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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

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting. This is a difficult debate on this particular piece of legislation.

The choice before us is to assist a certain group of workers and not proceed with the kinds of changes that many of us in this place believe are necessary to the employment insurance program.

I can understand that members from a region where seasonal work is very important would be very concerned that seasonal workers are not helped by this particular piece of legislation.

I do not think the Conservative government is behaving appropriately in addressing the needs of seasonal workers. Those workers need help during this economic downturn, like other workers, like older workers, workers who have had a long attachment to the workforce. That is a very important group that needs the attention of this place and of the government.

Younger workers are also losing their jobs at this time. It is not easy for them either. I can understand when members of Parliament who feel that is a very important group believe that this legislation does not go far enough and does not address the concerns of younger workers at all, people who have not had the opportunity to build up that attachment to the labour force that allows them to take advantage of these proposals. The government should be addressing the needs of younger workers.

Women are also having a difficult time during this economic recession. We know that women need particular attention in our EI system, and they are not getting it from the government.

What about the people in high unemployment regions? Many forestry workers in British Columbia are not going to qualify for this because they lost their jobs long before this proposal was put on the table.

This is not the best proposal in the world. We need to pay attention to other groups of workers. There is lots of room to criticize the government's approach on employment insurance, but at the same time, in this corner of the House, we have looked at this bill and said that we cannot turn our backs on those workers who are offered this assistance at this moment in time.

Judging the piece of legislation that we have before us and the willingness of the government to move in that direction, we have decided to support that to make sure that those workers, up to 190,000 older workers with long attachment to the workforce, get some assistance. We are going to keep pushing for those other workers, seasonal workers, workers in high unemployment areas, workers where industries collapsed before the recession, women and young workers to see that they get the kind of assistance they need.

The EI program that we have is a shadow of what we need. The EI program we have should have been supported by that $54 billion to $57 billion, money that was collected from workers and employers in this country. In this corner, we are going to keep pushing to see that those improvements come along for those people as well.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, I am happy to start the wind-down to the second-reading debate today on Bill C-50. This is part and parcel of our government's efforts to help hard-working Canadians through these difficult economic times. Our government is focused on what matters to Canadians: finding solutions to help long-term workers who have worked hard and paid into the system for years but who are having trouble finding employment through no fault of their own, extending benefits to self-employed Canadians, and getting Canadians back to work through historic investments in infrastructure and skills training.

In my riding alone there is over $50 million in projects that are ongoing, sewer- and water-related projects that were actually badly needed. Our government, through its economic action plan, has been providing these communities with moneys to go ahead with a lot of these projects and has been employing people in my riding. We are providing support to Canadians when they need it. The evidence of this is in our economic action plan, on which the latest report was announced and tabled this afternoon.

The best way to help unemployed Canadians, their families and the economy is to help Canadians get back to work. That is our number one priority. That is why our economic action plan included unprecedented investments in training for Canadians, whether or not they qualify for EI benefits, and an additional $1.5 billion, which is helping over 150,000 Canadians.

We provided an additional five weeks of EI benefits across the country. We have improved and expanded work-sharing programs. We are protecting the jobs of over 165,000 Canadians through this agreement, and almost 5,800 businesses across Canada.

We have frozen EI premiums for two years, this year and next year, so that employers can keep more money and create more jobs, and Canadian workers can keep more of their hard-earned money during these tough economic times.

We have provided an additional $60 million to help older workers because they have invaluable knowledge and experience and lots of potential left.

In our latest efforts, Bill C-50, we are supporting long-tenured workers, Canadians who have worked hard and paid their taxes and premiums for years and who are having difficulty finding new jobs. We are providing between five and 20 extra weeks of EI to help approximately 190,000 long-tenured workers while they seek new employment. It is fair. It is the right thing to do.

As the minister has also said, we are moving forward with our campaign promise to provide maternity and paternity benefits to the self-employed. We are working hard fighting the recession. We applaud those members who are helping us. Other members want an unnecessary election that will hurt the economy and unemployed Canadians. We should be working together to help Canadians who need help, and this bill does just that. I encourage all colleagues to support Bill C-50.

It is interesting to be in Saskatchewan, because it has not faced the downturn as other provinces have. In my riding we are actually looking for people. I was just talking to a gentleman who owns an automotive workshop. He is actually trying to find mechanics.

I can understand that in regions of the country where people have been working for years and years, when they get laid off and they are unemployed, there is stress that goes with that and stress in the family. I can understand how having that extra time, that longer relief to receive those benefits would be important to them. That is what the government is doing.

