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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

1 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I have spoken with employers since these proposed changes were announced, and employers in seasonal industries such as those the hon. member mentioned—tourism or the fishery, for example—are concerned that the EI changes are going to cause them to lose skilled workers. Yes, they are seasonal workers and do not work 52 weeks of the year, but in the fish plants, the tourism industry, the crafts industry and so on, we are talking about a skill set that could be lost because the workers will have to move away as a result of the changes in the EI regulations.

That is a very good question. Employers are very concerned.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to support the motion of the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain, which reads:

That this House call on the Conservative government to abandon plans to further restrict access to Employment Insurance for Canadian workers who have followed the rules and who will now be forced to choose between taking a pay cut of up to 30% or losing their Employment Insurance benefits.

I support this motion. It is necessary to do so because we have before us Bill C-38, a budget implementation bill that we call the Trojan Horse bill because there are so many things hidden in it. It is extremely controversial for this reason as well as others. It contains far too much. We have said many times that this bill should be split into at least five parts. It cannot be examined in the proper committee because the Standing Committee on Finance is discussing the environment. This bill should be examined by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities or the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. It needs to be examined in the proper place.

Moreover, the Conservatives are limiting debate. They are not only reducing the time the committees have to debate this bill, but they are also passing time allocation motions in the House. Once again, the Conservatives are trying to distract Canadians while they impose major, negative changes on them. By way of evidence, did the Conservatives talk about changes to environmental law, old age security and employment insurance during the election campaign? No. They did not say a word about those issues. They hid their intentions throughout the election campaign.

Let us now discuss the section of Bill C-38 that deals with employment insurance, which is also very controversial. Members of Parliament have to vote without having received much information. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that she has not yet announced the details as she wants to make sure that the bill passes first.

What details are we talking about? Just trifles; for example, the definition of suitable employment or the acceptable distance to be travelled. The bill abolishes the existing definitions, but when we ask for clarification and new definitions, the information is very vague. For example, a reasonable commuting time is said to be one hour. Is that one hour by car? If I drive for one hour, I will be halfway to Montreal.

What about the people in remote areas who do not own cars? Will they also have to travel one hour by car? In some parts of my riding, there are far fewer north-south public transit routes. Will these people have to spend one hour on the bus? How will it work? We do not know. In short, major changes to employment insurance are hidden inside a mammoth bill. Once again, the Conservatives are controlling the debate on the bill. That is not all.

When we listen to what some of the Conservatives are saying we can hear the contempt they have for employment insurance recipients. During her appearance yesterday at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that the government was working on removing disincentives to work. She added that it is question of improving the federal system in order to ensure that Canadians better understand what is expected of them when they receive employment insurance benefits.

Such comments suggest that EI recipients are abusing the system. There are indeed people who abuse the system, but they are the exception. Not everyone abuses the system, but they are being treated as though they do. I invite the Conservatives to come to Hochelaga and see what life is really like, what people really need. Employment insurance is a social safety net that was established decades ago to respond to a real need. This tool that Canadians created to be used when they need help is getting a bad rap from the Conservatives. I wonder sometimes whether they really know anyone who is poor.

Let us now talk in greater detail about the changes proposed by the Conservatives and the ensuing problems. Take job search, for example. The government says that it is going to send out emails about available jobs twice a day.

I knocked on a lot of doors during the election campaign. When I told people to consult our website to learn more about the NDP platform, they would often tell me that they did not have Internet access, that they could not afford it or that they did not have a computer. They could have gone to the library, but the Conservative government has cut the community access program, so there are a lot fewer computers available in libraries.

The hon. members might recall that, a few months ago, the Service Canada job search website did not work for a number of weeks. So what happens in those types of situations? Are the people going to be penalized? But one of the biggest problems—and we are going to hear about it a lot—is the impact on the regions and on seasonal work. Let us talk about seasonal work. Seasonal workers are often highly skilled workers. You cannot just drag people around from job to job.

Under the proposed measures, these people could be forced to leave their skilled occupations or their regions or both. As an example, a witness who raises silver foxes recently appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. That industry has a six-month season and he has one employee who has very specific expertise and who returns every year.

This employer told us that if his employee did not come back, he would not know what to do or where to find another employee with that kind of expertise. The witness also told us that the same is true in horticulture and livestock farming.

In-school child care services are another example. Do we really want to have to look for new child care providers every year? Do we want people with a lot less experience looking after our children every year?

