Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join in the debate on an issue that means quite a bit to not only those I represent in Sudbury but Canadians across the country, Bill C-241.
If passed, the bill would put in place something the New Democrats have been calling for, for quite some time: an end to the two-week waiting period before an EI claimant can receive employment insurance benefits.
Let me first discuss why the bill is so important, not just to my riding but Canadians across Canada. As I stated, the bill is important to all Canadians who will be forced to apply for employment insurance, an action that is much too common these days. When workers lose their jobs or are laid off, the absolute last thing they need is a gap in their income.
When Canadians lose their jobs, not only is their usual source of income gone, but also their personal work relationships, daily structures and sense of self-purpose. Unemployment can be, and often is, a shock to the whole system. People can experience some of the same feelings and stresses that one would feel when they were seriously injured, going through a divorce, or mourning the loss of a loved one.
Dealing with the devastating news of losing one's job should not be worsened with a break in income. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens. Canadians who have lost their jobs, and in many cases their self-worth, must then wait two weeks before they are eligible to receive a stipend from employment insurance, the same insurance they paid into in good faith for the term of their employment.
The waiting period is an unnecessary hardship. Out of work Canadians do not need more adversity when they have just been dealt one of the biggest hardships they will ever experience in their lifetime.
Let me illustrate this point with a local example from my constituency of Sudbury. My riding of Sudbury is familiar with hardship. My community has endured a great deal in the past year. About a year and a half ago, Xstrata laid off 686 workers, months before the three year agreement the government signed under the Investment Canada Act expired. Xstrata is also closing down its copper refinery in Timmins. For its part, Vale Inco laid off over 400 workers. Those who were not laid off, well over 3,000 workers, are about to enter into the 11th month of their strike.
These layoffs and the ongoing strike are also affecting the mining supply and services sector, meaning that 17,000 employees in Sudbury have gone from about 40 hours a week to about 20 hours a week.
The families in my community have endured enough hardship: layoffs, a strike. If we had the ability to do away with one hardship, it would be the two-week waiting period before one qualifies for EI benefits. It would go a long way toward helping these families stay on track.
Thus far, the Conservative government has not been interested in any measures that would help Canadians through these tough times. In fact, the Conservative government has repeatedly let down northern Ontario. This past year, when multinational mining giants Vale Inco and Xstrata violated their agreements with the Canadian government under the Investment Canada Act, the government did nothing. When these companies threw hundreds of workers out on the street contrary to the agreement they signed with the government, the Conservatives failed to act.
Now, as we debate the bill, a bill that would bring immediate relief to those Canadians who are at the front lines of this economic crisis, the government is once again leaving workers and families to fend for themselves. In fact, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development revealed her contempt for the unemployed by stating that EI is too lucrative.
Comments like these are not only downright shameful, but also a window into how the government views the unemployed. I invite the minister and any other member of the Conservative caucus to come to Sudbury and meet some of the people I have: fathers who are worried about their mortgage payments and how they are going to be able to keep up, and single mothers who are resorting to food banks to feed their children. The list can be endless.
The government will argue that it has done enough, more than enough, by tacking on a few weeks of EI. Let us set the record straight. The Conservatives think that if they add five weeks at the end, by that time it is their hope that these people will have found a job. As such, it is their hope that these workers will never benefit from these additional five weeks. What it truly comes down to, for the Conservatives, is that those extra five weeks will be of no cost to the government.
The government seems to have all kinds of money for tax breaks for corporations, except when it comes to the unemployed. This is just plain unacceptable. What makes the government's approach even more inexplicable is the fact that unemployment insurance makes monetary--