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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

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not believe that the leader of the Bloc Québécois has ever attacked democratic values in the House.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Jason Kenney

They are religious biases.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Could the minister be quiet so that we can respond? We listened to what the member for Calgary—Nose Hill had to say.

The leader of the Bloc Québécois has never questioned the rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter has never been called into question. I respectfully submit that the point raised by my colleague is a point of debate. She will have an opportunity to reread the question the leader of the Bloc Québécois asked and the supplementary question about cuts the Conservative government made to the budgets of 12 allegedly pro-choice groups.

However, the government is giving $800,000 in additional funding to religious groups and sects that preach a specific ideology and values. The leader of the Bloc Québécois has never challenged freedom of religion, freedom of thought or freedom of speech.

My colleague used very strong language to describe what was said, which was debate. To my way of thinking, there is no point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I should start by saying that it is not the Speaker's role to enforce the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms here in the House.

Much as it might be tempting to become a law enforcement official, that is not the role of the Speaker.

I am here to determine whether the language used in the House is parliamentary or not, no more, no less. Controlling the debate by invoking other laws of Canada in the House is more than I can do.

I am here, really, to ensure that the language used in the House, as members enjoy freedom of speech in this place, is parliamentary. I did not hear the minister of state suggest that the leader of the Bloc Québécois had said something unparliamentary. She suggested it was contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This is something that can be debated, but not something on which the Speaker can rule at this time. I hope that all hon. members will accept my decision on this.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the matter was under discussion before oral questions, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister had the floor. There are six minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, earlier today I was talking about the fairness for military families act, or Bill C-13 as it is also called. I am going to refresh the House's memory on the background that I shared with it earlier today.

Just over a year ago, I was knocking on doors in the southwest Ottawa community of Osgoode, a village about 40 minutes from where I stand today. I ended up on the doorstep of a soldier. He related to me his story of service in the Golan Heights. He was called to go on a mission four or five days after the birth of his son, Jacob. He stayed on duty in that mission for an entire year, meaning that he missed basically the first year of his child's life while he was sacrificing for all of us. His wife would later say that one of the things that got them through that long period of separation was that he would be able to return and collect his employment insurance parental leave and use that leave as an opportunity to make up for lost time with his family, and in particular, with his small child. And why would he not apply for that parental leave; after all, Major Duquette pays employment insurance premiums, as do all soldiers. As such, they should expect to receive employment insurance benefits.

In this case, the time period during which those benefits were available to him had expired while he was serving all of us overseas. When he returned and applied, he was saddened to learn that he would not have the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits for which he had been paying as a Canadian who pays employment insurance premiums. He felt that this was an injustice. What bothered him additionally and what exacerbated the situation was when he opened the statutes he learned that there is an exemption in place for criminals to defer their benefits until after they complete their prison terms. The system provides a special advantage for criminals, but not for the law-abiding, patriotic, sacrificing Canadian soldiers who do such important work on our behalf and at such great emotional and personal cost to their families.

We have in the House a number of veterans who have served in the armed forces for whom this issue is especially important as well. One of them is my seatmate, the member for Edmonton Centre. The member for Edmonton Centre is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with him. As a former air force pilot, I know that he will have a very special perspective to share with us. I think we should take a moment to recognize him.

When I was standing on Major Duquette's doorstep, I said to him that I would bring his concern to the Prime Minister and that after we were able to study the matter, we would act quickly to fix this injustice with the introduction in the House of Commons of the fairness for military families act. That is precisely what we have done. I congratulate the Minister of Human Resources for drafting this legislation.

This legislation allows soldiers to defer their benefits until after their mission is complete so that soldiers who find themselves in a similar situation to that which befell our friend, Major Duquette, will be able to have their benefits waiting for them when they get back from duty abroad. That means that children will get extra time with their mother or father who is a member of the forces. I want members to consider the human benefit that should be associated with this legislation.

When people make the sacrifice to be away from their families and away from their children in that crucial first year, they make a big sacrifice and so do the families. When they return, should we not allow them to have access to the benefits that they pay for? Should they not have the chance to rekindle that bond, to solidify that relationship and to become more acquainted with the newborn or child from whom they have been separated during their service to our country?

