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House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was environmental.

Topics

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my parliamentary colleague, who is on the human resources committee, a similar question to the one I asked the minister.

I think all parties in the House are generally supportive of the bill, but there are certain military members who still do not qualify for family maternal benefits for certain reasons specific to the bill.

Would the parliamentary secretary, whose judgment I have come to respect, give us his word that we would consider those if this comes up in the course of our study in the House of Commons? I do not anticipate that would be a long study. This is a fairly limited bill, small in nature. However, if we find some way to improve the bill, would he be amenable to that?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, my minister indicated that she would consider all reasonable amendments. I would do the reasonable thing and go along with all reasonable amendments.

It is fair to say, generally speaking, that this is a very specific amendment that we all support. We want to ensure that no one is left behind. When the bill is enacted, personally I would like to see that anyone who has been in service, or is in service, and is not able to qualify for all of the 35 weeks of parental benefits is given the opportunity to do that and is not prejudiced by the fact that those weeks have been interrupted because he or she was deployed to service.

We certainly will work with the opposition to ensure that comes to pass.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe the secretary's answer is along the same lines as my question. However, I wonder he could elaborate on something. It would be possible for a reservist to have been absent for 35 weeks. Could this apply to a reservist who was there 10 or 15 weeks, which is quite plausible for a reservist with the Canadian Forces?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, we will have to look at the specifics of what the hon. member has proposed. We will certainly undertake to consider it.

My personal view is we need to ensure that any benefits that are interrupted and not available should be corrected by this bill. We will do everything possible to ensure that happens and take whatever constructive suggestions the members opposite may have to ensure that is achieved when the bill is passed.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on a previous question that was asked about the costs and number of soldiers involved. I believe the minister said that we were looking at 60 soldiers, at a cost of about $600,000 per year.

Is it contemplated that we would be looking at 60 new cases per year? If that is the case, would the government be willing to look at maybe expanding the bill in other areas in case more people would benefit from this?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the numbers provided by the minister have obviously been looked at. As I mentioned before, the desire is to cover all those who would be affected and that no one would be left behind. We will certainly be prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that.

The dollars are an estimate year to year. The numbers affected are not substantial. If we were to ensure that no one would be missed, the costs would not go up significantly. We will again have a look at that when we discuss the matter in committee.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to speak to this bill, which was introduced a couple of weeks ago and has come up today.

I want to divide my comments into a few areas. I am going to talk about the bill itself, what it actually means and what it actually does. I want to chat a little bit about the challenge for military families, coming from a military area. That is the second thing. The third thing I want to do is talk a little bit about EI itself and how this fits into the whole context of what could have been done for EI. That is what I am going to talk about, so members who are here and were planning to doze off can adjust their schedules accordingly.

First, this is a bill that is designed to assist members who are serving in the Canadian Forces. Although it is very specific in nature, does not capture many Canadians, and does not make a huge impact on the national level, it certainly could be argued it would make an impact for certain military families.

It addresses the special situation in which CF members can be placed when they are called to return to duty while they are on parental leave. In some cases such a call could translate into a loss of parental benefits, since parents have a limited period of 52 weeks after the child is born to claim those benefits.

When a child is born, a claim for employment insurance must be made within 52 weeks. This bill would address this by extending the period during which CF members can claim their parental benefits if they are called for duty during their parental leave, extending the benefit from 52 weeks to 104 weeks.

It does not mean that Canadian Forces members would have more than 35 weeks of parental benefits. It is the same as everybody else has, it is just that it recognizes that Canadian Forces members are sometimes not actually here in Canada to start that benefit. According to HRSDC officials this will only affect approximately 60 people a year, and it is somewhere in the range of $500,000 to $600,000 a year.

It is the position of the official opposition that it makes sense to support the bill. In fact, I think we should support it as quickly as we can, get it into committee, and have a look at it. Also, as I indicated a few minutes ago, I do not think it needs a whole lot of study. There are many things in our committee, including a report on poverty that we are hoping to finish that has to be done. However, as soon as this gets to committee, it will get the attention that it requires.

I do want to commend the member for Nepean—Carleton, who is one of the members of this House, like myself, who has constituents who might be affected by this. I am quoting from the Nepean-Barrhaven newspaper from April of this year, referencing the family the member for Nepean—Carleton came across, the Duquette family. The article states:

Four days following the birth of their first son, Jacob, in July 2004, Major Jim Duquette had to leave for duty in the Golan Heights in the Middle East. He returned to Canada in August 2005 and attempted to apply for a deferred parental leave, only to find that the benefits had expired in his time away from home.

“That was really difficult”, said Anne Duquette, his wife. “Part of what got us though in that first year of parenting was the thought that we could have that extra time together”.

During the 52 weeks following a birth or adoption, 35 weeks of parental benefits may be paid.

That is a specific case that was brought forward by the member for Nepean—Carleton. I wish he had mentioned this last summer when I had the occasion to spend many hours in small rooms with the member and the Minister of HRSDC. We might have been able to deal with this last year. Nonetheless, it has now been brought forward.

I come from a strong military area. I come from a part of Canada where we have the east coast navy, 12-Wing Shearwater, Windsor Park, Stadacona, and a very long and distinguished military history in Dartmouth and the greater Halifax area.

One of the great pleasures and one of my great prides is the opportunity to be a member of Parliament for an area that is rich in veterans and also rich in serving members of the Canadian Forces. I was reminded of this the other day when I went to the launch of Senator Bill Rompkey's book about St. John's, Newfoundland and the Battle of the Atlantic. It is a fabulous book. I commend it to all members. If members move quickly, they could get an autographed copy from the senator.

