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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

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I apologize, I sometimes hear the hon. members in the background and I lose my train of thought.

The hon. member mentioned an organization from his region that works on unemployment. Those organizations are very close to the reality of our constituents. The hon. member wanted to go into more detail, but he did not have time, unfortunately. I would like to hear what he has to say on this subject.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the economic reality in the Upper North Shore is that the major industry was forest related. The people of the Upper North Shore are now developing economic activities in tourism, ecotourism and biomass. Many projects are underway.

At the moment, however, people are leaving the Upper North Shore and surrounding areas. They were already experiencing problems in accessing employment insurance because the government had put an end to the transitional measures. What is happening now is worse still. It will become even more difficult for people to collect employment insurance and their income will drop in winter. The fact is that they need this social safety net, and they need time for their economy to be restructured.

What is happening at the moment is the destruction of the economy in these regions.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my Conservative colleague from Kootenay—Columbia asked a question and mentioned something very important, the fact that many people work in two different industries. They may go from ski hill work to golf course work. However, there are periods in between that must be meshed together with some type of income support, which is the EI system. What is going to happen through this legislation is that those skilled workers are going to be chased out of two different industries now, ski hill operation and golf course operation. It is obvious the government does not understand the nature of seasonal work.

Could my colleague expand on the fact that there are not a lot of forest fires in northern Manitoba in December, there is not a lot of halibut caught in January and there are not a lot of potatoes picked in P.E.I. in February? Most people who go on vacation in March go south and so the tourism industry is down too. Could he expand a bit more on the nature of seasonal industries in this country and their importance?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Liberal Party colleague for his question.

The fact is that there are many specialized jobs in certain fields. There is a risk that these people will leave their regions because of the serious economic downturn. There will be job losses. It will become a vicious cycle.

Entrepreneurs who have skilled employees will have to replace them with people who do not have the necessary skills. They will have to train them. This will represent costs for companies. It will destroy the seasonal industries because they are genuine industries. These are not people taking advantage of a situation.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Our government cannot support a motion that is factually incorrect. The changes we are introducing would ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.

By accepting a reasonable job under the new definition, Canadians would actually increase their income from what they were collecting on EI, and in many cases that increase would be substantial. That is why our government is investing in connecting Canadians with jobs in their local labour markets.

These fair and reasonable measures announced a week ago today by my hon. colleague the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development would help Canadians return to work more quickly. This would help address the growing skills and labour shortage in Canada by helping Canadians who want to work get back to work. These are necessary changes to ensure the EI program is working more effectively for Canada and for Canadians.

Thanks to the strong leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance our economy has created 750,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession.

At the same time, we recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off-season in parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. Our government is committed to helping these Canadians find jobs they are qualified for in their local labour markets.

But for those individuals who live in areas of high unemployment and are unable to find jobs, the employment insurance system will be there for them, as it always has been.

These EI improvements are only the most recent in a series of economic action plan measures we have introduced to support jobs, growth and economic development. One of the programs that helped us achieve this economic success is the work-sharing program. I have had experience with that in a previous life, in my business experience. It has made a difference to both employees and employers alike in helping them survive the ups and downs of economic recovery.

Through the economic action plan, the Conservative government made the work-sharing program more accessible and extended its duration to help minimize the effects of the economic downturn on Canadian companies and their employees.

Since February 2009, more than 300,000 Canadians have benefited from the work-sharing program under the more than 11,000 agreements signed with employers.

How does it work? Work-sharing helps businesses avoid temporary layoffs when facing a reduction in the normal level of activity that is beyond their control. A good example would be manufacturing jobs, where economic slowdowns mean orders dry up unexpectedly. If workers agree to a reduced work week while their employer recovers, they may receive EI benefits, effectively allowing two or three workers to share one job but to still have their job.

Employers are able to retain their skilled employees and avoid the costly process of recruiting and training new employees when businesses return to normal levels. Employees keep their jobs and maintain their skills, all the while supplementing their wages with EI benefits for the days they are not working. They have helped their employer stay in business and stay open in the community, and they have not had to sacrifice their take-home pay.