I ask that question to all members of this chamber. I think members of all parties would agree that mothers and fathers, like Major Duquette, who perform this valuable service for our country often at great risk to themselves should be able to have the opportunity to spend subsequent time with their children, especially considering that they paid for that benefit. Let this be one of those occasions when members of all parties come together in support of families, of our troops and of fairness.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member may or may not know that the member for Acadie—Bathurst will be proposing an amendment to the bill at committee which we hope members opposite will support. It is to include members of the police forces who are under contract with the government and are being deployed on these missions with the soldiers, for example in Afghanistan or Haiti.

We would like to know whether he and his party will be supporting this amendment to add them. I do not think there is a great number of people involved. The entire bill evidently only deals with 60 people a year and costs about $600,000. I do not anticipate that the number of police would increase the numbers a lot. Would the member entertain this motion in a favourable way?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from the NDP makes a very good and thoughtful point. I know that the member for Acadie—Bathurst, who is on the committee that will be studying this bill, is very passionate about it as well. I look forward to working with members of the New Democratic Party to ensure that this bill, after it goes through all the stages in the House and the Senate, is the best possible bill to ensure fairness for Canadians.

I hope that we can work together to ensure not only that this bill comes out in its best form, but that it also passes as quickly as possible so that armed forces personnel who are currently serving Canada abroad will have access to these benefits as soon as possible.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we have an important opportunity in this Parliament to discuss a bill that seeks to provide benefits to those who make great sacrifices for our country.

As my colleague stated, we are proud of the amendment proposed by our NDP colleague to include members of the RCMP.

How quickly will the government lend its support to this bill and what priority will it assign to it?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from Manitoba for her question. I believe she is raising an important point.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to read the amendment proposed by the hon. NDP member, but we would be open to supporting amendments that would improve the bill. At the same time, we must adopt this bill as quickly as possible to provide these benefits to soldiers as quickly as possible. We realize that the Afghanistan mission is drawing to a close and we do not want soldiers to miss this chance for justice in the system.

In conclusion, I would like to work with the member to advance the bill so that it is the best bill possible.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in the House today on such an important matter as support to our men and women in uniform. The topic, which was reiterated in last month's throne speech, is a priority for this government. The legislation before us will ensure that Canadian Forces personnel and their families continue to receive the benefits and support they need and deserve.

I know that all members of this House want what is best for Canadian Forces members because our troops are an exceptional group of men and women. They are among the best this country has to offer, and I can tell you that they are dedicated and courageous, and they work tirelessly to defend Canada and Canadians. They risk their lives every day, whether winching down from a Cormorant rescue helicopter into the stormy Atlantic or assisting with counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea or protecting the residents of Kandahar City. They are respected around the world and here at home they are admired as heroes.

Their job can be very dangerous and stressful. They face many challenges related to deployments, not the least of which is time spent away from their loved ones.

I have had the honour to join the Minister of National Defence in welcoming our troops home from Afghanistan. Standing at the airport, we cannot help but get a lump in our throats, watching husbands and wives with tears in their eyes, children clutching hand-made welcome home signs, and babies meeting their fathers for the first time.

The personal sacrifices our troops and their families endure are tremendous. The least this country can do in return is to ensure that Canadian Forces personnel and their families have the best possible support.

That is the intent of this legislation. Canadians want to support our military personnel. Canadians believe that hard work and sacrifice should be recognized. They are proud of the forces and they show that pride by wearing red on Fridays and at red rallies, participating in fundraising events for Boomers Legacy, sticking a “support our troops“ magnet on their cars, or standing for hours in all kinds of weather on an overpass above the Highway of Heroes to welcome home our fallen.

Pretty much as we speak, that is taking place again today as we welcome home Petty Officer Craig Blake. Our condolences go out to his family and comrades, and our sincere gratitude on behalf of the country.

This government is also proud to stand behind our brave men and women. We are doing what we can to ensure they have the tools and resources they need and deserve. Our government has stood behind our pledge to rebuild the Canadian Forces and stand up for what they need, the people who defend our country day in and day out. We take this responsibility very seriously.

Two years ago, we introduced the Canada first defence strategy. We announced our intention to invest in personnel, equipment, readiness, and infrastructure to produce a first-class, modern military. We have already made good progress.

Investing in people is an important pillar of that strategy. Just over 50% of National Defence's budget is spent on people. That is, again, our most important resource.

We do our utmost to care for that resource, especially our forces members and their families. It is an area where we are constantly working to improve.

