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House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member is of the view that the two-week waiting period should be eliminated. Of course, it would have a cost.

If the member is really concerned about helping those who are vulnerable, those who are unemployed, why is it that he voted against the extension of the EI program, the addition of five weeks for those who were unemployed? Why is it that he voted against the extra weeks of benefits for long-tenured workers? Why is it that he voted against the program that allowed people to maintain their jobs, the work-sharing program that helped thousands and thousands of people? Why is it he voted against that?

Indeed, I am not sure what the Bloc members would have against older workers, but when there was a special provision for older workers, they voted against that too.

Those are millions of dollars of expenditures including millions of dollars to help people upgrade their skills to be able to find new jobs. How in good conscience could the Bloc members have voted against all of that and be fixated on one particular issue of the EI program?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am hearing the propaganda from the member opposite to the effect that we voted against certain things. But does he tell us in which document the government hid that measure? We agreed with the five additional weeks, but the government included that measure in a budget that we could not support. The member does not mention that, even though he is well aware that it is the case. He knows full well that we supported the idea of providing five additional weeks. We did not vote against those five weeks: we voted against the rest of the budget. You know that. You are almost being dishonest when you say that to the House. You know why we voted—

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I must remind the hon. member to address his remarks to the Chair, not directly to other members.

The hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I think that there is a difference between what the member was talking about with respect to the bill and what the parliamentary secretary was talking about. The Conservatives are not telling people the whole truth when they talk about extending benefits. When the time came for the government to provide 20 additional weeks, seasonal workers got nothing. According to the government, they did not deserve extra benefits. The government does not consider them to be long-tenured workers. I will never forget what the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism said:

“We will give it to those who really deserve it”.

Shame on her for saying that. There is a big difference between what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources was trying to say earlier and the truth. The truth is that they did not want seasonal workers to benefit from additional weeks of employment insurance.

I would like my colleague to respond to that. I also wonder whether the parliamentary secretary will continue to question the way we vote in the House.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his extremely interesting question. We have never been against the five weeks. In fact, we should add even more. Five weeks is not a lot.

The waiting period is hard on the unemployed. The government does not want to eliminate it. It will not agree to this because, as my colleague said, seasonal workers would have immediate help. Consequently, the government does not want to do that, even though we feel it would be fair and reasonable. I do not know what kind of morals they have, but we believe that, morally, it is fair and reasonable that workers who lose their jobs, seasonal workers or otherwise, can have their two weeks as usual and not go hungry just when they need immediate help.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I know those hon. members have a difficult time accepting the truth, but the fact is the items I outlined appeared before the House. Some appeared in the budget, as they said, but some appeared individually. The long-tenured workers and the extension for them appeared in its own bill. When we talked about benefits to the self-employed, it appeared in its own bill. They had a choice to stand up for it or against it and they had to make that decision.

I will highlight the many actions our Conservative government has taken over the past year and a half to help Canadians who were unemployed during the recent economic downturn. It is important to highlight these measures, especially when we are debating opposition attempts to shoehorn their pet projects into systems that, by and large, are working well for Canadians and that they have chosen, for one reason or another, not to support.

It is important to highlight what our government is doing for Canadians. The party proposing the bill voted against the economic action plan that we crafted to help Canadians. There is no question about that. It is also especially important to do this when the actions this Conservative government have taken have been so thorough.

The bill is not consistent with our government's approach. It is—

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

I rise on a point of order. I would like the member to have the courage to talk about Bill C-241 and not about what else they are doing. He should be talking about the bill, please.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member would like the hon. parliamentary secretary to talk about Bill C-241. Because it is third reading, the rules on relevance are very strict. The House would appreciate it if the hon. parliamentary secretary would speak about the bill in question.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, of course it is relevant and I think there are some issues that the member can learn. The issue he raises affects unemployed Canadians. The issue he raises is a narrow one that is shoehorned into a bigger picture.

We are talking about the unemployed. We need to know the full picture, how this fits in the context and whether people should oppose it or not. I am saying this bill is not a good bill when put in the context of what is happening everywhere.

Let us go back to December of 2008, more than a year ago, during the first difficult months of the global economic recession.