Every January and February, only a few groups came to visit the museum where I used to work. As a result, at least 10 of the 20 guides would not get any hours. Zero. So they needed employment insurance every year. Since those guides have been there for three or four years, they would automatically fall into the new category of frequent claimants. This means that if they have not found another job after six weeks, they would have to accept work at 70% of their previous hourly wage or they would no longer be entitled to employment insurance.

By the way, in Quebec, 15% of employment insurance claimants are seasonal workers. Instead of a short-term and repressive view for reducing the unemployment rate, perhaps there might be other options. For example, we could invest in training. But no, the Conservatives are making cuts to training.

I have two examples from the recent budget. First, we see cuts of $44 million—so, 64.7%—to contributions that help older unemployed workers in communities with a high unemployment rate or those affected by downsizing. Then, transfer payments to apprenticeship incentive grants and apprenticeship completion grants, worth $155 million, are being cancelled completely. It makes no sense.

Furthermore, when the government gives grants to large companies, perhaps it could ensure that jobs are created quickly—in Canada, not in Mexico or the United States—and that the companies do not take the money before relocating elsewhere, which is what Caterpillar and Electrolux did.

I have three more comments to make before I wrap up. First, employment insurance is fully funded by employees and employers. It belongs to employees and employers. What is the point of paying into it if you are not allowed to use it? It would be like buying a car and not being allowed to drive it.

The new definition of suitable employment suggested by the minister is at odds with the International Labour Organization's, which says that a government seeking to promote employment and guard against unemployment should take into account the claimant's training, experience and qualifications.

The third and final point I would like to make is that by forcing workers to take lower paying, less fulfilling jobs that they are likely to quit more rapidly, the government will increase rather than decrease poverty.

I would like to reiterate what I said at the beginning of my remarks: this motion is important and must be adopted.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague correctly pointed out, there are many seasonal workers. The government says that there is a lot of demand. It is true that, in some provinces, there is significant demand. However, that demand is for workers with specific skills.

Does my colleague agree that it would be better to ensure that Service Canada is staffed with enough advisors to better serve people by sitting down with them, rather than attack workers who need employment insurance to provide for their needs during the post-employment season and to support their search for work in their field? Should there not be better tools available to determine the qualifications for these jobs?

I was a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for a while, and that is what employers told us. There is no good database that can match workers' skills to available jobs.

Would it not be better to invest money in better tools and more advisors to help young people?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I obviously completely agree with that. Unfortunately, cuts have been made to service centres. According to employers and the people who testify before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, where we are examining the shortage in certain areas, the changes that are being made now will do the complete opposite of what the Conservatives claim to want to do.

For example, people will be required to take jobs that are not in their field or that are further from where they live. They will not be happy. They will not stay long. They will once again end up on employment insurance. Some regions will empty and, as I was saying earlier, in seasonal sectors, many employers will not be able to find enough staff.

I always support a positive approach over a negative one. Why punish people when we could take positive actions and do good things?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, what the Conservative government is doing in terms of these changes will have a profoundly negative impact on seasonal jobs from coast to coast, and in particular, as our Liberal Party critic talked about, in the province of Quebec, in Atlantic Canada and so forth.

One needs to question why the government decided to bring in these changes through the back door of Bill C-38, thereby preventing debate on this issue and, most important, to then have the debate carry on into a committee of the House where experts from across Canada could participate and provide what I believe is absolutely critical information because of the impact this change will have on our economy and on industries that are so dependent on seasonal jobs.

Does the member not agree with the Liberal Party's stand that Bill C-38 should have been broken down, that there should have been several pieces of legislation brought in and that this should be a stand-alone debate taking place on a separate bill?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course I agree. I said that earlier in my 10-minute speech.

Why are the Conservatives doing this? I also mentioned that they said nothing about this during the election campaign. They were probably worried that it would not be a particularly popular subject. I understand that they were worried about this because if I had been in their place I would have been worried too.

The other thing, as the member mentioned, is that because this bill is not broken down, debate on each issue is cut short. There is no discussion among experts. The people on the finance committee are very nice, they are smart, but they are not experts on employment insurance or the environment, for example.

The Conservatives are trying to push everything through quickly. This is an excuse to bring in a bunch of things that they wanted to bring in before. Because they now have a majority, they are using this excuse to bring everything in at once.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

As many government members have already stated, we cannot support a factually incorrect motion.

