Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Nepean—Carleton.
I am pleased to rise today in support of the bill to improve employment insurance. It is a good bill and it should be supported by every member of the House. There is no question about that. It is certainly a lively debate, and so it should be.
The current EI program is working. We are seeing positive results of the actions taken by the government. However, while the economy moves toward recovery, our continued action is required and our continued attention is necessary. The new measures we are taking through the bill will assist Canadians who have worked for a significant period of time, have made limited use of EI regular benefits and, through no fault of their own, find themselves laid off and looking for a new job.
These are Canadians who paid their dues. They have worked hard, paid their taxes and paid their EI premiums for many years. It is only fair and responsible that we support them and their families when they need it. Many of these workers have worked in the same job or in the same industry for many years and face the prospect of having to start all over again. In many cases, these workers are now facing low prospects of finding work in their industry and many will face challenges transitioning to a new career. It is a very trying time for sure, and we understand that.
With Bill C-50, our government is doing the right thing.
Bill C-50 would extend, nationally, regular benefits for long-tenured workers by between five and twenty weeks. The longer a person has been working and paying EI premiums, the more weeks of benefits that person will receive.
The measure being introduced today is the continuation of our government's efforts to ensure that the employment insurance program is working for all Canadians.
Through Canada's economic action plan, our government has already made a number of improvements to the EI program to support unemployed Canadians and to help them get back into the workforce. We are providing five additional weeks of EI benefits. We have made the EI application process easier, faster and better for businesses and workers, and we have increased opportunities for unemployed Canadians to upgrade their skills and to get back to work. We are assisting businesses and their workers who are experiencing temporary slowdowns by an improved and more accessible work-sharing program. More than 160,000 Canadians are benefiting from work-sharing agreements that are in place with almost 5,800 employers across Canada. This is a positive change and a positive program. These are jobs that are being protected by the actions taken by this Conservative government.
We believe it is important to ensure Canada's workforce is in a position to get good jobs and bounce back from the recession.
Career transition assistance is a new initiative that will help an estimated 40,000 long-term workers who need additional support for retraining to find a new job. Through this initiative, we have extended the duration of EI regular income benefits for eligible workers for up to two years for those who choose to participate in longer term training. We are providing Canadians easier access to training that is tailored to the needs of workers in our country's different regions.
We made a number of other changes to the EI system, even before the recession began. For example, we extended the eligibility for EI compassionate care benefits by enlarging the definition of family member to include a wider range of individuals. We are improving the management and governance of the EI account through the establishment of the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, a federal crown corporation that reports to Parliament through the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. This board will be responsible for EI financing, setting the EI premium rate and ensuring that EI premiums are spent within the EI program to help Canadian workers when they need help the most.
Also Important is that the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will ensure that EI premiums are not used to finance Liberal pet political projects, which has been the case in the past.
It should be clear to the House that we have not hesitated to test new approaches and to make changes to EI when they are proven to be warranted.
The House can be assured that we will continue to monitor and assess the EI program to ensure it continues to be effective. We will listen to recommendations and place priority on reasonable, affordable measures. We will continue to identify opportunities to ensure that EI helps Canadians adapt to the modern labour market.
Bill C-50 is just such an opportunity. It demonstrates that the government is making responsible choices to support Canadians now. This measure is time limited. We are taking it immediately. It is responsive to the needs of hard-working Canadians.
We are not the only ones who think that this type of measure is the best one at this time. In yesterday's paper, the president of the United Steelworkers, in our minister's own riding, said:
It's going to be quite good and give workers a little more time. This is a good thing to extend benefits to people like that.
Members of he Liberal Party need to get behind this legislation because it is a good thing. They need to support it. If they want other initiatives, that is fine, but this is a good one and it needs to be supported.
The Ontario premier said that it was a step in the right direction.
Back on June 22, Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said in the Exchange Morning Post:
In the months ahead tens of thousands of unemployed workers are going to join the growing ranks of Canadians who have exhausted their EI benefits. They need action, not political posturing.
Unemployed workers need the support that we are proposing in Bill C-50. They do not need political posturing by the opposition. They need the support of that party to get the bill through the House as quickly as possible to ensure those who need it the most can get it when they need it.
Action is exactly what we are providing to these hard-working Canadians. We are taking action to extend their EI benefits.
On August 25, in the Canadian Press, Don Drummond, TD Bank's chief economist, said:
I think time is going to prove that the debate we're having on the employment insurance system is focusing on the wrong thing. I think this recession will prove it has been less about an access problem than a duration problem.
That is exactly what the bill is addressing.
In this month's Policy Options, Jeremy Leonard, of the IRPP, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said, “The narrow focus on”--and he is referring to a 360 hour work year, is unfortunate, because.... The more serious issues...how to deal with the large number of long-term unemployed who are no longer eligible for EI....”
The duration of benefits is exactly what we are addressing in today's bill.
Also in this month's Policy Options, Janice MacKinnon, the former social services minister of my home province of Saskatchewan, with whom I do not always agree, said, in reference to the 360 hour program:
...it be better to expand coverage...and improve the benefits of those who have paid into the program for years but find themselves unemployed?
That is precisely the point. People have been working long and hard. They have been paying their taxes and now they are facing a very trying time. Their benefits are running out or have run out. This program would bridge that for them. They expect our government to respond to that and the parties in the House to get behind it. We are taking reasonable, fair and affordable actions to help Canadians who have worked hard and paid their taxes for a long time.
Our government will remain focused on the economy and helping those hardest hit by the economic downturn. We are focused on what matters to Canadians right now, helping those hardest hit, investing in training and helping to create and protect jobs. In contrast, the opposition Liberals seem to want simply to fight the economic recovery.
Recently on EI, the Liberals walked away from the table and unemployed Canadians. They turned their backs on those who need their help at this particular time. In contrast, this government is continuing to work to help unemployed Canadians. The most recent example of our continued work is the bill itself.
The Liberals refuse to give up on their ill-advised, ill-conceived two month work year scheme. This Liberal scheme was costed at over $4 billion. It is irresponsible and unaffordable in our current circumstances and, what is more, it is offensive to hard-working Canadians who have paid their taxes and EI premiums.
In contrast, this government is taking fair, responsible and affordable measures to help hard-working Canadians who have not been able to get back into the workforce yet.
The Liberals have said that they will vote against all government measures, including this measure, the extra support for workers who have paid into the system for years; and maternity and parental benefits for self-employed, which the minister has indicated this government is working toward.
I would ask members of the House not to engage in political posturing but to look at the positive aspects of the bill. It is simple and direct and it is meant to help those who are long-tenured. Members should get behind it, support it and look at other ways to improve the system later.