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House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was help.

Topics

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, accountability in this place really gets strained at times. The member will know that the government did not propose any new initiatives at the summer meetings, none. The Conservatives could have suggested the idea of this bill, but they did not. Now the member is somehow suggesting that the Liberals walked out. The Liberals had no meeting to go to. There was no meeting called after the failure to table the documents by the minister.

The other point I want to make is this, and I hope the member will comment on it. It seems that the minister and the member now are making hay over the fact that there was a meeting called to give a briefing on this important bill. They are saying not one Liberal showed up for the meeting. However, if the member would go to the minister's office, or the minister's aide and look at the email that was sent out, he will see that only one Liberal member was given notice of it. If he is complaining that no Liberals attended, it is pretty hard to attend when we do not even get notice. I hope the member will withdraw his criticism of the members who would have liked to attend.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are four parties in this place that have been elected by all Canadians, and we are only one of those parties. We have formed government, but we are looking for ideas from everyone. We have sought ideas from the NDP even. We have sought ideas from the Liberals and the Bloc. We know Canadians put all members here and we expect, just like all Canadians, that they work with us. The Liberal members walking out of those meetings was not beneficial.

We need MPs in this place who will work with the government, who will promote good ideas, who will work together to get them. If we would have had those committee meetings with that input from the Liberal Party, which in essence cancelled those meetings, we could have maybe had the bill done more quickly. However, it is too late now. Now we have to seek support from other parties because the Liberals have obviously turned their blind ambition into an election platform for no reason. Canadians do not want an election now. We are in a global economic crisis and the Liberals should act maturely, recognize that and work with us to get this and other bills through, which Canadians so desperately need at this time.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois today on Bill C-50 to reform employment insurance.

I deliberately did not intervene in the previous debate between the Conservative and the NDP members. I allowed the NDP member to ask his questions because I am trying to figure it out. This bill, supported by the New Democratic Party, will help the auto sector. The Conservative member's speech was eloquent and 65% of his presentation addressed that aspect.

It is true that the automobile sector is in crisis. In 2008, the Conference Board already forecast the loss of 15,000 jobs in that sector. Workers in the auto sector are considered long-tenured workers.

To date, 15,836 jobs have been lost in the Quebec forestry sector, more than will be lost in the auto sector. No bill or assistance has been introduced to help the forestry sector. When we talk about this to the Conservatives, they tell us that those workers must switch careers. Forestry workers will probably be transformed into oil sands workers in the riding of our Conservative colleague from Fort McMurray—Athabasca.

This is ridiculous because the forest is like a garden with trees that grow back, whereas the oil sands provide non-renewable energy. One day, there will be no more. To hear the Conservatives talk, they are going to increase oil sands production fivefold. Thus, we will exhaust these resources more quickly. This Parliament, with the support of the NDP, is attempting to transform forestry workers into oil sands or oil production workers. that is just ludicrous, especially from the New Democratic Party.

I find it particularly ridiculous that we are creating new classes of workers. There are long-tenured workers, who are the auto workers. The remaining workers—in the forestry, tourism, agriculture and fisheries sectors—are not long-tenured workers. Even though these people have devoted their lives to maintaining industries that are found in all regions of Quebec and the rest of Canada, they are not treated in the same way by the NDP because they do not consider them to be long-tenured workers.

This is an aberration, and it is frustrating, because a great deal of money is being spent. The Bloc Québécois has introduced bills in this House, and the other parties have defeated them. The Bloc Québécois has tabled plans for employment insurance. Before the latest budget came down, the Bloc Québécois was the only opposition party that proposed a recovery plan. The Minister of Finance even congratulated us. But the Liberals supported the Conservatives on that budget, all because some members of this House are trying to save their own jobs instead of defending their constituents' jobs. I find that scary.

The Liberals wanted to save their jobs when the latest budget was tabled, because their polling numbers were not very good. Now, the New Democrats want to save their jobs, because their polling numbers are not very good. No one is thinking about the workers, and that is scary.

