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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

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question, because clearly the member opposite does not understand the point of employment insurance.

Of course Canadians want to be working. In my hometown of Hamilton, where the manufacturing sector has been decimated, people are desperate to find decent, family-sustaining jobs.

This is not about blaming people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. This is about making sure those workers have an opportunity to find work at a comparable wage in their field. What is the point of having nurses go and become farmhands, picking apples. Yes, it is a shame for nurses but it is also a loss to the Canadian economy. It is loss to our health care system.

We absolutely need to provide opportunities for people to work in their field, in their profession. That is what employment insurance is about. That is why workers pay into employment insurance. That is why even employers are suggesting the system is flawed and the changes are flawed. We need to make sure we can keep people working in the field of their choice.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member. In terms of the government's claimed objective of creating jobs, so far it has proven to be a not very successful strategy on its part, with hundreds of thousands fewer full-time jobs today than before the recession.

This EI change would force workers to take a job outside their area of training and farther away from home. The government is claiming this is about jobs, while at the same time it is completely cutting the community access program, which was support for libraries to provide Internet service and coaching for that 20% of community members who might need that to look for a job. How do those two things square in the member's view?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question. I want to respond to both.

First of all, the member is absolutely right. The best way to help unemployed Canadians is with an appropriate job-creation strategy, something the government has done absolutely nothing about. Right now for every six unemployed people in Canada, there is only one job. Unemployment is going to continue unless the government actually gets serious about a job-creation strategy.

Second, the member talks about the CAP program. It is worth noting that of Canadian households that make less than $30,000 a year, 40% of those households actually do not have Internet access. These new changes to the EI system will send people job alerts on the Internet. If people are not able to access those job alerts and those job postings, then the government is not helping them at all. This is a really ill-conceived system. The government needs to go back to the drawing board.

Let us not move forward on the changes the government is proposing. Let us have consultations with Canadians in rural and remote areas and in households that do not have Internet access. Let us get the changes right, and let us improve rather than restrict access to employment insurance.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to be able to talk about employment insurance and the consequences for the working people who will be affected.

We decided to present this motion today for one simple reason: as we speak, there are many working people, whether they are seasonal workers or workers who have worked somewhere else in one way or another, from sea to sea, from coast to coast to coast, who are in a situation where they will be denied their employment insurance benefits in future.

The Conservatives say this is not the case and people will not be denied that income. We know very well, however, that a seasonal worker, in Prince Edward Island for example, has no opportunity to find what is called suitable employment. This means that after six weeks they will be required to accept employment that might pay only 70% of their earnings. They will have no choice, because no other jobs are available. Canada does not have large cities from coast to coast to coast. Jobs really are not available everywhere in the country.

Fishers only fish in the fishing season. We know that between fishing seasons, they have to spend time on their boats and equipment. It was agreed that they could spend this time attending to their boats and equipment. Now, they have to agree to go and work about an hour's drive from home.

The Conservatives do not understand what a region is, and what local and regional development are. We know that Canada is not an overpopulated country and the regions are the biggest part of the country.

If the bill is adopted, these new measures will have a huge impact across the country in terms of local and regional development.

These new measures were hidden in a Trojan Horse, in a budget. They should have been debated in the House independently from the budget. It is inconceivable that the Conservatives included amendments to 70 laws— amendments that were completely hidden—in a mammoth budget implementation bill.

Frequent employment insurance claimants in the regions will be told that they have to accept employment.

Let us talk about the tourist season. Many regions make their living from tourism. This is true of Quebec's Charlevoix region, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and all through the eastern provinces and other places.

At the end of the fishing season, fishers have to give up their activities and accept a job that will be offered to them after a month or six weeks have elapsed. Therefore they have no opportunity to repair their boats. If they want to pick up their work again the following year, at the start of the fishing season, they will have to leave their jobs. These fishers are in danger because their boats will not be properly maintained and freshly equipped. Moreover, they will probably have to hire people who will not be trained for fishing because the fishers who accepted other jobs will no longer be available.

The number of workers is not very high in the regions. It is not like in the city. Local and regional development is very different. This must be taken into account.

Commuting for an hour in Montreal is really not a problem. Commuters take the metro or a bus, and that is fine. Forcing people to travel for an hour in the regions is dangerous.