It talks about St. John's, and keep in mind that Newfoundland and Labrador were not part of Canada during World War II, they joined us in 1949. They played an integral role, particularly in keeping the channels open between North America and Europe.

I know, coming from Halifax where a number of the great corvettes sailed from, how important that was. Where I come from, HMCS Sackville is called Canada's naval memorial. It is the last of the corvettes, the last of those great sturdy, rugged, small vessels that kept those shipping lanes open in the cold north Atlantic.

I am a proud trustee of HMCS Sackville. I was a trustee before I was a member of Parliament and I suspect I will be a trustee when I am finished in this place.

When one lives in Halifax-Dartmouth, when one meets people like Allan Moore, Doug Shanks, Hank Einerson, Charlie Carroll and people like this, that I have the opportunity to rub shoulders with on a regular basis, one gets a sense of the great heroism. However, the heroism does not come from what they say because they will not talk about. The heroism comes from being in their presence, knowing what they went through and getting little pieces of information from them about their experience in World War II or talking to Tom Estabrooks about what he went through in the Korean War and talking to our many peacekeeping veterans who have served this country so well.

I think it is incumbent upon us as a country to ensure that all of our social infrastructure, including employment insurance, is designed in such a way that the great veterans of this country, including the very recent ones and the serving members of the Canadian Forces, have full access to those benefits.

I think, living in an area as I do, that we have an even greater respect and a greater understanding of our military. Everyone knows people who have served in Afghanistan. I know many people who have been in Afghanistan. I know people who are in Afghanistan today. I think of a family in my community whose father right now is serving in Afghanistan whose son is on my son's soccer team. Although they keep it inside and they deal with their responsibilities in a very personal, respectful manner, I know how difficult it is when families are called upon to serve their country. All members of the House would share the respect that we have for them.

I have seen how families adjust. I have seen how families make sacrifices. I have seen how families have had to adjust everything from their finances, to the school year, to vacations, in order to have one member serve. We should do whatever we can to make it as easy as possible on those families.

Of course, not everyone who serves comes back the way that we would like them to come back. One of the darkest days that I have had as a member of Parliament was the day in 2006 when we flew back from Ottawa. There were a number of parliamentarians on the plane. As we touched down we all turned on our Blackberrys to the news that Corporal Paul Davis had died. He was one of the first casualties in Afghanistan. His father Jim and wife Sharon are very good friends of mine and I know other members of the House. We would all hope that when people who serve their country and choose to do something to make the world a better place, as Paul Davis did, that they come back obviously in different circumstances. Not everyone does.

I have had the opportunity to meet people in my constituency who suffer with PTSD. I recall sitting on a deck with a constituent. This was a person who we could just tell was a very vibrant individual who joined the Armed Forces as a robust, energetic person who wanted to serve the world. Now in many ways he is a broken person and he needs help. He needs more help than he is getting.

I meet with veterans who do not qualify for the VIP who are having trouble keeping up with their daily chores and obligations.

However, many people do come back and we need to ensure that whatever we do, we know and respect the challenges that they face when they come back.

I get to meet with a number of constituents in that circumstance with my assistant, Percy Fleet, who is a former member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. He understands the situation very well. One of the great pleasures of being a member of Parliament is to help veterans to advance their cause and to pay them back in some small tangible way for the service that they have given this country.

We should do more. Though this is a small step, it is a significant step. It will have my support. I want to look at the bill in committee to see who is covered and see whether there are other people who might be covered considering the small cost of the bill.

It seems to me that there may be opportunities. I certainly will not hold the bill up, but we might want to look at some of those considerations.

Over the past year or so, employment insurance has been a hot topic. It has been a hot topic because this country has gone through a difficult time. I want to quote from a report that came out this week from the Citizens for Public Justice, which was developed with funding support from World Vision Canada's programs. CPJ is a faith-based organization. It looks at issues of poverty and it is a great advocate for Canada doing more to assist those most in need.

It produced a report that puts some numbers and figures behind what Canada has been going through in this recession. We all have a sense that things have been difficult, but it has been hard to quantify exactly how difficult it has been, particularly for Canadians most in need. This report, released on Tuesday, said:

The recession also demonstrated the inadequacies of EI. While the rate of EI coverage increased, just over half of unemployed Canadians qualified for EI benefits. Over 770,000 unemployed Canadians did not qualify for EI. Benefits for those who qualified for EI were low, with the average weekly benefit representing a poverty income for households without any other source of income. As many as 500,000 Canadians may have exhausted their benefits in the past few months, as the average length of unemployment increased during the recession. Workers who exhaust their benefits or who do not qualify for benefits at all either need to turn to social assistance or live off of savings or credit. Social assistance caseloads increased across the country, as social assistance had to fill in the gap created by EI.

Employment insurance has been a hot topic and the response of the government has been inadequate. While the numbers have changed month to month, I recall that last year less than half of 1.6 million unemployed Canadians qualified for EI.

There was a call across the country that we should have a national standard, at least during this period of recession, for employment insurance. It was called for by the Leader of the Opposition and all opposition parties. It was called for by labour unions and public policy think tanks. It was called for by the wife of the federal Minister of Finance. It was called for by all the western premiers and just about everybody else.

If we are going to look at employment insurance as a fundamental piece of the social infrastructure of this country, let us do something significant. Let us have a national standard. The government decided that it would not do that and I think that was a mistake.

We have had private members' bills in the House. The member for Brome—Missisquoi, the member for Chambly—Borduas, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, and the member for Sydney—Victoria have all brought forward bills in the House that could have improved employment insurance for those who need help and need help immediately.