I would like to drill down on some of the details of what our government is actually proposing with this legislation.

The changes we will make will ensure that unemployed Canadians are made aware of all available work in their local labour markets within their skill set. However, if there is no available work within their skill set, then EI will be there to support them. It always has been there to support them and always will be there to support them.

As indicated in Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, the government intends to establish clear definitions for suitable employment and reasonable job search. Please note that these improvements can only apply to Canadians receiving regular EI benefits and EI fishing benefits. They will not apply to Canadians receiving EI for special benefits, such as maternity, parental, compassionate, or sickness.

Let me focus on suitable employment for a moment.

Several factors will affect the definition for suitable employment. These factors will include, first and foremost, the personal circumstances of that person who applies. This is a point that the opposition members have been very ignorant on as they attempt to scare Canadians with respect to the impact of these changes. As a member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, I want to assure my constituents that the personal circumstances of an EI claimant will always be taken into account when determining what is considered suitable employment.

Claimants receiving EI will not have to accept work if they have a health problem that prevents them from taking a particular job, or if they have family obligations that prevent them from working at certain times of the day or if they have limited transportation options for commuting them to and from work. If they are not physically capable of performing work, they will not be required to take that job.

As the minister of HRDSC stressed again at committee yesterday, these changes would be implemented in a fair, practical and reasonable way.

What has not been reasonable is for the opposition to enlist in a campaign of fearmongering on topics such as commuting time. Under our proposed changes, a workplace must be within an hour's commute unless the claimant's previous commuting history and the community's average commuting times are longer than that. It is simple common sense.

Let me focus on the two criteria for suitable employment that are drawing the most attention. They are the type of work and the wages that are considered reasonable. In determining what criteria apply, EI claimants will be placed in one of three categories: long-tenured workers, frequent claimants and occasional claimants.

Let me take a few moments to define each of these categories.

Long-tenured workers are those who have paid into the EI system for seven of the past 10 years and who over the last five years have collected EI or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less. These workers would be initially required to look for a similar job that would pay for 90% of their previous wages. After 18 weeks on EI benefits, long-tenured workers would be required to expand their job search to jobs within the field of one they previously held and to apply for jobs that would be above 80% of their previous wages.

Frequent claimants are those who have had three or more claims for regular or fishing benefits and have collected more than 60 weeks of EI benefits in the past five years. They would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normally performed from the start of their EI claim. They would also be required to look for work that paid wages starting at 80% of their previous hourly wage. After receiving benefits for six weeks, they would need to expand their search to any work they would be qualified to perform so long as the wages would be within 70% of their previous employment.

Occasional claimants would include those not captured by the definitions of frequent and long-tenured workers. Occasional claimants would be allowed to limit their job search for their usual occupation, with similar wages of at least 90% of their previous hour wage for the first six weeks of their claim. After receiving benefits for six weeks, they would have to expand their job search to jobs similar to the one they normally performed, with wages that would be within 80% of their previous earnings. After 18 weeks, they would then need to further expand their job search to include any work they would be qualified to perform, as long as the wage would be at least 70% of their previous earnings.

It is a sad testament to fearmongering in which the opposition has engaged that I feel the need to point out the obvious, which is that no one would ever need to accept employment below minimum wage in Canada. The simple truth is that under these changes, EI claimants will always make more money working than by collecting EI, which is currently not the case.

As many people know, employment insurance pays 55% of an individual's average weekly income. The maximum annual salary used to calculate the weekly average is $45,900 per year. Therefore, if an individual is a frequent claimant and a reasonable job search will offer at least 70% of previous earnings, that is a substantial increase over 55% of the earnings that would be collected on EI.

This is why the opposition motion we are debating in the House today is factually incorrect. Canadians receiving EI will only be required to look for work that pays significantly more than they are currently collecting on EI. It is a net benefit to claimants.

Let me also be clear on a further point. As a Canadian from Atlantic Canada, I understand that in many small communities there may not always be economic opportunities outside peak seasons of employment. The Prime Minister has been perfectly clear on this point. If there are no available jobs in one's community, EI benefits will continue to support Canadians as they always have.

Let me turn briefly to the topic of a reasonable job search.

Canadians receiving EI benefits will be required to undertake job search activities, including researching and assessing job prospects, drafting a resumé, searching for job vacancies, applying for positions, attending interviews and undertaking other efforts to improve their employability, such as attending workshops, going to employment agencies and also job fairs.

