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House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was changes.

Topics

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, I think you would unanimous consent for the following motion regarding Syria. I move: That the House continue to support measures which: (a) condemn the brutal massacre of Syrian civilians by government forces in clear violation of earlier commitments; (b) call for an immediate end to the violence, especially the attacks on civilians; (c) support the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and Arab League efforts to establish a ceasefire and implement the six-point peace plan; (d) call for unrestricted access to the country for the international media; (e) support the government's decision to expel Syrian diplomats in protest to the latest atrocities in Syria; (f) call on the international community to speak with one voice in clearly and categorically condemning the violence and working to bring about a complete cessation of hostilities; (g) urge the leadership of China and Russia to play an active and decisive role in achieving an effective ceasefire that saves the lives of innocent civilians, as well as negotiating a road map to reforms that respond to the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people; (h) increase Canada's humanitarian aid to refugees and to internally displaced persons fleeing violence in Syria; and finally, (i) stand in solidarity with those who aspire for peace, democratic governance and the protection of human rights.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, before the question gets put I should say that this has been a matter of some negotiation between the parties. I am not advised that it has been finally concluded. I would appreciate it if we could have an opportunity to finally conclude this as between the parties.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would seek a moment to table the motion and to confer with the other side?

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, while we are on the subject of the crisis in Syria, given all our concerns for the situation, I would propose the following motion: That a take note debate on the subject of the ongoing and reprehensible violence in Syria pursuant to Standing Order 53.1 take place this evening, May 31, and, notwithstanding any Standing Order of usual practices of the House, when the House begins proceedings under the provisions of Standing Order 53.1 on Thursday, May 31, no quorum calls or requests for unanimous consent or dilatory motion shall be received by the Speaker, and any member rising to speak during the debate may indicate to the Speaker that he or she will be dividing his or her time with another member.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, this is a matter that has been the discussion of some parties. In fact, it was initiated by the government and the Liberal Party members were originally opposed to a debate on Thursday night. They wanted it to be a different night, so I am a little puzzled by that.

I would like an opportunity for us to again come to a discussion and an understanding that everybody is on the same page before we start launching motions without consensus.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to the comment by the House leader for the government, I want to make it categorically clear that we were not opposed to having this take note debate. That is why I am getting up today and asking for it to take place tonight.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Perhaps the House leaders would like to get together to sort out some of these issues and then come back and seek consent for these motions after they have had a chance to do that.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, the comment I would like to make is about the unanimous consent that has just been asked for.

You will have noticed my comment that the Bloc Québécois was not in agreement with the unanimous consent. I make no judgment about the basis for the motion; it is just that we were not consulted before the motion was moved in the House.

Importation of Intoxicating Liquors ActOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Fortunately, members have plenty of time today to sort out some of these differences and come back and seek consent once they have had a chance to do so. Therefore, we will move on to orders of the day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles has seven minutes left.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume my speech on the official opposition motion.

As I was mentioning, 26% of employment insurance claims are filed by seasonal workers, 30% of whom are Quebeckers. The NDP tells these workers that they are important and that the employment insurance program has to reflect that reality. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not want to send these workers that same message.

The spokesperson for Mouvement Action-Chômage in the Gaspé, Gaétan Cousineau, who has been defending seasonal workers for 20 years, is speaking out against the government's proposed changes to employment insurance. He is criticizing the abuse of society's poorest workers. He said:

A worker in the Magdalen Islands was offered four jobs on the mainland. He was told, “They are in your region.” Do they think that a seasonal worker can take a plane to work a job that far [200 kilometres] from home?

The worker in question was able to turn down the job offer. Would the minister's new regulation have allowed him to do that? We do not know.

It irks me when I hear the Conservative government suggest that seasonal workers are abusing the system.

The reality is that Canada has 3.2 million part-time workers, 20% of the entire workforce, and 1.8 million temporary workers. This type of insecure work is constantly on the increase because of this government's inability to create good jobs and to properly regulate the job market.

I will not accept fingers being pointed at workers who are struggling to make ends meet, certainly not when the finger is being pointed by one who did not see the 2008 economic crisis coming and who has just brought down a budget that contains no real measures designed to stimulate employment.

It also must be pointed out that, since separate accounting for the employment insurance program was established in 1986, the federal government has not put one cent into it. All the benefits, and the program's administrative costs, are paid for entirely by employees and employers.

Despite the fact the government has put nothing in for years, both Liberals and Conservatives have been pilfering from the fund to pay for other programs.

We all know the scheme. They keep premiums higher than the program requires and they reduce benefits and restrict access to the program in order to generate huge surpluses. More than $50 billion has been siphoned off in that way while today, scarcely one unemployed person in two has access to employment insurance because of the ever-stricter conditions. By comparison, in 1989, 85% of unemployed people had access to employment insurance.

