House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provisions.


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5 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec


Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, first, I listened attentively to my colleague from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I would like to ask him the following question.

First, in the last session, his party voted against what is called the violent crime bill. Second, that party voted against the drug trafficking bill. That party voted against the human trafficking bill. I have not been here long, about three and a half years, and every time, systematically and on every occasion, I agree with him here, the Bloc always works for the criminals. It never works for the victims when criminals have some right.

I would like to know why he is still voting against this bill today and why he has advised his party to still be against this bill, a law that is needed for the protection of the public.

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5 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, some people think that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles is a little demagogue who distorts the facts and is incapable of any consistency with the truth in any form whatsoever. I would not want you to think I am the one saying that, but on occasion I have had to listen to descriptions along that line when someone was talking to me about the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

The Bloc Québécois has an extremely impressive track record when it comes to vigilance against organized crime. I was the first member to introduce a bill to deal with criminal organizations. We got $1,000 bills withdrawn. At the time when Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles had a very vigilant member, in the person of Richard Marceau, that is what we did. On the last day of the Martin government, we got a bill passed to reverse the burden of proof for proceeds of crime.

So when it comes to this gratuitous demagoguery from the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who distorts the facts and is incapable of any sustained legal reasoning, we do not need it. We voted against the bills he referred to because there were mandatory minimum sentences in them. He would be unable to rise in this House and present us with a single scientific study that supports his views. The member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles is the master of demagoguery.

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5:05 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have seen it again. We have seen a member of the governing party make the argument that if we criticize the Conservatives or vote against legislation, then we are siding with terrorists. They are trying to boil this whole argument down to little 30-second clips so they can use it on their television ads. It is all about the next campaign.

Does the member think there is any possibility that parts of the bill could be used to target individuals engaged in legal protests or union activities, such as strikes, or anti-war demonstrations against the war in Afghanistan or any other such activity?

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5:05 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have not reread the recent briefs submitted to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, but I recall that in 2002 I read briefs from witnesses who told us that the definition of “terrorist” was so broad that they actually believed that this kind of connection could be made between apprehended terrorist activities and organizations like unions and ideological or other groups.

I know that some people were apprehensive about this, but I do not know whether the recent work done by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security has resulted in any narrowing of the definition of “terrorist” from the 2002 definition.

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June 9th, 2009 / 5:05 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the bill. I have the objective to cover a number of topics that I think might give us the full picture.

Too often in the House, we talk about specific legislation. We call it “C-19” or C-whatever. We talk about clauses in bills. We talk about the black letter law and the fine lines. All too often, it must be lost on the Canadian citizenry, stakeholders such as law enforcement officials and attorneys general, et cetera, and all of us that there is a wider context and broader scope.

Today, we are essentially discussing aspects in the Criminal Code of Canada. I have said a number of times that a great way to get Conservatives on our side is to say that one of the best things they ever did as a party was to have a bright Maritimer, a former prime minister and minister of justice, Sir John Thompson. In 1892, when he was the minister of justice, he collated and wrote the Criminal Code of Canada, many years after we became a country. The hon. member from Scarborough has said it maybe it was one of the last goods things they did. That is probably unfair, but it history will judge.

The point is we live with the Criminal Code. The fact it was enacted it in 1892 and has never really had a wholesale revision of it means that we keep adding things to it. We keep adding layers to the Criminal Code. One of the layers we enacted in the wake of 9/11, the terrorist attacks on North America and our security and sovereignty as it was felt then, was section 83.1, a separate section on terrorism. It became law on January 17, 2002.

This was the context where we said that we would take 24 pages of the code and dedicate it to anti-terrorism tactics and legislation. It is a good place to start, because I have mostly been hearing a bit of a repetition from the Conservative side of the fine points about anti-terrorism legislation and how we have to shore this up because we kind of lost the boat in 2007. We have to clean this up and stop the leaks. It is only two subsections, which is a very small part of the 30 pages.

There has not been a wholesome discussion of what we did in 2002 in reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. However, what I have heard all day from members of the opposition is the supposition that the Criminal Code takes care of all criminal activities and that there should not really be a special circumstance for acts of terrorism, that other parts of the code protect individual liberties. Criminals are people accused of crimes. They say that these should be good enough and that we should not have a special section on terrorism.

There is a lot written about how we reacted as a country and as Parliament to the acts of 9/11. There may be a thought after the passage of time that we overreacted with respect to the intrusion upon individual liberties and rights as defined in the charter. That will be a judgment of history. I do not think events are written into history in three, five or ten years. As they say, history is often written by the winners, but history is also often written when the winners and losers are long gone. The judgment of history will decide whether there were overreactions in North America or the western world with respect to 9/11.

However, when we look at the context of section 83.1, we can see that it is written fairly broadly and fairly comprehensively to take international situations into account. I do not think it can be said that the whole of section 83.1 was an overreaction that went too far. I have yet to hear the opposition parties say that the section 83.1 should be thrown out. I take it as an admission that the other opposition parties feel section 83.1 is worth keeping.

I think of my friends in the Bloc, particularly my friend from Hochelaga, who rail against certain sections of 83.1, in particular the recognizance preventive detention sections, which are the crux of the debate today. It is very curious that at the justice committee, he was the very member who brought forward the motion to suggest we should list organized crime organizations as outlawed associations and further our work in battling crime. It is a sure analogy because that is the very thing we did in section 83.1. By cabinet decision, by Governor-in-Council, there can be a scheduled list of terrorist groups, which then is made to apply to this part of the Criminal Code.

The member from the Bloc, who was extremely eloquent in defending his position, undercuts himself when he says that we should do this domestically in the Criminal Code, buttress section 467.1, which is the organized crime part of the code, with a legislated listing or organized crime associations, just like we did in 2002 with terrorist organizations.

I am a little concerned that opposition members are perhaps overreacting to legislation, the bulk of which heretofore they have not objected to.