This is the type of well-functioning program Canadians have come to expect from this government and it is a win-win for everyone involved.

Unlike the divisive politics of members opposite who try to pit one region of Canada against another, our government believes in programs, such as the work-sharing program, that are equally available everywhere in Canada, and that is important to note.

There are plenty of success stories that highlight how effective this program is, and if I may, I will share a couple.

Mascot Truck Parts, based in Ontario, was founded in 1936. The company has evolved over the past seven decades to become one of the largest heavy-duty specialists in North America, applying its expertise to rebuilding all makes of transmissions, differentials and steering gears.

The economic downturn hit the manufacturing and automotive industry hard and this had a major impact on Mascot. To avoid layoffs and keep the business running, the company signed a work-sharing agreement that began in August 2009 and ended in July 2010. It allowed Mascot Truck Parts to keep 107 employees and avoid laying anyone off when it was affected by the downturn.

In Alberta, there is a 475-person company called Standen's Limited that benefited from a work-sharing agreement between March 2009 and May 2010. The company manufactures heat-treated alloy steel products, such as leaf springs, tillage tools, trailer axles and other speciality products used for heavy-duty agriculture, transportation and light military vehicle applications.

The business exports internationally to the U.S., South America, Australia, New Zealand and China. When the downturn started to affect its bottom line, Standen's was able to keep its original staff on the payroll. Thanks to work-sharing, the business was staffed up, ready to roll when product demand resumed.

I have given two concrete examples of an effective EI program that works. The measures we introduced to support job growth and economic recovery have given us the strongest job growth numbers in the G8, something we should all be very proud of.

As Canada continues to move out of the recession, the Canadian labour market is shifting from one where we needed programs like work-sharing to one where there is a skills and labour shortage. With this evolution, our government is removing the disincentives to work that exist within the EI system to ensure we can match Canadians with available jobs in their local labour markets that are appropriate to their skill sets.

The communities I live in and represent in Brandon—Souris, Manitoba, are right now exemplifying exactly what is happening. We have a high demand for skilled labour, and unfortunately those people are not available within our region. I am not saying people should have to move, but if they choose to, Brandon—Souris is a great place to come and live, and the job opportunities are plenty. I would compare the lifestyle to any other part of Canada.

In closing, I urge my hon. colleagues to support our measured and reasonable changes to the employment insurance system. It is for this reason that I cannot support the opposition motion today.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know why the government is attacking workers.

Maybe the member could explain it to us. When people are out there fishing and can only work so many months, a lot of them do in fact go out and find another job in the interim. Then they go back to being able to fish, and we do need that because our economy relies on the fishing industry, just as our economy is impacted by forest fires and we need to have those forest fires put out by firefighters.

I am just trying to make some sense of this, and maybe the member could explain this to me. If these seasonal workers are forced to take, and I am saying “forced to take”, these lower paying jobs, will they be able to return to their previous employment, or will they be punished for that?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, every part of Canada is different. Every part of Canada has different circumstances.

We have said very clearly that in situations where there is no opportunity to find that second job or that interim job, the employment insurance program will be there.

Unlike that member across the floor, we as a government will not tell people where they have to go and work. We will not tell people; we will simply make it available to the employers and employees that these opportunities exist. We would encourage them to fulfill that and take advantage of it.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, in that attempt to let Canadians know, the government has spent $21 million in developing a program whereby it emails information about potential jobs to those who are receiving EI benefits.

It may reach a fair number of EI recipients. However, the fact is that 40% of households that make less than $30,000 a year have no access to the Internet. In that bracket between $30,000 a year and $50,000 a year, the rate is about 25% of households that have no access to Internet. What is the plan to reach those potential users? I would think many of those households would be the clients the government wants to reach with this program.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is that if people want a job or are looking for one, there are several avenues they can take. In today's world, technology is not just the Internet. We have phones. We can access information through many sources, and we do.

The challenge from the government is to make sure as many of those sources have that information, so when people are looking for employment or people are looking for employees, they can access a pool that would tell them where these people are and provide them with the opportunity.