There is no shortage of people who have been shortchanged by the employment insurance system. We could get into all kinds of reasons for that. I know that people like to blame different people for what happened on employment insurance. The fact is that at some point in time we have to move from history to current events. We have to look at the recession that came upon this country. It was not as if people were not saying that we should do more. It was not as if the case was not being made by a wide range of people from all political parties and from all across society who said that this is when EI should be invested in, this is why we have an employment insurance system.

This bill brings to mind another case from a year or so ago and that is the case of Trooper Kyle Ricketts. This was brought to national attention by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte. In this case, I am going to quote from the Ottawa Citizen. It said:

Trooper Ricketts was severely injured by an IED on March 8 while in Afghanistan. He was enduring a dozen or more reconstructive operations and his parents wanted to be by his bedside when that was happening. As the CBC originally reported the military flew Sadie and Maurice Ricketts, who live in Pollard's Point in Newfoundland's White Bay, to Ottawa to help care for their son. The couple, however, was told they will lose the employment insurance benefits they were collecting since they were laid off if they stayed away from their home for more than a week. Officials told the couple that only one of them is entitled to “compassion leave”, meaning that the other would lose EI benefits unless they returned to Newfoundland within a week. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said the case will be revisited.

In the end, I think Trooper Ricketts got taken care of through the heroes fund. It was only due to the intervention of the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.

I use that case to illustrate how many potential ways we could use the employment insurance system, even specifically for the people who choose to serve in this country's military.

We come to this bill now. As the critic for the Liberal Party, I expect all members of the Liberal Party will support this bill. To that extent, we think the government has done a sensible and a wise thing. The problem is it leaves so many holes unfilled as we continue to go through a difficult time.

A report came out this week from the Citizens for Public Justice indicating the statistics it has put together in terms of caseloads for social assistance in Canada. Alberta is a prime example. It went up by 43% during the recession. Ontario and B.C. both went up by 20% or more. They may still be going up.

It is not good enough to suggest that we are at the end of a difficult time. We do not know when the end of a difficult time will be. It may be that for people who do well enough the recession may be over. Now we are looking to see what happens in Greece and Spain and other economies. For many people who were poor going into the recession, it certainly is not over. For those who were driven into poverty during the recession, it certainly is not over.

We have to look at this bill in the context of the overall situation that affects Canadians. We are helping 60 families. It may be that in committee we can look at how we can help others. There are millions of Canadians who go to bed hungry. There are millions of children who wake up hungry, who go to school on an empty stomach, who do not have the social infrastructure that a country as wealthy as Canada could afford. I hope that is something that will be addressed by the government.

On Bill C-13 I offer my support. I hope that at committee we can deal with it reasonably quickly. If we can find a way to strengthen the bill, we should do that. I am pleased that the minister and the parliamentary secretary have indicated that they are open to those kinds of considerations.

The people who choose to serve in our military, the people who choose to go to foreign lands on behalf of Canada in the sincere and honest belief that they are making the world a better place, deserve to be well treated.

The other day I supported Bill C-201 from the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. I wish that had been a bill the government could have supported.

We need to have fair standards for all Canadians, but I also believe it is reasonable and fair and aligned with most Canadians that those who serve in our military, those who take on dangerous tasks without complaint, deserve the very best that we can offer them.

This bill goes partway toward that goal, and for that reason, I would be pleased to support it.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member in his comments is always on point and makes sense in terms of his critique of the minister and the government where it hands out small crumbs to people in our country who are in need of support from the government. I agree with him that today we have a bill that we can all get behind and support.

Certainly these days it is easy to be cynical of a government, sometimes for very political reasons. In this instance, though, we can agree on the right thing to do which is to extend a benefit for a group of people when they come back from Afghanistan. We must consider the government's vote on a bill that went through this place yesterday regarding the pensions of veterans. There was a lack of interest and support from the government to reform that whole system, but this bill is something the government is doing that is right.

The member and I and the member for Chambly—Borduas have seen in committee other pieces of legislation that present a flashing bright light on the political horizon for the government, but at the end of the day, when it actually rolls out and we look at the finer details on how many people it actually helps and what it is doing for a group that we want to give assistance to, it really is not what it was cracked up to be.

I wonder if this bill is a Trojan horse. I wonder if the member has discovered anything in the nature of this bill which in a week or two down the road as we begin to look at it may show it to be less than it is presenting to be today.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, certainly we have to look at those things and see if there is something that can be made better.

I was surprised when I went to the departmental briefing to find out that this is about 50 to 60 people a year and half a million dollars in cost. It is not a big bill. I am not an expert on parliamentary procedure, but I have to wonder whether it is something that could have been done some other way. I do not think anybody is going to oppose that.

I do want to say that we have tried to work with the government on things that we agree on. It brought forward a bill for the self-employed before Christmas. I always indicated that I had no problem with EI for the self-employed. I have advocated for that, but there were some issues with the bill itself. What is the rate in Quebec versus the rest of Canada? Where is the money going to come from? Is the EI fund going to have to backstop it?

At the end of the day, we were all asked to support the bill in order to get it through before Christmas so it could take effect. I did that. I worked with the parliamentary secretary. He knows that, but there were questions about it. This House passed a motion from the Bloc the very last night that we sat before Christmas so that we could monitor that, because there are always things that come up that maybe the government does not think are a problem, but we get into committee and we find out that they are.

I do not know exactly what might come up on this bill, but I hope the government is open to it. If we are going to go through this whole process for a bill that is only going to cost the treasury something in the range of $600,000, perhaps there is a way that it could assist more Canadians who need that help as well.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his speech on this bill and for his fine work in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, as well as for the role he plays as a parliamentarian.