I have a word on organized crimes. It is not an advertisement for the upcoming justice committee hearings, but it is worth noting that we spend 26 pages in the Criminal Code on terrorism and we spend 4 pages on organized crime. Currently we are trying to move organized crime into the terrorism section 83.1 by perhaps naming organizations and buttressing that section. If we are talking about organized crime, we can go to section 467.1 and say that this is what Parliament intended in dealing with this specific problem.

There is great recognition in the House that there is a specific problem when it comes to organized crime. Unlike what my friends in the other opposition parties are saying, it is not all found elsewhere in the Criminal Code. We are not talking about simple assault or murders. We are talking about murders, assaults and harm done by criminal organizations.

It is easier for us to understand that because we know about criminal organizations, drugs and crime. We see it every day. We see there are not enough prosecutions to keep up with the crimes. It is in front of us and it is in front of our constituents. It is open, it is notorious and it is there to see. Therefore, we see the need for that.

In the months after 9/11 we saw the need for section 83.01. As I say, I do not think there has been a backtracking on the need for a separate section on anti-terrorism legislation.

Like all reviews of legislation and like all needs for legislation, from time to time it is important to look back and see whether we overstepped. I am not saying that this would be part of the debate today, but an act of terrorism is defined in section 83.01, as many of those definitions are defined by universal declarations. I will not go through them all. They have been well pounded out by international organizations, declarations and conventions. They are all there. The definitions are clear. However, they are also for acts or omissions in or outside of Canada.

It was groundbreaking for this part of the code to take into account acts or omissions that took place offshore. It was very vital for us to treat terrorist offences differently in that way so we could have extraterritorial jurisdiction. However, it goes on to say that these acts are committed in whole or in part for political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.

I know a number of lawyers who have been involved with some very high profile cases, including none other than the member for Mount Royal. They have suggested that the phrase, which precurses the debate of the sections we are getting into, may be a bit wide.

If we think about it, in organized crime we do not get into the ideological, political or religious reasons why organized criminal organizations open up chop shops or grow marijuana for the currency in the drug trade, corrupting our youth with respect to illicit drugs. We do not much care about that. We care about the fact that they are organized, they have targeted groups and they harm people by various crimes that would otherwise be in the code.

It is similar with respect to terrorism. We might say that ideological purpose drives a person to be a suicide bomber, and I understand that, but in this day and age, in our country of pluralistic values, the word religious hits a button, which I think is objectionable. The fact that it does not exist in the patriot act would tell us that the Americans bill of rights will not countenance it.

If we had to gauge reactions to 9/11, probably the American response was a little more reactive than ours. Again, history will judge that. I say that as a precursor because I know the influence for a lot of this legislation may be British in origin.

The British Parliament in its legislation, as it does not have a code, has been reactive to terrorism for a lot longer. It has some of the best crack units in anti-terrorism and some of the best intelligence gathering because of its longer experience with terrorist activities, which, in the main, were caused with the “problems” in Northern Ireland. Again that went back to the thought many years ago that this was only a religious problem. That is something at which we might want to looked.

Remember we are talking about the last three or four pages. With respect to the bill itself, the first 20 or so pages talk about the special powers that might be given to judges and prosecutors to amass evidence and property. As section 83.03 says, providing or making available property or services for terrorist purposes is an offence. There is the whole section of establishing the list.

There is the admission of foreign information obtained in confidence, which would not necessarily apply to a domestic crime. This is why section 83.1 is needed. There is the freezing of property, which again is a special element of the anti-terrorist campaign to get rid of parts of the Criminal Code. There is immunity from disclosure. There are audit powers that are necessary for the incursions into terrorist organizations. There are restraint and forfeiture of property applications that fill this part of the section. There are forfeiture provisions unaffected and participation in an activity and terrorist group, which are the collateral named or delineated offences.

There are a number of activities of harbouring and concealing terrorists, the instructing to carry out a terrorist activity if the individual is not the actual person involved, before we get to the debate about investigative hearings and the arrest warrant for detention in aid of that.

The Canadian public should know, and parliamentarians should keep reminding themselves, that we have no intention of getting rid of section 83.1, the whole terrorist part II.1. Not a speaker rose and said we should get rid of that.

The so-called sunset provision would maybe let the public feel or some people think that we have not had a lot of incidents, that maybe we do not need this heavy-handed tool, therefore the whole Anti-terrorist Act regime in this part of the code will go out. It is not part of the debate today.

We are talking about two provisions of the legislative agenda and whether they should be returned to the code and looked at on an annual basis, as the amended act says, and reviewed. Also it should be looked at within the view of terminating it within five years, another sunset provision.

The investigative hearings, in particular, have been tested by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is another thing I did not hear much about in the debate today. In the 2004 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, Bagri, sections 7 and 11(d) of the charter were declared not to have been violated by these sections of the code.

This is now 2009. Five years ago, and two years after the enactment, those sections have been declared, without further challenge in five years, to have been compliant with the charter. We are now debating whether they should go back in. One reason is there have been improvements to the deleted or the sunsetted provisions by virtue of the work of the House and the other House.

Bill C-19, replaces, in the two section I want to talk about, the pith of the debate, sections 83.28 and 83.3 of the Criminal Code. These call for an investigative hearing to gather information for the purposes of an investigation of a terrorist offence and to provide for the imposition of a recognizance with conditions on a person to prevent him or her from carrying out a terrorist activity.

This act that has been brought in also provides that these sections cease to have effect for the possible extension of the operation.

All parties in this House take the protection of rights very seriously. On the other hand, there is a collective right in favour of protecting national security. There is the collective right of Canadians in every province and territory to feel that we have secured our boundaries, that we are going to act preventively, hopefully, and at least reactively, to measures that are undertaken by terrorist groups to destroy our country. I have to think that is a primordial national value shared by all parties.

Obviously the question in the debate today is the question of balance. How much infringement on individual rights will be tolerated for the protection of the collective right in favour of national security?

