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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

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 177Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

What is the total amount of government funding, since fiscal year 2004-2005 up to and including the current fiscal year, allocated within the constituency of Welland, listing each department or agency, initiative, and amount?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 202Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

With respect to the purchase, either by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) for departments, agencies and Crown corporations, or by the individual departments, agencies and Crown corporations, in the fiscal years 2007-2008, and 2008-2009, namely, (i) media and public relations training, (ii) public opinion research, (iii) promotional materials related to press conferences only, (iv) hairstylists and estheticians, (v) spas and suntanning salons, (vi) sporting events, (vii) dry cleaning, (viii) taxis, (ix) retreats at resorts or conference centres: (a) by department, agency or Crown corporation, how many items or services in each category were purchased; (b) what was the total cost spent by either PWGSC or another department, agency or Crown corporation on each category; and (c) with respect to media training, what was the date and cost of each contract and who was the recipient of the training?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before question period, there were three minutes remaining for questions and comments on the speech by the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to first congratulate the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé on his speech and for making it clear that we will be voting against this bill.

This bill is full of measures to prevent even more people from getting employment insurance. I would like my colleague to describe once more the situations in his riding where people who lose their job would no longer be eligible for benefits under Bill C-50, despite what the government claims. I would like to hear what he has to say about that.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent question.

Of course, we will vote against Bill C-50 on employment insurance. Why? In my riding, for example, the tourism industry is very important. As we know, there are a number of seasonal jobs in this industry. People who have these jobs have no stability and are unemployed for a period each year. Therefore, they are not able to benefit from the employment insurance program and the benefits provided for in Bill C-50.

Jobs in the manufacturing sector are also very important in my riding. We know that the manufacturing industry has been experiencing difficulties for several years. Since 2001, workers from this sector have regularly been laid off. These people have had to claim employment insurance several times and would not benefit from the measures of Bill C-50. And how about the forestry industry? In my riding, there are many forestry workers. We know that this industry is in crisis, and we know that the Liberals at the time refused to provide loan guarantees to businesses in this industry. Now, the Conservatives have decided to invest in Ontario to support the automotive industry.

These forestry workers have lost their jobs many times, and have been experiencing periods of unemployment for years. So they would not be able to benefit from Bill C-50.

This is why my colleague and I, along with the other Bloc Québécois members, will vote against Bill C-50.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in favour of Bill C-50, our government's most recent measure to improve the EI system, this time to increase the duration of benefits to long-tenured workers. This afternoon I will use my time to cover the recent economic history that has led us to these measures.

As we all know, about one year ago there was a swift, largely unexpected and severe economic meltdown throughout the world. This was precipitated not by any actions of our government or conditions in our country, but largely by the subprime mortgage and debt crisis that occurred south of the border. Many countries around the world reeled from the effects of that crisis. Some smaller economies almost collapsed. Across the developed world many banks did collapse.

Due to the good sense of Canadians, Canadian banks and their governments, Canada is one of the few western economies that did not have to bail out any of its banks. We have the strongest banking system in the world. I think we all know that, and we should be proud of it. The strength of our banking system and the prudence with which our banks acted over recent years was a major contributor to our economy's relatively late fall into recession and our relatively early recovery out of the recession.

The recession affected every single country that we do business with. All of our trading partners were affected and consumer demand plummeted. It was natural for many of our large exporting industries to be hit especially hard and for workers in those industries to be hit with layoffs.

One of the many things this government did once the severe and widespread effects of the economic downturn were realized was to start making plans to improve the EI program.

Many hard-working Canadians lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Demand for wood and wood products, cars and all sorts of consumer goods fell in the U.S. and around the world. Workers in our manufacturing industries were laid off. Many workers in the auto sector saw their companies collapse around them and saw their jobs disappear. Workers in the forestry sector were losing their jobs because companies were going bankrupt. We acted to help those workers as they tried to recover and transition from the effects of this economic downturn.

What did our government do? We consulted with Canadians and we were told, most important, to extend the length of EI benefits. Many Canadians who had worked full time for many years had suddenly lost their jobs. They were left wondering how long it would take for them to get back into the workforce. So, as part of Canada's economic action plan, we extended the EI benefit period by five weeks.

We also took other actions to help Canadians. We significantly increased the government's investment in skills, training and upgrading so that workers who were laid off could get the necessary training to transition to find work in different industries. We put more money into training programs so that people who did and did not qualify for EI could access them. But that is not all. We expanded the work-sharing program. We raised the number of weeks that employers could access the work-sharing program by 14 weeks to a full 52 weeks. Those actions by our government are protecting almost 165,000 jobs of Canadian workers through over 5,800 agreements. Again, that is something Canadians told us they wanted, and we delivered.