It is a one-hour drive from Forestville to Sept-Îles. There are very few houses between the two points. There are only one or two, and about 100 in Pessamit, a reserve where the concentration is a little higher, or small villages like Ragueneau and Chute-aux-Outardes. Apart from that, it is just one big, long drive. A one-hour drive is 100 km.

This means that every morning and every night people have to travel 100 km through little villages to get to where someone is offering a job. This is unacceptable. We cannot ask people to travel an hour every morning and every evening to get to their place of work. Who will take care of the children? Who will get the children from school? When school finishes at 4:30 p.m. or when the school bus brings the children back home, who will take care of them at home?

People who live outside of cities are likely to be uprooted, because they are going to have to move to the larger centres. As we have often seen, rural areas have been drained of people, because people have moved to cities in a self-imposed exile in the search for a job. This is something that has affected young people enormously because, of course, they went away to study at university and did not go back home, because they relocated to wherever the jobs were.

Now the population in rural areas has just about reached its minimum level. The fact that people have to leave rural areas means that the people who decide to stay will be impoverished. There are not really many jobs in rural areas. There are a few small shopping centres that are often located in the largest town. I am thinking of a place like Bonaventure in the Gaspé that has a population of 3,000; Rimouski has about 30,000 people; Baie-Comeau has about 35,000 or 40,000 inhabitants; and Sept-Îles where of course the population is increasing right now because of Quebec's Plan Nord, the northern plan. Basically, there are not that many services that can be offered to people.

So people will be uprooted. People will have to leave rural areas. What will happen to our tourist regions? People who do not agree to leave their own regions in order to take jobs somewhere else will have to be happy with their income or look to social assistance, the first kind of income security. This security is, of course, a safety net, but it is synonymous with the status of the poorest of the poor in society. If we talk about income security in terms of social assistance, people will find themselves to be poorer than ever.

This law will impoverish Canadians. It will impoverish those who cannot abandon their homes and move to larger centres. This law will also impoverish the regions. That is what people in New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are concerned about. It seems that the Atlantic provinces will be impoverished by this bill, more than the provinces that have a larger concentration of jobs.

For example, it is not true that people will automatically move to the far north where there are mining developments or major projects. Some will do so by choice, but others will not, because they have to take care of their families and their homes in the community where they live. Not everyone can just pick up and leave.

Naturally, those who want to go to work in those locations will do so because the wages offered by large corporations are very good, for example, those offered by the large oil companies in the far north. We know that the oil companies will bring about all sorts of development and workers will be needed. Some will go work there voluntarily; it seems that often it is young people who choose to do so. Those who have moved around to plant trees will now move to go and work where there are jobs. One does not preclude the other.

However, when the people in our regions are offered employment, there are two things that must be considered: training and individual choice. Workers are human beings. They are not merely pawns on a chessboard to be moved around at will. A pawn must go where it is placed and that is it. Life does not work like that.

In conclusion, I would like to say that it is important to take into account that workers are human beings.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member's speech quite intently. She talked about people working for a number of months, then not being able to work and taking employment insurance, which pays only 55% of their income, up to a maximum income of $45,000. So, that would be $55% of $45,000.

I wonder if she is aware that human resources professionals will always say that the person who is more likely to find a new job is the person who is currently working.

From that perspective would she not agree that it is better for people to be working at a job that pays 70% or 80% of their previous income while they are looking for that next job rather than not to have a job and only be earning 55% of their former earnings? Perhaps she would comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, that is quite a strange argument. I have heard that argument twice this morning. We are MPs, and when we are no longer members of this House, we would be better off to accept a job that pays 40% of our salary. It does not work like that. People want to find a job where they are paid roughly the same amount for doing similar work.

If I were a psychologist and I were offered a job that paid 70% of my salary, I would try to find a job that paid the full amount. Furthermore, we are telling society that it is acceptable to pay people up to 70% of their wages once they have been unemployed for six weeks. The government says that it is better for workers to be paid 70% than 55%. Workers would be impoverished. The next time, they would again have to accept 70% of their new wages.

Where will it stop? At minimum wage?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I first have a a point of clarification. My colleague from the NDP had noted a cautionary gesture about how this will devastate Atlantic Canada, and it will have a huge impact on Atlantic Canada. Over 50% of the regional GDP is based around seasonal industries. Moreover, 39% of seasonal workers in this country are in the province of Quebec, so it would have a huge impact on the province of Quebec.