I cannot understand why anybody would want to oppose that. It is the right thing to do. If a person has paid premiums for 19 or 20 years, do they not deserve a little bit of extra time to help get a job? It is one thing that our minister recognized and it is the one thing that a lot of our pundits and scrutineers have said we should be doing. It is giving a wider window to those people to find new jobs and take advantage of all their benefits and experience.

As I close, I say this is a good bill. It is good for Canada. It is good for the riding of Prince Albert, and I support it.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member boast about what an excellent bill this is. As members know, however, the Bloc Québécois, people of my riding and every riding in Quebec, as well as Mouvement Action Chômage and labour do not necessarily find it all that good.

First, it does not benefit all the unemployed. Second, it creates a new category of unemployed workers. Some have lost their jobs several times these past few years, be it in the forestry or the manufacturing industry. These workers have had to apply for EI repeatedly, and there is nothing in this bill to allow them to qualify for EI.

I cannot understand. With all the money it has, with more than $55 billion accumulated in the EI fund over the past few years, why does the government not implement something that would benefit all the workers who have lost their jobs and are going through really tough times?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, as I said, it is hard to come from Saskatchewan and talk about employment insurance, because our province is doing so well. Maybe we should be looking at the differences between Saskatchewan and Quebec and his region.

Look at my region, for example. We had a pulp mill that was shut down. People were laid off. They lost their jobs. It was serious. The city of Prince Albert was devastated. They thought that it would never recover, yet I go back to that city and it is growing. The people are employed. The pulp mill is still shut down. The folks have found work. The families are still there. Things evolve.

Our responsibility as a government is to help those people change when there is a structural change going on in the economy, and that is what we are doing. We are trying to provide proper training. We are trying to give them a hand up. That is what we have done in Prince Albert, and it is really exciting. In my riding, a couple of sawmills were sold. They are talking about reopening them, but doing something different.

The other exciting thing in my riding is wood chips. They are not looking at it for pulp anymore, but for use in biofuels, biodiesel and ethanol. In fact, my riding is proposing to have the world's first cellulose-based ethanol plant built in it, possibly at the old pulp mill location.

There are alternatives to the forestry industry that we all have to look at, and I would encourage the member to do that. If I could help him with that, I would enjoy doing that.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Madam Speaker, I am really delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this bill today, because it is an issue that affects many of my friends and neighbours and it is an issue that I think all members in the House agree is important.

It is important to debate. It is important to deal with it, and right from the start, I would like to say that this is why I find it so offensive that at least two opposition parties are more concerned about having an unnecessary and opportunistic election than they are with actually dealing with the problem of helping those who are unemployed, or with preventing some people from becoming unemployed if they are in a situation where they could maybe go into a job-sharing program instead of becoming unemployed.

These are the types of things that our government has offered and I really do find it offensive, and that is not a casually chosen word, that we have those who are more focused on having this unnecessary and opportunistic election than on dealing with the issues.

I hope that the members of the Liberal Party, and the Bloc in particular, will reconsider. They have both said they are not going to support this bill, and I hope they will reconsider, and stay away from an election that Canadians simply do not want, and deal with the issues at hand.

Our government takes the approach that the best way to deal with an issue like this is to prevent people from becoming unemployed. In cases where people do lose jobs, getting them back to work as quickly as possible is far better than focusing so much on the unemployed and employment insurance. We need to focus more on preventing that from happening and on retraining in cases where that does happen.

Retraining is very important, particularly in areas where a town depends so much upon one industry that disappears, with the forestry sector as an example, and there are simply not the jobs that there were in that industry. Our government is focused on what happens with these people and particularly if they are long-tenured workers.

I think of friends and neighbours who are in the 45- to 55-year age bracket. Not only for that age group but particularly for people in that age group, if they have been working at one job for a long period of time and they lose that job, and there is really no opportunity to get a new job in the same sector, what do they do?

It is critical to do what our government has done, which is to do things that will help them through this really difficult time. One thing is to retrain and to offer help in retraining. We are talking about retraining that will actually lead to another good job for these people. It has been proven in the past that it can be very effective. That is why we are focusing on that rather than on going to another election. It is just simply not what Canadians want.

Over this past week in my constituency, I know that people were not calling for an election. It was just the opposite. They were saying that it would be irresponsible to go to an election now. They want all parties to actually work together to make this Parliament work, and that is certainly what we intend to do.