We did even more. We froze EI premiums for 2009 and for next year, 2010, because we understood that employers and employees needed to keep more of their money in their pockets to help them through these troubled times.

We were also clear that more may be needed and that we would monitor the economy and the EI system to ensure needs were being met with appropriate actions. While we heard these good, affordable and responsible ideas for EI improvements from Canadians, we heard different things from the veritable coalition of opposition parties and from the usual suspects.

What we heard consistently, first from the NDP and then the Liberals and the Bloc, was that they felt the solution, the silver bullet, was a number, and they kept repeating that same number.

That special number was 360. They suggested we lower the threshold to access EI benefits to a flat 360 hours across the country. What that is, quite plainly, is a proposal for a 45 day work year. They want folks to be able to work for 45 days and then collect months of benefits for those 45 days of work.

What good does that proposal, the one we have heard the most noise about from the opposition, for a 45 day work year do for the hard-working Canadians who have worked for many years in the automotive industry who have found themselves out of a job? The answer is nothing.

Would it help Canadian forestry workers in B.C., Quebec and elsewhere who have worked for 10, 15, 20 years in the forestry industry, who put in literally thousands of hours in full-time employment year after year? No, not really.

It certainly would do nothing to help Canadians who have been in the workforce for their entire adult life, working 35, 40, 50 hour weeks, month after month, year after year. It would do nothing for them.

That has been the opposition's big plan for Canadians who have worked hard and paid their dues for years, even decades. Nothing.

This government, on the other hand, saw what was needed and took responsible action to increase the help we were providing to hard-working, long-tenured workers.

We saw that many tens of thousands of Canadians, in fact close to 200,000 Canadians, could make use of additional weeks of benefits to bridge them further and to give them more time for the economy to recover and for them to get back into the workforce.

That is why we took the actions that we did and why we have introduced Bill C-50.

The measures in Bill C-50 would help ensure that long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for years are provided with the help they need while they search for new employment and while the economy begins to recover.

This legislation is an important step for Canadian workers who have worked hard and paid their taxes their whole lives and have found themselves in economic hardship, and it is the right thing to do. We are not the only ones to say so either.

Two weeks ago when we announced the bill, the premier of Ontario said that it was a step in the right direction. The president of the Canadian Labour Congress said that he was pleased about it.

The president of the Canadian Auto Workers said:

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.

Unfortunately, all Canadians have received from the Liberals on this legislation is exactly what Canadian auto workers do not need and that is political posturing. From this government they are getting action.

My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst made some prudent remarks on September 16 in the Telegraph-Journal . He said:

But if we say no to this [help for long-tenured workers], we're saying no to thousands and thousands of people who would then go on welfare.

He is right. His comments illustrate the reckless and selfish political posturing being exhibited right now by the other two opposition parties, the Liberals and the Bloc.

The Liberals especially only seem interested in forcing an unnecessary election. Here on the government benches, the economy is still our number one priority. We need to continue to implement our economic action plan in order to create and maintain jobs.

We are concerned about fighting the recession. The Liberals just want to fight the recovery. Our government will remain focused on the economy and helping those hardest hit by the economic downturn.

I encourage my colleagues to help us do that by supporting this legislation.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague talk about how difficult it is for Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. That is certainly something that I can relate to and something the people I represent can relate to as well.

The irony is that many people will not be able to avail themselves of this latest measure because it does not apply to people who have availed themselves of EI. It is only for people who have worked for a long time and have not accessed EI.

There is nothing wrong with individuals being able to access EI, certainly those who have worked forever and have not been able to do so, but we should not penalize those who through no fault of their own have had to access the system from time to time.

Fishers, forestry workers and young people will not be able to benefit from this latest measure. Is it possible that this measure was put in place to help those in the oil industry, those who we all know form the largest base of support for the Conservative Party?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe the question was what are we doing for those in cyclical industries that sometimes face downturns? I know this government introduced a program a couple of years ago that looked at taking the best 14 weeks for those who are in those industries that are hardest hit. I believe it is a program like this that helps. Just recently we expanded that program. Therefore, there are methods that we continue to look at as needed to help the situation we are facing right now in this country.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question, but I want him to keep something in mind. When he promotes Bill C-50, he says that the bill will help 190,000 unemployed workers with a $935 million budget. To get that number, 85% of unemployed workers would have to collect benefits for the full period to which they are entitled. But only 25% of them do, which, instead of the numbers he has given us, adds up to a budget of, at most, $300 million for 60,000 unemployed workers. We asked senior officials and the parliamentary secretary for the numbers and how they calculated them.