In many ways we are very similar in our desire to improve the employment insurance system.

My question is twofold. First, does the hon. member agree with me that this government has been negligent in terms of its support for our soldiers upon their return from a mission when they are often physically exhausted from their injuries and emotionally exhausted by the strain of reintegrating into their families and into society?

Second, does the hon. member agree that it is high time to protect the employment insurance fund in order to make the improvements he himself has suggested to help families when a family member has the misfortune of losing their employment?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be as specific as I can. My colleague does great work, along with my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, on the committee and helps to make it a productive committee.

I do think there is some negligence in terms of support that is provided to soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who come back.

Quite often we as MPs meet people in our ridings who are going through difficult times. The people I and all MPs deal with at Veterans Affairs Canada are fabulous people. They just have certain constraints. We need to do more to assist people.

I referenced the person I met on a deck in Cole Harbour and the problems he is going through. One cannot help but be affected by that. When I sit with someone who has served our country and he tells me he is not the same as he was, as a member of Parliament, I cannot help but think that is not right and we have to do more.

There is more we should do. We need to protect our EI system. We need to protect the EI fund. We need to make sure that in terms of what employers and employees have to pay in payroll taxes is not overdone, but we need to make sure that the EI fund is run effectively and well for the benefit of those who need it.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for his work on EI in general and all the areas in which he has a critic role.

I would like to ask him and everyone in the House who will be supporting this minor amendment which is very positive, how they can have trust in the minister on the EI file, when we had the horrendous experience we had last summer. The government had asked for one last chance and Canadians gave it that chance on the grounds that the minister would make some important changes.

Could he talk about the horrendous experience that arose from that?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it was a difficult time; I understand that. I have talked about it in the House before. I am not one to allow the past to destroy any hope of future co-operation. I hope that we can work together as government and opposition parties.

Last summer was a difficult time because the government clearly had no interest in doing what it said it wanted to do, which was to make EI a more fair, reasonable, regionally fair system. The Conservatives did not share ideas with us. One of the members was the member for Nepean—Carleton. He could have brought forward the idea that he had, which came to him in 2008. We met in 2009 and now it is legislation in 2010.

I am not going to relive the horrors of the past. Let us co-operate when we can. On this bill, let us do what we can to make sure that Canadian military families and military personnel have access to the very best, which is exactly what they deserve.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague opposite for his comments on this bill in particular, but his more broad and inclusive comments about the importance of support for the Canadian Forces and military families during what is a very high tempo period of time within the Canadian Forces. Much of the stress and strain that is placed upon the families at times like this in our country's history is worthy of acknowledgement and worthy of tangible support, which in fact is what this legislation is designed to do.

This is more of a comment than a question, but it clearly defines this place in a much more positive light when we see the tenor and the tone of the debate that we have seen today. Members are coming together around a very worthy piece of legislation, a very worthy initiative, in a spirit of solidarity in support of the Canadian Forces and their families. This truly will make a difference for them. It truly is reflective of a higher calling, a higher spirit in this place and within the Canadian Forces themselves that we are able to put partisanship aside and support this type of legislation. It is something that Canadians can be very proud of and something that really is a reminder of the greater good when we are coming together in a spirit like this.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments. Coming from the same province as I do, he knows the military history. He knows that when we have to make decisions in the House when it comes to the military, it is a little different for us. Whether it is an extension of a mission or whether it is a piece of legislation like this bill, I always go with the philosophy that we default on the side of the men and women who serve this country, and I think so far it has served us well.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. Whenever we have a bill or a measure before us that helps people and is constructive, we are all for it. We are in favour of Bill C-13 because it corrects a flaw, an injustice actually, towards Canadian Forces members who take parental leave.

As we know, when Canadian Forces members return from a mission and go on parental leave, they are sometimes forced to leave home again because of an operational imperative to return to duty. These people are being treated badly. They should be compensated for this time and allowed to take the full period of parental leave.

First off, I would say there is a flaw in this bill that needs to be fixed in committee. I believe that my colleagues from the three other parties will agree on this since we spoke about it briefly. We must make this bill retroactive. I hope we can correct this flaw during the debate or in committee.

We would like the bill to be retroactive, not indefinitely of course, but at least by 52 weeks, to the previous year. This would cover military staff who were on parental leave during that period and who could have been penalized if they had to return to military duty abroad because they were not covered by this bill. They should be allowed to use the rest of their parental leave upon their return.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill because we must recognize that members of the military participate in dangerous and exceptional missions that can also lead, at the same time, to injustice with respect to their rights under the employment insurance system. One of those rights is the ability to use all the parental leave to which they are entitled.

This bill is necessary. The Minister of National Defence, who just spoke, will agree that the Conservatives' measures are not always exactly right because they are one-time measures. They are piecemeal attempts to respond to a specific need, in this case, that of the military.

The same thing happens with all workers subject to employment insurance. It is a poor practice because when you implement a measure to correct an injustice for one segment of society, in this case the military, you neglect to implement similar measures for other segments of society, who are also penalized by the application of the Employment Insurance Act, in particular. I will come back to the overhaul of employment insurance, which was raised earlier by my colleague for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

We do not give enough recognition to the contribution of the Canadian Forces to Canada and to each part of our country, in our case, Quebec. Many Quebeckers are currently serving in the armed forces.

These soldiers come home in fragile condition as a result of the missions they were sent on. They are physically fragile because of injuries, but they are also psychologically fragile. They do not receive any assistance, or very little, to reintegrate into society. The family unit is the basic building block of society. They often come back overwhelmed and severely affected by their mission. When they return to their families, they are in shock, because what they have just seen and experienced has changed them.