I like my colleague's comments because the questions coming from the government today factor around somebody who would take a cut in income because of the reduction in the new rules. What they fail to understand is that in a lot of these rural communities where people work in one or two different seasonal jobs, they do not have access to public transportation or child care. The single parents trying to knit together an annual income and support two industries, for example, do not have access to these supports. A lot of the time it is just a math equation telling them that they cannot afford to take lesser dollars working at a particular job.

I would like the member's comments on that particular issue.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, that is a fact, and it has a huge impact on single-parent families and women, among others.

It is not possible under the current system. In Quebec, mayors of small municipalities are saying that it is not really a good thing. I will also talk about business owners' associations because that is something I believe the members opposite will understand. For decades, these associations have been condemning the way employment insurance has been hijacked to provide seasonal workers with incomes greater than social assistance during idle times, or the so-called seasonal gap.

This will have a huge impact on seasonal workers and on a portion of the GDP.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to commend my colleague on her excellent speech.

I would like to know what the social impacts might be on certain communities and on the mental health of those who will have to make greater efforts than before—and I am not talking about adding an extra hour to their commute. It may be extremely difficult for people to take on new jobs, as opposed to the work for which they are already qualified.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, this will have a significant impact.

Construction workers are seasonal employees who are accustomed to doing certain work. If specific training is not provided to help them get other employment, they will have to deal with changes that they might not be able to handle mentally, let alone financially.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Simcoe—Grey.

The government cannot support this motion because, quite frankly, it is factually incorrect. The changes to EI that we are introducing aim to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not. That is why we believe it is important to invest in connecting Canadians with available jobs in their local areas.

First I would like to clarify and correct the record, given that the opposition has been irresponsibly fearmongering. Based on what I have heard here so far this morning, I think it is time that we put a few facts on the record.

These changes are not about forcing people to accept work outside their own area, or taking jobs for which they are not suited.

The changes are about improving a federal system so that Canadians better understand what the expectations are of them while they are collecting EI. They are about ensuring Canadian workers are made better aware of the opportunities available to them in their own geographic area. They are about helping to ensure that employers have better access to available Canadian workers before hiring temporary foreign workers.

For a moment, let us look at the big picture.

Our country’s economic performance continues to be strong in 2012. In fact, between July 2009 and March 2012, more than 750,000 new jobs were created, resulting in the strongest employment growth by far among G7 countries.

Our economic prosperity, however, depends on our ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges.

It depends on our competitiveness and our agility.

Chief among these challenges are skills shortages. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall of last year there were 250,000 job vacancies across the country.

We know that Canadians want to work, but they often face challenges finding work. So what are we going to do to help unemployed workers find jobs?

As announced in economic action plan 2012, over the next two years our government will invest in connecting unemployed Canadians with available jobs that are in their local area and that match their skills, jobs that maybe these individuals were never aware existed. As part of our announcement, we will be sending job alerts twice per day to Canadians receiving EI. The job alerts would come from many different sources, including the job bank and private sector sources.

We will also be linking the temporary foreign worker program with the EI program to help connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their skill range in their geographic area. Today employers are required to provide evidence that they have exhausted their efforts to hire Canadians first; we are simply introducing changes to better connect those employers with Canadians who would be able to work and available for it.

The improvements that we have announced will mean that Canadians receiving EI benefits would always benefit financially from accepting available work. When receiving EI, Canadians receive 55% of their maximum weekly earnings; with our improvements, Canadians would never have to accept work that pays less than 70% of their previous income, and that amount could not be below minimum wage.

These changes are about empowering unemployed workers, helping them get back into the workforce, and focusing resources where they are needed most.

We are helping Canadians who want to work to get back to work, and we are ensuring all these changes are grounded in common sense and fairness.

We fully recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off season in those parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. For Canadians who live in areas of higher unemployment or areas where the jobs simply do not exist outside the seasonal or specialized industries, employment insurance would be there for them, as it always has been. We announced these changes one week ago today, and I have been very pleased to see that many employers and workers are standing up to say that these changes to the EI system are needed and are important.