EI claimants will also be required to look for a job daily and to keep records of their job searches. These search efforts will be consistent with the opportunities that are available. For example, in a community with few job openings, a job search should focus on identifying new opportunities and not applying for the same job or to the same business every day. In comparison, a job search in an area with numerous job opportunities should focus on both identifying and applying for available positions.

As part of the investment we are making under this initiative, EI claimants will be made aware of local jobs in their local labour market.

These improvements to EI will help more Canadians get back into the labour force and enable them to better support themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, we have seen the opposition attempt to play politics of fear and to confuse Canadians into believing some of these things are not true. Sadly, this is not the first time we have seen members of the opposition ignore clear realities of the Canadian economy in order to advance their narrow interests.

I would ask all hon. members in the House to support our government's plan for jobs, growth and economic prosperity. This is the reason Canada is leading the G8 in growth of 750,000 net new jobs created since the depth of the recession in July 2009. Therefore, I encourage members to join me in voting against this factually incorrect motion.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague from Nova Scotia, where the minimum wage is $10 an hour. Is he suggesting maybe most folks in Nova Scotia are really happy working for $10 an hour? It seems that is what he is suggesting.

Clearly the reason Canadians are afraid has nothing to do with New Democrats making them afraid. It is the government that is making them afraid, because it does not want to come clean. It actually does not want even to tell us what the definition is of suitable employment, job search and all of those things. If it did, it would have put that in the bill. Instead the Conservatives do it by stealth. They send a minister out to suggest that maybe it is this and another minister out to suggest that maybe it is that.

Finally they come clean and the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development makes an announcement. The next day the Minister of Finance says to the premiers of Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador that they can talk about that.

Who is confused? People on EI are confused, and they are confused because the government is still confused. It still does not know what it wants to do and still has not figured out exactly the definition of terms respecting the unemployed because it does not care about the unemployed, quite frankly.

What it really is about is punishing workers in our country. We have 1.4 million people unemployed, and the Conservatives talk about 100,000 available jobs. That is marvellous. Their arithmetic is faulty.

This is about having a sense of compassion for those who are unemployed and to trying to help them, not punish them.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of the statement of the member of the opposition. What we are doing is putting a policy in place which would help people up and not hold them back.

We have initiated several programs within EI which will help support Canadian workers, for example, the working while on claim. This allows people to continue to collect their unemployment insurance claim while taking on part-time employment. This was not the case before.

We are extending that in this project so that people will be able to now collect up to 50% of their claim and continue to collect their EI claim. This is a net benefit for those workers and encourages them to actually take employment. It does not encourage them not to take a part-time job because they might put their EI claim at risk.

These are progressive changes we are making in the system that are going support the workers, both seasonal workers and workers who work all year round. We are supporting workers. We are encouraging them to get back to work. We are going to help them find that job and get them back to work as quickly as possible.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my—

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Ask him about the blueberry pickers.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is a very valid suggestion from my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

It is one thing to come to this chamber to represent the views of the government, but it is important that we represent the views of the people who send us here. In doing so, I would ask my colleague this. What is the sense from the people who run Sunrise Greenhouses in Pugwash, or Advocate Seafoods, or the fish plant down in Wallace? How are they accepting these changes that are being put forward by the government?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have talked with several of those people. Once we explain these changes and how they will benefit the workers getting back to work, how they will benefit them for taking part-time employment while they are on claim without penalizing them and holding back money from their claim, they are fine with the changes.

The problem is the fearmongering and the spreading of untruths, and I am not saying that member is doing it. However, there are opposition members who are using these changes to scare unemployed people and to score cheap political points, quite frankly, rather than using these types of positive policy changes to encourage people to get back to work, to help them find employment. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to address this House today in support of an initiative that will allow our workers to find jobs more quickly.

I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. The hon. member is from New Brunswick and I am from Quebec, of course. He clearly showed that the program is beneficial for his region. It is a win-win situation.

It is certainly a win for our employers in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins who need people. We are hiring in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins. People are coming from Quebec City and Montreal. We even have people from outside the country. One of the companies I am thinking of is Exceldor, where most of the workers in one of the production facilities come from every corner of the world.

We need workers. We need an active workforce in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins right now, and in Lévis too. That is why we want to create tools so that workers in search of jobs, people who are temporarily out of work or out of the labour market, can have access to the jobs that are available.

