the employment insurance program that include lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, setting benefits payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks in the 12 month period preceding the interruption of earnings, and reducing the qualifying period before receiving benefits and removing the distinctions made in the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

On March 23, 2007, in a ruling on Bill C-265, on page 7845 of the Debates, the Chair had concluded that:

It is abundantly clear to the Chair that such changes to the employment insurance program, notwithstanding the fact that workers and employers contribute to it, would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

Therefore, it appears to the Chair that those provisions of the bill which relate to increasing Employment Insurance benefits and easing the qualifications required to obtain them would require a royal recommendation.

Having heard no new compelling argument to reach a conclusion that is different than the one concerning Bill C-265, I will decline to put the question on third reading of Bill C-280 in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

However, today 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.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook has seven minutes remaining in his time slot.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the first hour of debate on the bill, I spoke briefly about some of the substantive measures this government is taking to help Canadians get back to work and to train for the jobs of the future. I also mentioned some of the actions we have taken to protect Canadian jobs.

One of the highlights of our job protection efforts is our improvement of the work sharing program. We have extended 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 the House late last month, over 110,000 Canadians are benefiting right now from our expansion of the work sharing program. Those are jobs that are being protected.

The bill of course deals with the employment insurance program. As discussed numerous times before in this place, this is an area where our government has taken significant action to help Canadians through our economic action plan.

To help Canadians through the challenges posed by the current economic situation, we have extended EI benefits by five additional weeks through a national expansion of an existing pilot program that was focused in areas of high unemployment. These five weeks will help unemployed Canadians who need it most.

We have also increased the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. Further to this, we are introducing a new initiative for long tenured workers who are taking training, allowing those workers to receive EI benefits up to a maximum of 104 weeks while they pursue their training.

As the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said during the first hour of debate on Bill C-280, the proposed NDP legislation before us has not been costed and it does not take into account the future potential unintended consequences on the labour market that these proposed changes may have.

Any proposals for reform to the EI program need to be considered comprehensively within the context of who is going to pay for these changes while also taking into account what impact these proposals would have on helping Canadians get back to work so they can get jobs to put food on the table and provide for their families.

I want to reiterate that our government recognizes the challenges faced by those who have lost their jobs in these difficult times. That is why we want to ensure that any action we take is effective in both the short and the longer term.

That is also why we are monitoring the effectiveness of our measures, to make sure that the EI system is working and responding effectively to the evolving economic circumstances.

What we will not do is implement this Liberal-NDP 360 hour, 45 day work year idea.

The opposition can say what it wants about this scheme, and we know that it will. The fact is that this irresponsible proposal would result in a massive increase in job killing payroll taxes that would hurt workers and businesses alike, at a time when they can least afford it. This irresponsible proposal certainly would not help Canadians find new jobs or get new skills. It would simply add billions and billions more to the tax burden on Canadians.

Members do not have to take it from me. Let us see what others are saying about this Liberal-NDP plan.

The sponsor of the bill herself, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, said on Monday, in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, that “a payroll tax increase may be necessary”.

The Liberals realized this when they stated in a press release back in October that the NDP proposal would result in an “employment insurance premium hike”. They seem to have forgotten that now. It is striking that the Liberal Party would be honest with Canadians when it is looking for their votes during an election but would change its tune now.

It should also be noted that on April 11, 2008, the Liberal EI critic, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, a colleague of mine on the HR committee, said in committee:

It's my view that if you get rid of the regional rates and there are changes forced on the EI system because of the economic circumstances, those in the [high unemployment] regions will be hurt disproportionately.

He also said that the “cost is pretty significant” to do this 360 hour, 45 day work year plan. He said we should “keep the regional rates to protect those people in high unemployment areas”.

He said that just a year ago.

Let us see what others are saying about the Liberal-NDP 45 day work year proposal.

Harvey Enchin said in the Vancouver Sun on May 26:

The Liberal option not only seems illogical but it would raise the federal deficit--and probably taxes--while doing nothing to address the fact that many of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back. The Conservative government is right to reject it.

The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training and transition programs.

Here is what Don Martin, of the Calgary Herald, said on the same day:

But just 360 hours to qualify? For a benefit payment period that’s just shy of a year? That’s a bit rich, even for Liberals.