Unfortunately, the opposition continues to mislead Canadians, needlessly creating fear and concern. As I have said before, actions speak louder than words, and this opposition motion demonstrates that the opposition members are against making life better for Canadians and their families. They would prefer that we not make any improvements to a system that sometimes discourages people from working.

As a member of a government focused on job creation, economic growth and Canada's long-term prosperity, I stand here today to encourage all members of this House to vote against this flawed, uninformed motion.

EI is an important program here in Canada—and will continue to be. These improvements will introduce new, needed, common-sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster.

That is good for the economy, good for employers—and good for Canadians and their families.

For these reasons, I urge all members of the House to vote against the motion and to support our efforts to connect Canadians with available local jobs.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, it is hard to be against motherhood and apple pie. This is where I believe the government is wrong: in how it is presenting these changes to employment insurance.

I will give an example. Telling workers that jobs are available and telling employers that workers are available is not the problem; that is the government's responsibility. Imagine that—we actually agree. That is not where the problem lies.

She is talking about job alerts twice a day. What about people with no computers and no Internet? How are they going to get them?

Most of these people work for minimum wage. They work in tourism and fisheries. The minister says that jobs are available and that people are on employment insurance.

Does the minister think that jobs become available when seasonal workers finish working? Then those jobs become available. If the government sends seasonal workers from Atlantic Canada to take available jobs in Alberta, who will do the other seasonal jobs?

Has the minister considered the damage that will do to the fishing and tourism industries?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order.

I would like to give the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development the opportunity to respond.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Madam Speaker, we know one thing. Over 80% of unemployed workers submit their claims online. We know that because we receive those claims.

Simply put, we will work with unemployed people to help them access information in the way that suits them best. We will also meet with unemployed workers to help them search for and find a job. There are always computers available at Service Canada offices to help these people. We will work with and for unemployed Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, the minister appeared yesterday before the human resources committee, and it was a veritable love-in.

I acknowledged, and I am convinced, that two of the initiatives in the recent changes are of benefit to unemployed workers. They are the best weeks provision and the working while on claim provision. Both of those provisions are positive initiatives.

In return, the other half of that love-in was that the minister acknowledged the fact that they were both Liberal pilot projects. However, the Conservatives enhanced the working while on claim provision. I want to be truthful with that particular claim.

What I want to ask is about consultation. As convinced as I am about those two provisions, the other regulations are going to help with the out-migration of communities in Atlantic Canada. Was there any consultation? We know Brad Wall had talked to the Prime Minister. Has the minister spoken with Brad Wall? Is that where the consultation was? He seems to be the only guy that--

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please.

I would like to give the hon. minister the opportunity to respond.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that people are getting caught up in the process on this.

Since last September, as members of Parliament and cabinet ministers, we have been consulting with Canadians right across the country, working Canadians, non-working Canadians and employers. Whatever the subject, it always seems to come back to two things, at least when I am there.

First, how do we get more people back to work more quickly? Employers are concerned because they cannot meet customers' orders, because they do not have the people they need, skilled or unskilled.

Second, so many people who are on EI have told these employers that they cannot afford to work in the off-season because it will cost them money. We are changing that as of August. People will be able to keep half of what they earn in part-time work while they are on employment insurance because that is better for them and their families and it could well lead to a full-time job.

These are the kind of changes we are bringing in to make sure people are always better off working.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the motion from the member for Hamilton Mountain.

As the minister just said, the government will not be supporting the motion. It is unfortunate that yet again the opposition continues to fearmonger and mislead the Canadian public for its own political gain.

Canadians need to know what is exactly being proposed so they understand how these changes will help them get back to work more quickly.

First, let us look at the big picture, the overall economic climate.

Our country’s economic performance continues to be strong in 2012. In fact, between July 2009 and March 2012, more than 750,000 new jobs were created, resulting in the strongest employment growth by far among G7 countries.

Our economic prosperity, however, depends on our ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges.

This is why Canadians gave us a strong mandate in the last election to continue implementing our long-term plan for jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity.

The skills gap and labour shortages are not challenges for the distant future. They are affecting us now and if left unchecked will hinder our ability to prosper as a country.

Chief among these challenges is the growing skills shortage. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall of last year there were 250,000 job vacancies across the country. At the same time, we have areas with high unemployment. This is a paradox of great concern to our government.

We must let Canadians know about locally available jobs to increase growth and productivity, as well as quality of life for Canadians.