Is it not bizarre that the New Democrats, who say they want to help working people, want to stop them from finding jobs? Have you thought about how illogical their position is, today, when they oppose the idea of job seekers finding a job?

Fortunately, here on the government side, we have created 750,000 jobs. Why? Because we have companies that are not suffocated by taxes and operate in a context of prosperity that benefits all of us here in Canada. This country is the envy of many others in the OECD. That means that our Minister of Finance is praised both in Europe and by all the big economic decision-makers.

So the measure we are proposing today is a win-win measure. I would like to explain why. First, it enables working people who are looking for jobs to have easier access to the pool of jobs available in their immediate environment. There are tools like the Internet, for example, or various communication tools. That is why we are investing. In fact, we are investing $21 million. Today, we need only look to the extensive use being made of communication tools by the new generation, in particular, whether that be the Internet, social networking or the various communication systems available to us.

Essentially, with what is called Job Alert, we will be able to inform people who are looking for work about jobs available in their area. That is the first measure. It must be remembered that the employment insurance system is in fact Canada’s largest labour market access program. It is therefore important to ensure that it is on the leading edge of the technology. That is one of the first things our program does. It connects workers with the jobs available. That will apply everywhere, throughout Canada.

It means that Canadians who are receiving employment insurance benefits will receive daily notices of job postings from a variety of sources, so they are aware of jobs that are available in their region. So far, this is a measure that should gain the unanimous approval of the parliamentarians who are here today.

The second measure is also sensible and intelligent. It aims to ensure that if there are jobs available in regions, workers who have the skills to fill those jobs will be able to access them. That means that instead of receiving employment insurance benefits, which provide only a fraction of the income they were making, workers will be able to earn additional income.

Because of this measure, workers who are looking for a job will be able to temporarily, or, you never know, perhaps over the longer term, work at jobs that will put more money in their pockets. It is another measure that is very sensible and warrants the approval of all parliamentarians. The purpose of the measure is to enable workers to connect with jobs that are available and to tell people seeking work that there are opportunities for them in their area that will enable them to obtain additional income besides employment insurance benefits.

So I think that it is important to tell those who are watching us today that it is a reasonable measure, one that is beneficial to workers because it enables them to earn additional income and thereby have more money in their pockets. For example, during the off-season, if there are jobs available, seasonal workers will be able to fill these jobs. That will give them access to more ready income to support their families. This is the second measure in this reform being put forward by our Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, a measure that will be very beneficial to all regions across the country.

The third factor is that there are currently jobs that are not necessarily filled by Canadians. Foreign workers are even brought in to fill these positions. Would it not make more sense to first offer these jobs to Canadians? It is very simple. There are jobs available here in Canada. We have Canadian workers who have the skills to fill these jobs.

So before offering them to foreign workers, would it not be logical to develop mechanisms to ensure that these jobs here in Canada are first offered to Canadians and filled by Canadians? It strikes me as a rather basic principle that should gain the assent of every parliamentarian in this House.

To summarize, there are three important principles. The first is to connect available jobs to workers. The second, which is equally important, is of course to ensure that the jobs available in our regions are first filled by Canadian workers. Of course our country, which welcomes people from many nations, will continue to be happy to offer some jobs to other countries. These are straightforward measures.

We want to ensure that it is fair for all Canadians and that it provides the right level of support given the availability of jobs wherever they happen to live.

At the same time, we are proposing new EI measures that will help EI claimants to get back to work more quickly. Our government is committed to making targeted, common sense changes to the EI system so that Canadians are better encouraged and supported in their job search.

Canada's well-trained and highly educated workforce is one of our key advantages in competing and succeeding in the global economy. However, too often barriers or disincentives discourage workforce participation. We are making changes to ensure that the EI system better supports employers who have jobs to fill and we are also going to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.

We are investing $21 million over a two-year period in new targeted measures to help unemployed Canadians find jobs more quickly.

I must say that we realize that some Canadians have a hard time finding employment, especially when there is no work during the slow season that some regions experience. Today, those people can rest assured that if there are no jobs available, they will be entitled to their benefits.

This is a balanced initiative, and I encourage every member of the House to support it because this is what we need to ensure that our workers have more money in their pockets.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech, even though I do not share his point of view.

What he calls reasonable I call contempt for the workers who have contributed their entire lives in order to have employment insurance when they need it.