What is encouraging about this bill, as opposed to the last time we debated whether these two provisions should sunset or not, is that the government has incorporated safeguards proposed by the Senate and the special House committee that studied these matters in Bill C-19.

We feel that this bill deserves to be sent to committee to be studied in an overall wholesome and holistic way to determine whether those safeguards do indeed satisfy the right balance. Let us face it: none of us who spoke today are qualified to be witnesses on the topic. We are the elected members who express, as best we can and in the best fashion we can, what we think are the wishes of the Canadian people and in particular the people in our ridings.

At a hearing at committee, we would expect to hear experts in the field on this very important question of the balance between individual rights and the collective right of national security. The bill should be sent to committee because it has addressed previous concerns and it has incorporated proposed amendments set forth by the Senate members of the committee who studied it.

Again, this is not an advertisement. Let us be clear: the Senate committee studying this bill did a good job. They made a thorough review of the legislation and they proffered some suggestions that were followed by the Conservative government. It is about time that the government and all members in this place say that the Senate did a good job. There are some very capable people in the Senate, who brought forth some very important procedural protections and the tweaking of the two provisions to make it palatable, in my view, on the balance of rights.

The investigative hearings provisions in the Criminal Code allow authorities to compel the testimony of an individual without the right to decline to answer those questions. The intent would be to call in those who are on the periphery of the alleged plot, as it may be in terrorist circumstances, who may have vital information, rather than the core suspects. It is information gathering.

The second aspect of these two provisions is the preventive arrest provision, which in the Criminal Code allows the police to arrest and hold an individual, in some cases without warrant, provided they have reasonable grounds.

I think these amendments are very reasonable. They follow on Bill S-3.

In conclusion, I might add that the stakeholders in support include the Canadian Jewish Congress, which told the Senate committee that studied these provisions:

We believed in 2001, and continue to believe today, in the importance of granting expanded powers to the security services through recognizance with conditions and investigative hearings for the careful monitoring of individuals and groups that are suspect and the amassing of relevant information well in advance.

I want to speak briefly about the Harkat decision. I would like to discuss it in terms of the questioning that I may receive. The Harkat case is a jumble of the misapplication of the law as it is. It does not stand for the proposition that the law as it is or as it is about to be amended through this process is bad. It is throwing the baby out with the bathwater to use Harkat and the various decisions of Justice Noël for an argument that we should not enact proper legislation respecting the balance between individual liberties, the rights of individuals and the collective need for security.

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5:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to elaborate on the government not treating people equally with these extra powers, for example, not applying our prohibition against the death penalty against certain persons in the United States, or not bringing back a person who is out of the country and who has been treated terribly relative to Canadian justice. Does the member have any worries about the powers in this bill under conditions where a government deals with Canadians differently?

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5:25 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

We do not have time to talk about the death penalty and the inappropriateness of the government's action, but I do have time to say that Bill C-19 adopts suggestions made by Liberals in the Senate, by Liberals here and by opposition parties, that suggest, for instance, there should be a right to retain and instruct counsel in these secret hearings, which was absent before.

It is very important, I will not say softened, but they made it more fair, that a judge must recognize that the disclosure and the investigation must be complete and that investigators, namely the police authorities, must exhaust all other methods before they get into preventative detentions and investigative hearings. They must go through the wringer, so to speak, before they trample on individual rights. That would guarantee, hopefully, the collective right of security.

The House resumed from April 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (amounts not included in earnings), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by making it very clear that our Conservative government is determined to make sure unemployed Canadians get the help they need during these tough economic times.

As members know, the global economic crisis has not spared Canada. As far back as 2007, our government could see storm clouds on the horizon, and it began positioning Canada to cushion itself against the economic storm.

We reduced taxes on Canadians by over $200 billion to reduce the burden that families and small businesses bear.

This past week we learned that under our Conservative government tax freedom day for Canadians now comes 19 days earlier than it did under previous Liberal governments.

We have also provided the Bank of Canada with additional powers to respond to recessionary times and introduced even greater accountability and liquidity into our banking system. The result is that the World Economic Forum has declared Canada's banking system to be the safest in the world. Canada is expected to be among the first countries to emerge from the world economic crisis.

More recently, as the world recession deepened, we have made unprecedented commitments and investments to help laid off workers through these tough economic times and give them the training they require to return to the labour market.

That is why I cannot support the bill before us.

As members know, the EI system was designed to replace a loss of employment income. When people lose their jobs and their income dries up, they rightfully expect to receive some benefits under Canada's employment insurance program.

However, and that is a big however, there are situations where individuals lose their job but receive severance payments from their employer to carry them for a period of time after termination of employment. In other words, there is no immediate loss of employment income. In those cases, EI benefits should not kick in until the period covered by those severance payments is exhausted.

Today I received an email from the sponsor of the bill, and the email suggested that severance is like savings. I am here to tell the House that severance is not savings in most cases. Severance replaces lost income for a period of time that is required by the courts and by legislation for the employer to give notice to a terminated employee.

Let me talk about my personal experience.

In my previous life as a lawyer, I counselled clients in the area of severance. From time to time, I would represent employers. On other occasions, I would represent employees. We would negotiate severance settlements between the employee and the employer.

Each of our provinces has legislation that fixes the minimum amount of notice that an employer has to give to an employee when the employee is terminated without cause. Then there is the common law, which provides enhanced notice requirements in our court system.

When an employee is terminated, the employer does have to give notice of that termination. If the employer wants to terminate the employee right away, the employer has to provide compensation in lieu of that notice requirement. That may be two weeks, it may be a month, it may be a year. It can in some cases be up to, or even more than, two years of notice or compensation in lieu of that notice.

What is that compensation commonly called severance? That is simply compensation in lieu of the earnings that the person would have earned during the notice period that the employer is required to give. These are earnings on an ongoing basis for a period of time.