Bill C-13 provides an opportunity to recognize that the assistance we must give our soldiers should not be limited to a single measure, such as parental leave, which is not nothing. It is an important measure, and that is why we will vote in favour of Bill C-13.

This debate must serve as a reminder that there are other dimensions to the distress and injustices the soldiers are exposed to. There is a lack of psychological and financial support. In our role as parliamentarians in our respective ridings, we meet people from nearly all walks of life, including veterans and soldiers who were sent on missions and who, even if they were not fighting on the front line, witnessed situations that were traumatizing. Upon their return, it is clear that they have changed. Even those who did not know them well before their departure say that they are not the same. The majority of these soldiers are men, and their behaviour is often inconsistent. They are having difficulties and there are few or no resources to help them.

In many cases, they are abandoned by the armed forces. That needs to be said here, in the House. We must implement measures to supplement the lack of resources available to them when they return from their missions.

Earlier, I talked about the financial aspect. In 2005, the government of the day proposed and the House passed a measure to give returning veterans a lump sum to replace the monthly payments they had been receiving. The idea was that returning veterans would be better off getting a lump sum to help them rebuild their working lives quickly by starting a business or retraining, for example.

Experience taught us that this measure was not the wisest approach under the circumstances, mainly because of the situation I described earlier, the shock soldiers experience when transitioning from a mission or a combat zone back into society. Some people remain traumatized or shattered, while some recover and adapt. Many go on living with their problems and do not talk about them.

However, the government realized that many individuals spent their lump sum payments on things that may not have been good for their families or for themselves. In most cases, people squandered their lump sum payments. The measure we took was not appropriate under the circumstances and did not help soldiers or their families. On the contrary, it hurt families.

That has to change. What we are proposing is reinstating monthly payments. Of course, there will have to be a certain amount paid up front to help people reintegrate, but we need to bring back monthly payments so that people can reintegrate gradually and, most importantly, be guaranteed an income in the medium and long terms. We think that this would be a wiser approach, and that is what we have to work toward now.

As such, the Standing Committee on National Defence supported 34 recommendations that raise the issue I just mentioned, among other things. We circulated a petition to ensure a lifelong monthly pension for soldiers. As I said earlier, most soldiers are pretty messed up when they come back home.

I would like to come back to the instrument that we want to use to assure our military personnel that Bill C-13 will give them all of the parental leave provided for in the employment insurance system. Over the years, the employment insurance fund has been used for other things. In order to be able to use it for other things, the two successive governments ensured that as many people as possible would not be eligible to receive employment insurance benefits. More than 50%, 54% to be exact, are ineligible. How did they do it? The government put all sorts of stringent measures in place in order to accumulate the biggest surplus it could. We are talking about $57 billion. Of course, the government and the two parties that formed the successive governments want us to stop talking about it. It is disturbing that the government pillaged $57 billion from the employment insurance fund. And it did it on the backs of those who lost their jobs.

What happened? Access to employment insurance was restricted to the max. One thing is for sure, we need to keep working to overhaul the employment insurance system. That is what the Bloc Québécois is doing. We have introduced various bills in order to amend the number of hours needed to qualify. During the election campaign, virtually everyone said that 360 would be an appropriate number of hours. However, once they were elected, we saw what happened. Félix Leclerc, a Quebec poet and songwriter, had a song about this. The day before the election, they called you their best buddy and the next morning, they could not remember your name. It is the same for this commitment, this promise. All of the parties agreed on 360 hours, but now, we are about the only ones, along with the New Democrats, that are sticking with that number and continuing the fight.

Employment insurance coverage should also be increased permanently from 55% to 60% of income.

The law must be amended so that individuals the government deems uninsurable can be insured. There is a principle of culpability whereby individuals who apply for EI are assumed to be malicious and ineligible. People have to prove that they are entitled to EI even though they have paid their premiums and they have the required number of weeks. The time has come to do away with the principle that an individual is guilty even before he or she has received any EI benefits. It is true that some people are not entitled to EI because they do not qualify, and this is to be expected, but these people are a small minority. There must be very clear rules to determine who does and does not qualify.

The famous two-week waiting period must also be eliminated. During the election campaign, there was a general consensus that the waiting period should be eliminated, but the government announced that it would not grant the royal recommendation for this measure. It has not kept its promise. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they made a recommendation with us that the waiting period be eliminated.

Independent workers must have access to EI on a voluntary basis. What this government has done for independent workers amounts to half measures. It has made them eligible for a portion of EI benefits. Workers in Quebec are eligible only for leave for serious illness and compassionate care leave, which is not very much.

What independent workers have to pay for their employment insurance benefits is three times what they actually cost Quebec. This is not true elsewhere. Quebec has its own system of parental leave. The other provinces of Canada can have access to parental leave, and more power to them. That is fine with us. They pay the appropriate premium, but workers in Quebec have to pay three times the cost. I hope the government will tell independent workers that they are paying too much, because it has not told them so far. Yet the House unanimously adopted a Bloc motion on this. The party in power agreed that the government should redo the math and make premiums proportional to benefits.

In conclusion, we agree with this bill, because it corrects the injustice Canadian Forces members face. At the same time, the bill should remind us that there is a lot of work to do to overhaul the employment insurance system. We need to tackle this as parliamentarians, or else the government will keep on doing a piecemeal job.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague on his speech on this bill for Canadian Forces members.

Someone mentioned the $57 billion surplus in employment insurance. Now it is closer to $60 billion. Can the member tell us if there are other measures that could help military personnel and their families in that situation? This could affect not only those who are outside of Canada. Could employment insurance be flexible in other ways, and even if the CF members are not working abroad?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, the question posed by my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst is extremely pertinent. I would also like to congratulate him on his perseverance in leading the fight to overhaul the employment insurance program.