Over the past year we have been pleased to support the successful creation of the joint personnel support unit. This unit coordinates personal and administrative support for all injured and ill Canadian Forces members and former members, their families and the families of the deceased. This is a collaborative venture with Veterans Affairs Canada, and encompasses a network of 19 integrated personnel support centres across this country. It helps our ill and injured recover and offers the support they need to heal, to adjust, and to prepare for the next phase of their lives.

We are always trying to find ways to do more for those who sacrifice so much. This legislation represents another step forward in this regard. It takes care of our brave men and women in uniform. It introduces measures to improve the quality of life enjoyed by our troops, quality of life that rests largely on the health of families.

Force members and reservists face unique challenges. They can be asked to deploy immediately cutting short their time with new children.

The proposed legislation will improve access to employment insurance parental benefits by extending the period in which they can take leave to up to 104 weeks. That means that our troops do not have to choose between families and work. It will provide more opportunity for parent-child bonding in those critical early stages of life. These relationships are so important and already so fragile for our troops to maintain when deployments can take them away for months at a time.

I am sure that many of my fellow members of the House can relate to the importance of families spending time together especially in those fleeting early months.

This legislation demonstrates this government's resolve to take care of our troops and to stand up for their families. It shows respect for our serving members and it will allow the Canadian Forces to continue to attract the very best young individuals to the service.

This government has done a lot for members of the Canadian Forces and 2010 will be another good year for the forces.

Bill C-13 is just one part of this government's continuing commitment to care for those who wear the maple leaf for us at home and abroad.

I would have loved to have had this benefit during my air force career. I know many of my friends would have benefited from this greatly.

Taking care of the needs of military families, all of their needs, is a priority for this government. I am extremely proud of our government's record. Those who wear the uniform consistently put country before self.

In return, we must do everything to support their well-being and I am very grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to this important debate.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his speech, delivered with a great deal of passion, given the fact that he has had such an illustrious career with the Canadian Forces. I see what he means when he said that many of his colleagues may have taken advantage of this program who did not before.

I have a couple of quick questions though, just for clarification. Number one, a lot of the talk is, and I am assuming that it was spurred by the inspiration on the doorstep by the hon. member, referencing the Afghanistan situation. So we are not talking about sites specific as to what it could be. He may have answered my question at the beginning when he spoke about the Cormorants.

The second part of my question is this. Would the government be willing to consider this for the diplomatic corps as well? In other words, would the government be open to providing the same benefits for members of our diplomatic corps?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, when the bill passes second reading in the House, which I believe it will, it will go to committee and anyone can then propose amendments to the bill. There were some suggestions from members of the NDP as well.

We want to ensure that first and foremost we take care of the men and women in uniform. The bill is initially for the Canadian Forces. There may be others but that can be sorted out at committee. We want to ensure that we take care of those who serve Canada under the most trying of circumstances and a large part of that is the danger that members of the Canadian Forces face when they deploy to Afghanistan or elsewhere.

At committee, everything can be considered. It is up to the members of that committee.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank both my colleague and the prior speaker in terms of their eloquence in stressing the importance of this legislation. What I think this speaks to is perhaps the power of one.

People might sometimes be disillusioned about politics and politicians, but here we are talking about one person, one story, and a politician taking that story and moving it into positive change.

I am just wondering perhaps if my colleague could speak to how we can influence and make positive changes, and get support in a non-partisan way.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, if one was watching an hour and a half or so ago, one might not have been so impressed with the collegiality and the sense of co-operation that can happen in the House, when we can get together and do the right thing for the right reasons.

It really speaks to the importance of the power of one constituent regardless of where he or she lives, being able to talk to the member of Parliament on the doorstep and actually having something positive come out of that not just for that individual but for everyone in Canada.

It really is an inspiration for Canadians. I knock on a lot of doors. I think we all knock on a lot of doors. We talk to a lot of people. Hopefully, it gives people some hope that when they talk to their member of Parliament, something good can come out of it.

I am really proud of Major Duquette for bringing a great suggestion forward to my colleague. I am really proud of my colleague, the government, and the opposition members who are going to support this worthwhile legislation.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech by my friend from Edmonton Centre on Bill C-13. He had, as we all know, a 30-year career in the Canadian Forces and speaks with obvious passion on the issue of our troops and soldiers who are doing their duty for Canada in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The NDP fully supports this bill. The fact that a bill can come to the House of Commons through the offices of an individual member of Parliament, whether someone on this side or that side of the House, and can be made into law is really what being parliamentarians is all about. Obviously, this is a government measure, but how does it get here? How does it become an issue for parliamentarians?