The bill before us suggests that even though an employee might be terminated and receives severance payments, in other words, earnings for a period of time, that on top of those earnings the employee should be entitled to receive unemployment benefits under our employment insurance program.

Employment insurance was never intended to be a windfall for employees. It was never intended to be double dipping, which would be at the cost of taxpayers. It was intended to be an insurance against loss of earnings.

The Employment Insurance Act talks about termination of earnings as triggering employment insurance benefits. That is why the current system does not pay EI benefits on top of, and simultaneously with, severance payments.

However, under the EI Act, workers who receive pension, vacation pay and severance payments can have their benefit period extended by each week for which separation or severance moneys are paid. That can run up to a maximum of 104 weeks. In other words, if people are entitled to receive employment benefits because they have worked long enough and paid in enough, once they exhaust their severance payments they can still collect EI.

Just to make it very clear, when a worker loses his or her job and does not receive a severance package, only the normal two-week waiting period would apply. Such individuals understandably do not have to wait as long to receive benefits.

The bill before us is deeply flawed. Not only would it allow some individuals to benefit unfairly from our employment insurance program, there are also a number of ambiguities in the bill which are created by redefining the term “earnings”. For example, it is not all clear how the redefinition will affect the term “insurable earnings” under the act.

Furthermore, the bill completely fails to take into account how much this bill would increase the cost to taxpayers, employers and employees. What is clear is that the impact would be substantial. To begin with, by no longer requiring laid-off workers to take into account and use the resources from a severance payment, which is again in lieu of future earnings, the bill would add another $130 million in EI costs per year, costs which have to be raised through EI premiums. Who pays those increased EI premiums, one might ask? It is the employers and the hard-working employees who pay for that.

During these very challenging economic times, the very last thing we need is imposing new financial burdens on employers and employees alike. But then, we recently heard the news that the Liberal leader has admitted that he intends to raise taxes on Canadians, so it is not surprising to hear his Liberals are now supporting increased EI premiums. Like so many other schemes concocted by members of the NDP and supported by their Liberal and Bloc coalition partners, they neglect to consider the financial burden they are imposing on other Canadians.

There is another crucial point and that is the fact that this government has taken significant steps to provide additional income support to unemployed workers facing transitions during this recession. These new moneys are over and above the benefits I already described. For example, let me remind my colleagues in the House our recent economic action plan provided for an unprecedented improvement to our EI system. For the next two years we have extended EI benefits by an extra five weeks. We have also increased the maximum duration of benefits available under the EI program.

We are also supporting training for long-tenured workers. These are people who worked for many years and have not made significant use of the EI program. We want to help these individuals acquire new skills so they can get new well paying jobs. We are providing income support for the duration of their training and this change will benefit a further 40,000 workers across Canada.

We are also going to allow earlier access to regular EI benefits for eligible workers purchasing their own training if they invest all or part of their severance package resulting from a layoff. Both of these measures are to be implemented in partnership with the provinces and territories.

That is not all. Our government is providing the provinces and territories with an extra $1 billion over two years through existing labour market development agreements to provide more skills training to laid-off workers. We are also extending the work sharing agreements to 52 weeks for the next two years. The first people to call me after we tabled our economic action plan were from a company called Columbia Kitchen Cabinets from Abbotsford, B.C. Officials phoned me to thank me for recognizing the challenges they face and that they would make significant use of the expanded work sharing program. They were already using the program at that time. This just provided them with an opportunity to provide their workers with more options to continue working.

We are getting the job done. The bill does not do what it is supposed to do. It is unfair to workers and unfair to employers.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I wish to make the following statement before moving on to the next speaker.

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on April 28, 2009 by the Hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the need for a royal recommendation to accompany Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (amounts not included in earnings) standing in the name of the hon. member for Welland.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter, as well as the member for Mississauga South for his comments.

In his remarks, the parliamentary secretary pointed out that Bill C-279 seeks to exclude pension benefits, vacation pay and severance payments from earnings under the Employment Insurance Act. He stated that the effect of such an exclusion would be to make individuals eligible for benefits who would otherwise not be eligible or to increase the benefits to individuals currently eligible.

He noted that there is ample precedent indicating that legislation proposing new spending not currently authorized under the Employment Insurance Act requires a royal recommendation. In support of his claim, he cited earlier rulings from the first session of the 39th Parliament on this topic.

I have examined Bill C-279 and found that the proposed exclusion of amounts from the earnings under the EI Act would have the effect of altering the terms and conditions of this program in a manner which would infringe on the financial prerogative of the Crown. Simply put, the proposal put forward by Bill C-279 is such that more individuals would be eligible to receive EI benefits and those currently eligible would receive increased benefits.

With regards to a similar bill, I stated in a decision on March 23, 2007, at page 7845 of Debates:

—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.

In my view, the same conditions apply to the bill now before us.

For these reasons, I must conclude that Bill C-279 requires a royal recommendation. Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless such a recommendation is received.

Today’s debate, however, 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 Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the chance to debate this issue. We are now obviously focusing on second reading and no longer on third reading, as dictated by your recent decision.

Nonetheless, I am glad to have the opportunity to debate this issue because it is a big issue for me personally in my riding of Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, and particularly so for the area of the Exploits Valley in my riding, which had a mill that was owned and operated by AbitibiBowater in the town of Grand Falls-Windsor. It shut its doors last month or two months ago and now many employees are living in poverty. It is not only affecting them but also the people who work externally to the mill, which would be loggers in this particular situation.

I would like to begin my speech by referring to a conversation I had today with a former employee of the mill. He is the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union national representative in the mill. His name is Gary Healey. His situation is one that stands up as an example for all the rest and I would like to share it with the House at this time.

He says that in his situation he is expecting a fairly-negotiated early pension plan. Because of the negotiations that had taken place prior to this moment, he was eligible for an early pension plan. However, because he was laid off with the closure of the mill, he now cannot claim any of these major benefits until he reaches the age of 65, partly because of the legislation but mostly because of the fact that the mill has ceased its operations.

