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.