As a former self-employed person who employed many people, if I wanted to find somebody in this country to work for me, I would not hesitate to go out and find them. That is what we need people to do. And we need people who want to work to have access to that pool, as well.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. colleague his speech. I feel the member has spoken well before us on this issue.

However, I do have one thing I have difficulty with; that is, why the members opposite have such an issue with these changes to the EI system that would connect Canadians with available work and allow them to make more money in the process than if they remained on EI.

Would the hon. colleague please provide some thoughts on this?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can relate an experience as recently as last week in my community.

I met an employer who is looking for heavy-duty welders. He came up to me and said, “What a great idea. Now I can actually have a pool that I can apply to, to find the qualified person who has the qualities I want in my job and at least have the opportunity to present my offer to him”. Before, they never had that. Also, “I'm an unemployed person with those qualities. I also have access to that same pool to put my name forward and put it out into the job market.”

I cannot think of a better way for people to connect and a better way to create an opportunity for people to get jobs.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to share my thoughts on this NDP motion. I do not believe it will come as any surprise to the House to hear that I cannot support a factually incorrect and inaccurate motion.

Let me be clear on what our changes would do.

We would connect out-of-work Canadians with local jobs in their local communities within their skill set. The changes we would be making are common-sense adjustments to ensure that EI is not discouraging people from trying to get back into the job market. As we face unprecedented labour and skills shortages, it is important that the employment insurance program is working most effectively for Canada and Canadians. That is why budget 2012 announced revisions to the working while on claim pilot project. This national pilot project would ensure that Canadians who are collecting EI benefit from accepting all available work.

Previously, only a portion of earnings were exempt from being clawed back. Once earnings exceeded this exemption, EI benefits were clawed back dollar for dollar.

The practical result of this policy is not hard to see: EI claimants turning down any work that exceeded this exemption because they would not profit from their labour.

While an individual is waiting for a permanent, full-time job to open up, their skills are underutilized. Under this new pilot, we would cut the current clawback rate in half and apply it to all earnings made while on claim.

We know from experience that part-time work will often lead to full-time work. This project would ensure that EI claimants always benefit from accepting work because it would allow them to keep more of what they earn while on EI.

Let me use an example to illustrate how an EI claimant would benefit from this new working while on claim pilot project.

Imagine William, a retail salesperson, who has been laid off and is receiving EI benefits of $450 per week. He has found part-time work in a store that pays him a total of $600 per week. Under the current working while on claim pilot project, William can earn wages equivalent to 40% of his weekly EI benefits with no reduction to those benefits. This allows him to keep $180. Earnings above the 40% level reduce his benefit payment dollar for dollar, so William's combined earnings and EI benefits are $630.

Under the new working while on claim pilot project, William's EI benefits would only be reduced by 50% of his earnings from working while he is on claim. His combined weekly income would then be $750. We believe it should pay to work. With this new pilot, it would always be more beneficial for claimants to accept work than to receive EI alone.

We know the job market varies from region to region. We know that some seasonal workers, especially in rural areas, may not be able to find other work in the off season. The Prime Minister has been crystal clear. Our government is working to help these Canadians find jobs in their local area appropriate to their qualifications. For those who are unable to find employment, employment insurance will be there for them as it always has been. However, in areas where there are more jobs than unemployed Canadians, it makes no sense for EI claimants to stay at home when there are jobs they could be doing.

As announced in economic action plan 2012, we are introducing a new permanent national approach to better align the calculation of the weekly amount an EI claimant receives with their regional labour market conditions.

As of April of next year, subject to Parliament's approval, the amount a claimant receives weekly will be determined using an average of his or her best weeks of employment. In higher unemployment regions, fewer best weeks will be used in this calculation, making it more beneficial for workers to accept all available work in slower seasons of employment.

By replacing the previous selective pilot with a national program, we would ensure that those living in regions with similar labour market conditions receive similar benefits.

These are two great examples of improvements our government is making to employment insurance to ensure Canadians are always better off accepting all available work. Matching Canadian workers with available jobs in their local area is critical to supporting economic growth and productivity as well as quality life for Canadians.