Once again, it is a good thing the Bloc Québécois members are standing up in this Parliament on behalf of workers in Quebec, especially forestry workers. I repeat that 15,836 forestry jobs have been lost in Quebec to date. We do not care much about polls, and it will not bother us to go to an election if we no longer have confidence in this government, which is ignoring a whole slew of workers who have lost their jobs. We will not hesitate to put our seats on the line on that issue. That is the strength of the Bloc Québécois. All the analysts and reporters are wondering what is happening in Quebec and why Quebeckers do not like Canada.

It is simple. Quebeckers just want members who defend their interests. That is what we do every day, and we take pride in doing it. What is happening right now in this House is out of control. It is an aberration, especially when it comes to this bill, which is designed as an assistance program for the automotive industry.

I believe that our Conservative colleague was honest: for 60% of his presentation, he talked about the auto sector, saying that it represented 14% of GDP.

What he forgot to mention is that, according to the Conference Board, some 15,000 jobs were lost in that sector and that over 15,000 jobs were lost in the forestry sector in Quebec alone. He forgot to mention that. He also forgot to mention the fact that his party has decided to ignore forestry workers.

He forgot to mention that his party is not planning to do anything to help agricultural, tourism and fisheries workers. He forgot to mention that. What I have the hardest time understanding is why the NDP is supporting this. I know that people in ridings in the Gaspé peninsula are starting to get angry. When people—workers who have dedicated their lives to fisheries, forestry, tourism and agriculture—see a party like the New Democratic Party, which claims to be the great defender of all workers, support a bill that will help only one industry, the auto industry, I can see why people in NDP ridings might start wondering what is going on. Those people are looking at Quebec and I am sure they are very glad to see that Quebec, at least, has MPs who are defending workers' interests. The only party doing that is the Bloc Québécois.

The government has created a new category of workers, so-called “long-tenured workers”. Simply put, these are workers who, over the past five years, have collected no more than 35 weeks of employment insurance benefits. So, the government created this new class of workers, and all other workers are not long-tenured. I find this term appalling. Conservative and NDP MPs use the term “long-tenured workers” as though workers in forestry, fisheries, tourism and agriculture were not long-tenured workers, even though these people have dedicated their lives to sustaining industries that, in some cases, are seasonal and, in others, like forestry, have been going through a huge crisis for the past five years.

If the Conservative Party—and the Liberal Party in its day—had made a similar effort to get the forestry industry out of the crisis, the industry would now be leading the Canadian economy and we would be out of the recession by now. That is the truth. But once again, forestry does not get the same treatment. It never does. People forget that in the forest, the trees keep growing. There will always be trees. We are sitting on one of the best assets in Quebec's economy, and one of the best in Canada's economy.

Once again, some members in this House—the Conservatives, the Liberals last spring at budget time, and the NDP today—are ignoring the forestry industry. These people are being cast aside. They hear promises. Maybe we will see what happens during an election campaign debate. For five years now, the Bloc Québécois has been rising in this House to say that there is a crisis in the forestry industry. We need to help this industry. It will take loan guarantees. We must be able to modernize our companies. We want to be able to do so because in Quebec, the forestry industry represents 108,000 jobs. That is the reality.

There are forestry workers in the other provinces, too. If we had addressed the forestry crisis five years ago, we could have already come out of the current economic crisis. But once again, the other parties, for purely partisan reasons, have decided to save their own skins. Today, it is the NDP, who, over the next four, five or six weeks will try to make us understand that this measure is truly good for the economy. These members need only return to their ridings and talk to their constituents to understand that these outrageous measures are not good for the economy.

What we needed was a real overhaul of the employment insurance system, especially because, as of 1996, the federal government no longer contributes to the employment insurance fund. It is funded entirely by workers and employers. That is the reality. The Conservatives even have the gall to say that they will use this money to pay down the debt they have racked up.