Yet there are many better ways to reform the system, starting with the Conservative’s reannounced $500-million to stretch benefits for long-term workers....

I agree with that and I think a good many Canadians do as well. Unlike the opposition's rhetoric and irresponsible plans, our government's economic action plan is helping Canadians get new skills for new jobs and is helping Canadians through these tough economic times. Unlike the opposition, on this side of the House we will not force all working Canadians and businesses to pay more taxes for this proposal.

Our government is helping and will continue to help Canadians get the training they need for the jobs of tomorrow. We will continue to help preserve jobs so that hard-working Canadians can continue to pay their mortgages and provide for the needs of their families. Our economic action plan is providing additional support to Canadians in a responsible, coordinated way, and we will continue to do so.

The proposal before us is not responsible and that is why we on this side of the House cannot support it .

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-280. The issue of employment insurance is critical and impacts every community in our country. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the need for changes to this critical component of our social infrastructure.

Since the economic crisis began, more than 300,000 Canadians have lost their jobs. Our system of employment insurance, designed more than 60 years ago, was simply not structured to effectively manage a national crisis of this scope.

More than 40% of unemployed Canadians who have paid into employment insurance do not qualify for benefits because of where they live. This is a serious concern and one the bill takes steps to address.

Employment insurance rules have not kept pace with the changing work environment. Current restrictions on claiming employment insurance benefits are preventing workers who have paid into the program from claiming money to support their families now when they need it most.

Across the country, 58 regional standards govern which Canadians are eligible for temporary assistance when laid off from their jobs and which Canadians are left to fend for themselves. This means that while most of us pay into the employment insurance program for most of our lives, we may never be eligible to receive employment insurance if we happen to lose our jobs through no fault of our own.

This assortment of regional standards is clearly not meeting the needs of the unemployed. We are seeing cases, for example, where two workers are laid off in the same factory and have paid the same amount into employment insurance but are now receiving different levels of assistance because their town just happens to straddle the border of two employment insurance regions.

In my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, I recently heard from a young professional woman who in my riding found herself applying for employment insurance for the very first time because she was laid off from her job as an occupational therapist. Her hours had already been scaled back and she was working mostly part time in the months leading up to the permanent layoff. As a first time filer in my region, she needed 840 hours to qualify for benefits. The reduction in the hours over the previous months left her with only 581 insurable hours, not nearly enough to qualify.

I also think of fish plant workers, for example, from Petty Harbour who work side by side doing the same work for the same number of hours with someone from the community right next door. The person from Petty Harbour needs 630 hours to qualify and his fellow worker living nearby in the next community needs 420 hours.

In this economic situation, the employment insurance system is not right for the times and needs to be adjusted.

I believe that a temporary national 360-hour standard of employment insurance eligibility should be introduced for as long as this economic crisis in Canada persists. This would set a temporary consistent standard across the country and make it easier for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own to qualify for benefits during this crucial time.

This proposal would not only mean 150,000 additional unemployed Canadians would have access to benefits, but it would also inject much needed spending in some of the hardest hit communities. Families spending money on food, rent and transportation translates into one of the most immediate, effective and direct ways to get desperately needed stimulus money flowing into our communities.

During this time of record job losses, we need to help unemployed Canadians. Implementing a national 360-hour standard to qualify for employment insurance would provide benefits for thousands of Canadians who have paid into the system and who now need help to support their families.

As we pull through this difficult economic time, it will be crucial to ensure that areas facing chronically high levels of unemployment are helped by the development of consistent standards for employment insurance and are not made to meet unreachable targets that would be impossible in other areas.

Most stakeholders strongly support the creation of a 360-hour standard for employment insurance. Social policy organizations across the country, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Labour Congress and many unions, have all advocated for a national standard.

Provincial political leaders are also calling for changes to the employment insurance system. Several premiers, including Premier McGuinty, Premier Stelmach and Premier Campbell, have all called for a national standard for employment insurance. Unfortunately, the government would rather leave Canadian families to fend for themselves than fix this crucial program.

Rather than opting to inject stimulus funding into local economies through increased employment insurance eligibility, which vulnerable families spend on groceries, transportation and housing, the government has characterized employment insurance as being too lucrative. This characterization by the minister is insulting to the thousands of Canadians struggling to make ends meet while they search for new meaningful jobs, and it is simply not true.