Our country's economic performance continues to be strong. From July 2009 to April 2012 more than 750,000 jobs have been created. These gains in job creation along with the further rise in business confidence bode well for continuing economic growth. We need to maintain that momentum. We have a strange dichotomy in this country where some regions that have high unemployment rates also have labour and skills shortages. While the unemployment rate in my province of Saskatchewan is 4.9%, there is 18% unemployment in northern Saskatchewan. Mining companies are begging for workers because they cannot find Canadians to fill those job shortages.

The Canada Job Vacancy Survey of Statistics Canada's tells us that about 250,000 jobs went unfilled in the fall of last year. We need to ensure that the EI program contributes to economic growth by encouraging people to fill those available jobs. That is good for them, for their families, for their communities and the economy at large.

Let me briefly outline a few of the other measures that are part of our plan. We would be investing $21 million over two years to help unemployed Canadians to find jobs more quickly. We would offer more labour market information to claimants to support their job searches, including expanded online job postings. This would include daily emails with jobs that are specific to EI claimants, based on geography and the skills a worker possesses. We would also ensure that employers consider Canadians before they hire temporary foreign workers.

While the opposition NDP prefers to attack hard-working Canadians who go to work every day filling crucial roles, we want to better connect Canadians with available jobs. Under our plan Canadians would always benefit financially from accepting suitable employment.

Our government's top priority is creating jobs and long-term prosperity for Canadians. That is why we are making these practical, common sense changes to connect out-of-work Canadians with jobs in their local areas. I urge all members to support our government's initiatives and to vote against this factually incorrect opposition motion.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to stand in the House today to ask my colleague on the other side of the House a question.

We have different positions on what we would like and not like to see with respect to employment insurance. Unfortunately, I do not share my colleague’s position, but what intrigues me about what is happening is the process itself. The Conservatives never mentioned during the election campaign that changes would be made to employment insurance.

Were there consultations? Did they meet people and employers in the provinces? Did they meet workers to ask them whether the changes they were proposing were useful and whether they agreed with them on this matter?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it has been stated many times since these measures were introduced that we are facing an unprecedented labour and skills shortage. We have heard from employers. We have heard from many individuals back home in my riding that we need to better connect Canadians with the jobs that are available.

These are common sense and reasonable changes that are in the best interests of Canadians and our economy. I would encourage the hon. member to look past the fearmongering her own party is doing and support what we are doing in these measures.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question is on how the government would administer these regulations. I will give my colleague an opportunity to get her thoughts together on that while I share a reality.

The minister appeared yesterday and one of the comments was that there are currently 180,000 EI claims that have gone over 29 days. They went 29 days without a cheque in receiving their entitled EI. There were 180,000 Canadians who found themselves there.

The government has carved the guts out of the capacity to deal with EI claims and claims processing. With these additional regulations, obviously it would be a more rigorous procedure. Would there be additional resources?

The $21 million is really being put into the software program. How are we going to deal with this?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, current EI rules already require that Canadians actively look for work while collecting EI. We know that there are processes currently in place to handle current claims that are already being processed through EI.

The changes we are introducing would further enhance those requirements, including providing Canadians with additional guidance on how to search for jobs in their local area within their skill set. This would include enhanced job alerts and better labour market information. We expect that by providing that proactive information to Canadians, the ability to manage claims would be there as they need it.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke about these unprecedented skills and labour shortages. In my riding of Simcoe—Grey, we have these challenges. It is a rural riding. I know that the opposition like to refute that anyone from a rural riding supports these measures, but I can say that I strongly support them and I am from a rural riding, as are the employers and employees in my riding.

Could the member please address this issue and why these changes would help individuals find jobs, connect Canadians with jobs, in this area where we need to find as many skilled workers as possible in rural as well as urban Canadian centres?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear that our government's top priority is the economy. We are proud to have seen 750,000 jobs created since the end of the economic recession. Our government is working to help these Canadians find jobs in their local area appropriate to their qualifications.

As I mentioned, I am from one of those provinces that is working to address these unprecedented skilled labour shortages and the need to fill jobs in other parts of our province. These measures would help us to do that. These measures would help us to connect Canadians with the jobs that are available.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Hochelaga.

My perspective on this motion is a Newfoundland and Labrador perspective. In that light, I begin.