So, once again, I am proud to stand here on behalf of forestry, agricultural, tourism and fisheries workers. We are obviously against this bill because it is unfair for all the long-tenured workers in these industries.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I admire the member for his work. He is on the transport committee with me. I agree with him that we need to have a longer-term vision. This government is the first in many years to look at a long-term vision for renewable resources in this country, recognizing that we cannot renew some of the resources we currently take out of the earth

However, I would disagree with the member on some of what he said. The Bloc is toothless. Only the 10 Conservative members in Quebec can deliver the goods to Quebecers. I think that all Canadians and Quebecers realize that. We have provided many options. This government continues to provide options. We have provided billions of dollars for the agricultural industry and for the forestry sector in Quebec and other places in Canada. In my own riding, I have a huge forestry sector. I have mills that have shut down just in the last few months.

I recognize what happens to families in communities such as Slave Lake and High Prairie that are devastated as a result of mill shutdowns. I am wondering what the member is suggesting we do in this particular case. If the world is not buying Canadian lumber, what is the Bloc going to do? They cannot do anything. It is only this government that can deliver for Canadians and Quebecers.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, as my Conservative colleague said, there are only a few Conservative members in Quebec. If he had any backbone, he would no longer be a member of that party, especially considering the bill before us, which is clearly bad for Quebec workers. That would be the first thing he could do.

As for the rest, I understand that a program that allows workers in his riding, as he said, to transition from the forestry sector to the oil sands is a program adapted to his needs. However, I am trying to make him understand that the oil sands will not last forever. What will Alberta do when there is no more oil? After all, it is a non-renewable energy source.

In the end, perhaps they will be happy to have programs that will help all workers by considering everyone, not just auto workers, as long-tenured workers. That is the problem I have with the Conservative Party, but I have an even bigger problem with the New Democratic Party, for getting into bed with the Conservatives.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a little confused by what my hon. colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel just said. I do know whether he plans to support the government or not. Yet that is the most important question. It is because of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP that the government can continue to claim that the bill it introduced will help Canadian workers.

I think my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel is actually speaking on the government side. Perhaps he will answer this question.

He has read the bill. He knows that the bill will not create one single job. He knows as well that the bill is intended to help long-tenured workers.

Just think about that language, long-tenured workers who have contributed for a minimum of x number of years and have not drawn out more than x number of weeks of pay. That means it helps nobody in the auto industry because the auto industry has been using the employment insurance system in order to retool, upgrade and do all kinds of other things.

It means that none of those employees can profit. Why would the member support the government in a smoke-and-mirrors exercise?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, as my colleague clearly stated, it is true that he may not have understood everything. The point of my speech was to indicate that we will be voting against this bill, as I just mentioned.

However, coming from a Liberal member, it is understandable that he would be asking why we supported a government motion two weeks ago. Quite simply, we supported it because adopting the renovation tax credit was good for Quebeckers. I can understand that it is rather difficult for a Liberal member to rise and defend our constituents. Rising to defend personal interests is a Liberal trademark. That is his problem.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand why my Liberal colleagues are frustrated. It is because in this House they have never been interested in any Canadian job. They are interested only in Liberal jobs. That has been the issue with them from the beginning.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question. In terms of this bill there is $1 billion on the table that will go to EI. He can say it is only going to a region but it is going to long-tenured workers. Will he not support money getting to unemployed workers?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can understand because just now the member told the Conservative member that a number of citizens in his riding had moved to work in the Conservative member's riding. That is not what I hope for as an MP. I hope that all my constituents will be able to work in my riding. I will be a valiant Quebecker and, unlike the NDP, defend the interests of the workers of my riding.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-50, concerning the Employment Insurance Act and potential amendments.

My first reaction was to wonder why, if this was really important, it did not happen last May when numerous employment insurance bills were coming before the House on a regular basis. Why did it not happen during the meetings that were negotiated with the Liberal Party to sit down and work out important changes that could help the unemployed? Five hundred thousand families are living on EI right now. Jobs have been lost.

We have debates going on about a stimulus program, and we are going to get this infrastructure money out, and it is going to be shovel ready. How many people can remember when the government kept talking about shovel ready? In most people's minds all it takes is approving the money and giving the money to the approved project, and it is ready to go.