There are also issues pertaining to AbitibiBowater and bankruptcy, but this is a situation where he has now lost 10 years of his life for planning over the next little while, a detrimental situation, only to be taken from him just a few short months ago. That example persists for all of the employees, the vast majority of them certainly for early pensions. Think about those between the ages of 45 and 55 in that area who find themselves in this situation.

The employment opportunities in this particular area are fairly low and the unemployment rate is fairly high. For the most part, a lot of people have to move outside of this area and, indeed, in many cases, outside of the province. I am sure everyone can appreciate the gravity of this situation, as my hon. colleagues from the NDP certainly would because they have put this bill forward.

Here we have it. Bill C-279 hopes to make amendments to the EI Act pertaining to severance, certain pension benefits and also vacation pay.

In the particular mill that I spoke of, the situation people are in is this. When the mill was closed, the company declared bankruptcy. Therefore, it was unable to pay these major severance payments, totalling $40 million. The reason was because, of course, being in bankruptcy, it had to get permission from the courts and the judge in this particular matter. Therefore, people were not paid.

People applied for EI and went through the process. Some of them could not get EI because they had not exhausted their vacation time. The money they received for their vacation was apportioned over a period of time based on their average earnings and they were, therefore, unable to claim these benefits. That certainly suppressed their income at that point. Those who did exhaust their vacation time received the benefits.

Recently, however, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador made the decision, which I congratulate it for doing, to pay the severance payments from the province to the union to be disbursed. That included the loggers who were not originally part of this program. That is $40 million from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. However, that now puts them in a situation where a lot of questions need to be asked and answered in this area. There are a lot of people like Gary Healey in this situation. There are people, like George Macdonald, in that situation right now who find themselves struggling to stay above the poverty line. I will return briefly at the end to the situation with the mill, but I would like to touch on some other aspects in my riding.

The economies of a vast number of rural communities represented in my riding are seasonal in nature. They are seasonal because they rely on things such as the fishery and forestry. As a stark example, it is impossible to fish off the coast of Newfoundland in a 35-foot boat in the winter months. It is also impossible to fish 200 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in a 65-foot boat during the winter months. One sees that the seasonal nature of this particular program is one that is very important. I press upon the government to realize the seasonal aspect, which is why we, and certainly I, support the 360-hour qualification period.

Employment insurance offers nothing more than a meagre income in this particular situation. With only 55% of the income, they certainly struggle through many of these months. That is the part that we have to focus on here. It is a question of poverty and it is now a question of compassion built back into the EI system. That is what the people of Grand Falls-Windsor, the Exploits Valley and the coastal communities want in this EI system: more compassion built into it. That is what we struggle for here in the House. Certainly I and my colleagues from the east coast, particularly from Newfoundland and Labrador, feel the same way.

Relying on EI is not their preferred way of life. All those who rely on EI would much prefer to be working, but there are no other employment opportunities, as I have touched on before. That is the component of this, because that is the compassion. I have heard the government say on many occasions recently that one cannot work 45 days and then expect to make a living beyond that. However, that is the very essence of seasonal employment.

This is where we lack compassion on this issue. There are certain industries that are anchored, including fishing, farming, forestry and tourism. These are the industries that rely on these short seasons, and this is where the compassion has to come in, in this particular system. They are asking for a living. They are asking for compassion.

The sad response from the government is to basically go to where the jobs are. On the surface one might think, is that not the way it has been all along and the way it is supposed to be? It is not particularly easy for someone who has worked in a particular mill or has worked on the coast for so many years. They cannot just turn to the next industry down the street when it is primarily a one-industry town with a higher income.

In many cases, these people are forced to re-educate themselves. They brag about the fact that there are education programs out there, but the education programs also require a payment of 20%, 40% or 50%. A lot of these people have to backtrack and complete the tail end of a high school education to get there. That takes a long time. That is a hard thing to do for someone with little education who is just a shade over 50 years old and ineligible for regular pension benefits such as the CPP.

Recently, in the election of 2008, there was a comment by Mr. Coles, the president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, who said that he had a conversation with the current Prime Minister. At that point, the current Prime Minister said maybe they should think about moving to Alberta. That is where the compassion does not come in. That is the problem here. There is no compassion for someone who has just recently been laid off.

That is why we have to fix the EI system. The five weeks at the end is one issue among many. The EI system needs a cocktail of solutions and it needs solutions beyond just the five weeks at the end. It is also a question of eligibility. For people who work in seasonal employment, 360 hours counts a lot. Compassion in the EI system is the big reason we are here today.

I have only a minute left, but I do wish to conclude that over the past little while I have seen poverty face to face in many industries, particularly so with the AbitibiBowater situation in Grand Falls-Windsor. That is why, in principle, I would like to congratulate my colleague for bringing this to the House. I also want to say that I will be supporting this, because we do need compassion back in the system. This bill goes a long way in doing that. I hope that we will have a fruitful debate. Despite the fact that it did not receive the royal recommendation, I hope that the House will give this a lot of consideration before just writing it off.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again I have the privilege of taking the floor and speaking on a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

It is common knowledge that the Bloc never lets up on its efforts to make substantial improvements to the employment insurance program, which has become no more than a shadow of its former self. As a result, it unfairly penalizes workers who have faithfully contributed to it their whole working lives.

While definitely necessary, reducing eligibility to 360 hours regardless of region of residence is only the first step, and in no way sufficient on its own. The reform the Bloc Québécois has been urging for ages, along with the NDP, goes a great deal further. Excluding severance pay, retirement pensions and allowances, as well as vacation pay is, in our opinion, an integral part of the reform that should be enacted urgently.

In 1984, during the Progressive Conservative government, then Minister of Finance Hon. Michael Wilson announced as part of his economic update that, in future, benefit calculations would include payments made on termination of employment.