His question is especially pertinent because CF members pay into the EI system. Considering the flaws that now exist in the system because it was ravaged, we see that they too are penalized and are disqualified. For instance, they are entitled to benefits equal to only 55% of their income, which is very little, because military personnel do not make a lot of money. The number of weeks has also been reduced over the years. Today that number is 50 weeks, but again, it is only a temporary measure.

What is more important, however, is access to benefits and eligibility. This is where I come back to the 360 hours. Consider, for example, a CF member who does not have enough hours because of the way things played out in his military service and who therefore does not qualify. We need to consider these things from now on, as we try to overhaul the employment insurance program.

I know that my hon. colleague is just as shocked as we are by the misappropriation of nearly $60 billion from the employment insurance system, yet the government is about to help itself to another $19 billion between 2012 and 2015. This is a serious economic crime against the people who cannot access employment insurance even though the money is there and it is their money. It is the same kind of misappropriation of funds committed by people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix. Of course the government did not do so for personal use or for any particular individuals; it did so for the general public. But that does not make it any less devastating for the people who cannot receive EI benefits. That is what makes it a serious economic crime: these people have been deprived of something they are entitled to and this, in many cases, leaves them destitute.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, unfortunately, I missed a bit of the member's speech. Did he propose any amendments to the bill that could make it even better? I know we are all supportive of the bill.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I announced one of the amendments we will be proposing, to provide, among other things, for it to be retroactive for 52 weeks. We will have to think about two other amendments, but that one would mean not leaving out in the cold the troops who were already on the scene of military activities after having their parental leave deferred, and who were directed to return to their missions. So it would make the bill retroactive for 52 weeks. So far, I have spoken with members from the other three parties and they were in relative agreement on that.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

): Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-13, which recommends changes to employment insurance. The summary of the bill says: “This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to extend the benefit period and the period during which parental benefits may be paid for Canadian Forces members whose period of parental leave is deferred or who are directed to return to duty from parental leave.”

To begin, I want to say that my party and I are certainly going to support this bill. We have to recognize that our troops, who are defending our country or democracy everywhere in the world on a Canadian mission, deserve to be given consideration in this regard so they are not penalized. Because if they had not gone overseas, they would have been able to take parental leave, for example, to be with their newborn child. That is so important.

Most of the people in this House are parents. I can tell you that in our day, we did not have parental leave. I have three daughters and two of them have had children. Parental leave was something wonderful for them as parents, but it was also wonderful for their children. We are living today in a world where both spouses work and the first thing the newborn experiences is its parents not being there. The child is sent to a daycare centre because the parents have to work. A bill like this one is appropriate. It gives parents the chance to experience the birth of their child and to live with the child for the first year of its life. That is wonderful.

Our soldiers, our troops, do us honour everywhere they go. The Bloc member also clearly stated other benefits we might give our troops. This is one benefit we can support. The member who introduced the bill said he knocked on a door and a soldier answered, and he was the one who made him aware of this issue.

With respect to employment insurance, I can say we have knocked on a lot of doors. The people have made us aware of the problems they have with the employment insurance scheme and the problems that causes in society. The government has a surplus of $57 to $60 billion dollars in the employment insurance fund. This is a program paid for entirely by workers. Many people are not entitled to employment insurance, given the eligibility criteria—a minimum of 420 hours or 840 hours worked, in the case of a first claim. A lot of people are excluded from the employment insurance system.

For women, the same is true. There are a lot of women who work part-time and cannot accumulate the number of hours required. These people are not eligible for employment insurance. That is why there are over 800,000 people in Canada who pay into the employment insurance scheme and are not eligible because of the restrictions the government has imposed.

The government is making piecemeal changes. That is what it is doing. At the same time, as I said, there are many other changes it could make. I know this is a bill for our troops and I am going to come back to it quickly. But we have to look at the human element, really, and the changes being asked for.

There is the case of Ms. Marie-Hélène Dubé, who lives in Montreal North. She circulated a petition that was presented here by a member of the Bloc Québécois. Signed by 62,766 people, it asks that sick leave be extended to 52 weeks. We have to see the human side of this. People work their entire lives and then have the misfortune of falling ill. These people are not fortunate to fall ill. They are very unlucky and very unhappy about it. A person gets sick and then finds she has cancer. Before remission occurs, this person has to take care of herself and take the treatments prescribed by specialists for a year. But after 15 weeks, she no longer qualifies for employment insurance. Unless she works for a company that provides insurance, she has no income and is thrown onto welfare. It is totally unacceptable for us to have a program belonging to the employers and employees who have worked for it but for which people do not qualify.

I want to return to what happens on both sides, the military side and the civilian side, beginning with the military. The government says we should support our troops. There is nothing wrong with that. We should support our troops and we do, even though the Conservatives try to imply that the opposition does not support the troops because we disagree with them about some of the missions the government sends them on. There is a difference between a mission and supporting the troops. We support our troops, but sometimes there are missions with which we disagree. We live in a democracy and have the right to express our views in the House of Commons. That is what we were elected to do: to express our views on things like this.

They ask us to support our troops, our veterans, our soldiers and our military personnel. Early this week, I got a phone call from one of our soldiers. He said he had been in the army for 20 years and had a disability that was officially acknowledged by the army. As a result, he was put in the reserve army—I am not sure about the exact military term—and could stay there for three years with pay but without serving in the regular forces. The government knew he was going to retire. It knew he would be finished with the forces at the end of May and would receive an official pension from the federal government. The army told him, though, that he will start getting his pension 8 to 12 weeks from now.