Families are burdened with enough concerns during these troubled economic times without adding additional confusion and apprehension about whether or not they will be able to qualify for employment insurance should they lose their jobs. I am hearing calls for clarity from workers in my riding in advance of this summer's closure of a telecommunications company in Mount Pearl, Teletech.

My constituents are concerned about whether they will qualify for benefits and would like to know if they will actually have access to some of the training programs. Clarity on qualification standards would go a long way to answering some of the many questions workers face when they know an eventual layoff, plant closure or restructuring at their place of employment is on the horizon.

Last week, in an attempt to convince Canadians her government would be taking badly needed action on this issue, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development simply repeated a part of the budget in place of announcing some kind of plan. The minister's reannouncement of funding for employment insurance training programs does nothing to help the thousands of Canadians who have not been lucky enough to qualify for employment insurance benefits in the first place. Not one new worker will qualify for employment insurance or benefit from this training program. These programs apply only to those who qualify for employment insurance already, leaving thousands of Canadians out in the cold.

Funding for training, while a crucial component of a strategy to address retraining and chronic unemployment, is not the full answer to this problem. If Canadians cannot qualify for this assistance in the first place, these training benefits are of no use.

In response to a question I recently asked in the House, the minister responsible for employment insurance indicated that it was becoming easier for people to access employment insurance, backing up this claim by pointing to regions of the country where so many workers have lost their jobs that the eligibility standards have changed. In her response, the minister stated, “The worse the situation gets, the easier it is for people to collect benefits”. Is that not unbelievable?

It would seem that the government's solution to the employment insurance crisis is to wait for more businesses to close, more companies to fail and more Canadians to lose their jobs so that the threshold for that region would change. This is a staggeringly inadequate strategy.

There is a clear need to undertake an intensive review of employment insurance and to carefully consider the changes that will make employment insurance more accessible during this economic crisis. Employment insurance rules have not kept pace with the changing work environment and it is time to address these shortfalls. Restrictions are preventing workers who have paid into the program from claiming benefits now to support their families when they need it most.

The government has a responsibility to help, especially during this economic crisis. It is time for the government to actually do something to help the unemployed.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this bill, a very important bill, even though we see some flaws in it. I will follow up on the comments of my hon. colleague and address the accessibility of EI.

Seeing that my hon. colleagues from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and Saint-Lambert, with whom I work on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities are both here, I will take this opportunity to remind the House that the committee is currently carrying out a study on poverty in the country. One point that everyone appearing as witnesses on behalf of their various groups is making is that the restrictions to the EI program put a terrible burden on individuals, make them poorer and make things worse for them. They are unable to have access to benefits despite the fact that, in many cases, they have contributed to the program for weeks and months.

We know that many steps were taken over the years to exclude as many people as possible from the program and that, as a result, a minority of those contributing to EI actually receive benefits. Previous speakers, except for those from the Conservative Party of course, recognized that this is a major problem that has to be addressed.

We are delighted that the Liberal Party now agrees with us and recognizes the need to implement measures as soon as possible. Such measures will help those who are losing their jobs, of course, but they will also contribute to the economic recovery.

Bill C-280, which was put forward by my hon. colleague from the NDP, calls for a minimum of 360 hours of work to qualify for benefits. Adding five weeks of benefits is another measure. Some might say that those five weeks have already been granted in the last budget, but I should point out that this is a temporary measure designed to get out of the current crisis.

Missing are a number of measures we would have liked to see come about. We would have liked benefits to rise from rise from 55% of insurable earnings to 60%. The same for the two week waiting period. I will come back to that later, when the bill put forward by the Bloc Québécois, a more comprehensive bill in my opinion, comes up for consideration.

We will also have some questions for our NDP friends about how the rules will be relaxed during the economic crisis, including new criteria for people who received employment insurance overpayments previously or who have received a penalty. The rules are not quite clear. I think that when we study this bill in committee, we will have an opportunity to go into detail in this area, which is still a bit vague.

All the same, we have to be realistic about the work that needs to be done. Earlier, I mentioned that our Liberal friends had expressed their intent to vote for this bill. However, we need to know their precise intentions. The only measure the Liberal Party has proposed so far—a proposal it has made over and over—is the 360-hour rule. The Liberals think that it is a way to help us get out of the crisis. But this bill includes a permanent rule that will last as long as the House believes it to be appropriate given the state of the economy.