Three years later, in 1987, that same government announced that no benefits would be paid until potential recipients had used up their severance pay, this period being calculated by dividing the amount of severance pay by the salary earned in the last week worked.

For example, a person who earned $500 a week and received $5,000 in severance pay would have no benefits and no income for 10 weeks. Then there would be another two weeks added for the waiting period.

We believe this situation is unfair to workers who have been dismissed, since it their severance was not the result of poor work performance and still less of voluntary separation.

It is obvious that employment insurance is a public insurance program and it must not by compared with private insurance in any way. If we do that, there is a danger of falling into an approach that is contrary to governmental logic, which should focus on the common good and not on supporting mercantile or commercial interests.

Yet that is exactly how one government after another has behaved for the past 15 years.

I would even go further than that: not only have they subverted the social mission of the program, but they have replaced it with a focus on profit, a change in direction that has made it possible for them to stash away $57 billion in profits, at the expense of the unemployed.

The worst, ultimately, was that not only did this system become a government pseudo-corporation operating like the private insurers, but it did worse things that any private insurer would do.

What kind of private insurer would ask its clients who had had a fire, for example, to exhaust their own savings before it would provide the amounts still needed for them to restore their property?

It would be unworthy of a company that is the least bit serious and it is simply shameful of a government. It is indecent when we know that the tiny savings which flow from these measures but have such devastating effects on the unemployed would have been made up a hundred times if the government had not dipped so copiously into what should have been a cumulative reserve employment insurance fund.

Fifty-seven billion dollars: that is an awful lot of money that would have been very useful now that the unemployment rate has reached its highest point in 11 years. More than 400,000 full-time workers have lost their jobs and more than half of them will probably not get any employment insurance.

Fifty-seven billion dollars: that is enough money to eliminate the waiting period for 63 years.

Over the last 20 years, the coverage of the employment insurance system has fallen by half. The beneficiaries to unemployed ratio has fallen from 84% to 44% because the eligibility criteria were considerably tightened, though unjustly so, in the 1990s.

It is high time for the government to finally acknowledge this injustice and do everything in its power to fix it.

The Bloc Québécois and the NDP are not the only ones denouncing it. All labour unions and groups that defend the rights of working people have also been denouncing this injustice, which has led to the perversity of an employment insurance system that does not cover even half of those who are unemployed.

In 2005, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities adopted a report with 28 recommendations that were almost all ignored by the Liberal and Conservative governments. One of these recommendations expressly addressed the issue of excluding from the calculation of people’s benefits all forms of remuneration they receive upon leaving their jobs.

I quote the report.

The Committee recommends that the government amend the Employment Insurance Regulations so as to not consider pension, severance and vacation income in the determination of earnings for benefit purposes.

It must be noted once again that the committee's work was totally ignored. That is wholly deplorable. Nothing justifies this sort of attitude, which reveals the government's alarming indifference to its social mission. The Bloc will remain critical of this indifference so long as it leaves the unemployed in their current, untenable situation.

This is why we have introduced no fewer than four separate bills to make substantial amendments to the employment insurance plan. Thus, we hope to have the program that became a labour tax at the end of the 1990s and in the early 2000s once again become a program that really protects workers by providing them with financial security between jobs, that is, while they are unemployed.

The creation of the Canada employment insurance financing board in February 2008 seemed like a first step in this direction. But the 2009 budget has frozen contribution levels for the next two years. It seems that the Conservatives' sole concern is to have big business make economies of scale on the few cents per $100 that would be needed to improve the rate of coverage of the plan significantly.

They made a choice, that of big business over workers. They chose to drop the thousands of workers who, rather than benefiting from the support of a plan they pay into day in, day out, without skipping the two week waiting period, find themselves penalized because they receive whatever their employer owes them.

It seems, however, that penalization is the leitmotif of the Conservatives—penalization more severe than the crimes, minimum sentences, the two week waiting period penalty before employment insurance benefits are paid and, now, a penalty for workers who are less badly off than others.

If an employer gave laid-off employees a watch in gratitude, I think the Conservative government would take it into account in calculating benefits. By making sure the unemployed face serious economic difficulties, the government hopes they will return to work more quickly. This cynicism is not in keeping with the role of government. This is why my colleagues in the Bloc and I will vote in support of Bill C-279.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in support of Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (amounts not included in earnings).

As members will recall, I had the privilege of tabling a motion on behalf of the NDP caucus which called for immediate and comprehensive EI reform. That happened on March 5 of this year, and the motion was voted on and passed by the House on March 10.

When he was in opposition, the Prime Minister was fond of pointing out that a government has a moral obligation to respect the vote of the House and to enact initiatives that are passed by a parliamentary majority. I guess that was then and this is now, because shamefully, it has now been three long months since my motion was passed and not a single one of its reforms has been acted on. The Conservative government fiddles while the workers get burned.

Just last week the unemployment figures were released for May. Since the last election, 363,000 jobs have been lost in Canada. That is just since last October, 363,000 jobs lost in seven months.

As the headline in my hometown newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, pointed out, Ontario is ground zero for job losses. Ontario was walloped by a net loss of an additional 60,000 positions in May, bringing our province's tally of employment losses to 234,000 since October. In that time, according to Statistics Canada, jobs in manufacturing plummetted by 14% and jobs in construction by 9.3%. These were well-paying jobs, family-sustaining jobs, jobs that every laid-off worker wants back. They need those jobs to keep a roof over their heads, to feed their children and to keep up with their bills. When they lose their jobs, their only hope of staying afloat is collecting on the insurance that they have paid into all of their working lives, and that is EI.

EI is a worker's way of building up a rainy day fund. As the above statistics show, it is not just raining; the monsoon season has arrived in Ontario.

At the very time that workers need the money that they have put away for just such an occasion, they are being told that the cupboard is bare. How could that possibly be? It is certainly not because workers have excessively drawn on the fund. Rather, it is because the government absconded with their money.