It happens because someone raises it and feels strongly about it. It is an idea whose time has come and needs to be recognized. We in the NDP fully support this piece of legislation. In fact, we have been critical of the government in other areas when it talks of supporting our soldiers and troops, particularly veterans, which I will get to a little later, but to focus on the particular issue of this bill is extremely important.

We have all seen and know from family, friends and constituents the hardships, worries and concern we have when soldiers have gone off for long rotations to Afghanistan in the past seven or eight years or elsewhere. They are going to be away from their families, children and spouses or, in the case of parental leave, which is what we are talking about now, fathers are not being present at the birth of a child and being away many months before seeing their newborn. It tugs on the heart strings of all of us to know that Canadians do that for their country because that is the job they have taken on, the commitment they have made, and the sacrifice they have undertaken on behalf of their fellow citizens.

We are all proud that we have young men and women who are prepared to do that. We owe them not only a debt of gratitude but full support for doing what Canada is asking of them. We also, of course, owe it to them to ensure that our own government's actions and activities are in keeping with the high standards that we have as Canadians.

It is a pleasure to support this piece of legislation. On a going-forward basis, it will give soldiers and young families some comfort to know that they will be guaranteed of having family time after a deployment when it is interrupted by service or when a birth takes place while a soldier is deployed.

My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst has spoken on this bill already. The NDP has some proposals that would expand this to include others who serve overseas on Canada's behalf, some of them in fact in Afghanistan. One of whom, as we know, in the diplomatic corps lost his life in the same theatre of war as soldiers are fighting now, Glyn Berry. He lost his life while serving in Afghanistan as part of the diplomatic corps.

We have other diplomats stationed abroad in such places like Afghanistan and elsewhere, who make the sacrifice of being away from their families for long periods of time. We believe this change in the EI Act should be expanded to include them as well. It should be noted also that not only in Afghanistan but elsewhere, places like Haiti and others, there are a considerable number of members of police forces, whether the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, provincial or municipal police forces, who volunteer and are part of military and international engagements that Canada has undertaken.

I know members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in my province have served in Bosnia as part of a mission. They are serving in Haiti and elsewhere in training missions away from their families.

Similarly we have a large contingent of RCMP and others in Afghanistan, assisting and training the Afghan police force. We recognize this is directed at military personnel only, but the concept is a good one and in fairness should apply to others in the diplomatic corps and to police officers who serve abroad under the same kind of circumstances, away from their country.

I will not go into the details of the amendments. I know one of the previous speakers said that he had not had an opportunity to read them yet. As indicated, this will be a matter raised in the committee. This being second reading, we are talking about the principle of the bill. When it receives second reading, and I have every expectation that it will receive the support of all parties in the House, and goes to committee, there may be an opportunity for witnesses to be heard, to talk about the provisions and to talk about their experiences with EI.

I know other members in the military and some veterans have issues with EI. In many cases, they are unable to collect EI, although they pay into it for many years. We may hear some more information about problems with respect to the employment insurance system and military or other foreign service. There may be opportunities to improve the legislation, to make it more fair to other Canadians in similar circumstances.

I know the impetus came from, and we should focus on, the consequences to military families when members serve abroad and have an addition to their family, whether it be by birth or adoption. I am not sure, to be honest, that this covers the adoption situation, and I hope it does. If it does not, then we would be very careful in looking at the committee stage. Parental leave applies whether we are talking about a birth or an adoption.

To be fair to military families on that score, we want to ensure, and certainly the NDP wants to ensure, that the same provisions with respect to parental leave available to ordinary citizens are available in these circumstances to the military as well.

There is no reason why that form of parental leave ought to be cut short by military deployment or being called into service, or have to be deferred until after the deployment is over so they can actually spend that time bonding with the new addition to the family and providing the kind of support that is always needed when there is a new member to a family, particularly a newborn or in an adoption situation. There is a whole change in circumstances that have to be adjusted to. That is the whole purpose of parental leave in the first place.

We can fully support the legislation. I will not use this as an opportunity to talk for any great length about what our troops do in Afghanistan. We do know they are there for long periods of time, up to six months and for some it is more than one rotation. We have had evidence before the defence committee that some individuals have done as many as four rotations in Afghanistan over the very lengthy period of time we have been engaged in that combat.