Why is the government creating three categories of recipients: frequent claimants, long-tenured workers and occasional claimants? That is no way to divide up the unemployed.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question.

I would remind her that, every day, millions of Canadians go to work and contribute to our economic prosperity. Of course, some regions or areas are less fortunate, but I would also remind my colleague that, in Quebec, we need workers for harvesting. This is spring, a time of year when there is a significant need for workers.

As we are speaking, some EI recipients could make some extra money by filling those jobs. Our goal is very simple: we want available jobs to be filled by people from here, by Canadians, so that they can earn some extra income.

I am sure the hon. member agrees that Quebec workers would have more money in their pockets by taking a job than by collecting EI benefits.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is disheartening.

The member talks as if farmers were not aware that Canadians cannot do that work. The government is creating categories of workers and it is also creating cheap labour.

We should not think that foreign workers are not an important asset to our economy. Right now, in this debate, some rather despicable labels are being used, if I may say so.

The problem is that while the government may want to connect workers with jobs, it is disconnecting them from their region. That is the real issue. If we want to be compassionate towards seasonal workers, if we want to understand how tourism, agriculture, forestry or fishery works, we must first understand that there are meteorological and regional realities.

Instead, the government is taking action without consulting the provinces. Of course, it will be able to say that EI numbers have gone down, because there will be more welfare recipients. And if there are more people on welfare, it means the provinces will have to bear the burden. The money always comes from the same pockets.

Why did the government not consult? Instead of overreacting, it could have developed a strategy for seasonal workers before creating cheap labour and telling people to move to regions where there is work available.

Will the Conservatives also provide the train ticket?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

I would first like to assure the member that the proposed measures would affect about 1% of claimants who are looking for work. So, clearly, the impact of this measure would be relatively minimal.

I am glad my colleague mentioned the regions, because I have the privilege of representing a region with an extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit. Last week, I visited Rotobec, a company that exports equipment around the world for the forestry industry and for the recovery of waste materials. Just last week, the head of the company was supposed to go to Chile. The company is based in Sainte-Justine, in Les Etchemins. These businesses need skilled workers—engineers, welders and workers who build state-of-the-art equipment and who are world leaders in the industry.

We need to ensure that the people of Bellechasse who are looking for work will know that jobs are available and that they can earn more money, be better off and contribute to the wealth of our regions.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not at all pleased to be rising in the House today. In general, I am happy, indeed very happy to be here, but I am less happy to have to debate this issue.

I will say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

I would like to go back a few years in time to the root of the matter to remind hon. members that the problem we are facing today has been fabricated. It has been created by those who are now exploiting it for the purpose of making decisions that are truly contemptuous of Canadians in general, more particularly Canadians who are currently having trouble finding a job.

If, a few years ago, the Liberal and Conservative governments had not dipped into this fund, which Canadian workers paid into out of their own pockets, it would now stand at more than $50 billion and not be an underfinanced fund of less than $2 billion. Now, the government can exploit the idea that the fund needs attention because it will be short of money. It can say that people are abusing this paltry sum of $2 billion. Collectively, we had produced a $50 billion cushion, but it is no longer there. If we had that money today, we could introduce a pilot project to help the regions solve the problems the seasonal industries are facing. There would not be a problem.

There could be a major reform to do exactly what countries with few human resource problems, such as Germany and Norway, are currently doing: focus on ensuring the money is used for their obsession with ongoing training. That is the key. In Germany and Norway, when someone wants to take a course, they do not take away his employment insurance benefits if that course serves economic needs. If someone does not know how to read but wants to learn, he does not lose his benefits. He is asked if he is able to learn to read within a certain number of weeks. Those countries have understood that if they support their citizens in learning basic skills or trades that are in great demand, the entire community will be more prosperous in the short and medium terms.

If Canada had the $50 billion in its possession right now, it could start establishing those policies across Canada and see Canada become as prosperous as Norway and Germany.

I would like to remind the House that the two countries in question are not at the same end of the spectrum. The Norwegians are clearly social democrats, but the situation is not that clear in Germany. However, both countries share this obsession with ongoing training and use job search tools with a view to training people. And yet they are stuck in an economic quagmire much worse than ours.