However, that is not the way it works. In fact, at the end of the last fiscal year, which ended March 31, 2009, there was about $3.5 billion of infrastructure funding that lapsed. It was for approved projects that were ready to go. We knew that the economy was under duress. Unemployment was rising and that is when we needed the investment.

Why did it not happen? Why did that $3.5 billion not get out before the end of the fiscal year? It was because the government wanted to manage the bottom line. It did not want to show a bigger deficit than what it was already going to have, because it had promised to balance the books.

I have raised these points to raise the issues of credibility and accountability. Accountability to me is when one can say “I can explain my actions and my decisions or my words truthfully and honestly and in plain and simple language. I can explain and justify them, and everybody will understand”.

However, what we have had is a lot of fuzz. We have had a lot of code words. The minister responsible for infrastructure will not talk about how many projects money has gone out for. He talks about what the government has announced.

There is a project that got money this past week which was announced six years ago. Therefore when the minister responsible for infrastructure talks about something being announced, it means nothing. It is simply trying to evade the reality that in fact monies have not gone out.

We are faced with an employment insurance problem, and we have a bill that has come forward. I think there has been a fair bit of debate and I do not want to repeat it. However, it is clear that there are many good arguments that this bill for long-tenured workers who have not claimed EI but have paid into the system means they are going to be able to draw benefits for longer periods. However, the benefit period will depend on the industry that the worker comes from, whether it be auto, forestry or the resources. Under the bill, that makes a difference.

I looked at the minister's speech, and I did not see that. The minister boasted that she had called for a briefing. In her speech and in question period that same day, Thursday, September 17, the minister went out of her way to make the point that we had a briefing and not one Liberal member came, and that therefore they do not support these important changes for workers.

I found that really hard to believe, because I did not see anything. It took me a couple of hours to track it all down, and what I found is that the e-mail from the minister's office went to only one Liberal member of Parliament. Then the minister had the gall to get up in the House and say, “not one Liberal member attended the briefing meeting”.

That is not my opinion, that is a fact. Government members can ask for a copy of the emails to prove it.

Other members have said that. The parliamentary secretary said the same thing in a speech. They have said that not one Liberal member showed up. When a notice is sent out to only one member, and if that member's staff happens to miss it or the member cannot make it, what do we do? It is not being accountable. It is not being truthful and plain. It is playing games. It is casting aspersions. If the truth were known, if it was in plain and simple language, it would not be an issue, and it should not be brought up.

If the minister's only argument is that the Liberals do not care, that argument just fell apart. On top of that, her colleagues are parroting the same erroneous facts. That is the reality that we have to live with here.

I raise this accountability issue because the member for Selkirk—Interlake on the Friday we were last here went through a little scenario about employment insurance premiums. He said that when the Liberals were in government, they kept raising employment insurance premiums.

After that but before question period, and the record can be checked, I rose on a point of order with the Speaker because this was clearly not a matter of fact. It was, in fact, the reverse. For 12 years in a row the Liberals reduced employment insurance premiums from the position they were at when we took over from Brian Mulroney. I did not know how to deal with this matter other than to raise it with the Speaker and the Speaker had to rule it as a matter of debate.

We have to think about this. If someone says something that is factually incorrect, not a matter of opinion but just factually incorrect, and another member rises to challenge it, there is no recourse in this place. A member has no recourse when another member gives misinformation that he or she knew or ought to have known was false.

The people of Canada continue to get the same rhetoric, the same misinformation. Suddenly, that misinformation shows up in all the Conservative literature that those members send out to everybody else's ridings. Everybody knows about the $30 million worth of ten percenters sent out to ridings of other members of Parliament--

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The hon. Minister of Transport is rising on a point of order.

Economic Action PlanRoutine Proceedings

September 28th, 2009 / 12:40 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I do apologize to my colleague and friend from Mississauga South.