Our government, as members know, has been focusing on the economy. That is what people want. They do not want us out campaigning. They do not want us involved in an unnecessary and opportunistic election. They want us out focusing on the economy. That is what we are doing and that is what we are going to continue to do until we get through this campaign--or through this recession, I meant to say.

It does seem like a campaign. That was a bit of a slip, but I have heard so much talk about it from the opposition that I was thinking to myself that that is where we are headed. I hope I am wrong. We are focusing on the economy and on getting jobs for Canadians, and that is what we are going to continue to do.

I will now talk about some of the things that our government has done. As I have said, this is an extremely important issue.

The member said that I should talk about the work sharing program. That is an ideal way to keep people working and to keep them from having to go on employment insurance as their only source of income. It gives them a little help along the way so that we can have people job sharing with other people still working.

In this recession, if there is one thing that is more difficult than anything else for people to deal with it is losing a job and no longer being able to provide for their family. That affects not only the person who has lost the job but it also affects the whole family, friends and the community. What we are trying to do is to deal with that and the job sharing program that my colleague mentioned is one of the ways to do that.

As well, the additional five weeks that we have added to the amount of time that unemployed workers can collect unemployment insurance is extremely important. About 300,000 families are continuing to get income as they prepare themselves to get back into the workforce because of the change that our government has made.The five additional weeks is just one of the things that we are talking about.

We know that jobs are not created out of thin air. They are created by people who start, grow and continue to operate businesses, which, obviously, is where the jobs come from.

We know as well that high taxes kill jobs. Since our government came to office in 2006, we have been reducing taxes to individuals and to corporations. Some members across the way say that we should not be decreasing corporate taxes. However, where do most of our jobs come from? They come from small businesses that are often incorporated. They are the ones that create jobs, so we have reduced corporate taxes.

Also, we have frozen EI premiums, which is something I have not heard the opposition members talking about. We have frozen EI premiums which, in effect, is keeping taxes down below what they would be through the formula that was put in place by the former Liberal government. If that formula had been allowed to continue to operate, EI premiums would be going up which is a higher tax. These things certainly would hurt job creation and we do not want to do anything that would hurt job creation.

I will close by encouraging members of the opposition to take this focus away from a completely unnecessary and opportunistic election and get the focus back to running this country and working on behalf of those who are unemployed or otherwise would be unemployed. This would benefit us all and would certainly make life easier for those families who are directly involved.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague brought forward some very important points on how we as members of Parliament can support what this government is doing and actually benefit Canadians instead of harm them with an unnecessary election.

Would my colleague comment further on the job training programs that we have offered? I think that in many of the industries that may be experiencing difficulties there are new opportunities for these workers and the training that can be provided will help them.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is certainly part of the whole package that we are putting forward. It is important to provide training programs, particularly to those long-tenured workers who otherwise would find it very difficult to get back into the workplace. We have put forth a package of programs. We have done things in the past and in this legislation we have put forth a training package that will help people get back to work when they lose a job that they have had for many years.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for his speech and the hard work he has done over the years.

I note that our government brought forward additional benefits this year of about $5.8 billion. We have had more than 300,000 workers receive an additional five weeks of EI benefits. We have the enhanced EI work-sharing agreements supporting more than 164,000 workers and have extended EI benefits for long-tenured workers.

I know the member has spent many years here in the House and I wonder if he has ever seen a government that has moved so rapidly and quickly to address a problem and in such a substantive way.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question from the minister and the member for Provencher. I have been in the House for 16 years and I saw the former government, which people decided to replace about three and a half years ago, overtax people year after year with extra employment insurance premiums that simply were an additional tax. The money went into general revenues and was spent. I am talking about tens of billions of dollars. The employment insurance program simply moved away from being a true insurance program to being an additional tax and that simply--

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I do not think it is right for the member to provide misinformation to the House. The previous government lowered the employment insurance payment 14 times, brought down the rates--

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I am not sure that is a point of order. The member has a short time to complete his answer.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand why the member for Malpeque is a little bit unhappy about his former government's record on this issue. I can understand why he is touchy because in fact their record killed jobs and hurt the economy in this country. We have gone in another direction. We are helping the economy. We are helping people keep jobs and find new jobs. That is the difference.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

I wish to defer the vote until the end of government orders tomorrow.

Employment Insurance ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The vote will be deferred until tomorrow.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The member for Berthier—Maskinongé has five minutes for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.