This is why in the economic action plan 2012, we took action to support workers by ensuring EI remains fair and flexible and helps Canadians to find jobs in their local labour market. We know Canadians want to work.

At the same time, we recognize there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work. In many cases Canadians are not aware of the jobs available in their area and what types of jobs are relevant to their skills.

To help connect available workers with suitable work in their local area, we will be sending job alerts twice a day to Canadians receiving EI. These job alerts will come not only from the job bank that is run by the federal government but also from many different sources, including private sector providers.

Our government is also introducing a connection between the EI program and the temporary foreign worker program to ensure that employers are looking to Canadians first before turning to foreign workers.

However, we also recognize that in many areas of the country there are legitimate labour shortages that are threatening our economic recovery. I can tell this House from personal experience that there are many areas that experience chronic labour shortages, both in skilled and low-skilled occupations.

Whether it was in travelling with the human resources committee or as part of the pre-budget consultations, I have heard from employers from coast to coast to coast, expressing their frustration and fears about not being able to find enough workers. Our businesses have taken all reasonable measures to find Canadians to fill open jobs. They will continue to have access to temporary foreign workers.

In addition to providing more information to Canadians about local jobs, we are also clarifying what constitutes suitable employment and a reasonable job search. This will assist Canadians currently collecting EI in understanding what their responsibilities are while on claim.

Better utilizing Canada's workforce and making Canada's labour market more adaptable will help ensure our long-term economic growth. To be clear, it has always been a requirement of the employment insurance program to be looking for work while receiving EI benefits. Our government understands that every region of our country is different, with varying levels of economic opportunity. We know that every individual has unique circumstances, and we will always take these into account.

As the minister stressed yesterday in committee, the government will ensure changes are fair and reasonable to EI claimants. We are not going to ask EI claimants to uproot their families and find work in another part of the country. We are not going to ask people to work at jobs that are far below their skill level. We are not going to force people to accept unreasonably low wages or bad working conditions. When Canadians are unable to find suitable employment, employment insurance will be there for them, as it always has been.

What these changes will do is ensure that every EI claimant will earn more money and be better off working than not working. In fact our government is very proud to have also introduced improvements to the working while on claim pilot project in economic action plan 2012. Currently, earnings from employment are clawed back, dollar for dollar, for most of the claimants' earnings on part-time work. Effective August 2012, we will cut the current EI clawback in half, so Canadians can keep more of what they earn. Our government understands that part-time jobs often lead to full-time jobs, as the minister mentioned before. It is always in our nation's best interest to encourage labour force attachment.

Our improvements also mean that Canadians receiving employment insurance benefits will always benefit financially from accepting available work. While on EI, claimants receive 55% of their previous earnings. Through this new definition, a job would have to pay 70% of their previous wage to be considered suitable employment.

This is why the opposition motion is factually incorrect. Canadians who are collecting EI will not face a pay cut of 30%. They in fact will be required to look for work that pays more than they are currently receiving on EI.

These changes are about empowering unemployed workers, helping them get back into the workforce.

Specific circumstances and the local labour market will always be taken into account. Those who do not manage to find a job will, as always, be able to count on the employment insurance program.

This is why I ask the opposition to stop playing these political games and fearmongering and to support our economic recovery by voting against this motion and supporting job creation in the country.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, I cannot believe what I am hearing from the other side. I think their diapers are so full that they are drowning in it. They are saying that they are supporting workers, but what are they doing? They are attacking workers.

A while ago, we heard the minister say that people can access Service Canada offices. I am from rural and northern Ontario. Most of my communities do not even have a Service Canada office. Most people in these communities do not even have access to Internet, and the ones who do often have dial-up, so how the heck are they going to get notices? I am just taken aback. Maybe the member could answer how people are going to be able to get that information.

The government is talking about the workers of this country. I have a lot of people in my riding who are unemployed and who are looking for jobs. What they need is access to skills training. That is what they need. The first nations in my communities, what do they need? They need better access to education. How will the government address that? Why is the government not addressing that instead, so people are able to get jobs?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I am rather disappointed at the level of comment by the member opposite at the beginning of her statement.

That being said, I would not want to be a constituent in her riding. She is essentially saying that these people are not capable of finding access to the Internet, let alone other tools. I have a rural riding as well. Individuals in my riding spend a significant amount of time being able to educate themselves, being able to look for employment. They do these things.