Under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, the $57 billion EI surplus has been put into the consolidated revenue fund, which is the government's wallet, and been used to pay down the debt and deficit. It is that money that allowed Paul Martin to claim that he had successfully tamed the Canadian deficit. It was not him; it was workers. It was the money that workers had put away for a rainy day that was stolen from them and used for purposes other than for what it was intended.

If their money went into the consolidated revenue fund, then the government owes it to workers to now pay for EI out of that same fund. Workers deserve nothing less. They have a $57 billion IOU, and it is time to help these innocent victims of the recession weather this economic storm through comprehensive EI reform. To say we cannot afford it just does not cut it.

One part of the much needed comprehensive reform is the NDP bill before us today. It simply says that when someone files a claim for EI, the start of that claim will not be delayed because he or she is in receipt of a pension, superannuation, a retiring allowance, vacation pay, or severance. These are all monies that are owed due to past service and in no way should be deemed as current earnings that the government can claw back from EI.

I want to commend my colleague, the member for Welland, for bringing this important bill forward. He clearly understands the financial hardship that so many Canadians are confronting each and every day after losing their jobs. Unfortunately, all too many Conservative members in the House still do not get it. Their interventions in this debate have made that crystal clear. Let me share with them, and with all members in the House, a heart-rending story that was shared at a public meeting in Hamilton earlier this spring.

Our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, and our provincial leader, Andrea Horwath, co-hosted a meeting with Ken Neumann, the national director of the United Steelworkers. The room was packed with people worried about their jobs, and many had already received their pink slips. One courageous woman in particular made an impassioned plea for job protection and improved EI. It is her story that I want to share with members in the House today:

My name is Shannon Horner-Shepherd and today I will be going into US Steel to receive my notice that my services will no longer be required. I began my employment with US Steel (Stelco) almost exactly 11 years ago, May 24, 1998. How do I know the exact was the day that I breathed a sigh of relief that I had found stable employment and it was one week after I learned that my newborn daughter, Gabrielle, would probably not live to see her first birthday. You see, at the time I was a single mom of two children, Sumer, 4 years old, and Gabby, 5 weeks old. I felt blessed that in the turmoil of learning that my newborn daughter had been born with Trisomy 13, a rare genetic disorder that at best, would see her being severely physically and developmentally disabled and at worst, cause her premature death, I had a “good job”.

It was my job at the steel mill that gave me a feeling of safety and hope. A feeling of security, that I would be able to look after both my children and be able to provide the care that would be required to help Gabby live her life to its fullest potential. I had health benefits, something I had never had before for my children. I had job security for the rest of my life. I wouldn't need to worry about how I would pay for the medications, the therapies or all the added necessities that come along with having a child with a severe disability. I had hope.

Today, as I stand before you, my hope has been replaced with worry, my heart has been filled with dread and my shoulders are burdened with stress. I am still the mom to Sumer who is now 15, Gabby, who has just had her 11th birthday and also Justin and Nicholas my twin sons who are five years old. Gabby is still alive and yes the best case scenario was true...she is severely physically and developmentally delayed, but she is alive. I will be filing for my Unemployment Insurance on Monday, but I know that with the severe backlog of EI claims it will be weeks before I see my first payment. As I have been honest with you in baring my heart, I will be honest now. I, just like thousands of other steelworkers who are now out of work don't have weeks to wait. I have done my best to minimize the collateral damage that will be done once I lose my job. I have tried to explain to my boys that right now “mommy doesn't have the money” to buy the Hot Wheels set that my sons so badly do I make them understand that the simple toys that they want are enough money to buy milk and bread and diapers for their 11 year old sister? How is it that I have gone from being envied by others for having a stable job and health benefits to being pitied for being a Steelworker and that I will now be living below poverty level?

Have I lived past my means? I don't think so. Did I buy a wheelchair accessible house last year so that I didn't have to worry about Gabby falling down the stairs and fracturing her spine again? Yes. Have I purchased a van that can be wheelchair accessible if and when Gabby has a stroke and becomes permanently wheelchair bound? Yes. [Have I] tried to get through the last 11 years with being the least amount of burden on the system because I could...[theoretically] “afford” to have a disabled child? Yes. Have I put money aside so that my other children will be able to attend college or university in the future? Yes. Have I lived beyond me means? No. I've just simply “lived”.

Now. I am praying to the same person I prayed to eleven years ago, but this time I am not praying that my baby girl lives just one more day...Makes it to one more Christmas or sees one more birthday...No, this time I'm praying that I'll be able to keep my house, feed my kids and find a job that will help cover the medical expenses. I need a job that provides security and stability. I know that EI cannot cover the expenses that I have in a month, that I will have to choose between Easter presents for my kids or gas in my van to take Gabby to doctors appointments. I will try to accept the fact that I am no longer employed in a sector that has job stability and was once, along with the autoworkers, the pride of Ontario. I will accept the fact that I just like so many others will have gone from being able to provide the little extras that we all long for to not being able to provide basics. I will wake up each day as I did starting eleven years ago and pray that we make it through just one more day, week and month and maybe, just maybe, someone will hear me, and my [prayers] will be answered.

Thank you for your time and your ears.

Shannon Horner-Shepherd

Mother of 4 and a proud Steelworker Local 8782

I hope that every member in this House has heard Shannon's story, not just listened to it but really heard it. We need to understand that the decisions we make here in this House have very real consequences. It is time to stop treating workers on EI as mere statistics. It is time that we saw their faces, really understood their hardship, and responded in a way that allows the unwitting victims of this recession to survive these uncertain times with dignity and respect.

Bill C-279 is an important step in the right direction. I urge all members to give it their unequivocal support and to commit today to fight for further comprehensive EI reform. Shannon and thousands of Canadians like her deserve nothing less.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There being no further members rising, I will go to the hon. member for Welland for his five minute right of reply.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues on this side of the House for their kind words in this debate on EI and what we need to do to fix a system that has been broken for a number of years.