That is the only measure the Liberals have discussed and debated up to now. For Bill C-280 specifically, we have to urge the Speaker of the House and the Prime Minister to have a vote on this bill at third reading. Will they vote at third reading? Voting at second reading is a much smaller commitment when the Speaker announces that he does not intend to authorize third reading unless the bill receives a royal recommendation.

There is another important issue with respect to the credibility of the proposal. We have to remember that the system is what it is right now because of the previous government. The current government is making a mistake by keeping these bad measures in place. But it was the previous government that passed Bill C-17 in 1994, Bill C-12 in 1996, Bills C-32 and C-2 in 2000, Bill C-49 in 2002 and Bill C-23 in 2005.

That does not mean much, because they are just numbers. But each of those bills, which were passed and became laws, represent measures to limit access to EI as much as possible. According to the Department of Human Resources and Social Development, about 44.6% of all people who claim EI can expect to receive benefits. That is quite serious, because it affects not only those losing their jobs, but also their families, the local economy, the regional economy and the economy of the provinces concerned.

We know that someone who does not receive EI benefits will eventually find themselves on welfare, which is administered exclusively by the provinces, even though this person made contributions to the EI system and the EI fund. But the Canadian government does not contribute one cent to this fund. I would call that a serious economic crime, because access to EI is being compromised. We know now that there was a surplus of about $57 billion that the government spent on other things over the past 12 years. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of families who have suffered because of these measures, some of whom have been plunged into poverty.

The Bloc Québécois has consistently brought forward bills that, every time, have been fought by the two big federal majority parties.

In conclusion, if the Liberal Party wants to be credible—because the Conservatives are hopeless, and this is clear from their right-wing measures that take away all the means to support the economy and especially the poor—it must first vote in favour of Bill C-280. It must in particular, as of June 19, join us in studying and debating in favour of Bill C-308, which I introduced on behalf of my party. This bill of course brings back the 360 hours and the 60% of income earned, eliminates the distinctions, eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length, and bases the calculation of benefits on the 12 best weeks.

This is my invitation to my colleagues here in the House. The time has come to fix the employment insurance system.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-280, which was introduced by the NDP member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. I want to thank her for putting this bill forward. There is some controversy around it, as we have heard from the Speaker, about the cost factor.

In the midst of this recession, where so many workers who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves unemployed and today quite desperate, Bill C-280 would begin the process of setting right those aspects of Canada's employment insurance system that have been shut down for so many Canadians since the 1990s, as we heard from the previous speaker.

On first examination, Bill C-280 appears to be relatively simple legislation, but I will remind members present that it has two significant objectives. The bill would create a uniform level entry for every person who made a claim for EI benefits by lowering the threshold hours for qualification to 360 hours for people in every region of Canada.

We hear from various media outlets that the Liberal leader is proposing the same 360 hours for qualification for EI benefits, but I would point out that the Liberal leader is in fact proposing only a temporary fix to the qualifying hours for just one year.

I want to be clear. This NDP member's bill, Bill C-280, proposes a permanent change to 360 hours for qualifying for benefits. In addition, Bill C-280 would ensure benefits to people based on their best 12 weeks of earnings in the year prior to their claim. You will know, Madam Speaker, that this would be a marked improvement over the current 14 weeks that are considered to set benefit levels today.

It appears from the comments of the Leader of the Opposition that current Liberals are actually interested in reforming employment insurance. We in the NDP have called for this for years. In fact, I would say the Liberals have a particular understanding of the current EI rules because much of what we need to repair today comes from the damage that they themselves inflicted on the system in the 1990s.

We will also recall it was during that period that the Liberal finance minister, later prime minister, the former member for LaSalle—Émard, not only changed the eligibility rules for employment insurance but the very name of unemployment insurance was changed to employment insurance. Those changes included a change of philosophical view regarding the contributions of workers and employers, that they now be viewed not as premiums for insurance but as being payroll taxes. The contribution/premiums acquired then could be directed to general revenues and debt reduction.

Turning EI into a tax on working people, fed Liberal surplus budgets and helped the Liberals justify implementing corporate tax breaks. Of course this was a passion shared by their friends of the day, the Progressive Conservatives. However, in fairness, I am pleased that the Liberals have done a 180° turn and now, apparently, at least as a temporary measure, share the our goal to see the threshold for benefits lowered to 360 hours.