The Conservatives say we should support our troops and our veterans, but here I am, forced to get involved. I have to ask National Defence why it needs 12 weeks to cut a cheque for a soldier when it has known for three years that he was going to retire. The cheque will not be ready at the end of May when he retires, and he will have to wait 12 weeks without any income. Is that how they support our troops?

A man called me this week and told me that he has been in the Canadian forces for 20 years and that he would be retiring in three years. He told me that because of a medical problem, which the forces has recognized, he was put into another category and is no longer in the regular forces. He said that the military has known for three years that he will be taking his pension this month but he was told that he would not be able to get his pension for at least 8 to 12 weeks from now. He wants to know who will feed his family.

Is that how we support our troops? Our troops go to war, they defend our country and they defend democracy around the world, and when they come back they need our support. I support Bill C-13 because it would give our soldiers, when they come back from a mission, a break of 52 weeks to spend with their families. They would receive parental leave like any other Canadian.

I would like the government to think about going further than that. I may put an amendment forward at committee, but if I do, I know the government will get around it by saying that it requires a royal recommendation because it requires spending money.

I hope the government will be nice and fix the problem that it has created for our troops.

A press release issued April 19, reads:

The newly established Rotation Bar was presented today, recognizing Canadians who have served more than once in Afghanistan. Recipients included more than 30 Canadian Forces (CF) personnel, four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), two police officers of the Ottawa Police Service and three civilian employees of the Non-public Fund of the CF.

I suggest to the government that clause 3 of Bill C-13 be amended by adding after line 5, page 2 the following:adding after line 5 on page 2 the following:

(3.02) For the purposes of subsection (3.01), a member of a police force who is a Canadian citizen in the employ of Her Majesty in right of Canada or a Canadian citizen under contract with the Government of Canada, and who has been deployed as part of a mission outside Canada is considered to be a claimant.

I believe this is reasonable because we are not talking about millions of people. We have police officers who are deployed in various countries to conduct missions and help in reconstruction efforts. We have other members of police forces who go to those countries.

I know of a specific case. RCMP Sergeant Gallagher lost his life after landing in Haiti the day of the earthquake. He went to that country to help the Haitian community build up its police forces. We have other citizens in similar situations.

That is why I take Bill C-13 seriously. It is a good bill, but we have to consider who we are talking about.

We cannot say the situation is resolved because a Conservative MP knocked on a door and met a soldier. It is reasonable for the House to study this bill and refer it to committee where we can share our points of view and get the government's reaction.

If our government calls on our police forces, whether the RCMP or city or municipal police, to help other countries within the framework of a Canadian mission, I think that is the same as sending a soldier. We ask our police to take part in such missions, which are quite dangerous.

If we ask our police officers to go to Afghanistan to help that country's police force, it is dangerous for them as well. They go abroad to do a job on behalf of our country, just as the military does. For that reason, they should be included in this group.

Military and police veterans must benefit from the same programs upon their return from a mission. That is why there is a flaw in BillC-13. All those who are sent on a mission by our country should be treated in the same way.

Clause 3 of Bill C-13 should be amended by adding after line 5 on page 2 the following: “(3.02) For the purposes of subsection (3.01), a member of a police force who is a Canadian citizen in the employ of Her Majesty in right of Canada or a Canadian citizen under contract with the Government of Canada and who has been deployed as part of a mission outside Canada is considered to be a claimant”.

That is just reasonable. We are not talking about thousands of people. We are talking about a minimum number of people who are sent there by our government. The jobs they do are very dangerous too. They are sent on missions, for example, to help the Afghan police reconstruct their force. They are in dangerous areas.

If they are not sent, they are not going to be claiming that 52 extra weeks. However, if the government calls upon them to be outside the country to help our soldiers around the world, they should be in that same category.

The reason I am reluctant to make the change is that I think it is really important that we treat everyone the same. We believe this would be going in the right direction.

At the same time, we have problems across the country with people losing their jobs. The EI program belongs to the workers. All across the country there are workers who lose their jobs. We are in an economic crisis and the government should be able to make other changes, not piecemeal like the way it is being done.

We sat at one time together, all parties, and made a report in the human resources committee with 28 recommendations. Those recommendations should come forward. The government should look at the big picture of what the problems are with employment insurance and why people are not qualifying.

It should be 360 hours. Why do people who are sick have to have 600 hours to qualify for employment insurance? It is nonsense. No one chooses to be sick. Employment insurance should be there to help the workers. It is insurance to help the workers. It is not a tax to bring in funds for the government to pay down the deficit and bring it to zero by using the employment insurance premiums. That money should go back to the workers. We should work toward that and have the government do the right thing.

Our debate on this bill in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities will be truly important. I hope that the Minister of National Defence heard what I said. I hope that the government heard. I know it heard. The Prime Minister's Office listens to all debates and I am certain that it knows what is going on and that it is concerned about our police force. It would be unfortunate for our police forces and other citizens who are sent on missions commanded by the government if they were not protected by Bill C-13 and if they did not have these 52 additional weeks of entitlement to parental leave. It is important to a family that parents be with their children. The Conservative government says it is pro-family. I say prove it.

The Conservative government says it is pro-family. If it is pro-family, then it should prove it by accepting my proposed amendment.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, certainly when it comes to issues of EI, and I think also issues of the men and women who serve our country, the member speaks from a strong background.