I do not think a lot of Canadians realize that the military engagement in Afghanistan has gone on longer than any other military engagement in which our country has ever, in its history, been involved. It has been longer than the second world war, which lasted from 1939-45. It is obviously longer than the Korean War or the first world war. It has been going on since 2002 until now, eight years, where Canadians have been engaged in combat in Afghanistan. Soldiers have been deploying there on an ongoing basis, as many as the 3,000 soldiers, diplomats and police officers are involved today. I suppose that long period of time has given rise to the kinds of issues that we see now, the ongoing needs of military families in these circumstances.

I know the military family support groups are very active across the country. I think all parliamentarians support those groups in their ridings and recognize the good work they do. One of the things they do is provide support for the families who are left behind.

In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador it is a little more difficult in some respects. Most of the people who are deployed overseas are from the reserve units and they are spread around. The support provided by the military family support organization has been extremely valuable where people do not live on base and where there is less of a connect between them. Their neighbours are not necessarily in the same boat and do not understand the same way other military families do, whether they be spouses, or parents, or siblings, that are concentrated in other places where there are have significant bases.

It is important on military bases as well. There are military bases where large numbers of military personnel are deployed and military family support groups are active. Even though there is a social network among military families, the kind of services and counselling that might be needed, in some cases specialized counselling, not only has to be supplied, but an attempt has to be made to understand the need for that. In many circumstances, where people are going through hardship, particularly psychological hardship, it often takes someone else to recognize they may need the kind of assistance and help that can be provided through counselling.

We support all those initiatives through the military family support groups. This is another piece that we, as parliamentarians, can do to mitigate, to some extent, the sacrifices of being away from their family.

I know that even as a parliamentarians, and we do not make the kind of sacrifices that soldiers do. Being away from our family for even four or five days at a time, sometimes a week or two at a time, our young children in particular are affected. We realize how that must affect, on a long-term basis, people who are away for a long time, particularly in the case of people deployed to Afghanistan. Imagine what is on the minds of family members throughout their deployment, how are their loved ones are faring, are they safe. They cannot wait to see them arrive at the airport. I have seen those reunions of families as well. I do not think anybody can be but moved to see a couple being rejoined after a long period of time, particularly where the dangers of war exist and the possibility for injury, or even worse, is present.

We all have to understand, appreciate and be proud that we have young men and young women who are prepared to make that kind of commitment on our behalf.

We would like to see that also extended to diplomats and police force members who also make the same kind of commitment for overseas deployment.

Also, at committee, we will be interested in hearing about other aspects of the employment insurance with respect to military personnel and veterans. I know there is a concern among many veterans and RCMP officers, in particular, about getting access to the EI benefits they may have paid for all of their career. Yet when they leave the forces, they have great difficulty getting access to the employment insurance to which they feel they are entitled and should be entitled. As members of the workforce, they have paid into the EI fund. We commonly hear them say that.

We do not know how many people are affected by this, but I understand we will be hearing from them at the committee phase of the hearings. Hopefully, if there is a need for other improvements to the EI system with respect to military personnel and veterans, then there will be opportunities to discuss those in committee and possibly make the kind of amendments that might be needed.

The bill is contained in only five sections of the act and will come into force very soon, on the first Sunday after the day it receives royal assent. I do not know how soon that would come. It has to go to committee, but I hope it comes back from committee before we rise this spring so it will be available to anyone who qualifies very shortly.

I note, unfortunately, it does not apply to anyone whose benefit period for parental leave began before the day in which the bill comes into force. I do not know why that is. If people are undertaking parental leave now and they get called up at some point during their parental leave, I do not know why the act would not apply to them. Maybe this question can be answered in committee.

The bill is very clear, however, that there will be an extension of the benefit period for someone who is in the Canadian Forces and is required either to defer parental leave because he or she is in service or is called away when this happens.

I commend the government. We do criticize the government for being vocal on supporting our troops in name. This is a case where it is actually doing something concrete, which will improve the lot of individual soldiers by changing legislation that applies to all, to ensure the special circumstances of people in uniform, particularly those serving overseas and making those kinds of sacrifices, are not left out of the benefits of paternal leave and parental leave because of their deployment.

