Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue to speak today in support of Bill C-50, which would provide temporary and additional EI regular benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers.
Canada did not create the financial storms that have hit the global economy. Canada is better placed than other countries to recover. That is small consolation to the many workers who have dedicated their careers to an industry and who now find that this particular industry can no longer sustain their jobs.
Unfortunately, there are many examples of such industries across Canada.
The forestry sector has been hit very hard. Forestry has provided the economic backbone of hundreds of communities across Canada. When a paper mill or a sawmill shuts down, workers who have spent decades in that sector now find that they really have few options for employment in that community.
The challenges are particularly tough for long-tenured workers, many of whom have become highly skilled in this industry. They need more time to find other work.
The manufacturing sector has also been hit very hard during this recession. Perhaps the most obvious examples come from the automotive sector, but many other manufacturing industries are also facing tough times, including the steel industry in my riding of Selkirk--Interlake.
Like forestry, manufacturing has sustained the wealth, prosperity and quality of life of Canadians for generations. It contributes close to 14% of Canada's GDP and employs close to 1.9 million workers across Canada, mostly in full-time jobs. Like forestry, our manufacturing industries have a tremendous spill-over impact, providing jobs for suppliers and service industries and integrating them into global supply chains.
In the 1990s Canada's manufacturing sector grew rapidly as manufacturers took advantage of recent trade agreements and a low valued dollar. Over the past decade manufacturers have faced both structural and cyclical pressures. In the past few years manufacturers have been hit by a series of challenges.
Manufacturers compete with lower cost producers in other countries. They contend with dramatic fluctuations in energy and commodity prices, making it difficult to plan for the long term.
The value of the Canadian dollar has risen and fallen, making our exports harder to price. In the wake of American concerns over security, delays at the Canada-U.S. border have hurt the ability of manufacturers to deliver on time to U.S. customers.
Now we have a recession that has hit the global economy very hard. Across the Canadian manufacturing sector the story is the same: consumers are buying less; investors have less capital to invest; credit is tightening; buyers take longer to pay; and inventories are rising.
The government has taken steps to address the challenges faced by the manufacturing and forestry sectors, and it has taken special care to address the needs of the workers caught in this economic storm, those workers who have put in a long time in their industry.
Let me remind the House that this government was addressing the challenges faced by the forestry and manufacturing industry even before this recession hit. We moved on many fronts: from tax relief to accelerated write-offs for machinery and equipment; from support to the financial system to increasing the flow of trade at the Canada-U.S. border; and from cutting red tape to helping develop a skilled labour force.
As far back as 2007 Canada was one of the first countries to inject major fiscal stimulus into its economy to offset a downturn when we introduced $65 billion in tax reductions. These tax reductions have taken effect just when they are needed most. That is just one example of the prudent planning and strong economic leadership shown by this Conservative government.
In last February's budget we introduced Canada's economic action plan to ensure a quick recovery and long-term economic growth.
The action plan provided $12 billion in new infrastructure stimulus funding over the next two years. This creates jobs in the short-term and for the long-term it builds an infrastructure with the capacity to handle a vibrant economy in the future.
Canada's economic action plan extended the temporary 50% straight line accelerated capital cost allowance rate. Capital intensive industries like forestry and manufacturing can restructure and retool to position themselves for long-term success.
The action plan eliminated the tariffs on a range of machinery and equipment. This will provide over $440 million in savings to Canadian industry over the next five years.
To help companies gain access to financing during these tough times, the action plan provided a coordinated package of measures totalling $200 billion under the extraordinary financing framework. We increased the financing available through Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank.
These are measures to help the industrial sectors, like forestry and manufacturing, to recover from the recession and retool for the future. These are measures that will help maintain Canada's jobs and create more jobs in years to come. We have also taken steps to help the individual workers affected by the slowdown in these industries.
We launched our Canada skills and transition strategy as well. We introduced the wage earner protection program. If an employer goes bankrupt and cannot pay, the program provides eligible workers with guaranteed and timely payments of the remaining wages, severance, termination and vacation pay.
We extended the targeted initiative for older workers with an additional $60 million over three years to support older workers and their families, and to expand the program to include workers in small cities.