The U.S. economy is struggling to get back on its feet, but it is not a disaster. Yet, these two economies are located close to partners, Greece and Spain, which are having major problems and are on the verge of economic disaster. Despite this terrible mess, they are succeeding with fewer human resource problems and a level of prosperity that is comparable or superior to our own. They have not used tools as big as $50 billion to help people prepare for employment. This money was squandered on all sorts of things, so that now this government can exploit the bogus underfunding of what should have been a major tool for Canada’s prosperity.

Now we have before us Bill C-38, which reduces human resource and environmental problems to budgetary issues. The budget will fix everything.

I made an important note to myself: the budget is the top priority. The proof of this is that the vast majority of NDP governments in the provinces have an exemplary roadmap enabling them to deliver balanced budgets, with a few rare exceptions. Overall, the NDP has been more successful in this regard than other provincial governments. It is a top priority.

The problem, when it comes to the big issues and the major responsibilities in society—the environment and human resources—is that when things are limited to a budgetary analysis, it is easy to lose sight of the investment and sustainability side of things.

This is normal. If I am responsible for the budget, the only question I ask myself is whether I can save $2 tomorrow. I want to save $2 tomorrow. I do not ask myself whether that $2 is going to cost us $25 in terms of loss of skills and investments for the future. Bill C-38, the mammoth budget bill, reduces hugely important responsibilities, such as the environment and human resources, to a simple budgetary calculation, and nothing lacks long-term vision more than that.

My next comments will focus on what is happening in the regions. Since I was elected, Service Canada centres have actually been closed in the regions despite the fact that in the last election campaign the Conservative Party unveiled with great fanfare, in Quebec at least, a slogan that read “power to the regions”—that vaguely reminded me of slogans from a gentleman by the name of Duplessis, in Quebec—and despite the fact that for 40 days they plastered telephone poles with the slogan. In towns in my riding, 20%, 25% or 30% of the postal services have been closed.

We have just learned that there will be a 50% cut in rail service between Halifax and Toronto. Why not? The government is going to hit the tourism industry hard. Why not also arrange things so that fewer tourists can take the night train to go and spend a week in the maritime provinces or Quebec? Why not? An excellent idea, good timing, terrific.

And now here we are, dealing with this employment insurance reform that deals a huge blow to the tourism industry, which by its very nature is highly seasonal. Many regions are extremely attractive in the summer, but not in winter. They therefore find it difficult to develop. Even the most brilliant business people in these regions are unable to develop a 12-month cycle. Believe me, if they could they would. These are business people and they are brilliant. If there was a way to come up with an initiative that would be the least bit viable in December, January and February, they would do it.

For almost a month now, in my role as the NDP critic for SMEs and tourism, I have met with many people from Quebec and the maritime provinces. I met with Minister Paris in Nova Scotia. And of course, I met with the organizations in my own bailiwick, such as Tourisme Rivière-du-Loup. I met with the people who handle tourism for the Acadians, those who administer tourism for all of Newfoundland and Labrador and all of Nova Scotia, and those who handle special tourism development projects in southern Nova Scotia.

I met with dozens of organizations. Fully one-third of them said that they were worried. Two-thirds told me that they were truly angry about the decisions currently being made. They all said that they had never been consulted. We are talking about an industry that is worth billions of dollars. We are talking about close to $1 billion for New Brunswick alone, approximately $2 billion for Nova Scotia and over $5 billion for eastern Quebec. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that necessarily goes through difficult economic cycles. The people in this industry are therefore directly affected by the kind of employment insurance reforms that are going to be forced down the throats of Canadians, even though they were never consulted.

The current government is telling them not to worry because of the so-called “reasonable””clause. They put the word “reasonable” in their bill. The word means absolutely nothing if it is not defined first. It will be reasonable based on what and from whose point of view? I will give just one example of something impossible.

Like me, a senior Conservative government official from eastern Canada asked the question, and he had no more of an answer than I did. Let us imagine a hotel manager who, in the four winter months, loses 80% of his business. It is a seasonal industry and there is no ski hill beside his inn. Will he work at the corner hardware store for four months?

The businessman who owns the corner hardware store knows that the hotel manager is a bright man and, for years, he has not hired him for those four months because it is not cost-effective to give him two months of training for him to learn all about paint, when he will then leave to go back to the hotel.

Business people in the regions are not idiots. They are bright people. I find this government extraordinarily presumptuous when it says that it will establish a system that will finally work for them.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the question that I would like to ask the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup is very simple.