As we have stated, the reason we are putting in place these changes is that Canadians want to work. We are going to give them the tools. We are going to facilitate and aid them to be able to acquire a job, so they can actually move maybe from a part-time to a full-time job or from being unemployed to being in a part-time and then a full-time job.

This is about job creation and making sure Canadians can get back to work.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, I certainly would not want to cut off my colleague for Cape Breton—Canso, but I am sure he will be up later this afternoon for an important intervention.

I was hoping to ask the parliamentary secretary about this notion of commuting one hour to find a job that, in some parts of the country, would not exist one hour away. However, let us say that there is this magical year-round job that is well paying and is one hour away.

For a person living in rural New Brunswick, there is no public transit. As I have said before, the closest subway to my riding is in Boston. The idea is that somehow a person could commute 100 kilometres, which would be a one-hour commute in New Brunswick, might not have a car or a second car, to accept a job that pays 70% of what their previous job paid. If they worked for $11 or $12 an hour in New Brunswick, they would commute effectively for a minimum wage job. How does she think that is fair to a single parent in my riding who, economically, would not be able to make that work?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I would just say to the member opposite that I encourage him to read the details of what has been outlined. Whether it be transportation availability or certain personal circumstances, such as a health concern or personal family circumstances, those are taken into consideration on whether or not an individual would be accepting suitable employment. I encourage the member to actually read the details of our proposal.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, as a former human resources manager, I know it is really important that people get out to work, not only for the economy or for business but for themselves and the self-respect they get from being employed.

Can the parliamentary secretary inform this House of the specific number of individuals who are currently eligible for EI and how these changes we are discussing will positively impact those claimants?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, the one thing this is all focused on is making sure individuals can get back to work. I will read a quote:

The one area I do commend the government for looking at is removing disincentives for people who take, for example, part-time work. Too often we penalize people who wanted to go to work and wanted to make a contribution, and we're moving in the right direction for removing...those penalties.

That is from the hon. Perrin Beatty, current president and chief economic officer for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The one thing I will say is that we want to make sure that as many people as possible have an opportunity for a job. That is what these initiatives are focused on.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I plan on sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

First, I would like to thank our NDP colleagues and particularly the member for Hamilton Mountain for bringing this discussion before the House. I would also like to say that we plan on enthusiastically supporting the NDP motion because we think that this issue affects a large number of people and has raised a lot of concerns, particularly among people who work in seasonal industries.

My colleague from Cape Breton—Canso, in a question to the minister, said something important. One element of the budget, which we thought was positive, was the idea that the pilot projects that were established in 2005 to calculate weekly earnings based on the best 14 weeks, if that is what the divisor is in the economic region where one resides, was an important improvement. Previously, it had been calculated on the most recent weeks and not best weeks, so there was an unintended consequence of actually discouraging people from taking available work if it were for a day, two days or three days because it had a perverse effect the year after of diminishing the employment insurance benefits people may need at a time of year when they have no work. That was an important step. I am glad that was renewed and that it will be rolled out nationally. That will help Canadians seeking work across the country.

The other important element is the working-while-on-claim provision. It will only be a two year pilot project. I hope that becomes a permanent part of the Employment Insurance Act, especially for people who run a bed and breakfast in rural New Brunswick or an auberge. After the tourist season is over, they often cannot remain open beyond certain months in the fall. They may want to stay open on weekends in November and December, have Christmas parties or host families coming together at that time of year but they cannot find employees. If they do show up for work when work is available, they would be punished at some future time in their employment insurance benefits. I am glad those changes were recognized as having been positive.

A group of workers and employers in my riding, specifically in the Cap-Pelé and Bouctouche areas, worked together to bring these changes before Parliament and before the Liberal government at the time. Rodrigue Landry, co-chair of this committee, and an employee of a fish processing plant in the Cap-Pelé area in my riding, were part of it. There was also an employee from Westmorland Fisheries, who worked with Ronald LeBlanc, and other employers. Aline Landry was also involved. I am pleased to see that this is continuing.

However, I must say that there is an enormous amount of concern across Canada regarding the employment insurance reforms that this government is proposing.