Like myself, I suspect, he meets a lot of returning veterans who need more support than they get, whether it is people who have recently come back with PTSD from serving in the gulf or Afghanistan, or perhaps it is veterans who are trying to qualify for the veterans independence program. As MPs, we can sometimes assist people like that, but it just shows that occasionally the system is not working as well as it should, in spite of the great people at Veterans Affairs.

I want to ask him this. On this specific case of employment insurance, there are other ways the government could act as well. I refer to the case of Trooper Kyle Ricketts from Newfoundland and Labrador. The member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte brought it up in the House a couple of years ago. He needed treatment and a number of surgeries in Ottawa. His family, who were laid off in Newfoundland and Labrador, were on EI and were told they could not get EI if they travelled to Ottawa to take care of this particular Canadian hero. This was brought up in the House. I think in the end he got some compensation from the hero's fund. However, could EI not be a little more flexible in dealing with people in the unique circumstance of somebody being injured and needing family support, but those family members happen to be unemployed and risk losing their benefits to travel to take care of, in this case, Kyle Ricketts?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, let us put it this way. I agree with the member, but I hate to play the military against civilians, because my opinion is that it should cover everybody.

I think it is a shame when people are sick today and a member of their family cannot go to see them in the hospital because they do not have that type of hospital where they live. The individuals don't choose that there is no hospital in northern New Brunswick that is able to treat all kinds of sickness. They do not choose that there is no hospital in Hearst, Ontario, that is able to treat all kinds of sickness,

I believe, with the communication we have today, that if family members have been on employment insurance and their partner or spouse is in hospital someplace else and they want to be with the person who is sick, they could go to assist that person, military or not, because with a cellular phone, they could get the information and go home very quickly to get their job back.

Today it is unacceptable that we do not have that flexibility, because we do not choose to be sick and we do not wish it on our worst enemy. We do not choose that, so employment insurance should be more flexible.

At the same time if we have people who are not in a union, do not have a contract and do not have leave of absence with pay, employment insurance could help. In the workforce, whether we are employers or employees, we should be a big family, and if somebody is sick, members of their family should be able to take a leave of absence with pay from employment insurance to help the family, because the worst thing is for the person to be alone when they need help and when they are sick.

If the health care system takes the trouble to move people from Newfoundland to Ottawa, that means they do not just have a cold; they have a sickness that is pretty serious and they need all the help they can get, and one kind is the moral help of having their family beside them. I do agree with the hon. member's statement.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to first of all commend my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst for his eloquent remarks here this morning where this very important piece of public business is concerned.

There is no one in the House who should question his experience, knowledge and understanding of this issue. As a matter of fact, he came to this place riding on an issue that was very current and immediate in his own riding back in 1997. Then shortly after getting here, he crossed the country, meeting with people to talk about the impact of the changes the government of the day had imposed on EI and the impact that would have on families and workers.

Here we are now, almost 15 years later, and we are still struggling with this issue of how we can get help to people who need it. How do we get a government that seems to have blinkers on to recognize that there are people out there who are desperately in need and hurting?

As the report that came out earlier this week from Citizens for Public Justice said, with the poor who have lost their jobs, some qualified for EI and have now run out of their EI, and the many who did not qualify, around 50%, are out there now. The recession for them is still on. It is still raging. The recovery is not happening for them as the treasurer suggests in this House, and they are looking for some help.

Here we have a small opening today to provide some assistance to a group of people who, when they come back from giving their all for their country in Afghanistan and their family has had a child, need some time to make sure that little person gets a good start in life with his or her parents present and available. We should do that.

I agree with the member that we need to expand this. There are others who are going over to Afghanistan as well in the same circumstances and who need to be recognized. So I am wondering what recommendation he would have for me, as a member on the committee, to push the government to actually include the change he has suggested here this morning.

We do not want to turn this into a long-drawn-out debate. It does not need to be, but the government could, in all good will and if it wanted to, recognize that this needs to be expanded to include a few more people. We are not talking big dollars here. We need to include a few more people who actually would benefit big time from the change he suggests.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, we are not talking about a large number of people. The minister who just came back from Afghanistan recognized 30 members of the Canadian Forces, 4 members of the RCMP and 2 members from the Ottawa Police Force. We are not talking about a large number of people. At the same time, that does not mean that their wives had a child while they were there. Then we really would be talking about a small number, but we have to treat everybody the same.

I honestly hope that the government forgot or never thought about them, that it made a mistake and that it will correct that mistake. The member for Sault Ste. Marie asked how we could fast-track correcting that mistake. It is very easy. If the government agrees, I am sure I have support for my proposal from all parties and that could be done within one minute. No, one minute is too long. We could do it in one second. The words are, “Yes, we are doing it. We accept the document”. That is very easy.

If it is not done, it is because the government has refused to accept putting that in its bill. This is the way to get a royal recommendation. That would mean that the government refused.

The government would be making a mistake if it did not support our police forces and our citizens who are sent to other countries on a mission. Sometimes decisions are made and those excluded are hurt. We want to give the government the opportunity to address this while Bill C-13 is under study.

As my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie was saying, we can do a number of other things. We should not wait until veterans are 80 years old to give them their veteran's allowance. We should not let them suffer all those years. It is as if the government were waiting for them to be on their deathbeds before giving them their pensions and then congratulating itself for correcting the situation. The same thing applies to military spouses. We must acknowledge these families and give them what they are owed. They fought for our country and they must be recognized for it. They should not be recognized just before death, but right from the start. We have to support our troops from the moment they return to Canada.

Earlier on, another colleague spoke of illnesses contracted by soldiers during the war. A young man, just 33, came into my riding office not with a bottle of pills, but with a whole bag of pills. The government has difficulty acknowledging that this man's problems started while he was on a mission for the government.