Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Oshawa, it is with great pleasure that I extend my full support for Bill C-50.
This bill will provide further assistance through employment insurance to workers particularly affected by the economic downturn.
The new temporary measure we are introducing through the bill will help Canadian workers who have contributed to the economy for years and years and who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unemployed.
Bill C-50 offers the right and fair way to ensure that the EI program is responsive and responsible. It is responsive to the needs of those long-tenured workers, like the ones in Oshawa, who have contributed to the EI program for a long period of time and have made little if any use of it. It is responsible to all Canadian taxpayers.
Let me follow up on some of assertions made today by one of my hon. colleagues across the floor.
The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour stood in the House and with great flourish tried to assert once again the Liberal monopoly on compassion. He went on to say that the Liberal Party scheme to create a 45-day work year was sensible, adding that the government was playing political chess.
The only people playing political games in the House are the members of the opposition who are refusing to be forthright with the Canadian people. This government is taking action to help Canadians after the member opposite walked away from the unemployed. The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour walked away from 190,000 long-tenured workers. That is shameful. He may call this nothing but this government finds that notion offensive.
I would like to remind the member that it was his party that implemented the failed EI policies of the 1970s that had a catastrophic effect on the Canadian economy. Thirty years later in a blatant political positioning manoeuvre, it was the Leader of the Opposition who proposed similar measures during a global economic downturn. I ask, who is playing political games?
This government is protecting unemployed workers. The Leader of the Official Opposition has shown once again he is in this for himself. Here is the action this government is taking with Bill C-50.
Long-tenured workers will now get the additional support of extended weeks of EI while they look for work. The proposed temporary measure would extend nationally regular benefits for long-tendered workers by between five and twenty weeks. Depending on the length of time claimants have paid EI premiums, the more weeks of benefits they will receive.
Our goal is to ensure that people get these extended weeks of benefits as soon as possible. Through this bill these workers who have contributed to the economy, many of them for decades, will have a longer time to seek alternative employment.
The temporary measure that we are introducing today shows that the EI program is able to provide support to those most in need when they need it most.
We have a record of making fair and timely improvements to EI. Through Canada's economic action plan alone we have provided longer EI benefits, more efficient service, support for training, and protection of jobs through work sharing agreements. We have also have introduced the career transition assistance initiative that provides two timely measures. One extends EI benefits to a maximum of two years while workers participate in longer term training. The other provides earlier access to EI to long-tenured workers who invest all or part of their severance packages in training.
Let us also remember that a key component to our action plan provides five additional weeks of EI benefits to regular beneficiaries. In areas of high unemployment, the maximum duration of benefits has been extended from 45 to 50 weeks.
The work sharing program is another way we are helping workers stay in the labour force. It does so by offering EI income support to workers who are willing to work a reduced work week.
Under Canada's economic action plan we have made changes to the program that allows more flexibility for employers' recovery plans. Agreements have also been extended by an additional 14 weeks to maximize benefits during this economic downturn. This measure allows employers to retain employees, therefore avoiding expensive rehiring and retraining costs. In turn, employees are able to continue working and keep their skills up to date. These are people who would rather work a shortened work week and get a little less income than to be laid off. Work sharing makes that possible. Right now there are close to 5,800 active work sharing agreements across this country benefiting more than 165,000 Canadians.
We know that good programs and service are especially important in difficult economic times. Our government has acted quickly on both counts.
Our government is also helping older workers make the transition to new careers. Through the targeted initiative for older workers the government is providing an additional $60 million over three years to help workers aged 55 to 64 years get the skills upgrading and the work experience necessary to make the transition to new employment.
We have also expanded this initiative's reach so that the communities with a population lower than 250,000 are now eligible for funding. With this change an additional 250 communities could be included in the program, depending on provincial and territorial participation. This is especially valuable for my area of Oshawa.
Under the economic action plan, workers will also benefit from an increase in funding for skills training. With our strategic training and transition fund, we will be investing to help individuals, whether or not they are eligible for employment insurance, get training and other support measures.
Our economic action plan offers an additional 2,000 apprenticeship completion grants to apprentices who successfully complete an apprenticeship program in a “red seal” trade. This builds on the existing apprenticeship incentive grant. An apprentice could now receive a total of $4,000 in grants through both these programs. Up to 20,000 Canadians could take advantage of this latest grant. This is great news from my community in Oshawa.
The Government of Canada is also protecting jobs and supporting businesses in key sectors of our economy that are in difficulty, such as forestry, farming and mining, and the automotive industry. To help them we are providing a two-year community adjustment fund that will support economic diversification in communities affected by the decline in their local industries.
This bill is another example of how we are taking action to help Canadians now. We are responding quickly with measures to meet current needs. I ask members to join me in supporting Bill C-50 and helping these workers.