On December 18, 2008, CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live, someone we all know quite well, welcomed Mr. David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada. He was asked whether eliminating the two-week waiting period for EI was an expenditure worth making. It was a very specific question, which deals exactly with this bill. He was asked whether it would be effective, whether the expenditure was worth making. Mr. Dodge responded unequivocally and without hesitation. He said:

The answer is no. That would probably be the worst waste of money we could make...because there's a lot of churn in the labour market.

His message was that this was understandable and that it was prudent to retain the waiting period, simply from an operational and a practical standpoint. He said, “that two weeks is there for a very good reason”. Mr. Dodge went on to say, “the real issue is that some of these people are going to be off work for a rather long period of time”.

We are focused on what matters to Canadians, creating and preserving jobs, investing in training and helping those hardest hit. How did we know this? Because we asked and Canadians told us.

Our government engaged in the most comprehensive prebudget consultations in Canadian history, leading up to the release of Canada's economic action plan in budget 2009. During those consultations with Canadians, and the member would do well to listen, they told us they wanted EI to be extended to help unemployed Canadians who were having difficulty finding a new jobs or who needed more comprehensive skills upgrading. That is what Canadians told us. That is also what experts like David Dodge told us. That is what we did.

Through the economic action plan, we provided an additional five weeks of EI benefits to all Canadians who needed them, to help them get through the tough economic times. Over 500,000 Canadians have benefited from that measure alone. I wonder what the member would say to those 500,000 Canadians, whom he did not stand and support in the action that was taken by the government.

However, we were not finished. We kept a sharp eye on the situation and we acted again when the need presented itself. This past fall, we introduced and passed Bill C-50, a stand-alone bill, acting further to ensure that the EI program remained responsive to the needs of Canadians. That bill provided fairness for Canadian long-tenured workers. There are Canadians who have worked for many years, who have paid EI premiums for many years and who have rarely, if ever, used the system at all.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a point of order. The member is starting up again. He is not speaking on topic. He should be talking about Bill C-241 and not another bill that has already been passed.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I know the hon. parliamentary secretary is discussing other aspects of EI and changes that have been done. However, with respect to third reading, the practice of the House is that remarks are supposed to be constrained, not in terms of generalities or other peripheral issues, but specific quite strictly to the bill itself.

If the member likes, I can read that part of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice , but the members have asked him to speak to the bill at hand and I think the House would appreciate it if he did so.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, some members appreciate, and to put this in appropriate context, that if one has to look at this bill, one has to look at it in context. It is taking one aspect of the employment insurance program and saying that this is what we need to do to make employment insurance better.

That is a simplistic point of view. We cannot cherry-pick one item and say we want the House to support that one item, when the fact is that they have not supported other items that benefited more people.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I am going to ask you to read the Standing Orders to the parliamentary secretary, because he is doing what the Conservatives often do, which is to bend the rules of the House to send messages that are false and that do not respect the rules of this place.

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi is absolutely right on this point. I am asking that the member opposite deal strictly with Bill C-241. We have done that, and we are going to continue to do so.

For once, could he comply with the rules of this House?

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am saying when one looks at the bill in the context of what the Bloc is trying to do, it is a shoehorn or cherry-picking approach that is not acceptable.

This bill is exactly what we do not need to do. It is unwise for the EI program. It results in an inefficient and very costly program change. It is unwarranted in the economic circumstances. It is unnecessary in significant new spending. The department in charge estimates that the bill would cost approximately $1.3 billion per year. That would result in either a deficit or higher premiums, something those members should not be supporting—

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind you that the parliamentary secretary continues to talk about all sorts of things, but not about my colleague's bill.

While a bill can be very thorough, a member always has the opportunity to improve it and to take it to another stage.

In all due respect for my colleague's bill, the parliamentary secretary should only talk about this legislation and stop raising other issues. He should stop saying that the act already does this and that, and he should stop proposing improvements that have already been made. We have to see how the bill can be improved.

That is what my colleague is trying to say, but the parliamentary secretary refuses to hear anything.

Mr. Speaker, it is time for you to make it clear. If the parliamentary secretary does not have the right speech with him, then he should get another one to make sure he is dealing with the bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary only has one minute left to conclude his remarks. For the benefit of the House, I am going to read an excerpt from page 626 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, regarding the issue of relevance at third reading.