It is a positive change in the law. Our party has been on record many times calling for improvements in general to the EI regime. My friend from Acadie—Bathurst participated in the committee that came up with 28 separate recommendations to make EI better in Canada. We want the government to listen to that as well.

It is a bit ironic in a way. I do not know the record totally, but I know that parental leave has not been a part of the EI system for all that long. I am not sure if the Conservative Party supported it when it was brought in. However, I am glad, given the fact it is here and available to Canadians, we will make the special provision to ensure military personnel get access to it.

We support the bill, I support the bill, wholeheartedly.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from St. John's East for both the tone and the content of his remarks on the EI program and Bill C-13 as it affects the parental leave for military personnel.

The EI program was a hot-button topic in 1997, the year I was elected. With the changes the Liberals made to the EI program, it pulled $20 million per year out of my riding of Winnipeg Centre alone.

We went riding by riding, and I remember looking at the statistics. The changes the Liberals made to the EI program, which made it almost impossible for anybody to qualify any more, pulled $50 million per year out of one riding in St. John's, and I will ask my colleague if that was his riding. The impact of that was so devastating. I remember we did some analysis and it was the same as pulling two factories out of my riding, with 1,000 employees each. That amount of payroll that used to come into my riding from the federal government was sucked out of it. The same was true in St. John's by a factor of two and a half times.

Other than asking if those members can confirm the veracity of those figures in that statement, why are we clogging up Parliament with such a minor adjustment to EI, which everybody seems to approve of and which is in the interests of basic fairness? Why does the government not just implement it by order-in-council and allow these returning military personnel to have access to parental leave?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I have to confess I do not recall exactly which riding he is talking about, but I do remember the figure of $50 million. When the changes were made to the EI program in the 1990s by the Liberals, we went from a situation where more than 75%, I think it was 80 and some per cent, of people who were unemployed qualified and were able to collect EI benefits. It is now down to I think 53% of people who become unemployed in this country are eligible for EI benefits. That is down from 80 and some per cent, which is a shocking change. It has undercut the incomes of working people throughout Canada, but it has been particularly devastating in my riding and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this morning the member for Yukon explained how important it was in a child's early years to have the parents around and involved in the child's life. He described how difficult it is for him to get back to the Yukon every weekend to see his young child.

People in the military are away for six months at a time. It is a big deal to miss six months of a young child's life. This measure is long overdue. We recognize there is general agreement and that we will be looking at some amendments at committee.

With respect to one of the amendments that was suggested this morning, in addition to the one from the member for Acadie—Bathurst, a member of the Bloc asked about making the bill retroactive. I know that is something we do not like to do, but the member has alluded to this, and I know he is a lawyer, that there are some people who are going to be excluded if we do not make a change to allow for some retroactivity.

Would the member like to expand on that issue? Perhaps he would also like to make a comment about the very good idea of our member to extend this coverage to members of the police who are involved in these missions as well.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, we should not only talk about people involved in military missions such as Afghanistan. There are sailors who are at sea for many months at a time on a regular ongoing basis. It is something that applies not just to people fighting in Afghanistan, although we obviously appreciate the commitment, sacrifice and courage of those people.

In terms of being good for the child, it is also good for the parent to have that early relationship with a child and the bonding with the family despite the fact that there are periods of absence and ensure that the father has that opportunity, and we are talking about parental leave and normally we are not going to have a serving member of the forces who will have maternity leave, regardless of whether there is a deployment or not. From a parental leave perspective, having the family together for a lengthy period of time in the early years of a child's life is a very important thing. Yes, we should have it and we should have it fast. We do not need to have a big rigmarole about this. It could be done other ways. We welcome other EI reforms to take place as well and put them in a big bill. We would certainly be happy to see this bill passed quickly.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to expand a bit on something my colleague was talking about, the ratio of eligibility. It seems to me that the Liberals used the EI fund as a cash cow. They created an environment where it was mandatory that everybody pay in, but virtually no one qualified for anything if people were unlucky enough to lose their jobs. The Liberals designed a program where they could actually milk this cash cow for, in the end, 52 billion dollars' worth of surplus, and it is no surprise why it was a surplus. People pay in and pay in with the good faith and optimism that if ever, God forbid, they should become unemployed, they would be eligible for income maintenance.

For the Liberals to use the surplus for anything other than income maintenance I believe was a deceit and a fraud because that money was not even their money. In the mid-1980s, the federal government stopped paying into the EI fund. That fund was strictly the contributions of employers and employees as insurance.