Bill C-280 would put an end to the regional disparity in the qualifying period. This NDP bill would ensure the flow of EI dollars to more Canadians, who so desperately need them right now.

The existing EI rules set nine different sets of criteria in terms of hours worked for nine different ranges of regional unemployment rates. Workers in Canada may be required to have anywhere from 420 to 700 hours of eligible work to become a claimant for this benefit. This inequity is not suited for the kinds of job losses we see in Canada today. Regional unemployment rates are in flux and shift from day to day and week to week. EI must be better able to respond to this challenge. Common sense should dictate this, but I find common sense just is not common in the halls of the current government, or the preceding one, for that matter.

We are hearing support for changes to EI from some non-traditional places, such as the TD Bank and the Caledon Institute, both of which are saying that lowering the number of hours needed to qualify for employment insurance is the right thing to do to further combat the global recession.

These two particular groups clearly understand that EI not only serves the individual, but serves the communities' well-being and that of our nation as a whole. They understand very well that if we hang our workers and communities out to dry, it is not only bad for business but bad for the future of our country as a whole.

Across this country, Canadians will tell us very quickly there is much more to an economy than balance sheets and mathematical equations. For instance, Canadians know that the economy is only as secure as the lives of the people who make up our country.

The TD Bank and the Caledon Institute have taken a view of our economy that is both one for the long term, as well as for the short term. They recognize that one important economic measure that will help support a hurting economy in an almost immediate way is an employment insurance system that catches more people in a safety net, not fewer.

There will be those, and even some in this place, who will contend that we cannot afford to make employment insurance more accessible.

After years of building up a $54 billion EI surplus, the Conservative government wrote it off the books last year. The government owes Canadians the EI protection that they have paid into for years. Canadians have played by the rules, and now the federal government must set EI rules that protect them.

I can hear it now, like an echo in this place, how the government has already expanded the number of weeks a person can remain as a claimant. Yes, this is certainly true. However, those five weeks mean nothing to a person, to a family, when the person does not even qualify for benefits in the first place. And those extra weeks are only a temporary stopgap added to the end of a benefit period, where statistically people are even less likely to claim them.

The NDP has told the Conservative government repeatedly how it is critically important to remove the two-week waiting period for new claimants at the front end if we want to help a majority of claimants right now.

What is clear is that we have the opportunity to not only do the right thing at a time of national need, but we clearly cannot afford to miss this opportunity to fix a discriminatory and close to dysfunctional system.

The current Conservative government often looks to the U.S. to see its experience in any given matter. I offer the chief economist for Moody's credit rating service as an example. He testified before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business last July that apart from U.S. food stamps, the best bang for the government buck was to ensure that unemployed workers had access to employment insurance benefits.

To determine the effectiveness of differing stimulus measures, he compared their multipliers, an equation that gives a dollar amount to the economic activity created by a government dollar spent to stimulate the economy. His conclusions, for some, will be shocking.

A typical right-wing solution, such as a permanent tax cut, came in as a loss, a negative equation, that saw the dollar spent fizzle to half of its value. His opinion was that they were drains on the economy.

Infrastructure spending was quite good, with a multiplier of $1.59 for every dollar spent. In his view, again, the problem with infrastructure spending is in the amount of time it takes to have the money flow to the economy, which is exactly what we are living in Canada today.

His suggestion was that the better way to get money into the community immediately was through increases in spending on unemployment insurance. With a multiplier of $1.64, that would get the job done.

I will close by saying that our first best chance to help Canadians directly and in a tangible way is through Bill C-280. I ask members to join the NDP and support this bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-280.

In the current economic situation, our government is taking unprecedented action to help Canadians adjust to the changing economy and acquire the skills required for the jobs of tomorrow, as seen by our government's economic action plan.

One of the things we are doing to help and protect Canadians during the economic downturn is investing $8.3 billion to the Canadian skills and transition strategy. We are providing unprecedented support for workers to train and acquire new skills. Our plan will invest an additional $1 billion in funding over the next two years for training delivered under the EI program through existing labour market development agreements. This funding will help the provinces and the territories train an additional 100,000 EI eligible claimants.