Debate on third reading is intended to permit the House to review the legislative measure in its final form and is therefore strictly limited to the contents of the bill.

There is one minute remaining for the hon. parliamentary secretary. I know some of his remarks are leading him to the subject of the bill and I trust in that minute, he will address the contents of the bill and we will move on to the next speaker.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have been addressing the contents of the bill. I do not know where the members were. I do not know what they have listened to, but I have been pretty clear that the bill is exactly what we do not need. What do they find so hard to understand about that?

The bill is unwise for the EI program. It is inefficient, very costly, unwarranted and unnecessary. When we look at the cost, it will be $1.3 billion per year as a result of the bill, which will have unacceptable consequences. The bill is exactly the kind of reckless spending proposal that is harmful to our country's fiscal and economic health, but which the opposition is all too fond of these days. This will not help us in that regard.

The bill is expensive and contrary to the good work that we have already done. A number of economists have said that removing this two-week waiting period is not the right way to go. They say that it is there for a reason, it makes the system efficient and there are other ways to spend the money. Members need to understand that.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I should point out that if the member is addressing whether the bill is worthy of support, that is in order. If the member is talking about the consequences of the bill, that is in order as well. The members were pointing to other parts of his speech, but I appreciate the hon. parliamentary secretary for coming back to the bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is great to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-241. I want to congratulate my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi for bringing the bill this far. We did discuss this before Parliament was prorogued and it was passed at committee. I am hoping this time it will not be such a close vote in order to get it to committee where the member for Chambly—Borduas and I, and others can have a look at it.

There has been a lot of activity, advocacy in particular, on the employment insurance issue over the last little while. Employment insurance at a time of an economic downturn is a particularly important piece of our social infrastructure. The idea of the two-week waiting period has been discussed quite a bit. My colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche has talked about this a lot within our Atlantic and our national caucus. This affects people in his riding in a very significant way.

The idea of even calling it a two-week waiting period is not correct. It really should be called a two-week “out of luck period”, or a two-week “too bad for you period”, or a two-week “no money for the family period”. That may sound funny, but it is a fact of life that many people lose their jobs. Unlike many Canadians, we sit in a very privileged place, do a wonderful job, and members of Parliament work hard, but we are well treated for that work.

Most Canadians really do not live much more than paycheque-to-paycheque. To lose a paycheque all of a sudden and be told at the very least they have to wait two weeks on top of the processing time, which lagged in late 2008 and early 2009, is most unfortunate. So this is a very important piece of our social infrastructure. When people need the money, they need it right away.

There are a number of ways we can improve EI. We have gone through these in the House before. An increase of the benefit percentage is another way of improving EI. We could increase the number of weeks. The government added some weeks in the last budget and then further in the fall added a specific group of people. We could look at what percentage of income people can make while they are on EI. There is a whole host of ways of looking at the difference between re-entrance and regular users of EI, so this is one period that is particularly important.

It is important to understand that there will be a cost. It is hard to identify the cost specifically, but the Library of Parliament indicates that there are three ways that the bill would increase costs. First, periods of unemployment lasting two weeks or less would then become insured. Second, extending the duration of the benefits of some people who find a job before their maximum period ends would impact on this. Third, it would increase costs because benefit deductions are calculated differently during the waiting period than during the other weeks of unemployment. So there is a cost, but we do not know what it is.

HRSDC has given us some different costs. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives supports the elimination of the two-week waiting period. It has suggested a costing of $765 million. We had a cost that was provided by TD Economics which suggested it might be $1 billion. I do not know exactly what the cost is, but the question for us is, is that cost worth it and more importantly, do we need to send a message to the government that at a time of economic difficulty was its response last year enough?

I clearly do not think it was. I want to quote from this year's alternative budget on employment insurance. It states:

The economic crisis, the first since major cuts were made to our EI program in the mid-1990s, has been an extreme “stress test” for Canada’s EI program. The program has failed and needs to be fixed.