What does the member think of that as an insurance fund? If it were house insurance and people had to pay for it and there was a less than 40% chance of collecting if their house should happen to burn down, what kind of an insurance program would that be?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I am not sure what that had to do with Bill C-13, but the hon. member for St. John's East can answer it.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I think the question is directed at the employment insurance program itself and the fact that people could not qualify which resulted in a huge fund. I think it ended up that some $57 million was taken from the workers' and employers' contributions. The government says that it is not going to retroactively put it back in, so we are back to square one with the workers' and employers' money being thrown into the government coffers for something else.

The real problem is that when the government gutted the fund, it also put in rules that treated people who collected employment insurance, particularly seasonal workers, as repeat offenders. If people came back a second year because they were in seasonal employment, they received less in EI benefits that year and the year after that they received less again. It was driving people out of the seasonal workforce, hurting our forestry industry, our fishing industry, our construction industry, and all sorts of other industries in the process.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-13. It is hard to expand on the points that have been made here today by various members from all sides, so I will keep my comments rather short and speak to a few of the points in the bill.

It is really good when we can do something for military families. They give so much to our country and they sacrifice so much. If we have an opportunity to give back to them, we should look at doing it.

This bill identifies a unique issue with our EI legislation. When our soldiers are called back to active duty to serve our country, they lose their benefits.

This bill would be good for military families. Over 450 military personnel serving across Canada come from my riding. I try to communicate with them as best I can and as often as I can. I do hear back from them occasionally on different issues that have an impact on them. I will be consulting with them on this bill to get their opinions and to find out what else we could do to improve the EI system for them.

This bill would be good for younger families. In Newfoundland and Labrador I often meet with people. We used to see large families with 13 or 14 siblings but nowadays families are smaller. People are only having one or two children. It is very important that we give our military personnel every opportunity possible to spend time with their children in the early years. In most families, both parents work.

Quite often two members of the military will marry and raise a family in the military environment. It is important that these benefits be made available to them. There might be circumstances when both are in the military at the same time. They could benefit from this particular piece of legislation.

It is a pleasure to speak to this bill and support it. The only problem I see with this legislation is that it probably does not go as far as it should. Maybe we should be looking at making more EI changes to help military families.

HRSDC says that this bill would only apply to 60 Canadian Forces members at a cost of about $600,000. It is very tiny. It would not impact a lot but it would have an impact in the future as military personnel consider raising a family. This would play into their decision to raise a family.

We could be looking at some of the other issues with EI that may impact military families, and in fact, all residents, who at one point in their lives may have to avail themselves of the EI system.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about the two week waiting period for EI. Currently, there is a two week waiting period before anybody can receive EI benefits. People ask me time and time again why there is a two week waiting period and what it accomplishes. From my analysis of the situation it accomplishes absolutely nothing. It may give the bureaucrats some time to implement a claim, but we are not asking for two more weeks of benefits. We are just asking to start the benefits a little sooner. People still have to go on with their lives. They still have bills to pay. The two week waiting period does not extend EI benefits by two weeks. We are just asking for the period to go back two weeks. This would not add two weeks on to the end.

This is something that our party has been asking for. The New Democratic Party has been very outspoken on this issue as well. This is another way in which people could benefit from the EI system.

I have spoken to some military families. They want to benefit from the EI system when they leave the Canadian Forces. Some Canadian Forces members spend 25 years in the military. How can the EI system benefit them when they want to move on to another job?

This is another important issue that we should look at seriously. If people decide they want to move on to another job and decide to quit, well they are on their own and they are not eligible for any EI benefits. Being in the military is a different occupation altogether.

If people decide to move on to other occupations, we should look into the EI system's being able to assist them in that, for their betterment as individuals. That is another change to the EI system I would like us to look at.

Finally, on another point, diplomats who are serving overseas have asked the government that they too be included in this particular EI measure. It is definitely worth some consideration that we look at diplomats and other people who serve our country, be it in a military or a non-military role. If they are overseas and are called back, we should look at extending their benefits for parental leave as well.

It is a pleasure to speak in the House today. I do not want to repeat comments by any of the other members, but it is a good bill and it is good that we can have some good debate on it. I hope when it goes to committee we will have an opportunity to bring up some issues on how we could expand it and benefit more Canadian Forces members who serve us so well.