First it was the fishery, and now it is the fishermen. That will be a theme throughout my speech.

First the fishery was destroyed. Under consecutive federal Liberal and Conservative governments, groundfish stocks, such as cod and flounder, were practically wiped off the face of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. There has been an embarrassing lack of recovery; in fact, there are no plans for a recovery. The Conservatives voted against that bill, my bill, the Newfoundland and Labrador rebuilding bill, last fall.

It has been 20 years since the biggest layoff in Canadian history, the shutdown of the northern cod fishery. It was comparable to the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, and the anniversary is coming up on July 2. Members should mark that on their calendars.

There has been no recovery and there is no recovery plan. First our fishery was abandoned, and now our fishermen and our mariners are being abandoned. They are being systematically abandoned. The latest blow comes from the proposed changes to employment insurance. These changes, as I said Wednesday during question period, will empty what is left of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, what we call the outports. First the fishery, now the fishermen.

Today's motion calls on the Conservative government to abandon plans to 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.

These changes amount to an attack on seasonal workers. The Conservative government is telling frequent EI claimants that they will be required, after six weeks of collecting benefits, to take any work available within a one-hour commute, providing it pays at least 70% of what they were making before they were laid off.

Tell me that will not hurt. It means two hours of commuting for a job that pays 30% less and that probably requires daycare expenses and fuel expenses. There are no subways in Newfoundland and Labrador. That may be news to the out-of-touch Conservative government. That is 30% less pay, with increased expenses.

In very many rural areas there is little other work besides seasonal industries like fishing, forestry and tourism. That is a reality. Most seasonal workers would be classified as frequent claimants. There was a point in time a few decades ago when the fishery employed fishermen and plant workers full time, year round, 52 weeks a year. That gets back to my point about the fishery being destroyed under consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments and the need for an inquiry.

Instead of changing EI rules, the Conservative government should come up with a rebuilding plan for fish stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador. That would get my people back to full-time work. How is that for a novel idea to get Canadians back to work?

The Conservative changes to EI punish frequent EI claimants. They punish seasonal workers. According to the St. John's Telegram, the daily newspaper in my riding, Newfoundland and Labrador is the province with the single highest number of frequent EI claimants. Of 67,700 claimants in Newfoundland and Labrador, almost 54,000 could be classified as frequent, meaning nearly 80% of my province's EI claimants would fall into the frequent category. Nationally, the average is 32%. That is a big spread. In effect, the changes to EI could have a disproportionately larger impact on my province than on other provinces.

That would hold true also with changes to old age security and GIS. More Newfoundlanders and Labradorians depend on their government pensions as their main source of income, because many seasonal industries do not come with pension plans. That is a reality of life too.

First it was the fishery; now it is the fishermen.

In so many areas of Atlantic Canada, there is only seasonal work. It is the nature of the industry—well, ever since the fishery was destroyed under the Liberal and Conservative watch, again.

The changes to EI amount to a race to the bottom. Let us take, for example, a seasonal worker in outport Newfoundland who finds a job that pays 70% of what he or she made in the fish plant. That would have to be near or at minimum wage, which a person, let alone a family, cannot be expected to survive on. On top of that, there are the added expenses I mentioned earlier: daycare, fuel, that sort of thing. I repeat: it is a race to the bottom. More people would probably draw from provincial welfare just to get by, placing a larger fiscal burden on the provinces.

I will summarize the Conservative plan for Atlantic Canada for outport Newfoundland and Labrador.

First, walk away from the fish and pretend that the stocks never existed, with no recovery plan and no rebuilding targets. The same goes for the Conservative pretense of supporting the seal harvest.

Second, abandon the fishermen. Examples of that would include the potential elimination of owner-operator fleet separation policies, which would essentially kill the traditional inshore fishery. Another example is the steady deterioration of search and rescue services, although the Conservatives are spreading a vicious rumour that the Italians are actually picking up the slack on marine medical calls. Another is the cuts to ACOA, which mean regional development boards are basically on their way out, as is any presence of the federal Department Fisheries and Oceans following continuous cuts to science and management.