Can the chair of the Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities tell us how he came up with these numbers?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague is part of the human resources committee and is very dedicated. I know he cares a great deal about this issue. I want to state again that it is important to understand that this bill is not the answer to everything. This is one part.

As we consulted with people, this is one of the things that people suggested. There are a number of people who have been working for many years, never collected EI and have not had an opportunity to.

Therefore, we do not believe that this is one size fits all. We have introduced programs for older workers. We have introduced programs for cyclical industries. This is just one more in the suite of programs that we believe are helpful and will be able to help those who need it most.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, there are approximately 1.6 million people who are unemployed right now. The bill will help tens of thousands of them and I am very pleased to support it.

I do not understand what some members of the House feel would be steps in the right direction. They may be small steps, they may be baby steps, but they are still moving forward and helping Canadians in this country. I for one in all good conscience support that.

I heard people in my riding very clearly all through the summer say, “$1 billion for unemployment or a $300 million election, take your pick”. It was pretty clear which direction we should go in.

Why does the member think there are members of the House who are not interested in making those baby steps, eventually becoming large steps, in the right direction?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, it has become very apparent to me and to the members on this side of the House that there are those in the opposition who are not going to support anything that happens. Therefore, I would also echo his concerns which are my concerns. Why would we spend money on a costly election right now when so much help is needed for people in this economy and in this country?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-50. When we talk about the employment insurance system, I am not sure that there is any part of the country where the people have a better understanding of the importance of this system than the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and certainly the people I represent in Random—Burin—St. George's.

The difficulty we have is when we see a measure come forward that does not take into account the impact that the recession has had on people who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs or people who work in a seasonal industry. That in fact is what is happening throughout our country. We are finding that people who work in the forestry industry, in the fishery, in the tourism industry, all of those people, are invaluable to our economy and to ensuring that we work well as a country.

Yet, when it comes to ensuring that they are taken care of, they need to know that in fact they can avail themselves of a system that they themselves put in place. Let us not forget that when we talk about the EI system, we are talking about a system that has been funded by the very people who work throughout our country who will from time to time find themselves unemployed and have to avail themselves of this particular system.

When we hear of a measure that is being put in place for long-tenured workers, we can appreciate that. The problem we have is that there are so many other individuals in the country who need to available themselves of EI, that in fact this particular measure would do nothing for our young people, who work for a period of time, and it would do nothing for people who are seasonal workers. That is why we have a great deal of concern about this one particular measure. It does not recognize that the country is in a sorry state of affairs when we talk about the jobless rate in our country.

In fact, what we are talking about today, when people talk about the country coming out of the recession, is a jobless recovery. That is a sad reflection on what is happening in our country. Because when we realize that people want to work, provide for their families, put food on the table, buy medications, pay their bills, whether it is their mortgage, their heat or their light bill, they need to be gainfully employed, and gainfully employed does not mean being employed on a part-time basis. That is what we are hearing is happening in Canada. We are hearing that even those jobs that are returning are part-time jobs. So, we have so many people who not only need to avail themselves of an EI system but we now have people who can only work on a part-time basis. In some cases, if they were making $20.00 an hour, they are now being asked to accept $10.00 an hour because their job is for half the length of time.

We are finding that people really do not know where to turn. We are asking the government to recognize that this is a serious situation for Canadians. I know that the people I represent are finding it very difficult, particularly in a rural community. We have many communities in our country that are rural by nature. When we talk about a rural community, we are talking about a small number of people, yes, in some of those communities, but what we are also finding is that there really are not any opportunities for them other than to work on a seasonal basis.

So, this type of measure does not take into account the young. It does not take into account those who work on a seasonal basis. It does not take into account at all what has happened to our country as a result of the recession. It does not take into account that we are now in what is called a jobless recovery. It does not take into account that the jobs that are coming back are part-time jobs, not the full-time jobs that people were used to, particularly people who worked in other industries other than the fishery, other than in forestry. I know that in Newfoundland and Labrador, certainly, many in the forestry industry have been on a seasonable basis.

When I look at those who earn their living from the sea, these are people who work very hard, whether they are out in the boats, on the ocean, fishing, or whether they work in the fish plants. I do not know if there is a job that is any more difficult than working in a fish plant. Many people, we are finding now, are of an age when they should be able to retire but they cannot because they do not have a pension. So what they have to do is work until they are 65, until they can avail themselves of the Canada pension plan.