The House will also be aware that we have introduced many changes to employment insurance as part of Canada's economic action plan. Those changes are helping workers and their families get through difficult times. They are helping in the communities where these workers live.
Many programs and initiatives work together to make this happen. For example, we increased funding for training delivered through EI. We are providing five additional weeks of EI regular benefits for all unemployed Canadians and in areas of high unemployment, we increased the maximum duration of EI benefits from 45 to 50 weeks.
Yesterday I talked about the extension in duration of the work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. This has worked so well in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake in the steel industry. We also introduced the career transition program initiative that I talked about as well yesterday.
As the House can see, the government has adjusted the EI programs to respond to the needs of those workers who are hardest hit by the economic downturn.
Now it is time to make another adjustment to address the challenges faced by long-tenured workers who need to find a new job. Many of these people have paid into the EI program for years. Often they have worked in the same industry, sometimes at the same job.
Over the decades they helped strengthen the program with their contributions. Now when these long-tenured workers need help the most, we want to ensure that the program is there for them.
In the bill before us the regular benefits of long-tenured workers would be extended between 5 and 20 weeks. The amount of the extension will depend on the number of years these workers have contributed to the program.
The provisions will remain in place for those who claim EI benefits until September 11, 2010 and the benefits will continue until the fall of 2011. By that time we have every hope that the worst of the economic storm will have past. Workers will be finding new jobs, sometimes in new industries.
The measures in the bill before us will not permanently change the duration of EI benefits. They are temporary responses to a temporary, yet difficult, situation faced by long-tenured workers in certain industries.
With our experience with the career transitions initiative for long-tenured workers, which has been in place since last May, we know that EI claimants from all sectors will benefit from this new measure.
Bill C-50 demonstrates that our government is making responsible choices to support Canadians now and we are not the only ones who think that this type of measure is good for workers and good for the economy.
A couple of weeks ago in the Canadian Press on August 25, Don Drummond, the 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.
This is precisely right. Many Canadians who have worked and contributed for years have been laid off, caught up in the global economic turmoil, and they are having trouble finding new jobs.
As we move toward recovery, job prospects will improve, but until then many unemployed workers will be able to take advantage of an extension in the duration of their benefits through Bill C-50.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said, “It was a step in the right direction”.
Back on June 22, Ken Lewenza, the 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.
Action to help tens of thousands, in fact close to 200,000, long-term workers by our estimates, is exactly what we are providing. We are taking the action needed to extend their EI benefits.
In this month's Policy Options, Jeremy Leonard of the IRPP, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said that the narrow focus on 360 days was unfortunate because the more serious issue was how to deal with the large number of long-term unemployed who are no longer eligible for EI. Duration of benefits is exactly what we are addressing here today with this bill.
Also, in this month's Policy Options, Janice MacKinnon, the former social services minister of Saskatchewan, said that instead of 360 days, it would be better to expand coverage and improve the benefits of those who have paid into the program for years but find themselves unemployed.
Again, that is exactly what we are doing. We are taking reasonable, fair and affordable actions to help Canadians who have worked hard and paid their taxes for a long time.
The president of the United Steelworkers in our human resources minister's own riding said in Wednesday's paper that, “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”. I agree that the measures in Bill C-50 are a good thing and they will be a good thing for Canadians who need them.
What is unfortunate is the Liberal fixation on its unaffordable and irresponsible 45-day work year. What is even more unfortunate is that the Liberal opposition has decided it is not important enough to help the approximately 190,000 long-tenured workers who will be helped by this bill.
No, helping the unemployed is not important enough to the Liberals on the other side. Their own political ambitions, some might say their own sense of entitlement, seems to have taken the driver's seat. They just cannot work with this government and other parties in the House to ensure that help gets to all Canadians who need it. They just want to oppose us and get back into power.
I know that back in my riding my constituents appreciate the work of this government to ensure that unemployed Canadians are getting the help they need and that we do not send Canadians into an unnecessary election that no one wants.
Our government will remain focused on the economy in 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. We are going to keep working on Bill C-50 to help long-tenured workers.
The minister has indicated that our government is working on measures for the self-employed, as we promised to do, and is moving forward on other parts of our economic action plan to help move Canada toward economic recovery. We are going to keep working toward recovery and I encourage all members to work with us, especially with respect to Bill C-50.