First it was the fish, and now it is the fishermen. Where is the consultation? The Conservatives have a habit of pulling legislation out of the air and ramming it down the throats of Canadians. We see it as they raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. There was no talk of that during the last federal election. That has made people scared. There was no talk of these EI changes either. In fact, there was no consultation with Canadians, period.

Elizabeth Beale is the president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council. She states:

These are important policy changes and we need a full policy discussion.

Good luck with that, I say. It will not happen with this Conservative government.

Beale makes another great point. She says:

What's being missed in this discussion and missed in the national dialogue is the inference that Atlantic Canadians don't want to work.

Members will recognize that idea, the idea that unemployment rates are high and therefore Atlantic Canadians want to stay home and twiddle their fingers, but as Beale said,

The reality is completely different.

We need to keep in mind that the Prime Minister has said Atlantic Canada has “a culture of defeat”. That quote still rings in the ears of Atlantic Canadians.

The changes to EI would reduce the incomes of people in rural communities who are older and unable to take jobs elsewhere. That is a fact. That is the reality.

Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, has said:

There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of people's lives in rural parts of the country—particularly here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, much of our rural areas are dependent on the fishery—what is left of it—and tourism. Both are seasonal, so these changes would hurt economically sensitive areas.

First it was the fishery, and now it is the fishermen.

It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent in implementing a rebuilding plan for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent in dropping plans to eliminate the owner-operator fleet separation policies. It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent giving people hope for the future, hope for our culture and heritage—hope, not punishment on top of punishment.

Years ago the Prime Minister said that Atlantic Canada has a culture of defeat, but it is the Conservatives who are defeatist toward us. They are defeatist, out of touch, and out of luck come the next election.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague, who talked about people travelling two hours, so I am making an assumption that he means one hour to work and one hour back home.

I live in a rural riding. There are people in my riding who actually drive for an hour to get to work and drive an hour to get home. There are no subways or public transportation for those individuals to get to those jobs.

I am wondering how difficult that might be, since the NDP says people cannot go to work by travelling for an hour.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, it is one hour to get to work and one hour to get home. Then there are added expenses on top of that, such as daycare, fuel, car maintenance and the whole nine yards. We also have to keep in mind—give me a chance to speak, now—that those people will be making 30% less while having extra expenses.

That is your plan for the future of rural Newfoundland and Labrador and rural Canada. It is out of touch.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before I continue with questions and comments, I would remind all hon. members, now that this has happened two or three times this morning, that questions and comments ought to be directed to the Chair rather than colleagues. I would like people to keep that in mind. It maintains a certain level of decorum in the debate.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl this question. We understand that the government is heading down the road of getting rid of the owner-operator fleet separation policy that now exists, which enables small owner-operator fishermen to work in communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout Atlantic Canada. It is going to get rid of that policy.

Does the member not see that the drive to cut EI benefits in those same communities that support seasonal fishermen is not part of the plan of the Conservative government to turn over the fishery to corporate Canada and drive working people out of Newfoundland and Labrador and coastal Canada?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the excellent question. He is doing an excellent job as the critic for fisheries and oceans.

In terms of the big picture, the hon. member is dead on the money. The potential elimination of owner-operator fleet separation policies would kill the traditional inshore fishery. I believe the changes to employment insurance will drive rural Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Atlantic Canada out of those areas. If we look at it from the perspective of the big picture, it is a plan by the Conservative government to do away with what is left of the traditional fisheries in Atlantic Canada.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl for a very clear description of the different worlds that exist within one country. Canada is one country, and we all love it. I am grateful that yesterday the hon. member for Calgary Centre reminded us of that.

I hear Conservative members of Parliament talk about how employees are not looking hard enough for work, even though we know that they do. However, I want to focus the question on the employers.

In seasonal industries, the employers have benefited from EI. They need the system. It can be fixed, it can be tweaked, and things can be done, but essentially, when employers lay off employees at the end of a summer season, whether the employers are in fisheries, forestry, tourism or mining, they want to know those people are willing to come back to them for the same jobs they held before they were laid off.

This is an employer benefit, and I am going to ask the hon. member if he thinks the government has given sufficient concern to employers' dependence on this system.