Pursuant to an order of the House of Commons dated February 3, 2009, I have the honour to table the third report on Canada's economic action plan.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me deal with one more issue of accountability and basically telling the truth.

The parliamentary secretary talked about Liberal members walking out of the EI meetings in the summer that were organized by the leader of the official opposition. At page 5112 of Hansard of September 17, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour went through the full agenda and the activities that took place. I will not read it, but for reference purposes it stated that every time that government members undertook to put information before the committee in advance of the meeting, they did not. They did table drafts, which meant that when we arrived at the meeting we were given something.

Those meetings were intended to look at opportunities to help 500,000 unemployed Canadians. It is projected that unemployment is going to go to almost 10%. Those meetings were meant to help the unemployed, but the reality is that the government continued to play games. Government members continued to say they would do things but then never delivered.

Now the government has come forward with this legislation. The parliamentary secretary says opposition parties are playing around. If the government were serious about this legislation, it would have referred it to committee before second reading. The bill would have been passed and we would have had this legislation much quicker. Things could have been done.

The reason why the Conservatives did not do that is because if we deal with it at second reading, time will be wasted and it will never get passed in time. Once a bill is passed at second reading, substantive changes cannot be made to it. Therefore, we can only tinker with it at committee and parties that want to improve it have no chance. If the government had referred the bill to committee before second reading, we could have made it a better bill.

That member has not been accountable to Canadians.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, based on my friend's comments, it appears that he is prepared to support this bill and move it through quickly, instead of having an election that is simply for his leader's self-interest.

Is that what the member is suggesting, that we can move forward and get some work done for Canadians now and that he will support this particular bill and the government's agenda on helping the unemployed in this country? Or is he suggesting that the Liberals will not support us and just want to push us to an election?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that Canadians should note is how often government members want to talk on behalf of the opposition parties and what they are going to do. They never address what they have done. They never have addressed some of the key failings of the government, in terms of accountability.

In terms of accountability, and I was working on a little speech here, how about the income trusts broken promise? That was certainly one. How about the fixed election date?

How about announcing that the Conservatives will not raise taxes, but then announce that they are going to raise employment insurance premiums by $13 billion, which is a tax raise, when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said that premiums are not a tax?

The government is so out of it, in terms of being honest and truthful with Canadians. This place will only be functional when the government becomes accountable.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, it sounds as if this member and perhaps his party are running a little scared and are trying to justify where they are right now.

I have a question for the member. For the people in Thunder Bay—Rainy River, this is a question of a billion dollars for the unemployed or a $300 million election. I heard loud and clear all summer that the election is not a go. Now we see movement from the government on pension reform, on things that we have been talking about, such as protecting workers' pensions. We have seen some movement from the government in the last week.

Let me ask the hon. member this question. Is he not even interested in moving forward, co-operating and protecting workers' pensions?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we spent the entire spring trying to get important changes into the EI system, which the government just totally blocked.

I know the hon. member wants to help his constituents and the industries in his area, but he has to understand that the official opposition has a greater responsibility than simply to pick and choose. We have a responsibility to make sure that Canadians know that we have tried and tried, and that the current government cannot be trusted. We can get some peanuts every now and then, but when it gets down to doing the real work on behalf of Canadians, the current Conservative government is not the one that is going to deliver the goods for Canadians.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question.

Having consulted the major unions in Quebec, we know that they are unanimously opposed to this bill. Acadie Nouvelle reports that unemployed groups, especially on the Acadian peninsula, are against the bill. I believe that my colleague also seriously questions the claim that 190,000 people would benefit from this bill and the $935 million, while our NDP friends are going one better and saying that the figure is now $1 billion.

Do they understand how they come up with these figures? To get 190,000 people, 85% of unemployed workers would have to receive their maximum benefit entitlement, whereas only 25% actually do.

Can my colleague tell us whether he has looked at these figures?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Mississauga South, a short answer, please.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, I cannot do the member's question justice. However, what I can say to him is that there is a litany of problems here with the current government where it always gives us big numbers, such as $4.5 billion to do this when in fact it is only $1.5 billion.