First, a bill makes it possible to connect workers with available jobs. Then, a program allows our workers to have more money in their pockets during the off-season, before returning to their seasonal jobs. Finally, there is a measure designed to give available jobs to Canadians before offering them to foreign workers.

So, my question is very simple. Why oppose a measure that is of benefit to workers in every region, particularly the regions of Quebec?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the hon. member did not pay very close attention to what I just said.

The term “reasonable” is not defined and it is unmanageable. In an industry that is seasonal and cyclical by nature, there is no answer. I would like to believe that the members opposite are acting in good faith, but there is no answer.

The example that I gave earlier is unmanageable for entrepreneurs in the regions.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, Liberals understand that the changes the government is bringing forward would have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Canadians. We believe that the government is using the back door to implement these changes in Bill C-38. That is most unfortunate. We should be allowed to have a full, healthy debate in the House on separate bills as opposed to bringing in the changes in Bill C-38 through the back door. That is one point I would appreciate the member's comment on.

The second point is about the uncaring attitude of the government with regard to individuals who, in essence, ensure that industries are viable. They may be seasonal jobs, but they are important too. We need to emphasize that all jobs, even seasonal jobs, are important. The Canadians filling those jobs should be recognized and appreciated for their efforts, not penalized by the government taking action of this nature, which is going to hurt Canadians more.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments are certainly justified. There has been no consultation. There was a complete lack of consultation. No one can argue with the positive, which is that employment information will be sent out regularly via the Internet. However, 40% of the regions are not connected in some sectors; these are regions where there are a lot of seasonal jobs.

How will this work, then, with a system for which such a fundamental problem was not even considered? There is 40% of the population in a sector that will be unable to take advantage of this so-called service.

Furthermore, I have a hard time believing that, in its current state, the employment insurance program was not even able to manage the extra work in October and November. That was a catastrophe last year. People waited for three months. I do not see how this same service will be able to provide a supposedly new and extraordinary system intended to offer hundreds of jobs that Canadians would have found otherwise. I do not see how. That is not explained anywhere. Is it magic? Surely it is.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, we are in the House to discuss a motion by the official opposition concerning employment insurance.

Our motion essentially asks the Conservative government to abandon its plans to further restrict access to employment insurance. The proposed changes arise from Bill C-38 to implement the budget. In addition to containing no job creation measures and triggering the dismissal of tens of thousands of public servants, the latest Conservative budget tightens access to employment insurance by giving the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development the authority to create new rules to define what constitutes “suitable employment” and “reasonable and customary efforts to obtain suitable employment.” That appears in a budget of more than 400 pages.

Incidentally, the minister refuses to provide all the details of her reform, but is asking us to vote for Bill C-38, which will give her the authority to change the employment insurance plan as she wishes. She is in fact asking us to sign a blank cheque.

We do not have all the details of this reform. However, on May 24, the minister tried to clarify the government's intentions in part, although without disclosing all the details. Essentially, unemployed workers are now more than ever being compelled to find a job outside their area of activity and their area of residence.

We also know that the government will establish three classes of workers based on the frequency with which they file employment insurance claims. After receiving benefits for a certain period of time, unemployed workers will be required to accept lower-paying jobs or else their benefits will be reduced. Frequent claimants, who have filed three or more claims and received more than 60 weeks of benefits in the past five years, will, after a period of time, be required to accept jobs at 70% of their previous earnings. We find those changes unacceptable for a number of reasons.

The main problem with this reform is that it disregards the fact that many businesses operate on a seasonal cycle, particularly those in the tourism, agri-food, forest and other sectors. Seasonal industry makes a major contribution to economic activity. What would Lac-Saint-Jean be without forestry? Where would eastern Quebec be without the fisheries? What would Quebec City and a number of Quebec communities be without the economic contribution of tourists? These industries and the workers who support them contribute to the economic growth of Quebec and the rest of Canada. It is essential that the federal government acknowledge through its programs that these sectors are important and legitimate.

For lack of adequate coverage by the employment insurance program, many workers are abandoning these sectors of activity, leaving business people without skilled workers. For example, Le Quai des Bulles, a Kamouraska business employing a dozen seasonal workers, is afraid it will lose workers as a result of the reform. It is important to understand that 26% of employment insurance claims are filed by seasonal workers, and 30% of those are Quebeckers.

I will be pleased to continue my speech after question period.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

The time provided for the business of supply has expired. We will now move on to statements by members.