So the government had better not try to tell me that seasonal workers are threatening the viability of the employment insurance program. If there is a threat, it comes from the Liberals and Conservatives who have had their sticky fingers in the employment insurance fund for decades.

The Journal de Québec editorial writer Jean-Jacques Samson feels that the proposed reforms will have the opposite effect to what is intended:

Seasonal work is highly concentrated in the regions, where travel costs are high: distances are long and public transportation is virtually non existent. Forcing an EI claimant who was earning $15 an hour to accept a job an hour away from home, and at 70% of his previous salary, constitutes a disincentive to work. His hourly wage would fall to $10.50, which is barely above minimum wage...and he would have to pay what it costs to travel tens of kilometres.

People will have a strong temptation to turn to social assistance, and returning to the workforce will become very difficult later on.

Job instability should instead incite the government to improve the legislation so that workers can continue to live decent lives during tough times. I actually polled my constituents about this in March. Some 50% of people in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles believe that the existing employment insurance system does not really meet the needs of people who have lost their jobs and that changes need to be made to the system. This poll clearly shows that this government is out of touch with the priorities of our constituents.

Over the years, the NDP has proposed several changes that would improve the EI system. I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who has done a tremendous job on this issue in the past.

I want to focus in particular on the measures we have proposed for seasonal workers. When it comes to employment insurance, seasonal workers have four problems.

It is difficult for them to accumulate enough hours to qualify for employment insurance. It is difficult for them to accumulate enough hours to be entitled to enough weeks of benefits to get through to the next season. That is known as the black hole. The wage replacement rate is too low because of the short weeks that sometimes occur during the qualifying period. The program imposes a two-week unpaid waiting period.

During the last election campaign, the NDP made a formal commitment to restore the integrity of the employment insurance program to the extent possible given public finances. We said we would eliminate the two-week waiting period, reduce the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional unemployment rate, and increase the wage replacement rate from 55% to 60%, which is what it was in 1990. We also said we would base the benefit rate calculation on the best 12 weeks of the qualifying period to exclude small weeks caused by circumstances such as bad weather.

These are not new proposals. In 2001, following extensive consultations, the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities unanimously adopted a report recommending these very measures.

Let us be clear: despite the government's rhetoric, the purpose of these changes is not to match unemployed workers with existing jobs, but rather to reduce costs by cutting wages.

The government has to stop dividing Canadians and pitting the regions of the country against each other. It is time to improve the employment insurance program, not destroy it.

Consequently, for the reasons I have just stated, I urge my colleagues in this House, regardless of party affiliation, to vote for the official opposition's motion respecting employment insurance.

Lastly, it should be noted that the employment insurance changes will have a disproportionate impact on women, who often earn lower wages than men and who are more likely to accept lower-paid jobs. When we talk about employment insurance changes, we are also talking about changes that will affect Canadian women and families and have a disproportionate impact on workers in eastern Canada and in Quebec who work in agri-food, forestry, tourism and other industries.

We in the NDP believe that the government must introduce measures to improve the quality of life of working Canadians. However, instead of that, this Conservative government is taking part in a race to the bottom. Unfortunately, that is not the best thing for Quebec families.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, throughout the day today we have been subjected to a lot of misinformation in this whole discussion. In a previous comment, my colleague said that our government made $52 billion of EI funds disappear. I want to clarify that the $52 billion had disappeared long before this government took office. In fact, it was in the period of the Liberal government prior to us that the $52 billion disappeared somewhere into general revenues.

More troubling is the insinuation that it is somehow worse for someone to have a job earning 70% or 80% of their previous earnings than sitting at home getting 55% of previous earnings.

Could she explain how ordinary Canadians who are paying EI premiums would feel about people staying home and earning 55% of their earnings rather than getting a job, feeling productive, having self-esteem with a good job and actually contributing to the Canadian economy?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party can point the finger at previous governments, but that does not change the fact that EI belongs to Canadians and workers and not to the government. We are faced with a government that does not consult provinces, has not consulted taxpayers and Canadians concerning changes to EI and has tried to bundle all these changes into an omnibus budget bill that is more than 400 pages, which is insulting to the democratic process and does not allow MPs to carry out their role of oversight and surveillance.

It must also be noted that this government is displaying an arrogant attitude toward Canadian and Quebec workers. Employment insurance is a program that belongs to Canadian workers, not to this government, which is disregarding those workers and accusing them of fraud.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we must recognize that there are literally tens of thousands of seasonal jobs of many different variations. These are good jobs that Canadians have depended on for many years. What the government has done is it has gone through the back door on Bill C-38 and has tried to make significant changes that will destroy lives, that will cause a great deal of anxiety for not only the individuals directly affected, but also for their family members.