Look at the history the government has with the Parliamentary Budget Officer; an officer that in fact the Conservative Party insisted be brought in to oversee and ensure that the government's numbers are right. What do the Conservatives do? They farm the Parliamentary Budget Officer underneath the Library of Parliament and do not give the PBO enough resources to do the job properly. That is not accountability. They are not with the member, and I agree with him. This bill has a billion dollars that is being spent on EI. I believe that there are better initiatives than EI which would help the unemployed today.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to contribute to the debate on Bill C-50. I have the privilege of sitting on the particular committee that looks at these kinds of issues.

I will be speaking to the details of the legislation in just a few moments, but first I want to step back and initially give something of a more general perspective as we get started here.

In the short-term, the Canadian economy is going to recover. Our economy has held up relatively well throughout this recession, though of course that does not mean that it hurts any less when Canadians lose their jobs, particularly for those Canadians who have lost jobs in this period of time. It does not hurt less for those Canadians who have not been able to get back into the workforce as yet.

In the long-term, however, our economy is going to change, and through Canada's economic action plan we are dealing effectively with our current difficulties but we also have a vision for the future. It is crucial that that be said and crucial to have at this point in time.

I do not claim to have the gift of prophecy. I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet as the Good Book says, but I think it is safe to say that the economy of the future will rely upon some different things. It will rely upon high technology, including forms of technology that we cannot even imagine today. Our traditional industries, especially our resource-based industries, are also seeing some major transformations in this light. We want Canadians to be working in that new economy.

I believe that the world is on the cusp of an economic transition, a crucial change coming that will be just as important in its own way as other major transitions of the 18th and the 19th centuries.

The industrial revolution, to take one example, was a tremendous shock to the traditional economies of Europe and America. Millions of hard workers were put out of business by the coming of steam power and mass production. Millions were forced to learn a new way of working. There was a human cost to industrialization but it was temporary, and in the end industrialization created many more jobs than it destroyed. It also brought about a much higher standard of living, and that is important and obvious as well to note.

From the vantage point of two centuries, it is easy to see that industrialization was a good thing. Although there are people who lament its coming and hark back to an earlier era, we do believe that on the whole it was a good thing. In the middle of an economic transition it is not so easy, however, to be philosophical, as we are in these few moments here.

I want to put it rather bluntly. When people are out of work, they cannot pay their mortgages. They stand to lose their cars and their houses. When they do not know whether they will ever have jobs again, because the industry appears to be dying and the skills that they have honed for decades look like they are obsolete, it is not so easy to take that long view, because they are right in the middle of it.

When people lose jobs through not fault of their own, it is a tremendous blow to their identities, self-confidence and sense of security. When we see our families and friends losing their jobs and businesses shut down in our communities, it is hard not to feel real fear about the future; apprehension, anxiety and real fear.

Believe me, our government would like nothing better than to be able to assure Canadians that the downturn will become an upturn and give a specific date, a certain, definite point, but this is a global recession and we are, to a significant degree, affected by what happens in other countries around us and across the globe. Nevertheless, the economic news is encouraging. We can now see the beginning of the end of the recession and the start of our recovery. Canada has weathered that downturn better than most other countries, and I believe we can attribute that to actions by this Conservative government, actions to stimulate the economy, actions to protect jobs and support the unemployed.

We, as the Conservative government, took concrete action to help Canadians through the employment insurance program. We made timely improvements to help Canadians by providing five extra weeks of EI benefits, by making the EI application process easier, faster and better for workers and businesses, as well as increasing opportunities for unemployed Canadians to upgrade their skills and get back into the new and emerging economy.