To help Canadian workers who are not EI eligible, we are also providing $500 million to establish the strategic training and transition fund to support their training needs. To help workers while they are looking for work and who have been unemployed for longer periods, our plan provides nationally an extra five weeks of EI benefits. That was offered as part of a pilot project that had previously only been provided in regions with high unemployment. We have also increased the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program by five weeks, raising it from 45 to 50 weeks.

This government is pursuing a broad-based labour market approach aimed at helping Canadians through this economic downturn. We are doing this by helping them upgrade their skills to get new jobs, while injecting significant economic stimulus into the economy.

With respect to the bill that we have before us today, there are, however, many problems. First, this legislation fails to consider how changes being proposed would impact the EI program as a whole. It fails to consider what the impact would be upon labour markets, and it fails to consider how much it would cost, a particularly important consideration during tough economic times.

Any responsible proposal that seeks to make permanent changes to the EI program needs to consider how the proposed changes would be paid for, who would pay for them and how these changes would help Canadians get back to work so they can provide for their families.

As mentioned earlier in remarks, our government is doing many things to help those in need, but what it will not do is implement the Liberal-NDP 360 hour, 45 work days a year idea. This is what this bill seeks to implement.

We are not the only ones who believe this bill is an ill-conceived idea. On April 3 of this year the Scarborough Mirror reported that the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood said he was “hesitant” on the 360 hour threshold, saying that nine weeks of work seemed “low” Commenting on the impact that this legislation would have on the labour market, here is what Jack Mintz said in the National Post:

--shortening drastically the qualification period would encourage greater turnover of workers, result in a permanent rise in the unemployment rate and impose a high economic cost.

Mr. Mintz also addressed the opposition's position on EI, saying:

But, one should be careful not to come to quick conclusions about access to EI.

He then referred to a study by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development that said:

...shows that eligibility is not a problem for many hardworking Canadians who have recently lost a long-term job.

The fact of the matter is hard-working people who have just lost a long-term job and who have paid EI for years are some of the people who are hurting most right now. This proposed legislation does absolutely nothing to help them.

Commenting on the Liberal-NDP 45 day work year proposal, this is what a Vancouver Sun columnist said:

The Liberal option not only seems illogical but it would raise the federal deficit--and probably taxes--while doing nothing to address the fact that many of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back. The Conservative government is right to reject it....

The federal government is on the right track with investment in skills training and transition programs...

The fact of the matter is that this proposal would result in a massive job-killing payroll tax that would hurt workers and businesses at a time when they can least afford it. It would do nothing to help workers get new skills and new jobs.

The hon. members of this place should understand that the people who will be most directly impacted by this payroll tax hike will be the working poor, people earning between $15,000 and $40,000 a year, people who work for minimum wage. Many members of this House have not worked for minimum wage month after month. I have. It is those people most of all, along with small businesses, who need to be protected from this cash-grab payroll tax hike the opposition is proposing.

It should also be noted that this bill will make the proposed changes permanent. There are no temporary measures here. Let us not be fooled in this regard. On one hand, they say that temporary changes are favoured, and on the other hand they say they support this bill that would make a 45-day work year permanent. The Liberals cannot keep their stories straight. Let us take a trip through some of their flip-flops.

The NDP sponsor of this bill, herself, said in the StarPhoenix on June 1, “A payroll tax increase may be necessary”. The Liberals, however, realized this back in October, and they said so. They said the NDP plan would result in an employment insurance premium hike. I guess this is one of the ways the Liberals will have to raise taxes. Now the Liberals will deny that they will need to raise EI taxes on lower income workers. Well, which is it?

I know the Liberal member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and the official opposition EI critic had much to say on this issue. He continues to ask why we are sticking with the regional rates and are not implementing this Liberal-NDP job-killing 45-day work year idea.

Well, I can tell members by using the words of the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour from April 1, 2008 in committee,

It's my view that if you get rid of the regional rates and there are changes forced on our EI system because of the economic circumstances, those in the regions will be hurt disproportionately.

He also said that the “cost is pretty significant” to do this 360-hour, 45-day work year idea. He said that we should, “keep the regional rates. This is to protect those people in high unemployment areas”. He said that barely a year ago.