My colleague from the Bloc made reference to the fact that there was a point in time when severance pay did not delay receiving employment insurance and vacation pay was seen differently from how it is seen today by the Canada Revenue Agency.

If someone is paid vacation pay on a weekly basis, in other words, if a person is entitled to $50 of vacation pay and it is paid weekly, it has no effect on the person's EI if the person is laid off at a subsequent point in time. However, if the vacation pay is paid on an anniversary date, that delays the person's EI. As my colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said, that delay is pushing people into poverty.

We just heard my colleague reference a young woman named Shannon who told her story to a room full of strangers. In a sense she was telling the story of an extended family across the country at this time in our history when people are suffering.

On this side of the House we are trying to let the government know by relaying these stories that the suffering could at least be mitigated. The end to the suffering will come when we come out of the recession and people have jobs again, but at the very least we should help those in the country who are suffering.

This bill would help them. After all, it is their money. The money they are entitled to claim through EI is money they themselves have paid into the fund. One can debate what happened to the other money that was there and should have been kept in abeyance for just this time in history. I will concentrate more on the issue of looking after all of those in society who, through no fault of their own, at this moment in time find themselves in hardship. Those people who walk away from a job, do not qualify for EI. This bill does not talk about that. This bill concerns people who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

My colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor is hearing from the AbitibiBowater workers. I am hearing from the John Deere workers who will be out of work in a month. Some 800 workers in the riding of Welland, specifically the city of Welland, will be laid off through no fault of their own. That profitable company decided to leave and go to Mexico and threw those workers onto the employment lines. Most of them have worked all their lives, so they are finding out for the first time in their lives that their severance pay will preclude them from collecting employment insurance when they are laid off. It could in some cases be for over a year.

The government has taken a half step, maybe a quarter step, and said that if people use their severance pay to pay for their own retraining, the government will let them qualify for EI. The government ought to be a little more generous than that. The government ought to be fully compassionate and allow them to keep their severance. The government should retrain them for the jobs of tomorrow, and let them collect EI. It is their money. They paid into the fund. They are entitled to it. That is exactly what they should be allowed to do. It should not be about people spending some money and maybe the government will give them some money. The government cannot give what is not the government's to give. Those people are entitled to collect EI because it truly belongs to them. They are the ones who paid into the fund.

We on this side of the House have an understanding of the hardships, an understanding of the needs of those who have found themselves unemployed. We see on the other side of the House a sense of pushing people away, “Let us not bother with them at the moment. They can come back and see us later and perhaps we will let them qualify then”.

That is not what a compassionate country is about. That is not what the system was meant to do. The system is meant to take care of people in their most desperate hour of need. That is not happening. It is a real shame, that for all of those years that those people have worked, somehow they should not be entitled to EI as others are entitled. The entitlement should be the same. It should always be about equality. The way to make the system equal so that one is the same as the other is to allow them to keep that money.

I hope all members of this House will support the bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members



Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division is deferred until Wednesday, June 10, 2009, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Shall I see the clock as 6:30 p.m.?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


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

6:15 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak tonight following up on a question I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development on June 2.

I want to read the comment that prompted my question. This was a comment that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development made on June 2, as reported by the Canadian Press. The article quoted her as follows:

There's no need to change the threshold for employment insurance eligibility because as the economy worsens, more and more Canadians will find it easier to qualify, [the human resources minister] said Tuesday.

The current EI system adjusts every month to local economic conditions and is properly responding to the tougher job market, she said....

“If the unemployment rate goes up in a given region then it gets easier for people there to access EI for a longer period of time, and most of the regions around Canada now have become easier to access”....

“That is happening all over the country, each and every month.”

What the minister is saying is a bizarre statement from a minister of the Government of Canada.

What she is saying is that the best we can give Canadians, what qualifies for hope in Canada, is a government-approved death spiral. Is the government saying in essence that we are going to have a race to the bottom? As unemployment goes up, one will be able to qualify. So if one does not qualify now, one will have to sit around and hope that one's friends and neighbours are not going to get a job either. In fact, they are going to lose theirs, and then one might get some assistance.

This has been a source of debate in this place for the last number of months. The Leader of the Opposition has been very clear that we should have a national standard of eligibility. He has a number of allies. In fact, most of the economic pundits, social policy groups, labour organizations and even business organizations have said that makes sense.

In the last week or so we have had support from some unusual places. In British Columbia, for example, the headline says, “British Columbia Premier Pushes For One Employment Insurance Standard For Canada”. The story says:

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell called on the federal government Thursday to have one Employment Insurance standard throughout Canada.

Another article, from The Globe and Mail states, “Wall adds voice to call for EI reform”. The story starts:

[The Prime Minister] is facing a new, high-level call from the conservative heartland to drop his resistance to employment insurance changes—this time from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Premier Wall was quoted as saying:'s [a place], perhaps, where again some work can be done in the name of a more efficacious EI program certainly, but also in the name of fairness.

How about Premier Ed Stelmach? He said EI issues will be discussed at next month's western premiers' conference in Dawson City. Alberta has complained about varying eligibility rules.

So we have all kinds of people and Conservative premiers galore across the country saying that the Prime Minister is wrong. Even the Premier of Saskatchewan, where my colleague, the parliamentary secretary is from, is asking his MPs to do something to assist the unemployed.

It is amazing. The status of women committee of this place put together a great report recently on EI benefits. I commend it to people to read. They asked three ministers of the crown to appear for their study. None of them would appear. Why? It is because it is in line with the comments that the ministers in the government have shown toward the unemployed.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development referred to EI as perhaps being too lucrative. That is a rotten attitude. That is a disgraceful attitude. It is an insult to working people across this country. It shows the insensitivity of the government to people who are losing their jobs in this Conservative recession. It is the kind of support that Canadians are not getting from this government, that they are getting in the United States and other parts of the world.

It is shameful and it has to stop.