Canadians are benefiting from those improvements to the EI program. More than 240,000 Canadians have received additional weeks of benefits thanks to the extra five weeks of benefits included in Canada's economic action plan. Canadians are also benefiting from improvements to service delivery. Between April and July, over 750 additional claims-processing staff and over 250 more agents answering calls were hired and trained to help even more Canadians receive their EI benefits as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Canada's economic action plan also announced the freezing of the employment insurance premium rate for 2010 at $1.73 per $100 of insurable earnings, the same levels as in 2008 and 2009, and actually its lowest level since 1982. I would point out to the Liberal members opposite that while the previous Liberal government may have reduced EI premiums, it is our Conservative government that has them at their lowest level in a quarter of a century.

This government has also created the employment insurance financing board to ensure that the EI premiums paid by hard-working Canadians do not go into general revenues and that they are not available for future governments to use on their pet political projects or to fudge deficit numbers, like the previous Liberal governments did.

I am hearing about the kind of recommendation we are putting into place from chambers of commerce, including the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, that EI premiums should not go into general revenues to be used in a slush fund, pet political project kind of way. Our government's action on that issue is another good thing for Canadians.

I will go back to the freezing of EI premiums for this year, 2009, and next year, 2010. Keeping the EI premium at the same level in 2009 and 2010 rather than allowing it to rise to the break-even level will achieve a projected combined economic stimulus of $10.5 billion. That measure keeps premium rates lower than they would otherwise be. From an employer perspective, the measure provides an incentive to create and retain jobs, and at the same time it leaves more earnings in the hands of employers, which impacts on consumer spending.

We are assisting businesses and their workers experiencing temporary slowdowns through improved and more accessible work sharing agreements. More than 165,000 Canadians are benefiting from work sharing agreements that are in place with over 5,800 employers across Canada.

It is important to ensure Canada's workforce is in position to get good jobs and bounce back from the recession. To help, we have the career transition assistance program, the CTA, a new initiative launched by our government that will help an estimated 40,000 long-term workers who need additional support for retraining to find new jobs.

Through that 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. As well, we are allowing earlier access to EI for eligible workers investing in their own training by using all or part of their severance packages.

This initiative is being implemented in partnership with provinces and territories. The federal government provides income support through the EI program, and the provinces and territories are responsible for providing training support. By working with the provinces and the territories through this and other programs, we are providing Canadians easier access to training that is tailored to the needs of workers in our country's different regions.

As I read the reports from the different chambers across the country, again including my own Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, they are certainly supportive of that training component and EI funds being used to that very good end.

The new legislation we are introducing is part of those efforts. Bill C-50 is about extending regular EI benefits to workers who have lost their jobs after working a long time and who have never, or rarely, collected employment insurance or EI regular benefits; in other words, those who have a long-term attachment to the workforce. That is what this bill is about.

These Canadians have paid taxes and EI premiums for many years. It is only fair and right that we support them and their families in this special time of need.

I appreciate the reasoned support of the NDP, and I wish that other members of the House would support something like this on behalf of their constituents. I encourage all members of the House to support these measures.

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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member opposite in terms of the compassion that members of Parliament feel towards those who have lost their jobs and whose families are impacted. I certainly share that view.

It was an interesting, contextual and philosophical set of comments. The word that really struck me, though, was when the member used the word “timely”. If anything, this proposed bill is completely untimely. We have a government that in its update last November claimed that Canada would be in surplus for this year and future years. That was pretty untimely. It was already a country in deficit. The untimely budget in January proposed a $32 billion deficit, which soon after has skyrocketed to $55 billion.

The thing that is completely mystifying in terms of the government's performance is that it did absolutely nothing to table this measure during the summer, when there was a Liberal-Conservative EI working group to make exactly the improvements to EI that the member claims this bill is about. Instead, the—

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin.

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Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am not exactly sure what the question was, but I will do my best to respond to the general statements that were made. I do know that the constituents contacting my office have a great appreciation for the five-week extension. I suspect that is the same for members across the way and in this party as well.

We will be extending employment insurance, yet again, for those who have had a long-term attachment to the workforce, and I think that is much appreciated. As the member said, it was a compassionate, caring measure to take. We listen to the input that comes from across the way. In particular, we listen to the input from the Canadian people, who have relayed to the government that this is the kind of temporary measure that is necessary.