Would the member provide her thoughts with regard to how this will be damaging for many smaller rural communities in particular that are very dependent on seasonal industries for their survival?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us be clear. The changes to employment insurance are a direct attack on Canadian workers and they are a direct attack on regions in Canada that rely heavily on tourism and on seasonal workers.

I would like to report the remarks made by Maria Recchia, executive director of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association. She said that if Canadians, particularly youth, could not find temporary jobs and were forced to leave the province to find full-time employment, there would not be enough fishermen to ensure the industry’s survival.

That quite accurately sums up the problem that the changes pose for these regions, these workers and these businesses.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the many good points made by the member. Would she agree with me that this is an attack not just on workers, but it is an attack on small and large businesses across Canada that provide important minerals, wood, fish, agricultural products and that this will disempower rural Canada and increase the urbanization of Canada? It has broad implications beyond the individual but severe effects.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, it definitely does impact rural Canadians and rural industries. It impacts our workers in the east and in Quebec.

Something I would also like to mention is the government has spent its time stigmatizing workers and stigmatizing those who are unemployed, notably by dividing them into three categories.

This government is trying to stigmatize workers by putting them in three separate categories: long-tenured workers, frequent claimants and occasional claimants.

We in the NDP believe that workers should be helped, not stigmatized.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt ConservativeMinister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) (La Francophonie)

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments made by the members of the opposition. I am happy that this motion was moved by the member for Hamilton Mountain. This motion gives members who will have to vote on this subject the opportunity to hear why I believe it should be defeated. This also gives us the opportunity to tell members more about the true nature of this proposed reform of the Employment Insurance Act. Our aim is simply to improve the program for workers who have unfortunately lost their jobs or who live in a part of the country where the economy is usually based on seasonal work.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

I cannot believe some of the comments I have heard from opposition members about this proposal. I am trying to figure out what they are doing and I tell myself that what we are seeing in the House with respect to this motion is irrefutable proof that demagogy is born from a thirst for power. They are using this proposal to engage in name-calling and make all sorts of allegations against the government to try to gain support from who knows who. At the end of the day, the employment insurance program is there to protect Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and to support them while they search for a new job.

The proposed reform does not change anything about the fundamental obligation that is already in the act. Someone who loses their job and has contributed to the plan is entitled to receive benefits throughout the period set out in the act and regulations. However, during this period, this person is required to search for a job.

What we are really trying to do here is take additional measures to help people who unfortunately have lost their jobs to return to work more quickly. I cannot imagine how someone could be opposed to a reform that will help people get back to work more quickly.

What does getting a job faster mean in real life? No one can deny the following fact. There is no necktied socialist opposite, no Liberal or Bloc member who can deny the fact that, at any given time, an individual will earn a higher income from work than through EI benefits. So finding measures that will match unemployed workers up with available jobs so that they can have a higher income is to their advantage and that of their families, the regional economy, their provinces and the country as a whole.

I cannot fathom why anyone would be opposed to the fact that we are trying to help people who lose their job through no fault of their own to improve their situation. I cannot possibly imagine why we would want to perpetuate a system that deprives those workers of knowledge that would allow them to find and get a new job.

We are talking about seasonal workers. In my riding of Madawaska—Restigouche, in northern New Brunswick, many of our workers—although not the majority—are employed in the forestry, construction and agri-food sectors. Because of our climate, they are seasonal workers by default. The government is not proposing to reduce the benefits they will receive. All we are saying is that if, in our region, in my community, there are jobs available and those people have the required skills, they can work in those jobs. Some people are upset and say that workers will be forced to accept jobs that pay only 70% of what they were paid in their previous jobs. The fact remains that 70% of their previous salary is still more than what they would receive in employment insurance benefits. Thus, the individuals, their families and the region will be better off.

Why are some people against that? I do not understand. They say that it is an attack on seasonal workers. That is absolutely not true. All we are doing is improving the information system that is in place to provide information about available jobs to recipients, including job offers that will be sent online. Some are saying that not everyone has a computer. Just because they do not have a computer does not mean that their EI will be cut off. This is just a way of helping EI recipients who are looking for work to find out where the jobs are.

We realized—and you have to talk to people in our communities to come to this conclusion— that many employment insurance claimants who were looking for work were going to Service Canada offices, but those offices did not have any information available about where to find these jobs. In some regions of the country—fortunately not in my region—whether it be in western, central or eastern Canada, there are employers who are looking for employees with a certain skill set and cannot find them because the system does not provide a way to match available jobs with qualified workers. The result is that employers have to call upon temporary foreign workers. Imagine a community where, in a given month, people are filing claims for benefits while employers in that same community are submitting applications to hire temporary foreign workers.

In summary, the EI reform will improve the situation of workers across the country. It will benefit our families and our economy. For these reasons, I intend to vote against the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain's motion.