On May 13, 2005, the former Liberal government also said in its response to the human resources committee:

--significantly reducing entrance requirements...is not likely to equate to substantially increased EI coverage, particularly for the long-term unemployed.

Now they do not seem to agree with themselves.

I am loath to quote Liberal members opposite who now seem bent on implementing irresponsible and ill-conceived policies, but I must say that on past occasions they did occasionally talk some common sense. But where has that sense gone?

If we are trying to help others, I think the Liberals, especially the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, should try to help themselves. They should listen to what they themselves had to say in the past. They might learn a few things.

While the opposition continues to propose irresponsible and ill-conceived ideas that will only increase taxes by billions of dollars, Canadians can rest assured that our government has taken unprecedented and effective action to support workers to get through these difficult economic times.

This government will not raise payroll taxes on working Canadians, on low income Canadians. We will not target small business and the workers of this country.

The proposals in Bill C-280 would result in a massive increase in a job-killing payroll tax that would hurt workers and businesses at a time when they can least afford it. These proposals would also do nothing to help hard-working Canadians who have paid into EI for years and years, and have just lost their job.

It is for these reasons and the reasons I mentioned earlier that I cannot, and I will not, support Bill C-280.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and respond at the completion of the second reading stage of my private member's bill.

I am grateful for all the MPs who spoke to the bill and look forward to continuing this discussion in committee should the House vote to move in that direction which I expect it will.

New Democrats have been focusing on problems within the employment insurance system for many years now. We criticized the change that took EI from being a self-sufficient fund capable of responding to immediate problems without jeopardizing year to year fiscal budgets to becoming part of Canada's general revenues and expenditures.

We all know that over $55 billion was stolen by the Liberals and used to pay down the deficit. Now, it would seem that the Liberals have finally come to their senses and may very well realize that NDP members were right all along.

The Conservatives have continued to use EI premiums paid by employers and employees as a cashflow for general revenue instead of ensuring that it be a stand-alone fund which would specifically be used by those who find themselves out of work.

We expressed grave concerns about how it was becoming more difficult to claim employment insurance and the inequities that were coming to define the program.

New Democrats criticized how EI became a tax on workers, a tax that led to a decade of surpluses, a tax that fueled corporate tax cuts by both the Conservatives and the Liberals, and a tax that placed an unfair burden on hard-working Canadians and employers who have the right at this point to demand more for all they have paid for over the years.

Had EI remained relatively accessible for Canadians who lost their jobs throughout these changes, it may have been more difficult to criticize some of these changes, but it has not. Employment insurance is only accessible to about 40% of those who pay into it. Where is the justice in that? There is none.

With 347,400 jobs lost since the last election and another 320,700 laid off in that same period of time, there is no question that this is a timely bill.

Just as the motion by my colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, which was passed by the House in March was timely, we have witnessed this week that the government is capable of moving dramatically to support communities in dire need as it bailed out GM, highlighting the number of spin-off jobs and the damage that would be done to communities as one of the biggest reasons to do so.

That is the same argument we can make for improving EI and I wish the government would have done the same with regard to our forestry industry.

Employment insurance is widely seen as a viable form of economic stimulus that protects communities from events such as we are seeing today. It allows the local stores to stay in business by ensuring that they still have a customer base.

The bottom line is that for every $1 that is paid out to a person who is unemployed, it is an economic stimulus of $1.64 into the economy. It prevents diaspora scenarios in many smaller centres like some of those from my constituency: Nairn Centre, Hornepayne, Wawa, White River, Manitouwadge, Kapuskasing and Hearst, while they wait for mills and plants to reopen or logging trucks to roll again.

It is not just employment insurance. It is a community insurance.

The bill would help these communities by removing regional distinctions and level the playing field of eligibility for EI benefits to 360 hours. New Democrats recognize that it is just as important to protect neighbourhood communities in large centres as it is to protect smaller towns and communities.

The bill would also reduce the sampling period for a claim from the best 14 weeks to the best 12 weeks of the previous year.

As I said previously, I would like to thank all the members who have joined in the debate on this bill. I believe that by engaging in these debates we will keep the issue of the inequity that has been built into the employment insurance program front and foremost in our national dialogue.

New Democrats are committed to the fight for an equitable employment insurance program that serves our country well. The bill would go a long way in that direction and I look forward to shepherding it through the committee process.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

7:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?