The problem we have is those people are not being looked after. Those people work on a seasonal basis. They have to avail of EI because the fishery itself is a seasonal industry. We are finding a lot of people who are not being taken care of, a lot of people who really need a government that understands their situation. They need a government that recognizes that while we may be on the road somewhat to a recovery, that recovery is not being felt by those who really need to get on with their lives. Again, particularly in rural Canada, people have to turn to neighbours, to other family members and to friends just to make ends meet.

When we talk about our EI system, we need to look at measures to reform a system that responds to the situation in which we find ourselves today. That is why, as the official opposition, we brought up the whole idea of EI reform. That is why we proposed measures that would respond to the situation in which people find themselves today. What response did we get from the government when we tried to sit down with members, when we tried to get them to look at the seriousness of the situation that Canadians faced? All we had were roadblocks put in our way. In fact, the Conservatives did not come forward with either proposal to address any of the issues that Canadians face today, Canadians who find themselves out of the workforce through no fault of their own.

Unfortunately, the government has ignored what is happening to Canadians. My two colleagues from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine represented the official opposition on the group that was put together to look at EI reform. They had great difficulty trying to get any answers out of the government. In fact, the minister herself refused to participate in the way that it was intended she would, or that we were led to believe she would. We ended up having to say that nothing was happening. The government was not interested in doing anything for the majority of Canadians who found themselves out of work. We know there are a lot of them. We are talking about 486,000 Canadians who are unemployed and are not going to find work. If what we are being told by economists, professionals in business, by any number of people that the recovery we are seeing is a jobless recovery, what is being proposed will do nothing to help the majority of those Canadians who find themselves unemployed.

We depend on those people. We depend on our fishers. We depend on those who service us in the tourism industry. We depend on our loggers. These are Canadians. We are there to represent their interests. We are there to ensure that at the end of the day when they find it difficult, we are here to represent them, to try to deal with that difficulty, to try to help them make ends meet. However, the reality of the situation is the government is not doing that. While Conservatives pay lip service and say that they have done this and done that and increased the number of hours and number of weeks, they have done absolutely nothing to deal with the majority of those Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

There is work to be done and that is why as the official opposition we are telling the government and the NDP that what is being proposed is not good enough. When we talk about Bill C-50, we are telling the government loud and clear that this is not acceptable, not only to us, but it is not acceptable to the majority of Canadians who need a government to understand that this recession has taken its toll on them. The recession has put them in an untenable position where they cannot provide for their families, where they cannot make ends meet and where they really need a government that understands and is sympathetic to the situation in which they find themselves.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest. The member has concerns about rural Canada, as do I, and I certainly agree with some of her points about the hardships people are facing right now.

However, I have a little trouble listening to a speaker from the party that clearly, over the years, picked the pockets of employers and employees to the tune of $50-some billion and gutted the insurance system.

Would the member not now be interested in taking some small steps toward improving the EI system instead of looking for a $300 million election?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, that is an interesting question from my colleague. The reality is we want to take measures that will make a difference. We want to take measures that will see the majority of Canadians who need support and help from the government, and from any government, get through a difficult time.

One small measure, whether it is a small step, is just not good enough, and that is our point. There are so many other initiatives that could have been taken to reform the EI system and the Conservatives have failed to do it. How the NDP can possibly support this one small measure when there are so many other things that can be done is beyond belief.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, shame on the Conservatives and their NDP supporters for telling workers in the construction, forestry, tourism and agriculture sectors, and seasonal workers in general, that they are not long-tenured workers.

Many of these workers have held the same job for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, even 30 years. But because of the seasons, nobody cuts trees when the forest is buried in 10 feet of snow, and nobody goes fishing when the ocean is covered in ice.

The Conservatives and the New Democrats say that even though all of these people have worked for decades and decades, they cannot collect one red cent from this program.

I am not surprised that the Conservatives are doing this, but the NDP should be ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed because they claimed that they would stand up for society's most vulnerable seasonal workers.

Can my colleague, who delivered a very nice speech earlier, tell us whether the Conservative government and, worse yet, the New Democratic Party, have completely forgotten seasonal workers' predicament?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, that is exactly the point. When we look at individuals throughout Canada, who comprises the largest portion of our workforce? Our forestry workers, our fishers, our agricultural workers, workers from all those sectors have to avail themselves of EI from time to time. They are seasonal but they have worked in those industries for a long time. Some of them have been working for 20 years in a particular occupation, but because it is seasonal, they have to avail themselves of the system.

It is obvious to anyone who looks at Bill C-50 that the Conservatives, with the support of the NDP, have forgotten about the majority of Canadians who need them at this most crucial time in their lives.