There is no question that changes were made to our EI system starting in 1990 when Prime Minister Mulroney made the first changes to EI. That was the point in time in which the government no longer became one of the contributors to the fund. It was then left to employers and employees, and further cuts came later. We were in a time of economic distress where the needs were much different than they were at this economic downturn. Back then the issue was getting rid of the debt. This time the issue was making sure--

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources on a point of order.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very surprised that the Bloc members have not risen several times already in the middle of the member's speech because certainly he has drifted much further away from the content of the bill than the parliamentary secretary ever did. I thought the Bloc members, in all their moralistic approach to this before, would have been up on their feet. I am glad to see that a couple of them are finally getting to their feet. Perhaps they were not listening, but hopefully they will ask you, Mr. Speaker, to bring the member back to the content of the bill as you reminded us he has to do.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel concerned by this reminder. Mr. Speaker, the reason I did not rise is that, like you, I saw the relevance of putting the waiting period into the context in which it was set, along with other measures that were also implemented.

In fact, I want to congratulate the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the relevance of his comments on Bill C-241.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Perhaps I will just say that the rules regarding relevance at third reading are stricter than the rules at second reading. That being said, it is normal, in my time here, that MPs, from time to time, give a little bit of background.

As was mentioned to the hon. parliamentary secretary, at third reading those departures from the actual subject of the bill are to be a lot fewer and remarks should be very closely constrained to the actual contents of the bill that is before the House.

I will make that observation to the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour and ask him to keep his remarks, as strictly as possible, constrained to the contents of the bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I certainly have done that and will continue to do that. I thank my two colleagues for their interventions. I found the latter one much more relevant and sensible.

We are talking about EI and how we fix EI. That is why we are looking at this two-week waiting period issue that members in our caucus, including the members for Madawaska—Restigouche, Beauséjour, Cape Breton—Canso, have talked about for a long time.

There is a view on the government side, as has been said directly by the minister herself, that EI was too generous. We heard that. My colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche mentioned in the fall how members of the government side started to pick and choose who should get the extra weeks based on who deserved it more, which is an affront to people who need EI and are unable to get any particular benefit from the government.

If this is indeed the case, what is Canada doing versus other countries? If, as the government believes, we are way too generous in our EI system, let us look at this waiting period of two weeks. Canada has a two-week waiting period; Denmark has no waiting period; Finland has seven days; France has eight days; Germany has no waiting period; and Sweden has five days. That is what some of our contemporary comparators are doing.

On benefit duration right now, it is 14-45 weeks in Canada before the extension. In Denmark benefits may last for up to 4 years; in Finland, it is 500 days; in Germany, it is 6-18 months; and in Sweden is 300 days with a possibility of an extra 150 days.

When we talk about social infrastructure, we cannot look at EI and say it is too generous. The minister has said it, but she is wrong. She tells us a lot about how she runs her department, and how the government looks at EI when it thinks it is too generous and does not want to risk making it even more generous.

Other countries that we should compare ourselves to are doing a whole lot more. If we look at and say that our social infrastructure is way better than the United States, it turns out that Obama had led the charge on EI to extend way beyond 5 weeks or even 15 weeks. In the United States the federal government actually took a leadership role on employment insurance and said this is where we need to go.

At the very beginning of this debate we need to understand that we do many things right in Canada, but we are not the leaders on things like employment insurance, just like we are not the leaders on issues of disability. I congratulate the government on finally ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but we have a lot of work to do.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi for getting the bill here. I hope that we have a less close vote. I hope we do not have to rely on the common sense of the Speaker to send this back to our committee where we can have a look at it.

Employment insurance is a critical piece of our social infrastructure. It has evolved over the years and we can all argue about the reasons. We can all look at it and say that this should not have been done, that should not have been done. We have done that in committee and we have done that in this House, and we have done that outside of this House.

The point is that when employment insurance was most needed, when the country was in a tailspin, when manufacturing was going down, when provinces simply could not keep up with the social assistance payments because people were being offloaded from things like EI, when we needed help, when we talked about stimulus, the government did not respond in the way it should have. It just did not come close.

Employment insurance is as good a form of stimulus as is possible because people need it and they spend it. This bill is well worthy of consideration. I intend to vote for it and I hope all members of the House do likewise.