This is a national concern. It is not a concern in rural New Brunswick only. It is not only a concern in eastern Quebec or northern Ontario. These regions will be among the hardest hit by the changes the Conservatives are proposing.

Right here on Parliament Hill there are workers who are in seasonal employment. The people who work in the food service sector, in the cafeterias and the restaurant in this very building, find themselves facing layoffs at times of the year when the food service operation scales down. The government has inadvertently, I hope, ended up punishing people who work very hard on Parliament Hill every day that we are here and have done so, in numerous cases, for many years. These employees will be hurt by these changes.

So, too, will be a lot of very vulnerable persons, often single parents or women, who work in various seasonal sectors of the economy. It is important to remind ourselves that it is not the workers who are seasonal, it is the jobs in sectors of the economy. Up to 25% of Canada's GDP comes from seasonal industries, and it is not only fish processing in my riding, tourism operations or agricultural operations. I am talking about people who work for municipal governments, school boards and sectors of the economy from coast to coast to coast. In every community, there are people who will be hurt by these proposed changes.

There is no doubt: the people who will be hit the hardest by the cuts are the people who work in seasonal industries.

I received an email from a woman named Patricia Fraser who operates a mid-sized landscaping company on the outskirts of Moncton in a community called Indian Mountain. She hires 8 to 12 people every year. The company has been in business for almost 30 years. She does not see, with these proposed changes, how she will be able to keep these very hard-working women and men who year after year do a great job for her company and her clients. She will lose these workers. Her business is threatened. These very changes, Patricia Fraser tells me, will have a direct impact on a very important employer in an area of my riding where there, frankly, are not great employment opportunities.

As I mentioned in a question for the parliamentary secretary, it is a ridiculous idea that people can commute one hour to go to a job and one hour to return home from a place in rural New Brunswick.

Basically, we are going to tell someone living in Richibouctou or in Saint-Louis-de-Kent, an hour from Moncton, that he will have to travel 105 km twice a day, on roads that are exceedingly dangerous in the winter, in order to take a job at a very modest wage, at minimum wage.

Many of the workers in my riding are making $10, $11 or $12 an hour right now. They are not very well paid. If people do not to take a job at 70% of their wages or a job one hour away in Moncton, they will be punished and cut off employment insurance. For them, economically, they would be better off on provincial income assistance programs.

The government is effectively telling people that they will not have access to employment insurance because it will send them an email a couple of times a day about jobs. However, as my colleague from the NDP correctly noted, 20% to 30% of residents in rural Canada do not have access to the Internet or email capacity in their homes. The government is also cutting the community access centres where many people have been able to have access to the Internet. The failure of people to respond to an email about a job in a retail sector an hour away from where they live would lead to their employment insurance benefits being cut off. The consequences of that will be to empty communities in rural Canada.

One of my good friends, Dr. Donald Savoie, an expert in regional development and a professor with a Canada research chair at the Université de Moncton, clearly said that several rural and remote communities will die as a result of these changes.

Maybe the real objective of the government is to make life more difficult and complicated for the people in rural Nova Scotia, or on the outskirts of Newfoundland and Labrador or in rural New Brunswick, in my riding. Maybe it wants to complicate people's lives and the lives of their employers, the people who pay their wages, build businesses and hire people in very tentative and difficult economic circumstances. Maybe the government is telling these people that it is not worth it any more so they should pack up and leave.

The social consequences of those changes will be far-reaching and devastating.

In the small communities that I represent, most of the people who work as volunteer firefighters tend to be younger people, often with families, many of whom work in seasonal industries.These people will be forced to get an apartment in Halifax or move to other parts of the country. The government will say that it is not forcing people to move, but in employment law there is a notion of constructive dismissal. An employer does not actually need to tell an employee that he or she is fired. Rather, the employer can change the person's working circumstances, conditions of work or workplace climate to make it so toxic and so unacceptable that the person must leave his or her job. In law, that is the same as calling the employee in and firing him or her. It is called constructive dismissal.

What the government is doing is constructive relocation. It will say that it is not forcing people to leave, but if people cannot find employment that allows them to pay their bills and look after their family, or if the small business they work for cannot get access to a qualified labour pool and, therefore, shuts down, the economic reality is that constructive relocation will take place and those people will leave those communities. We will not have volunteer firefighters who do fantastic work, not only fighting fires but in performing rescues in these communities.